These are strange times for all of us, with normal life seemingly changing in a single moment. Given the unpredictability of daily life in 2020, Dark Tranquility’s new album couldn’t have a more fitting title. Out now through Century Media, v13 recently spoke to frontman, Mikael Stanne, about Moment, being part of the early days of the Gothenburg metal scene, and what the addition of two new guitarists brought to the band.
Hi Mikael, how are you? How is life treating you?
Mikael: “I’m good thanks. Just getting started with some interviews. Long evenings. We’re super-busy. A lot of things to do. A lot of promotional stuff leading up to the release of the album. I’m a bit afraid there will be a big emptiness in three weeks’ time when that is all done when all this is over and I’m wondering what to do next. [laughs]”
You brought Christopher and Johan into the band and you’ve probably talked about this a million times, but could you tell us briefly what the thought process was behind that and what you think they brought to the band?
“After our tour about four years ago, Niklas decided he wanted to focus on his family and stay at home and not tour. We were cool with that and we went to find someone else. He suggested Johan because he had worked with him before. We contacted Chris because we knew him, we knew he wasn’t working with Arch Enemy and he was cool. So, on the first tour we did, we were in New York and we approached Chris about doing a few festivals with us that Summer. That was it. That was about three years and we toured for that album more than any other. It was super intense but we had an amazing time.
When it came to doing this album, we approached them both and asked how they felt about doing it and they said yeah let’s do it. We already had a lot of ideas. Anders had already written a lot of songs, I had written some songs. We agreed to prepare them first of all then bring everyone in. Of course, we wanted to maintain our sound and not open it up too much. We were protective of our sound and the thing we had been doing for thirty years. Once Johan started adding to songs and Chris started working on the lead, it started to come together and it was nice to get a fresh perspective and they both have a lot of skills and experience which again they brought to the band.”
Chris especially brings with him a massive pedigree from the Swedish metal scene. What was their involvement in the writing on the album especially considering they had been in the band three years by the time the new record came around?
“Chris was living in New York when we started writing the record, so he was great for listening to the songs and suggesting ideas and re-working things. Johan lives in Malmo so he would come up every weekend or so and re-do some of the ideas and make them work for a guitarist as they were written by a keyboard player and a drummer [laughs]. Johan wrote three songs on the album which we adopted and made into a more structurally sound song. Once Chris came over we really started adding to the songs – with melody, leads, and stuff like that.”
You’ve talked about being protective of your sound, how did it feel when Chris and Johan came in and started reworking some of your ideas?
“Well, a good example of it would be a song where me and Anders had worked on it and got it to where we thought it was a finished song then we’d give it to Johan and a few days later he’d come back with a completely different song which wasn’t really Dark Tranquility. So, we’d go back and forth then until we’d got to a point where Johan understood how we felt and what the intention was for the song. Eventually, we’d landed on something that we all felt happy with. That was at the beginning and, after that, it just got easier. Johan was really open to ideas and he is a great player.”
I guess touring for three years before you worked together gave you time to get to know each other’s bad habits?
“[laughs]. Absolutely. We know each other really well and it feels like we’ve been touring together and working together for ten years plus almost. It feels way longer than three years. This was a great way of getting to know each other personality-wise as well as musically.”
One thing you’ve talked about is the new ideas they brought in. Did the freshen up the band or reignite a fire in the band?
“For sure. We had to step up our game and work harder. It’s easy when you’ve been working together for such a long time because you know what to expect from each other. Now, we needed to be prepared, just the original members so it would be easier to integrate the other guys. There was way more preparation on this record and it made us view things in a different way.”
You’ve put out four singles so far, are they a good idea of the direction of the new album?
“I think so, yes. The first two are very intense and I think more in terms of what people would expect from us. The third single was very different and I think shows what the rest of the album is about. We have a fourth coming out before the album which, again is a very different track and shows more about the album direction.”
Seven albums into your career. Firstly, how does it feel saying that and, secondly, when you first started the band did you ever imagine you’d be sat here talking about your seventh album?
“No, of course not, it would be crazy to think that. I don’t really think of it that way. The first album was ’93, we were just kids and it was an amazing time. It was fascinating to be able to do something like that. We always thought it would be cool to do one album then we did a second. All of a sudden, with that second album, we realised something was working so we decided to continue down that path as something was working. We started touring, we started realizing that this was something that we could do, maybe not for a living, but something more seriously.”
There was a great group of bands around then in Sweden, it must have been a great time to be part of that?
“Yes, there was. There was a lot of attention towards Sweden and Gothenburg in particular. A lot of bands came out around that time 1993-1995, there was a big boom of cool bands sounding a bit different.”
Viewing it from the inside of that scene, what was it like being part of that?
“We didn’t know anything else really. It was great. We are a little bit outside of the city in the suburbs where it all happened. It was all friends, all just hanging out, drinking beer, exchanging demos and new albums. We just tried to figure if we could be part of it somehow. Someone was writing a fanzine, someone else was forming a band, and someone writing books about music, painting covers for bands. Metal and beer was everything. We were sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, it became everything. Nothing else mattered at the time. It was all about the underground death metal scene. It was the most exciting thing ever. So, starting a band and trying to be part of that was exciting.”
Moving forward then and looking at the album title in particular. At what point did that get locked down because it’s still very relevant given what is going on now?
“It was just a placeholder at first. Then we were talking about the songs and what they meant and experiences and the past and how they form our decisions. Then we started discussing what happens when the past becomes the future and how just one moment could change that direction. I was also writing about my frustrations but, instead of writing them down, I get to scream about them. I take comfort in the fact that there are some people who feel the same way about it. Once we started recording in February/March, the title kept starting to make sense. Something that started out as an idea seemed to fit more and more because everything kept changing and they just seemed to be more and more relevant. Things were scary but exciting and it seemed to fit with that was happening.”
Do you feel that the sound of the album was affected by the fact that you won’t be able to tour the album any time soon and play the songs live?
“I think subconsciously it did. Knowing that we wouldn’t be able to tour for the record I think when we went in to record the album we just started to make something that was more of a… a headphones album [laughs].”
You’ve touched on how scary but exciting these times are, but what about when you brought in Chris and Johan? How scary or exciting were those times for the band given how protective you were?
“Yeah, not scary though. Protective yeah, we just wanted to make sure that not too much changed. Anders is very particular about what he wants and how he wants his songs to be played. It was a careful push and pull in so much as how far do we take it from the original intended sound? Then, it was just a matter of finding that right balance. I think there were a few moments where we felt we went too far then had to go back to the early moments or the first demo to find what were we looking for originally.”
Now you’re all on the same page, where do you see the band heading music-wise?
“I’m really looking forward to working together as a complete band. Who knows? Maybe next year if things don’t change, maybe we’ll start writing another record? That could be done for sure.”
Finally, at this stage in your career, what does Dark Tranquility mean to you?
“Wow, it means pretty much everything. It’s become such a huge part of our lives that I can’t see ourselves without it. It’s something that defines you and is part of every area of your life. Even though it is good to get away from things for a while and just relax, you know you’re getting two hundred emails a day and messages about plans so it is good that everyone is still interested in what you do and it’s really exciting for us.”