» Erik/Martin U. - Eclipse
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Interview conducted March 31 2017
Interview published April 8 2017

"Maybe people miss that, but I hear significant differences between this one and Armageddonize." - Erik Mårtensson

Swedish rockers Eclipse put out their new record Monumentum on March 24th and personally I think it's a stunning piece of melodic hard rock. Even if the band members aren't originally from Stockholm and not all of them live in that city anymore, it's been their base in the past and when they set up a show on home turf at the frequently used venue Klubben just one week after the record's release, Metal Covenant seized the opportunity to get a few words about the album with lead vocalist/guitarist/main songwriter Erik Mårtensson and bass player Magnus Ulfstedt.

These two musicians happen to also be part of the Norwegian outfit Åge Sten Nilsen's Ammunition [Erik on guitar and Magnus on drums], who, just like Eclipse did last year, recently participated in the qualifying round to the Eurovision Song Content and naturally I saw the opening to talk a little bit about that event too.

"With a family, you must come home with something too. It's not just a party you go away for." - Magnus Ulfstedt"

Tobbe: Your new record has received fantastic reviews, as far as I know, and is it easy to get kind of a little bit too overwhelmed by hearing such great words about your own product?

Erik: No, not to me. No chance. I'm so damn self-critical. (Magnus:) We just found out, right before our soundcheck, that it's number 1 in the [Swedish] hard rock charts and number 19 in the album charts and it was like "Wow! Cool!" and then "Let's get ready for soundcheck." and we kind of forgot about it. We're not used to get those positions and it's a little hard to comprehend, but you kind of forget about it.

(Erik:) We, obviously, don't get too emotional about it. But it's really fun. It's fantastic. Let's put it this way: If it would have been negative reviews overall I would have felt really miserable. (Magnus:) And I think if we would have been 20 we would have gotten hammered like hell and went out to celebrate and so, but we're too old, so it's like "Oh, okay. Finally something happened.". Well, it's the way I feel. It's kind of like "Oh, well. Okay.". We've been doing this for so long now, on a lower level, you know.

Tobbe: But is now the time for you to take another step on the stairway to some kind of fame?

Erik: Well, that would be fantastic. Especially to get things rolling even more. It's what you always wish for, to take a step up. You don't have to climb so damn high to get some kind of dignity. But it would be great of course.

Tobbe: When I listen to the new record I only hear little development from the last record Armageddonize [2015] to the new one, and to me Monumentum is kind of Part 2, you know, and was it important to you to hang on to this successful style that you found on the last record and even on Bleed & Scream [2012]?

Erik: Absolutely. And it's so easy to change too and that's kind of the easy way out. It's more difficult to do the same thing and make it better or just as good. To us it's really important to keep our sound. One of the few negative things people have said is "Well, it sounds pretty much the same.", but I mean, if they wanna listen to something else they can listen to some other band. They don't have to listen to us.

Because I think it's really important that we have a strong identity and that we're kind of not all over the place, you know. People should know what they will get, you know. (Magnus:) And history has shown that if bands change direction it doesn't turn out good. There's more than one example and I think we've learned something from that.

Tobbe: Aside from that it might get a little bit too much of the same if you, I'm exaggerating now, make a Part 2, is there any negative side to it, like in your audience's perspective?

Erik: The next time maybe we can think about doing something different. But maybe people don't think about it, but to me personally, I'm so incredibly a sucker for melodies, the melody language is changed in several songs, that I haven't used before, with new influences that haven't been there before.

Maybe the casual listener doesn't perceive that, but to me there's a lot of new things that come from completely different places. Maybe people miss that, but I hear significant differences between this one and Armageddonize. (Magnus:) You can say that Erik makes these different melodies and so, but then there's cool drums and a lot of distortion and then it sounds like Eclipse, you know. So that's what people hear and they don't hear where it comes from, you know.

Tobbe: So Erik, what was your goal this time with the sound picture overall?

