» Niklas Stålvind - Wolf
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Interview conducted June 06 2015
Interview published July 29 2015

"…but if you don't have good songs, it's like a house of cards falling apart."

Metal Covenant met up with Wolf's Niklas Stålvind before the band's gig at Sweden Rock Festival in June. This 42-year-old more than anything points out how satisfied he is with the band's present lineup and he is also no stranger to talk about family matters and his tough times in the past or recently. Wolf never made it big-time, but this Swedish band definitely has a solid fanbase around the world and is in fact by many seen as one of today's greatest heavy metal bands.

"I don't want to become a has-been living on old achievements…"

Tobbe: Okay, let's start this one with your latest record [Devil Seed], although it's almost a year old by now. If you look back at it at this point, what are your feelings of it?

Niklas: I'm still as pleased with it as I was back then. It became the record that kind of wanted to come out, you know. When it was done, I remember thinking that I maybe wanted more fast songs, but the songs that made it to the record were the ones that kind of wanted to come out. I haven't been this damn pleased in a long time, you know. It kind of lived its own life and I was just trying to not stand in the way of the songs. That's what I felt.

Tobbe: What do you personally think that you did differently in comparison to at least the latest records?

Niklas: First and foremost, I have gone through bothersome things in my personal life. Legions Of Bastards was made during a really stressful and tough period, both band-wise and personal-wise. It was like I tried and I tried and I tried to push myself to come up with songs on that one, but this time; You know, I, and our bassist Anders Modd, and another guy named Ragnar, we have a project for which we started to write songs to before we started with Wolf's new record. And there, in some way, as a songwriter, it was like all things came together.

First of all, after 20 years I have learned to put just about the right amount of energy on the demos and not getting too detailed. And then I think I have found a new level, you know, where I have kind of pretty much shut off the intellect and instead listen to my gut feeling. Many songwriters says that it feels like the songs are up there somewhere and if you just open up, they will come down to you. So if you open up and if you're really honest to the songs, it turns out great in the end, you know.

Tobbe: So how much time do you spend on songwriting?

Niklas: Well, you live with it 24/7. It's like you open a tap and the stream never ends. It's both inspiring and really exhausting. Just when we started the songwriting process, I also got a new job, so I had to get out of bed earlier, sit down with a cup of coffee, the cell phone and a notebook. It was during summer-time, so I was able to sit outdoors, you know. As soon as I got up, I sat there and sometimes I also listened to an idea from the day before. When I hop in my car, there's usually some ideas popping up and then on the way to work, things start to flow, so I try to record it as fast as I can on my phone.

Tobbe: It's quite common to record ideas kind of that way nowadays.

Niklas: Before I used my phone, I had an Mp3-recorder. And before the Mp3-recorder, I had a recorder with those small cassettes, which I always had in my pocket. And before that I had a big cassette thing.

Tobbe: It must be really stressful to always think about the music. It's like you never can relax.

Niklas: But the ideas often come at those points when you're focused on something else and when you're not thinking about songwriting and then you have to really catch the moment, because they disappear and you forget them.

Tobbe: Naturally it's small details that make a great melody. If you change something just a little, it might turn out kind of chaotic.

Niklas: Yes. It's like you do a riff and feel that it's awesome and when you later try to recreate that riff, it really sucks. And then you find the recording of that riff and then you find out that it's just a small detail that made the whole difference. When I eventually sit down in the studio and work, I always have a lot of ideas and a loose idea of where things will end up, but I still try to be open for anything. I spend a lot of time in my studio, partly by myself, or together with someone in the band. They have the same course of action, so when we rehearse, we have lots of concrete stuff, you know.

Tobbe: So how far have you come with your next album?

Niklas: We have no complete songs, but we have started to gather riffs and ideas, so I have lots of stuff already. Usually things come in chunks and some days when I sit down with my guitar, it just comes more, and more, and more, and more, so I just record riff, after riff, after riff, after riff. Our latest record still feels current. I haven't left it yet, you know. I still live with it, but it always comes to a point when you think that you're kind of done with it, and hopefully you have a lot of ideas for a new record then.

Tobbe: About being kind of done with a record. It's probably why most bands tend to play very few songs live off their last record.

Niklas: You know, Legions Of Bastards is really not my… It's the Wolf album I feel the least for actually. I put in every effort I had in it, but at the same time, it was a tough period and the record came out a little stressed in the end. Roy Z was going to produce the album, but then [Rob] Halford called and said he needed him and his services, and then, well you know. [Laughs] [Pelle Saether produced the album.]

Tobbe: What do you do to try to improve all the time? If it's possible.

