Heart of Steel: Interviews

Dark Tranquillity:

Interview With Niklas Sundin (guitars)

Interviewed by Cid


To "introduce" the band could please give me some thoughts on how you feel about each of your releases these days?



Sky Dancer/Of Chaos and Eternal Night (reissue)
(territory: North America)

Damage Done

It's pretty hard to give a good reply to this since I don't like being overly analytical about our music. To be honest, I don't think about our own music to any greater degree or even listen to the old albums apart from perhaps a couple of times a year, so I'm not really in the position to give any in-depth evaluation. The most honest reply would be that I feel pretty good about all our releases. They all have their strong and weak points and reflect what the band was about at the time of recording. However, once we have recorded an album I don't bother with it so much anymore. The material we're working on at the time, the songs that aren't 100% finished, are always more interesting that the ones that already have been recorded.


I'm sorry if I misunderstood your offerings, but to me Dark Tranquillity has always been a band of contradictions. From SKYDANCER's super fast and emotion ridden content, to THE GALLERY's storm of feelings and more recently HAVEN's intense melodic view of escaping the dullness of every day's world, have you planned any of this before actually writing the album? Or has this continuity of contrasts been just the general mood and state of the band always?

We've never planned too much ahead. You're right that there is some contrast-effect going on; every album has in some way been a reaction to the previous one. After the technicality of "The gallery", we felt the need to simplify things and to strip the songs down to the bare essentials, hence "The mind's I". After we've done that, we were dead tired of everything even remotely connected to "melodic death metal", so "Projector" turned out the way it did. I think it's mostly a matter of maintaining our own interest to continue as a band. If we were to follow a strict formula or to release the same sort of album time after time, we'd grow tired and call it quits. We constantly surprise ourselves as well.


From my point of view, one of the most enticing aspects of a Dark Tranquillity release are the lyrics. The thing that probably has made SKYDANCER my all time favorite album are the intense poetic lyrics that are encased in your debut album with Osmose. How do you find yourselves writing such thought-provoking lyrics for each album? What is the main source of inspiration for Dark Tranquillity?

I haven't written any lyrics myself for a couple of years, but I guess it boils down to an interest in language and writing. As for inspirational sources, I could mention everything from books and movies to alcohol and insanity. It's impossible to pick one single area out.


The band has undergone many changes since their beginning, the first ones I'd like to discuss are the ones in the line-up, why exactly did Mikael switch from the guitars to the vocals for the band?

Anders Fridén was out of the band in the summer of '93, and instead of bringing another vocalist in, we decided to let Mikael take care of the screaming duties. He had done a fair share of backing vocals during gigs, so we knew that his voice was good. Also, he's a incredible frontman and vocalist but was a pretty average guitarist, so we figured the whole level of the band would increase by recruiting a new guitar player.


Fredrik Johanson came in as a guitar player and turned out to be a very good pick at the time, what was the reason for his departure from the band?

He was simply too busy with work and family duties to be able to devote himself to the band in the same way that the rest of us did, so he was asked to leave.


With Fredrik's departure, the excellent bass player Martin Henriksson took up his duties as a guitar player, was he always optimistic in changing instruments?

Well, he has been playing the guitar for as long as he has been playing the bass, so he was more than qualified for the guitar job. He wanted to give it a try, and we were all for it since we already had Michael Nicklasson in mind for the bass spot.


There have been changes also in the writing departments, the lyrics, once a duty divided between Mikael and yourself is now entirely left to Mikael, is there a particular reason to this? Did Niklas become bored, uninspired?

Not really, but I felt that it's always more genuine to have a vocalist singing his own lyrics. Since Mikael is an excellent lyricist I just didn't see much reason to contribute anymore, and since our writing styles are pretty different it'd give a shattered impression to divide the writing.


The writing of the music has been changing hands quite a bit also. Through the years, you have been the main writer for the music, with the contributions of virtually every band member on every album, but in HAVEN, Martin and Anders have taken up most of this task up to themselves. Is this a way of re-inventing the sound of the band a step at the time or is there another reason for this change?

All six members of the band write music, so it's mainly a case of the most suitable stuff getting used. During the creation of the "Haven" songs, I did write a fair amount of material, but it didn't make it to any of the songs. We have a strict band democracy and don't include anything in the songs that aren't approved by a majority of the band. It doesn't matter where the riffs or ideas come from as long as the music is good.


