Dan Swano is one of the living legends in the extreme metal genre and he has always been a hero for me and many more. I got in touch with Swano and asked him if he was willing to do an interview with metal-rules.com which he was. So here come the final result, it’s a long interview with Swano that includes all you need to know about Swano’s career which includes numerous releases with Nightingale, Edge Of Sanity, Bloodbath and Total Terror to mention a few. Swano is also a highly acclaimed producer and mixer which we also talked about. Swano has also released the debut album with crust punk band Total Terror this year which is an album that he originally recorded back in the late 90’s. Here is the first official interview with the amazing Dan Swano in metal-rules.com.
Interview by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks so much to Dan Swano for doing this interview with me, and for providing me with the promo pictures of himself.
Thanks to Vic Records for providing me with the promo pictures of Total Terror.
Hi Dan, I know you are a busy man and I really appreciate that you were willing to take the time to do an interview with me. You are a legend and an icon so it’s it’s truly an honour to have this moment with you. So, are you ready to kick off?
The pleasure is all mine. Let´s blast off!
I thought we could start with talking about your musical career, when did you first decide to start to make music?
Since I grew up with a 10 year old brother (Dag Swanö) who was rehearsing with his band Radio Station in our living room, it wasn’t that hard to guess that I would follow the same path.
My beloved parents bought my a drum kit really early on and I got my first normal size kit on my 7th birthday and played non-stop until around year 2000, when I decided to give it a rest. But the itch to play drums is still there. I played for an hour straight during my lunch-break today. The most expensive digital drum-kit in the world and I had a real nice time!!! Most of the "chops" are still there…but these days you have to be better at following the clicktrack than to play cool stuff…sad but true.
You are an multi-instrumentalist but which instrument is your main choice?
I am a drummer at heart, like you can read above…but these days I play a lot of guitar, keyboards and sing.
Are you a self taught musician or do you have taken lessons?
No lessons. But I have played much with better musicians than myself, and always listened to their constructive criticism. The best school there is.
How many instruments can you master?
It all depends on what you mean with "master". If recording all the stuff and make an album like MOONTOWER I’d have to say all kinds of guitars and bass. Drums. Keyboards. Growling and clean vocals of various range from Goth to Falsetto. That´s about it. I play a kick ass marimba too…but not that often!!
Did you have any idols or role models when you were younger that made you or inspired you to play instrument?
My brother, Dag. Later on I had different drummer who inspired me a lot. Simon Phillips rules on Sin After Sin and the first MSG. Les Binks play nice on Stained Class and Killing Machine. I love Vinnie Appice on Mob Rules. I also have a thing for Kim Ruzz on the early Mercyful Fate stuff. And Chuck Shuldiner and John Tardy inspired me to start growling!!
When did the singing came into the picture? What do you think of your singing ability?
There are recordings of me singing when I was like 3 or 4 years old. My first song was called "Time to die" and can be heard here: www.unisound.se/timetodie.mp3
Even a hint of growls there in the menacing line "name your praist"
I took over the vocals in GHOST when Anders Måreby lost his range in his late teens.
It was always a temporary solution and we soon found Björn Eriksson and reformed into ICARUS.
Then we metamorphosed into UNICORN and Björn felt the songs had way too much instrumental stuff going on and left. I started to sign again..but only until we had found the singer with the big S. We thought we had found him in a much older guy named Steven, that sang a few rehearsals with us…but it never worked out and I continued to sing…and before we knew it, I was the voice of Unicorn and from there it went on with the growling and the clean singing on "Enigma" and all the session work with Dissection, Godsend and much more….before I knew it a was considered to be a singer…but mentally I was (and will always be) a drummer!!
My ability…well on the positive side. I think I have a good voice within my range. I try to pronounce stuff like an English speaking version would do. On the negative side….I wish I had bit higher range without sounding thin. I am sure I could get there with some practise…but I am more of a baritone/tenor than an alto…so I just have to live with singing along to all my favourite songs one octave lower, in pure Barry White style!!
When did you join your first band?
I joined a band called The Fordz in 1977.
You have now achieved legend status within the extreme metal genre, how does that feel? Can you go walk the streets without being recognize?
It depends. I have no problems with it, what so ever. Here in Örebro I am more known as "that guy from the music store" to the new generation of musicians. There are still one or two persons (drunk out of the skulls, of course) who approach me when I am out partying and give the "you are the best..bla bla" speech. Which is nice, of course…but I rather read that I inspired someone to write a song or start playing in the first place….that is what really cheers me up.
Many of the active people in the extreme metal genre look up to you and are inspired of you, how does that feel?
