» Niclas/Apollo - We Sell The Dead
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Interview conducted February 27 2020
Interview published March 19 2020

"She has no emotions and no preconceptions, but death is a fact and you don't need any prestige really before death."

The Swedish project We Sell The Dead put out their second album Black Sleep on February 21st and exactly 6 days later Metal Covenant met guitarist Niclas Engelin and singer Apollo Papathanasio prior to the band's show in Stockholm.

Tobbe: Your new album Black Sleep was out last week and tell me about it.

Niclas: This one is a band constellation, unlike the first album that was more myself creating music to an animated film, and that thought occurred as we were doing press for the last album [Heaven Doesn't Want You And Hell Is Full, 2018], like "Perhaps we should become a band." or at least we would try a little bit to make music together. I mean, we've known one another for so long, so I knew that that was cool, you know.

So we had some songwriting sessions down at Apollo's in Halmstad and then in Skaraslätten and a few places more and somewhere there the album came into shape to some extent, like "We might go in this direction.". This time it has, you know, morphed to become some kind of classic hard rock with some rock music in it. It has been really fun to record this album, because everyone has been involved. Everyone has had the same goal and vision and therefore it becomes easier if you're going somewhere.

Then we were keen on finding a world pretty quickly, where we would be going, because otherwise it might get too spread out, and in this matter Jonas [Slättung, bass] is great. He is almost poetic with his lyrics and he really enjoys writing. He found this world, Black Sleep, the eternal sleep. Yet, it doesn't have to be about evil, quick death and the end of something, but we could apply this beautiful music that we have created on something that's full of hope, because this music feels very full of hope.

It's a very light album in all the darkness, so Black Sleep could be some kind of hope, and also positive. And from that world we paint pictures, emotions, and in what way we want to be seen as from the outside, and it's much easier to write music to something when you have a benchmark.

(Apollo:) And it's important that all 10 eyes see that benchmark. The whole band, like "Let's do it this way now.", because sometimes only one sees that, 2 eyes, but we displayed it like "This is the horizon and that's where we aim.". (Niclas:) And so much is new to me. I mean, I come from death metal and heavy metal and stuff, you know. With this I have to be careful when I'm recording the guitars, in order to make room for the vocals and make room for the keyboard, like "I don't have to be riffmeister Engelin here. I can take a step back.".

If I go back and listen to my favorite albums like Heaven And Hell and Mob Rules, and Hair Of The Dog by Nazareth, or Rainbow Rising, there is room, you take a step back, and then when it's time you show yourself. I worked a lot with this balance. And I could be doing a solo for 4 hours and "This is gonna be great!", but then the other guys came into the studio and like "No, this won't work Niclas. It's too much heavy metal.". So I had to go back and redo stuff.

Tobbe: Could you guys tell me a little bit about the actual lyrics on the album? Like a little deeper.

Apollo: I mean, I have written lyrics, and Jonas has written lyrics, and then Jonas has modified my lyrics in order to steer them into Black Sleep, which in ways should be filled with positive emotions and feelings.

Niclas says that Jonas is the main lyricist and decides to give the bass player a call.

After some greetings…

Tobbe: What were your thoughts when the lyrics were written and what do you want to say with those words?

Jonas: You know, Apollo and I have been working together on the lyrics, but the basic theme has been that there are so many fears among us humans. Like people fear death for example, or maybe love, and that things just generally should turn out bad. And that fear might stop you from taking the necessary steps to go out and live your life, and that's a shame because we only have one life and it's very important that we are able to get as much as possible out of it. So the intention is to push that way of thinking. We tell, you know, sometimes maybe a little bit darker stories, but our intention is to get some kind of positive energy from it.

Tobbe: From where do you get the ideas to your lyrics?

Jonas: It's alcohol. Liquor. No, just kidding. But it's everything you live through personally. You know, you read stuff, and you hear about people. But of course some stuff also comes from myself.

End of phone call.

Apollo: For example, the song Carved In Stone is about that you have no time to reflect in life and you just go forward. You could almost metaphorically look at it as you drive your car 110-130 mph and everything just passes by. And then we changed that to that we actually sing about death as a she. She has no emotions and no preconceptions, but death is a fact and you don't need any prestige really before death. You don't have to act like you're something else. Just take it easy, death is with you, but when it's time… It's indeed poetically written, so it's difficult to retell, but it's like "Don't think about it. It's there, as a good neighbor, but when it's time it will tell you that it's time.".

Like stuff like "She has no anger, she has no passion.". So definitely no preconceptions and when it's time you get to go across the water, you know. Just tag along, everything is cool, there's another life over there. Across The Water is somewhat the symbolic picture that is the album's motif, but the theme is Black Sleep because it's the album's title track.

Tobbe: When you go from a first album to a second album, is there any pressure, like "Now we must make it and this album must be successful."?

Apollo: Absolutely not. Niclas is our riff master. He makes riffs every day. We're in this hotel now and he has already been fingering on his guitar this morning. It's like "We must use this!" and so we make music from "Who are our influences? What do we like? What do I want to hear?" and then we just record what we ourselves want to hear.

