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Interview conducted March 5 2022
Interview published March 22 2022

"Inspiration is amazing when it happens, but inspiration is also for amateurs."

Swedish heavy metallers Wolf put out their new record Shadowland on April 1st. In early March the band played live in Stockholm for the first time in years and Metal Covenant captured this fortunate opportunity to talk with guitarist, vocalist and main man Niklas Stålvind.

An interview with bass player Pontus Egberg was published on March 12th.

Band lineup:
Niklas Stålvind - guitars, vocals
Simon Johansson - guitars
Johan Koleberg - drums
Pontus Egberg - bass

Tobbe: A new record, Shadowland, is out on April 1st. Tell me a little bit about it.

Niklas: Well, it honestly feels really good, I must say. A new band, and this time the entire new lineup has been around for the whole process of the album. The last album, Feeding The Machine, was very personal and very dark, both because of what happened around the world, as well as that I used it as a long therapy session for things I had to deal with.

So it was three years of therapy when I did that record. But this record is more, like, I just wanted to write songs, just for the joy of music. This record contains more, well, how shall I put it, mystique, like more looking out at space and looking into your soul.

Tobbe: Your music has, naturally, developed during all these albums over all these years. It's recognizable, yet I think that the most recognizable factor of Wolf is actually your voice. That's how I see it anyway.

Niklas: Well, I guess I think so too. If I think as a musician, my rhythm guitar playing style, like my way of playing guitar, and Wolf's riffs are also an integral part of the band's sound. But I think that's not what people hear, but it's my voice, and, well, it sounds like it sounds like, and it's not always so easy to work with, but it's very unique anyway. [Laughs]

Tobbe: So, there is a Wolf sound, and by that, do you believe that you have to find yourself inside some sort of frame as you're composing?

Niklas: Well, it's the way it has become, as soon as we had found our way. We started in '95 and then you weren't allowed to play heavy metal. I tried to create something new, but it just sounded awful. So we wrote two songs, In The Shadow Of Steel and Electric Raga, as good old honest heavy metal, and we found out immediately that that was what we would do.

We wanted to play the music we enjoyed, you know, and then it has developed out of that, like from being a band with clear influences of Maiden, Priest and Mercyful Fate to maybe on the fourth album, The Black Flame, where I think we really had found Wolf, you know. And then we have explored further. We have our Wolf sound, and then we have kind of put up rules, but then you explore and in the end you personally feel that you just want to break away from rules like "This is Wolf. This we can't do. We must do it like this.".

The song Shadowland I wrote because I thought that I wanted to do something completely different than Wolf. Because that was in the final stages of the last record and that was a very tough period. Tough recording process, people left the band, new members came in, and even before the record was done I thought "I must do something different. I just have to be creative, write songs, and do something that is not Wolf. I wanna do something more psychedelic, maybe use the Mellotron, and just do things that I can't do with Wolf.".

And so I wrote Shadowland and after that I wrote another three songs. And then we started touring with the new lineup, and the record was out, and everything was just fine. So I showed those four songs to the other guys, and at that point I had started to realize in some way that I had probably written four Wolf songs, and so did they.

I have done the same thing before, like with the song Rasputin, which I wrote for the exact same reason for about 10-12 years ago, when I wanted to do something else than Wolf and maybe start a different project just to creatively break out from the cage which I on my own have built myself into in Wolf.

Obviously I have now fooled myself twice and I don't know what to do the next time. But it has been a good thing thinking about doing something different than Wolf, and then I just do something from my heart, and when you hear the end result, well, then it sounds like Wolf.

Tobbe: I talked to Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth, like, 8 years ago and kind of asked him if he had given any thought to maybe letting his side project Sons Of Liberty sound like something different, and then he told me something like "Well, it's just the way I write songs and no matter which name you put on it, it will come out pretty similar.".

Niklas: Well, that's just what happens, I guess. When we started out I think a lot of people thought that we had come up with some smart idea, that we were gonna do the total opposite of everybody else, and that we were trying to be retro. But it wasn't like that. We just wrote songs, and my ambition has always been, from day one, that Wolf is gonna write good songs, you know.

