Interview with Mikael Stanne - The Metal Forge magazine

Interview by Simon

With the success of 2002’s Damage Done album, Sweden’s forefathers of the “Gothenburg Sound” had left themselves quite the task for the unavoidable follow up album. Recorded almost 12 months prior to its release on January 25, vocalist Mikael Stanne talks to Simon Milburn on a typical cold grey Swedish winter morning to discuss the pressures and processes of their amazing new album, simply titled Character.

Pressure can come from a lot of places when the time comes to record a new album. But for Dark Tranquillity’s follow up to their critically acclaimed Damage Done album, the only pressure they felt was self imposed. Stanne recalls, “We just wanted to make an even better album and make the best of what we can do. We put a lot of pressure on each other and ourselves but we don’t really feel like we have to outsell the last album. We just knew we had to do something better. That goes for every single song we do – you make one song and the next one has to be better. That’s how we view it pretty much. No real pressure from the record company or from anyone else actually.” With that sort of creed for success, who could blame them for putting the pressure on themselves? “We don’t really need that extra pressure. We’d crumble under that,” laughs the vocalist.

Starting out on rhythm guitars for the band when Anders Frieden was on vocals, it was when Frieden departed to front In Flames that Stanne undertook the vocalist and lyricist duties. When asked if the lyric writing process was a difficult one, he remarks “It is but it is really liberating as well. It’s the greatest thing to be satisfied with one because you know that it will do you good to get down in the rehearsal room and scream for a couple of hours. It is difficult but I do love it and I really need it too.” For Stanne, writing lyrics allows him to expressing himself in ways that he is unable to in normal situations. “I usually end up writing about the stuff that I don’t really feel comfortable talking about so it’s a perfect way to get that out as well. I don’t want to go around being grumpy, miserable and angry all the time so I put that into songs and be done with it pretty much.”

The albums title is directly linked to its lyrical content which explores peoples behavioural patterns and the motivations that drives people to do the things they do. “I see all the stupid things happening in the world and on a personal level as well. I’m curious about what drives people to react or to voice an opinion on whatever subject and where that comes from,” Stanne begins. “That was the starting point for the album, and that turned into a lot of different things but I guess it’s basically all my failings and shortcomings in different songs trying to project it on someone else so that you’ll feel better. But I think it’s a very frustrated and angry album for all of us.” Even with the self imposed pressure, the rest of the song writing process wasn’t any more difficult this time around. “We all write a bunch of stuff and take the best stuff down to the rehearsal room and spend a year almost just writing and arranging and just forming the structure of the songs. It takes a lot of time but it’s the greatest thing. That’s what we all love about the whole thing – to make music together,” enthuses the vocalist.

Prior to entering the studio, the entire album is written down to the last note. The time spent in the studio is purely for recording and mixing and the band can’t get out of there quick enough. “The studio stuff is the most boring thing ever,” jokes Stanne. Character took a mere five weeks to record and one week to mix. Working day and night to get it right, the process was completed as soon as possible at the famed Studio Fredman. Once again, the band recorded and produced the album and metal master extraordinaire Fredrik Nordstrom sat behind the mixing desk. Although Studio Fredman was convenient for the band this time around, they haven’t ruled out a change of location for the next album. “It’s a simple kind of process to record the album because we know what we are doing so it’s just a matter of having good equipment and good acoustics and some time and that’s all we need.”

When word hit the street that Dark Tranquillity were a free agent after the release of Damage Done, they received many flattering offers. They took their time to explore their options before re-signing with Century Media during mid 2004. In doing so, they had to align themselves with the release schedule of the label which left their latest album Character shelved for release until early 2005, almost 12 months after work on it had been completed. “We wanted it released before the [European] summer which is why we recorded it in February so there’d be enough time to release it before the summer but that didn’t happen,” sighs Stanne. In hindsight, the delay has only worked in the band’s favour as the label wanted to put a lot of effort into promoting the album accordingly. “They had tons of stuff lined up and really wanted to focus on this album for like a whole month so they decided to push it into January. It’s been very frustrating obviously but also kind of good. We had time to release a single and video and stuff like that, and all the promotion and touring and all that is lined up already. So we are more prepared than ever so that feels good,” explains Stanne.

With the imminent release of their new album, the satisfaction and relief in Stanne’s voice is obvious. “It’s been a frustrating year,” he sighs. “We’ve only played it to a couple of friends and that’s it. It’s been really hard to keep it and not play it to every person that I meet. Finally it’s out and it feels great!” It’s also a good sign that the album still sounds fresh and new to the band after all this time. “I usually get really tired of an album a few weeks after the recording is done. I still really love this. I just got the actual CDs yesterday and I listened to it and was like ‘Yeah this still really works!’ Hopefully that means something as that was really one of the things that we wanted most with this album – something that will last, not just the first week of listening you love it then you forget it. We wanted something that would take a little longer to get into and would stay with you for a long time.”

As a part of this promotion for Character, the band broke the mould by releasing their first ever single, Lost To Apathy, which was accompanied by a video. It was a great teaser for the album. “Since we knew that it was going to be some time until the album was out, it was the record label who came up with the idea. We kind of felt weird about it but we decided to do it,” recalls Stanne. However choosing the song best suited for a single wasn’t an easy task. The band were unable to decide between six songs so ultimately they left it to the label to make the final decision and the end result was a “great choice” according to Stanne. Backed with some remixes, it charted well in Sweden and the video received a lot of air play. The end result is that the new album has actually outsold the highly acclaimed Damage Done one week prior to it’s release.

The real test of the new material will be when Dark Tranquillity head out on a European tour starting on February ?? with thrash legends Kreator. “The new songs have been going over great,” Stanne says of the few that have been previewed at several shows and festivals during 2004. “The live set that we are preparing right now for the European tour that starts in two weeks is going to be amazing. I feel confident that it will be amazing and I’m really dying to get out there and play these songs.” It’s always good to hear that level of enthusiasm but let’s be honest. For those of us Down Under, the one thing that we all want to know is if there are plans for an Australian tour on the back on this album. “I really really hope so and I know they’re working on it. It should happen but I don’t know anything until I’m on the actual plane. We’re gonna tour Europe now and then America up until the summer, then the summer festivals in Europe. Hopefully after that will be Japan and Korea and then hopefully we will be able to come over to Australia. I would so much love it. I’m hoping that it will happen.” We’re hoping it’ll happen as well.