Interview: Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity.
Interviewed by Paul Hutchings
With a new album out next week, Paul took the opportunity to speak to Mikael Stanne of meldoci death metal outfit Dark Tranquillity.
The Razor's Edge: Welcome to The Razor’s Edge Mikael. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.
Mikael: That’s fine
The Razor’s Edge: When we were talking you touched on the fact that you've been talking to people around the world about how things are so we must get that out of the way. How are things with you? I assume you're in Sweden in Gothenburg?
Mikael: Yeah, I'm at home. You probably know Sweden has a different take on how to handle this from the rest of the world which I very much appreciate, but who knows if it's right or wrong. Time will tell if it's the right move, but for now it feels pretty good even though you know, it is super weird, but at least we still have the kind of the freedom to do things, but it's about caring about it, being cautious and worrying about others. And of course, there's a lot of restrictions, but there are no lockdowns, and everything is kind of still open and available. You're encouraged not to go out basically, yeah, so we thought it's been good to be busy.
We've been in the studio most of this year up until early July, basically super busy. The studio is 15 minutes’ walk from where I live, so I've been either there or at home, you know. So, it's it's been good to be really busy. Good to be kind of creative and kind of vent your frustration a little bit and yeah, get it out of your system in in the best way that we know how. I mean we're kind of lucky in that we had something planned this year you know. Yeah, that is not shows. It wasn't only touring this year and that was good in that respect. But of course, it's frustrating knowing that after the album is out in three and a half weeks, I don't know what's gonna happen. It's gonna be busy for another month and then the big emptiness will swallow us all.
The Razor’s Edge: Yes because you've lost an American tour. Is that right?
Mikael: Yeah. Of course, all the festivals and stuff like that. I think we had 65 shows planned this year. So yes, a lot and then what we always do is we start the tour of the day of the release. You know we normally start in New York and then we like can get going on the American tour and it’s been like that for the last two albums and it's a great way to kick things off.
So since we can't do that, we're just gonna stay home and we're gonna do a streaming like we're gonna stream a show. Actually, on the day of the release and play all the new songs and all that stuff and kind of treat it as if this was the first night of that tour.
The Razor’s Edge: I look forward to seeing that, that should be good.
Mikael: Yeah, I'm really excited like we're gonna be on the same stage. We haven't done a show more than a year now. Yeah, we haven't seen our crew in a year, and you know, just like really good to get back to it even though it's only for one night. But we're going to make the most out of it, you know.
The Razor’s Edge: Fabulous, I've been fortunate enough to have been given an advanced copy of the album. I must say, having listened to it several times it's a great album, so congratulations on that. It's really strong. I've enjoyed watching the making of the of the album videos that have been coming out on YouTube and they've been really interesting to watch because you don't always get to see what's going on behind the scenes. One of the things I notice from it is that you seem to be very much involved in almost all aspects. I noticed you sat there watching Chris and Johan as they were doing their guitar bits and stuff, are you for want of a better word, a little bit of a control freak when it comes to writing the album and recording. Do you want to be involved in everything?
Mikael: Haha! No, no, I think it is Martin Brändström. He's the guy with the control. I wouldn't say he's a control freak, but he's very particular and yeah, he really enjoys it and I think especially this album he wants to make sure that everything is there and that we kind of maintain quality but also you know really using the new super skilled guitar players.
For me I just love hanging out there. I like to see them perform, I like to see them play I like hanging out in the studio you know even when I'm not doing anything and it's a good time and again I mean it's it's super close. And we've been there for almost a year and a half or something like that in total from the beginning of the writing process in the pre-production and everything like that. So, it's been a second home for everyone for a while you know. But it’s important to encourage and and of course I had this extraordinarily strong idea about how this album should sound so it was good to kind of keep that communication going with the other guys as well.
The Razor’s Edge: You talked about Martin doing the production. He's done a brilliant job. It also seemed from the videos very relaxed, especially with two new guitarists, although they're not new in sense of, they've been playing with you for some time, haven't they? In terms of recording, did you feel it was a more relaxed approach this time?
