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Diablo Swing Orchestra

Er zijn maar weinig bands op aarde die zo catchy verschillende stijlen door elkaar weten te husselen en er makkelijk mee wegkomen. Diablo Swing Orchestra is zo’n band – de formatie is inmiddels acht man sterk en gooit klesmer, swing, pop, metal, opera en disco zonder enige moeite in een pannetje, laat het een aantal jaartjes garen en komt dan ineens met ‘Pacifisticuffs’, mijn plaat van het jaar. Reden genoeg dus om main dude, en gitarist/zanger Daniel Hakansson eens even aan de tand te voelen.

Door: Job | Archiveer onder different metal

Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us and congratulations on the looming release of ‘Pascifisticuffs’! I immensely enjoyed the album and would like to go in-depth with some songs that really stood out to me. Before we start though; how have you been?
Hi there, glad to hear you like it. All is well here, we’re really happy and relieved that the record is finally out there. We’ve been really anxious to finally be able to show what we have been up to. So far the reactions have been mostly positive so it’s nice.

It took quite some time to record the new record; you had us fans waiting for 5 years but in the end it’s all worth it. I’ve always had a hard time categorizing your music and typically it’s easiest to just mention a couple influences. With you, I’ve never really been able to because of your unique sound. Are there specific bands that you consider influential to your sound?
Yeah, we’re happy a lot of people didn’t give up on us since we really took our sweet time. That was due to a lot of factors such as tech trouble, babies being born and life in generally. When people ask we normally say something like it’s very danceable rock/metal spiced up with some world music influences. As for specific bands we’d have to mention Primus, Muse, Tori Amos, Infected Mushroom, SOAD among the more known ones. Then we are of course always on the lookout for new music, both to enjoy and to broaden our influences.

Without dawdling too much, let’s get into the songs some more, starting with opener ‘Knucklehugs’. Gotta say; it’s one of the more to-the-point openers I’ve heard in a while. It curiously also barely features new vocalist Kristin Evegard. Was that a conscious choice?
Not per se, since the main reason behind the choice was that it was the most straightforward song on the album. And we also didn’t want to start with a swing song again since we’ve done that for the last 3 records. She’s singing on a majority of the songs so it’s definitely not something that we want to hide hahaha.

It holds one of the best trumpet leads in modern progressive rock at the end as well, almost sounding Benny Hill-esque in nature. Where do these characteristic leads come from and do they come out naturally or do they take a lot of work?
Nice to see you spot the reference! All trumpet lines and leads on the record are written by our trumpeter Martin Isaksson. When it comes to arranging music it can often be excruciating and time consuming work, but often it's the not so good ideas that steal all the time, when you try to force something into a song that really doesn't belong there. The good ideas, the ones that stick, sometimes come into the arranger's head as a finished material which only needs to be put on paper. This particular part came into our trumpeter's head during a train trip, and he scared the whole carriage by suddenly laughing out loud.

I adored the Southern American feel in ‘The Age of Vulture Culture’. It also holds a very positive message lyrically. What can you tell me about the lyrical concepts on the new record?
In general the lyrics on the album is much more reflecting on what’s happening in the world right now than what has been the case on previous albums. We feel like it’s too much going on right now to not say something about it. Our hope is that people can relate to the lyrics in one way or another but that it at the same time maybe contribute with some new perspectives.

Are my ears deceiving me or are those 8-strings on ‘Superhero Jagganath’?
Well, I’d say you’re correct even if we don’t own any 8 stringed guitars. They surely look like a hassle to play, haha. We use baritone- and 7-stringed guitars on the album and on that particular song they are detuned down to a low G. We had some serious issues with the bass recording going that low but Roberto Laghi did an amazing job keeping it all together.

It has one of the more epic choruses, with galloping guitars and impressive choirs. How did this song come to be?
Johan (drummer) always spoke of the fact that we needed a song in the same vein as ‘Bedlam sticks’ and really over the top madness. Something he thought was missing on the previous album ‘Pandora’s Pinata’. Jagganath first started out with the line ‘Welcome to the La La Land’ and sung in a 7/8 rhythm. Before he presented it to us he harmonized the melody with a slightly off tune which made it quite interesting and a tad weird. After some research about ‘La La Land’, we found out that there was another song called the same so then he came up with Superhero Jagganath which contains the same syllables.
And through that came the idea about a God, the Lord of the universe, who went berserk with all his power and had some kind of hubris. We liked the thought of a God who wasn’t well meaning. Like, what happens when an almighty being just ‘Don’t feel like doing good anymore. People don’t seem to want peace.’ It kinda suits the craziness of the song. In the end the 7/8 rhythm was placed in the outro instead of the chorus. The riff came to be when Pontus (guitars) and Johan were jamming it out one late evening.

