Dark Tranquillity 2010 Interview with Mikael Stanne
By Jennifer Canyon
Dark Tranquillity just might be humanities last hope for melodic Swedish death metal supremacy. While many of their brethren have changed their style and sound with success, Dark Tranquillity has stayed the course. The Gothenburg six piece have progressed and could never be accused of being stagnant, yet at the same time seem to stick to those strong roots that many of their countrymen seemed to have forgotten. For proof, look no further than their latest release, We Are The Void, which is merely the newest offering of an already strong catalog.
The last time I interviewed you was almost exactly 3 years ago for the Fiction CD. At that time you told me about the live DVD you were working on, Where Death Is Most Alive, which was still in the works. It was finally released last year and it is just an amazing package. I assume you spent a long time working on that? Were you glad to finally be done with that?
MS: Absolutely, I think it turned out amazingly well. I think it was exactly what we wanted. There was a pressure to really put it together. I’m so glad with the way that it came out. It’s something that we absolutely put a lot of work into, but it was definitely worth it.
It must have been exhausting. There’s so much footage on there and so many sources. It must have taken you guys forever to put that together.
MS: That was the hardest part, yes, for sure, and at the same time, we were writing the album and a lot of things going on at the same time. But it was cool though. It was interesting to go back to that old material, you know, the stupid stuff that was produced when we were kids.
It came out great. It was my pick for #1 DVD of the year for 2009.
We Are The Void is still very heavy, but is a bit more diverse than Fiction, would you agree with that?
MS: Yeah for sure. We decided that we really needed to do something since we just celebrated 20 years last year. We felt the need to make sure that this album kicks off the next 20 years. It should be something that is different and diverse since hitting 20 years. I love the way that it came out. We decided not to limit ourselves when we started writing. We made sure that anything goes, let’s experiment more and try to do different things that we never did before. It was a real challenge.
Fiction seemed to be a much faster album; while We Are The Void has a lot more mid-tempo songs. Did it just happen like that?
MS: What happened was for Fiction we wrote 11 songs and that was it, but for this one, we wrote 15 or something like that. There were a lot of other songs, other versions, I-tunes and what have you, and I guess in total there were still a lot of really fast songs, but they just didn’t really end up on the album.
Similar to what you did on Fiction, you have more of your clean vocals on the new CD. I think your clean vocals add a lot of contrast to the songs, would you agree?
MS: Yeah, I don’t want to do the clean vocals just for the sake of doing it. I just felt the songs really needed it, this time around. There were parts here and there where I felt very strongly about it and I felt needed something different, you know. And I’m really happy on the way they came out, they came out really cool.
I understand you did some of the album in bassist Daniel Antonsson’s studio and then the rest in keyboardist Martin Brändström’s studio, why?
MS: Well, Martin doesn’t really have a drum room in his studio so the last time we recorded the drums in another studio and this time we did it in Daniel’s studio. So, it’s just the convenience of it, you know? Martin’s studio is fantastic and Daniel’s studio is also really, really cool. We just used both to make it more effective.
You are on the road right now in the U.S. with Killswitch Engage and The Devil Wears Prada. How is that going?
MS: It’s been amazing. We’re nearing the end and we have four more shows and we’ve been out for almost seven weeks. It’s been really, really amazing, really cool, the shows have been great. We did two nights in New York, it’s just been amazing.
You toured with KSE once before, right? My memory is going, but I think I remember seeing Sentenced, Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and KSE tour together in 2001, right?
MS: In ’02 actually. That was cool. That was the first time that we met them. They were kind of young and up and coming and they’ve done really well. This tour is somewhat bigger than that was. Basically, it’s just really cool to hang out again, you know?
Has it been hard to win their fans over, it seems like a strange tour for you to be on?
MS: It’s been surprisingly better than I expected. We knew it was going to be tough. But at the same time, we felt this was kind of a challenge and cool thing to do to kick off the touring cycle for this album with something like this. It’s been amazing to see the reaction of, especially the younger kids, who are perhaps more into The Devil Wears Prada than anything else. That’s amazing to see. We don’t normally do these kinds of shows; you know you’re usually preaching to the choir. This has really been awesome.
Have you been following the drama surrounding vocalist Howard Jones? Were you worried that something like this might affect ticket sales or that the vocalist switch just might overshadow everything else going on with the tour?
MS: For sure, we didn’t really know what to think at first, you know? We were like what’s going on? Is the tour going to end or what’s going to happen? But turns out, not a lot of people are returning their tickets. I don’t think it has affected the tour at all. At least not for us, and they’ve done fantastic shows every night and Phil has been amazing. I could never jump into a situation like that. It’s pretty impressive.
To me, many of the other bands that emerged from the melodic Swedish death metal scene have changed their sound drastically. In Flames, The Haunted have changed musically so much that they don’t even seem like the same bands anymore. While Dark Tranquillity has obviously progressed musically, you are still very close to your roots, why is that?
MS: I guess we’re very stubborn about our music, you know? We take it very seriously. Obviously, we have own way of doing their things. Martin especially is very kind of old fashioned and he wants things a certain way and that’s it. Whereas Niklas is just very adventurous. When they come together, they compliment each other and that’s when our sound starts to happens. The six of us are really all working together writing, and whatever comes out is going to sound like Dark Tranquillity. We feel very strongly about our music and the one thing that I am most proud of after 20 years that we never compromised with anyone outside of the band. It’s just the six of us and that’s it. We don’t feel the need to change too much. It’s rather a refinement than an overhaul, so to speak.
