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Meshuggah Interview Mårten Hagström (guitar)

Meshuggah Interview

Pushing the boundaries of complex, brutal death metal with each successive release, there’s not another band on earth that sounds quite like MESHUGGAH. On 26 March 2012 the band will release ‘Koloss’ the heaviest MESHUGGAH release yet! NZRock spoke with guitarist Mårten Hagström about how the new album compares to ‘ObZen’ (2008), the possibility of NZ shows and more…

NZRock: I’m heading over to Australia to see you guys at Soundwave but are there any plans for MESHUGGAH to come back to New Zealand and tour on the new album ‘Koloss’?

Yeah we definitely want to come to New Zealand for the new album but I dont know when it’s going to happen and you know, the Australian tour we’re doing now is technically off of ‘ObZen’ because we haven’t released ‘Koloss’ yet. We really don’t know if we’re going to play any stuff, maybe one song or something but we don’t know how much we’re going to play off the new album. As far as New Zealand goes if this would’ve been supporting ‘Koloss’ we would really have gone over to New Zealand. But we have a festival in Switzerland on our way back that we needed to do and we didn’t have time to squeeze it in beforehand because we’re shooting a video and a lot of stuff like that. This spring has been very hectic for us!

NZRock: Which video are you going to release first from ‘Koloss’?

It’s going to be the same track that was leaked on the Internet which is ‘Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion’. Just for the fact that on ‘ObZen’ the first single was ‘Bleed’ and we wanted to go in a totally opposite direction this time so we chose maybe the slowest, longest and heaviest song off the album.

NZRock: In terms of heaviness ‘Demiurge’ has to be my favourite off ‘Koloss’. What songs did you write on the album and was that one of them?

Oh man, I’m glad you like ‘Demiurge’ because that’s one of the songs I wrote haha! There was a lot of co-writing on this album but I wrote the songs either all by myself or together with someone else. I wrote ‘I Am Colossus’, ‘Do Not Look Down’, ‘Demiurge’, ‘The Hurt That Finds You First’ ‘Swarm’, ‘Break Those Bones Whose Sinews Gave It Motion’ and ‘The Last Vigil’… so every song except two.

NZRock: That’s a lot of writing!

Yeah apparently, now that I come to think of it haha!

NZRock: There’s a huge amount of excitement around the new album. I saw there was a listening party in the US which the other MESHUGGAH members flew over for and the people attending were all well known in the metal music industry. You don’t see that sort of thing happening when most other bands release an album. Was there a lot of pressure on you to come up with another epic recording?

Well yes and no. I’m going to sound like a fucking sports nut here… but there’s always a lot of pressure although most of it comes from ourselves. I could say that we don’t care what people are going to think but that’s not really true. Obviously when you put out an album you want to put out an album that people are going to like to some extent. But having that said it’s not like we sit down and think about what we would need to do to please our fans. Why we are where we are today as a band is because from day one we never really cared about convention. We just tried to find an expression of our own so to speak. We never tried to model ourselves to sound like our favourite bands. We just tried to sound like something that we’d want to pick up and be surprised by. So the problem with every album is not trying to follow up on the expectations of the people around us but it’s trying to find a way to make the sound that we have and the approach that we have to be exciting to us again.

NZRock: Have you ever had a song idea that you’ve shown to the other guys and they’ve said, we don’t get it? Like they can’t grasp the time signature or something like that?

Yeah I think that everyone has at some point or another come up with an idea that the rest of the guys are like ahhhh what’s going on? haha! So yeah sure that’s happened but the good thing is that when you listen to each other’s stuff if you grasp the time signature and you grasp what’s going on but you may not grasp all the details or the parts of the song, that’s when you know that it’s something worth working on. You know, when everybody gets the feeling and the atmosphere and what the expression is like in the song. That’s when you know that it’s going to work.

NZRock: For yourself as a guitarist, at what point in your career did you feel that you were able to translate exactly what you were thinking and feeling into music?

I still don’t really think I can. But I think that it was pretty early on where I realised that something that my imagination did was coming out a certain way. But having said that, there’s a great difference between realising that you have a language of your own as far as writing music and really being able to craft it where you want it. And I think that journey is something as a writer of music you’ll always continue to be on. I’ve never felt that I’ve reached the point that I could really express 100% what I would’ve liked. The result is always a little bit substandard to where you were aiming you know.