Erik: Well, it's pretty much what I personally like with hard rock, really. Good sound, a real drive and not too complicated. It's the same when I write songs. I try to do it as simple as I can, but not too simple of course. To make complicated music is much harder than making simple music, in terms of getting it interesting. The whole setup with the production is pretty basic. It's really two guitars, drums and bass and some keyboards, you know. There's nothing strange about it, but to me it's about the actual songwriting.

Tobbe: When you put down your lyrics on paper, do you kind of pick small bits from here and there or do you sit down and really write a text for a song from beginning to end?

Erik: When I make a song I always sing words in both Swedish and English. Just complete nonsense. I just sing the melodies to get the melody and the phrasing and I kind of sing like you sing as a kid in a way, but with random English words. But those words for a reason often come from the emotions in the song and a lot of what comes out of that actually stick to the end. And then I kind of use that to build some sort of sensible story about it.

To me it's really important that the feeling in the song matches the feelings in the lyrics, because it energizes the song and if they match each other it's kind of like 1+1 becomes 3 almost. It's not just that it has to look good on paper, but it has to sound good too, so sometimes the choice of words comes from what sounds good phonetically, like what has a nice ring to it.

It's like a tone from the guitar or something, like if I should sing a long O or a long A. I mean, it makes a big difference. And how the consonants appear and getting the right intonation in the words. So it takes quite a lot of fine adjustments to get it right, but when it's there, there's a huge difference. I just have to listen to the difference and it's so obvious when you get it right.

(Magnus:) When Erik sends the demo versions, like "Here's a song I've made." there are like 5 songs and all of them have the same lyrics. No, not exactly, but because they are demos he uses a little bit of the same words on the songs. Some of the lyrics for Hurt initially were for Killing Me, with kind of the same theme.

Tobbe: So in your own words, what makes Eclipse's music of today stick out a little more than your competitors' music? That you're one step better, if that really is the case.

Erik: Those who think so probably often think so because the songs are really strong. It's good songs from beginning to end, you know. I mean, there are so many bands that are awesome players, but it's the songs that make a difference. And we have a good attitude towards life, you know. But I would probably say the song material.

Tobbe: Have you looked at the possibility to put all your effort into Eclipse and put all your other chores to rest?

Magnus: We are always in contact with the booking agents and the manager, like "We must do more!". (Erik:) We put quite a lot of effort into it. We do.

Tobbe: But still, and we will get to Ammunition later, you have some things you do on the side.

Magnus: I think if Eclipse had been active in the late 80's it wouldn't have been a problem and we wouldn't have to play in Ammunition and so, you know. That's the way it is and if you want to do this and try to make some kind of living out of it you've got to do different stuff. (Erik:) But I like Ammunition a lot and it's really fun playing there. But I have two jobs at the same time. My current career as an artist, and I can't choose the time for that and it's now and not some other time, and then I have my job as a producer, which I will probably do until I retire. So it's like trying to combine two full-time jobs.

Tobbe: If you want to become a bigger band you pretty much have to tour a lot and how does that work with your private life if you're on the road a lot more?

Magnus: You're sitting with the two guys in the band that has a family and yesterday at rehearsal Erik said that he would go away on vacation and he really had to check the schedule to make it work. (Erik:) You've got to choose between the opportunities and you can't say yes to everything. There must to be a reason to do something and I think that's smart, because it's not about quantity, but there has to be a certain quality when you choose gigs. Of course there's a balance and you have to give and take within a family.

(Magnus:) With a family, you must come home with something too. It's not just a party you go away for. That's the way it is and we see it as work, you know. (Erik:) When I'm not out playing I work at home. Mixing and stuff. Every family in different ways struggles between their career, kids, school, daycare and everyone struggles in their own way. If you're a builder you start working at 7 and if you're with a nurse or someone who works at a grocery store, they have a really strict schedule too. People complain about the treadmill of life, but at least we can avoid that.

Tobbe: Okay guys. Eurovision Song Contest again, but this time in Norway. Wasn't one time enough?