Mikael: Yeah, and it became even more so because we didn't have a deadline, so it was kind of fluid. At one point our plan was to release it before the summer so we could play festivals and play new songs. It was gonna be out like around now or even earlier so it could coincide with the tour and then none of that happened so we could kind of push it, which meant we had more time in the studio. We didn't have that final deadline anymore, which really made us more relaxed than we could fully work on things for for longer time and and just yeah finish everything and fix everything and all those things. So yeah, and of course we were used to being in the studio. This is our third or fourth album recorded there and and also we wanted it to be very relaxed now that we have two new guys who are kind of, you know, not hesitant, but excited, but at the same time we want to make sure that everybody's feeling good and having a great time but also you know delivering great takes and great performances.
The Razor’s Edge: And it certainly sounds that way. The music is very sharp. I think the vocals are on point and everything comes across well. I'm really pleased for you.
Mikael: Thank you.
The Razor’s Edge: Talking about the actual themes in the the ideas behind ‘Moment’, and I think if I picked it up right, you're looking at different paths taken in life and that kind of thing. Where do you get your inspiration from? What inspires you?
Mikael: Mostly it's things that frustrate me. So that comes from anything from friends doing the weird wrong thing or handling things in a wrong way or just things that I see constantly in the news. Like how the world is kind of going in the wrong direction in many ways, how it seems like we're following the wrong path. We're following the wrong leaders, the wrong religions. The wrong movements. It just like feels like everything should be fine, like every opinion is as valid as the others. You're not being held accountable for anything, like every opinion matters as much as the other. And yeah, suddenly like this kind of Information Society that we have now.
It should be the best thing ever, because all of a sudden we have access to the same information, the truth, scientific facts. Everything that we need, but it seems like we we choose not to, and we focus on other things because it makes us feel better or feel something else. Or you feel you belong to something or you feel vindicated by something or you feel empowered by something that is not necessarily true. But it makes you feel better. And suddenly nothing matters outside of that, and it becomes very egotistical and one sided. That is one of the things that I've been writing about; how weird it is that you take that path.
The Razor’s Edge: I understand, and sadly you've got lots of materials you were saying to work with now.
Mikael: Haha! Yeah, the hardest part is to find something There's so much that there's an abundance of inspiration for sure.
The Razor’s Edge: Now, I know that you're a bit of a vinyl fan and I know that obviously you've got Niklas Sundin still doing your artwork. The album cover, I've obviously only seen it digitally, but it looks like a piece that, apart from the fact it's an amazing piece of work is very much a vinyl kind of layout which people would look at. When you were talking with Nicholas about the design and your your ideas about it, did you have an idea about how that cover would look on a vinyl as opposed to a compact disc or on a computer screen. Is that part of what you have in mind when you're doing the design?
Mikael: Yeah, for sure and from day one I want it to be a gatefold. It should have a good inner sleeve thing in it and that's what I envisioned and that's something that I said to Niklas early on. We need this super wide cover that extends on both sides and also the inner sleeve or the inner booklet would should be something else and it should be different and so that's how we treated it the whole way through, although I haven't seen it yet. I've seen it on a Skype meeting. I haven't seen it for real, but on Monday we will be pressing some copies here in Gothenburg at a pressing plant that just opened two years ago. We're gonna do like a super special edition of record that we're going to press ourselves and package ourselves and ship ourselves so it's really, really, really a kind of a homemade thing. And and that's what we're kind of looking for all the way through. Even with the production of the album, like doing it our own studio, using our gear and our equipment, and then also kind of be kind of responsible all the way through up until the delivery of the album to people.
And it's fun when, especially now that we have the time, and we have the resources and facilities here in Gothenburg that we we can do it. We don't have to travel or do anything like that. I cannot wait. It's gonna be super cool and that's something that is really important because there was a time when covers album covers were just the CD or just a tiny image. Now it's kind of coming back and how more valuable things are if you actually own them and you can touch them and not just on your streaming account, it's all that is coming back in a in a good way and I I love it. I'm a huge fan of it and and of course that means that you pay extra attention to things like that, how the the cover and the whole packaging is is presented.
The Razor’s Edge: I totally agree and I think we're lucky that we're in a genre of music in terms of hard Rock, heavy metal, and that where the physical thing Is very much something that most of the fans are very much into. A lot of the fans actually want that physical copy on the day of release to sit down and spend time with it.
