Jason Bonham's album, 'The Disregard of Timekeeping', always seemed like a crafty name for an album, but it'd be much more appropriate for a band like Meshuggah. Meshuggah is one for always pushing the boundaries of metal and in turn, the seemingly off-time tempos finally caught ear of the metal scene upon release of their 'Destroy, Erase, Improve' album. Their latest single track album, 'I', is just another disregard of the conventional song and album format. Metal Update had a chat with guitar shredder Mårten Hagström about where the band are heading, the writing process and their quirky time signatures that seem to have everyone scratching their heads in disbelief.
Interview with Mårten Hagström 4-26-05 by Peter Rutcho
Metal Update: So what's going on in the Meshuggah camp man? How's shit going?
Mårten Hagström: We got a lot of stuff on our hands right now. Promotions and interviews for this upcoming album are just about done, and we started rehearsing for the upcoming European tour in late May.
MU: Yeah, I saw a lot of dates posted on the site.
MH: Yeah, we're doing some festival / club tours, so we're rehearsing for that and just looking forward to getting the album out.
MU: By the album, you mean 'Catch 33' of course.
MU: So what made you guys decide to follow up with 'I' like that, and release a full length one-track album?
MH: Actually, we started writing 'Catch 33' before we starting writing 'I'. We knew we were going to do this project to help out Jason from Fractured Transmitter, so he really wanted his first release to be a Meshuggah release. So we helped him out because he's a friend of ours and we thought it would be fun. We had started this mass project already. You know, a couple years ago we bought our own studio, and that's helped a lot since we produce and record everything ourselves. So we've been having this idea for 'Catch 33' for a long time but we never felt we had the time in the studio to explore and see if we could pull it off. So now that we have the studio we were just like, let's go for it! And when we did 'I', it was more of a map or a chart of what we've been doing in Meshuggah thus far. There's a little bit of influence from all the old albums.
MU: I was going to say, it sounds like a compendium of all your past shit.
MH: Exactly. And that's something we didn't really realize was going to turn out that way when we first started out doing it. We had a lot of fun doing it and we're really happy with it. I wouldn't say it was "on purpose." Every recording is quite different as far as the atmosphere and the way you feel for the material, so 'I' was kind of a cleansing thing. We just went in there and did something. 'I' was pretty much a hectic album, and 'Catch 33' is more concerned with soundscapes, a kind of Meshuggah dark soundtrack. We knew we were taking kind of a risk letting this album out, and we anticipated the speculations on the internet to whether we would release this album just to fuck up Nuclear Blast for the last album and things like that. But we really felt it was the time to do this, like this is going to be crucial to us. So we had a lot of fun, it's the most inspirational album we've been doing for ourselves.
MU: It seems that's nothing new to the Meshuggah guys though, kind of breaking ground and surprising the fans on every release.
MH: Yeah man, I mean, I don't want to say that that is the effect we want to achieve, but we're pretty happy it turns out that way.
MU: Everyone loves it though!
MH: One thing I always think about when we're releasing an album, I think not in terms of how accessible or non-accessible is it going to be, but how true to us is it as a band? And I think that as long as we keep that thought foremost, and not care about expectations and go for whatever feels natural at the moment. We're going to be a different band for every album.
MU: It certainly doesn't help the creative process to try and meet the expectations of others.
MH: No! I mean, it's okay if people dislike what you're doing, but do you like it yourself? It's NOT okay if your like, "Oh, they're right, this isn't good."
MU: To hell with that, that's not very metal.
MH: No, not at all! (Laughs)
MU: So what's your favorite Meshuggah album and why?
MH: Well, right now, I would say 'Catch 33'! (laughs) And I hope I will say that in a couple albums' time as well. I don't know if we're biased towards it, because that idea has been with us for so long and finally we're getting it out, you know? I would say it may not represent Meshuggah as a whole as it's been through the years, but more represents where we're going I guess.