Amazing, of course. I have done my own thing and still managed to stay somewhat in focus for 20 years now. It´s great when some musicians I respect come up to you and tell you that they like my stuff. Guys like Peavey from Rage and other famous German metal musicians all loved the EOS/Nightingale stuff in the mid 90’s. I never knew Another fun thing is that Per from Opeth once told me that he and Mike Amott used to listen to Moontower and drink alcohol! That is just so amazing!
Where do you live today?
I live in Örebro, Sweden
Have you always made a living on the music or do you had a regular job as well?
I have never made a living out of music alone. I did the studio full-time from 1993 to 1997, but after that I have had a job on the side. Nowadays I work half-time in a music store and Mix/Master half-time.
I could go solo on the studio stuff if I wanted..but I am a little bit too paranoid and insecure of where this particular industry is leading to quite the other job.
Unisound Studio have a website and you have a MySpace site, but why don’t you have a proper website?
I have tried. swano.com was up from a few minutes until some server crashed and the bandwidth was exceed with 1 terrabyte!!! (1 GB of free downloads!!!) I worked my ass off with that site and it all went to hell… A good website needs a good and dedicated webmaster who does a lot of stuff on their own. Like a Fan Club vibe to it. I just don’t have time to give them all the info and stuff they need to get it started. I have all 24 hours of the days booked up for at least 6 months ahead. The only reason I can answer this is because I am exporting some project in the background and the laundry is in the dryer….multitasking rules!!!
Who doesn’t Nightingale have a proper website but only a MySpace and a Facebook site?
We have Facebook? Cool!! There is website in the works, but the guy does it in his spare time, for free, so it takes time. It looks great…hopefully it will be up around the time we start messing around with new stuff!
Do you have any favourite acts amongst the new death metal acts that has popped out lately?
I like Barren Earth a lot. Not pure Death, but fucking ace stuff! Hail Of Bullets and Torture Division are 2 other, more violent favourites. People born after 1975 just cannot seem to write Death Metal the way I want it
Are you the kind of musician and songwriter that writes all the time constantly or do you have special song-writing sessions when you sit down and write like hell?
At the moment I am bursting with new ideas. I write a good piece of music every time I pick up the guitar or sit down by the piano. I have a good bunch of fragments that could end up on the next Nightingale or maybe some new metal project or even Second Sky…or what the heck…just songs!!!!
In the old days I could lock myself up in the studio and force stuff to come out. I wrote a lot of songs in the 90’s but music that really matters to me needs to be written slowly and kind of "come to me" rather than I sit down and put a few basic chords together and sing some old clichés.
What kind of music do you listen to at home when you’re private?
I am not listening that much to music these days, because I work with mixing most of the time, but also work extra in a music shop, where there is constant noises everywhere….
But when I do listen to music it can be anything from soft AOR to violent death metal. Some of my favourites at the moment are Alter Bridge and Breaking Benjamin.
Do you have any album or any artist that lies close to your heart?
Marillion/Seasons End and the B-sides from that album, is the best ever!
Do you have any album that you are embarrassed to admit owning?
Not really. I have a lot of stuff that would make the most metalhead go nuts, but I have never said I am a 100% metalhead just because I happen to be more known for my metal stuff. I am more like a musical actor that can do anything from romantic comedy to snuff
What made you form the act Edge Of Sanity?
We were curious about the more brutal forms of metal. First we were more or a progressive thrash band, later turned total death and then some kind of "whatever" metal.
EOS became one of the leading acts within the death metal scene, was that something you could imagine when you first formed the band?
Not in my wildest dreams. I never thought we’d go beyond the 1st demo. Luckily I was wrong!
EOS released plenty of albums during the entire 90’s, what do you think of those albums today when you look back on them?
I think the 1st one suffer horrible from the dreadful mix. Musically it is great. I still dig songs like "The Dead", "Angel of distress", "Maze of existence" and "Immortal Souls" a lot.
UNORTHODOX is great. The best album we ever did. Kind of perfect in its own way. The rest of the albums sound really weird but they all have great moments musically. The best tracks from us can be found on "When all is said"
Which one of the albums are your favourite one today?
That will be UNORTHODOX
Did EOS did a lot of touring back in the days?
Not really. We did 2 proper tours with me in the band. Both in Germany. 1992 and 1996. The first one was kind of cool. All of you crammed in my Volvo 343. The second one was an artistic disaster for me in every possible way. I rather not talk about it.
Are the albums still avaliable in stores today?
