I had the pleasure of sitting down with Johannes Eckerstrom after the Avatar show at the Machine Shop in Flint, Michigan on May 11th, 2014. We discussed a variety of topics, including the tour and their album. Here is that interview:

NRR: Hail The Apocalypse comes out this week. Where did you guys record it at?

Eckerstrom: In Thailand. Our producer, Tobias Lindell, moved there. We did Black Waltz with him. We had decided that he had more to give us and that we had more to give him so we knew we were going to do a second album together with him.

After a meeting where we had shown him some pre-production stuff in his apartment in Sweden he said “In two months I’m going to be living in Thailand so if you want to do this with me, you’re going to have to come there.” Well, alright then, so we just followed him down there and budget-wise we found a way to make it all make sense. Airfare is expensive but then the studio and everything over there was cheaper.

It was a really cool experience. Isolation is good and we were far away from home. It was a very different environment. It kept us on our toes.

NRR: Was anybody else brought in to help you in the studio?
Eckerstrom: The studio provided us with three guys who were the house engineers but it was us and Tobias Lindell who actually produced the album.
NRR: Black Waltz was an amazing album, how do you feel the new album differs from that one?

Eckerstrom: One thing that Black Waltz did for us was with that, I think we really found our path in music. We really found our own ‘thing’ because on the first couple of albums we shared a common interest in technical death metal and melodic death metal. Those albums had more of your typical Gothenburg Swedish West Coast sound.

We kind of pulled the hand brake when we recorded our third album. We felt that if we continued down the same path as the first two albums that we were going to become something that we really weren’t interested in becoming. So, with the third album we really started to explore the roots of our roots of the roots. We are all huge Black Sabbath and Judas Priest fans, as well, so the album became more old-school oriented. We put our own leash on it with more focus on rock ‘n’ roll. There are so many songs on that third album that I am very proud of still today but I feel that the piece of work in itself doesn’t hold up as well as our young youthful stuff or what we are doing now.

As a band, we were depressed, especially the drummer and I. We quit the band one evening while writing Black Waltz. Fifteen minutes later of being free from the band, you know, we had a reunion. We were sitting there drinking a beer and thought okay maybe we won’t do this anymore because we are so old now, we’re 24, and ha ha… we really had a mid-life crisis at the age of 24 and we said there was a song, this song that we really need to finish. We then thought well, ok, we can’t quit now because we have to finish that song, then this album. It was a catharsis for us.

With Black Waltz we finally were able to turn off the outside noise and we did something that was truly for ourselves. We made up our own rules for it, for what we wanted to achieve and why we were sounding the way we wanted to sound.

Black Waltz did exactly that for us and that leads into Hail The Apocalypse. Now, we are riding this road in music where there is so much more to explore and Hail The Apocalypse is a continuation of that. We are taking it to more extremes now. The foundation of what we are doing is pretty simple. We are metalheads who want to do metal but we don’t want to be copycats, we don’t want to be nostalgic or retro, but we do want to play something that feels just as ‘metal’ as the classic stuff. We just don’t want to sound exactly like the classic stuff.

Judas Priest already sounds like the best Judas Priest band in the world so why even try to sound just like them, you know? We need to do our own thing. The rules are pretty simple. In metal, the riff is king, and the riff is groove. It’s like this, the best riff in the world, arguably, could be Iron Man by Black Sabbath. Iron Man also has the perfect beat. If you would double up the tempo then it would’ve been the worst riff in the world. So, the riff is king… and the riff is groove.

From there, we just let the songs take us wherever it needs to go. With Hail The Apocalypse, I feel we have more brutal death metal oriented songs. And then, we also add in a whole other step into something that’s more gothic and more industrial. Hail The Apocalypse was an album where we were really free to roam.

NRR: Wearing your make-up is a relatively new idea. How did that idea come about?

Eckerstrom: It was a happy accident. We were going to do the first music video for Black Waltz and at the same time we were trying out some different ideas for the album cover and artwork. We knew we wanted to do something different then from what we did in the past but we didn’t know what.

