AN UNRLEASED 2012 INTERVIEW WITH JOHANNES ECKERSTRÖM OF AVATAR! “Basically, I want to throw the emotion of it in your face.”

AN UNRLEASED 2012 INTERVIEW WITH JOHANNES ECKERSTRÖM OF AVATAR! “Basically, I want to throw the emotion of it in your face.”

Interview conducted by Jenna Williams, The Scream Queen.
Audio transcribed by Sal Pisciotta!

Your album Black Waltz just released in the US yesterday.  How would you describe the journey you went on while you were recording and writing the album?

Well, once we had–the thing is, this is our first album that gets released in America.  It’s our fourth here in Europe.  With the third one, we kind of did this revolt against ourselves, putting lots and lots and lots of rock n roll into what used to be pretty pure Melodic Death Metal and we were about to take that one step further, or ten steps further, on our fourth album and we basically had a whole album’s worth of music written when we were like “hey, wait a minute.  This sounds like glam. I hate glam.”  “Yeah, me too.”  

So, we threw a whole album away.  Once we did that, just picking out these nice bits and pieces with our heavy stuff, the stuff that makes sense for real to us, it was really organic and fun, you know? Figure out some stuff along the way that we felt was important, and this time it was all about, you know, keeping it simple, make sure that there always was a strong groove on the songs, and then let them grow o whatever they needed to be.  So, it was really artistically free, as long as you could make the song make sense, if you get what I mean.

Yeah, that’s interesting.  You said that it was organic.  I’ve heard that term by a couple Artists before.  What would you describe as the most organic part of your music? Or what is the most raw part?

Well, I guess it doesn’t sound very organic.  On the contrary, I guess it’s pretty Industrial and we have all these little synthesizers and samplers and stuff. All that stuff in the background of the sound, so that’s not super organic, I guess.  But then the main part is built around our charming personalities.  So, the drums were made with the whole band gathered and done as if we were recording a live album, but we just kept the drum takes.  

So, the basic foundation of the album is very much live Music and what we play. Everything is something we can replicate on the stage, we can do it on stage, and just added some spices to make it sound more like dark and Industrial. I’d say it’s more a question about how the creative process is very organic.  Then again, I don’t know what a not organic creative process would be like.  I guess that is how you write bad songs.

You kind of answered one of my questions that I like to ask a lot of artists—I really like to ask how they take their on-stage energy and translate it into an album, and you just mentioned that it was like a live recording, almost. So how would you say that you guys captured that live energy into the album?

Well, to me, I guess…it’s two very different things.  Mostly, you have to work the other way around, because when doing songs on the album, the songs—they are just…they are what they are—they are just the sound, they are just songs.  The challenge is basically to put that into our initial context where…because live energy is something else, and there’s less room for storytelling compared to when you sit down and listen to the album and instead you have to take people on this ride in a much more direct and aggressive way, I guess.  

Don’t think that I ever have been thinking like that, you know? “How do we capture what we do on stage on the album,” except for, you know, “Hey remember when we kinda do stuff like this?” People start nodding their heads, you’re cool, and this a hard head nod part of the song, you know?  It’s on a more basic level like that.  I’m kinda crap…I kinda suck at thinking about Life situations when writing.  Like I said, because the songs needed to become what they needed to be.

How would you say that “Black Waltz” or any of your albums take your fans on a journey?  You said you want to take your fans on a ride, almost.

Yeah, well, our latest album, I guess we can divide it into Music and lyrics.  Musically, we let the songs grow into what they needed to be instead of push forcing them into a formula where this song that actually became 3 minutes and 30 seconds long, like you’re supposed to do for radio, it just needed to be done at that point anyway, and by then, some songs just became longer because some pieces needed to be there for it to make sense and to be at the right atmosphere. 

So, some songs are trickier than others, so that’s a journey you can go on.  We got this nine-minute jam with some slide guitars, harmonica, and other crazy stuff—just letting it happen, so that is a journey, and then it’s a journey through. Our basic ambition anyway, is to do nothing more at the end of the day than awesome Metal Music, so that’ s a trip you can go on as well, you know? It’s a bunch of cool and heavy riffs on there.  And lyrically, I went back to becoming more personal with this album compared to where I was before, where it’s not really that I…because, okay, on the third album, you have me practicing basically, or discovering the joy of storytelling, so I was inspired by, I don’t know, StarCraft the computer game, or Bonnie and Clyde, the movie.  You know, stuff like that and everything in between—it was the joy of storytelling, and using, you know, very clear outside influences and that was the starting point of view when writing on that album.  

