Dark Tranquillity – Mikael Stanne
By: Simon Lukic
Transcribed by: Claudia
Live photos by Lord of the Wasteland
With a career that spans 18 years and 8 studio albums, Dark Tranquillity are veterans in their field. Far from retired this legendary act has continued to push their own boundaries without ever straying from their original sound. Their latest album FICTION is it another fine release and an album that you should add to your collection – that is, if haven’t already done so. I had the opportunity to catch up with vocalist Mikael Stanne and together we discussed, amongst other things, the creative process behind the new album as well as what it’s like to be a musician in Dark Tranquillity.
The last time we spoke it was on the eve of your Australian tour in September of last year. Looking back on it now, how do you think it went?
It was great and we had a fucking fantastic time. I wish we had more time to actually stay there because what we saw was out of a plane which is kind of sad. Other than that it was fantastic.
I thoroughly enjoyed your show and it was great to notice the band having such a great time. Seeing a melodic death metal band smiling so much…it was very cool.
(laughs) Can’t help myself I guess
So will we see a return visit in the near future?
I certainly hope so. Right now we’re just trying to plan out all the European festivals and European tours, but we’ll definitely come back to Australia. Hopefully this year but I’m not sure.
Moving onto the new album FICTION, can you tell me a little bit about the ideas behind it?
Well, the basic thing we talked about when we started writing this album was that we wanted an album full of different songs instead of an album divided into ten parts. So we were more open and kind of loose about the writing because with CHARACTER we tried hard to squeeze in as much information as possible into each individual song to make sure it was interesting.
Why was that?
I guess we did that out of fear of losing our audience… or losing ourselves because we wanted to keep it interesting for us to play. With this one we just agreed to make it simple or made sure that the songs had exactly the ingredients that they needed and nothing else…you know? This album is kind of straight forward and it was a challenge for us to write like this.
How was it a challenge?
It’s simple to just like add things together and create a song. You can just put tons of stuff in there and you know…kind of hide the fact that you don’t really have a song to begin with. But with this one we just wanted to focus on song structures and take a simple approach. We wanted to make sure that the songs had a good foundation and then we started adding things to it.
Is this new approach a direct result of your experience as a band?
I guess we had more confidence in what we were doing because we didn’t really feel that after CHARACTER but this time around we just believed that we could pull this off. We wanted to write a really simple song like “Focus Shift” and stuff like “Misery’s Craft” so we did that. Niklas (Sundin – guitars) decided that he wanted to write a song by himself and his song turned out to be “Inside the Particle Storm” which is very, very different than anything that we’ve done before. A couple of years ago we would have probably gone in and kind of dissected that song and changed it all around until it sounded exactly like all the other songs but we felt comfortable enough to keep it this way. It’s good.
That’s what I got from listening to the album. It still had that uncompromising approach you guys are known for, yet it was accessible as well.
Yeah. I think that’s kind of what we were aiming for when we started writing.
Does changing the songwriting process allow you to recapture some of those earlier feelings of being a musician…you know when things were still new?
I guess that’s the thing actually and I guess that’s what we’re always looking for. You want to feel that again…you know where it’s just exciting to write together again. That’s one of the reasons we always try to have a different approach on each album and for each album to kind of feel fresh. Even though we’re still writing the same old songs, at least we have a different mindset going into it. If we were to right now just start writing songs again we would be in a different kind of mindset than we were when we started writing this album and it wouldn’t be fun at all. We need that time off to get away from it for a bit and then go back with a new way of looking at it. That’s perhaps the secret of why we’ve been together this long. You feel that kind of rush, you know….when we’ve finished a song and that we’re all happy with.
So you still get that rush when an arrangement just locks in or when a song is played right for the first time?
Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh yeah. I love that. We write lyrics usually when we have something that’s really good and then I’ll rush home and start writing lyrics for it. You know, that’s the greatest feeling and that’s what you’re always looking for. Like every show or every recording, every album that we’ve ever done. That feeling is what you’re always looking for.
That would be a big part of what keeps you going as a musician as well?
Absolutely! That’s the main reason why we write music. That’s the feeling that we get when we’ve written a song that we are all 100% satisfied with.
So which songs in particular did that for you this time around? Can you remember?
Ohhh…The first song that we wrote was “Blind at Heart”. That really felt fantastic when we started writing that song. It was like…”yeah, this is amazing”! You know? It felt really, really good and then I guess it was “Misery’s Crown”. It was fairly straight forward and when we started putting it together I provided the vocal line immediately. It was just quick and we wrote that in two days. Something like that just worked out quickly and it was one of those natural things. It just happened.
It must have been something that was in our genes I guess (laughs). We didn’t really have to think about it. It was natural and then the same thing happened with “The Mundane and the Magic”. I think we put that song together when Martin (Henriksson – guitars) and Anders (Jivarp – drums) created a demo version on CD. I went home and started listening to it and I knew exactly what to do and just started writing. That’s what I love, when everybody just clicks.
Do you think that these new songs are going to go over better live than say some of your past material?
Well some of them certainly will. I mean we did play 3 or 4 new songs on the last tour that we just came back from and we tried out two songs in September. Some of the songs feel great live and I’m looking forward to that. Right now we’re rehearsing for the festivals and we’ll see what kind of songs we want to play. We’ll probably put out a little thing on our web forum and ask the fans what kind of songs they want hear.
So what part of being a musician is the most rewarding? You’ve spoken about your enjoyment of the creative process. Can touring and the live shows be more like work?
Sometimes. I mean when you wake up in the morning and you’re on a tour bus on the other side of the world, you feel like “oh man I don’t want to go to work today”. But once you’re there, once you get on stage you know, it’s just the greatest thing in the world so…no, it’s not like work. I mean sure, you’re away and you get paid but it’s still so much fun and it’s still what I love to do. I can be in the rehearsal room playing a song or go through the set like three times a week or more and I’ll be happy with that. We actually get to travel and we get to play in front of paying customers. It’s fantastic.
So have you reached a level with the band where you can live off the music or is there still work on the side that you guys need to do?
Well some of us do work on the side but I guess it depends on the kind of life you want to lead. You know…. we could definitely live off of our music career.
It also depends on how much you tour because that’s where the money is I guess.
Many would measure the success of a musician on their ability to live off their music.
Yeah, but if you make too much money then perhaps you want to make more and then your music will suffer because you start catering to your core audience or you change your music and that’s not good either. So you need to struggle because you don’t want to be too comfortable with your situation.
Moving on, the band has been able to maintain its integrity when others haven’t. That’s obviously something the band has kept an eye on?
I guess so. I mean that’s always been important to us and we’re not comfortable doing anything else. This is exactly what we want to do. We have to feel proud of what we’ve done. Like at the end of the day when we finish an album or something like that, we just have to be 100% behind Dark Tranquillity and nothing else. If we’re not and we feel like we’re cheating ourselves or kind of fooling ourselves into thinking that our music is not good enough for everybody and we need to change things in order to get more fans or whatever…then yeah…that would probably be the end of the band.
But on the other side of the coin the band has never been afraid to experiment. You have been consistently pushing the envelope and expanding your sound but with your roots always in mind.
Yeah… we have our kind of basic thing, our sense of melody and our sense of how a song should sound you know. That’s always how it has been. That’s how we grew up together. We grew up with the same kind of music and we have the same kind of ideas about what music should be. Then we bring out all these other influences, and what comes out is “Dark Tranquility”.
Dark Tranquillity—Official Site