Not in the way they should be. But they are all reprinted when they are out of stock…so I guess you have to be really lazy not to be able to get a hold of them!
After having a long break did EOS release CRIMSON III in 2003, why did it take you so long to release a new album?
I tried to take over the band in 97 but it all backfire on me and I was kicked out instead. The other guys got a new singer and with the label behind them, they released CRYPTIC. The album was a failure and the label started to ask me to come back. Year after year I resisted their offers, but one day I gave in, and wrote and recorded Crimson II totally on my terms. It is a great album but released just a little bit too late to save the band.
At the end you were the only remaining original member in the band, why did the other original guys leave the band?
Is EOS a closed chapter today? I bet that it’s a lot of people that want you to see a reunion.
The music is still very dear to me heart, and some little part of me still wants to perform the best of the songs again. I am pretty sure that the 5 original members will never be on stage together again ever. Not at least for a full performance. There really wasn’t that much of a chemistry left after Unorthodox and it didn’t get better with age….
You also formed Nightingale at the end of the 90’s which music sounds a bit different compared to the music of EOS, why did you form a new act?
Nightingale was a solo project of mine. A bit like Tägtgren have Pain on the side of Hypocrisy. I just fell for the whole gothrock thing and wanted to do an album in that style. I did a few songs and then I got bored with it…filled up the rest of the album with some kind of epic rock. IT sold well and BMP wanted a follow up, so I gave ‘em one…and more…and more….
How would you like to describe what kind of music Nightingale plays?
Were there any problems with being involved in both EOS and Nightingale at the same time?
Nope. Nightingale was long considered a one/off and it actually made sure that EOS didn’t have too much of that gothrock in it. I got most of my obsessions with various styles of music out of the system thanks to the first Nightingale album. The stuff me did with EOS after that was sometimes a bit flavour by Nightingale, but only the bits that really worked (The strange guitar-tuning etc.)
How did the EOS fans welcome Nightingale?
Most of them liked it. The 1st record was kind of a mishmash of styles, just like The Spectral Sorrows…so if you liked that one, you must have been into all weird kinds of music. I am sure the die hard Death Metal fans didn’t like it that much.
Was there any difference in how media approached Nightingale compared to EOS?
I did a shitload of interviews for both. Wasn’t really that much of a different. It was a BMP priority release, so there was posters and stuff…which was cool!!
Besides Nightingale you also did release albums with Infestdead at the end of the 90’s, what can you tell us about that and how did you find the time to do all this?
Infestdead was mine and Dread’s little project where we lived out our Yankee death metal dreams. We tried to be a better Deicide, pretty much all the time And for most of the time it kind of worked!!! It was great fun. The reviews were great, sometimes even higher scores than EOS!!
What can you tell us about your solo album that came out 1998?
It was an important album for me. It started out as my "revenge" on the EOS guys but after a session with Micke Akerfeldt (when we recorded Sörskogen "Mordet i Grottan") I got the weird idea to make a death metal/progrock album. Like travelling back to 1972 in a time machine and record it "then". After a few attempts at an "old" sound, I came to the conclusion that the musical ideas of a 1998/1972 crossover was working, but the sound needed to be modern, but with mellotrons, minimoogs, hammondorgans and guitars/bass tuned in normal pitch…and growling!!
MOONTOWER wasn’t the smash I hoped it would be. The world wasn’t ready for my fusion. I have been hoping for the album to take off again in the aftershock of Opeth….but it remains in the vaults. A shame. It’s one of my favourites.
Do you have any current plans on launching more solo albums?
I was thinking about it today, driving home from Finspång. But then it would have to be really a raw and primitive Death Metal album. Nothing fancy. A bit like the stuff on the first EOS albums. But with much better sound an playing.
You and a few other well known metal musicians did launch the all-star project Bloodbath at the beginning of 2000, how come you were involved in that?
It started out as a fun project. I needed to try out some new gear and I always seem to buy stuff that seems to work when you play around with it, but once you actually do something serious, it shows it’s ugly side and is not the machinery you thought it would be…..
We wrote and recorded 2 songs on the spot and when I should mix them, the machine had erased all (or me…I don’t know) so we had to do it again, and then we added a third song. I wanted it to be a nice memory and something we played for laughs…but in the end it turned out to be a mini album on Century Media…and it took of like hell from there!!!
The EP BREEDING DEATH came on like a bomb and was praised by the fans, why did it take you two years to release the debut album?
Mainly because I wasn’t feeling the urge to do a full length at all. The other guys pushed and pushed and once I got the idea to pay a tribute to the Swedish Death metal scene/Sound, we had a "task" and the album felt like it could deserve to live!!!
