Dark Tranquillity are currently gearing up to release their 13th album, Atoma. A few days ago, the singer of the band, Mikael, gave me a call to chat about both the new album and the history surrounding the band. As you may notice, he doesn’t hold back and gives some rather in depth and interesting answers.
My hugest thanks to Nina at the Noise Cartel for organising and to Mikael for his time.
Hi there! How you doing?
Doing good thanks! How are you doing?
Pretty good. Been very busy recently though with lots of rehearsals, interview for radio and things. But it’s been fun!
Awesome! Now, you’re currently gearing up to release your new album, Atoma. How do you feel the response has been to the songs released so far?
Oh it’s been great! There’s only been one released so far and I think the next one is going to be released on Friday (link here). We have another song, with a proper music video coming out in around two weeks time. It’s kind of a different song so it’ll be interesting to see what people think. But no, so far the response has been incredible. It blew our minds actually as we didn’t know what to expect.
The albums still kinda fresh in our ears, we only finished it a couple of weeks ago. We haven’t even had chance to sit down to listen and reflect on it yet. I’ve played the album to a couple of friends and read some of early reviews and I honestly can’t complain!
I’ve personally be fortunate enough to hear it and I’m honestly very impressed by it.
Oh thanks man! That means a lot. And what a year it’s been for albums! It’s shaping up to be one of my favourite years for albums!
That’s very true! Now, in comparison to the previous album, how different was the process behind this album?
On a technical level, it was pretty much the same as last time but obviously we’ve learned a lot since last time. We wrote and recorded the album kinda similarly but way more efficiently this time around. Martin Brändström our keyboard player runs a studio and that’s where we record our albums. It’s a fantastic studio that just keeps getting better. We keep improving small things that we think is needed but more than anything it’s a really creative and relaxing atmosphere.
We started way earlier this time around as well. By the end of last year we had like 20 songs laid out and we went through them and tweaked all of them to make sure they were as good as they can. You know, every song had a purpose and needed to be there. Then, Niklas and Martin wrote some more songs that we then eventually distilled it all down into 12 songs that we felt most strongly about. As tough as that sometime is it was actually kinda easy as those 12 spoke to us and had the impact we wanted. And then it was just a matter of getting it right and making sure we came at it from a different angle.
It was a long and hard process you know. We lost a lot of sleep and spent way to many days in a windowless studio in the middle of summer, which probably wasn’t healthy! It definitely doesn’t get any easier when it comes to writing albums, it just gets harder and harder. But the reward was so much greater once we realised that we were onto something and once it was finished it was one of those moments where we were like “Fuck, we did it!”
You have your moments where you doubt yourself so much and you doubt everything you do. I get sick of myself sometimes and end up hating myself so much because I’m doing it day in day out. You eventually get over that and start feeling good about yourself and can press on with the recording. Anyone who’s done anything creative knows the feeling.
But no, it was the hardest album to write, at least for me.
You also recently announced that Anders Iwers has joined that band on bass. What’s it been like playing and recording with him?
It’s been great! He’s one of our oldest friends and we pretty much grew up together. We played together when we were 17 but his path has been a little bit different. We’ve been in the same city when he’s played with some other bands but we’ve never done anything seriously together.
We started talking when Daniel left the band like three years ago. We asked him if he was interested but he was super busy. We decided to hold out for him, as we would have loved for him to try. He eventually was like “Sure why not!” and he played a couple of shows with us. They went fantastically but even then we weren’t sure if he was able to commit to being a full-time touring musician. It took some time before he felt comfortable and we were like “Take it slow and don’t rush”. Eventually he was like “This is awesome” and we felt really good about it. He played fantastically on the album and we figured we might as well take it all the way. Sharing the stage every night one of my best friends is a dream come true really and I couldn’t be happier.
It’s always best when you bring in someone you know rather than someone new.
Yeah of course! I mean obviously we grew up together in the band so it’s obviously hard to bring someone new into that dynamic. So whenever we need someone to fill in we always try and get someone we know very well.
Now, as well as the new album you’ve got a US tour lined up. Are you looking forward to that?
A lot, it’s going to be awesome! It’s been a couple of years since we’ve been in the states and we’ve just started rehearsing some of the new songs and it’s a killer set-list. It’s going to be fantastic and I cannot wait! It’s kinda cool that we’re starting the tour on the day the album is released so everyone kinda gets to hear it at the same time. It’s a good package as well, Swallow the Sun and Enforcer are great bands.
Certainly seems as though Enforcer are keeping busy. I saw them last night with Destruction.
Oh wow! I’ve seen Destruction many many times this summer. And yes, they’re a hard working band so it’s going to be interesting. I’ve never met them before so I’m looking forward to it.
Going back a bit, when the band first got together, did you ever think you would become the vocalist?
I don’t know, maybe I always wanted it but I don’t really remember. I know that I wanted to sing more than I wanted play guitar. I was writing all the lyrics back when Anders [Fridén] was in the band and I kinda wanted that more. After we went separate ways after the first album, I said to the guys “I’ll be ok with singing”. And they were like “You can’t sing and play guitar though!”. To which I said ‘Yes, but we can find a better guitarist than me.” And they were like “alright, let’s try that.” I was really happy, as I didn’t have to bother with the guitar anymore.
Keeping around the same period, the band used to have the name Septic Broiler. What made you decide to settle on the name Dark Tranquillity?
