» Robert S. - Machinae Supremacy
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Interview conducted December 12 2016
Interview published December 22 2016

"We used to have someone in the band that was like "If I take time off from work I want to get paid." and after a while you sort those people out."

Northern Sweden's Machinae Supremacy put out its new record, Into The Night World, on December 16th and consequently Metal Covenant got on the phone with vocalist Robert Stjärnström to talk about the new effort, but also a little bit about the band's knack for video game attributes and touring plans.

Tobbe: So you've got a new record, Into The Night World, and don't get me wrong now, but why isn't this just another Machinae Supremacy record and not just one record out of many?

Robert: I think that, even if we have experimented a little before, it feels like we have experimented even more this time. It's kind of funny, because the last record we made had quite a few strange song structures and so, whilst with this record, in some way, the songs kind of follow the pattern quite well. You know, the typical song pattern. But I mean, we have several songs where there are no guitars in the verses and all kinds of strange things going on. That's pretty much what I would say.

Tobbe: To have your own thing, you know with the 80's video games stuff, is of course important to you, but must bands have a key attribute to be able to get anywhere?

Robert: Well, I don't think so. We're somewhere in between, I think. We have that thing, but that thing never comes before making a good song, you know. There are songs that don't have that stuff, because it just didn't fit. But in some way it's what inspires us a little bit and we get triggered by those sounds, so it's very easy for us to make songs in that way and many songs feature that attribute. But I mean, the world is full of bands that are really good without having some specific thing that you can point out. So I don't think you need to have it, really.

Tobbe: But could there be times where the artistic side of it might be so important that it would affect the result in a negative way?

Robert: No, I don't think so. I mean, the SID-sounds or the 8-bit stuff are never there in vain, but there are other artistic aspects, I think, that affect it. On the last record, instead of making easy approachable music we chose to make a record for people who already are fans. You know, a record that's a little bit harder to imbibe. So it has strange song structures, like one song that's instrumental except for the bridge, you know.

I don't know if it's fair to say, but in some way the artistic side of it affected at least those people who want a little bit simpler music to listen to. You have kind of an artistic choice to, you know "Let's make it a little bit more complicated and a little bit less approachable.". So I think it's true that it can affect the end result, but at least in our case it wouldn't be about those specific sounds.

Tobbe: The record is melodic and you have obviously put a lot of effort in the choruses and it's also kind of radio friendly, if you look at what kind of heavier rock that's being played on radio mostly, so are you now looking to get some additional playing time on radio and a little bit more recognition than before?

Robert: I think, you know, we're always hoping for that. Maybe not necessarily radio, but we want it to get spread and that people will listen to it and like it. But our only barometer for what's good is what we personally like. It's true that we're a very melodic band and we sometimes have songs, at least in certain aspects, that go away from that formula, but I think, chorus-wise, we're always looking to come out with a strong chorus, because in some way it's still what comes absolutely first in the way we think about music, with strong melodies and stuff and it's what makes a good song.

So, I mean, we definitely want it to be discovered and that people are going to like it, but I don't think we've been thinking differently in that way, really. What you feel, when you've been doing this for a long time, is that you want to do something new sometimes, you know. It's not for the sake of someone else and there are surely a lot of fans that want us to make exactly the same thing on exactly every time, whilst personally I'm like "We have to tweak things and do something a little bit different." and therefore some of the verses on this record are kind of peculiar and so. You know, we personally think it's difficult to place us in a specific genre, like "Is it metal?".

Well, occasionally it clearly is, but if you start somewhere in the middle of the song Twe27ySeven, maybe you won't think that. I think it's for better or worse, you know. The sad thing is that people who are strictly into metal might not like the soft stuff so much, whilst maybe if you enter the world of pop they will think it's good, but then comes a harsh chorus and it gets too heavy for them. So I don't really know if it helps us or if it doesn't with that thing, but that's what comes out when we make songs and it's just kind of the natural result in a way.

Tobbe: So when you started to work on the album you didn't have anything specific that you really wanted to come out with? But it was more of, simply put, like "Let's make good songs and pretty much what we should be doing."? Is it that simple?

Robert: I wish I had a clever answer to this, but it's kind of like: many bands are really good to explain why songs come out in a certain way. You know, they're like "I felt it was strewn out of a seed." and "I was thinking about my mother." and so. And we're like "This sounds cool. Let's go for it!". I don't know if that means that we're more shallow or anything, but I find it very hard to explain why the music becomes what it becomes.

