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Usurpress

Since I first got to know Usurpress through ’In Permanent Twilight’ (2011) and Trenches Of The Netherworld’ (2012), I have kept my eyes and ears on these Swedes career a bit – if only because our chief editor kept sending me their new releases through the years to write a couple of words on them. Throughout the years, my intrigue grew, because they kept changing up their style, album by album, yet the change felt somehow natural and they kept getting better and better. That process came to an absolute highlight last month, with the release of ’Interregnum’, an absolute beast of an album. And, well, because we at Lords Of Metal like to shine some more appreciative light one this kind of well deserving bands, we decided to contact vocalist Stefan Pettersson. A conversation about musical development, life and death, the constriction of stylistic pigeonholes, reinventing yourself and the influence of jazz and 70’s prog on Usurpress’s death metal.

By: Sicktus | Archive under death metal / grindcore

Hi Stefan, first of all, as you said in the mini documentary about the recording of ‘Interregnum’, you had some pretty heavy medical/health stuff to deal with midway in the recording process. So the most important thing first: are you doing well? How is your health nowadays?
I have chronic bone marrow cancer. It was discovered in spring 2015 and it was a revelation. I had no idea the human body was capable of producing so much physical pain by itself. One time my collar bone just snapped clean off when I was just taking a walk, the doctors couldn’t believe it. I was declared free from it in autumn 2015 but then it came back less than 10 months later. Right now I’m on the road to recovery and I have gone back to work again, but my body has taken a lot of beating and I’m often in pain, especially in the upper back since two of the discs in my spinal cord has been deformed. It will come back eventually but hopefully it will take years rather than months. In the end it will kill me, I will never be an old man. But I’m not too worried about it, shit happens, you know. Only death is real and so forth, blablabla.

Wow, that is some heavy stuff man. I had no idea... I wish you all the best dealing with that. If any of our readers feel so inclined, there is an organisation in The Netherlands who do research to find a cure and do a lot of other things to beat cancer. It is possible to donate to that cause here.

Right... To carry on... Speaking of the documentary, I love the idea and the little insight it gives in your recording and writing process. When and why did you think to do the mini documentary? And speaking of a writing and recording process, can you shed some light on, well... How the writing and recording for the documentary went down? Would you advise other bands to do it? Because it helps with promotion and also, well, maybe it is, fun to do?

It was actually Agonia Record’s idea. In the beginning we weren’t too keen on the whole thing because after they pitched the idea we watched a lot of similar videos by other bands and we didn’t like them at all. Danny (bass) and me wrote down a list of everything we thought was bad with them and tried to avoid the worst trappings. Then Danny wrote a short synopsis of how he wanted the running order and what issues we should address so we were a bit prepared. It was decided early on that he and I would do the talking but the dialogue, in lack of better words, was improvised in almost one take. We also dressed up our rehearsal space so there would be different backgrounds for him and me to make it more alive, you know, just paying attention to details. The reason it turned out better than utter crap was however mainly due to Jimmy Johansson of Super Lino Puro who did the filming and editing. A very talented guy. I don’t know how much promotion value such a thing actually has, I know I probably wouldn’t watch a similar video unless it was a band I already knew and liked and I believe I’m not the only one. But, hey (or “heeeeey!” if you’re a Swiss called Tom), it was all good fun.

band imageAnother thing I loved: ‘Interregnum’. Wow. A cast-iron beast of an album. There is so much going on, so many influences and musical directions, a proggy 70’s vibe even, while on the whole, still keeping both feet firmly planted in a dark kind of death metal. It was a musical course you seem to have been going in since ‘Ordained’ and even more on ‘The Regal Tribe’, but I think the highlight so far is ‘Interregnum’. Compared to the earliest releases, you have changed a lot. Looking back now, when did the changes from the original ‘deathcrust’ outset first started to show themselves? What influences or events made you guys move in this direction?
Thanks a lot for the kind words, it almost sounds like a press release. In fact, I don’t think our own press release is that praising… Ok, this sounds like a straight forward question but it isn’t that easy to answer. Please bear with me. When me and Påhl (guitar) started the band in April 2010, we wanted to combine the bestiality of old death metal and the undying aggression of true hardcore/crust but we have always loved ’70-ties prog and hard rock so we, perhaps unintentionally, sneaked in traces of that stuff already on our demo. The mid section of ‘The Colours Of Darkness’ (Which appears on ’Trenches Of The Netherworld’, as early as 2012 – Sicktus) is a prime example, for instance.

Also, Påhl’s guitar playing is quite elegant and relaxed and his favourite guitar players are people like David Gilmour and Andrew Latimer, so we never became as “brutal” as we had intended to. If you listen to our first (mini)album ’In Permanent Twilight’ and then ‘Interregnum’ straight after each other, it might sound like two different bands, or rather a band totally shunning their past, but to us it’s all a natural evolution, we have figured out our strong sides and rolled with them. I mean, if you keep writing the same kind of songs/music album after album, sooner or later you’re bound to run out of ideas and make worse albums. We can’t let that happen. So far, we have made five records that could be considered “albums”, although the first one is just a 22-minute mini-LP, and they follow the same pattern; first we make an album, then we make, in our opinion, a better version of it. Then we revise our style a bit for the next album and after that we do the superior version of it. ‘Interregnum’ is the prototype of our next album and after that we will probably tweak our style further. A bit like early Rush used to work perhaps. One of the few benefits of being an unknown/unpopular band is that you can do whatever the hell you want; we have no hordes of fans to disappoint.

Yeah, and ‘Interregnum’ is also the first album with a slightly different line-up, that is a fact that you cannot underestimate enough. It’s hard to find two drummers more different than Calle Lönnberg (ex-drummer) and Stefan Hildman (new guy). Calle was also the one that was most stubbornly into “death crust”, just listen to his new band Panikattack (great band by the way, they have two split-7”s coming later this year) and you’ll understand why we were forced to part ways with him to be able to progress as a band. It was a very hard decision to make, as Calle is one of the most noble and loyal men I’ve ever met. His personality far exceeds his drumming skills. We’re still good friends though and Påhl did a gig with Panikattack as session bass player a while ago.

At what point did you decide that “death crust” no longer was a fitting description and when did “primitive progressive death metal” enter the conversation?
It was after ’The Regal Tribe’; a pure concept album with songs like ‘The Halls Of Extinction’ and ‘On A Bed Of Straw’ made a mockery out of the tag “crust” and we have far too much respect for that genre. Both labels are equally cheezy though… We also made a shirt with the back print “Music for the courts of Neanderthal kings” but that was too pretentious even for us. “Primitive” we mainly threw in to separate us from “progressive death metal”, a style we don’t appreciate at all. No one in the band likes progressive metal. Mekong Delta is ok, I guess.

First Calle Lönnberg (formerly Andersson) quit the band and then the new drummer also quit while preparing for the new album. And then you decided to hire a jazz drummer. My question is this: did you decide on wanting a jazz drummer first and then went out and found Stefan Hildman, or did you already know Stefan and his drumming before you decided? Where did you find him? And what is his musical background? (Well, yeah, jazz, obviously...)
When Matte Modin left to solely concentrate on Firespawn (a wise decision, I think) we wrote the songs without any particular drummer in mind, both Calle and Matte are great guys and cool drummers but frankly we felt like writing totally freely without having to adapt to a certain drummer’s certain style. In the end, Hildman and another guy (considerably more known to a metal audience) were the only realistic options. Hildman is an old friend of Danny’s, they are both brought up in the Avesta region (southern Dalarna for those of you familiar with Swedish geography, home of Interment, Centinex, etc) and they started to play together already in 1988 in a band called Turabus who started out as a thrash band but later evolved into strange singer/songwriter prog. They also had a terrific King Crimson cover band in the ’90-ties. Hildman is quite unfamiliar with extreme metal, except for the really early stuff like Celtic Frost, Slayer, etc and that was/is really refreshing. He has mainly played jazz, fusion, funk and other very un-metal genres. He had a huge impact on the way the songs were performed in the end, of course he had to adopt his playing to suit our style but we also adopted our playing to suit his style. The demo contained more straight death metal-riffing and some generic two-beat drumming. He did not write any material in terms of riffs and song structures but he was still very important in shaping the songs. On the next album, he will be there from day one and I think that will make that one more coherent and better. We will probably write the songs in a more traditional rock ‘n’ roll way next time, jamming it out in the rehearse place.