Mikael: Yeah, and in the way that the industry works now is that especially when you follow more obscure bands then that’s what kind of makes or break an album. Like how many people do actually buy the the records and the T shirts and go to the shows? That's where the money comes from if you're a new band. It becomes even more important to support the bands that I like through through buying actual albums. Yeah, and a lot of T shirts and that kind of stuff because it's so easy and it really makes a big difference.
The Razor’s Edge: Yes, I agree, and I think for me certainly the fact that we've had no live music for about six months has meant I've probably channelled twice as much money into buying vinyl and T shirts as I would have if I was going to gigs.
Miakel: It's very comforting to you. To know it makes you happy. Today I know, there was a new Yes album released so I had to run out and buy it. Of course, I mean it makes me super happy.
The Razor’s Edge: One of the other things that I was looking at when I was just doing a little bit of research was I watched the Out of Nothing documentary which I hadn't seen for a good few years. I was watching that and thinking even though it was 2009 so 11 years ago, even then you'd been playing for some time and you were talking, about how you began and everything. And I wondered whether, looking back now, do you wake up sometimes and think, I can't believe that I've been doing this nearly all my life. Is it still almost something that's quite amazing for you?
Mikael: Kind of. You get reminded of that, you talk to someone or like an old friend you haven't seen in a while and it's like, oh yeah, I remember this show like 15 years ago and it's like what? Yeah, it's been that long. It's weird, you just go with it. I suppose I don't think about it. I get reminded of it sometimes, but there's always kind of new and interesting things that happen. The band is ever changing and not just in terms of members, but also how we do things and how new opportunities and new things are presented in new tours. We try to kind of constantly prove everything around us. To make everything smarter and better, and that that aspect is very exciting as well, not just the music. And now I guess, this year we're going to focus on a lot of those things instead of touring, unfortunately. There is always something to do. There's also rarely a moment where we kind of step back from it and just not think about it for a while. It's always there and I like that you know it's such a huge part of who we are.
The Razor’s Edge: It's really warming to hear that because we know certain bands are, you know, are in a difficult position at the moment, so it's great to hear the enthusiasm that you still got.
Mikael: Speak to me in two months we'll see!
The Razor’s Edge: Haha! I know that we've talked a little bit about losing shows and you talked about the number that you've gotten. Obviously 2021, fingers crossed, has quite a lot stacked up for you, including a quite rare appearance over here in the UK at the Bloodstock Festival, which you haven't played since 2007, I think.
Mikael: Holy shit, yeah, that's right.
The Razor’s Edge: I think it's about six years since you played last over here. If I'm relying on some various websites.
Mikael: Yeah yeah, that could be true.
The Razor’s Edge: I know that you've got a reasonable fan base over here. Do you get much interaction with the UK fans?
Mikael: Yeah, yeah, we do, but I don't know for whatever reason like we rarely book shows in England. I really don't know whenever we put together, a European Tour, I honestly don't know. It's one of those things that I don't interfere with too much but it's a little sad because we love playing there. It's just for whatever reason it hasn't happened. Seven years. That sounds weird, but yeah, it could be true.
The Razor’s Edge: I don't know if you can remember your previous appearance at Bloodstock.
Mikael: I can yeah, yeah.
The Razor’s Edge: What memories do you have of it?
Mikael: It was kind of rainy and it was kind of very fucking cool and I remember just because there was a lot of friends that I hadn't seen in a while. It was pretty insane. Like a drunken party afterwards that I remember. Yeah, lot of lot of cool friends.
The Razor’s Edge: I hope that you'll be looking forward to playing it next year. On a much bigger stage than it would have been in 2007, because the festival has grown substantially since then.
Mikael: That's what I hear. Yeah, I'm excited It should be good. We're really looking forward to the summer.
The Razor’s Edge: I want to ask you a couple of maybe slightly less straightforward questions which you've probably been asked, but one of the things I wanted to ask you about, because it tickled me, was on the video that you did in Black Plastic records in Germany a few years ago where you chose some of your favourite albums and one of the albums that you took out had a thrash metal collage on the inside sleeve. And you said, oh, I've always wanted to do one of them. Are you any closer to getting the collage done now than you were then?
