» Niklas Sundin - Dark Tranquillity
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- Interview by Tommy, 19 Dec. 2004

Dark Tranquillity - by now a long running metal act, and somewhat pioneers of the today well known "Gothenburg scene" - are early in 2005 about to release their 7th full length album Character. In 2002 they literary dropped a metal bomb with the awesome Damage Done, and in my review of the new album, I claim that they are keeping the same high level on this new one. Given the opportunity to question guitarist Niklas Sundin about the work behind the new effort, and life in general for Dark Tranquillity today, I was not late to line up for an appointment.

15 minutes after scheduled time, Niklas calls me up and immediatly apologizes for the delay. He is this day in Germany, newly arrived from a gig in London the night before, at the "Hammered At X-mas" festival (w/ Arch Enemy & The Haunted, and there has been some problems with traffic jams. While I get my things together in order to start everything up, I ask him how many and how intense these interview sessions are the time before the release of a new album. He tells me that this is basically the first time they do a a real "interview tour" of this scale, and the schedule is running for 11 days, with interviews from around 8 in the morning until the evening, normally ending up to approximatly 15 interviews a day. Telling him about what I wrote about the new album Character in my recent review, that it's once again close to being a masterpiece in the same division as Damage Done, he reveals that he is very satisfied himself.
- Lately it has started to sink in, and hearing the almost exclusivly positive words and comments about it so far is very nice. It is hard to really get a good and honest opinion about the material when you are working so close and intense with it for so long, but when you later on get time to step aside and really analyze what you have accomplished, it's easier to approach the whole thing. We are very satisfied with how this one turned out. We wanted to make the songs a bit more "hard to get" this time, in order to let the listener think and be active in taking the material to him- or herself, and leave doors open for own interpretations.
When letting him know that I personally think they have really mananged to incorporate just the perfect amount of slightly progressive and innovative elements, but at the same time taken back a little bit of the agressivness and pure metal from the period around for example The Gallery, he agrees:
-Yes, that was somewhat the intention this time. To continue to take in some experimental and atmospheric moods, but keeping it very metal anyway of course, since it can and should not be too hard and complicated just for the sake of it. There are many examples of bands where that is being taken too far, and the result just get too confusing. The slight change of direction this time is once again a reaction of what we have done earlier. Every step through our career slowly grows and develops and later gives something else and perhaps open more doors for other things to be tried out. It's feels natural to pick up details from the past, and develop it. Most of it is not even intended, sometimes the same goals we had many years ago come back again and we try to reach the same areas as then, but in the way we work today, which make it sound different and fresh. In the same way as we felt we wanted to try out new ways in the period around the Haven album, we feel the same way now: that it is interesting and fun to try new ways, it is just not taken as far now as it were back then.

I am curious what the lyrical content revolves around this time, as Dark Tranquillity has always been known for thoughtful and somewhat deep and engaging lyrics that, if you allow it, can bring you far out in your mind, depending on how you decide to take it to you. Niklas says:
- There is no real concept on this album, in the sense of a concept album, but there is a red thread that goes through the lyrics on all songs. Call it a basic foundation, if you want. Every song deals with the idea that all persons have their own special identity/behaviour, or simply put: character, and how we all have different ways of dealing with the reality of today, and in what form that is being channeled.

How does the songwriting work in Dark Tranquillity? Do you work individually, and then gather to forge everything togehter, or....? Are all the members involved in the progress, or are there any "main writers"? And how much do a band of your size and with your experiance practise today? Is it mainly concentrated around the weeks before touring, and the rest is low season?
- The work is very democratic, and everyone is involved in the creations, even Mikael (Stanne, vocals) are always around to bring life and his touch to the lyrics he creates. Most of the material is born at rehearsal, where we try things out, exchanging ideas and let everything grow. In one aspect we might be a bit special compared to other bands, and that is that we still rehearse approximatly 3 times a week on a regular basis, instead of just having each and everyone composing on his own and then bring the ready material to seesions where you put it togther. Of course there are weeks where we take it easy and we all work quitely at home and later bring the material to rehearsal to try it out, but mostly we are actually very disciplined regarding getting together frequently. It also helps keeping the band feeling intact and it allows you know and feel the feelings and capacity of the others, and can result in many great creations which might not have seen the light of day otherwise.

