» Mats Levén- ReVertigo
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Interview conducted February 15 2018
Interview published February 27 2018

"I think a lot of people don't realize that it's not just getting together one night in order to rehearse these songs."

Mats Levén, today the lead singer of doom metallers Candlemass, but also with contributions to a whole lot of other stuff over the years, and Anders Wikström of, principally, melodic rockers Treat have teamed up in a project called ReVertigo to put out their first record together since late 1992. - Street date: February 23rd 2018.

"We already have song ideas, both me and Anders, in a folder called ReVertigo 2."

Tobbe: You and Anders have known each other for ages and I suspect that this project has been planned for quite a long time, right?

Mats: Well, not really. However, some songs have been around for many years. I had an idea for a while that I wanted to do a Swedish project, with different Swedish musicians. You know, kind of like a Swedish version of Avantasia, but at the same time I was a little bit tired of that there's so many of that kind of projects around these days and all of it is just meaningless. It's just crap, you know. So I put those ideas to rest.

But subconsciously I guess we have wanted to do a record together again, since we've been close buddies all the time and also we have occasionally written songs together for other artists. We were initially thinking about doing some kind of pledge campaign at first, so we met some people, but I realized pretty quickly that we needed a deadline. If we're gonna get this done, we will need a deadline and a pledge campaign is quite a lot of work with everything around it and it's easy to write down a lot of stuff that's gonna be included, but then you actually have to deliver it as well. It becomes a pretty big apparatus, you know, but still pretty uncertain in terms of economy, so at the end of the day Anders had contact with Frontiers already, via Treat, you know, and we just sent them a demo of three old songs that we've had since 10 years back.

Well, one of them was 10 years old and another was just a couple of years old. Frontiers have contacted me before and asked me if I want to participate in a project and such stuff, which I've actually said no to. So now they were interested, there were no problems, so it was easy to just go "Let's do this!", you know. We knew our budget and an approximate deadline, you know, and that's what you need, so. And it finally happened. So, it was in 2015/2016 that we started to talk about it.

Tobbe: Is there really another option than to put out this album on Frontiers?

Mats: I don't know, really. I'm quite uninterested in making such a record that Frontiers usually releases. The whole reason for making this record was to make something that was a little richer than the standard AOR that maybe is released on Frontiers usually. I'm completely uninterested in making something typical, like letting them make the front cover and if we would write these songs, we would write them like the dudes we are today.

We're both family fathers and we're 25 years older than when we made the Treat record and today we don't sing about just whatever and pink balloons, you know. We actually don't fit maybe the general buyer of lightweight AOR and I mean, Frontiers didn't even listen to the material, but they trusted us to make something good, and we made something really good, I think. Hopefully a lot of people that listen to AOR will like what we do as well. Probably a whole lot of people are standing firm in their belief that AOR should sound in a certain way and look in a certain way and maybe we can't reach those people. But that's okay, I have no problems with that, as long as we're happy, so.

But Frontiers is of course great in many ways and both Anders and I knew them a little bit and they were interested in releasing this, so. So, like you're saying, it was much easier to get a quick yes than trying to get it done with another label, where they maybe would want us to tour and do promotion in that way. So you're right, absolutely.

Tobbe: Your partner still writes the music for Treat of course and you were part of that band for one record a long time ago and early on in this project, was there any concern about this project ending up kind of like Treat 2, you know?

Mats: I think we never looked at it that way. First of all, Anders has written so much stuff that has no connection to Treat whatsoever, so he is used to just write music that is good. Quality music, good music, collaborate with someone, me in this case, you produce it together, you arrange it together and something comes out of it and he knows that this won't sound quite like Treat. Of course there will be parts in the songs, maybe a riff or whatever, where you can say "Oh yeah. That could be fitting for a Treat song.". But that's cool and as long as it's good stuff, so. It anyway takes another shape when I come in with my ideas and as we write the songs together, you know.

