DARK TRANQUILLITY release their 11th album named “Atoma” on 4th of November. So, METALPATHS caught up with the frontman of the band Mikael Stanne; “How was the procedure of this creation after the departure of the founding member Martin Henriksson?” “How does the future of the band looks from this point and on?” “How many connections do they have with In Flames?” and… “How many inaccuracies the internet does provide?” All of that and many others you can find out here.
Hello and welcome to Metalpaths. How are you?
Sweet. Sweet, pretty good.
Let’s start then. First of all congratulations on your eleventh release entitled “Atoma” that will be out on 4th November. As I have read the procedure of the creation was a struggle for the band. What happened and it was so hard?
Well, I guess it is something about we haven’t done this for such a long time. You build up your own expectations, your own standards over the years and you realise hmm… Why are we doing this? What should we do in order to prove to ourselves that we are a relevant band? That we still have something to say, something to offer in the oversaturated metal world. Can we come up with something that it still feels as excited by as we used to feel when we were just kids starting up this band. Can we still find that creativity that kind of passion? And sometimes you can over think about that and you end up second guessing every single decision you make musically. It is kind of tough. It is hard to find that – how can I call it? – sense of new discovery. We try out something that you feel is outside our comfort zone. Something that is new. And finding that was the hardest part. We had had tones of new material; all the melodies and the riffs and all that stuff. But putting them together in a way that felt fresh and new that was the biggest challenge.
From what I’ve listened until now we are dealing with a classic DT album. How do you feel with the result and could you spot any differences between this one and the previous releases?
For sure, I think what we started on “Construct” was a new way of approaching songs, a new write process, where we started off at the studio recording and trying out demos of songs. Just drew sketches and being able to formulate an idea fully before deciding if it was a god one or not. Making sure we had a presentation of a song. If we had an idea we recorded it and made a proper demo. Then we decided if it was good enough or not. This think we started in “Construct”, we re-find it even smoother and more efficient with this album. Other than that I think we are more comfortable working like this, which meant we could try out things we maybe hesitated before. This opened up for new sounds and new techniques of recording. Martin Brändström for instance tried to use different types of keyboards and we recorded on different drum rooms. Small details like that, which actually freed us creatively and made us appreciate the process a little bit more.
Three years from “Construct” and I have noticed that your last albums – especially after “Character” – are being released every three years.
Yes, you are not wrong.
It seems that you take your time with every release.
We do, but I think more than anything it is our crazy touring schedule. It sets off the tone on that. Because as everybody in the music business knows by now, this is how you make your living through touring. Also I think we need that time. I mean we go on long tours and we make a lot of them. Then you actually need some time to decompress. Fully get home and get into your normal life for a while, before you start thinking about the next project. And with each year we need more time off the band, to focus on family and whatever we want to do. Then go on when you are feeling hungry again. We don’t want to exhaust ourselves and immediately following a tour to go in the studio. That would not be beneficial to the finished product.
Let me ask about the title you chose. Is “Atoma” referring to the Greek word ατομο; which means this that cannot be separated? And how do you come up with it?
It was something that I and Niklas (Sundin- the guitarist of the band) talked for quite a while. We were trying to come up with a title for the album talking about all the lyrics and Niklas read through them. His idea was that this is about how we are as people; the idea of the fundamental human nature. It is also about how we treat each other and how we are as individuals towards each other, and how we still have this conflict and this strife against each other just because we are different. All that kind of things. But we also talked about how our lives have changed radically since we were kids. Me and Niklas, we met when we were 5 or 6 years old and we’ve been friends ever since. So we talked how the last couple of years have changed us, because of what have happened in our families and how we have grown up and now we have kids in our lives and we are losing our parents. I mean we are in that age when stuff like this happen. But this thing we have together, which is the band, it is still fundamentally very strong. Of course it has changed too. With the departure of Martin Henriksson, one of our founding members, we felt that this thing is still strong and we need to continue. Maybe it will be something different, so we thought this was the start of something new. As you said this was something undividable. That came up as a Niklas suggestion and I liked it. I felt strong and I was intrigued by that word. It connected all the songs in the album in a meaningful way to me. I am really happy. Also Niklas immediately after the decision, he was like alright I think I have an idea for the cover. And three days later the cover was finished and it was fantastic. That’s how his creative mind works. He just needs a good creative spark and then inspiration gets him going. And I loved it. He does amazing work when he is in the spirit of the moment.
As you said recently you’ve experienced the departure of Martin Henriksson, but Dark Tranquillity is a band with the most stable line up. The spine of the band is really strong. How did this departure affect the band in general and concerning the composition?