This time, it was very much more… If my guitar player, who wrote most of the riffs, came to me with something or I played one of the few things I wrote on guitar for this album, I tried to immediately capture my emotional reaction, basically, you know?  Not as basic as this, but the idea (deep voice) “This riff makes me sad, I need to write something sad,” basically like that, if you get my drift.  Capturing the atmosphere really when trying to capture the emotion of the music in the early stage of the song musically, so that goes in. It was an emotional reaction for me on which I built, on which I heard my own experiences from Life I put in there, and that is what’s in the songs.

So, where the story becomes a vessel for this emotion that I had and that I got rediscovered with the music. The whole idea for me now is not necessarily that I want to throw any political view in your face, or I want you to know exactly what happened to me on March 16, 2007 when I wasted in Northern Sweden, or whatever, you know?  Basically, I want to throw the emotion of it in your face.

How did your vision as you were writing turn into the songs?
Hm…  I don’t know what else would turn into songs, you know?  If not what’s inside of us…that is what comes out, you know?  So, it’s actually impossible for me to answer that because I don’t know in what other way I would do that.  It’s always based off of what you get inside of you, which is just always a reaction what’s outside of you.  In a way, it’s just an echo bouncing back and forth.
That’s an interesting way to put it.
Mhm.  (laughs)
Ok, and I know that you guys are a really visual band based on the Black Waltz video that I saw, and I watched some of your live performances on YouTube.  How would you describe the—if this makes sense—the visuals or imaging that goes into the musical expression?

Well, the thing is that we discovered this clown in me while, actually, we were working on the music video for Black Waltz.  I guess it was, in the end, my drummer John, who suggested the makeup, said “What are you doing with him?” because I was supposed to be in the video in one way or another. We just had to figure out how, and we were doing my makeup, so it was about fucking time to figure out what my job was going to be.  And okay, let’s do a scary clown then, was the idea we had, and just putting that little piece of makeup on me was like…I don’t know, I never needed to jump closets with my sexuality or anything like that, but it was mostly this epiphany like “Ah! I’m home!” because not only…It became a tool to express more things than just standing, screaming, and looking pissed off.  

The clown is the link, so to speak, to the parts, to the sides of me that lyrics and everything the music comes from.  So, it’s really just something that magnifies those sides of me and the group that are interesting to show the world.  The other sides—there are more sides of me—but I don’t really see what function they have to be shared with people outside of my private life.

A few artists, very few, told me that when they’re writing their music, whether the lyrics or the melodies, the music speaks to them.  What spoke to you the most while you were writing, or what speaks to you the most while you write in general, whether it be your first album through Black Waltz?

Oh…well, what speaks to me the most?  I guess everything speaks to me, or to anyone if you care to listen, and also, I guess you…It’s all a question of what things you take a grip on, what you manage to capture from…ah, it’s hard to give a clear answer.  Hm…  Well, here’s the thing, that basically, well, most riffs, so most origins of the songs, come from my guitar player Jonas, without really having…Well, he writes tons and tons of riffs all the time.  He puts out his parts, I reach out my hands, and I’ve got my hands full of riffs, basically.  And there a couple of those, “That’s cool, that sounds like fun, that’s extreme, hey, that’s good.”

Most of them, you know, you can find some interesting stuff, but then you have that one—BAM! ”Oh!  (snaps fingers) That feels like something!”  That piece of melody, that little riff, that rhythm part, whatever, that suddenly feels like something, and I guess that’s super personal what that could be–what it does to me might do something completely different to you, but that is where I usually start and so if we do it like this, we throw ideas back and forth to each other with the music and lyrics and all that, and in the end, it’s the things that he does that inspire me that I make something cool out of it, and if it’s cool enough that it inspires him, that is when we get a song going.  So, it’s basically when we get a good spin on it, we start to really inspire each other in songs we’re doing.  That is when we’re going somewhere.

So, it’s kinda like a cycle?
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

You know how songs are almost like alive, like they have a certain life to them, they have energy, they have a feeling to them.  How do you bring your music to life, or how do they come to life?