But no, we didn't have any concern about that and I think we haven't even talked about that. I guess we trusted each other that it would come out cool. Anders is of course used from Treat that it's very much him doing more or less everything, and even lyrics, you know. I think now it was fun for him that someone else, like me, kind of questioned what he came out with and had more counter ideas. I think he had to go out in deep waters sometimes, because he is so used to be in control, whereas I'm used to be more of a sidekick, whether I've worked with Gus G or different artists with whom I've written songs together with, and I'm pretty used to not taking over, but just trying to bring out good, additional ideas or melodies or lyrics.

But it was interesting in the sense that after Treat we went on two completely different ways. I've been touring a lot and lived my life as a touring musician since the mid '90s and played with different genres and I can relate to other stuff when I think something is good or not or if I wanna explain something, whereas he has been a whole lot more in the studio and been writing songs for whole different type of artists. So we've been on two different places and now, as we were gonna work together again, I noticed sometimes, like "Okay. He doesn't really understand what I mean right now."; things that were obvious to me. And maybe it was the other way around too, so I guess we both had to compromise a little bit. But it was interesting, and it's fun.

Tobbe: If we look at what Anders write for other artists and for Treat, it has more a hit feeling than what ReVertigo's music has. I'd say that this music has more, like, integrity and maybe this music doesn't come down on you strongly the first time you hear it.

Mats: Absolutely, and that's why they contact him too. And I'm personally more interested in music that I have to listen to a couple of times before it hits me and music that hopefully lasts in the long run. A lot of the music released today, I think doesn't last in the long run, and that's because of production, and everything really, like songwriting and lyrics, you know. So, I'd rather get 9 decent reviews, if I'd just get one who really gets the point.

And a thing you have to assume too is that people who will review this is people that always review stuff from Frontiers and maybe they won't get it completely and maybe it's not them we address to with this music. But at the same time, first and foremost we address to ourselves and we wanna make something that we can stand for. Somewhere I think we had a feeling kind of like "When this record is done, we think it will appeal to people who are old fans to us, in Treat since before, and who still like what Treat is doing today and are curious about what we will sound like together today.".

And I don't think they will get disappointed, you know. But I feel, if we do another record it will be nice to have a clean starting point, because now we had those 3 older songs that we kind of had to blend with the 8 new ones we wrote. But that's the way it is and they were the foundation to why we did this and without those songs nothing would have come out of this.

Tobbe: You mentioned another record already now and I was thinking about that many projects like this one stay just as a project always, but obviously you have a longer plan for this.

Mats: Yes, we're not interested in just a short-lived project. People got to realize why we do this. We do this because we want to do this and we want to do this record. And for me, who hasn't been involved with this type of music for many years really, it feels like if I wanna do something that is kind of on this path, then I want to do it like I kind of do it with Anders. We both have a lot of control and we play all the instruments ourselves, besides the drums [Performed by Thomas Broman.], which I demoed by the way, and it's happening the way we want to and we try to make our own little niche within the genre.

We already have song ideas, both me and Anders, in a folder called ReVertigo 2. Maybe stuff that wasn't completed to this record, and now that we had a deadline, maybe songs that need more time to get done. But if we make up our minds about having time to do it, I think we pretty soon can make another record. We have also learned a little from this record about how the next record will sound like, I think. We will anyhow know for sure in maybe 6 months, when we've been getting some reactions to this one. And it's about being creative as well and what's fun, you know. Like with this record, Frontiers wanted a couple of lyric videos and you have to put up some money to some dude that will make them, so I was like "Never mind. I'll learn how to use Final Cut Pro myself.".

So I made the lyric video, in my own way, and that lyric video doesn't look like a regular lyric video that most bands make, because they hire the same kind of people to make them. And that's why I rather do it my own way. Okay, it took a long time, but I did it when I was out touring with Trans Siberian Orchestra and there I had the time and I didn't have to take time off from my family time. And I made another lyric video that will come out later and it's fun since I got a reason for learning that program and be creative and it ended up with me even editing the video for Sailing Stones now. So this is big part of the whole thing as well. And it's fun to write songs and as a songwriter it's always important to write songs, even strictly financially for the future, but above all it's fun to write songs and it's productive too.

