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Dark Tranquillity

En toen was daar album nummer acht, 'Fiction'. Zweeds death metal icoon Dark Tranquillity, de grondleggers van een compleet genre, weet van geen ophouden en brengt steevast binnen een jaar of twee telkens weer kwaliteit op de markt. Zanger Mikael Stanne staat rond lunchtijd op een doodgewone doordeweekse donderdagmiddag Lords of Metal telefonisch te woord in een openhartig gesprek over heden, verleden en toekomst van de band die nu al meer dan vijftien jaar zijn leven bepaalt.

Door: Richard G. | Archiveer onder death metal / grindcore

band imageCongratulations on your 8th album already! You guys have been going at it for more than 15 years now, where do you still get the inspiration?
Pretty much everything: good music, everyday life, movies TV, you know, everything! But our main influences are still the same, really very aggressive thrash/death stuff and very melodic passionate music. It has always been like that. When we started the band we had one main goal to create aggressive, fast and melodic music. Along the line there have been tons of new influences, but at the end of the day we can still make that perfect album. And that is kind of the driving force you know.

Are there any contemporary bands that you guys like and take influence from?
Definitely, there are tons of bands that make great music and that I can totally get in to, but I don't think that translates into our music or even comes close to making it into our songs. Like Martin (Henriksson, RG) our guitar player and our main song writer he does not really listen to other music at all. He stays away from it, he just does not want to be influenced.

Your last record 'Character' could be called some kind of concept album, right? Is there again some kind of central theme on 'Fiction'?
Yeah it was more of an overall theme on 'Character'. As for 'Fiction' it is not really the case. I really wanted to make sure that the songs were really individual. They had pretty much totally different themes. Because the songs are really different from each other, I really wanted the lyrics to differ as well.

You are kind of known for your introspective reflective lyrics, and your singing seems to reflect a lot of emotions and stuff. How deep do you have to go inside yourself to come up with the lyrics in the first place?
I guess pretty deep. Usually when we start writing the song, I start improvising in the rehearse room and start singing like really bullshit lyrics, just to try and get the feel for the song. And that's usually where I get the initial inspiration for the song. Whatever really feels right at that point, that triggers all sorts of feelings. And once I get home and listen to the demos, and I start thinking what to write about, it all comes pretty naturally. The tricky part really is to put all of these thoughts and feelings into words that are still open to other interpretations.

Does ageing make it harder to go through these processes for an album? I can imagine that you become more level-headed with age and are more able to put all kinds of emotions and thoughts into perspective.
Nah, it is just different. When we started the band we had totally different ideas on how to do things. Well you get older, but you still have the same problems, the same thoughts and there are new issues in your life, new things to worry about, new things that really frustrate you, new things that you can draw inspiration form. I still need that fix I get from just screaming and from writing.

When I read the biography on the promo the following line struck me: “This offering is perhaps best compared to a modern-day version of the group's revered classics The Gallery and The Mind's I.” Do you think that this does the new record justice? After hearing it, I think Fiction is so much more than that, it's more a culmination of all the musical paths that DT have walked over the years.
I'm glad you disagree with that, because I do not really get it either. Actually, I'm going to find out who wrote it since I am at the label right now. But I can see it, it certainly has some of the elements of those old albums, but I do not think it is a modern day version of those albums at all.

I already thought that this last bit was kind of applicable to 'Character', it also reflected all that DT has done in the past. Where do your latest two albums differ most, do you feel?
The main difference is, I think, something that we discussed early on when we started writing. We said to each other something like let's not try so hard to put all different kinds of elements into each and every song. You don't need to use all the ingredients all at once in three minutes, you know, let's make more individual songs, that can stand the test of time on their own instead of being just part of an album. We wanted them to stand out more. And it was a lot of fun to work like that: whatever feels right is right. This way of writing actually did feel better. It was a more natural feeling when we were writing, a more collaborative feeling when someone would say 'hey let's try this out, yeah sure let's do that' and we started writing 'Misery's Crown' for instance, for which someone said 'well perhaps the song could use some clean vocals here'.

What part of Fiction are you most proud of?
(moans) Oww, I don't really know! Well at the moment I really love the fast stuff: it really came through in the mix as well. The sound really works well with all that fast riffing and fast drumming. And I really love the diversity of the album too. There are some parts that are more technical than we have ever done, that are really difficult to play and then there are some songs that are really straight forward and kind of simple.

I just mentioned all the musical paths that DT have walked in the past, it makes me wonder: what is left to experiment for you guys? You know how to make very good records, you have had your fun introducing female vocals, clean vocals and electronics into your music, playing with tempo's and emotions. Aren't you sometimes afraid that you might get to a point where you have tried it all, that there is nothing left to experiment within the boundaries of DT's sound?
No, I don't think so. We are still capable of making that perfect album, you know. We can still make better songs. It does get harder, as it should, otherwise there is no point. We need more time now than we did for our earlier albums, because we really need to make new and more original music. It gets harder but it also gets more challenging. The challenge really lies in perfecting the Dark Tranquillity sound.