NZRock: Out of everything you’ve written to date what is the closest you’ve been the perfect expression do you think?

Right now I have to say ‘Koloss’ and ‘Catch Thirtythree’. ‘Catch Thirtythree’ was maybe from a band perspective at the time the closest we’ve come to realise an idea that all of us had, like a common goal. But with ‘Koloss’ we’ve come the closest to capturing the soul of what we have been wanting to do because we’ve incorporated some stuff that maybe we didn’t give ourselves the time to do before. Like some more atmospheric parts, having the songs be a lot stronger, and having all the techinical aspects and the intricacies of the music be more hidden within the song structure. The greatest fact about this album actually is that whereas to the ear it sounds like it’s a bit more straightforward than a normal MESHUGGAH album it’s by far the hardest to play. It’s got a lot of detail but it’s not that obvious to begin with and that’s something we like, the illusion of the music. The reason why we’ve been tending to do that kind of stuff is because that’s something we’ve appreciated with other styles of music that we’ve grown up with. Like how you have a weird and sinister thing going but still keep the core and the red thread there and have it groove and have it impact on more levels than one.

NZRock: What’s more important to you as a musician: being technical to get a sound, or getting a sound any way possible?

Any way possible. The thing is that the means doesnt matter, it’s the expression that counts. But you know, being a guitar player you always try to express yourself where it’s most natural and that happens to be the guitar. And sometimes you kind of curse yourself for coming up with certain stuff when you have to play it live but that’s the way things go.

NZRock: What were the differences between recording ‘ObZen’ and ‘Koloss’?

Well the way we recorded ‘Koloss’ in general was not that different. We used our own studio and we recorded it on Cubase VST software and we did it a lot like we’ve done the last couple of albums with the exception of us actually running the guitars through the Cubase VST plugin Amp Rack instead of using amps. So that was kind of a weird way of doing it but hey, that was the best tone we could find strangely enough haha! A lot of people have raised their eyebrows about that. Another thing that really made a difference in the recording was the fact that we started recording the songs before we finished writing the album. Normally we finish writing the album before we go into the recording process and this time it was simultaneous and I think it was a great benefit to the album. And from a guitar standpoint we tried to work with dynamics so that on this album we actually have a couple of songs that are basically seven string songs. With a few notes exception you can play it on a seven string guitar. We actually have one song which is a six string song straight up and of course a couple of eights. So we used that approach to create some dynamic between the songs.

NZRock: What did you use to get that sound in ‘Demiurge’ where within the melody it’s almost like a sample of someone talking, especially in the intro and outro?

I know what you’re referring to. There’s a guitar melody or whatever you want to call it that re-occurs on ‘Demiurge’ and that is run through a lot of effects. It’s actually Daniel Bergstrand who co-produced it with us. We wanted to find something that made it sound not like a guitar and the way it sounds now is some kind of a weird mix between a guitar, a voice and an organ. It’s really cool, but it’s still guitar through an effect, it’s not a synthesizer or anything. It sounds really fucking weird and it’s kinda almost creepy. I think it works very well within the song but it almost sounds like it doesn’t really fit in the song at the same time which makes it kind of create tension you know.

NZRock: You’re also doing a double LP release of Koloss on brown vinyl. How well do you think MESHUGGAH’s sound translates to vinyl?

Actually I haven’t been listening to vinyl for a long time because my record player is fucked haha! I’m not a vinyl freak but whenever I go to one of my friends who are, and who have a really good sound system, I think that it’s always a great thing to listen to certain artists you know like PINK FLOYD for instance and stuff like that. Classical music translates really well if it’s well recorded too. I would say that maybe the previous albums of MESHUGGAH may not be the perfect music to translate into vinyl but I think ‘Koloss’ does. Before we did the final master Jens and Tomas were up in Umeå and we have this audiophile friend of ours who has both vinyl and CDs set up and its like super expensive, more expensive than he cares to mention. They listened to it through that system. and what’s obvious about this album that I really like is that the sound depth and quality is so much more organic and so much better on this album than in a lot of albums before. You know, ‘ObZen’ was kind of clinical, almost digital sounding, which we wanted. But this one is more organic and it translates a lot better when you have a good vinyl system.

NZRock: You’ve mentioned that you listen to a lot of bands outside the metal genre like APHEX TWIN and SQUAREPUSHER. Do you think there’s an infinite world of possibilities to combine eletronic music and metal together? I’ve noticed there are a few dubstep versions of MESHUGGAH songs floating around on Youtube.