People don't realize of course how much work it is when you actually sit there and work hard to finish stuff and also Peter Månsson, who has mixed the record, has worked very hard. But there is no other way to do it, if you want it to be good. There are no shortcuts and everyone who does this knows that. You've gotta get involved if you want a great result.

Tobbe: A project will stay a project until that project starts to play live and suddenly it will become a band and have you guys in any way considered playing live? I realize you're quite busy with other stuff of course.

Mats: Well, we haven't really thought about it. I think a lot of people don't realize that it's not just getting together one night in order to rehearse these songs. There's really no economy in it, you know. Who would pay us to do that? I mean, if you're gonna bring people in to play you've got to pay them for rehearsals, if they're skilled people, you know. You must pay for rehearsals, you must pay for gigs, you must get paid for gigs. Who will pay for this? There's no one who will pay for this. [Laughs] So, I mean, if there is a festival or two who think that this would be really fun to book and they would put up some money, then we would do it just because it's fun. Then we could do it and we would probably do it then.

We're doing an acoustic thing next week, but that's just the two of us rehearsing a couple of songs and that's as far as we can go now. If there was a demand for us, I would absolutely have been interested. Sure, we could have done a European promotion tour, Anders and I, where we would have brought our acoustic guitars, but the whole process of putting together a band and play, since it must come out right and sound right, would mean rehearsals that simply can't be justified economically today. It doesn't work. Like I said, possibly scattered gigs if they would make any sense and maybe it would be easier if we make a second record, if there is a demand for it, or some kind of tour support from a company.

But I mean, it's even tough for a band like Treat to go out on tour and they've been around for 30 years, you know, or even 35 or whatever. I mean, with a history like that and not even they can go out on a two week tour in Europe because it doesn't work financially. I mean, it is the way it is and that's how hard it is today. And of course, when being at the level where we are today, you have different requirements on the economy in order for it to be worth leaving two kids and a wife who is working. I mean, if I go away for two weeks, I have to pay for baby-sitting maybe for a couple of days. [Laughs] I mean, that's the first expense. And then you've get all the expenses around the band too. It's hard, you know.

Tobbe: You've tried quite a few music genres over the years and singed to different stuff, but is there anything you still feel that you have undone?

Mats: Yes. There are a lot of things that I wish I had done. Absolutely. Like everything, you know. I like pretty much every kind of music, as long as it's good. It could be maybe something jazzier or it could be maybe Iggy Pop '73. Everything like that is music that I listened to when I grew up, whether it was opera, or Bowie, or Iggy Pop, or Sex Pistols, or Ramones, or [Black] Sabbath, Uriah Heep, or Peter Gabriel, Supertramp, or whatever. I listened to all of it and sometimes I can feel that it would have been fun to have done different stuff outside of the regular hard rock department.

But I did a couple of songs with [The] Bear Quartet for, like, 10 years ago, which was really fun, because it was so odd, you know. But that's mostly fun for me, because the hard rock fans are often very conservative and not interested in hearing me do such stuff. And I mean, the song I've been singing with Trans Siberian Orchestra is a little more a jazz/bluesy song in a sense and it's really fun to sing, you know. It's a delicate situation to people when you suddenly sing something that's in another style, but at the same time they think it's okay to see Al Pacino in a comedy and in the next one he is a mass murderer and then he is just a great actor.

So, it's a little strange with music, that it is such a delicate matter, but maybe people absorb it in a certain, traditional way and think that you are a traitor if you go outside their frame. If you're gonna become a great, known singer you should probably stick to singing in one band more or less, like Rob Halford in Judas Priest or Bruce Dickinson in Iron Maiden. Then you're true, you know, in another sense. I would too have loved to sing with Iron Maiden, but very few end up in a band that slowly grows. Many bands split up along the road and many musicians quit playing because they're not making any money and can't afford it, whereas I have become more of a freelancer, which really is only because I haven't found a band.