How do you mean?  I write them. (laughs)
(laughs) Music takes on a Life of its own, you know what I mean?  How does it come alive for you as you’re writing?
(Laughs)  It just does, basically.  It just does.  They take on a Life of their own.  That’s what we do, it’s not really…it’s something that happens between this lucid feel of inspiration that is something that, I don’t know, that’s hard to grasp and explain.  Between that and hard, practical work, you get this song and then it comes alive.  It’s not just pink fluffy clouds and I light a cigarette, have a glass of red wine, and dadada- dadada, and there’s a song.  It’s also got this (mimics guitar part) “Hey, that’s a cool part, what drums do we need for that? Yeah, hit the snare like this—boom da ba da ba buh dah.”  And it’s like that, very concrete work in it.  And it’s somewhere between there—having the office thing part of you combine with the weird, inspirational side of it.  Somewhere between they take on this Life of their own. 
Interesting.  What would say are the most alive parts of your music then?
Most alive parts?
I don’t think you can pinpoint any specific part like that, because the thing is like—Well, I don’t know.  I was thinking about when the concept of a soul was discussed, and this makes me think about that.   If you look at a painting and it’s like “where is the essence of the painting?”  “Well, it’s in the corner there, the blue sky,” “No,” or it’s in the dots there that make the grass green, “No, no, you have to back up and look at the picture as a whole.”  And there is the essence—the thing in its entirety–The whole thing together.
Obviously, you’re really passionate.  What’s something that keeps the spark in your passion for creating music or heavy metal in general?  What keeps sparking it and makes your passion grow?
Well, basically what keeps me going?  The main thing is the band, the guys I work with doing this.  That is, yeah, that’s a major part of what inspires me to do this kind of music.  It’s the people I do this kind of music with.  No, that’s basically it, that’s the thing, because I want to do this Avatar thing with my Avatar creators.  It’s as simple as that, actually, otherwise I think getting paid or not getting paid, success or no success, I would do something creative in my Life. 

I would write something or play something just because that is what I do and have done since…yeah, my whole life.  So, I’m not really tied up to doing this specific Music or being in a band to be creative, but the fun thing, the cool thing about doing Avatar is Avatar, where it’s an awesome group to work with, and I feel like we’re doing something really, really, really cool and exciting that is not just, I don’t know, trying to sound like the bands our daddies listened to, that we’re actually working really hard on breaking new ground, and that makes it really cool. 
The album that I heard, Black Waltz, it’s so diverse from anything that I’ve heard in a long time.
Thank you.
And like I said when I reached out, it really intrigued me.  It’s really, really interesting, because you guys have a lot of elements to you.
Thank you, first of all, but that was the whole challenge this time, to make it fit, to have some songs that are basically quite purely Death Metal from start to finish, and then you have these tunes that sound more like rock and roll, and then there was somebody who I did an interview with who called parts of what we do Avante Garde, and the fact that we move between these different things and that we manage to do something that still sounds like one band and one album is something I take great pride in now.

Well, those are all of my questions, unless you’d like to add anything else.
Ahhh, no, I’m not a big fan of adding things after interviews.  Well, anyway, I appreciate you taking your time and just tell people to check us out, and if they like it, spread the word, as you’re doing by doing this article. 
Well, thank you for taking the time to do this for me.
It’s a pleasure. 
Actually, I do have one more question, though. 
United States tour any time soon?
Yeah, any time very, very, very soon. The thing is, I can tell you this much.  I got some cool news today, but I cannot tell you yet what it is. There’s still papers to sign and hands to shake and all that, but we should be there sooner than you think.  It should come this spring if it goes according to plan.
Could it be the Opeth tour?
No Opeth sadly, that would have been cool.  Even though I think Opeth are awesome, it’s more like a band you stand still and watch and we have more of “get your ass moving!” music.  We like moshpits, we like head-banging, we want you to snap your fingers, stomp your feet, and do all that, so…I don’t know if we’re the right band for an Opeth audience.
They’re playing with Mastodon and Ghost.
Oh, that’s such a cool package.  Well, I guess I should be allowed some kind of street cred to play with those guys.  That sounds awesome actually, I would’ve liked that. 
Yeah, I can’t wait for it.  I think it’s coming in April, but you guys better come to Denver.
Yeah, sure. I’m a huge South Park fan, so I want to see if it’s made of cardboard like in the show.
There’s actually a town called South Park a couple of hours away from here.
Yeah, I’m actually a huge fan and I saw an interview.  Apparently [that is] when something weird happens in that area, it was always in South Park, like cattle mutilations, like UFOs, it always happened in South Park.  Apparently that there was their inspiration for it. So, I have another interview waiting, but hey, it was a pleasure and I look forward to reading to see if you did the quotes right.

Of course!
Let me guess, you recorded it too?
No, actually I didn’t, but I have a great memory.
I trust you, I trust you.
I write pretty much everything word for word, but I get rid of the uhms and that.
Long pauses do look terrible in text.
Yeah, well I just put pauses in parentheses. Well, thank you again, and hopefully see you in the spring.
See you on the road! 
Photo by Johan Carlen

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