’Vision of the Purblind’ features some whistling that’s insanely tight and precise. I was wondering how that was recorded and who did those.
It was made by the whistling dream-team Kristin Evegård and Martin Isaksson. The recording was pretty simple, one of them started to record the melody and then the other one whistled a harmony on top of that. Their voices work really well together and they’re also singing a lot of the refrains live with harmonies.

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’Lady Clandestine Chainbreaker’ has the most catching chorus on the album, with a progression that’s not heard in modern music a lot anymore and reminded me almost of Medieval folk songs. The progression and melody also gets reprised by a quartet of trombones at the end of the song, if I’m not mistaken. What was the writing process for this song like?
This song was very much a collaboration between Kristin and Martin. The foundation of the song was an older idea Kristin had been playing around with for some time which Martin wrote a really beautiful arrangement around. The outro of this song was actually the first thing to be written for the album when it comes to the arranging of the acoustic instruments. It was meant as an intro for the song initially, but got changed into an outro both because the song benefited from starting suddenly and loudly and also the solemn character of the trombone choir really fit as more of an afterthought or contemplation to what you just heard. Indeed, the idea came from using medieval melodies and chord progressions, and later in the writing the little hymn found its way into the chorus of the song, fitting there perfectly. It really gave the chorus the nostalgic and mournful backdrop it needed.

’Jigsaw Hustle’ is the song that was released the earliest and features an upfront disco beat and driving bassline. I was really impressed by the string sections this song offered. Did those come later in the writing process or were they incorporated from the beginning?
The string arrangement for Jigsaw Hustle was made when the major outline of the song was just about finished. The string intro was significantly longer at first but was shortened already at the demo stage. It was a lot of fun writing all the parts where there are no vocals and a immensely larger challenge when the strings, brass and guitars all fight for a place to be heard around and behind the lead vocals. But on the other hand that’s how it always is with Diablo Swing Orchestra songs and that’s part of the charm.

’Ode to the Innocent’ is the most operetta song on the album, and puts vocalist Kristin in the spotlights. Her voice is beautifully expressive (adding an entirely new facet to your sound), yet not as theatrical as Ann-Louice’s maybe was. What was the transition like from one singer to the next and do you feel your style might have changed to facilitate Kristin’s strengths better?
The process changed indeed when Kristin joined the band. The most apparent one was the fact that we became a more social band and started write/arrange more together than before. This change made her transition to a full-fledged member a really smooth one. I guess a lot of the transformation was also automatic given that she was so involved in the songwriting and the lyrics on the album. The trend of having less opera singing on the album started already with Pandora’s Piñata and wasn't such a big deal for the band since we think that there wouldn't have been much of that kind of singing even if Annlouice would have stayed in the band.

’Karma Bonfire’ almost sounds like it could’ve come off of ‘Pandora’s Pinata’ in its groovy swing and infectious melodies. I also feel your vocals have made a huge leap in terms of sheer power and delivery. Do you feel there’s been a larger focus on vocals this time around as opposed to the other albums?
Nice to hear it was noticeable. We actually completely changed the way we recorded vocals this time around. In the past vocals were always recorded last and it was a really stressful part of the recording since we were normally out of time so the sessions often went on late into the night. This was not such a big problem for AnnLouice since she is a professional singer but for me it really strained my vocal chords. When we had recorded the basics we took a break so we could practice with the proper backgrounds adjusting arrangements accordingly. And we also had two full weeks booked for only vocals which for me made all the difference. We will definitely use that procedure again for the next record.

’Climbing the Eyewall’ closes out the album in a very broodingly, melancholic manner. Do the heavy riffs at the end and the almost breakdown-ish ending allude to a heavier sound on the next record?
From what we’ve written so far the next album will for sure include some heavier parts than on this album. But we really want to experiment with having a sound where the heaviness can come out of other instruments than distorted guitars. We hope to develop the relationship between the brass and guitars/bass on the next album to make the backbone of the band sound heavy but in a fresh way.

Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us. Are there any plans of hitting up Holland anytime soon?
We will surely do our best. There have been some talks with festivals but we haven’t managed to secure a date as of now.

Is there anything else you’d like to say to end the interview?
Well we should take this opportunity to say thanks for a very nice review and we really hope we can come down and play asap. The Dutch gigs we’ve done so far have been absolute riots.

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