And our natural way of expression is this type of metal and therefore it doesn't sound contrived. People say, like, "How are you able to sound so fresh when you play such an old style of music?" and I go "Well, that is because we don't do this because it's a wave, and we haven't jumped on a trend, but we are just being ourselves.".

Tobbe: Well, the songs are what's most important.

Niklas: Yes, I like to believe so. Well, I have realized, like, "Maybe I'm wrong?". [Laughs] But in my heart the songs are everything. Without songs you have nothing. You can have an image, or you might have a message, or be a political band, or being good looking, or whatever, but if you don't have the songs then you're around for a short while and then you'll just be soon forgotten.

Tobbe: I just have to say this with a smile. No ballads on Shadowland. How about that!

Niklas: It's actually some kind of rule that we have. It's not natural for us to write ballads. Some buddies say "Can't you participate in Schlagerfestivalen? (The somewhat archaic unofficial name for the domestic Swedish qualifying round for the Eurovision Song Contest)." and I'm like "No, because that just isn't us.".

I don't oppose ballads, but, you know, to write a ballad or to write about love, it just doesn't work for us. I can't stand up and sing that. In the beginning, when we rehearsed, with the original lineup, we used to play covers just to warm up, and sometimes we played Summer Of '69 and we just laughed our asses off. Just imagine how weird that song was with my vocals. It was as wrong as it could possibly be.

Tobbe: It was five and half years between Devil Seed and Feeding The Machine and now it has only been just over two years to Shadowland, which actually is the shortest time ever between two Wolf records. Actually it's just about one week shorter than gap number two on the list, but still.

Niklas: Oh, really? In the beginning we put out records every other year.

Tobbe: I actually had a fact check yesterday, so I'm quite sure, you know. Anyway, what speeded up the process this time, really?

Niklas: It was partly because I wrote those four songs as some kind of do-something-different-process, because that gave us a good start to build on to begin with. And when the pandemic was a fact and we were forced to cancel the tour and go home, we just wanted to make a new record as soon as possible, you know.

Everyone in the band has other jobs and we have families and so, and if we go out playing, then we have a lot of stuff to catch up on when we come home with work and family and stuff, and then on top of that you must find time and peace to write new music, and that's really hard and everything gets kind of chopped up. But now we just did one thing. So we wrote everything, recorded it, and mixed and mastered it during this two year period. It was actually pretty nice, I must say.

Tobbe: But the record was done and delivered quite some time ago, I suspect. I mean, we're not talking about two years, really.

Niklas: No, we're not. We started the recordings around Easter time two years ago and we finished the recordings about six months later. So we kind of did it in phases, but we laid the foundation there. At that point everything was written and then it was just the bling-bling, the details, and the solos, and stuff like that left. It's was nice and I think we got a creative boost by having new members in the band.

Tobbe: I guess you also need that creative boost if considering it has been 23 years since the first album was out and this is the band's ninth album. So you're actually now a veteran in the scene. How do you feel about suddenly being that?

Niklas: Well, it feels weird. In one way it feels like I'm still 23 and, you know, is upon stage for the first time and think it's just amazing. It has never become just a routine, but on the other hand getting inspiration or writing new material is sometimes a challenge.

You know, we don't run down the alley and start writing schlager pop or nu-metal, but we wanna write this kind of music and it is actually quite a narrow path we're on. So it's challenging to find inspiration to new songs without repeating yourself, but thanks to Pontus and Johan coming in, I must say, we got a new injection of energy to the band.

Tobbe: You live in the countryside and might open land and forests inspire you?

Niklas: Well, my studio is an old stable boy cottage that is part of our homestead. That's my writing den. But actually it's like: I go in there, and I get stuck, and then I walk the dog in the forest, and then everything is let out and the ideas just come to me. So it's a lot like that. Or when I'm chopping wood or do something else.

Then I go into the studio and work on it. Inspiration is amazing when it happens, but inspiration is also for amateurs. It doesn't work, you know. Like, "Oh, wait a minute. I don't feel inspired.". It just doesn't work.