Of course it did raise a lot of questions. How do we continue? How we deal with this? His sound, his style, his play is so unique and it is so crucial to our music for all this time. He is the guy who takes care of a lot of things. How can we survive with that? How can we travel without this guy who knows everything about everything? That was weird. And if his motivation wasn’t there anymore, are we feeling it too? Did we lie to ourselves when we were out there having fun? What’s the deal? But I think it kind of put into focus our passion for it; what it means to us and how important it is. And Martin is equally invested in the band. This is his life as well. So with him not being part of the touring and the creative aspect of the band, it is weird, but in the same time I do get it. He is more invested in everything else that is not the music. That has become his role in the last years. He is the manager. He is the organiser. He is the promoter. He is the “everything”. So that’s what he is going to do in the meanwhile. He takes care of the band, but he does not have to come with us anymore. He is not to travel with us anymore, which is strange, but at the same time that is what he wants to do. And I have to respect that.
I saw somewhere in the magic world of the internet, that you actually contributed with the guitar recordings. Is that true?
No, no. No no no. I read that. It was on metal-archives or something. And I actually contacted one guy there and said to them. No. Where did you get this from? I have not any idea why. Absolutely not. I am not even allowed near the guitar when we are recording. I’m horrible.
Though you used to play in the very beginning.
Yes, but back then I tried really hard on “Skydancer”. I think it sounded ok, but I am far from half decent as a guitar player.
You are the main writer of the lyrics in the band…
Yes that I am.
We have lyrics about frustration, anger and despair. What inspires you to write lyrics? Anyone can see you live that you are an energetic person and not that pessimistic.
I wouldn’t say I am pessimistic when I write either. I am definitely frustrated and angry, as everyone is. Things get me down. Things make me furious. And things make me sad. Things make me not able to sleep for weeks. These are the basic frustrations that you try to figure out how to deal with and stuff that keeps you up all night, when you go hoe do the hell I solve these? And how do I deal with things that go on in the world for instance. How do I tell my daughter about what is going on on the world right now? When you are old enough to realise that there are big parts of the world where’s nothing but misery. Difficulties I had with some aspects of this world. I try to put that into words and to me it makes sense to write about it and scream about it. It alleviates some of the tension. And of course in terms of inspiration it’s not hard. You turn on the TV, you open up a couple of newspapers and it’s there. You want to scream right at it. Like what the fuck is going on? Yes finding the inspiration is the easy part, but getting to write it, getting to the core of the problems and vocalised them in a way that makes sense, that’s the hard part. I’ve been struggling with it a lot. Writing down your ideas and your thoughts is kind of easy, but putting them in a song so that they have this impact. Like in a really short intense song to say all the things you want to say. That’s the really really hard part for me.
Do you guys read the reviews of each release? And how does the critic reflect on you psychologically?
Maybe subconsciously, I don’t know. Of course we do. I mean that’s interesting. I love reading that kind of stuff. Just to see what goes on in the minds of the reviewers. I read reviews for everything that I do. I love movies and video games and I do music. I read reviews all the time. Just to find out new stuff. I love reading magazines with music that I may be not familiar with or about new movies coming out or video games. To figure out that this is something for me. I also love reading reviews about things I know about just to see other perspectives. And of course I’m reading about our music and go “hmm”, “oh!”, “really?” (laughs). It is hard to be objective about the music you just wrote and recorded. For instance I played to a couple of friends “Atoma” and I’ve listened to it a lot, but it’s never enough. And I don’t really know what people going to say. Do they get the same things that I think is important to the album or they listen to something completely different? I’ve read some reviews already and it’s been incredibly amazingly positive, so I am really happy. Even some reviewers that I know they haven’t dug us in the past and some old school fans of the band are really digging it like it is one of the best. And there you go. I couldn’t be happier. And we are constantly sending texts and links to each other in the band: “did you read this? This is really awesome”. That makes us really happy. That people do get it. They understand what we’re doing. It was a struggle to write the album for two months and with all the second thinking, the level of confidence you had in the beginning of the recording is totally drained by the end. So you cannot be objective about it. You listen to it and say I guess it’s good, I don’t care. Just get it out there.
Now you have already filled the tour dates for North America. I suppose you are going to tour after that in Europe, right? Any plans for the friends of the band in Greece?
I don’t know specific dates, but we’ve been talking about it and it’s going to happen for sure. We start the European Tour in March, so it is going to be either January or February or after the summer. We work on it right now and we talked to our promoter guy there. We make sure that we bind it up with some other dates around. So it is definitely happening. We can’t wait to come back. We always have a fantastic time in Greece, some of our favourite shows of all time happened there.
You carry more than 25 years of experience. How do you feel about it as a veteran? Would you think of going on for 20 more years?
