AVATARIUM have positioned themselves as an uprising force on the doom metal scene with their two full length albums and how could they not, when we are talking about Leif Edling’s (CANDLEMASS and KRUX bassist and pretty much the Godfather of doom metal) new project.
Encompassing a wide variety of elements such as keyboards, blues and ethereally dark female vocals, plus an appetite for storytelling, AVATARIUM portray a fresh artistic style that deserves our attention.
With the band’s second full length (The Girl With The Raven Mask) fresh out of the presses and with the dates for the live shows in Greece approaching, we caught up with lead guitarist and producer Marcus Jidell to talk about the process of recording The Girl With The Raven Mask, the differences with the debut, live shows and the need to sound unique.
So, how are things going Marcus?
I’m doing fine! You know, we had a very busy fall in November and December. We started recordings for the AVATARIUM album in March and since then we’ve been working very hard with promotion and everything, and then we toured in November but now we’re starting to get back in shape.
You toured with VINTAGE CARAVAN, how did that go?
It was very nice; they’re very talented guys and great guys to hang with. I like their music so it’s always nice to tour with a band that you enjoy listening to.
So, a second full length album for AVATARIUM and it’s a whole different story than the debut right?
Yeah, I think so! We tried to continue what we started on the first album and I think we managed to find “the AVATARIUM sound on this one” , you know?
Exactly, I think on the debut you had way more room for experimentation. This one had a bit more compact and unique style, while the first one was full of influences.
The thing is, when we did the first album the band came together in the process, so… When we started, me and Leif, we didn’t even have a band (when we started writing and working on the songs and everything). So then, when the band came in and we recorded the album, then we started playing live and started to feel like “hey, maybe we can push this even further” in the direction that we want, to meet the 60’s and 70’s music style and combine that with the heavy sound of today.
Would it be accurate to say that this time you were also more focused on the ambient/atmospheric element?
Yeah, I think so. We especially wanted to record it in an organic way and get the natural dynamic you can only get if you record it properly and don’t use the triggers for drums and all that kind of stuff. And we know that if you want to achieve that organic sound everybody in the band need to perform very well and we need to be in a great studio of course, so we did a lot of research and work before we started, the recordings.
And you really had a lot to say on this great production of “The Girl With The Raven Mask”.
Glad you liked it. For me it was an opportunity to really try to use the influences from the bands I always loved, like MOUNTAIN, DEEP PURPLE, BLACK SABBATH, the early CROSBY, STILLS and NASH, CRAZY HORSE or NEIL YOUNG, and try to get us closer to the feeling these artists had when they recorded in the 60’s – 70’s.
I thing you achieved that on a great level, “Pearls & Coffins” for instance, what an amazing song…
I’m very happy for that as well. For me it feels like AVATARIUM is about trying to move boundaries and finding new ways of expressing ourselves and “Pearls and Coffins” was a really big step for us in that direction.
And you do have a trademark sound which is a bit tough to find nowadays.
I guess. For me it is hard to try and find your sound and I’m getting a little tired of those bands that sound a little bit close to each other. And also when I’ve been playing in other bands and I do my performances and I play my solos and do my rhythm guitars and everything and then some producer or someone comes in and edits everything (note: some words were lost here due to a bad connection)… sound like everybody else, so after a while I could not even hear it was me playing and I got tired of that. That’s why I try to be in charge of my sound now and I feel it’s extremely important to be personal and bring out everyone’s personalities.
And it does work out fine, because your music is more than the adding of everyone’s individual musical knowledge. It really gives out a unique feeling that seems like it encompasses elements for other forms of art like poetry, or cinema. It is theatrical.
Of course, we are influenced by all kinds of art, it can be anything. I am very influenced by pictures, cinema… All of us read a lot so that is a big influence. Sometimes when we talk about music it’s in pictures or in stories and we try to catch vibes and emotion. Sometimes it’s easier to talk about the story than to talk about what notes to play or what instruments to use.
That’s a great way to utilize your fantasy, and I think it trickles down to your music, like for example in “Lady In The Lamp” from the debut or “Iron Mule” from the latest record.
Yeah, that was amazing! Listening to an atmospheric doom record and then here you go, a song about the building of railroads! That requires some form of appreciation for other arts.
Glad you liked it, I really like that song too, it was really a quite different song for us.
It’s really nice that you get to explore many different areas.
That’s very important I think, and that is what glues us together as persons, especially when me and Jennie-Ann and Leif arrange and work on music, that we always want to explore new things and, as I said, push boundaries and see how far we can go and what we can find. So we always push ourselves to do better stuff and bring out emotion, so it is a very creative and open environment when we work on music. But of course we’re also very picky, all of us! So we are not satisfied until we really really think it’s something that we like.
So it’s possible we do not hear many first takes on the albums?
I think lots of the recordings are first takes but what takes time is to write the music.
So we get a live feeling on the albums.
Yeah! But you know, once the songs are written and we’ve rehearsed them and learned them, everybody are a great musician so I’d say there are quite a lot first takes actually, haha!
How easy is it to portray this complex thing you play on a live show? Is it a different thing entirely?