We kinda started out as a joke. We were only 14 and we wanted to play music together and have fun. We didn’t have anything else to do aside from just sitting around listening to music and telling stupid jokes. So eventually when we started playing, we figured that we were not serious yet and just decided to write some silly songs and had fun with it. Once we realized that we could put a song together and it started sounding the way we envisaged the way we wanted our sound to be, we decided to kinda take it seriously.
The first song we wrote was called “Void Of Tranquillity” and we were really happy with it. We were like “Wow this is cool” you know, we finally wrote a serious song that we were incredibly proud of. And we figured that it should be our band name, and I remember drawing a logo for it and thinking it was awesome. Then some of our friends were like, “Maybe Dark Tranquillity sounds better. Void is a little bit obscure and no one really understands what it means”. And we figured that it would probably work better so we went with that. It was as simple as that really.
I’ve always said that it means like “the place where inspiration comes from. Like the dark tranquil place where something comes out of nothing.”
Getting back onto the new album now, there are 2 bonus tracks in the special edition. What made you decide to have them as bonus tracks and not actual tracks on the album?
As we were writing the album, we wanted to focus on 12 songs and get them as good as we can. So we recorded those 12 songs but we also had some songs that were left off and 2 of them really stuck out as being different and cool. I was really happy with what I did for them and I was like “Oh man. I want to do something with these”. So we figured that if we have time then we’ll record those songs as well. We’d already recorded some of the drums during the drum sessions so we kinda had that. But after that, we didn’t really know what to do. We were incredibly burnt out from being in the studio for nearly 3 months.
The studio that we record in is part of a studio complex made up of 3 or 4 studios. Right next to us on the other side of the wall there’s this crazy guy that does weird indie stuff. It’s always great to pop your head into his studio and see all the really old and vintage analogue equipment, which looks really cool. Everything he’s done always sounds really cool but we’ve never thought it would fit for us.
However, with these songs we asked him if he would be interested in producing these songs. We’ve never used a producer before and we always recorded the stuff ourselves. We then normally send the stuff off to someone to mix and master it. But he really liked these songs and we figured that if it didn’t work out then we don’t release it.
So there was really no pressure with it. We knew the songs were strong and that we didn’t have to worry about it. It was really nice to do it that way as it took the pressure off and there was no real responsibility any more. Since we’d been under a lot of stress and pressure during the recording of the other songs, this was just a relief to do. So we had a blast for 3 days recording this and he turned our studio into a retro museum with all the old gear!
We recorded the guitars through old tape decks. It was kinda crazy but it turned out great. I love those songs but they don’t really work with the rest of the album. So we decided to have them as a separate disc just for the collectors. It’s going to be hard to get those songs but if people still care about the physical products then they’ll get those songs.
You might have spoken about this earlier, but did you feel slightly apprehensive when you writing lyrics for this new album?
Oh yeah! How do you move on without repeating yourself and how do you come up with something that you feel strongly about? I mean, I can write stuff all day but it still has to feel a little bit new. It’s very easy to write about the same old things and use the same old phrasing and verbs. The hardest part for me is coming up with something that feels new. The emotions are there and I know exactly what I want to say, but getting it out in a way that isn’t simplistic or contrived is the hard part. Especially when working so intensively like the writing of this album was, you’re never not working on the songs.
Your social life ends up being non-existent and your sleep is gone and it becomes so intense. However, when you’re under all that stress you do get some of your best work come out of you. So it’s kind of a necessary evil!
You’ve been performing in bands now for the best part of 27 years. What would you say are the pros and cons of touring life?
Well, the obvious cons are being away from home. It get’s increasingly difficult even though it’s something your used to. I don’t like the travelling, especially the weekend or two three day things for festival in Europe. You loose a lot of sleep and it’s not great.
But, the obvious positive is the traveling! You get to places that you’ve never been before and you get meet loads of awesome people. For me, touring is the reward for all the hard work you do when you write and record and all the stuff you went through as a kid to make this happen. The connection you get when you’re on stage as well is amazing. You have like, an amazing moment with the people who are there and are so into it. That trumps everything I think. That feeling you get on stage where there’s that vibe where everything just works. Then you forget the other 23 hours in the day and it makes it all worth it.
And of course, all the amazing friends I’ve met over the years and all the bands I’ve hung out with and watched. Getting to travel the world with your friends is great as well. I think that’s the best part. It’s just a matter of making it work really. We never tour longer than 6 weeks, as it’s just not healthy for anything. We also try and work as much as possible when we’re on tour and away from home. I don’t want to leave my family and go on a semi vacation. I’d rather work every day and play a show every night and get to spend more time with my family at home. It’s still a learning process though!
Coming out the end now, my final question for you is what advice would you give to a new and upcoming band?
Stay in the rehearsal room another year and give it more time. What I’m seeing is a lot of bands that can’t wait to get out there and just play shows and release stuff. I mean it is so exciting but finding your own sound is very important. I mean it may seem cool to sound like some of our inspirations, but finding your own sound is the key to longevity. More people will notice you as well and also make sure you can play!
Get a tight unit as well and then start recording and playing shows. So many bands sound the same these days so you need originality to stand out these days.
Thank you very much for your time today Mikael. It was a joy to chat with you!
Thanks man! Hopefully see you on tour soon!
Atoma is released on November 4th via Century Media Records.