» David Johannesson - Mustasch
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Interview conducted August 20 2015
Interview published September 15 2015

Metal Covenant hooked up with Swedish outfit Mustasch's guitar player David Johannesson to hear a little about his views and perspectives of the band's coming September 18th effort, Testosterone. David joined the ranks in 2008 and has since worked himself up to become a solid member of the band and with this record his part has grown into something much bigger, as he was given a far greater responsibility on the songwriting process than before.

Tobbe: You have, together with your producer, Richard Löfgren, written all the music on the new album, with Ralf [Gyllenhammar, vocals] putting lyrics to it, and this approach is of course a different situation than what you're used to.

David: Well, since I joined the band, I've had like 2-3 songs on each album. When I got onboard, Ralf knew that I was a songwriter, but he told me that he was steering the ship, which was fine with me. I've been writing and some good stuff I've done has made it to the albums. At around 2 years ago, me and the producer, who is an old friend of mine, just wrote some stuff and we really didn't know where it would end up, so those songs were kind of put on hold. Later the band asked us about the songs, so I sent them to the guys and they liked what they heard and told us to keep writing songs and Ralf told us to just go for it.

Tobbe: The band has released albums for 15 years and isn't it so, like it seems to me, that the band has kind of got stuck in a wheel and change was necessary and this is not just a situation where Ralf wanted to let go and give you more room?

David: Exactly, because this record is a little different. That's the way it is. It's still Ralf who's screaming and shouting, but, like someone told me, "What the hell. What's the fun in making Double Nature 2? You know, you have to develop.". And that's true. A lot of bands don't take risks and they stay in the same place since it works, but the only band that it really works for is AC/DC, I think. If you look at a band like Metallica, I believe part of their success lies in their willingness to dare to do different things. They surely get a lot of shit, but still people come to their shows all over the world. If you dare taking a step, it might become greater, even if some fans probably will think that what we've now done is crap. But still you have to think it's really fun to do this, or it won't work.

Tobbe: Now when you've gotten more responsibility, did you feel that there was more pressure coming at you or did you feel that you did rise to the occasion?

David: Well, I've always written music, but the pressure becomes bigger of course when you know it's up to you. We had actually booked studio time, so I had to go down to Tenerife, Spain, where the producer lived for 3 months. We said that we needed more songs, so I went down and we wrote songs together, so we had some time pressure. But otherwise I don't think I had too much pressure on me and it was more like "This is going to be really fun and hopefully this will work out great.". When the record is now about to be released, it's more like "What the hell happened?". Maybe we should have written 100 songs? But at the same time, this is here and now, and this is how we do it.

Tobbe: If I'm correctly informed, you have recorded all the guitars and the other guys have been given a lot of space too, so is this actually the fresh start that you had with your self titled album when you joined the band? I mean, supposedly that album shouldn't have been self titled and this album should have been self titled instead?

David: Yes, actually it would probably have been a better fit, but when I joined the band, they thought it was a new chapter too. I didn't put so much effort into that decision, since I really wasn't a part of their history. If we look in the rearview mirror, just like you say, this would probably have been a better new starting point. I don't really know, but there is definitely some sense in what you're saying.

Tobbe: I've heard the album 10 times for sure, but for those who haven't heard the new material yet, which are then the big differences in comparison to your previous albums?

David: Well, what should I say? This is more melodic. It's more melodies and a little like backwards. I like a lot of Tool's music. I also like a lot of different music, but I kind of like to write like Tool sometimes does, you know, like taking things backwards. A lot of what Tool does is utter crap too, but they are so damn odd and a lot of what they do is so fucking good and therefore I believe that some of this dwells inside of me. I'm not trying to steal things, but subconsciously you probably do it anyway. I like the gloomy and dark side of it.

Tobbe: The record shows a rather great diversity. Of course, Ralf's voice is still characteristic and there's also still some typical Mustasch riffs present, so there's no question who's playing, but does your new approach contribute to the diversity more than anything?

David: Yes, I believe so. We also had one song specifically, which we wasn't sure about, and it's not on the album. We showed it to some people and they thought it was a super hit, but we knew it was very, very pop oriented. We couldn't tell if it was good or bad, but maybe our next step will be to have such a song on an album. I wanted it to still be heavy, but it's also some kind of development and actually it's hard to grab when you're involved and write the songs. But if you do a great song, it's still great. And if you want a cool production, it's up to the producer and a great mixer too.

Tobbe: Is it mostly musicians and journalists that think it's important to develop the music with each record? Do the fans actually think so too, or do they want to hear the same Mustasch record over and over again?

David: It's really hard to tell. Since I joined the band, I've heard old Mustasch fans saying it was better before, but a lot of people also says "I heard an old Mustasch song and it is utter crap. You are much better nowadays.". It's so different. When we talk about it in the band, we say that we can play the same old shit always, but it's not taking us anywhere and then everyone will quit since it's not fun anymore. It's a different thing live, where we play the old hits too, because they go down well with the crowd. You can't be grumpy about it and say that we won't play this and that, because people pay to come and see us and we have to give people what they want really.

Tobbe: But at the same time, you play songs from your entire catalogue. I saw you at Sweden Rock Festival in June and you pretty much played 1 or 2 songs from every album. It wasn't like you played a set filled with stuff from Above All [The first full length record].