Did Bloodbath felt any pressure on going out on the road and do live shows?
There was always some talk, but it wasn’t until Wacken that it kind of felt really cool!!
Bloodbath later on went through some member changes when you switched from being a drummer to being a guitarist and drummer Martin Axenrot joined. Singer Mikael Akerfeldt also left and Peter Tagtgren took over the position as lead singer, was any of the drop outs expected?
It was always a project to me, and when Micke had to spend his time with Opeth, we just called another classy growler and let him do the vocals. For me, Bloodbath was about the songs, not really about who played what on the records. Axenrot was pure luck. I spoke to a friend about our wish to enhance the drumming in Bloodbath, and our choices to replace me as a drummer were Nick Barker or Gene Hoglan…or some other shit hot fast (and expensive..not to say busy) drummer. My friend said "Our drummer is really good" and I was like "Yes yes…of course he is…." but then he told me their drummer also played with Jensen in Witchery and that he did all his stuff to a clicktrack etc. and I felt, what the heck, is he good enough from Jensen, then he is good enough for us. So I invited him over to studio and before we even had met, he was at the studio on time and bashed out the Bloodbath songs like he knew them from kindergarten!!! Martin is also one of the nicest guys you will ever meet, and I feel immensely proud of being a tiny part in him now being a professional drummer with Opeth!
When you started Bloodbath was it meant to be band or a project?
Only a one/off fun thing! Like Edge of Sanity or Pan Thy Monium was too
You did your live debut at Wacken Open Air in Germany 2005, how was that?
Fucking amazing. The highlight of my metal career so far.
Did you do more live shows during 2005?
You did release the live disc THE WACKEN CARNAGE in 2008 which covers your show in Wacken 2005, why did it take so long to unveil the disc?
Contract shit. You really have to ask the remaining members about that. I was kicked out of the band before the work on it began.
In 2006 you left Bloodbath, why?
I was kicked out. I had no intention of leaving.
What did the members in Bloodbath think of that you left?
They loved it. I was always stopping them for doing the kind of Death Metal they grew up with.
What do you feel when you look back on your time in Bloodbath today?
We kicked major ass, and "Eaten" is one helluva groovy song!!!
Well, back to Nightingale now, is Nightingale a band or a project?
Since we actually play live and rehearse and shit, I say we’re a band!!
Why don’t you do more live shows?
Because I am pretty busy/spoiled/lazy. We do cool gigs, where the scenery fits the music.
I want a big stage, good sound, good lights etc. Nightingales music doesn’t quite work as good on a small pub stage. We tried that. Not funny.
What do you enjoy most, do live shows or record albums?
To do RECORDS!
When can we expect a new album from Nightingale?
I have a lot of fragments cooking at the moment. Every time I hold the guitar or sit down by the piano, something classy comes to life. If I just found the time to sit down and work them all through, I am sure I would have written my 50% of the record in no time….it’s just that I don’t have that much time….so I guess I will have to find us a great label that is willing to send me off on a writing vacation!!
How many bands/projects are you currently involved in?
Nightingale and Second Sky. That is more than enough!!
You co-operate with Arjen Lucassen in the project Ayreon and in Star One where you wrote some songs, do you and Lucassen have plans on working more together in the future?
I’d love to. I have grown 1000% as a singer since we worked together the last time. Only time will tell.
Another one of your acts, Total Terror, has recently released a new album, you did record the album in the 90’s but it has taken until now to release it, why?
It was just a one/off like so many others. It was supposed to be mixed and released by some label back in 94. But it never happened. Lucky for me!!!
Total Terror did record a demo before the release of the debut album, were any of the demo songs also featured on this album?
Yet. The demos are all there to. At the end of the record.
Way did you start up Total Terror?
Me and Benny wanted to try out some crust-core stuff, and the first demo became quite talked about in the underground, so we decided to cut a full-length. In order to track it as live as possible, we needed a bass player, so Dread joined in for the album.
All three of the members then went on and formed EOS, was it given that you were gonna incorporate these guys in EOS?
No no..This is all wrong. EOS was about to record PURGATORY AFTERGLOW when we did the TT stuff.
Where did you record the Total Terror album?
In the old Unisound place in Finspång. I remixed it several times throughout the years.
You chose to sing on Swedish on the disc, why not on English?
Because it was cool. I love to sing and shout in Swedish. Feels more real…
Was EOS and Total Terror active on the same time?
Yes they were.
Did Total Terror do any live shows?
No we didn’t.
The demo that Total Terror released became an underground classic, what do you think about the demo today?