The album is once again recorded in the famous Fredman Studios with well renowned producer Fredrik Nordström behind the knobs, and as usual the result is outstanding. I was curious about if they have ever considered any other studio with another producer the past years, or if they consider it unnecessary to try to fix something that ain't broke.
- It works just great with Studio Fredman and Nordström, so there have never been any reasons to change anything lately. I realize that might seem like a little paradox, since we like to see ourselves as a band that put value in try to progress and trying out new ways and exploring new, untread paths, but it just works so fine with this arrangement, so it would feel weird to relocate just for the sake of it. Nowadays we do most of the work ourself in the studio. Fredrik is there in the initial phase, putting things together, adjusting the equipment, but the more the work with album progresses, he is not that involved anymore. We now have enough routine and experience to know what works best for us, and he is there more in the background as a helping hand and a critic on what works and what does not. l That fact that the studio is located in our hometown is also a big factor, since we then are able to work hard and focused with the material, and then go home and sleep and eat in our natural home environment. No energy has to be spent, and no plans has to made, for travelling and living away for a long time, so the music and the creations get all the attention they deserve and need.
Without revealing any specific figures or sums - what kind of budget does a band of your size and reputation have today during a recording of an album? Are you overall satisfied, and do you feel that you can relax enough to work properly with the material, or is there more to wish for in that area?
- I honestly do not know any specific figures, because our management is taking care of the negotiations regarding this before it's time to start the recordings, and it's also different from time to time how much you are going to need, but I can say that we are overall satisfied and we are able to work without much pressure or stress. Of course it's in our own interest as well to try to keep it down as much as we can, and not let it be carried away to crazy levels. That way we are perhaps able to get that little extra another time when we really need it, within reasonable limits of course. Still we have to think about keeping the timelines and holding back. We are not really in a position as a band to be able to stay a couple of extra weeks in the studio just to "try out" a few different approaches or ideas, just to realize that we might not use it after all.

For the first time you have released a single shortly before the album; Lost To Apathy. How come you decided to release a single this time, and why hasn't that been done before? And how did you manage to choose one track from the album, which is really filled with great tracks. What were your thoughts behind releasing exactly Lost To Apathy? Is there something you want to say with this song?
- As a matter of fact, it was the record company that picked the song for this one. We were not involved much in that process. I agree it must have been a hard choice, as we by own will decided not to have any "hits" on the album, but this song is a very good representative for the rest of the material on the album. Also, since we recorded the album quite along time ago, almost a year prior to the release (around February/March 2004), it will be nice to offer the fans a form of taster before the album comes. This time we also have the chance to make a video, which is a great opportunity to make a bigger impact in the scene and make our name heard, which is very valuable for a band of our size.

As a band that has been in the frontier of the "Gothenburg sound", and has acted as an influence to many new bands over the years: What bands influenced you in the beginning and what bands, if any, influence you today? I have the feeling that you are not a band that are being influenced by, or are taking influences from any other bands today, but instead creating without any thoughts about trends and style, and what is happening on the outside. Is that a correct assumption, or do you in fact take in stuff from other bands even today?
- I can't say that we are influenced by any particular band or artist today, even though it's of course impossible to not get ideas and impressions from elsewhere. Everyone in the band like different styles of music, and get ideas from very different places, so that is of course all brought in to the song creations, and tiny fragments from everything can be spotted in our music. In the beginning the influences were especially Kreator, the swedish thrashers Merciless, and the english band Sabbat. Of course also the classic and obvious Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Helloween, and so on.

When I ask Niklas if they are ever looking back upon their career and thinking: Hey, we were actually creating something new at the time, or if that is something that is hard to grasp, he says that they never really think in those terms. It is not really in anyone in the band's nature to go around saying or thinking like that, they just concentrate on doing the absolute best they can in present time instead. Of course it is nice if people mention it every now and then, and you can stop and think for a few seconds and realize it's actually true, but it really stops at that. Sometimes, he says, it's more apperant then usual. A while ago, for example, he got some mp3 files sent to him from a band in Mexico, which turned out to be a Dark Tranquillity cover band which wanted to show him their material and pay their tribute. In times like that, he says, it is evident that you have made some sort of impact on people, at least musically.

