Dark Tranquillity Interview with Niklas Sundin
7th November 2013, @ The Underworld, London
Interview by Rowena Lamb
Live Photographs by Sabrina Dersel (www.mademoiselle.s.photography.com)
Since their album Skydancer was first being released in 1993, it’s fair to say that Dark Tranquillity have racked up the releases since then. Hailing from Sweden, the new album, Construct is their tenth album from the melodic death metal’ers. With their World Construct tour taking them across Europe this year before heading over to America, Japan and Australia for early 2014, I took the opportunity to speak to Niklas Sundin (guitar).
Just after finishing their sound check for the first night of the tour at The Underworld in Camden, I sat down with Niklas to talk more about touring, the different audiences and to find out more about their new release, Construct.
You’re kicking off with your European tour tonight and having the first show as a sold out show, that’s not a bad start.
It’s a very good start. I guess we’ve always had a very good response from London. We’ve played here on, I believe, every single European tour since ’97, maybe with the exception of one but I think we’ve been here pretty much on every trip. Always great feedback from the crowd; great response so it being the first year of the tour, it’s also a good way of kick starting everything. Kind of starting on a good note.
Have you got any plans for next year to come back and do more UK shows?
Very good question. I guess what you can say is that we always want to play everywhere, but then it’s up to the booking agent to make it happen, to the extent that it’s possible. For some reason we’ve only done one single separate UK tour because it’s usually a bit harder to get to book different UK shows within the parameters of a regular European tour. So what a lot of bands do is that they come to the UK for maybe a week and do seven exclusive shows. We did that before five years ago and we’re certainly hoping on doing that again but I think right now there aren’t any confirmed plans. I mean it’s always on the map so to speak and hopefully it will happen, but as of now nothing is completely certain.
It would be good to have you back.
I think so too. It’s always a bit of not hassle, but it’s always complicated to get any kind of tour or any kind of band activity together. It’s one thing to have the will and intention to go play somewhere, it’s an entirely different things to actually have it happen in a way that meets our professional requirements and makes our crew able to work and so forth. Let’s hope for the best.
Your tour is pretty full on until the 8th of December, I looked and you have just two nights off.
Yeah and I wish that there were none actually. Which a lot of people find a bit strange. The main response you get from friends that are not in bands when they look at your tour schedule, they read it and go, ‘wow I can’t believe it you’re doing fourteen/fifteen shows in a row that must be hard’. But the things is when you’re doing a tour you want to pay every night because it’s on the days off that you lose the momentum, you usually have nothing to do. It’s either a travel day so you’re stuck to the bus or maybe the bus is placed on a desolate parking space in the middle of nowhere with no electricity, and also that is when you generally get sick and you know that’s when the motivation starts lacking. So having a show every night keeps you busy, keeps you focussed and it gives you the sense that you’re here for a purpose. Days off are completely boring unless they happen to be in Las Vegas or some exceptionally cool and interesting place but now we try to make sure that everyone single tour day has a show but of course there has to be some days off for travel purposes.
Are you looking forward to the rest of it next year when you go to Japan and Australia?
Yeah absolutely! I mean without wanting to sound jaded or negative about a regular European tour, but we’ve only been to Australia once, it was I think almost ten years ago. It’s obviously very interesting and nice to travel to these exotic places where you don’t get to play every day. Certainly with Japan, I mean it’s such an interesting culture and such a fascinating place in many aspects. The length of the tour that we’ve got next year is a bit more exotic and interesting from a traveller’s perspective of course, but I mean at the same time every show has something positive about it.
The bonus is also that it will be a bit warmer next year; it will be their summer.
Yeah I don’t really like it. That’s another thing people say ‘Ah you’re going to the US and you’re playing in Florida’. I mean to me the sun is more like the enemy, I mean it drains all the energy; you’re sweating the whole time, you get tired, the brain stops working, it’s uncomfortable. I really like the European, like in Gothenburg and the London climate it’s quite similar; foggy, it rains a lot, quite cool, quite harsh, but I like that. But yeah for most people…it’s nice for with some sun and heat for sure.
With the tours you have here, mainland Europe and in Japan and Australia, is there any one particular place that you’re especially excited to be going to or to be going back to?
It’s all the same; from our experience you can have a great show and you can have a lousy show in pretty much any place, and the audience can be really good in an extremely crappy venue. So to me there are so many other factors that play a role in determining if a gig is a good experience or not. As a general rule we the like weirder, the more exotic places but at the same time the travels can be quite gruelling. Australia for example that’s a phenomenal and interesting place, but the only time we were there I think we got on average maybe three hours of sleep per night for a week; flying every day, five days in a row and basically never getting any rest.
So that means when you’re there, you see the opera hours of Sidney and everything is super cool and you think ah I would really like to stay, be a tourist here for like a week, but then realise that no I have like ten minutes of free time and then it’s sound check and then trying to get some sleep on the floor before playing. So, it’s hard to say and at the same time you can also show up at a really crappy bar in Texas, you know these real dumps and you can have a great show there.
It’s kind of hard, of course South America where we’re going in mid-January, that’s something we’re very much looking forward to because of, well, just the experience, but that’s no guarantee that every show will a golden experience either.
From what I’ve heard they’re quite a wild audience over there, they’re really into their live shows.
Yeah it’s an extremely passionate audience. You have people singing along to even the more complicated guitar melodies and it’s a certain passion. I guess you can compare it to sports or soccer even. I’m not into sports at all but it’s the same kind of warm blooded passion and you can see that in South America for sure and also in other South European countries. Where as one would imagine the Japanese are a bit more reserved and controlled in their behaviour.
How are the English Crowds?
They’re pretty good, they’re pretty animated. The thing is when we play in London you have such a high variety of people from different countries coming to the shows. For example, there is often a bunch of really passionate Greek people that we’ve met a few times, that are always at the front row and moving around. I’m not sure if stage diving is permitted here, but well you have people really living it and being very animated about it but they might not be native Englishmen either, but in general it’s a great audience here.
How has the reaction to your album Construct been because that’s been out now for a few months?
It has been very good. I think I read most of the reviews in the first two or three weeks and checked the opinions on line and it has been very positive. I think from my own perspective, which also seems to be represented by a lot of the media, is that we kind of were suck in a rut. We release three of four albums that were all good in themselves, but where every song was kind of arrange and constructed to it into the same formula. That all the albums had the same kind of musical ideas and focus and to me it was really started feeling that we were repeating ourselves to much because what I really, or what I like most about the band is that we actually have quite a large amount of diversity in our history. We covered a lot of different musical ground in the past and because of that reason I wasn’t entirely comfortable with having a number of albums being a bit too similar.
So for Construct we all agreed we had to do something different but we didn’t really know exactly in what way and the way it normally works for us is that we can’t really make any major grand plans as to the nature of the songs. We just start writing, start working and whatever happens, happens in a way. For this reason the new album ended up being kind of a throwback to the Projector album from ‘99 and that was an added focus on clear vocals and electronic arrangements, but also incorporating somewhat experimental sounds and the classical elements. So yeah, I’m really satisfied. It feels like a breath of fresh air for us and it kind of revitalised the band.
Well it should do really; you have to be pleased with it you have to play it for a very long time. It should be something that lifts you up perhaps more than the audience.
Yeah, but that’s always the main goal. Without wanting to sound arrogant the main purpose of the music is to be a vehicle for our own creativity. So if one want to play music to cater for an audience, there are other music styles that can give you’re a bigger audience and more money and more exposure and what not. But since we have to play these songs over again a million times it has to be something that we can live with and be satisfied about, and we were with those first albums at the time of making. But after you gain some perspective and bird’s eye view you start to notice something’s that weren’t obvious when you were in the studio.
You re-released your debut album on line.
Yeah we managed to get the rights back. It was originally released twenty year ago and by accident we noticed that the original contract stipulated that we would give back the material, or the rights to it after twenty year, and of course when you sign something like that as a teenager you don’t really think that, I mean twenty years is so far into the future that you don’t really have a perspective on it. But then we figured why not because the album had been out of print. It was also unavailable digitally; it wasn’t on iTunes for several years, it wasn’t on Spotify so far. So we decided to look into the contracts, get some legal advice and gain back the rights to the debut album and the EP that came afterwards; Of Chaos and Eternal Night. We actually will be signing the contracts hopefully tonight for the CD and LP, the physical re-releases, so I guess they will be out in maybe February or something next year.
Were you tempted to rework some of the songs?
Not me personally because I think for me I believe that every album is a documentation of what we were about at the time and in a broader sense was what the scene was about at the time. If you look at Skydancer objectively it’s an album that was recorded I think in seven days, mixed in one day, performed by teenagers that had no idea of studio work. Recorded in a studio with people who hadn’t heard metal before, so obviously the sound is far from perfect from today’s perspective. So of course we would quite easily be able to make it sound more contemporary but I’m not sure. That wouldn’t really be better in my book because it is what it is and I think there’s a usual amount of charm and interest in the way many of the early death metal, or early metal albums in general sound. I mean it’s far from perfect, you can hear imperfections everywhere, but it is a reflection of how things were back then.
So to me it wouldn’t be very interesting to do a re-recording of that album. Sure it would sound way more dynamic by today’s standards and the playing would be much better, but at the same time it would be like revisiting a diary from that time or reliving things you were about when you were a teenager but not necessarily can relate to now, and also it would be a tremendous amount of work to make that happen. So I think I would much rather spend the time and energy into some something else, writing new songs or come up with a greater approach to things.