David: Right. We have a few songs that we have to play until we put this band to rest. We also try to play one or a few songs from each album. It's just the way it is. Maybe we could play an entire album on a tour, like some other bands do, but we're not on that level, so it probably wouldn't serve any purpose. We're trying to find a balance between what people think is good and what we think is good and fun to play, and then we just hope for a great evening.

Tobbe: About playing the older songs. I was listening to Mustasch all from the first EP, you know. I remember seeing the band in Stockholm, playing a club with 72 people in the crowd, under a different moniker, which was Stockholm Leatherboys. And earlier, when Above All was recently released, it was a different feeling, but at the same time, when a band is getting bigger, these things generally disappear.

David: Yes, absolutely. You know, I actually bought the EP on the day it was released. I didn't know who they where and I was living on top of a record store. I saw a poster with a guy with a Flying V and some flames. I asked the guy in the record store what it was and he told me that it was a band from Gothenburg and I decided to buy it. One of my favorite songs is still Homophobic Alcoholic and it's quite funny, because when we play it live at this point, a lot of people don't even know what song it is.

Tobbe: Yes, I've seen that too. Let's go back to the new album and it's lyrical contents, even if Ralf has written them. The lyrics are mainly about his own life, but that's nothing new really, because his lyrics have often been about him and his life. So how many songs can you write on the subject Ralf?

David: I wonder that too [Laughs]. We have actually told him that people probably have heard enough stories about him and that it's time to write about something else. At the same time, he says that he needs to write about things he can relate to, and I understand that of course. I think he now also has written a couple of lyrics which isn't about him and that's a new step for him. He has also never had a producer that has told him "This wasn't good enough. You have to sing like this.". He had to work with that, where the producer had the final word, like "Damn it. You're gonna sing like this, whether you like it or not. Do you want this to be good or not?". It wasn't like big tensions really, but I was in the studio a couple of times when he sang and they shouted back and forward at each other. Everyone wants it to be good, so there's a lot of feelings involved.

Tobbe: So what about the album title, Testosterone?

David: Our manager thought that we've always been a kind of manly, dirty and tough band, you know, so she mentioned something about testosterone and Ralf just shouted out "That's it. Testosterone. That's what we're gonna call it.". I haven't put so much energy into it and I think I'm not that good with song titles and stuff, so I don't care really.

Tobbe: Mustasch has domestically been one of Sweden's bigger hard rock band for a long time, or whatever kind of music you play, so what do you do to stay on top? You know, every band has its golden age for a while.

David: First and foremost you have to write good music, but that's often not the whole truth either. What we do is that we try to release records pretty frequently and we also try to tour regularly, but we also have to balance our touring, because we can't play the same places 10 times a year. Furthermore, Ralf is a strong media person and he does some things here and there. Some people thinks he's a sell-out, I believe, but you should also know how much he says no to, before you criticize him. He turns down a lot of offers and he has to balance his decisions, like if it's good for us or not. In all honestly, we have to earn money too. It's as simple as that. [Laughs]. We have also managed to have a lot of people come to our gigs and that's part of our success too. As you know, I've played in another band [Sparzanza] earlier and I know how tough things can be.

Tobbe: So how will you tour to promote the album?

David: We doing a handful of gigs in Germany in Mid-October and then we play all over Sweden, one gig in Norway and then a few gigs in Finland too. That's our itinerary at this point.

Tobbe: You joined the band in 2008, 7 years ago, and I wanna know what you think is the biggest difference within the band up until now?

David: Ralf has always told me that he puts more and more faith in me. He feels safe with me writing songs and that I can play what he shows me, and don't throw away the guitar, like some other guitar player apparently did before. But it's hard to say. What the hell, this is a tough question.

Tobbe: Okay, fuck it then. But what was the best thing with joining Mustasch back then?

David: That Ralf told me that I had to quit my day-time job. That was awesome.

Tobbe: I reckon most people would find that pretty nice.

David: Yes. That was fucking great, I tell you that. You know, I'm from Värmland [A province in Western Sweden] and I know all the bands from there, who I grew up with. It was like it was more cool to be in a rehearsal room and think that you were good than to actually go out and play, if you see what I mean. Those who were working the hardest were told that they weren't any good, you know.

Tobbe: If we turn it the other way around. 7 years from now. What will happen until then?

David: I hope that we're expanding in Europe and get a solid fanbase there. I also want to go to the USA. I talk about it all the time, but at the same time, we're not that young anymore, so we refuse to go there for 3 months and get nothing out of it. It has to be something valid, like getting something, or playing as support act to a little bigger band, so that we can see if it's okay and if we're gonna continue. This is actually more what I want than what I believe, because you can't believe anything in the music industry anymore, I think.

Tobbe: Yes, things are changeable. One last question. Since you have written more and have been even more involved with this record, is it more exciting than usual to see what the fans' reaction will be?

David: Yes, of course it is. With the first record I did with Mustasch, it was fun to be involved with the whole process since I knew that a lot of people were interested in what we were doing, but when I now have done it myself and if people say it's crap, I personally have to bite the dust. But also, if they say it's good, I will get some acknowledgement. It's the way it is and we just have to make another record if this one isn't good enough [Laughs].

See also: review of the album Testosterone

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