The first band in which I felt "This is a band that I wanna play with for the rest of my life." is Krux. But Krux was obviously just a band where people from different bands met and just did it, but I loved it so very much. And after that it wasn't until I joined Candlemass that I felt that again. The strength that I feel upon stage with those two bands is just the way you want it to feel, you know.

Tobbe: In what way do you think that your life would have been different if you had been in the same band for the last 30 years then?

Mats: Things had probably been very different. But it's hard to speculate, you know. That's a good question. But I mean, there are very few people that I used to play with in Sweden 20-30 years ago that still can make a living off their music and I guess I'm one of those few. Well, I wake up in the morning and I don't make any money if I don't take care of business myself. The first thing for me that was important was when I worked with Yngwie [Malmsteen] of course, even if it wasn't really my style, you know. It's always a little bit hard when you come in and you're gonna sing 4 different singers' songs and make them justice. But it was really fun and it was a challenge.

Tobbe: You've done quite a few guest appearances and have you occasionally felt that your voice would be more suitable for anything else than what you're doing right there?

Mats: Well, most of the times they get in contact with me because they want me to sound the way I do, because I have something. So I can't say that I feel that too often, you know. On the other side, I turn a lot of stuff down ever since quite a few years back, just because I don't want to participate on too much stuff. Nowadays I don't do much guest stuff at all, really. What I do is more or less Candlemass, and I do Trans Siberian in the winter, and now ReVertigo, and some songwriting on my own too. That's pretty much what I've got time for and what I want to do and I don't want to be everywhere.

It's not worth € 400-500 to make a guest appearance on a song on a record that I don't really dig and then I'd rather say no, you know. You have to set your own limit and you can't say yes to everything all the time and even if some people think that I've been involved in a lot of things, it's during a long time and people must understand that I don't have a part-time job somewhere, where I make some extra money. I live completely off the music, so I must put up a plan for 6-12 months ahead all the time, because what else is there to do? And there have been periods in my life where I haven't had so much money, where I have said yes to stuff that I'd maybe rather have said no to.

Like I said, you have to set your own limit and it's nice to come to a certain level where you notice that you actually can say no to those things, since something else will come in, that I can say yes to, that I think is better and more fun, you know. Sometimes it's not about money at all, but just because it's fun, like ReVertigo, where I didn't even think about whether there would be € 1 left when all our expenses were counted and all the work we had put into it. It's not about that, but about I and Anders doing something together, that would be good, you know. But in certain other cases it's almost only about money, because it's people you've never met before and you don't know them.

Or like with Gus G, for example, where it's not about the money either, since we're old buddies and thinking it was really fun. To co-write a couple of songs on the record was fun and then I tried to tour as much as I could as long as it was working financially. I couldn't join on certain tours because it generated too little money. All things have its own little live, you know, why you say yes and why you say no. At the same time I would really want to do things all the time, with different kinds of things, but you can't do that, because you would destroy your very own, you know.

Tobbe: About Trans Siberian Orchestra. You've been joining them two times now and what can you tell me about your future there? Do you have any kind of contract with them?

Mats: No, it doesn't work that way, but they contact me maybe during the summer, like 6 months before maybe, if they're still interested in your services, you know. I don't know yet, you know, if I'm gonna be involved next winter and I can only hope and believe maybe, because the last two years, when I've been involved, have been very good years for TSO. If I'm correctly informed they sold more tickets than ever last year and the year before it was the same thing, so to speak.

And our whole crew in West have functioned really great socially and have sounded real good, so maybe they want the same guys back and it's quite an investment for them too, with people, and to learn the whole drill, learn the songs and to function socially. As long as you deliver what you should it's a fairly good chance that you can come back for a couple of years, but you never know.

The second part of this interview is about Mats's work with Candlemass and will be published in March.

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