Do you have more songs stored away like the great ones from the later album that you later put out to the public with the Exposures album earlier this year? To me, and many with me, it felt like they were just as good as many original songs from the later studio albums, so why were those left in the first place? Have you left any behind from the new album?
- It's very nice to hear that those songs are so appreciated. This time we do not have any leftovers, though. There were a few, but they were ones that did not pass the quality test, and will not show up later either. It is extremely hard to choose songs for an album indeed, and what we usually do is take some time where we sit and simply vote for what we're going to pick for the final pressing.

You will soon be touring North America with Soilwork and Hypocrisy. You haven't been there much so far, have you? Only a few dates in 2002, and a bit longer tour in 2003 with Nile and Napalm Death. What response have you been getting from over there during the past years? Are you still to be considered "underground" over there?
- Underground I guess is still the right word for it. It is true that we have not had the opportunity yet to do any extensive touring in that area yet, and that is such a huge area with so many bands, so if you don't tour intensly, you basically don't exist, so every chance we get to get over there is a good opportunity to win some valuable ground. In total we have played there approximatly 6 weeks, and after that the record sales increased by 3-400% the nearest time after, so that speaks for itself.

When I ask him about tourplans for the coming year, and if we might be able to catch Dark Tranquillity on any of the summer festivals around Europe, he says that nothing is ready at the moment but they hope to be able to play as much as they possibly can, since that is the essence of being in the music business. He hopes that they will attend the Sweden Rock Festival for the first time and play Wacken Open Air again, but it is all under planning still. They will also be hitting the road shortly after the release of the new album Character (January 24, 2005) as supporting act for legendary Kreator. When I ask him what kind of excpectations he has on this tour, and how he feels about opening for Kreator, the answer is:
- It feels great. I, as well as the band, has high hopes about this. As mentioned earlier, Kreator was one of the bands that started it all for us. Flag Of Hate by Kreator was one of the first songs we were playing in the rehearsal room when we started the band, and that was a starting point for basically everything, so the fact that we are standing were we do today, and are about to share a stage with them is just great.

You have been running for almost 17 years as a band by now, and are a well respected and known name, and have released several albums close to perfection, according to me and many fans. What drives you further today, and where do you get the inspiration and especially lust and creativity from? Releasing an album of this caliber at this point in your career and in this genre is an amazing achievment, if you ask me. Do you have any goals left that you are aiming for, musically and careerwise?
- We do not feel the least "satisfied" at the moment, if you know what I mean. That would be dangerous for the future and a disaster to creativity, since as soon as you lean back and take things for granted and ride on the waves of old merits you are on the way out. You can not think too much about a thing like this. Nowadays we are concerned about pleasing ourselves musically, and create material that is relevent for us. As you grow older and get more routine and experience, other and different things become more important and you develop all the time, so there are many unexplored ways for us to go, and the musicmaking in itself brings us forward all the time.


At this point I ask Niklas how much time we really have left, and if he has other commitments and appointments to attend to, and he says that he was just going to say himself that unfortunatly it's time to round things off in a few minutes, since he has to get going. I have to scrap the last 4-5 questions I had prepared, concerning his work at Cabin Fever Media which makes him highly involved with the cover work, the recent re-releases of The Gallery and The Minds' I, and a few other general questions. I have time for one last question, so therefor i confront him with Metal Covenant's Odd Interview Question: What is the one question that you never have got during an interview in your musical career, but you wish you had, and what would the answer to it be....? The silence is long and he is struggling with an answer, but he can't really come to think about anything in particular.
- Since I try to keep personal things out, and mostly concentrate on the musical aspects of things, most things in that area are covered and I don't really think there is much that I haven't
been asked yet.

With this, we closed the deal, and I thanked Niklas very much for the time he gave me, and I wished him all the very best for the future. It is a future that looks very bright if you ask me.

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