Dark Tranquillity Guitarist, Niklas Sundin
Interviewed by Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Jenny Walroth at Century Media Sweden for help with the interview.
Thanks to Century Media for promo pictures of the band.
Here is an interview with Niklas Sundin, guitarist for Gothenburg Sweden-based Dark Tranquillity. DT have recently released their new album CHARACTER and I had the opportunity to interview Niklas about DT (who celebrates 16 years in the business) and about the new album. At the moment, CHARACTER is at the third place on the list of most selling albums in Sweden right now…it also lies at the top position on the hard rock chart of most sold metal albums in Sweden.
How does it feel to look back on 16 years in the business? Did you ever think DT would last that long?
No way! We had pretty modest goals when we started; none of us had played in any band before and we more or less bought our instruments just weeks before the first rehearsal. So we didn’t take anything for granted. The only goal was to be as creative as possible and to record a demo tape and hopefully get to play a gig or two – so from that perspective it’s totally insane that we’re still around.
You are one of the bands who created the now famous “Gothenburg sound”, how does that feel?
Good and bad. I mean, it’s obviously great that we managed to create something different that has had a lot of influence on people and bands from all over the world. We really tried hard to come up with something new within the death metal framework, so it’s neat that we succeeded with that. On the other hand, most of us have been sick and tired about the whole “Gothenburg sound” label for a long time now. It was more of a media construction that anything else, and it got totally blown out of proportion.
How do you think that DT have developed through the years?
It’s up to the listeners and the media to analyze our music; we just play. It’s a boring reply, I know, but I strongly believe that a musician shouldn’t be the one musing at length about the progress between the albums. We always try to come up with something slightly different each time, but we’re not developing towards a specific goal as such. Our mindset when recording – for example – “Haven” was totally different from what we’re doing now.
What do you think of DT being considered being an institution amongst the melodic death metal scene?
I don’t know…it’s nothing that I think about at all. We’ve been doing this since the stone age, which I guess means that you become an institution sooner or later. I’m totally neutral towards it.
You?ve been laying low for a while, what have you done during the time you been on “vacation” from the album released?
No, we’ve been active all along. Directly after coming home from the last U.S. tour for “Damage done”, we began writing songs for the new album as well as prepared the “Exposures..” release. In addition, there were a lot of festival shows, so no vacations for us.
How much did “DAMAGE DONE” sell?
I have no idea; we don’t really keep track of record sales. We were recently informed by Century media that “Damage..” outsold the previous album by far, and apparantly the pre-orders for “Character” are very impressive as well, but exactly what that translates to in terms of sold units I have no idea.
How long were you out on the road for that album?
2-3 months if I’m not mistaken.
Have you had any vacation in between “DAMAGE DONE” and “CHARACTER”?
Nope. It was either touring, rehearsing or writing music.
What response did your compilation “EXPOSURES ? IN RETROSPECT AND DENIAL” get from the media and fans?
The response was generally very good, and the fans appreciated the effort. The whole reason for releasing this compilation and revealing the previously unavailable songs what the people had been asking for it for a long time, so they were obviously pleased when “Exposures..” was out. Some journalists – in the broad sense of the word of course misunderstood the whole thing and thought that it was a “best of” album, complaining about not having any material from the “The gallery” era on there, but apart from that the reactions were great.
At the end of last year you released the EP “LOST TO APATHY” according the bio it said that you had a hard time picking out which song that was gonna be on the EP, how come?
Well, the whole point of “Character” was to write an album without any obvious hit songs; an album that should be listened to from the start to the end rather than just being a compilation of songs. Therefore, chosing a single was impossible for us. We all had different suggestions, so we simply let the record label decide.
How did the media react to the EP?
The reviews were very good. Some of them missed the point that it’s a single and not a mini-album and therefore complained about the playing time, but apart from that everyone seemed to like the material as such.
How long did it take to write “CHARACTER”?
All in all, it took about one year to get the songs completed.
Who has written the music and lyrics on the album?
The music is written by all the members, and the lyrics are from Mikael.
What are the lyrics about? Have you written about anything special in particular?
Nah, just the good old D.T. trinity of desperation, isolation and desperation. It has worked fine for 15 years, and there’s still massive amounts of inspiration to draw from that well, so we’ll stick with it for a while.
Which one in the band writes the most material?
We all contribute, but at the moment Martin H. is the one providing most of the riffs.
How does the writing process work? Which member does what?
It’s a group effort really; all the members come up with basic riffs and ideas, and then we experiment with the material in the rehearsal room and let everyone contribute with suggestions on how to arrange the basic elements into proper songs. When that process is finished, Mikael begins working on the lyrics and vocal lines.
How long did it take to record it?
If I remember correctly, we spent about 5-6 weeks in the studio.
You have recorded “CHARACTER” in studio Fredman in Gothenburg and Fredrik Nordstr?m as a producer, what makes Fredrik and the studio so special?
This isn’t 100% correct. We produced the album ourselves. Fredrik’s role is simply to set up the basic sounds and to mix the album, making it sound as good as possible, but he doesn’t interfere with the music or the arrangements as the term “producer” usually implies. Studio Fredman is great for a band like us. We know what we want and like to work on our own, so what we basically need is a place with good and reliable equipment,preferable close to where we live.
