Dark, gothic, black metal sounds are a tough sell in the USA. It has taken Sweden's Tiamat 10 albums and countless tours to convey their message to the European countries, and now their newest release Prey is receiving a lot of attention in the USA. In a transatlantic phone call Sea Of Tranquility's Duncan Glenday recently spoke with Anders Iwers, Tiamat's bass player, and discussed the latest album.
Duncan Glenday, Sea Of Tranquility : Anders, Where are you?
Anders Iwers, Tiamat : I'm in Gothenburg, Sweden
SOT : We always think of Sweden as being this cold, snowy place how is it today?
AI : It's About 4° below 0 [about 25° F]. I'm very much a summer person, and can't wait for this to be over.
SOT : Anders, I found Tiamat's website site a bit difficult to get around what is Tiamat's lineup now?
AI : Yeah, the website is being redone sort of under construction, you might say. The lineup is four people me on bass, Johan Edlund on vocals and guitar, Lars Skold on drums and Thomas Petersson on lead guitar. Then we do have the occasional keyboard player or two of them actually and an extra guitar player every now and then.
SOT : No permanent keyboard player?
AI : No, we don't, only when we do live tours. Otherwise we tend to do it ourselves in the studio.
SOT : Where did you learn bass?
AI : Basically, right here, in front of my stereo! I'm a guitar player originally, and I took up bass when I joined Tiamat.
SOT : Really! And you don't play guitar with Tiamat?
AI : I do in the studio, but never when we play live.
SOT : What were you doing before Tiamat? How did you get into the band?
AI : I started out in 1987 or 88, playing in a band called Ceremonial Oaths. It was a sort of breeding ground for musicians in my area. Everyone who played in that band has moved on. I moved into Tiamat, the guitar player for Hammerfall was in there, the guy from In Flames
Then I moved on to Cemetary, and when Tiamat lost their first bass player, I jumped in for a few tours to help them out. And when another bass player left it seemed only natural to jump back in.
SOT : So when did you get involved with Tiamat the first and the second times.
AI : the first time was in 1991, I worked with them again in 1992, and I got in in 1996.
SOT : How do you compare your time in Tiamat with the time you spent in the previous bands? The vibe, and the way people worked together?
AI : I believe that everything I do away from Tiamat is a sort of learning experiment. I can take more risks, you can record or write songs in other ways, you can try out stuff you wouldn't want to try in a live situation, or in a studio situation, with Tiamat. So we learn from our experiences in a less risky environment.
SOT : You have a side project called Lucyfire what other side projects are you involved with?
AI : I do quite a lot, actually! I produce some stuff here in Gothenburg, there's Lucyfire, and I have this very primitive rock and roll band called The Chuck Norris Experiment.[Laughs] I played on an album with the Angeldust singer called Mercurytide
I do a lot of jumping in to help bands that need backing stuff or whatever. I tend to keep myself busy.
SOT : Are you able to live off your music, or are doing other work as well.
AI : Yeah I work in a record store as well. We're not able to live fulltime on Tiamat. Not yet, anyway.
SOT : The word "Tiamat" as I understand it has something to do with Mesopotamian or Summerian or Akkadian mythology
talk me through that.
AI : Actually, I don't really like to draw too many parallels to that. That was true in the beginning
it was to do with Summerian mythology and a snake god who was involved in the world and had domination wars with a god named Marduk. But nowadays we prefer to say that Tiamat means 4 goth guys in a tourbus! [Laughs]
SOT : How does the creative process work in Tiamat? Is it all Johan?
AI : There are quite a few ways we can go, but the main one is that Johan writes the basis of a song verse and chorus. Then we each come in and start to arrange it, you know, tempo, heaviness
a lot of things. That's the main way of working, but it could be different. I mean with the latest album Johan wrote everything, but the album before that, we all had a writing credit. I wrote four songs on that one. Johan was on a roll this time. He said here's my eighteen songs, it made no sense to say "well here's my two songs".
SOT : But the album doesn't have eighteen songs so do you still have some in the can?
AI : No the songs on the album were the ones we felt comfortable with. It's not a written doctrine or anything, but we can feel it in the studio and if a song doesn't make everyone happy, it's out immediately.
