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.
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?".
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
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
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 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
of the album Into The Night World