It’s raw and in some ways better than the album.
Vic Records has released the debut album this year, were any other labels also interested in releasing it?
There was one in 94. But it all faded out.
I have read that you had problems with mix and master the album, what were the problems?
It wasn’t that well recorded. I had some equipment issues back then..but with modern technology I could salvage some of it..
How would you describe what kind of music Total Terror plays?
Fucked up crust punk with death metal sonic.
Have you read any review of the album yet?
A few. They are surprisingly good. Some also say it’s good, but who needs it really??
Who has done the cover art-work?
Ivan from Vic did it.
Where does the band name come from?
Not sure really. But it is cool because the spelling is universal for Swedish and English..
Do you have any plans on releasing more material with Total Terror?
No plans. Sorry.
You are also a highly acclaimed producer, when did you first decide to taking on producing?
I wanted to interfere with other peoples music right from the start, but it wasn’t until the mid 80’s that I really had the guts to fix and trix with my own music.
Have you always been interested in producing?
Yes. It’s an obsession of mine.
Do you own Unisound Studio where you now work at?
Yes. It´s a straight mix and mastering place. No recording possibilities except for vocals and acoustic guitars.
Have you worked in other studios before Unisound Studio?
Not really. I have done a few mixes at the now closed Studio Kuling (later Fascination Street)
What do you consider is your strongest feature as producer and mixer?
As a producer, my strength would be so weed out the weak spots in a song and focus on the strong.
As a mixer, I just try to give the band what they want. My goal is to be as transparent as possible, but still like my work.
You have worked with numerous of acts and artists, could you say which album that have been the most fun to work on ?
They have all be fun in so many different ways. Most of the "old ones" started out fun but once the deadline crawled upon us the tensions were there and the laughters faded. I do remember having a splendid time recording and mixing The Somberlain, Unbound and also some demos where everything clicked like Autocrash.
When I interviewed Lord K (The Project Hate, Torture Division etc) he said that "Dan is a fucking phenomenon and a very good friend. He has helped me out so much during the years. I sure would not be what I am today if it wasn’t for him and his support and help" what do you think about that?
Kekko is a kick ass dude and he is way more talented than he give himself credit for…that others give him credit for too, by the way!!
How is it to work with Lord K?
Intense! It’s really personal and I know his life evolves around getting everything just perfect, so I am his little bitch during the mixing of the TPH stuff, while the mixes for Torture Division is way more relaxed for all of us.
Are you selective when it comes to requests from acts that want you to produce their albums?
I wasn’t back in the day when I still did. If I should ever choose to really produce an album again, I would be very restrictive. And they would have to be very rich
From what I can see have you mostly worked with bands within the extreme metal genre, why is it so?
It’s where I had my first "hits" as a producer/mixer. I did a lot of different stuff too. I had a small Skatecore boom after the success of Millencolin..But that is about. I love to work on more "normal" music. Yesterday I mixed a song for a local band that sounds a bit like Coldplay and Snow Patrol. That was pure bliss!!
What album are you currently working on? Do you have any idea how many albums you have produced?
When writing this I am working on stuff from EVEMASTER, HARASAI, NEVERLAND, THE IDLE HAND, SECOND SKY, ACEFORA, SOMNAE and some coversongs/bonus tracks for the ODYSSEY re-issue
Do you have any favourite artist or act that you haven’t worked with yet that would have loved to produce?
Not sure. There are so many bands that I would like to push in another direction, but I am pretty sure they would throw me out after a day…so I think I will stick to working with my own stuff. I am not good enough in the psychology bit to work as a producer. I am more of the mixer that can give you some advice on which parts to delete and where to make the song shorter
What do you have to say to the ones who are waiting for a new Nightingale album?
Take it easy. It will be done. I have had a boom in songwriting recently. I kind of stopped writing 4 years ago, and a lot of stuff was bottled up inside and I have just began to drain the well…and there are some really good epic stuff in the works. In a year it might be ready..who knows.
Are you happy with what you have achieved in your career so far?
Of course I am. I took a lot of weird left and right turns, but they all led me here and I am happy being able to mix and master for a living and still have time left to work extra in a music shop and spend time with my family.
You are a pretty busy man but what are the plans for Dan Swano for the rest of 2009?
To mix and master my soul out, and to lose some weight
Do you have any words of wisdom to the fans and the readers?
If you have a band or a project that needs a professional sound for amateur money..get in touch.
That was all I had for this time. Again, I’m really happy that you were avaliable to answering my questions. I wish you all the best in the future.
The best of wishes to you too!!