SOT : How much time do you guys actually spend together?
AI : Not that much, actually, because we live quite a way away from each other. I live in Gothenburg, Lars and Thomas are in Stockholm which is 500km [about 300 miles] away, and Johan is in Germany, about to move to Berlin, which is even further. So we really only spend tome with each other when we're working. Although last year we spent a good six months together.
SOT : Who are the band's biggest musical influences?
AI : that's really hard to say. We have really, really different kinds of music that we listen to. There's some 1980s we all listen to, like Johnny Cash and Tom Waites, maybe a bit of Depeche Mode as well, the later stuff. That's basically all that all four of us can listen to together. Tomas is the metal head among us, he brings the distorted stuff and the flashy guitar solos and all that. I think I bring something of a punk mentality to it. Lars in into the electronic side of it.
SOT : What did you personally listen to growing up?
AI : Well the Ramones, The Clash, going on to death metal in 1986 or 87, and right now I'm listening to Johnny Cash, but it could be anything it could be Autopsy or Bob Marley for me. Those are my main heroes.
SOT : That's a very wide range. When you're playing music does it also fill a wide range, or does it all fit into similar genres?
AI : I play quite a wide range. We're comfortable doing acoustic singer/songwrite stuff all the way through to really heavy stuff, plus fast stuff anything, really.
SOT : Anders, how have the sales been in the USA and in other parts of the world? Where would you say you're most popular?
AI : Most popular I'd say central Europe. Germany, Holland, Belgium, Italy, Spain, almist all of the Mediterranean countries are doing very well. Also a lot in the former East Poland, Romania, and we just went on our first trip to Russia. Southern and Northern America are going up as well, but unfortunately not enough yet. We're not in Japan yet.
SOT : And which album has sold the best?
AI : Wildhoney. At least, in Europe. I'm not really sure about the States.
SOT : The other day I was listening to Sumerian Cry, which I think was Tiamat's first album. And it was just old-fashioned death metal, and the difference between that and Prey is tremendous! And when I follow the progress of the band through the various albums there's been a very definite progress, from one format to the next. What contributes to that development in style, and where do you think it's going from here?
AI : To answer your last question, I have no idea where it's going. I would say that if you listen to the albums in order you'll hear a band that's growing up in public, and that's probably the basic reason for the changes. After releasing each Tiamat album we can honestly say that was the best album we were able that point in time, so I would say it's just us maturing, or growing up. Learning our craft, keeping our focus a bit sharper. In the last three albums we seem to have found a bit of a niche, so I would say the next album won't differ too much from that last.
SOT : The most obvious change in style has been in the vocals. What caused that? Surely that must have been a conscious decision?
AI : As the music developed, and was not full speed at a thousand beats a minute, the music is not really suited for the growler. Johan started singing and found that he had a flair for it, and after a while he took vocal lessons, developing breathing techniques and so on. Then as the music grew naturally he found his voice and wasn't afraid of his natural range. So yes, that was a bit more of a conscious change.
SOT : In my review of Prey, I said that the signature sound on the album was those vocals, sung in the low registers, with a bit of reverb, and held well back in the mix. How would you add to that description?
AI : I totally agree with that description! The reason for it being held back in the mix is that having been a death metal band the vocals were always treated as just another instrument. So I think we still have some of that influence left
SOT : How would you describe Tiamat's style? Not death metal anymore?
AI : No, I wouldn't say there's any death metal left in our music at all. Maybe in a few of the chord changes. I really don't know how to describe it. Maybe dark goth, or dark wave, or something like that. You can call us dark wave, or gothic rock, or gothic metal, I'm fine with any of those descriptions.
SOT : Categories are not important, but when we write about music they help the reader to understand what they're going to hear. So in my review I said it was an odd combination of styles, and also mentioned black metal.
AI : Actually, I'm glad you said 'black', because black metal is always about the lyrics, so yes that also applies to us.
SOT : Where do you come down on the whole MP3 phenomenon?