Ingmar Bergman once said some great words, which he stole from someone else, "An artist can only be praised for his diligence.". That's what he taught his students, and that's also my own motto, because when something comes to me that I feel is awesome, then I often feel that I can't credit myself for it and that I've come up with it, but it's more that I have been disciplined and then been honest for something that is there and wants to get channeled out.

So you must kind of turn off your head in some way and write music from some place else that is not the intellect. Of course it helps the more musical knowledge you have, and you get experience and learn how to solve things, but somehow the discipline to just do it is what counts.

And it's very tough when nothing good comes out, but then self-discipline is even more important. But suddenly things are coming. It's the same with authors. They can't just sit there and wait for inspiration and it's like "Sit down in front of your typewriter and get started!".

Tobbe: I just have to ask about The Doomsday Kingdom. Is that band still alive?

Niklas: We all think that we should do a second album. The whole band wants to do it. You know, Leif [Edling, bass] was going to do a solo project and then he hired us musicians. Marcus [Jidell, guitars] to do pre-production and Leif came with his songs to Marcus first and then Marcus sent a demo to me with Leif's vocals.

But as we started playing and the songs grew, we all felt, like, "Wow! This feels like a real band!". I asked Leif what to say during interviews and he told me to say that it's a band. But then Candlemass took most of his time again. I have talked a little bit with Leif, but it's all up to him, because it's still he who is the band. Although it feels like a band, Leif writes everything, and he has all the ideas about artwork, and he is actually doing everything. It's the way he works, you know. [Laughs]

Tobbe: And in the mix he threw in some delusions of grandeur too by calling himself The Doomfather.

Niklas: Well, Leif is Leif. But it was really fun to do a project. I have never before experienced that it has been so easy to record an album. The Wolf albums have been monstrous and I have almost hit the wall on close to every album. But with Doomsday Kingdom I had all the material. I got a demo with Leif's somewhat crappy vocals, which was really great for me because I could understand what he was looking for and I was able to have so much more freedom to do my thing, which was what he wanted me to do.

If I would have gotten a demo with a great singer on it, then it would have been harder for me because it would have shown me exactly what I would have to do, you know. So it was a very fun project. We'll see if there will be more. It's up to Leif if he wants to do it.

Tobbe: Might something else come from you someday? And maybe something that wouldn't be considered metal?

Niklas: Well, it could happen. I started writing together with a guy named Ragnar Widerberg. Ragnar and I had about five songs and we were gonna do something that is a little more psychedelic, yet with my vocals so it will sound pretty metal and Wolf, yet not really metal and Wolf, if you know what I mean? So we'll see if we ever will get it together.

I won't do a solo record called Niklas Stålvind, but then I will work with Ragnar or something. He's amazing with coming up with snippets and has ingenious riffs, but he is not a songwriter, and if I hear something then it's easy for me to write songs. We work very well together. And it's really fun too. We will see what might come out.

Tobbe: And what about a side project where you wouldn't personally sing?

Niklas: I would actually think that that would be fun. In the very beginning I was a drummer, although I always felt like a guitarist, really. The reason that I started singing in Wolf was because there weren't any singers around. I prefer either singing, or playing guitar. I still think it's fun to play guitar and to be able to focus on one thing, you know. So I wouldn't have an issue with playing guitar in a band and being the guitar player and not being the frontman, you know. Not at all, really.

Tobbe: It's actually quite difficult to play guitar and sing at the same time.

Niklas: Yes, it's really difficult. Especially with the songs that Wolf has, where, you know, stuff happens, and there are odd beats occasionally, and then you're gonna sing a melody that goes completely against that. Well, it's really messy, you know.

In the beginning I thought that I wasn't gonna be able to pull it off. But then I started doing it, you know. I saw an interview with Geddy Lee and he's a genius and sings, you know, pretty advanced vocals, and he has an extremely advanced bass play, and plays keyboard, and also with his feet. But he said that it doesn't come naturally for him, and he needs to practice and get it together in his head and get everything to function.

And it's the same with me and I have to break it down into components. And when everything finally gets together then you just have to preserve it.

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