Mikael: Actually a little bit closer but fuck yeah, yeah we should, because I love that, you know, it's looks so cool and like and it gives you some like weird insight back before Instagram and all that stuff, into kind of the life of a band. We're like, well, it's not really, but it's little bit similar what we're doing. Like I told you about this kind of special vinyl edition that we're printing here. We've taken a lot of Polaroids over the last couple of weeks when we shot a video when we rehearse and when just when we hang out and stuff like that. So, we're going to have some Polaroids, a unique one in every single one of the albums that we print, so it's kind of like you know, eventually if people are collecting they could put together or their own collage of pictures of us. But now actually we have this project with a couple of friends though and when we started, if we ever do an album, we should have that we already started taking pictures that we're going to include in the eventual album if it ever happens, or if we do an E.P. or something with this weird project and there's going to be a collage there. So yeah, but it might be happening somewhere else, but you can make your own if you if you start collecting these super rare special versions of the ‘Moment’ album.
The Razor’s Edge: You also mentioned in that video that you were due to see King Crimson a few weeks after you had filmed it. I hope you did get to see them, and if you did, was it as good as you were expecting?
Mikael: Yeah, I saw it in Copenhagen, and it was ridiculously good. But then I saw them again two summers ago. They played in Stockholm and they did two nights at the Circus Arena which is a smaller one and I had way better seats. I was in the second or third row or something. That's why I felt super close. And as we saw two nights that was probably up there like top ten shows of all time for me.
The Razor’s Edge: Really. That good? You’ve played a lot of venues around the world. Have you got any venues that you always enjoy playing? Are there any specific ones that you always get a good vibe from?
Mikael: Oh for sure, like sometimes it's, you know, tiny small little half weird venues that you just feel comfortable in or you just feel people really care here. There are a few in Poland that are just like super professional that you just feel amazing, like Holland probably has the best venues in the world in my opinion. In Tilburg, for instance there were two or something that it just doesn't get any better than in terms of just how you get treated and how everything works perfectly, all that stuff. And Germany has some great venues as well.
In America, sometimes we play like a small club somewhere and you just go "oh man, yeah, I remember this" and you feel great again. And then there are a few that just gives you shivers down your spine. When when you see it in the in the tour roster where you go "oh no, we're going back there". Holy shit but I like the ones that have grown over the years and we play over and over again in a small city. There’s one in Belgium we probably played like 15 times. It's not the best by any stretch of the imagination, but you always feel super welcome when you come back. The food is great, like the area. There's nothing there. There's nothing you can do. Just hang out and I remember in the beginning I kind of loathed getting there, but now I look forward to it because it's just comforting. Some in America like the House of Blues venue which is just gorgeous and super cool that you just think "oh man I know exactly what I'm going to get". Everything is going to sound great, feel great and you know your super welcome there. That kind of stuff is cool but I prefer coming to super brand new places, brand new cities, brand new venues that we haven't been and that's the most exciting really that's what I forward to.
The Razor’s Edge: It’s been a pleasure to speak to you. This year one of the things that stood out, is despite the fact that we haven't had the live music, the actual quality of the music that has come out from the metal scene has been off the scale in terms of some of the albums that we've heard, I wondered if there's anything that has caught your ear this year, maybe you've listened to on a lot of regular basis.
Mikael: Oh, there's a lot. This is a great year for music without a doubt with cool stuff coming out all the time and that gets through get through the day or the week or the year.
I strongly believe next year and the year after there will be albums and collaborations and weird albums and strange albums just because you cannot go anywhere, you might as well stay home and write and record. So, I think in two or three years we're going to look back at this year's being like a super productive and creative year. Some of the coolest, weirdest, strangest collaborations will come out of it. I think the the ones that I've been listening to the most is the new and unfortunately the last Fish album. I listened back the new Rezn album ‘Chaotic Divine’ a lot and the new Enslaved album is ridiculously good. Ozrics Tentacles finally released a new album. I love them. Necrophobic delivered a great new album as well. Spirit Adrift. I thought it was really good but I think my album of the year so far is probably ‘Forgotten Days’. The new Pallbearer album. I think they knocked it out of the park. I'm a huge fan of them and this is just so awesome. There's no shortage of good things to kind of occupy your time, that's for sure.
The Razor’s Edge: Absolutely Michael. It's been an absolute privilege to talk to you. I appreciate your time and really enjoyed the conversation.
Mikael: Oh, me too. Take care.