When I call the mobile number of Johannes, I end up in the call center of Avatar country. An automatic female voice welcomes me in the communications center from Avatar country and lets me know to have some patience before speaking to the secretary of the King.
Good morning, you speak with Johannes from Avatar and also the official press communiqué from the king of avatar country. Glory to our King.
How is it with King Jonas?
With our King everything is fine. So it’s fine with me. And so it is fine with all of us
Where are you calling from? Because this is the first time I interview somebody at nine hours in the morning.
At this time, I am in my apartment in Helsinki. I live here for three years. And today it is a big party because Finland is celebrating his hundred years of independence. So it will be a great party today with a lot of fireworks.
Just like ‘Feathers & Flesh’ ‘Avatar Country’ has turned into a concept album. Can you explain us what the story is this time?
After the journey we made with the band till this point, we felt that it became time to tell the people the truth about our King and to open the borders to Avatar country. The country exists for eternity and so does our king do. We made already some albums and thought it was the time that people would hear the truth. So that is why the album calls ‘Avatar Country’.
In ‘Feathers & Flesh’ you played with a lot of drama and tristesse. This time you turned more the way of aggression and grunt like the old days.
We never stay in one genre. We played a style and then we changed. It is more driven on emotions. But once we realized that the real sound of the band was not the tuning or the tempo but the person who plays and who stood behind the micro and the instrument. Once we figured that out in our musical journey, we stopped worrying about how much something should be. It is simply that as metal heads, we wanted to play metal as good as possible. And because our musical roots, it could be that we were playing melodic or very aggressive. That is just something that goes circular. Once you have done some melodic things, it goes out of your system and you play more metal and aggression things. Metal is a really rich point of music this time. You can go 360 degrees in everything direction. But at this point, it is not really spoken in what style we should play. It is the story and the legend of the king. Which is the title of the album? So the music comes natural and full of emotions. It is not a formula of choice. So that is how I think about our country and our king and it becomes very powerful
The intro ‘Glory To Our King’ gives me the feeling of that old American black and white adventure movies from the forties and the fifties. Was that a feeling you want to create?
We simply want to make a powerful anthem or a powerful version of our countries national anthem. There is one thing and that is the site of the quire and the approach of the realness about it and that is why it sounds some old school. Because other while it would have become more exaggerated and more lords of the rings. We wanted a straight forward simplicity and the lyrics so important because it is our national anthem so that is why it sounded so pretty clear sound. That would create that feeling. It was not meant to be linked to that classic cinema but it is a nice thought.
‘Legend Of The King’ starts with a piece of power metal. I even thought that you had turned that direction. But this song seems to be one of the best avatar songs ever. And with a playing time over the eight minutes also one of the longest songs ever. Was it a difficult one to write?
Thank you very much. The longest one today. Our king has around seven solos in that song which requires the length of the song. It is just what is said. It is about the legend of our king and about the longing about our king and our country and that people hear our calling. Avatar country is a nation but is also a state of mind. And as a place where everybody is set out to and who want to find it is welcome. It is about a home that people want to find. The lost ones in the world. The idea of the song is that we are calling out to them.
And then you hear ‘The King Welcomes You To Avatar Road’.
An authentic piece of Elvis and Johnny Cash with a Made in Nashville content. Why this song? That is the song, I got the honor to get it reprehensive for the king. It has hung for about one year. We usually play in standard tuning and this is open major cording. I am a huge Devon Townsend fan and I also like stuff like Seasick Steve and that old blues music. I wanted to hang around in that world a bit. I also read Keith Richards biography life and he talks about a way to rediscover the guitar. Because if you play a lot in the same tuning, you risk to fall back in the same style you are playing. You have to let the music flew more on base of intuition. But if you tune the guitar differently, you will have to search more for notes, for a sound and play more freely. So that helps a lot. So I also wanted to tell the story It is about the search on the way to avatar country. You can hear it in the title. It is about the arrival. And therefore it is a song about celebration. It is a real place so therefore a sort of psychedelic twitch on the song with the quires and the jazz innuendo. I wanted to illustrate what avatar country is and what it can mean to you.
In ‘The Kings Speaks’ you bring a persiflage on a king. What kind of language is he talking?
He is speaking Swedish. Our king is multi lingual so he is talking Swedish, English and a little bit of French. But this speech was meant for a Swedish speaking audience. Luckily you have also a journalist who translated it for an English speaking audience. So we can share the joy of our kings speaking skills to everyone.
The album ends with the instrumentals ‘Silent Songs of the King Pt. 1 and 2’. This is also the first album were this is included.
Yes. We did this but actually we do have an instrumental on our first album. But since then no more. There are a few challenges by writing an instrumental piece. Number one and the most important is that I don’t have to do much. And other than that I was there and shared an opinion and helped a little bit. Not by playing the songs but by choosing the title of the songs. I wanted it to be a story to tell but without the help of lyrics but only with the strength of music. Obviously we are a vocal group and our lead instrument is me. So we don’t do that often and there is also something special about it. I listen a lot to classical music. Our king is big and like Bach. I am already a fan since I am four years old. And Tim is very much into Mozart. So we would bring that also into our music. And something instrumental could create such a strong image. There is a reason because the first part silent song of the king is called ‘Winter Comes When The King Dreams Of Snow’. Because snow is something that I dream a lot of.
So how happy was Jonas (Jarlsby – guitar) that he could figurate as the King?
I am very lucky to have such an amazing person as my king. And so are you. Also you can be a citizen of avatar country. You are welcome to our country because the kings love you. So I would say we all are lucky on this glorious day.