Magnus: Well, it wasn't our decision. [Laughs] But it was really fun. In Ammunition I and Erik are a little bit in the background of the business. Åge is steering that ship for the most part of course and he sent a song [Wrecking Crew] to some dude just to see what he thought about it and that dude happens to work with MGP [Melody Grand Prix] and he thought that the song would fit the contest.

(Erik:) For the band Ammunition, a pretty unknown band, and for Åge who runs it, it's fantastic PR to play there. It's really no question about it. It's not even debatable. Of course you just do it. Prime time, 3 minutes. Everything else is just stupid. Well, you could sit at home and feel true and try to make ends meet in another way. But it's a job, you know. I mean, for us [Eclipse] it's been really great to participate in the contest if you look a streaming rates in Sweden.

Tobbe: Things went pretty well for Ammunition too. [Runner-up]

Erik: Yes. We were only 6000 votes, in total in the whole country, from winning.

Tobbe: So in an artist's point of view, what differs the contests in Sweden and Norway?

Magnus: Sweden is much more professional than the Norwegian teams. And the whole security thing in Sweden, because in Norway we could just walk right in and I never showed some kind of pass to get in. Well, I look like a star, but anyways. [Laughs] (Erik:) But the actual arrangement and stuff are pretty similar.

(Magnus:) Yes, it was, but when we looked at the actual performance to check out angles and so, there was a whole lot of things we wanted to change and questioned, like "Why did you film it like this?". But when I looked at the result on YouTube I was like "But they didn't change that.". They didn't change anything. Until the very last minute the time schedule was very tight.

Tobbe: And did you get along with the other artists? Were you able to make some contact or was it a contest all the way?

Erik: I think there were many more divas in Sweden. Molly Sandén, was that her name? Everything was watertight, and business men, but in Norway it was actually a much greater atmosphere. When we got there the first time we all met and there was a party for everyone and we were having dinner and playing songs for one another. It was really nice. It's really uptight in Sweden, you know. Magnus was sick, so he wasn't going to that party, but it was like a birthday party and I didn't knew anyone and it was kind of like "Hi! What's your name? What do you work with?".

(Magnus:) And Ella, with the hat, the one with kind of a Pink style, you know. A few hours before broadcast she entered the dressing room and she had bought us gifts. A small bag with Vodka bottles and dice for a game. A kit with a lot of stuff and a handwritten letter that was very funny. And "Good luck!" and all that. Really fun. A really nice gesture, you know. Molly Sandén would never do that. She thought she was going to win. Definitely. And so did her record company.

Tobbe: About your home studio, Erik. What's been going on there in the last year?

Erik: A band named Eclipse has been there quite a lot. The Ammunition record [Out this summer] is fully recorded there and the same with Eclipse. And the keyboarder in Whitesnake, Michele Luppi, has been there. And I've mixed a lot of bands. Astral Doors was the latest one I did and their new album [Black Eyed Children, Out April 28th] is coming out soon and it's really good. It's really great to sit in a studio, with sunlight, big windows and nature, and with deer eating from the trees.

Tobbe: Is it easy for you to put away the focus on your own records and concentrate fully on other bands' music? Or is your own music always lurking in your head somewhere?

Erik: No, it's very easy. When I write and work with other bands I don't keep the best stuff for myself. You know, if you work with other people you give it all. They are there for a reason and you have to do the best you can.

Tobbe: And you're never worried about picking up influences from the bands you're working with?

Erik: On the contrary. That's what I do.

Tobbe: So you kind of take things and put it in your own music?

Erik: Absolutely. And everything I write I try to put into their music. So I share to a 100 percent. I would say that it's a part of the formula to success, that I have such a high productivity of songs. It's quantity and working with others you learn from. If I was on my own I would probably get worse and worse, you know. I don't understand the ones who writes alone over and over again, because often the music gets worse and worse. Working with others is the key, you know. To me, anyways.

I think it's really fun, because it's not my song and it's not the one I work with's song either and it becomes somewhere in between. I like that and we've done that a lot on Monumentum. I have a few people who I like to write hard rock music with [Johan Becker and Miqael Persson] and they become like a fifth member of the band almost.

See also: review of the album Monumentum

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