Guitarist Per Nilsson
Interview by Madman
In many cases a quick follow-up is usually a band just begging for a quick death. For many it’s a case of too much too soon and the tank is already on empty. Such may not be the case for Sweden’s Scar Symmetry, a super group of sorts having members from bands like Centinex, Unmoored, Incapacity, Carnal Forge etc. SYMMETRIC IN DESIGN was a catchy and instant crowd pleaser for a debut and now, not much more than a year since its original European release, the band are releasing their sophomore effort, PITCH BLACK PROGRESS. Guitarist Per Nilsson (Altered Aeon) was kind enough to elaborate on the new album as well as some of the inner workings of Scar Symmetry.
The new album, PITCH BLACK PROGRESS, is coming out in April already (May for North America), barely over a year since the debut was released in Europe and only an 8 month difference for your North American fans. Why so quick to follow up? I know that the album was already completed in December, was that the plan after the debut or possibly even before the debut? Come to think of it, are there already plans for a third release?
The first album was released by Metal Blade here in Europe, and shortly after its release Nuclear Blast picked us up. Nobody wanted to pay tour support at that time – Metal Blade had just “lost” us and Nuclear Blast wanted to wait until we had recorded an album for them – so we pretty much didn’t have anything else to do but to record a new album. There aren’t really any plans for the third release yet, it all depends on how much we can tour for Pitch Black Progress, but as soon as we have the time we’ll start working on some new stuff I think.
Why was the release date pushed back from March? Was it just record label back end issues?
I’m not sure, but I think it had to do with some booklet layout issues or something like that.
How do you see yourselves progressing with this new album? I know that on the surface this, to a lot of fans, might be the same album as the debut, but I’ve found that on repeated listens some things start to stick out more and more (especially later on in the album). Where do you think the band can go from here?
One thing we wanted to do when writing for the new album was to make each song have it’s own unique personality, and to make a really diverse album. So that you might be able to listen to the whole album in one stretch without getting too bored, you know? So we wrote some songs that were more extreme and aggressive then the debut stuff, and some songs that really accentuated our melodic side, with lots of clean vocals. We also wanted to be a bit more progressive at times. I think we can go anywhere from here, we’ll see what we’ll feel like doing the next time we write an album.
With that in mind, how do you view progression? What with a lot of bands that could be called your peers progressing enough at this point that many long time have already begun to through the terms “sell outs” around. Is that something that can scare a band off from fooling with their sound too much?
Either you progress or you stagnate, and even though I might sometime hate it when a favourite band of mine make drastic changes to their music, I would hate it much more if they stagnated. I think also that some people who like a rather unknown band perhaps don’t want the band to grow really big, because they want it to be an exclusive, underground thing – they certainly don’t want to see their 13 year old little sister and her friends wearing the bands T-shirts. I know that some people consider some elements in our music – like the melodic vocals and the keyboards – to be “commercial”, and while that might be true, the reason we have those elements present in our music is because we really love that shit, not because we think we’re going to be multi-millionaires or something like that.
Another thing I noticed as a whole about PITCH BLACK PROGRESS is that it seems like the track order is rather deliberate… In my mind I find that much of the slightly more “experimental” ideas are in the songs that come in later on the album, not to mention some of the catchier tracks show up in the middle. Is that something that was thought about or am I completely off the mark?
I think it’s good to start an album off with a song that’s easy to get into – like an appetizer – and to choose as the first few tracks some songs that make a good presentation of the bands sound, so if someone listens to the album at a record store, they’ll get the idea pretty quick. It’s important I think to have a nice and varied track order.
How did the writing sessions go this time around? I know for the last album it seemed like everything was split between Jonas Kjellgren and Per Nilsson on the debut. Are the writing credits much different this time around?
The writing process was pretty much the same this time around – Jonas wrote a bunch of songs and so did I. We recorded simple demos of the songs in our studios and sent to Christian as mp3s, then he wrote most of the vocal melodies. As usual, Henrik wrote all of the lyrics. Jonas and I also co-wrote a song, “The Kaleidoscopic God”, which was a cool experience. We wrote it on a Saturday afternoon last summer and we knew before we began that we wanted to do something more progressive than usual, and it’s one of our favourite songs on the album.
I really want to know who came up with the closing track on the new album, “Deviate from the Form”? Especially the main riff which sounds taken right out of an 80’s pop song, was that the intention?
I wrote that song, and you know what? The verse riff is actually very much inspired by the pop music of the eighties. “Deviate from the Form” is probably my favourite Scar Symmetry-song, perhaps it’s because I get to solo so much in it…
I tend to like the way at least a couple of the riffs in “Abstracted” (0:47-1:10) seem to work off the same melodic idea while sounding almost completely different from each other. Where did this idea come from? Was it just a question of being able to work that melody into a few differing ideas?
That’s basically the same guitar riff playing but with the drums playing different rhythms to it, first the drums is playing half-time, then in the normal tempo and then double-time. It makes it sound like there’s a lot going on in the music even though the guitar riff doesn’t change very much.