When did you decide you wanted to add keys to the songs on ‘Interregnum’?
It was never a decision, when we did the demos for ‘Interregnum’, we recorded it in Erik’s studio with programmed drums (courtesy of Erik, who is a drummer as well as a keyboard player and also Påhl’s younger brother) and while we were listening to the playbacks, once in a while someone would just make air keyboard chords and look at Erik. While speaking of that guy, I can reveal that it was pretty close that he did the drums for ‘The Regal Tribe’, we rehearsed far more with him than with Calle who was in a bad place at the moment.

Will there be any live touring to support the release? And will that be featuring Stefan and Erik as well?
We would love to tour Central Europe as we Swedes ignorantly call Germany, Benelux, Czech/Slovak, Poland, etc. The Heartland of Europe. Because of my illness we haven’t really played at all during the last couple of years, we only did two gigs (both with Modin) in support of ‘The Regal Tribe’. The question is who the hell will book us? Our previous tours/foreign festival gigs have all been booked by punk promoters and I can’t really see any punk booking agencies wanting to spend time and money on some sell-outs doing fucking Pink Floyd-crap. I know I wouldn’t. And why should a metal agency be interested in us when there are so many other great, and far more well known, Swedish metal bands to choose from? They still have to pay our plane tickets. Also, as much as I hate to admit it, my body is not in the best condition these days and I would probably have to OD on morphine to be able to sit in a Renault Traffic for seven hours a day and sleep on a floor after playing in a bicycle shed in Bremen. Still wanna do it, though. But yeah, if it happens, Erik and Hildman will of course be our first choices for keys and drums! Lovely guys.

band image


Speaking of which, will Hildman join the band? If not: how on earth are you going to find someone to play those parts? I imagine jazz drummers who also want to do death metal are not easy to find.
We would love him to stay in the band permanently and he is really enthusiastic about Usurpress so the easy answer is “Yeah, definitely!”, but unfortunately he has three kids and a job where he travels a lot, so time will tell. Unless anything unforeseen happens he will play on the next album though. Strangely enough, a lot of unforeseen things seem to happen around Usurpress, the last couple of years have been a whirlwind of deadly diseases, mental illnesses, murders, etc within the band and it’s immediate families. Maybe we should just give up and start to play black metal instead.

You say you are not a guitar solo band, but I do hear some Steve Vai in the sound. Not in freaky fast fretboard masturbation (pardon me, if I offend any Vai fans), but I hear some guitar guru thing in the sound of some of the leads. What influences did you have on the sound, while recording? Not just on the leads or melodies, but the album’s production has a very distinct “voice” if you will. Did you listen to a lot of things for inspiration, in that recording / sound / production area?
I don’t think I’ve ever heard Påhl mention Steve Vai at all but you could be right, I haven’t really listened to Vai that much to have an opinion about it. I think our main influences in that department are bands like Camel, Pink Floyd, Wishbone Ash and maybe even Thin Lizzy. We prefer to have guitar melody “leads” rather than traditional guitar solos, every time I point out that “this song needs a solo after the break” or something similar, Påhl is looking depressed and mumbling something about “fuckin’ heavy metal”, hahaha!
We were adamant that the drum sound should be “acoustic” without any sorts of triggers, etc and also that the double bass parts should be quite low in the mix, like Cozy Powell or something like that and not dominant like traditional death metal and certainly not the modern typewriter sound. We also wanted the bass guitar quite loud and audible, you know, like early Dio. Apart from that, I can’t say that we had any specific recordings as blueprints really.

The jazz drums and the proggy / 70’s vibe may be a bit too much variation and mixing things up for some of the people who loved the early releases. Besides all the raving revises, have you had any negative reactions? If you have, what is the main “complaint”?
The only negative reactions I’ve seen/read is that some people don’t like all the songs but that is quite inevitable as they sound quite different from each other. I am in fact quite, no, very, surprised about the good reviews, I thought people would dismiss us as a bunch of turncoats trying to cash in on the success of Tribulation or something equally narrow minded. I’m very happy that I underestimated the metal press totally. But I’m only talking about reviews now, perhaps a lot of people hate it, I know both the premiere of ‘In Books Without Pages’ and ‘The Iron Gates Will Melt’ lost us a lot of “likes” on Facebook, hahaha. Yeah, and the Swedish metal rag Close-Up Magazine slammed us and thought the only good thing about it was the album cover. Can’t win ‘em all, eh?

And the other way around, has ‘Interregnum’ gained you any new fans, as far as you are aware of?
There are some people that have gotten in touch and say that they haven’t heard us before but really liked the album, but we’re hardly the new sensation in the metal scene 2018… It’s not like we have reached another level of popularity or something like that, and we don’t expect to.

Are you already working on or thinking about the next release? Any surprises in store for that?
Thinking, yes. Working, no. We will meet up in two weeks, just for drinks and dinner, at Hildman’s place and then we will probably swap ideas for the next album. I think Danny has a couple of riffs for a new song ready, but that’s about it. I’m thinking about new lyrical ideas all the time but I haven’t put anything to paper yet. I’m currently reading a book about the Silk Road that for some reason has inspired me a lot.

In the documentary, you state that the listener should “Listen to the album as a whole”. I couldn’t agree more, but at the same time, it almost makes me feel old and nostalgic. Isn’t that what an album is about? I know, with Spotify and digital releases, the focus may be shifting to single songs. And although I really love a good EP, I think the art of creating an album, with a start, a flow, a finish, lyrics and art that match the music... An overall product that just is more than the sum of its parts... I fear that may be an art that is dying. What is your take on that?
I think you’re probably right. For example, lyrics have become less important now, as people don’t have access to them on digital releases and platforms. Also, I believe, there is a tendency to only give an album one shot, you listen to the two first songs and if it’s not an instant hit you will probably never go back to it. Fortunately, in this respect, metal is a quite conservative genre so we don’t suffer that much as I guess pop or general rock does. The track listing on the album is a bit strange but we couldn’t really have done it any other way, this was the only order that made sense for the album. Yes, the Album. Commercially, however, it would of course be much smarter to start the album with ‘Late In The 11th Hour’, with that big riff, you know...

And how do you feel about the hardcopy in music in general? Will we still have CD’s, LP’s in 10 years time? Or is the digital revolution unstoppable?
I think it will be about the same as now. In other words; I have absolutely no clue. This is not my area of expertise.

Okay, almost here. You are also active in other bands, projects, is there any news on those groups you would like to share?
Daniel plays in Iron Lamb (classic rock with hits of metal and punk) and he’s also some sort of permanent session member in Third Storm (black/doom), both bands have new albums recorded but there are no release dates in sight. I don’t think Iron Lamb have a contract at the moment. Hildman plays in a funk/soul/fusion band called Beat Bakery and sometimes he does one off things and session work. Påhl will do a reunion gig with his old band Klotet in April when their 3rd and last album ‘Hiroshima Nagasaki Uppsala’ will be released on vinyl for the first time. Check them out on Spotify, its melodic instrumental progrock with short songs. Really great eclectic stuff, start with the 2nd album ‘Det Har Aldrig Hänt Och Kommer Aldrig Att Hända Igen’. Erik plays drums a strange Devo-like new wave band called Laser and he’s also running Studio Shuriken, where the keyboards and vocals for ‘Interregnum’ were recorded. He also did the upcoming album for young Uppsala brutal death metallists Morbid Illusion, check it out if you like that style, it’s fucking fast. Out February 30th I think.

Alright, that wraps it up. Any last words? Since this interview is also a promotional vehicle for you guys, please feel free to mention anything I might have missed and you want to have in the interview. I will try to work it in somewhere above.
I can’t really think of anything, this was an unbelievably comprehensive and in-depth interview. Good work, man! Always a pleasure to answer interviews, it’s an honour that people take their time and effort to support our little insignificant band. If anyone wants to get in touch with us, even just for a chat, don’t hesitate to write us at usurpress_death@yahoo.com!

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