A nice surprise at the end of the record is when a lady starts to sing in 'The Mundane and The Magic'. Could you give some specifics about this lady, who is she and how and why did you decide to work with her?
It is Nell from Theatre Of Tragedy. We wrote the song and when I started thinking about the lyrics I just felt it needed a female voice to accompany that chorus line. Our keyboard player Martin Brandstrom, who plays live keyboards for Tiamat, was on tour with them and Theatre Of Tragedy and he suggested her. So we asked her and she was into it, so we sent her the files and she recorded it in her own studio and it was just perfect: exactly what I wanted. We did not even have to meet, but it just worked out perfectly!

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I saw on your website that Focus Shift will be the first single of the album and that you made a video for it. This kind of surprised me because I think it is one of the hardest songs on the album, why did you choose this one?
We had just no idea what song we should choose to do a video for: all of them could be videos, or none of them. So we let the record company decide and they opted for 'Focus Shift', because it is perhaps more similar to our older work, since it is a bit catchy, but also quite intense and fast. And last weekend we even did a video for 'Misery's Crown' as well, it's not finished yet, but it will probably be done after the summer.

I also saw that you guys will have a very special session of Q&A with your fans tonight. Who came up with this idea and what will be the exact procedure? What do you expect from it?
The promotional guys came up with it. They asked fans to send us their questions and we will be answering them live tonight, streamed on the internet. We will also be showing some videos and the 'Focus Shift' video will be shown for the first time. We're just going to be drunk and act stupid and have some fun.

As I already mentioned you guys have been around for a pretty long time now, you're no Rolling Stones (yet) but 15 years is long! What I wonder (without getting too personal): can a band of DT's stature live off of their music, or do you guys still have jobs on the side?
We could live off the music, I certainly do, but some of us have jobs. Whenever you are at home, you have too much time on your hands and then it is good to work a little bit. It is good to see some other people than just metal heads all of the time. But right now, when we're starting a tour soon and we're going to be out of town for pretty much a year, so there's not much time for a job then, of course.

Looking back on your career, are there any things that you might have done differently now? Any decisions that you might regret?
I wouldn't say regret, but sure we could have done things differently. But I'm not the kind of guy that regrets things, I see it all more as learning experiences and something that you have to live with. Sure, perhaps we should have signed to Century Media earlier on or we should have hired a manager in the earlier days, but no regrets. Tons of remorse but no regrets, hehe.

And what is the best memory then?
Probably one of the first shows I did as a singer in a band, that was pretty special. Something that I'll never forget is playing in Korea n front of 35 thousand people in the middle of the night on a beach. And probably some old, tiny shows in Italy where you just feel that every single person in the room is right there with you, you just feel connected to everyone.

As the co-founders of the Gothenburg sound you guys have been very influential over the years indeed. If you ask a metal-head anywhere on this planet to name the five best Swedish melodic death metal bands you guys will probably be in practically everyone's top five. Are you guys aware of your influence on today's metal scene?
People tell us about that is for sure, but it is not really something that affects us or changes anything for us. It is great, it is flattering as hell when people feel that we had an influence on their music or their lives even, that is amazing. But it is hard for me to grasp that there are people out there who look at us or me with the same respect as I look at my heroes. And that is just too big to understand for me. I guess it means that we did something right in the beginning. Even though a lot of people doubted us, like we were not metal enough or not cool enough or too melodic.

What do you think of that so-called (not so new anymore) wave of American metal, all the bands that combine the Swedish melodies with hardcore and emocore bits? Do you like the music? Do you feel honoured?
I don't really listen to them a lot, but there are some bands that I can get into for sure. And it is cool, because they take their original influences and mix it up with something else: that is exactly what we did in the beginning. We took our Kreator influences and mixed them with our Helloween influences and there you go. As long as you make something original out of it and as long as you make sure that you can be proud of what you do and do not steal things.

In a week or two you guys are heading to the US first in order to promote your new album. What do you expect from that tour?
It's going to be great, it's going to be the first time that we really go on tour to support the release of the album. We'll get to try out the new songs for the first time and it's a great package that we're on. I'm really looking forward to it, since we haven't toured for a while. Touring after a release is definitely better, but this is going to be great as well. We're still going to do a lot of 'Character' stuff and older stuff, but we're going to play a lot of new stuff as well

How does DT actually do in the market over there?
We already have some sort of basis, I think, but it is just constantly growing. It is such a huge market and you can really see the growth, with each tour that we do you can immediately see that you are selling more records in this territory and in that territory.

I saw that your guitarist Niklas Sundin did the artwork for your album again. Is there some kind of connection between the title of the album and the artwork?
Yeah, there is, but it is more like a contrast. The album is more vibrant and alive than ever, but at the same time the cover is really understated and shows very simple and mundane images that we see everyday. One of the themes on the album is that you have to add something to hat boredom, that grey misery that is everyday life. You just have to add something to it yourself. That is the fiction, that is the creativity, that is the imagination.

Ok that's about it I think, thank you very much for your time and all the best for your upcoming tours. Hope to see you live in Europe later this year.

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