I noticed some scant use of acoustic guitar on the album, is that something you’d like to see more of in the band? I know a lot of bands playing similar styles don’t really gravitate towards the acoustic side.
I don’t know. It’s possible that we will use some acoustic guitars in the future, but don’t expect us to go MTV Unplugged, we like the distorted guitars to damn much!
According to the band’s website you’re making (or have made) a video for “The Illusionist”, the opening track off of the new album… why that song in particular? In my eyes a song like “Mind Machine” would make a more accessible single.
Yeah, we thought about “Mind Machine” too, but we wanted to use a more up-tempo track. So we decided to use “The Illusionist” which actually made our record label very happy as well because they really liked that track. Not that we care very much about what they think in these matters, hehe!
Regarding the video, it says on the site it’s being “re-shot”? Was there something wrong with the original? What can fans expect to see in the video?
No, there wasn’t anything “wrong” with the first video, but it was very low-budget. Nuclear Blast decided after the first video was shot to really push Pitch Black Progress, so they figured that if they were to spend lots of money on promotion then we must have a big video production as well. We shot the new video with Serbian production team iCODE, it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world and it looks really awesome.
With most of your songs utilizing the heavy/melodic dynamic, especially vocally, do you think that in some ways it might paint the band into a corner from using it so much? In the respect that most fans are already coming to expect it and may steer the band away from possible ideas because of that… or is that even a thought at all?
We tried to make the songs sound less formulaic on the new album, with the track “Pitch Black Progress” only featuring growl vocals and some songs having an abundance of clean vocals. There’s probably a lot of things that our fans would expect from future Scar Symmetry albums, but no matter how much respect and gratitude we have for our fans, we must continue to follow our hearts and write the music that we want to hear.
Coming from that, is the heavy/clean dynamic something the band thinks of specifically when writing songs? For example, when writing a song does it all just fall into place or will you have a heavy section and you’ll immediately start thinking of a melodic section to compliment it?
No, we don’t think about it too much. It just happens, and sometimes a song ends up having more melodic parts and sometimes it’s the other way round.
Regarding Christian Älvestam’s vocals, prior to this album there was an incredibly strong Dan Swano influence in his clean vocals (on SYMMETRIC IN DESIGN as well as with his other bands, like Unmoored) but on PITCH BLACK PROGRESS he seems to be steering away from that style a bit, was that a conscious decision, considering how often it was brought up in reviews and fan talk?
Christian has really evolved as a vocalist since our first album. I don’t think that Christian has ever consciously tried to sound like any other singer, and I think that with our new album you will hear that he has got a quite unique voice of his own.
I know a lot of people tend to throw the Soilwork name around a lot when it comes to Scar Symmetry’s music, not that I don’t believe it’s completely unjustified, but does it bother you with the constant comparisons? Is it something to where you can’t even really see the connection?
It’s possible that you can find some similarities between Soilwork and us, but for me, I can’t see the connection. I think Soilwork is a great band, so I don’t mind the comparison that much, but I can’t say that they have had any particular influence on our music.
How is your upcoming Neckbreakers Ball 2006 Tour shaping up? Is there some excitement being with some bigger names like Soilwork, Hypocrisy, and Amorphis?
Yes, we almost can’t contain our excitement over being a part of the Neckbreakers Ball. It’s an absolutely amazing line-up, definitely the melo-death tour of the year! It will be a lot of fun.
With just about everyone in the band in at least 2 other bands, how strong is the commitment towards Scar Symmetry from everyone involved? Has the question ever arisen of having to choose one band over another as far as recording/writing/gigging goes?
We haven’t really run into any schedule conflicts yet, but I think as they are sure to come, perhaps some decisions might eventually have to be made. None of our other bands are anywhere close to as successful as Scar Symmetry, so I guess that Scar Symmetry is more and more becoming the priority band for all of us.
Looking over most of the other band’s the members are involved in, Scar Symmetry stand out as having the most easily accessible sound out of the bunch, was this the plan when putting the band together; to create songs that were a bit more straightforward and catchy and stretch out a bit from what everyone usually does?
Something like that! Most of our other bands don’t employ the melodic style of singing very much, and I guess that’s the main factor for those bands to be not as accessible as Scar Symmetry.
I’ve come to find a lot of bands, well actually, just about every band I know of, are dipping into the myspace arena. I know that Scar Symmetry has one and I was wondering if you find it to be a helpful resource to gain new fans and keep others informed. The way things are going for many bands, it seems as though a band’s myspace is a better source for news and info than their stand alone site.
The Scar Symmetry-myspace is administrated by a fan of ours, I visit the site from time to time and it always amazes me how fast our friends-list are growing. I should probably get a myspace for myself as well!
Finally, is there anything you’d really like to add that I never thought of or got to?
Uhm… Not really. This was a really cool interview with many interesting questions!
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions.