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Diablo Swing Orchestra

The newest odd one out in the metal scene is the Swedish Diablo Swing Orchestra. Their combination of swing, jazz, operan and a lot more musical genres that are completely alien to metal makes their Candlelight debut record 'The Butcher's Ballroom' a truly unique experience. Guitarist and composer Daniel HÃ¥kansson enthusiastically introduces this new band that might actually appeal to a lot of people outside of metal as well.

By: Richard G. | Archive under different metal

band imageFirst off, congratulations on your debut album 'The Butcher's Ballroom'! It really has turned out to be quite an extraordinary musical experience. Could you start off by describing what our unknowing readers should expect when they play your record for the first time?
Thanks a lot, glad to hear you liked it. Well, I guess the listener has to have to have a little bit of an open mind when it comes to music to appreciate it. It's not for everyone, that's for sure. Riot opera is a good term that we like to label the music.

And how would you characterise the music that you play? Is there any (metal) subgenre that you feel most connected to?
It's rock/metal with various influences, but we don't don't stay very true to any genre thoughout the record yet we feel the album works best as a unit. I.e. the songs grow if you listen to the album as a whole rather than just a song here and there. Don't ever think we will have many singles. I can however understand if many throw us into the same category as Nightwish, Epica or Within Temptation because we have a soprano front person who sings opera, even though I wouldn't agree that we sound like them at all.

You obviously play a highly original form of metal, but I do wonder about one thing: how did you come up in the first place with the idea to play this unusual cross breed of musical styles? Because I do not quite understand yet how a bunch of Swedes come to incorporate Mexican Mariachi influences into their sound!
The idea it self was merely to play music that makes your hips swing and feet tap. It's a mixture of music we're fond of, we don't mix a lot of genres just for the sake of it. I think most musicians like a wide range of music but it's not always as obvious in their own composing. The thoughts behind the concept are not that complicated at all actually. I was raised with classical music and my mother was an aspiring opera singer so I've heard operas and choir works since I was a child. I later picked up the guitar and got into rock/metal. Later on I got interested in folk music from all over the world so that pretty much covers most of our influences.

As your album is handled by Candlelight Records, I assume that you concentrate on the metal niche in music. I can imagine that you guys will feel and will be labelled the odd one out in the scene. How have the reactions been so far?
Going with Candlelight was a decision more based on the fact that they gave us a good offer and came off as cool people to work with rather than us wanted to focus on reaching the metal audience. We have been labelled as a little odd but we don't really mind actually. If a lot of people just lend us an ear before they judge us we're happy, we're not here to please everyone. If we had a big commercial success as our first priority we would not be playing this kind of music. With that said I must add that the reactions have been very positive so far. People seem to have been longing for something new and fresh and have decided that we sound fresh enough. And if people think we sound odd we take it as a compliment that we are not just another clone but bring something new to the scene.

I can imagine that there may be a lot of non-metal heads that may appreciate your music. How do you want to reach those people?
Yes, "I normally don't listen to metal but this is really good" is a quite common reaction we get from people. Our audience is for sure not 100% metal based and the reaction has also been the other way around that metal heads normally not interested in jazz or other genres say that they can appreciate the styles in the format we present them in.

How hard was it for the band to land a record deal?
To be honest we didn't try very hard. We funded the recordings ourselves and started spreading the music on myspace and similar sites without much focus on finding a deal. With all the possibilities that comes with the Internet bands don't have to rely so hard to get their music out there. We knew we had done something a bit out of the ordinary and that there would be some people out there that would like it. We chose to focus on the listeners rather than on the intermediaries (ie record companies, radio stations and such). If you as a new band only go for a record deal you have very little negotiating power if you haven't built up a following and can show that you already have an audience. We also knew that we needed to show that there was a market for our kind of music before we could find people willing to invest in it.

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Were you guys metal/rock oriented at first and did you want to try something else? Or was it the other way around?
Well, the concept of the band actually came through when we decided upon the band name. A good name comes with obligations. You can't be named Diablo Swing Orchestra and play dull and generic music. To be honest we had no clue there were other bands out there using opera vocals in a metal context when we started out and when we learned we added more elements to the music since it's no fun doing what other have done before you.