In January and February 2018 you play again in North America. How popular is Avatar there right now?
Well, they wanted us to come back so that is nice. This fall we mainly played opening shows. Then on occasion we filled up the schedule with some headliners. So in 2018 and I want to say that in china it is the year of the dog. In Avatar Country it is the year of the king. What we will do in the year of the king is a full headliner tour in North America and of course in Europe. This is even more than a headliner tour because we will bring our king with us. And we also want to create something like the old world fairs in the past. The world’s expo that was a huge thing in the past because each nation want to represent themselves to the world. And that is our world fair and expo. So once you will enter the venue, you will enter avatar country. So that is why we came home from North America and now we are going again. It is also a completely different thing. This fall with the opening tour we ended with feathers and flesh and 2018 is the year of the king and it begins in January.
At the first of April you even play on Paaspop festival in Holland, witch is a mainstream festival with bands like Millionaire, Kensington and a lot of Dutch bands like Guus Meeuwis and Boef. Is this the sign that Avatar is grown to also a not hundred percent metal public?
I will have to find out. We and Obituary are the only two metal bands. I will find out. But with Obituary, we are in very good company. It will be interesting because I wasn’t familiar with that festival. So with all the stuff we grew up with, I am more familiar with festivals like Wacken in Germany. It will be interesting and it is an opportunity for us. To try something different. We also are well aware of the size of that festival. So I feel that our king is not really a religious affair but if you think that a religious leader is one of his greatest things to do is to preach for the heretics. So we would do a great deed when we could safe all those people on the festival who are not pure metal and we will not show them just the way to avatar country but also the way to the world of metal in general.
In Belgium you played twice on Alcatraz and last year at Graspop. Graspop has released a lot of names lately. On which festival would Avatar like to play?
We did Graspop in 2017. It was one of the most fun shows because when we accepted to play on festivals, we really didn’t take the geography in consideration. We had a two weekend that was hell. The worst was when we get from Norway to Madrid in a short time. And then they cancelled flights from Germany to Norway. But also on the Graspop weekend. I can’t remember where we played before it. Maybe it was Austria and there were delay problems and we arrived one hour before time. To set up the stage and hit the stage. There wasn’t even time to go to the dressing room. It was going straight up and using car windows as mirrors and changing in the middle of the field. But when it is just for one weekend, it is double and you still have the energy and it gives you an extra kick in the ass. It is adrenaline driven. I don’t want to have those panic shows for a whole tour long but it helps you to remain a bit viral and keeps your vitality going as a stage performer. At Alcatraz we have a great history. We have a great personal relationship with the area and have a few good friends. So Alcatraz will always remains special.
Is the ‘King of Avatar Country’ a whole new show with new costumes and etcetera?
Yes off course. The King has always a very rich wardrobe. And you don’t want to wear things too long. In this case hundreds and hundreds of shows during the ‘Flesh & Bones’ tour. And we also know in the name of heavy metal and hardrock that we speak, just look at Kiss, on every new album in the seventies, they had a new stage outfit. So it is the core idea to change it a lot. A King is always a King you know. Because that is depending on what album you work on. The costumes go with the changes of the music.
No matter how you slice it, the stage performance of Johannes does everything. When you are not on stage, you are one of the friendliest and shy people that I know. How can you make that switch?
Well, I am being told that very often. But I am still the same humble servant of the king on stage and off stage. But there are artists, because we something theatrical, and because I paint my face. It makes me understand that people think that I don’t get in character. But it feels to me, I always forget what Alice coopers real name is, but there is a reason why he always turns to Alice cooper on stage. The same with King Diamond and his transformation. I also do a transformation but it is not to become some kind of character it is just to unleash a different site of me. In interviews I am still Johannes Eckerstrom and on stage. That is how I feel about it.
Some bands have a reputation of booze and drugs. Other ones have sex parties on their tour bus and end in a jail in the States. How good or bad are the members of Avatar?
Well, that is from person to person and from time to time. I personally become to a stage in my life. We went to our first tour bus tour when I was nineteen years old. And I have quite a lot material to tell stories around the campfire. But now we have other priorities. Like drinking times. That is a quite normal cliché to go wild on the road and then become at home a good father figure. But for me it is quite in the opposite way. When I am at home, no one is paying me money to sound good and to jump around. But that is what happens on stage and on tour and I don’t want to fuck that up. When the music is done right that rush it not necessarily being followed with other rushes. But all my old friends are at home. So I drink water on the road and whiskeys with my dad when I am at home. And the female companions don’t interest me at all. I am engaged and so I guess we are not like people want to hear and some quite boring. But I am having more fun like it is going now. Like five years ago, we went to our first US tour and that was the first time hitting a new continent. We drank the whole country dry. It was a great time and adventure. But then after a while I know all those things. I look for adventure but I wonder what is inside in this aluminum can but i know it so priority has changed.
In March you will play again in Belgium. Belgians are fan of Avatar since the beginning of the band. So how happy are you to come back to Belgium?
I am very happy and your are right. We were on tour with Helloween six or seven years ago. We did not play in Belgium with Helloween that tour. But just after it we were playing in a club in Belgium for some enthusiasts’ who booked us and we played in some kind of sports hall for tiny kids. It was like before anyone knew about us. And we did it with all those underground passion without big promotion agencies. And there was enough interest in us from Belgium. So we played there one or two shows before we did proper shows. So I am very happy with Belgium. I had nice things to say about all countries and now that we spend so many years in the us. So we are very happy with a new European tour. We have some personal friends in Belgium.
So thank you for your time and this interview. Does the King have any last words for us?
The king loves you and you can also become a citizen.