Yeah, you are definitely not AC/DC and recording the same album over and over again. But when I look at In Flames, which is a band I used to love, their music has changed so much, it’s just a different band to me know.
MS: Well, I would agree.
Since I’m a fan, I had to buy the deluxe edition of We Are The Void to get the bonus material. One of the bonus tracks, “To Where the Fires Cannot Feed”, is one of the best cuts on the album. Is that tough to decide what song to cut or to leave for a bonus track?
MS: It is always tough to choose which songs end up on an album. That’s why for Fiction, we just didn’t do anymore than what ended up on the album. But, we did 15 songs for this one and it was really something. We changed the order of the songs many, many times before we found a way to make the songs fit together properly and the rest were just bonus. I like “The Bow and the Arrow” which was only available on I-tunes, is probably one of my favorites. We struggled a lot to decide which ones ended up on the album and which ones didn’t. It’s always tough like that, but I think the album in itself wears perfect you know with the songs and the other songs are out of context still work.
The cover art is pretty interesting. It reminds me of an album called Penalty from a band called Floodgate. Were you aware of that?
MS: No, I wasn’t, Floodgate?
They were a band from Louisiana; they featured Kyle Thomas from Exhorder and Alabama Thunder Pussy. It came out in the 90’s; it’s a really good album.
MS: Yeah, OK, I’ll check that out.
What’s going on in the video for Shadow In Our Blood? It looks like they are carrying you around on a plank or something and you are obviously out in the cold, it looks really uncomfortable.
MS: I’m on a motorcycle, like a little off-road motorcycle. They built from some kind of contraption at the front of it. And they drove me around for like fourteen hours on the roads of Finland. It was freezing cold and it’s probably one of the most uncomfortable things I’ve ever done. It was kind of interesting though, they were an amazing group of guys who did the video, but man it was not nice.
In the last year or so you did the DT reissue CD’s, the Yesterworlds CD, The Manifesto of Dark Tranquillity, which is a best of, Where Death Is Most Alive 2CD and 2DVD, that’s a lot and now the album. Where you worried about over saturating the market with product? Or was it an attempt to get as much product out there as much as possible before the CD market totally dries up and dies?
MS: Well it’s just that a lot of things just happen at the same time, I guess. You know, we were worked on the re-releases. Then the Manifesto thing was from the record company, so they were just doing it for all the different bands. There was a lot of stuff coming out at pretty much the same time that was just kind of crazy. But at the same time, it feels really good to have that behind us now. That was the end of the first 20 years of the band. And we can celebrate that with the new DVD and now with the new album it feels like a fresh new start for us
OK, since you guys started when you were so young, and obviously you’re past the 20 year point, can you see yourselves going another 20 years?
MS: Of course. Absolutely.
That’s a good answer. George from Century Media told me that you were a big horror movie fan. I saw something recently were you said you were into Dario Argento and Mario Bava movies. MS: Oh, yes.
I’m a huge Italian horror fan, myself. What are some of your favorite horror films?
MS: I spent last night watching The Bird with the Crystal Plumage.
That’s amazing film, a classic.
MS: Oh yeah, absolutely. A friend of mine brought me a box of movies. We didn’t bring that much on tour. It’s fantastic. For Argento, Deep Red is probably my favorite film and I’m a huge fan. We got to go to this place in Rome, where you can buy tons of collectibles and stuff like that.
You mean the store, Profondo Rosso? I’ve never been there, but hopefully one day.
MS: Yeah, it’s an amazing place, incredibly cool.
Dario Argento, was in the states recently doing an appearance at the Monster Mania convention, you
You guys just missed him. He was in Cherry Hill at the Monster Mania convention. He was signing autographs and talking about some new projects that he’s working on.
MS: Wow, perfect. I can’t wait for that.
Do you watch a lot of horror movies while on the tour bus?
MS: In my bunk late at night, I’ve been watching a lot on this tour lately, I can’t get enough of it. But it’s mostly at home, where I’m a member of a film club where we hang out at friend’s house that has a huge movie theater, where we watch all horror or genre movies. So we get together every Sunday, drink beer and just watch the goriest movies we can find.
That’s very cool. You’re supposed to be coming back to the States in May for a headlining tour? Is that still going to happen?
MS: Absolutely. We’re working on it right now and we aren’t 100% set on all the dates, but it’s definitely happening. I can’t wait for that, it’s going to be awesome. It’s just a start and then we do a few festivals and a European headline tour and I don’t know…it’s going to be a busy year.
We are doing a show in New York on May 22nd with Zombie, Pieces, Evil Dead and a secret movie. If you are traveling through New York on May 22nd, I’ll make sure you and the rest of Dark Tranquillity are on the guest list.
MS: That would be fantastic. OK now, shit, that’s amazing!
I collect stuff that people might think is weird like vintage toys, and horror movie posters. Do you collect anything, especially while out on the road?
MS: I used to collect action figures, stupid movie trivia junk, memorabilia and that kind of stuff. I love it. I don’t really with doing it anymore. He plays with my Wolverine and my Star Wars action figures.
Anything I left out or anything you want to add?
MS: We are really excited to get the album out and it’s so amazing to be over here in the states and be able to do shows. I am already excited to come back here and do a proper real show soon.