One idea we had was me standing in a lake of fire. Photoshop is not that cool so we needed a real lake with actual fire. To help us with that was this American fella named Bryce Graves who has a group called Hellzapoppin’ who are a side-show performing group. He happened to be in Sweden, in Gothenburg, for a festival there. We just sorta kidnapped him and took him out to the Swedish countryside. He was our pyrotech for that photo-shoot of me in a lake of fire.

He also showed us some other tricks he could do and we realized that this would be perfect for the song Black Waltz. His idea was going to work really well with this song so we decided we needed to do something really quick as he was only going to be in Sweden for six more days. So, we did the music video for Black Waltz. It’s a performance video but there is so much performance going on from other people that it doesn’t make sense to add the band into the formula so instead we decided to just put me in there to sing. I will represent the band. How do we make me fit in to the context of that video? Well, a scary clown, that’s how. So, we built the video around that. We figured out the design of the face paint. As soon as I saw myself in the mirror, everything just ‘clicked’ and the whole band felt it. Now, we found the face of the album and the face of the band. So, it started from there. It was very evolutionary, really. This character has been growing and developing over these past couple of years.

NRR: How important is image to the band?

Eckerstrom: We look at what we do as performance art. In a raw sense. Everything that you do in a band is art and we want everything to fit. Image, or the look of things, shouldn’t be a separate entity from the music. You need to sound the way you look, the way you smell, the way you taste, the way you feel and it has to come around full-circle. It is only then and there that we are pleased with what we are doing.

We can’t just wear white t-shirts on a band photo or do a music video where we are just standing in a garage lip-synching to a song. We have a bigger vision for what we are doing. So, image really is important but it is integrated into everything we are doing. The idea is to keep it connected.

NRR: So, image is part of the band and it’s also as important as everything else? It all evolves around each other?
Eckerstrom: Yes. It all has to work. You can look at a band like KISS, Rammstein, the Hives, Iron Maiden or the Foo Fighters who do nothing theatrical but still everything fits. It’s a market quality in a great band and that is what we are aiming for.
NRR: Having seen you the first time you came to the Machine Shop (23-Feb-2013) , I noticed that you are very animated and very theatrical. Your stage presence reminds me of the main character, Alex, from A Clockwork Orange. Is this a good comparison?
Eckerstrom: I like the comparison a lot. I like the Kubrick idea of it. I’ve watched that movie probably 20 times throughout my teens and still revisit it from time to time. I also think about Jack Nicholson a lot for some reason. In some of his more animated roles like The Shining or also when he plays The Joker. I actually prefer that version over Heath Ledger’s version.
NRR: Really?
Eckerstrom: Well, yeah, In some sense. As a part of an influence for me, definitely.
NRR: You don’t hear people say it like that, that often.

Eckerstrom: Well yeah, Heath Ledger was a genius in that role as well. Actually, my favorite Joker of them all would be when Mark Hamill gives his voice to the animated version. I think he truly nails the essence of The Joker. He’s dark and scary but he remembers that he’s in a cartoon.

I think in the years to come that we are going to grow really tired of The Dark Knight saga for the reason that they tried to turn it into something real. It does hold water but it still doesn’t match up to the cartoon. When its a cartoon, you can take it to a whole other level.

NRR: Tim joined the band in 2013. Did this have any impact on the band itself?

Eckerstrom: Very positively so. We didn’t hold any auditions or anything. When we were younger, his band would open up for our band so we have known him for years. With Simon, we were starting to go down a slippery slope but nobody wanted to admit to it. He didn’t and we didn’t. With Tim, the energy came back to the band. We were all focused again.

We had a bit of a falling out with Simon during this time because he had started pursuing other interests. Actually, he has short hair now, he’s studying economics, so he’s pursuing a totally different life than when he was with us. This is good for him but when Tim came to the band, he brought passion with him. Tim wrote 90% of the title track off the new album, Hail The Apocalypse and that right there shows the significance he has within the band.

