February 9, 2015 Interview – Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity
Over the course of the past two decades, Melodic Death Metal has been dominated by Northern Europe with a bushel of talented bands. Coming from the confines of Scandinavian country Sweden, Dark Tranquillity began their musical journey back in 1989, traveling on a unique path to the top of what became known as the Gothenburg scene. While crafting a sound fierce with blistering fast guitar melodies and unhinged vocals, this band distinguished themselves early in their career with a interjection of Synth elements and expanded singing, thus dinshuighing themselves in an extradionary way. Twenty-five years later, Dark Tranquillity continue in a quest for progression as they write new material and tour around the world. Recently we caught up with lead vocalist and lyricist Mikael Stanne for a personal look into the history of the band, their future, love for Horror movies, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – Dark Tranquillity has sustained quite a career, with ten full-length records over the course of two decades, heavy international touring, and building a name as the premier Melodic Death Metal act out. Tell us what has the ride been like for yourself.
Mikael Stanne – Yeah, I guess we have! For us, it is an ongoing kind of thing. When we started this out when we were just kids. We decided to start a band and do music that we felt no one else was doing at the time. Now, here we are, twenty five years later.
CrypticRock.com – It really is unbelievable. It has been a great run for the band. Dark Tranquillity is one of the founders of the Swedish Melodic Death Metal scene that has really blossomed over the years and spawned a lot of bands that are popular today. Many agree that the band is one of the key influences for the popular Metalcore scene.
Mikael Stanne – Yes, we were noticing that a couple of years ago. All of these new bands were taking influence from us. We thought that is weird, but it is also cool. There was a lot of imitation going on, or I felt some bands were not being original enough. They were just trying to redo what other bands had done before. I did not really like that. When these different bands came up, where they drew inspiration from stuff that we did and inspiration from other kinds of music and then came up with something that was new and original, that is when I felt it was cool. We realized that, “Wow, we actually influenced these other bands. That is fantastic!” Of course, that is exactly how we started out; we took elements of our favorite genres, which was Thrash, Speed Metal, and American Death Metal. We made something out of that. I always considered that to be fantastic and a great compliment, whenever we get cited as an influence to any band.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great honor to show that you have influenced other musicians. Like you said, when you started out you were influenced by others as well. As bands grow, they learn to take their own steps to be original. At first, some bands are just copying others, as you mentioned.
Mikael Stanne – Yes, we like to encourage friends in bands and new bands to try to do the original thing instead of copying others and take some time to find your own style before you start releasing albums. That is what we did.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly. Dark Tranquillity sound has always been very distinctive to others in the genre. There has been a lot of experimentation with darker electronic sounds and even with your voice of the course of the years. Perhaps a turning point in the band’s sound came with The Projector album in 1999, where your singing voice is clean and melancholy at times. What inspired that progression?
Mikael Stanne – That album was a reaction to what we had done before. We felt that we had taken this Death Metal thing as far as we could, in terms of aggressiveness, melody, and speed. We were coming back after long tours, and we felt, “Let’s just do something different.” We had been doing that for a long time. People were talking about this was a the Gothenburg scene and Gothenburg sound. We were being lumped together with our friends in the other bands in Gothenburg. We thought, “Hey, this is so unfair!” All of us were trying to be so different from each other, so why were we staying all the same?” We decided to take a break from all that and do something totally new, see what we could come up with. We tried to go as far away from it as possible. Of course, there is only so much you can do with what you grew up with and what you like. We are a five piece band, we all have our say for what ends up on an album. We were just trying to get away from ourselves. We were also trying to incorporate some of the Pop and Synth elements that we grew listening to as well, not only the Metal parts.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, that was really a turning point for the band for a new era of the band. The band has kept a very delicate balance of style with each record you guys have put out. You latest record, Construct, was released in 2013. Speaking of darker material, this was one of the darkest albums the band has produced. Looking back on the record two years since its release, how does it hold up to the band’s personal standards?
Mikael Stanne – It came out of a really dark time in the band. We were all struggling individually and also a band in many ways. It felt like the album that we needed to put out. It took a long time to get it out of our system, but I think it worked really well. I really love it now and I am so happy that those days are behind us. The times on that we play that album are behind me as well. It is a great release that we perform these songs every night. It has been the longest touring cycle that, I think, we have ever done. We are going on two and a half years now, one hundred and sixty shows, or something like that. It has been pretty crazy, but it has been amazing. The support and appreciation for the album has been amazing. The stuff that we have seen and the fact that we can get away with playing these songs every night is a great testament to the success of the album.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is and history will show that as time goes on. It is so hard to put a time table on creating art. Dark Tranquillity has been extremely consistent with never more than a three year gap between original material. Is the band currently working on some new material, and if so, what are the songs looking like thus far?
Mikael Stanne – Well, we have not done anything new so far, as for songs, just yet. We have tons of material that we have been gathering and written, so we just need to sit down and start working on it. We will as soon as we get home from the last leg of the Construct Tour. Then we can really get into writing mode again, which is something we all look forward to.
CrypticRock.com – As a writer, do you find it most comfortable writing at home? Is it more difficult writing on the road? Different people have different techniques.
Mikael Stanne – We have never written on the tour. It is always stressful. It is all about the show, the performance, stuff like that. The creative part, you do at home. The performance part, you do on the road. Of course, I gather a lot of experience form the road. I do get to write some of it down, put notes here and there, to make sure I do not forget anything. I really like to write about my experiences when I get home, for the songs, especially.
CrypticRock.com – The band is currently completed a month long North American tour with Insomnium. That was a perfect pairing. How did the tour go?