Finally the biggest change the band has undergone is the direction of their musical style. While Dark Tranquillity's first three full lengths were more focused into a much more aggressive, fast and relentless approach for the listener, both PROJECTOR and HAVEN have been much more focused on the melodic side of things. How has the band undergone this changes that even deal with the much talked about electronic sound on the albums?

As always, we never make any grand plans for our future. During the time of Fredrik's departure, we had been discussing the option of adding a keyboardist to the band, to give us the possibility to expand the arrangements and try new things out. We've been friends with Martin Brandström for many years and knew that he was the man for the job. Things just took off from there, and in my view this isn't a very controversial or odd move for us. We've always been about change and transformation and the last three albums are a good example of this.


What is your opinion, or what do you have to say to people who expect Dark Tranquillity to reproduce THE GALLERY every time a new album is ready?

I don't think that many people are expecting that anymore, but it's fair enough. It's all about tastes anyway, and I don't mind people thinking that our earlier stuff is great and that our current sound sucks.


Some think that the label change to Century Media has had a major effect in your music, mainly that the change in Dark Tranquillity's sound has been somehow influenced by your new label, is there any truth to this?

None whatsoever. We'd never allow a label to interfere with our material. I've heard a lot of these speculations too, probably because the label-changing scenario in combination with a change in sound is so suitable for gossip, but what many people don't know is that "Projector" was recorded several months before we even knew that we'd change label and half a year before signing to C.M. We had some other offers from well-known labels, but Century media were the only ones who didn't want to re-mix the album or to put some fast songs on there, so we signed to them. All other companies wanted us to do some changes on "Projector", which was unacceptable for us, so it's a bit amusing that some people assume that C.M. tried to push us into this direction.


PROJECTOR and HAVEN portrayed a marked sense of growth in your music, looking back upon it now that DAMAGE DONE is complete, what do you think of these two previous albums? Are you satisfied with what each of them has accomplished for the band? Is the musical progression entirely satisfactory to everyone in the band?

I can't speak for the other guys, but I'm pretty sure that everyone is satisfied enough.


Speaking of DAMAGE DONE, what can we expect from this album in your own words? How do you view this, your latest opus?

It's pretty new yet, and it'll take some time before I can get a more objective view on it. When working on an album, you usually end up thinking that every song is shit since you've been listening to them and played them so many times. The original relationship is lost and in the end you just grow tired of the material. I'm very satisfied with how "Damage done" turned out, but it's way too early to have any more constructive opinions on it, at least for me. Many people that have heard it seem to think that it sounds like a mix of "The mind's I" and "Haven", with some new influences thrown in. This is a pretty good description to me.


A little out of place maybe, but I have come to know that DAMAGE DONE is already out in mp3 format, what is your take on this whole issue of music copy/distribution almost free of any charge?

It's a really complex issue, and I'm honestly not sure exactly what I think. Obviously file sharing is a very strong promotional tool, and I know of lots of people who first heard of our band via communities like Napster or Audiogalaxy, downloaded a couple of mp3's and bought all our albums later. I think and hope that most people into more specialized genres of music are interested enough to buy the real CD if they find something they like, so I'm nowadays convinced that the availability of mp3's doesn't hurt the sales for our sort of bands. On the other hand, having whole albums available for easy download somehow gives the notion that free music is something to take for granted, and I'm principally against copyrighted material being distributed for free. Then on the other hand, most record stores have listening booths where one can listen to an album before deciding weather to buy it or not, so one way of looking at the mp3 issue is that you're now able to have that pre-listening session in the comfort of your own home instead. All in all, there are pros and cons, but it's clear that the music industry will undergo massive changes during the next couple of years.


Ok, while we are going over discography for Dark Tranquillity, over the years you have released your albums in the Japanese and generally in the Asian market. Every one of your albums has one or two bonus tracks that aren't available anywhere else. Why is this?