MU: Sure, I can definitely understand that! Okay, well on the other side of that same coin, what's the song you guys are most sick of playing live? Or sick of playing at all?
MH: (laughs) Well there a few candidates for that position actually! (laughs) But to be honest, it's rarely that you feel that you're sick of playing something live. Most of the songs you're sick of playing live are the songs you've been playing for a long time, which means they're popular songs, which also means that the feedback from the crowd makes it worthwhile. But REHEARSING them though (laughs) is another matter! So it's not like we rehearse "Sickening" from 'None' and "Soulburn" from 'Destroy Erase Improve' and "Future Breed Machine" from that same album all that much.
MU: Speaking of rehearsing, obviously you have all sorts of strange timings and lots of different things going on between the drums and the guitars. How much time do you guys require to rehearse this kind of material to get it to a point where you feel you won't fuck it up live?
MH: Well, this is kind of weird, but we rarely rehearse. But that's just because of the fact that when we write music, we don't write it as a rehearsing band. We write sitting down with the guitar on the computer, recording ideas. That's mostly how these songs come about, not ALL the time, but most. That means that the jamming part of it gets knocked out of the picture most of the time. The only time we jam is when we get together to rehearse for an album, or get together to rehearse for a tour. But then we're not in the writing stage.
MU: But you guys got to get together and jam it out live kind of...
MH: Oh yeah! Well for instance, this is a pretty good example: we have less than a month to go before we leave for a tour, and we just started rehearsing. So we haven't been rehearsing for a while, and now we will rehearse for stints of a couple days here and there for 3 weeks or so. But normally, before a tour, it's like 2 weeks of rehearsal.
MU: And at that point do you spend all day doing it?
MH: Yeah well, we should, but we don't. (laughs) In those first couple days, we rehearse like 3 songs at a time, just to feel it and get back into it. And then we walk in, rehearse the whole set, maybe one or two songs more, and that's it.
MU: So, you've already said that when you sit down to write a song, you go on to the computer and do it that way. Is that how you guys collectively write tunes and share ideas?
MH: Yes, it's mainly an idea sharing tool for us. Sometimes people get confused when they talk about us, and they see us purely as this technical, you know, "math metal," whatever-they-wanna-call-it band, and that's all fine, but when they say, "Oh you sit in front of the computer and write it", it's actually the other way around for us. I never get an idea sitting in front of my computer. I may watch the TV and then all the sudden you hear this part in your head, and that's when you got to go record. We are first and foremost composers, really.
MU: With so much going on in the music, do you spend a lot of time planning out the music and counting out parts and things like that?
MH: Well, actually, if we're talking music theory, when it comes down to what we're doing, we're in 4/4 most of the time. It's just we have these odd patterns going over it. Sometimes that leads to the conclusion that it's all something we CALCULATE. I can see why people would think that, and on hearing it, I would probably think the same. But the truth of it is we were writing tunes like this back in the day when we were still being influenced by the thrash era, and Metallica type stuff. So we've just grown into ourselves sort of, it's just the way it comes out, I don't know why.
MU: By the way, the "New Millennium Cyanide Christ" video is just genius.
MH: (laughs) We definitely had a lot of fun doing it! It's funny man, we did that when we were on the Slayer tour. And it was somewhere in the Midwest I think. We were in an RV, and at this one venue, it was the one show we didn't play on that whole tour for the simple fact that they couldn't fit Tom's drums on the stage in front of both Sick Of It All and Slayer's kits. And there was no time for change-over so we had to cancel. We were kind of bummed out about it cuz obviously we wanted to play! So we were like what the fuck are we supposed to do? So we just hit the road, picked up the camcorder and just started fucking around. (laughs) The funny part is, we wanted to release it, and Nuclear Blast in Germany didn't want us to.
MU: Are you kidding me?!? Oh wow! That's pathetic! (laughs)
MH: People have loved it! So we were actually thinking of trying to persuade them to really release now.
MU: That's probably getting pretty old now. When was that done, on the 'Chaosphere' tour?