Mikael Stanne – Oh, it was amazing and a great time. We have just been so grateful and feeling really good about this one. It is a perfect way to go out.
CrypticRock.com – As you have mentioned, this has been a pretty long stretch of touring for the band. This is the second time you have been to North America. How do you keep yourself healthy while you are on the road?
Mikael Stanne – It is really hard, actually. When we are home, it does not get any easier either. The most important part is that you remain calm. It is really stressful. You stress before the show, then you get euphoric during the show, and you try to relax afterwards. Sleep becomes and issue, sometimes you end up sleeping all day, then doing the show, staying up all night, partying, then going back to sleep. It can be very unhealthy. We talk about how to change that up. Touring in the winter is tough too, since it gets dark so early in Europe. You end up not seeing the light at all for days at a time, which is not a good thing. We try to get up and do long walks, see the city, do a bit of sightseeing, do a bit of beer hunting, and try to eat semi-healthy. You can definitely get good food anywhere here in the States. It all comes down to not over drinking and trying to get some good sleep.
CrypticRock.com – Being on the road can be stressful. It is definitely something you have to take in small dosages and enjoy it whenever you can.
Mikael Stanne – Well, moderation is not really our strong point (laughs), but we try as we mature and get older.
CrypticRock.com – (laughs) Right. Now your lyrics are always extremely thought provoking and allow the listener to think introspectively about themselves and the world around them. How important is it for you to stimulate your audience with the lyrics? Do you find it to be a therapeutic release?
Mikael Stanne – I very rarely think about who is listening. I write things for myself and for the song. Something that heartfelt and I can get emotional over the song, that is when I start writing lyrics. I really want something to accompany the mood of the song. Sometimes I feel very strongly about things, particularly personal things, or issues that I feel strongly about that I want to project in the song. It is not about reaching out to people, or communicating even. I am just… screaming, and if you choose to listen to it or read, then that is great. I like to just perform it and sing it so I feel better about it. Sometimes, of course, when you manage to connect with an audience or certain members of the crowd, then that is the best feeling in the world. I never think about that when I write, or who is going to be singing along with it or who is going to be listening to it.
CrypticRock.com – That makes perfect sense. That is when it comes from the heart, is honest, and sincere. What are some of your musical influences?
Mikael Stanne – I got into Extreme Technical Death Metal in the early ’80s, that is what I really loved, like Atheist, Kreator, and Destruction. In my early twenties, I really got into Progressive Rock from the ’60s and ’70s. That has been a passion of mine. Nowadays, I will try anything Experimental; a lot of Doom and Sludge has been in my ears lately. Anything that is challenging or different from the norm will inspire me and make me want to go back and is what listen to now.
CrypticRock.com – You certainly have very open mind and a diverse taste in music. That is very important and a lot of musicians are like that.
Mikael Stanne – I think you have to be. It is one thing to be a music listener and just like what you hear. When you are writing, or you have been a musician for awhile, you can really appreciate any genre. You can get something out of it, at least.
CrypticRock.com – One hundred percent agreed there. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror films. If you are a fan of Horror films, what are some of your favorites?
Mikael Stanne – Oh yeah! I grew up on Horror movies and I love them. Nowadays, I am kind of falling out of it, spending time with the family at home and I do not really have time to watch Horror movies the way they are suppose to be viewed. I grew up on Italian Horror movies like Argento, Fulci, that kind of stuff. Those are the ones that really made it for me. That was the stuff that I really loved. So those are the ones that I go back to when I need a Horror experience. There is something about the music. There is something about the atmosphere. There is something about the Giallo style of Horror that freaked me out as a kid and really made me into a super fan when I got older. Those movies I always have to go back to and listen to the soundtracks.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, You are talking about Argento movies and you are talking about Goblin, the band that did most of the music. There is some fantastic music in Suspiria (1977). It does create a very vivid atmosphere.
Mikael Stanne – Absolutely! In a few month’s time, I am going to see them perform Demons (1985) and Suspiria live, with the movie playing in the background. I cannot wait! It is going to be awesome.
CrypticRock.com – You speak of these older films from the ’70s and ’80s like Demons and those type of movies. They had a certain atmosphere about them. It seems like that feeling has been lost in modern Horror films. Yes, there are a lot of good Independent movies nowadays, but a lot of the more mainstream films have lost that atmosphere. What do you think about that?
Mikael Stanne – Yeah, I think so, because you had to rely on other things back then because you did not have the money and you did not have the special effects, so you had to build the creepy atmosphere out of nothing. Now, you can do pretty much anything, but it is not as scary anymore. Now it is just shock value and you can go over the top. I think, at least with Sweden in the ’80s, censorship was big. All of the movies were censored, but they were much more secretive. You did not get to see the uncensored version until like five years later. Iust knowing that this was actually much scarier, but you could not see it, that just freaked you out even more. But now, everything is uncensored, nothing is sacred, it takes some of the fun out of it.
CrypticRock.com – Yes in Sweden, and even in Finland and some other countries, a lot of these movies like The Evil Dead (1981) were banned. So you had to do a lot of video tape trading with friends.
Mikael Stanne – Yeah, that is what I did. Poland never had any censorship, I always got my tapes from there.
CrypticRock.com – One would imagine, with all of the transfers, the video was even more dirty, as far as the picture, so that gave it even more of an atmosphere.
Mikael Stanne – Absolutely, yeah! Because sometimes you could tell what was there on the screen and sometimes you could not. That made it even scarier because your imagination does a lot of work.