Niklas: It's always possible. You always get better as a songwriter and I feel that I now have found my home and that the band has found a good way work-wise. You become better at what you do and we have made so many good riffs, so many good songs, so many good titles and so many good lyrics, that we're pleased with, so at the same time, it becomes harder and harder to find new things. We feel that we don't have to be innovatory and come out with a new image every time and a completely new sound and offer the world something they have never heard before. We're more a band that feels that this is right for us and we want to maintain this tradition. We want to take it one step farther, but at the same time, we have realized that we have already found our thing.

Tobbe: Have you set any long-term goals for the band?

Niklas: It has kind of come to a point where you take one day at a time, or one record at a time. We don't see the end of it, like "We'll do this for 5 years more and then we'll see.". You don't see the end of it that way. We have done so many things that we're happy with and the older you get, the more complicated life gets. It depends a little on what happens in life. Earlier, I would have said that we would be doing exactly this in 20 years, but we've been around for so long, so we don't know what will happen in 20 years. We can't promise that we will be around forever and that we will release record after record after record.

Tobbe: What were your thoughts 20 years ago? Although your first album came out 15 years ago. You know, with goals and stuff.

Niklas: Oh. We were young and naïve and didn't know how the music industry worked and the industry was in the middle of a radical change in that period. We started the band 20 years ago and we're celebrating that anniversary. When the first album came out, we believed in everything the record labels said. We thought that they would work hard for you and we thought that as soon as you got signed, everything will be fine and tours would come and the records would sell.

We didn't understand how much extremely hard work it takes. Nowadays you rather have to master marketing and it's a great benefit if you have your own studio and if you can produce. Both Simon [Johansson, guitar] and I produce things. No one was whatsoever thinking about social media back then. When we started the band and changed the name to Wolf after a while, no one was thinking of that people would be googling our name. Google Wolf now and you will get a billion hits of crap.

Tobbe: What do you see as Wolf's strongest asset?

Niklas: I think it's the songs really. We have always put in much effort into the songwriting. Out of everything we've done, we've always put most of our efforts into the actual songwriting. You know, if you don't have good songs, in our world, you don't have much more than an empty shell. Maybe you are able to come out with a new sound and people think it's really cool, and maybe you have a great singer that is able to sing 55 octaves and a guitar hero that can play 3000 notes per minute, but if you don't have good songs, it's like a house of cards falling apart. Also we started this because we loved the music so much and not because we wanted to get famous, you know. I have always liked music since I was young and my old man plays too, but I remember the first time I heard [Iron] Maiden on our schoolyard and instantly knew that that was something I wanted to have.

Tobbe: As you said, you started the band and released your first record in a time where the music industry was changing, so what about downloading; does that issue affect a band of your size?

Niklas: Yes. Every band is affected by it in some way, but everyone has come to a point where you have stopped being annoyed by it and you realize that people want to have music and if something has once become free of charge, no one wants to pay for it again. We make our money on other stuff, you know. We build our band name and people who are our fans like what we stand for as well. We have an absinthe in our name. We since recently have an ale too, in which we took part in the process of development for, and that we're really proud of.

Things like that and you're trying to make the best videos possible and get them out via social media. I remember a breakpoint when they stopped showing videos on TV and our bassist back then said "There's no point in making a video, because it won't be shown on MTV anyway.", but internet was really getting started and nowadays you must be really stupid to not make a good video, because it can really reach a lot of people.

Tobbe: Absolutely. Look at the kids today. They're like constantly watching videos and stuff on their cell phones, so it seems to be an important factor.

Niklas: Yeah, you know, people share stuff. A thing you don't think much of can eventually become a real hit, you know. Sure, maybe you don't earn so much money on it, because it's still tough to make money, but you have to try to be a little creative and we're trying to play live as much as possible, because people still want that. Even there I have noticed a difference, as people are starting to get more comfortable and seem to stay at home more often. People aren't really like when we grew up, when there were only a couple of channels available on TV and you were out a lot more. Also on the live side, it's starting to get tougher for bands. You still sell more concert tickets than records though

Tobbe: No matter how you twist and turn things, it always comes down to money. No matter what kind of movement you have, a band, a club, whatever, you have to have the economy for it.

Niklas: When we first started, we thought of nothing but the music. We never thought about the business side of things, but now we have been forced to think of the business too, because otherwise we can't afford to continue with this. My wife is sitting here right next to me and we have 2 kids together. We have a baby-sitter at home now, so that my wife, for once, is able to tag along and we have to work all the time to support our family. We can't run around and pretend to be rock stars for free, just because people want to see us, you know. It's impossible and you have to bring food to the table. We have to set boundaries and surely you make a lot of more money on certain gigs.

Tobbe: You are undeniably the leader of this 4-piece and how much do you personally do of all work of a total 100 percent?

Niklas: I would say 25 at this point actually.

Tobbe: If you take songwriting into account as well?