I definitely don’t feel like a veteran. Sometimes you talk to younger bands and you feel like a grandpa or something when you say “back in my day, we used to do this”. Obviously that does happen, but I really don’t feel like that. When you start telling stories about how things were when we started out, you realise that “holy shit” that was a long time ago. For me since this is being a cool and fun experience and also something that is been so woven into our lives, this is it. This is what I was starting doing when I was 15 and I’ve been doing it constantly ever since. It’s never been anything else competing with it. And it is interesting to grow up around this. You make your personal hive separate from the band, or you try to do it. It is becoming a part of all of us. I am just super happy we get to do this still. It feels great right now, we are having a blast. We feel creative. We manage to put together an album that we all agree it is our finest hour for now. We’ve been incredibly proud of it. It is going to be tough finding a replacement for Martin. Someone with equally strong character and someone that would fit in, but it will be interesting to find that guy. And now that Anders Iwers is in the band is kind of new energy, because of how great he is. Even though a lot of things have changed just in the last couple of months, I am looking forward for all the stuff we are going to do. So I can definitely see another 27 years. I don’t have a problem with that at all.
And how do see the evolution of the music we all love? Do you listen to any new metal bands? Any favourite acts?
I listen to new metal like every week. I try to find new bands. I try to find new stuff that is outside of the normal. I am just curious. I love progressive technical music. Whenever I hear great technical death metal bands and awesome instrumentalists I love that. I also listen to a lot instrumental doom and post rock and metal bands and I really love them, because they are so different from what we do. For me it’s the instrumentals and super heavy music that makes me react emotionally in a different way to it, just because there are no vocals. And normally I tend to listen to vocals and vocalists too much, so when I hear to an instrumental band I go:”oh this is so awesome”. I don’t have to worry if the vocals are good or bad. I just focus on the music and I really like that. That’s something I am getting into and also some psychedelic stuff. A lot of progressive music and anything that challenges you and makes you feel that you don’t know that this is even possible. That kind of thing. I am fortune to have a lot of friend that write in magazines and they are really devoted to music and they give me advice and send me links to check things out. And having streaming services like spotify, it really helps to find new music. I put my headphones on and just scroll through and find new stuff. There is nothing better than that.
As you also said before now Anders Iwers is the bassist of the band; the brother of Peter who plays the bass for In Flames.
Yes as if we needed more connections to In Flames, right? (laughs)
Exactly that was going to be my question. How close are you guys in Gothenburg? Do you see each other every day?
Not every day, but quite a lot. Anders works to the record store I go all the time and we’ve been friends since we were 16. And Peter as well. And he lives close to me, so we go to drink every once and a while. I go to the bar that Peter runs. We used to be neighbours since I moved in the town and we’ve been hanging out for 20 years. Yeah. We do know each other. Bjorn (Gelotte) lives here as well and we get to meet him a lot. It’s not a big city.
Sweden is always producing great music. There are so many bands that come from Sweden and a lot of them are influential in the metal scene. How come and Sweden is producing so good metal? Is it something in the water?
That’s what everybody says. But I don’t know. From what I can tell and from the most bands that I know, it is a genuine passion for music. That is really important. Any band that I know that we are friends with; we just hang out and talk about albums and music forever and ever. And it’s never about marketing; it’s never about gaining notoriety and fame. It is always just music. It is always about being original and doing things a little bit differently. I think that’s why there are so many unique bands from Sweden. We have everything from the power metal like Sabbaton and Hammerfall to Meshuggah to Opeth. We have a strong progressive scene and a strong doom scene with bands like Monolord. We have fantastic death metal bands and the old school genre with Entombed and Dismember and Grave. I think in every genre of extreme music at least for me there is some of my favourites bands. I think it stands out from the passion for it. You can raise the bar for everything else. Whenever a new album comes out, all the bands are like I want to be that good. It’s always been like that. There’s never been any rivalry. I think, it’s always been a healthy environment between the bands that forces you to up your game and be better.
One last question. Imagine that our kind – the human kind – wanted to choose an all-time top 5 albums to represent ourselves in the universe and you were the one that has to choose them. Which ones would you choose?
Oh man. Let’s name three better. If the world had to choose something from classical music to set the tone of our musicality here in earth, I would go for something like Mozart, Beethoven something like that. But then we should also show off our compassion and emotion, so my favourite would be “Grace” by Jeff Buckley, one of my all time favourites. This one could show off the human nature, I think, and sadness and grief and love. That would be kind of cool. And then just to scare potential attackers off, something vicious and cool and crazy and to show that science is good and religion is bad, I would use “Unquestionable Presence” by Atheist. I think that would be very suitable. I think they knew already that something is out there.
Thank you very much for your time Mikael. It was a great honour and pleasure talking to you. May you have the last words for our readers.
Again I am just humble and incredibly grateful that we get to do this year after year and that we having blast doing it. It’s all because of you guys that support us and come to our shows and buy records. We can’t wait to see you and thank you thank you all in person. It’s going to be good.
Photos: Dirk Behlau