MH: Right, exactly. The video's there, you know? Of course it won't be shown a lot, but it would definitely be there.
MU: So what are you rocking in your CD player right now?
MH: Well actually right now, there's nothing in the CD player because of the fact that we're in the studio and the whole promo thing. It comes and goes. I actually listen to a lot of music, but if I had to pick something right now, I'd probably put on Mr. Bungle's 'California'. That album has a quality to it that when when people say they like us, I hope that same quality comes into play. I like music that kind of grows on you.
MU: Plus they've got their whole humor aspect to it.
MH: Yeah, but it's still very crude, you know? They're joking around, but they're very serious about their joking around! (laughs)
MU: Definitely man, and that's one of the major reasons I love Meshuggah. It's this super serious technical soundscape, but it's also got its dark humor to it.
MH: Exactly! Our music itself is kind of dark. We like that kind of sinister vibe to it because it's what we are, for some reason I don't know why. You got to have that twisted sense of humor about it as well.
MU: That's what is so great about it. It's subtle enough where the new listener wouldn't necessarily pick up on it, but it's in there, like an overtone.
MH: Right, exactly. It's not about the humor, it's the overtone of it.
MU: So I've been reading up on your site, and it seems you guys have been having trouble with pre-production stuff leaking out on to the internet before it's even done!
MH: Actually, it's the mastered finished product! And it's happened twice now. It happened on 'Nothing' too.
MU: How does that happen though?
MH: We've been trying to rule out and do some detective work. But the problem is as soon as the promo is out, of course it's going to end up on the net. That's the way it works. But this was before the promo was even out! Now, we have our own studio, so we know it's not on that level. So it has to be someone either at the mastering studio or someone at the label or the pressing plant. That's the thing about downloading, because of the heated debate going on now for a couple years. I think it's hard to actually put your foot down and have an opinion yet. So many people are screaming their heads off in every direction and really, they've haven't got much to go on. For some bands, it can be a great tool!
MU: It definitely can be a great promo.
MH: But for bigger bands, I can see how it would be a cash loss. For a band like us, sure it hurts us. People that normally would buy the album won't. But on the other hand, a couple people might buy the album that normally wouldn't have gotten in touch with us. It's actually encouraging to hear that there's actually a large following for the principle behind the issue.
MH: I mean, if you're a smaller band, who is going to present you? Who is going to know that there is a band out there from way up in Umea, Sweden where we're originally from. I mean, someone in the States is probably not going to say, okay I just downloaded this song from this really cool band in Sweden that no one knows anything about, but I want to take them over here to tour. It's just not going to happen.
MU: Right. So does anyone have anything planned for a solo project in the near future?
MH: No, not really. I mean, this band is pretty productive. Other than Fredrik's one solo album, none of us have really been interested in putting what solo things we got into the light of day. We have plenty to do with Meshuggah right now, but in the future it would be nice to do something. We'll see what happens, but nothing currently.
MU: I know I'm jumping WAY ahead here, but is there a plan for a normal full-length release that isn't one whole track?
MH: I'm always kind of reluctant to say anything about our upcoming releases, but that said, I have a strong feeling we'll go back to the so-called standard format. Now we've got this out, so now it's trying to see if we can take what we've done on 'Catch 33' into some different arena. Maybe do something different with it. I have to tell you that normally walking out of the studio it's like, "Oh man". It's super hard work and you just don't wanna think about music anymore, you know? This summer though, after we're done with our tour, we're going to go back into the studio and start writing new stuff.
MU: Sweet! Have you guys ever thought of doing a live album?
MH: Uh, yeah, the idea has popped up a couple times. We're going to start recording live stuff and see how it comes out. I think if we did that it would be a DVD or something.
MU: Cool man, well that's all I've got for you right now, good luck on the tour this summer and hopefully we'll see you soon!
MH: Alright dude! Take care!
METAL JUDGMENT - Review of Catch 33
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