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Dark Tranquillity    
dark tranquility
July 19, 2000

Over the last several years, the Gothenburg scene has been of great interest to underground metalheads. At this point, we've all heard household names such as At the Gates, In Flames and most recently Soilwork. One of the originators of the "Gothenburg Sound" that blends speed, melody and brutality into one is Dark Tranquillity. The band has just released their 7th album on Century Media entitled 'Haven'. The album shows the band's growth both lyrically and musically with the intent on keeping metal true to their hearts, yet innovative and fresh in a crowded scene. The Metal Update had a talk with vocalist Mikael Stanne about 'Haven' and other related affairs...

METAL UPDATE: Dark Tranquillity has had a rather stable line up over the years. Could you give us some details on the member changes that have occurred?

MIKAEL STANNE: Well yeah, after our first album we parted ways with the vocalist at that time, Anders Friden, who is now in In Flames. I switched from guitar to vocals and we got a new guitar player, Fredrik Johansson. That was stable for 2 albums. After Projector, we parted ways with Fredrik then our previous bass player (Martin Henriksson) turned to guitar and we got a new bass player and also added a keyboard player.

MU: What influenced the decision of adding a sixth member to Dark Tranquillity?

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MS: Well actually, it's been something that we've always wanted or at least the past 6 or 7 years. We always felt that it would be a good addition to the band. We've always used it on our recordings in some ways. Keyboards here and there, pianos and stuff. So we just felt that it was a natural thing but it's very hard to find a keyboard player into death metal or the stuff that we play. It took some time but we've know Martin for ages and he's just never really been that into it. He said, "Oh, I have other things to do." Once he heard the Projector album he was like, "Yeah, I can get into this." He saw the potential there and he saw that "Yeah, I can bring my sound in as well." It was a perfect thing and he's really contributed a lot to the sound. It's really interesting to work this way even though it takes a bit longer since we are 6 people with different wills. It's still worth it in the end.

MU: There seems to have been quite a change from 'The Mind's I' to 'Projector'.

MS: Oh yeah. Absolutely. It was something that we felt after 'The Mind's I', all the touring that followed that, and the whole Gothenburg sound thing and everything around it. We just got so tired of it. We said, "Let's just stop right here and start from scratch doing something that...whatever comes to mind...whatever we do, we do." And we did and it turned out to be a very experimental album. We could go in any way that we wanted. That was an extremely satisfying experience.

MU: So it was basically a planned change?

MS: Well yeah. For starts, all of our albums are like that in a way but this one was a big change.

MU: What were the fans reactions to 'Projector' when that came out?

MS: It got an amazing response initially and it's gone great from there on, but, naturally, some of the older fans into the death metal thing were kind of puzzled... "who is this?" There were so many other things that were incorporated into our sound that people were kind of scared at first. But you know, we've always done that - doing different albums all the time. I think people expected it. It turned out great anyway.

MU: Yeah. Plus there were so many bands that were hopping on the Gothenburg sound.

MS: Yeah. So it was a natural thing to get as far away from that as possible.

MU: The album 'Projector' saw an increased use of clean vocals whereas 'Haven' seems to cut back considerably. Any reason for this?

MS: Well, actually, we started out after the recording of 'Projector', which was like 2 years ago. We started out writing new songs and it was in the vein of 'Projector' although more melancholy. It was really sad and really slow and lots of clean vocals. Then we went on tour. When we came back and we had impressions of the tour and we said, "Is this really what we want to do?" Doing something that is very emotional. Perhaps we should up the tempo a little bit. We started rearranging the songs that we had done, perhaps half of the album or less, and we eventually shortened it down. We took out the longer parts. We enhanced the core of the songs and 5 minute songs became 3 minute songs. And it just got harder and harder. In the end I realized that there is no room really for the clean vocals so we decided we either go really full out with the clean parts and the emotional parts or we just do a really heavy album and we decided on the latter so that's how it came about.

MU: What goals does the band have with this new album?

MS: I don't know. First of all, it is to please ourselves. To do an album that we really enjoy. It took us 2 years and everybody has been so involved in the writing. We've worked so hard with all the songs - individually - instead of just making a song and making sure it sounds good and then recording it. This time we really put effort into the whole arrangement and song structures and all that. And also making the whole album go together as a unit as well. It's been a lot of work but the thing is we're really satisfied and that's it. After that it's up to the record label to do their thing and then it's up to the people to listen to it to judge it for what it is and where we go from here? I don't know. It's gonna be a lot of touring and all that. I'm very anxious to see the reactions now that people are getting into it.

MU: Dark Tranquillity has clearly seen a less aggressive side of metal with the past two albums. What are some recent influences, musically, compared to when the band was formed?

MS: I don't know. It hasn't changed. The stuff we listen to has changed but the basics of the band was always really melodic and really aggressive. Aggressive vocals with melodic music. That hasn't changed much. Of course we've added things to it but I don't know... as for influences. Of course some of the keyboards are influenced by more electronic bands such as De/Vision and Depeche Mode and stuff like that. Our drummer is very influenced by progressive music like Rush/Neil Peart, Dream Theater, stuff like that. Everybody has their own thing to bring into the band, but I wouldn't say that there are any particular bands that influence all of us.

MU: Since you've been together you've influenced your own sound.

MS: Yeah, actually, you get influenced by each other. You know that he plays these kind of things very well and when you make music you know who is going to play what. Since we know each other so well, we don't have to say much. It comes naturally.

MU: Are there any plans to ever re-release the material prior to 'Skydancer'?