AI : I'm very torn, actually. Coming from the tape-trading community of the early '90s, I don't really have a problem with the music being distributed without getting paid for it. But what I don't like is when advance copies of our albums are put out there before they're actually released! But people downloading I think it could actually help the band in the long run. Look at the former East where for a long time people didn't have the money to buy albums, so they made copies. In Poland we play in Ice Hockey stadiums but on paper we sold about 300 records in that country! I actually spoke to the main guy behind it, who seems to be sort of mob-connected or something, he said that there are probably about half a million copies of the album in Poland! Those people could not afford to buy the albums, but the copies made it good when we went to play there.
SOT : What is your favorite song on Prey?
AI : I'd say "Divided".
SOT : For me, "The Pentagram" was very interesting tell us a bit about the background.
AI : I really like that song as well, but we can't really take full credit for it because the lyrics are an Aleister Crowley poem that we put to music. That poetry became such an integral part of the music that we couldn't change them, so we had to ask for permission and they researched us and found that we were not mocking or ridiculing it, and we had a genuine interest, so they gave us permission to use it. But the working title for that song was "Wish You Were Dead", which may tell you something about the music.
SOT : Is there a theme or a concept behind Prey?
AI : Not really a concept, but there is a thread that runs through all the songs it's really hard to describe. The title "Prey" sums it up. Basically we're all trying to free ourselves, but in some way we're all Prey to something it could be drugs, sex, money or religion or whatever. That's basically the theme.
SOT : You have some unusual cover art where did that come from, and what does it mean?
AI : It's an attempt to visualize "Prey". The cover art was actually done by Johan! Of course he also wrote the lyrics, so I think we have a really good line going from concept to cover.
SOT : You mentioned Wildhoney before, and that's often thought to be the best thing Tiamat has done to date. What made Wildhoney so good, and do you think there'll be a return to that form?
AI : I don't think we'll return to that format. Don't get me wrong Wildhoney was a great album, but there were 5 or 6 great songs on it and a lot of incidental music. I think it was just luck people were looking for something different from death metal at the time, and we had a receptive audience.
SOT : On Prey, there are female vocals from time to time. Who was that, and are there plans to go that route more in the future?
AI : Absolutely. We've had female vocals on a lot of previous albums, and I'm quite sure we're going to do it in the future. The singer is a German girl, a friend of Johan's.
SOT : We really liked it, and thought that the female vocals should be used much more often.
AI : Absolutely, and it's hard to recreate live because I get to do it! Or we use a tape track.
SOT : Which modern bands, other than yourselves, are you watching? And who do you think is the closest to what you're doing? Moonspell, for example, who are sometimes described as a poor man's Tiamat?
AI : Actually Moonspell are very good friends of ours, and I can't remember how many tours we've done with them. I know they were influenced by us in the beginning, but I don't know if they still sound that way. I don't really listen to our contemporary colleagues, mainly because I know them so well. Although a band I really like is Lacuna Coil.
SOT : Yes, I saw them here in DC around May.
AI : I actually played guitar with them on a tour around 1997. They're actually really good friends of ours.
SOT : Here's a whole different question: Here at Sea Of Tranquility we've wondered what it is about Sweden, and why there is so much good music coming out of that country. I mean, it's almost a repeat of the old "British Invasion"! To what would you ascribe the Swedish success?
AI : Well, I'm in my early 30s, and when we were growing up we got good music training in the schools. You could choose any instrument and play it for free, in classes. And the local councils helped and supplied guitars and drums and everything, and you could try everything and see what you liked. I'm sure that if you asked any of the musicians in this age group where they started, they would say they played flute in the first grade or something, and moved on to guitars or whatever. But it's not the case any more, unfortunately, it was in the early '80s.
SOT : What are your plans for albums in the future? And what about tours?
AI : We're waiting for the festival season to begin, and we believe we'll be playing in some of those.. And hopefully, we'll be over in the States to support a band, that we can't name, which is more established over there.
SOT : We're running out of time, Anders was there anything else we should have discussed? Anything you'd like to add?
AI : No, you've done a fine job, Duncan! I think that's everything. We're really hoping to tour over there soon, and it's been nice to get a lot of American press this time around! Thanks a lot!
SOT : Anders, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us! The new album is great, and we hope it helps accelerate Tiamat's penetration into the American market. Take care!