You are described as being a melodic death metal act, how would you describe your music?
I’d simply call it metal. No more, no less.
Have you read any reviews yet from the press, what do they think of “CHARACTER”?
The reviews have been outstanding so far! Just do a quick Google search, or have a look at www.dark-tranquillity.nl/reviews.htm. We’re extremely satisfied with the response.
Why the title “CHARACTER” does it mean anything special to you guys?
It was our only serious title suggestion, and basically we chose it as it ties in very well with the lyrics and the general theme of the album. The song “Am I 1?” was originally called “Character”, so it gives some clues to the thinking behind the title.
Were you well rehearsed when you went into the studio?
Absolutely. That’s how we work. Everything must be 100% finished before we enter the studio. There are a lot of other bands that like to leave things open and hope for inspiration to come during the recording session, and I can see the point in that, but our music is a bit too complex to allow for someone suddenly deciding to change his parts in the studio.
Can you live on the music or do you have other jobs besides the music?
We all have regular jobs aside from the music, and we’d like to keep it that way in order to maintain our independance. If you’re depending on the music for a living, you’re sort of obliged to accept every tour offer or to release an album every X months just to be able to survive, and that would be too much of a compromise for us.
You have also done the artwork on the cover, what are the thoughtand and inspirations behind that?
Well, it’s always a case of trying to portray the lyrics and the music in a way that both makes sense and is stylistically interesting. I’m not too keen on going in-depth or explaining my own work in interviews, as the whole point is to trigger the imagination of those who are interested. There are a lot of references to the lyrics and even to some of our older songs in the cover, but it’s not too obvious.
You have done a lot of covers for numerous of bands, do you do that for a living or just for fun?
No, I work as a graphic designer as my day job, so it’s what I do for a living. It ceased being fun years ago.
Do you have any favorite track on the album? Which one?
Umm…it changes from day to day, but right now it’s probably “The new build” because of its intensity.
Are you content with the outcome of the album or would you have done anything different if you look back on it now?
I don’t really think in that way; once an album is recorded, it’s practically dead in the sense that it’s pointless to try to think about what could have been done differently.
How often do you rehearse? I?ve read that you really enjoy doing that.
It depends. If we have a tour or recording coming up, we might rehearse 5-6 days a week. If we’re in writing mode, we focus more on being in our home studios, trying to come up with basic riffs and suggestions.
Do all of the members live in Gothenburg?
Can you walk around Gothenburg anonymously, or are there a lot of fans coming up to you?
He he, no, most of us are totally anonymous, which is great. I hate attention and would probably quit the band right away if we were getting some sort of “celebrity” status that would mean having over-excited fans following us around and treating us like rockstars. I’m serious.
Do you receive a lot of mail and stuff from fans?
Yes, we recieve quite a lot of emails. Our addresses are public, which means that lots of people want to get in touch.
How big of a fanbase do you think DT have today?
I don’t know…as mentioned before, I’m not concerned with sales figures or the relative “success” of the band. We’re selling well, and our audience is growing, but I could never try to make a guess regarding the size of our fanbase. Considering how many people that just download albums without buying them these days, it’d probably be impossible to get a fair picture.
Where in the world have you had the most success?
Probably Italy or Japan if you look at sales per capita, but honestly I don’t know.
You have chose to extend your contract with Century Media for another three albums. Were there other labels that wanted to sign you?
Of course; that was the reason for the long negotiation process. With “Damage done”, our old agreement with Century media was completed, and we recieved offers from a lot of other labels. It took our management quite some time to evaluate and compare the different proposals, but at the end of the day we decided to re-sign with Century media.
Do you think that CM have done a good job for you as a label?
Definately! For us, everything has been excellent. We have complete freedom in everything we do, and the staff at C.M. are dedicated and hardworking people.
How does it feel to go out on tour with Kreator here in Europe?
It’ll be a blast! Kreator have been one of our fave bands for a long time.
Are you gonna do more shows in Europe except for the ones with Kreator?
There will be a lot of festival shows, but nothing is 100% confirmed yet as far as I know. We’re looking into a European headline tour as well, which probably will take place at the end of the year.
When did you do your latest live show?
It was on the18th of December, in London.
How excited are DT to go come out and play and met fans again?
We’re all eager to get touring again, so it’s neat that it’s just a week before the madness starts. The Kreator tour will be massive, and we all feel that the songs from “Character” will go down very well in a live setting. I could do without the “meeting” part though, but that’s just the misanthrope talking.
Which DT album are you most proud of?
None, really…they all have their strong and weak points. I rarely listen to our own music, and when I do, I’m certainly not analyzing them or trying to compare them in any way. After an album is recorded, you’ve played the songs so many times, listening to ever single detail and having discussed every single riff, which means that it’s impossible to have much of an opinion on the material. It’s just there, but you can’t tell if it’s good or bad anymore.
Are there any plans on doing any festival shows this summer?
Yes, as mentioned we have several things in the pipeline, but we’re still waiting for the final confirmation.
Is there anything you would like to say to the readers of metal-rules.com?
Well, thanks for taking your time to read this and feel free to check the new album out.
More info about the band: