Interview with Niklas Sundin of Dark Tranquillity
Dark Tranquillity has become one of those bands who reliably put out amazing music and it would be rather fruitless to try and decide whether the new album, CONSTRUCT, is ‘better’ or ‘not better’ than SKYDANCER or FICTION. They are one of the founder of melodic death metal and one of those who made the Gothenburg metal scene what it is. It’s a Dark Tranquillity album, and all metal is better off for its existence. Metal-Rules got the chance to catch up with Niklas Sundin and talk about the new album CONSTRUCT, the difficulties the band was put through, romantization and many more…
Metal-Rules.com: Hello, I am very happy for this interview and greetings from Greece! First of all, how are you doing? And where are you checking in from today?
Thank you very much! I’m doing fine. We’re currently in Lawrence, KS on our North American tour with Omnium, Gatherum and Exmortus. About half of the shows are done, and everything is going well.
Metal-Rules.com: Well to start off, when you started Dark Tranquillity, could you have possibly imagined that 20 years later you’d still be together and touring/writing albums?
Ha ha, not at all. When we formed the band in 1989 we had very modest goals; to record at least one demo tape and maybe get to play some local shows. Even releasing a real album didn’t seem realistic at all.
Metal-Rules.com: How did you come up with the band name?
It’s taken from one of our first songs, “Void of tranquillity”. It represented what we wanted at the time, but it retrospect it’s not the best band name. Even native English speakers can have a problem with it, and the word “tranquillity” is spelled differently in British and American English, so it’s a constant source of confusion.
Metal-Rules.com: A lot of bands are more respected in other countries than their homeland. How is Dark Tranquillity received in Sweden? I’m just asking as many artists did not receive the feedback they deserve except for Scandinavian bands.
It’s always hard to compare. For a long time we (and most other bands from here) had a pretty low profile in Sweden. We could play shows for a lot of people throughout most of Europe, but even the hometown gigs in Gothenburg wouldn’t attract a very large audience. This has actually changed for the better during the past couple of years, and I actually think that Sweden is one of the best countries for us these days.
Metal-Rules.com: Dark Tranquillity has been playing almost for the past 25 years. I’m sure you had many difficulties throughout this time… What makes you always keep pushing forward?
It depends what you mean with difficulties. As any other band with a long history, we’ve had our share of misfortunes, but nothing truly devastating. We’ve had equipment stolen, been ripped off lots of times and have made mistakes by trusting the wrong people, but nothing out of the ordinary. We’ve still had the good fortune of mostly working with professional and honest labels and compared to the horror stories told by many other bands, we really can’t complain. Everyone knows that the music world is chaotic, and nobody forms a metal band expecting stability and comfort.
Metal-Rules.com: Let’s focus on your last elaboration named CONSTRUCT. It has surpassed my expectations if you consider that most bands create their best albums only in the first 5-6 years of existence. It’s a great album. You have released you latest album, Construct, in 2013. Why did you decide to give that album title?
Thanks! We like our one-word album titles, probably because they have such good potential for symbolism and ambiguity. CONSTRUCT can be both a noun and a verb, and it can relate to both the creative process itself as well as the result of it. On a more introspective level, the title comes from a song called “A memory construct”, which was written for the album but wasn’t included. It actually just got released as a 7″ vinyl EP that we’re selling on the tour. I’m not the right person to elaborate on the lyrics since I don’t write them, but in my view that song is about how limited one’s perception is and how the brain is hardwired to see patters when there are none.
Metal-Rules.com: I am surely sure that you have a great feedback on the release of Construct. Please tell us some words about its production.
Yes, the response has been very good indeed. I personally think that it was time for us to do something slightly different music-wise, and judging by the reviews, other people felt so too. As for the production, we recorded the album in Rogue Music, a studio owned by our keyboard player. Jens Bogren (known for his work with Kreator, Katatonia, Opeth etc) took care of the mixing duties and did a great job with getting us a new sound that still sounds like D.T.
Metal-Rules.com: What’s new does Dark Tranquillity bring by Construct release regarding the previous album? What’s the new thing on it?
I think that the whole vibe and atmosphere is different from the previous 3-4 albums. More focus on feeling, less focus on technical playing.
Metal-Rules.com: Can you tell me a little more about the lyrics that you usually write. What’s the thing that inspires you?
I can’t really comment on this since I haven’t written any D.T. lyrics for a long time – sorry!
Metal-Rules.com: How important is it to you that people pay attention to your lyrics apart from listening to your music?
It used to be very important to me when we started out, but I don’t have that mindset anymore. If people find something that they can relate to in the lyrics and are able to delve beneath the surface, it’s of course great, but it’s perfectly fine to just enjoy the music by itself as well.
Metal-Rules.com: How did you get into playing music?
It’s the usual story; we were kids that spent most of our spare time listening to metal, and from there the step is pretty small to start trying to play an instrument and form your own band. None of us had any music experience when we formed D.T., so we learned on the job, so to speak.
Metal-Rules.com: What’s your opinion on other kinds of music?
Other than metal? All good with me. I’m a pretty selective listener and 95% of metal does absolutely nothing for me. I can appreciate anything with quality, be it grindcore, electronica, industrial, indie, jazz, 80’s pop or whatever.
Metal-Rules.com: Do you know any Greek metal bands? Is there any Greek metal bands that you really like or want to share the stage? Maybe, you know Firewind and Gus G, Nightrage, Rotting Christ, Septicflesh or Suicidal Angels to name a few. And of course Helena Paparizou? Hehe!!!
Ha ha, maybe not ms. Paparizou, but I’m a big fan of the old Greek bands such as Varathron, Necromantia, Rotting christ, Zemial and Thou art Lord. There really was something unique and special about the sound and playing of those bands back in the early ’90’s. Septicflesh are impressive too (particularly their latest albums), and Gus is a phenomenal guitarist and a generally great guy.
Metal-Rules.com: Awesome! You are of the fewest people I interviewed who know more than one Greek metal acts! And now I would like to discuss about some deplorable events. We are in the beginning of 2014 and three big metal personas have passed away… Ronnie James Dio, Peter Steele and Paul Grey (SLIPKNOT) and finally Jeff Hanneman (SLAYER). Are the last 4 years the saddest years of heavy metal?
I haven’t thought of this, but maybe you’re right. Everyone is getting older, and no-one is immortal. Even us in D.T. are pushing the age where it’s not completely unheard of to get some fatal illness. Needless to say, the musician’s lifestyle isn’t always the healthiest either.
Metal-Rules.com: What do you think of today’s music industry in general?
Hard to say…Of course I have my opinions like everyone else, but the issue is just too complex to discuss in depth in interviews, and a lot of things get misinterpreted since the average fan lacks the knowledge to relate to these things. Also, my own viewpoint tend to change quite often. I guess that my best reply would be that no-one knows what the situation will look like in 2-3 years, and that we’re happy just focusing on the music and leave the music industry headache to the management and record label.
Metal-Rules.com: Is technology part of your life or are you still a “romantic”?
It’s not a black and white issue, but I’m generally pro-tech. I believe the romantization of the natural and the historical past can lead to a lot of suffering and tragedy, but at the same time there are of course hazards with most kinds of technological development.
Metal-Rules.com: I have beholden that heavy metal changes through the decades. Heavy and Thrash metal dominated over in 80’s, Death, Black and Power metal in 90’s and Metalcore and Nu Metal in the 00’s in general. 2010 was the beginning sign of the new decade. What do you see for the future?
Hard to say – I never really cared too much about these things. At any given time, there will always be an “overground” movement that’s largely uninteresting and in part based on what the underground pioneered a bit earlier. It’s easy to complain about how nothing new or interesting is happening within the metal scene, but there’s usually a lot of good stuff to be found underneath the surface. And for every movement there will be a counter movement.
Metal-Rules.com: If you could pick only one musician to work with, who would that be and why?
I can’t really think of anyone. The musicians that I truly like are rarely interested in cooperations, and part of the reason why I like them has to do with the fact that they’re making something that I couldn’t create myself. For example, I think that Nick Cave, Jarboe or David Tibet are fascinating musicians, but I can’t see what on Earth I could contribute to a mutual project with them.
Metal-Rules.com: You never know, but think positive! Hehehe! Could you respond to the following terms in just one word or sentence:
Death Metal: I still get puzzled when people call D.T. a death metal band.
Greece: Great country that I hope will see brighter times soon.
Politics: A necessary evil when it comes to organizing a society
Breaking Bad (TV series): Only saw the first 2 seasons so far, but a very good show for sure!
Black Sabbath: Classic band, though I never listened much to them.
Metal-Rules.com: Thank you for this interview and for taking your time and accepting our request. I wish to you and the rest guys of Dark Tranquillity all the best!!!
Thanks! Looking forward to playing in Greece later this spring!