Dark Tranquillity

author PP date 20/11/08

After my colleague from Antenna.nu was done with taking a couple of photos of Mikael Stanne, the vocalist of legendary Swedish melodic death metallers Dark Tranquillity, it was my turn to ask some questions from the dude. Unfortunately, this coincided with a god damn loud soundcheck from Finnish gothic metallers Poisonblack, so parts of the interview were inaudible on my recorder, but fortunately their drums and guitars weren't being tested during the most important questions.. but just so you know while reading it, there are a few bits where it might seem like Mikael has some pretty loose sentences, and that's simply because even after a lengthy period with Audacity trying to edit out the background noise, it wasn't possible to be sure what he was saying so it was simply cut out instead of trying to guess what he was saying.

RF.net: Hi and thanks for doing this interview. Could you please introduce yourself to the readers?
Mikael: : Well, I'm Mikael from Dark Tranquillity, and I sing and scream!

RF.net: So you're currently on a tour now, you're about half-way done, you're jumping on a different tour to Sweden and Norway now. How's the tour going?

Mikael: It's been amazing. Literally, the best tour we've ever done. In terms of audience reaction, response and turnout. Plus we've had more fun than ever, I think we've put on a better show than ever. We decided to do something different this time around, change the setlist and put more of a production on it, like do videoclips so it's like a totally different visual experience. And it feels right. It feels perfect, like a complete show. And the setlist is scary, because there's so many old songs that we haven't done in a long, long time, but it feels fantastic.

RF.net: Does it actually take a lot of practice to remember those old songs from many years ago?

Mikael: Oh yeah, we have to re-learn them, you know!

RF.net: Okay, so if we just some news about your band...you have a new bassist, Daniel Antonsson, he used to play for Soilwork. Your old bassist Michael was in the band for ten years...if you could tell me something about the transition between the two bassist, I mean the other one had been in the band for ten years, and now you have a new guy. How's that working out?
Mikael: The thing is that it works out so well that it's kind of scary. We put out an ad, like "we need a new bass player please apply!". We had a lot of response from that, which was really cool, even from musicians that we admire and stuff like that, so we were like "wow, this is gonna be awesome". So we decided to try out a few, but before that Daniel got kicked out of Soilwork, so he called us, and all of us were like: "of course, you can join". I mean, we didn't have to think for one second about it.

RF.net: So how's he fitting into the band?

Mikael: It's perfect. We've known him for kind of like twenty years or something like that. He grew up in the same scene in Gothenburg with other bands and stuff like that, so we always bumped into each other and... we've always been friends.

RF.net: I've also noticed that you were doing some growling seminars. I don't know if you're done with them already or? First of all, how did you get the idea to do that, and second of all, how did it go?
Mikael: I've done one. It was my idea. There's this youth center in Gothenburg, where they have recording studios, stages and festivals and stuff like that, and they do seminars.. you know, bass players, guitar players and all that. And all the kids are between 16 and 19 years old. They had requested someone.. they wanted someone to talk about screaming and not just singing. So they called me and I was very skeptic, I was like "oh fuck no, I can't do it". But then I said "screw it, lets do it for the hell of it", and it turned out really cool. It was fifteen really cool guys and girls. We were playing music and trying to get into it. I basically talked about my inspirations, warm up techniques, and also the history of it.

RF.net: Do you think any of those kids will be future vocalists in huge bands?

Mikael: All of them, of course!

RF.net: If we go back a little bit to the history of your band...when you guys started, on your early albums, you kind of pioneered the Gothenburg metal scene, or the sound of it, together with bands like In Flames and At The Gates and so on. So what does that mean to you as a band, because you're pretty much credited to an entire genre?
Mikael: It's kind of weird because for me, that's just all of our friends from home. We were just a bunch of bands trying to make music. But of course when I think about it, it makes us kind of proud. It means that we did something right, I guess. And what I like the most is that, for us at least, we've kind of stayed true to what is most important to us, and what was important back then. Which was to create aggressive, melodic, original music.. and it's still the same, that's still the goal of the band. And when we started people thought we were nuts, you know. When "Skydancer" came out, people didn't understand it and they were like "fuck it, too melodic, it's not death metal", they were being very narrow minded. The philosophy was kind of like, we do what we wanna do, if people don't get it they don't get it, but hopefully, eventually, people will get it, but that's their problem, not ours. We're not gonna change for anyone, people have to change for us. That's kind of arrogant!

RF.net: Well, it worked out well I could say! [laughs]

RF.net: You released "Fiction" last year, your newest album - eighth album actually - so how does it compare to all the other albums in your opinion, and how is it different?
Mikael: The biggest difference, at least for us when we wrote it, was that we decided to not limit ourselves too much. We figured, lets run with ideas rather than just shoot them down immediately, cause that's what we usually do. We write something and if it's not good enough, we just throw it away. But this time we thought that "lets trust our insticts and if it feels good first, or it doesn't feel good immediately, lets work on it, and develop something". Instead of trying to put all different kind of emotions and themes into one song, just focus on a couple of those, so that the songs are different from each other rather than a whole album of all the same ideas. So I think some of the songs are radically different from others on the album, but it still kind of works as an album in its entirety. More variation, I guess, and for us to be more open minded to our individual ideas.