NRR: Who takes care of the songwriting?
Eckerstrom: It’s pretty much a group effort. I do write a lot of the lyrics but it’s really a team effort. At the end of the day, it’s usually Jonas who writes most of the riffs but what ends up happening is that we end up stealing each other’s work. The band can only afford one lap top so we trade the lap top around and one guy go will go through it to see what the other guy wrote then he’ll take it and work on it. Then the other guy comes back to check out the lap top and he’ll see that one of us turned it into a song so he’ll play with it a bit more. It goes on and on like this and eventually we have a group of songs in which everyone played their part in creating. It’s a team effort.
NRR: It seems that nowadays bands are releasing very bland music videos where they just record themselves standing around somewhere playing along to the song. You have produced visually stunning videos that remind me of the kind of videos Iron Maiden used to make back in the 80’s. Have these creative videos made an impact on your popularity?
Eckerstrom: I think so for the people that have discovered us. I think it has strengthened what we are doing. If you look at our ‘views’ we are in the hundreds of thousands and not in the hundreds of millions which shows that we haven’t yet gone viral. We put a lot into our videos so I would like to see them go viral but its a tough thing to do. We want to do something that is more than just a bunch of songs. We want the band to be more than just music. It’s an art project and music videos are a key point. We put lots of energy and creativity into them just as much as we do into our song writing.
NRR: The new album cover is also visually stunning. Who came up with the idea for it?
Eckerstrom: The thing is that we are such a great team that I can never remember who to give credit to for specific ideas. We discussed it a lot and had problems coming up with ‘THE’ idea. We have a bunch of ideas and then we narrow it down to the one idea that everyone is most excited about then we all put our part into it. So, I don’t dare take credit for that one myself, I’m pretty sure of that, but as to who, I really don’t recall. It’s always a team effort.
NRR: Who did you use to do the artwork for the cover?
Eckerstrom: After we had the idea down, there was a group who came in and made it a reality for us (Johan Carlen, Emil Nystrom, Andy Simmons, Anders Fastader, Paul Grosso and Sean Marlowe).
NRR: This is your second outing in America. How has this tour been going as compared to the first one?

Eckerstrom: Its going great. I feel the last tour was more metal in the line-up (Lacuna Coil, Sevendust) and this tour (Pop Evil, Escape The Fate, Glamour of the Kill) has more of a rock ‘n’ roll thing going on and maybe a different interpretation from each band as to what metal is. I feel like we might be ‘saving more souls’ on this tour. I feel I am doing more missionary work this time around.

It’s really nice to be around for a second time. You see a bunch of people coming back who saw us last time, as well as a bunch of new people. Also, to us, it’s less exotic to be over here since we made our first run and it allows us to be more in-tune with what goes on here. There is less culture shock for us this time making it a more manageable experience for us.

NRR: Is this tour taking you to any new places that you didn’t get to visit last time?
Eckerstrom: Yes. There are some places like Pittsburgh and Asbury Park. There are a lot of first time places, actually. I think there a few returns but for the most part we are hitting new places. The pinnacle for us will be playing Rock On The Range. We are excited about that.
NRR: How long will you be out on this tour?
Eckerstrom: Until the first of June. We are here for about 5 weeks, give or take.
NRR: What are your plans for the future?
Eckerstrom: We have some Northern Ireland shows coming up. Plus the Download Festival. Then I think we will pick up the notebooks and start writing for the next album. Pick up some more festival shows in August. Maybe make an extended European tour happen and hopefully come back to the US again.
NRR: Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?
Eckerstrom: I feel you did a well researched interview and I’m pleased with everything we’ve talked about. It’s all good.
NRR: Me too. Thank you very much for your time.

 

Erik Heemsoth also reviewed the concert that night. Read his review and see the concert pics from Thom Seling:
Avatar at the Machine Shop in Flint, MI on 11-May-2014

Avatar online:
avatarmetal.com
facebook.com/avatarmetal
twitter.com/avatarmetal
youtube.com/user/avatartube

 

About The Author

Erik's interest in music began at an early age. In high school, he was the co-host of the underground metal show the Social Mutilation Hour, on 89.5 WAHS, under the name of Neurotik Erik. During this period of his life, he independently promoted shows under the name of Ding Dong Ditch Productions. Erik would rent out local VFW Halls, use space at Oakland Community College Auburn Hills Campus, or simply throw basement parties around the Detroit area. While at college at Ferris State University, he became head of the student run organization, Entertainment Unlimited, and continued to promote shows, but on a larger scale. He also helped start an underground magazine, 'Outpunk', where he interviewed bands and wrote music reviews. Additionally, Erik joined the staff at the Ferris State University Torch and wrote on a larger scale.

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