What is the best way to write the music that you guys play? Do you start with some metal riffs and try and re-work them into one of the other musical genres?
Oh a favourite subject of mine - songwriting. I can go on for hours and hours about this, but don't worry, I won't. =) The d:s:o songs are pretty simple and normally rhythm based songs in 4 / 4 or 3/ 4. Riffs are normally built on how the kick and snare work together and since I'm no drummer the rhythms are normally pretty straight forward. But I guess the various genres come into play quite early in the composing process. To take an example, 'Balrog Boogie' is a swing song just played with distorted guitars, it was written on acoustic guitars and works just fine to play in a more stripped down version with a lower volume level. What I'm trying to get at is that there are no rules that the songs have to be put into a metal context. We just happen to like noisy guitars and use them because they add energy to the songs.

You have written quite an interesting story about the original Devil's Orchestra, active at the end of the middle ages in Sweden, which was tragically hunted down by the church. How much of the story is actually true? Are you afraid that you guys will befall the same tragic fate as your predecessors?
We do feel kind of obligated and were very touched by the fate of our ancestors and hope that we can make them proud with our music. Furthermore we also hope that the powers of today lay their focus on other things than trying to blame musicians for the evils in the world. But since music after all is such a powerful force it can always be used in a political purpose. However, we don't have any political ambitions with our music, more to broaden people's minds what can be done music-wise and still keep it kind of accessible.

'The Butcher's Ballroom' has been divided into two acts, should we listen to the album and pretend it is a play? What is the play about?
The idea from the beginning was to include more features that would enhance the feeling of watching a show such as pauses and applauses but due to time constraints we didn't manage to squeeze it in. We will hopefully explore that territory more on future releases. This is because we really like the album concept and that it can be listened to as a whole rather than just a collection of songs.

Which metal bands does the Diablo Swing Orchestra take influence from?
We all listen to different bands in the group but to be honest there are not too many metal bands I listen to actively today. I really like System of a Down and is eagerly waiting to lay my hands on Serj Taikan's solo album out in October.

Have you got any tips for our readers who really dig the non-metal side of your music to broaden their taste?
Well there's one recommendation I always give and that is the soundtrack to the film "Les triplets de Bellviuille". It's simply marvellous and include a wide spectrum of styles such as swing, barbershop, surf and a lot more music.

As you guys play such special music, do you guys accompany it with a special live show as well? What emotions would you like the people at your shows to experience?
We certainly have some plans to record a DVD one day with a big production where the show is more like an opera performance but that will have to wait because of the financial aspect. DSO's live sound differs somewhat from the DSO on record since we have a much more raw sound live. We don't use any backing tracks but do some rearrangements of the songs so they don't sound empty. It's also a good way of letting the power of Annlouice's vocals free since it's hard to capture them on recordings in a rock/metal mix. When playing live we want the audience to experience 45-60 minutes of pure and intense energy! I guess that's where we differ the most from the bands we are compared with, we want chaos live where others want perfection. More like The Hives, Nirvana and Gogol Bordello than Within Temptation to draw a parallel.

I read somewhere that Diablo Swing Orchestra is already working on new material. What can we expect from the new material? Are you guys taking this extreme combination of genres even further?
The songs we have written so far are taking influence from the genres present on The Butcher's Ballrom as well as some new ones. But what differs the most on the next album is the detail that will go into the arrangements of the songs. We learned a lot what we wanted to do with our music during the studio sessions and we are taking that knowledge into the process of composing new songs. We already know on beforehand what will work and what will not. We will also have the advantage of being able to try the songs live before recording them, a luxury we didn't have for this album.

What are the plans for the near future? Are you going to tour Europe?
The plan is to start recording some demos for the upcoming album this fall, and the actual recording sessions will start in the spring of 2008. Right now we have 5 dates in Europe confirmed, two in Germany and Belgium and one in the UK. Hopefully we can add some more dates to this list soon.

Well that's about it for now. Thanks for your time and for giving our readers the chance to get to know Diablo Swing Orchestra a bit, hopefully see you soon!
Cheers for the interview and see you out there!

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