Niklas: Everyone in the band writes, but I'm the most driven songwriter and the one that puts together the songs and writes the lyrics. I'm the band's heart in the songwriting process. Our drummer [Richard Holmgren] does the economics. Simon does an incredible work. He has a sick amount of practical work and he probably puts down more time in the band than I do. I feel that the less practical work I have to do, the better the songs will become. Everyone puts down a lot of time in this. We have split up the work between us. Anders and Richard work with the merchandise. Richard is doing the economics. Simon does a lot of the practical. He and I do social medias together, but he is the one who is more driven. He's the one that edits our videos and he does most of the graphic work by himself. And everyone contributes to the music as well.

Tobbe: If you do something you enjoy, it's easier to work of course.

Niklas: There was a period earlier when band member after band member left the band. Eventually it felt like I did everything personally and I also had a full-time job and I was starting to have a family. I wanted to do everything, no question about it, but in the end I totally hit the wall and we had to change the way we worked. Some bands have one guy who is the band and who is writing the songs and does everything and the rest of the guys are more or less paid musicians. I know many bands like that, but we have done the opposite and have split up the work in terms of what we're good at.

Tobbe: It's probably a wise choice in a longer perspective.

Niklas: I believe so. It's what we decided and now we have a lineup that actually feels really solid and will do this for a long time. You never know what will happen of course and things happen in our lives, but this is what we've done. I wouldn't say that we're a democracy, because if you start to vote about things, at least if it comes to the creative side, something is probably wrong. Usually we all strive towards the same goal and have the same intentions. The practical side is more democratic. I see myself as the band's artistic leader, more than the band leader I was before. My thing is art and the less I have to do something else, the more creative I am and everyone can benefit from that.

Tobbe: How do you look at the future of heavy metal on the whole? Is it dark… [or is the future bright?]

Niklas: [Answers before I get to finish my question.] Absolutely not. It was rather the 90's, when we started, that was dark. The bands that I liked, like Maiden, weren't even good during that period. Judas Priest was also rather shabby for a while. The 90's was a dark period both for metal and in my life. I was just lost during the 90's. I still listened to the Maiden records at parties and people told me that I was embarrassing and told me to turn it off. You know, when grunge arrived, which my wife, who is 4 years younger than I, like. I never felt comfortable with that and that whole era was just a time when metal lost its identity.

Nowadays I see things brighter, you know, and now it more spans over all generations. We have people from 12 to 70 coming to our gigs. Nowadays you're not seen as a rebel just because you like heavy metal. You know, I remember that the teachers were warning us, like "Have you read the lyrics to those songs?". And Siewert Öholm [Former Swedish TV host] was on TV and did as he pleased and no one stopped the fucker. Regrettably some of that is gone, but on the other hand it's much bigger and more accepted. If you study at the university, you can see a professor wearing a Maiden shirt. Many students and some scientists wear metal attributes and many heavy metallers on the gigs dress like regular people. This makes me optimistic, since the music comes first. What you look like isn't that important.

Tobbe: What's the toughest thing with combining your family life with the band? Both sides are obviously eager for your time.

Niklas: It's hard. It's give and take all the time. It's really hard, because when you enter a creative period, you become a little narrow. Just ask my wife what it is like to live with me at that point. But I guess it's like that for most songwriters or authors during that period. You set up goals and you work, work, work, but when you have kids, things happen all the time and also my wife is working shifts. You have to set up goals and your family has to back you up. When you have entered your 30's, you don't have the superpowers of youth left. Just to combine your work with something you're passionate about and puts a lot of time in is hard enough as it is.

Then add family and kids and a house. It's tough, but at the same time, as long as I know that we have done the best we could and that we have put in every effort possible to a record, I never feel dissatisfied. If I however start to get sloppy and really don't care about the result, I would really feel like a complete failure. I'm not that kind of person however, but if this would happen, which it won't, I would stop doing this. I don't want to become a has-been living on old achievements and who starts to compromise with the quality of the music, because then you're gone, you know.

Tobbe: If it's true, why is Wolf the best band in the world?

Niklas: [Laughs] Because we're the most metallic band in the world. It's either us or RAM. RAM is probably the only band who is more metal than Wolf actually. We're also amongst the most persevering bands that has ever come out of this country, I reckon.

Tobbe: What about your voice? Do you practice a lot or do you just take it for what it is?

Niklas: My voice is really weird. Since I have my personal expression, you can't mistake it for someone else's, because my voice is really nuts. You instantly hear that it's me singing. I can't do anything else with it and my voice and personality run through everything I do song-wise, for better or worse. I can't sing like a standard metal vocalist. It doesn't work for me, because I don't have that voice, but on the other hand, no one sings like me. Either you like it or not. We benefit from it, because it puts a recognizable sound to the band's music. It's something I've worked with as well and I've taken song lessons. I have found my own expression and I know what I want with my voice. In the beginning I didn't know how to preserve my voice for a full tour and how to hit all the tones for a full concert. It's still something I regularly work with.

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