Some of us writes the music and weaves it all together and someone goes "What about this? I don't know if it's good." and the next one goes "Wow! This is awesome! I know exactly what to make out of it.". Somewhere along the road songs start to come out of it and of course we tweak and arrange stuff in the end to get it done. Well, I don't know really what to say about it, but we didn't go in to try to make a pop record, you know, but more kind of like cool songs. We always have more songs than the songs that end up on the album. You know, we're a little bit like "A way to make good songs is to make many songs." and then we see what kind of stuff works. And everything else isn't thrown in the trash and some stuff might end up on the next record instead since it's not fit for this one.

But there is probably some kind of awareness in what we do and I don't think it's just completely random, but maybe it's not in our foreheads in a way, but more of a soul in what the band is and people steer from that, even if there is musical freedom. We have a unique width in a way. At least that's what I want to believe, but maybe that's up to other people to decide?

Tobbe: Do you sometimes clash heads when you write the songs or record the songs in order to bring out the creativity together? You know, people have their own will.

Robert: Absolutely. Sometimes a song comes to a deadlock and we can't put it together, really. But there's always this last thing too, you know, because no matter how cool the riffs, the synths and the drums are, it's at the time when you're about to lay down the vocals that you will realize if it's a good song. It's a little tough in a way, because there's so much at stake in that last layer, if you know what I mean? And sometimes it's like "Okay. We kind of have everything and it's really cool, but we can't quite get the vocals to fit.".

We definitely get stuck sometimes and if a song will be able to become a song for the record, someone else has to pick up someone else's original work and continue it a little bit. We kind of work that way. You know, someone's like "I have a cool riff." and we'll listen to it and someone else goes "I know exactly what we should add to it.", with synths and drums and so. So it's very rare that one of us takes a whole song all the way from start to finish and it takes more than one guy to make a really good song, at least for us.

And sometimes someone has imagined something and someone else has imagined something else, and to some extent I'm kind of the producer in a way, since someone has to make a decision in the end of what the hell to do and that job usually falls upon me because I know a thing or two about studio work. But absolutely, sometimes we get into a deadlock and things that could possibly have been something don't become something, since no one picks up the idea after the first embryo is made.

Tobbe: Do you sometimes build songs out of your own vocal melodies too?

Robert: Yes, absolutely. A song might start to build in pretty much all kinds of different ways. I mean, sometimes we start with synths where we make the synths like a vocal melody to kind of show the way. And sometimes someone has a cool riff and what's funny there is that the one who has come up with the riff has no idea what the vocals will be like, but eventually you find something cool and so.

And at some point we've just had a vocal melody and then people have built music around it. So there is no specific way, but quite typically we start with the synths actually. You know, the SID and the video game sounds. I and Nicke [Niklas Karvonen], who plays the drums, like to track stuff out and we sequence the SID-sounds and the 8-bit stuff. Jonne [Jonas Rörling, guitar] used to do that before too, so there's at least 3 of us who have done this.

It's often a good foundation, because when you sit there with those simple sounds you can't get stuck in production, really, and you must focus on melody and so, which probably is part of the reason to why we are able to come out with strong melodies, since we often create the melodies in a very scarce mold, kind of, and then translate it into the real music, you know.

Tobbe: You guys have put out records since the early 2000's and you haven't got a real breakthrough yet…

Robert: We climb slowly, you know. We gain just a little more fans all the time. But you're right, we haven't gotten that break yet.

Tobbe: … and you've had some member changes of course, but what keeps the band going?

Robert: I think, let's just visit the part with member changes. We have found a constellation where everybody wants to do this. We used to have someone in the band that was like "If I take time off from work I want to get paid." and after a while you sort those people out. We don't lose money anymore, but we neither receive a salary for the band stuff.

We put the money in the band, in order to pay for the tour bus and so. So we don't receive a salary for anything we do with gigs and so and we do it because it's fun and because the whole project finances itself and allows us to do fun things. I think, 2 things, partly because it's really fun and partly because we see this growth, even if it's slow. You know, we always get to do a little bit more cool stuff and it always becomes a little bit better all the time.

If it had reached a stalemate or if it was declining, with fewer and fewer people coming down to the gigs, we would have probably lost our hunger a little bit. Even if it's a slow growth, it's still a growth that we see and, you know, then we kind of don't have a reason not to continue. It's really fun and as long as it's heading in the right direction it's like a win in a way.

Tobbe: But if it starts to head in a negative direction things will get worse.

Robert: Yes, exactly. And you see bands that run in that direction. You know, bands who used to do well or bands that are one-hit wonders and after a while people lose their interest in them. I would like to believe that the fans we got still like what we do and we're able to gain some new fans all the time.