This isn't entirely true. It's only on "Haven" that we've had an exclusive song for the Japanese market. On the other albums, the bonus tracks have been covers or the "...chaos..." and "enter..." mini albums that had been available here earlier. Anyway, the reason for bands including bonus material for the Japanese/asian markets is that the license-printed albums are more expensive to buy than their imported versions, so they have to stick something extra (bonus songs, extensive booklets etc) on there in order to sell any copies. This is something that even the contracts stipulate. If a band want an album released via license in Japan, they have to provide bonus material of some sort.


The forced follow-up question is, will you ever release an album or EP with all this bonus material? Please…

Hopefully that will happen in the future. There are lots of different factors determining weather or not it'll happen, so it's not an easy matter, but I hope that we'll be able to do such a release.


Next I would like to talk about A MOONCLAD REFLECTION and A TRAIL OF LIFE DECAYED. To my knowledge, other than the originals for your 2 demos there is only a greek recording which features this material. Needless to say it is nearly impossible to come by one of these CDs. Are you ever planning to release your demo material? Maybe along with the bonus tracks? Pretty please…

This Greek release is something that I heard about only recently. I think it's a cover mounted magazine CD featuring the "Trail.." demo, but I'm not sure. I doubt that there was any permission given for this. The demos/EP's are sold out long ago, but the material is available as really low quality mp3 at www.mp3.com/darktranquillity. The situation here is the same as with the other unreleased material. We're hoping to put out a CD with everything we've got in our archives, but nothing is 100% sure yet.


About touring, Dark Tranquillity hasn't really had a big tour around America, will you be embarking on anything this year to promote DAMAGE DONE?

Nothing is decided yet, but our manager is working on a tour schedule for us. We've been wanting to play in the US for years and years, but getting something arranged is harder than what people may think. First of all, it's very expensive and the funding isn't always available. Secondly, there are lots of practical concerns. Anyway, sooner or later something probably will happen.


If you should come to America for a relatively long tour including Canada and maybe Mexico, what sort of setlist would you favor? A set more focused on your new material? Or something comprised equally of older and newer songs? ("Shadow Duet" *cough*)

We always try to have a good variation in the setlist. Our main problem so far is that we've mainly been doing support tours so far, and when you've only got 40-45 minutes of playing time and five albums to chose from, it's hard to make a selection that won't leave some people unhappy. On our first US tour, it'd definitely make sense to present some sort of "best of" collection since we haven't played there before.


Does Dark Tranquillity prefer to play smaller venues or the festival type of show?

It all depends. Both situations can be good and bad. It's usually more intimate during the smaller club gigs, but you generally have a bigger stage and better light shows during festivals. What matters is the level of playing and the crowd response.


Dark Tranquillity and In Flames started out pretty much at the same time and with a very similar sound and after all these years both bands have evolved a lot in very different directions. How do you view what In Flames has done?

I just heard their latest album, and was extremely impressed. They're excellent at what they're doing and have found a niche of their own. It's inevitable that people compare us with I.F. since we grew up together and have shared some members as well as having toured together and so forth. In my view, we never sounded that similar, but it's all a matter of opinion.


When Dark Tranquillity, In Flames and At the Gates started out, the Gothenburg scene was much less crowded than it is now, how do you remember those days and how do you compare them to present day when so many bands have appeared and grown inspired by your music?

People from abroad were always thinking Gothenburg was some kind of metal mecca, with millions of bands and metal people crowding in the streets, but there wasn't really much of a scene here; just a couple of bands doing their own thing. I haven't been following the scene, or whatever one can call it, very much since '95 or something, so I haven't got much of a clue about what's going on these days.


Onto more personal questions. What have you people been listening to lately? Any metal that has blown your mind this year?

I don't know what the other members are listening to, but in terms of good metal, I just got the new December Wolves album, which kicks some serious butt. Other than that, the latest offerings from Red harvest, Arcturus and Sigh are very good, but I mainly listen to non-metal genres these days. I've grown pretty jaded with metal and it's rare to find something that attracts my attention for very long. I enjoy bands that explore new things.


What are everyone's hobbies (and likely liquor brands)?

Sambuca would be both our hobby and fave liquor brand :-)


Now that we near the end of this interview, I'd like to ask you to tell me if there's something on your mind that we generally don't ask you on interviews, anything at all.

Hmmm...can't think of anything in particular right now, but thanks for the interview!

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Of Chaos and Eternal Night
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The Mind’s I

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