Yeah I think so. I mean not only like dubstep stuff but sometimes when I listen to for instance SQUAREPUSHER I feel that our music has more in common with SQUAREPUSHER than a lot of other metal bands. So even though we’re considered a metal band there are very few relations between us and say NIGHTWISH. But if you look at SQUAREPUSHER the approach from a musical level, from a theoretical standpoint is more akin to eachother. So in my mind the genre is not that important, it’s the expression of the music and the possibilities of the imagination to get expressed in different ways. So to me, I love a lot of metal and I love a lot of other stuff as well and I think that every genre has something to offer, it’s just a matter of finding the good stuff in it.

NZRock: You mentioned NIGHTWISH and they’re obviously Finnish, but thinking about all the great metal bands that have come out of Sweden like MESUGGAH, SOILWORK, IN FLAMES, THE HAUNTED, OPETH etc… do you have any theories as to why there are so many great bands from your country?

I dont know why so many metal bands come from Sweden but I know that one reason that there are a lot of musicians in general from Sweden is that back in the day, and this has been totally fucked up by the government we have now, but back in the day when a lot of musicians coming out of Sweden were kids you could take a lot of instrument practice and teaching in school. So there was more emphasis on music early on here than in a lot of other countries. If you compared it to the United States there was barely nothing unless you were a really rich kid and then you learned to play the violin. But in Sweden music was a more generally accepted part of culture you know. It’s something that you didn’t only listen to, it’s something you practiced as well. I don’t think I’ve been in a country where as many people know how to pick up a guitar and strike a couple of chords. Even though they might not know how to play the guitar really well they still know the rudemtary basics of it because it’s tradition. Every country has a certain tradition and for some reason in Sweden it’s been music. That together with the fact that we have a lot of dark hours through the winter where there’s no surfing or frollocking in the sun going on haha! It’s just a matter of sitting at home and doing whatever you can do. And playing an instrument is kind of a cool thing when you go off to have a band and all that.

NZRock: One thing I’ve noticed about you is that you havent really done any guest appearances on other recordings or with other bands. Is there a reason for that?

For me personally I think it’s pretty straightforward the reason for that because I mean Jens and Fredrik are the only ones from MESHUGGAH who have been doing guest work. For me, when people ask for someone from MESHUGGAH they ask for the lead guitar player or the singer for some reason. Thomas I guess has been asked lots but he just doesn’t like to do it. I’ve been asked to do some stuff but you know, for me it’s really hard. The best reason for bringing me into a project would be to have me write something and for me to write something for another band that isn’t including those guys and MESHUGGAH or if it’s a project of my own, it feels kind of weird. But I think on a personal level the guy who gets asked is Fredrik and I think there’s a good reason for that. It’s easier to bring a guy in to play a lead and that’s the end of the story, than to involve someone in a whole project.

NZRock: Over the years both Tomas and Fredrik have lost bits off fingers in various accidents, almost like a SPINAL TAP style curse! Luckily you’ve remained unscathed but were you ever worried about it happening to you?

Well I was smart enough to get out of the carpentry trade early. Tomas was working as a carpenter when his accident happened. Fredrik did the same thing. So it was pretty much just staying away from factories and places like that haha! But yeah we’ve had a bunch of accidents through the years and physical problems. Probably the worst so far was Thomas’ hernia which he got surgery for a year and a half ago. So you know, stuff happens when you play in a band and you get worn down but I try to stay away from stuff that will fuck with my fingers haha!

NZRock: when you head over to Australia you’re going to be doing a few shows with THE DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT which is awesome. It’s pretty much the perfect fit for MESHUGGAH don’t you think?

Yeah! We had a couple of choices as to who to play with on the sideshows and we know Devin from way back. We’ve know of each other since 1998 or something and we have the utmost respect for him as a person and a musician. STRAPPING YOUNG LAD opened up for us when we did the ‘Nothing’ tours in 2002 and 2003 in the US so we know eachother from way back. So whenever we get a chance to play with Devin it’s a no brainer.

NZRock: Do you have anything you’d like to say to your New Zealand fans before you go?

Yeah hang tight until we get over there! We’d love to come back to New Zealand, it’s been great the two times that we’ve been there and we’re looking forward to coming back. Unfortunately we couldn’t tie it in together with the Australian run this time but we’re definitely going to come for ‘Koloss’.

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