And like I said, it's a slow process, and even when we were on Spinefarm Records they didn't put too much effort in us. They were ready to go, if we would have really gotten a big breakthrough, and ready to grab what would come out of it, but they weren't putting much effort in it. I wonder if, since we're pretty good at doing things on our own, it maybe is a disadvantage and they didn't have to invest in us or push us hard either. But anyway, we got kind of a fresh start now when we're on our own label.

Tobbe: Despite the steady, yet small, growth over the years, have you been thinking, with every record put out, that it's like a now or never situation?

Robert: I think it's more like: "Maybe it will happen now? Maybe it will hit hard?". We're not really mainstream and we're aware of that the music we make isn't so easy to absorb, even if we have strong melodies we make it kind of hard for people. So we kind of know that we're not going to have a huge hit over the whole world. But on some records we have noticed that it grew more and it got a real boost and that's maybe more what we look for. It's like "Okay. Let's see with this or that record. Maybe it will give us a real boost, that will double the whole thing.", or so.

There's quite a few bands, and especially some that I listen to, that are in a situation where most people don't know who they are, yet they tour over the whole world in front of, you know, 3000 people. Even Children Of Bodom, who we toured together with, is a band like that. If you ask someone in Sweden, metal fans know who they are of course, but just an average person, they don't know who they are.

We were touring with Children Of Bodom and our friends were like "I don't know who they are", but then there were talks about a tour with Dead By April and then they were like "Oh, you're getting somewhere!" and we're like "No. That's a huge drop from Children Of Bodom.". Not to say anything bad about them, but I mean, people in Sweden heard a song that Dead By April made and thought they were a big band, whilst Children Of Bodom are rather unknown, yet they drive a Porsche and are doing good, you know.

So no matter if we reach a really good level, we will still be in a situation where most people don't know who we are. And that's okay. And we haven't really worked Sweden so hard, so we're clearly an export product. I mean, we have quite a lot of fans in certain countries, like in Russia and in Finland. And that's quite fun, even if it surely would be nice if we had more fans in Sweden as well. But it's still nice to visit other places too.

Tobbe: You're going to the US in January for a few weeks and honestly now, without giving the usual answer, what do you expect to come out of that tour leg?

Robert: We don't expect a huge profit, if you know what I mean? It's the first time we will be touring there. We tour with a band from Texas [Urizen], that we have toured with before and that we have played some gigs with, so we expect to have a really good time with them. That's one thing and then we will meet a lot of really cool people on the road. Like you said, we've been releasing records since the beginning of the 2000's, and there are fans in the US who have been waiting ever since to see us.

You know, we don't look at it out of an financial aspect, but now we're going to have fun and we will get to play in front of a lot of new people and we will see many new cities and we're going to take time to hang out with the fans. I mean, it will take quite a lot to make a profit on this tour, I think. But you never know. What if we're lucky? Maybe it will be unbelievable and a lot of people will come down to the shows? But it's not like we hold our breath for it and maybe there will only be 50 people there. We don't know and when we play Clarksville [TN], near Nashville, will there be many Machinae fans there? I don't know. But in New York I think there will be many people there.

You know, in the really big cities I definitely think that quite a few people will come down to see us. And we will finally get to play in front of a lot of people who have been waiting for so long, so we expect a really good audience, definitely.

Tobbe: Maybe it will just be enough to get some additional radio time for one of the songs? Then you could probably triple your audience overnight.

Robert: Absolutely. We've been trying to set up some radio promotion in the US in January and we will see if it works out.

Tobbe: So what will your schedule, regarding touring, look like past January? Anything planned yet?

Robert: We haven't got anything booked just yet, but we're looking at it. Nicke will have kids in March, so we have to set up things with that in mind. Maybe we will be able to do something in Sweden or Finland in the spring. But maybe a European tour won't happen before fall of 2017.

Tobbe: And festivals? Will there be time for that?

Robert: We hope so and we have recently switched our booking agent. We've had difficult times with booking agents, really. We have one in Russia and one in the US and then it's been kind of random everywhere else. We now got contacted by a booking agent in Finland, so we will see, and that's what I'm talking about when I mention the small growth, because certain things have been hard to lock up, but now things start to get going.

It would be awesome if we found someone who could take us all across Europe too. That's what we are missing right now. We have played Europe before, via a lot of different contacts, on our own, but it would be nice if some bigger company would lock something in.

See also: review of the album Into The Night World

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