RF.net: We reviewed your latest album album "Fiction" on our website, actually. Our reviewer praised it, saying: "If emo-bands tell of agony and pain, then "Fiction" is synonymous with despair. If misery had a sound, Dark Tranquillity would be its instrument." What do you think about that?
Mikael: [laughs] It sounds great!

RF.net: Do you think thats a good description of the band?

Mikael: Definitely part of its true. Our reason to write music is so we can deal with all that negativity, misery, and anger.

RF.net: Critics and fans both argue that "Damage Done" is the best Dark Tranquillity album, but I've also seen that people are saying that "Fiction" is the second best album or pretty much up to the par of that album. Now, this is a two part question. Part one: What does it mean to you as a musician that you've avoid becoming that band where fans only like the really early stuff?
Mikael: That means a lot. Our thing, llike we always say, you're always as good as your last album. And the next one has to be better than the last one. I mean otherwise, what's the point of trying to write music if you're not looking for that perfect album. You've gotta make it better and more interesting, and more challenging every time, otherwise that's the end of the creativity and fun in the band. So, we've been fortunate that people have followed us throughout the years, with all the different albums that we've done. Although they've been very very different, people still stuck around. And also it's great to see that the sales are getting better constantly with each album, instead of the other way around.

RF.net: So, the second part of the question is, what is your favorite Dark Tranquillity album? I know you're going to say the last one, but lets say that you can't say the last one, what would then be your favorite one?

Mikael: It's probably "The Gallery", because it was my first as a singer, and because it was so new, I just loved it. I don't really listen to it anymore, but it's still a special album, because that's the record that kind of introduced us to the world, to the audience.

RF.net: Yeah, I actually read in one of your previous interviews that you never really listen to your old albums? Is that still true?

Mikael: Yeah, very rarely. I have them on my iPod, but I don't listen to them.

RF.net: So you never go on a tour bus and pop on, lets say, "Projector" just for the fun of it?

Mikael: I had to, though, before this tour, I had to go back and listen to some of the old songs and figure out "what the fuck was I doing there".

RF.net: Well, in my opinion, you guys have become progressively better album by album. How long do you think it is possible for you to continue writing excellent albums?

Mikael: I don't know. I would like to say forever. Perhaps it takes a little longer to write the next album, but as long as we feel that we can do something that we can be proud, and something that is original and new and not just repeats of what we've done before, then we're just gonna keep doing it..and I think we'll be doing it for a long, long time.

RF.net: So keeping that in mind, it has been over a year and a half since "Fiction" now.. have you got any new songs yet, or maybe a new album in the making?
Mikael: No, but we've got a lot of material and as soon as we get home from this tour, we're just gonna go into writing mode.

RF.net: How do you expect it to sound like?

Mikael: I have no idea, I really don't. It could be anything.

RF.net: Are we looking like maybe something released next year, or?

Mikael: That would be good, but I don't know, I really don't know long it will take us.

RF.net: So given that you've been around in the music industry for pretty much twenty years now, more or less. You must have a pretty good overview of how the industry has changed since the debut album until today. So I wanna ask you how, in your opinion, has the music industry changed since the debut album until today. And is it for the better or worse, and why?
Mikael: Well, you could say at least for this kind of music, it has grown, you know, and more people listen to it, and record companies are getting better and bigger. So that's a possible thing, but at the same time, there's so many bands, so much crap that it's kind of sad as well. But I don't know. We've been fortunate to always work with really great labels, like we've always had a really great relationship, especially now with century media. So we don't really need to worry about that.. they're doing so well, that we can just focus on music and nothing else. At least that's what it's been like to me. I can't change anything, all I can do is try to write the best songs that I can. But it's sad, with all the music downloads and stuff like that, the industry is changing. So I don't know how it's gonna end up. But I kind of like the fact that even though you can be an underground band, you can still kind of really reach out. And I think that's kind of cool, because that was a lot harder for us when we started out, there was only fanzines and tiny little labels that ripped you off, and stuff like that. Now it's becoming like a proper industry, and I remember hating that when I was younger, but now since everything is working well, at least for us very well, it's been really good.

RF.net: Yeah I was actually gonna ask, do you feel jealous for some of these younger bands who've come around and kind of popped out of nowhere and made one or two albums, and are now absolutely huge, playing stadiums and that kind of stuff?

Mikael: It'd be pretty cool to actually do that, but I'm not really jealous. It's a slow progress that we've had. You can imagine, it's gotta be tough to go from nothing to everything in a short while, I don't think that's good for mental health for a band.

RF.net: Do you have any favorite bands at the moment?

Mikael: Right now, what I listen to the most, and that's what I'm constantly harassing the other guys in the bus with is Clutch.. dredg.. and of course a lot of Rush.

RF.net: Do you have any guilty pleasure bands that you wanna reveal??

Mikael: I'm not even guilty about it. I listen to.. I'm a big Simply Red fan, I can't help myself. I love Mick Hucknall's voice. But I don't consider it a guilty pleasure, but I know people look at me funny when I say that.

RF.net: That's the last question I had really, do you have anything you wanna say to the readers and the fans?
Mikael: Well, I'm just really fucking happy that we can do this amazing tour. We're having the time of our lives and we're glad that people are coming out and seeing us at the shows. Now we're gonna say goodbye, and then just write a new album and come back!

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