I think it’s two different things with live music and studio recordings. The thing is when we toured now in November we played the new songs for the first time and all the songs are arranged, actually, for playing live. So I think it sounds quite close to what we sound in the album, BUT hopefully sometimes it’s even better because we always try to bring in new stuff and new feelings in a song, so some of the versions we do sometimes, for me, get better and the songs grow. AVATARIUM is a lot about playing live, that’s the reward when we have been recording and writing the songs, to play live is the most fun of what we’re doing. That is the reward for the hard work we’ve been doing, getting to play live and hopefully enjoy the music with the fans. It’s an amazing feeling; to me this is the most fun thing in life actually.
That is a very healthy way to look at music!
At the end of the day I’m a musician, I love to play music and to share that with a band I really respect and with an audience I respect and feel that they love what we do, that is totally amazing.
And I think we’re gonna get some of this positive energy here in Greece, right?
Yeah, of course, we’re really looking forward to coming to Greece.
Have you ever played in Greece before?
Yes, I’ve been in Greece with EVERGREY and ROYAL HUNT.
And what was your experience?
I think the Greek audience was a good audience when I’ve been there, but I think it’s going to be more fun with AVATARIUM actually!
As for Jennie-Ann, this amazing singer, this time I think took a bit more initiative.
That’s true. She’s been very involved in the arrangements and some of the melodies and stuff on this album and this is another reason that it sounds way different from the first one.
In the first album she was like there when you needed her, almost like complimenting the music in an ethereal way. This one is a game changer, she really gives it all.
Yes, she is an amazing singer but she is also a musician and she has a very good feel on how to make the songs, the melodies and the words become magic. There are not many people who have that, but she does. The more we’ve been working together and the more we’ve been doing this, the better she gets and the more ideas she has. She is a very big part of the sound of the band, very important.
It’s true what you said about her being “magic”, she has that weird vibe and it’s very ambient what she does!
She has a talent to take a lyric or a melody and make it her own; and she can tell a story too! There are a lot of singers that just sing but Jennie-Ann can tell a story.
Exactly, and I tend to keep away when I see the label “female fronted metal” because it’s a pretty beaten up genre, but only two albums in and I think with these performances she can match the top voices in the scene.
To me she is the best!
The facts that AVATARIUM have a lot of stories in the songs and she is a great vocal “actress” makes me wonder as a fan if it’d be possible in the future to hear a concept album by AVATARIUM.
Of course it’s possible, but nothing we’ve talked about yet. But you know, never say never, it might happen!
We talked about “Pearls and Coffins” at the begging, and I’ve got to say, when the official video clip came out, it scored 25 thousand views in only 5 days. That’s really something!
That’s very good I must say, people seem to enjoy this and we are very happy. Every time we do something knew we get more and more attention and more people get to know us. It takes time to build up a band of course, but we are very happy we already have such a big fan base. And I’ve been working for a while in the music business and I don’t take this thing for granted, I know if people don’t like you, they won’t listen to you, that’s how it is, haha! So we’re very happy about that and we hope it will continue. We love to do this you know, and this is like a life elixir for us.
The video clip has a bizarre twist in its artistic approach; I can’t say it was something I expected! Care to share a few words about how the whole thing went down?
Well the lyrics are “machine guns blazing on” and all this kind of stuff and it’s about a relationship drama. So the first idea we had was like a cold war shootout of two agents who were in love, it’s all metaphors. But then we came up with this idea, that’s more like this dystopian, dreamy, parallel world. It’s all metaphors of course, of how you can feel when a relationship is going down; the bullets are metaphors of how we can hurt each other in a bad relationship.
As we approach the end I’ve been meaning to ask how Leif (Edling) is doing. I think he faced some health problems, is he getting better?
It’s a little up and down I would say, but I think he is getting better. I usually meet him quite often, but now I haven’t met him for ten days or something, but we are talking to each other. Now he is quite okay I think but he can’t tour at the moment, he’s not in that good of shape, but it feels like slowly he’s getting better.
That’s very nice to hear. Working with him has been rather good I suppose.
It’s amazing to work with such a talented person. And it works out pretty good when me and him work together because he’s given me a lot of freedom to work on the songs and put my touch to them, so it’s an amazing situation I would say.
So it’s not a, let’s jokingly say, “dictatorship”, everybody has a say.
Yeah, really. Usually Leif arrives at the studio and we record some rough sketches of the song and then he goes home and I continue to do the arrangements, and then Jeannie-Ann comes – usually it’s me and Jeannie-Ann who do the rest, all the arrangements and everything-. So you would say it is a band effort, and that is what makes this fun because it’s very important to be able to put your personal touch on something that you do, and on every great band that I know you can hear everybody’s personalities. That’s something I miss in today’s bands and that’s something I am trying to bring in AVATARIUM.
I think at some point you produced a solo album as well? I haven’t listened to it but doing some snooping around I found that it is on the experimental side, so can you share a bit about it?
I kind of did everything myself, so for me it was very challenging and I learned a lot when I did it. It was instrumental music but it was influenced by stories that I’d read, so every song had a story and I put music to that story, without words. I’d really like to do one more actually. It was a long procedure but it was good for me because this is how I learned to produce stuff myself.
So to wrap this up, what does the future hold for AVATARIUM?
What I want to do is to start working on some new songs quite soon actually. But this year we’re gonna do some shows, some festivals and continue to do what we do. We are all up for this thing that we started and we will continue to do it and get better and better.