(Niclas:) That's exactly what it's like. I think it's very, very important that we ourselves like this and that we can sit here with you again the next time and stand for what we've done and be proud of it. "What do I feel in my gut and heart?" is very important to all of us, and at the same time knowing that you did your best, like "I gave it 100 percent. I can't do it any better. But I've fucking done this, together with my buddies.". And as long as you have that feeling, I think you should be proud.

(Apollo:) And then you feel no pressure. You become a painter, like "Should we paint this a little bit more? Let's fill that with this color.". (Niclas:) I think I've never, which sounds really weird because I've done so many records and stuff, been so damn picky as I've been on the Black Sleep album. Because most of the time you do your meaty riffs, go for it, and then make a song, and it becomes death metal out of everything, or whatever you're doing, like melodic death metal. But with this there are so many other parameters that you have to keep in mind.

I mean, listen to a song like Tom Petty's Free Fallin'. I've heard that one since it became a hit on MTV. But if you just sit down and listen to it, it's pretty ingenious. The actual arrangement, the sound, and how everything matches. It's so much. Right there, I went into Black Sleep, like "The sound isn't right." and "But you have recorded this guitar on 3 songs." and "Well. I have to redo it. I just have to.".

Tobbe: Isn't there a fine line when to finish a song? That you won't go on for an eternity.

Niclas: Well, I think there is a limit. You just know. Like, when Apollo did the song Hour Of The Wolf. He was laying down vocals for 12 hours. (Apollo:) I started with another song first, from maybe 1 o'clock in the afternoon and at around 4.30 I was done with that one. So I thought "Well, I can start working on Hour Of The Wolf now.". I noticed that my voice started to… You know, I just redid stuff and tried out stuff. And when I was almost done… Well, right before that I passed out. When I woke up the time was 15 minutes past midnight. I hadn't eaten anything, I hadn't taken notice of time or anything, but I just woke up and didn't know where I was.

So I played the song, like, to listen to "What have I done? What has happened?" and everything was done, but I had lost 30 minutes somewhere, where I just passed out. I was just so gone. When I got out of there I didn't know if I had driven my car to the studio, or if I rode my bicycle, or by walking. I had no idea. So I had to look, "Is my car here? My bicycle? No. How the hell did I get here?". So I started walking, and tried to clear my mind. It was really weird.

And the Hour Of The Wolf song is a little bit about, like, when midnight comes all the odd people go out. You know, it's just creatures and everyone that belongs to each other come out, and then they hide during the day. It ended up a cool thing, even though it was tough to pass out.

Tobbe: And the drummer change. Tell me about it.

Niclas: It was pretty unfortunate and natural, but it turned out well. Gas [Lipstick] is an awesome human being and an awesome drummer and just great to hang around with. But his wife got critically ill and he got afraid. She is from Croatia and the whole family moved there. So it was family first for him, and for all of us. And that's just how it is, you know.

We had started working on the Black Sleep album. He's such an incredible drummer and he had done most of the drum arrangements. And then Oscar [Nilsson] has Oscarfied them, so to speak. And to bring in Oscar was very natural, and we didn't give a single thought about someone else. I work with him in other projects and it's a great dude and he gets along great with our group.

Tobbe: Niclas. What's the status of your own band Engel, and the project Drömriket, right now?

Niclas: We actually have a whole record done with Drömriket, but Adde [Andreasson, drums] has Hardcore Superstar and Ralf [Gyllenhammar, vocals] has Mustasch, you know, so… And Engel, we probably have a little break now. You know, Marcus [Sunesson, guitar] is playing with CyHra at the moment. We've been playing with Engel for many years, so I think it feels nice to do something else as well. We're very good friends and we keep in touch.

A really great thing when you play in a band… You know, I come from sports associations, like football [soccer], floorball and hockey and everything, and when you're playing in a band you're playing in a team, I think. You have to play as a team and no one means less than another. That's the way it is. You know, you must play together. I can't play something that Apollo doesn't follow. Or vice versa, you know. That would be insane. So that means a lot to me.

And also to play with great guys. I can call anyone at any time, like "Listen to this riff! Have you listened to the sound of this guitar box?". The place where we record, Crehate studios, has almost become like a collective where we work together.

Tobbe: And Apollo. Gathering Of Kings and Spiritual Beggars, for example. What's your status right now in those projects.

Niclas: Well, there's a lot of people in Gathering Of Kings. It started with 25 people, or something like that, but the idea is that we are going to be 5 singers, 2 drummers, guitarist and songwriter. So you have a core, and I'm in that core too, and then you bring people in for live sessions. What's great about this, just like Niclas said, is that you must be a team, because there are so many people involved. When we play live we're at least 12 people on site. It's great fun.

And what's cool is that sometimes I just sing one song, go out, and then I'm done. I don't feel like I have to move the band forward, but I can take a step back. You know, with We Sell The Dead I must do my thing. Everyone does his thing on stage. But with Gathering Of Kings it's laid back, I sing, step aside, and then the next one is up. We don't play so much live, but we are very selective. We get requests from major companies, but we only say yes when it pays off, because we're so many, you know. So it has turned into a project that is quite sought after, both abroad and in Sweden.

And Spiritual Beggars: We only do that when there's room and time, because the other guys spend a lot of time with Kamchatka, Arch Enemy, Grand Magus, you know. So we do that when it feels right.

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