MS: We've been talking about it for a long time. We want to do something. We were thinking about it, now that we celebrated our 10 year anniversary six months ago. It would be cool to re-release all that stuff and add some new live material as well, but it just never really happened. The record company was like, "Yeah, it would be nice. Show us what you've got." It's hard to find all the original master tapes and all that so we're just going to dig a little deeper and we're probably going to do some live stuff this year as well. So perhaps, we are going to do something at the end of this year. It would be cool. A lot of people have been asking about it because they are very hard to come by so it would be a good thing, I think. People will enjoy it, hopefully... I want to do something that is really cheap like the price of a mini CD and get a full length CD for it. I don't want to release it as a full length album. We'll see what we can work out with the record company.

MU: I was wondering what the deal was behind the last song on the 'Enter Suicidal Angels' EP. Was that an experimental type track?

MS: Oh yes. Very much. Very much. We said "We need something else here, what could we do?" And we just got into the whole digital thing with this and then we used a lot of... well didn't use but we could use samples. We had that in the studio. So one night our producer and Fredrik just sat around putting everything into the computer and making a new song out of it. All the sounds in that song are from the record - the whole recording of 'The Mind's I'. It's pretty funny actually. And then other people hate it and some love it so that's the reaction we counted on. It was just a fun thing.

MU: What side projects, if any, have you guys been involved in throughout the years?

MS: Well not much actually. I was around when we started Hammerfall. That was not really a side project but a thing that we did for fun, me and Niklas. I don't know. We haven't done that much. Our drummer Anders played with Jesper and the others from In Flames at some point as also did I in the beginning as well. I don't know. Not any serious side projects though. We feel that we can explore all of our musical fantasies within the band. We don't have to go somewhere else to find our creative output. We're kind of happy where we are.

MU: So what did you do in Hammerfall?

MS: I sang when we started out. That was a long time ago. We made some of the songs that were on the first album. Then I had to go on tour and we were the semifinalists for this rock contest and then I had to leave and they found Joacim instead. That's the whole story. It was fun, but I'm not really into that type of metal so it wasn't anything for me.

MU: Could you name any inspiring films and books you've encountered recently?

MS: Yeah. Absolutely. I'm a big movie fan so I get into a lot but... I love The City of Lost Children that I just received on DVD. It was just released. This is an amazing movie that I can watch over and over again. Then also, I read a lot of this Swedish writer called Peter Nilson. My all-time favorite. He inspires me. He's an astronomer writing about the Earth and the soil and the nature of Sweden in an astronomical perspective. He's unbelievable. I take in as much as possible at all times. A lot of images from movies really inspire me. Beautifully shot movies. That really gets to me a lot. I try to put it in words sometimes.

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MU: What are some of the lyrical themes on Haven?

MS: It's basically really frustrated songs about what I hate about myself. Stuff that I do that I loathe about myself. I've dealt with other issues as well, you know, whatever happens around me but it's basically really personal stuff that I regret. Sometimes you cannot really control your life. I try to maintain control a lot by being focused and not letting anything else control me. Sometimes you kind of lose that grip and that is one of my greatest fears. So some songs deal with that as well. I tried to look a little bit outside and not just inside this time. It's very frustrated and angry looking through it now. It's a learning experience. You learn a lot about yourself writing. And also looking back at it because there are so many things that perhaps you don't really realize that you have written that you wanted to put through. It gets a lot back to you.

MU: Have things changed lyrically from when you started writing?

MS: Yeah. Of course. It grows in 10 years. It changes all the time but that's the point. It changes as the music changes as well because a lot of the lyrics come from the music. I always have the song ready when I start writing so I listen to it over and over again just to get the feeling of it. We always talk about the feeling of the songs and how to accentuate it, make it better and focus on it. After a while I see that these are the lyrics that will work for the song.

MU: I'm assuming that Niklas makes his living off of the band and his artwork. What do the rest of you do outside of the band?

MS: We all have our little jobs, doing hours here and there. Me, Martin and Martin work with handicapped people and kids usually. Daycare centers and stuff like that. Michael, the bass player, he's a chef at a restaurant and Anders the drummer works at a big convenience store. I don't know what he does there but he's pretty good at it I heard. So that's what we do. But it's not always.. we work here and there.

MU: Yeah. It's difficult when you have to tour and quit jobs all of the time.

MS: Yeah. I'm going to stop all that. I'm going to study now. I'm going to study computer science so I can take my studies anywhere. That's perfect. Bring my computer with me on tour.

MU: Niklas must do pretty good with his art work financially. It's really great stuff.

MS: It's excellent. I hope he gets more work done though. Of course, it's hard. He spends so much time on every project that he takes on. He's done some excellent work. There is some new stuff that is coming out soon that is amazing.

MU: Do you guys have any plans to tour the US?

MS: Yeah. Actually we do. We do September and October in Europe and hopefully November and December (in the US). They are planning it right now, making out deals and stuff like that. We haven't heard any dates yet. What we heard here is November and December.

MU: Any rumors of who you might be going with yet?

MS: Nope. Not yet. There were several mentioned but we don't know anything yet. It's going to be a blast. We can't wait. It's like a dream come true.

MU: Yeah. A lot of the European bands are getting over here so I figured you've got to be next.

MS: Yup. I think so. It'll be great. We'll see what will happen. Then we will go to Japan after that probably, and then come back here and do another European tour. It's going to be a busy schedule.


review of Dark Tranquillity's 'Haven'





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