It took 5 long years for Wolverine's Communication Lost to come out, but it was definitely worth the wait. Not only did they release their most focused and complete work to date, but the album also stands out for featuring vocalist Stefan Zell's career-defining vocal performance, arguably the year's best! Sea of Tranquility staff writer Murat Batmaz had the chance to talk to Stefan Zell about the new album, the songs, the wonderful production, and more personal issues such as his daughter's health condition and his almost leaving the band he so loved. Read on for the full interview.
SoT: Communication Lost has been out for a few months now. How has the general response to the album been so far?
Stefan: It's been amazing. The reviews have overall been great and a lot of people have gotten in touch with us only to tell us how great they think it is. Of course this means a lot to us and fuels us to do even better next time. However, the one thing I am disappointed about is the fact that we haven't played one single show except for the gig we did in our hometown the same weekend the album was released, back in May. I had definitely expected more in terms of gigs but it could be that we've been out of the spotlight for too long. Another problem is that we're not signed to any booking agency (despite several attempts) and that means we have to arrange everything ourselves. That's fine as long as you have the time but since we all have ordinary jobs it's kind of hard to manage everything ourselves. Having kids certainly doesn't make it any easier either...
SoT: Looking back, how do you evaluate the album musically and production-wise?
Stefan: I have to say I love the album. Overall I am extremely pleased with all our albums and I think that's because we always spend a lot of time writing the songs in order to get it exactly the way we want it. We never rush things and we don't spend time writing songs that don't end up on our albums. We only follow through ideas for songs or riffs that we feel really strong about. The two albums of ours I love the most is Communication Lost as well as Still. In a way, I look at those two albums like siblings. The feel od the songs are similar but I'd say Communication Lost is a lot darker in terms of mood than Still. As for the production I think Communication Lost without doubt has the best production out of all our albums. Jacob Hansen and Eroc really did an amazing job.
SoT: Your performance on the album is your best in your career. How did you approach the album during the recording sessions?
Stefan: Thank you! I really didn't approach the album any differently than any of our previous albums. There are however two things that was different from previous recordings: We recorded the album in Söderhamn, our hometown. Oliver Philipps flew over and spent the summer with us which was very relaxing. It's always nice and relaxing to be able to get home after a day of recording vocals. The other thing is the fact that the album is extremely personal and more or less a diary of the past five years. I guess I sang about stuff that needed to come out so to speak which maybe added something extra to the vocal performance.
SoT: You started out as a more Fates Warning-inspired progressive metal band with The Window Purpose gradually changing your sound to accommodate for progressive and atmospheric elements. How do you see the evolution of Wolverine?
Stefan: Our sound has changed as we have changed as individuals. Back then we listened a lot to bands like Fates Warning, Dream Theater and so on. They were our passage into our musical realm but since then we've moved on a bit and we've found a more personal sound. I think we have some sort of core in our music that we revolve around. We certainly have a more somber sound these days and we don't focus on the technical aspects as much as we did back then. It's more important to have good song structures than a million notes in every track. Either we have matured over the years or simply gotten lazy. (laughs)
SoT: Communication Lost also has some very personal songs about you and your daughter. Was it a conscious decision to include them in the album or did it happen naturally?
Stefan: I always write lyrics about stuff that's on my mind, very seldom fictional things. Since Freya was born with a critical heart condition it's no wonder that fact occupied a lot of my thoughts and feelings back in 2008/2009. Lucklily she underwent a successful surgery but I still needed to deal with that topic. As I said earlier, the songs are all about stuff that happened to us during the past five years and Freya's illness was something that changed my life forever.
SoT: Do you have a favourite song off of the CD?
Stefan: I tend to listen a lot to "In the Quiet of Dawn" which is actually one of the oldest songs on the album. I find it very well balanced and I love the mood of that track.
SoT: It takes the band a long time in between releases. Is that because you don't make a living out of music or is it because it takes you longer to compose?
Stefan: Both. We all have ordinary jobs that we need to take care of and I have a family with another baby up and coming so to speak. It all takes a lot of time. At the same time, as I mentioned earlier, we are very picky and spend a lot of time with details to get everything the way we want it to be. On top of this only me, Marcus and Mikael live in the same town. Thomas and Per live in Stockholm so rehearsals are pretty far apart.
SoT: The production on Communication Lost is staggering with incredible dynamic range. How did you achieve this perfection?
Stefan: When it comes to the sound of this album Jacob Hansen is the one that performed magic. When I heard the first mix he did my jaw almost dropped to the ground. It was such a huge difference from when we sent off the raw tracks to him. He really did a wonderful job on the album and I truly hope we get to work with him again. As for how he managed to get the sound he did, you'll have to ask him.
SoT: As a singer, it is hard to draw comparisons to your singing style. Is it because you have non-metal influences? Who are some singers you like as a vocalist?
Stefan: There are a lot of singers out there whom I love. When it comes to metal I've, through the years, listened a lot to Geoff Tate, Ray Alder, Rob Halford, Michael Kiske and those kind of singers. Paul Stanley is another "housegod" of mine. Me and my wife went to see Richard Marx live in London at Royal Albert Hall a few months ago and that was one of the greatest performances I've ever witnessed so I'm a big fan of him and have been for many years. Other bands that I guess don't come to mind when you listen to Wolverine are Bee Gees, Alphaville and A-ha. I love them all and in a way they have all been huge influences for me.
SoT: Can you tell us a little about the writing and recording process of Wolverine?
Stefan: The writing-process is, as I mentioned before, pretty slow-paced but in the end very rewarding. Usually someone comes in with either a few riffs or more or less an entire song and then the band finishes it together in rehearsals. I usually do not involve myself in that process. When the song is structured they will record a demo and then I'm off on my own writing lyrics and melodies for the vocals. As for the recording it all depends on where we record but we try to record bass and drums at the same time to get a solid base to stand on. From there we record everything separately. This time around, Per did all his keyboards at home on his computer which of course saves a lot of money. Since we don't have any budget to talk about when we record we have to try and find ways of recording cheap without sacrificing the quality of the album.
SoT: Do you usually pre-write the songs or lyrics or do you also change and adapt in the studio?
Stefan: I think for the instruments everything is more or less worked out before we enter the studio. Oliver and I do however change certain words and melodies as we go. It's always great to have his input on my ideas. He also writes 99% of the vocal harmonies and he usually sing some of them as well. The only album where he didn't sing a note was on Still, but he still write all the harmonies.
SoT: What are the band's plans for the near future? Do you have any songs written for the next album?
Stefan: It's hard for us to make any plans since they never seem to be realized anyway. The plan was to do a lot oh shows to follow up the release of the album but it turned out we did one (!) show only... It may sound bitter but in a way I am since I really think we deserve better. I do however hope we can record another album next year or so. We don't have anything written yet but I hope the first ideas will surface very soon.
SoT: Can you list some of your favourite releases from the past couple of years?
Stefan: Hmm... The first release that comes to mind is A Dramatic Turn of Events by Dream Theater. I never thought it would be this good since their last 3-4 albums haven't really appealed to me but I was blown away by this one. Apart from that I really can't bring anything to mind. I really don't have the time to listen to albums they way I used to so I tend to listen to scattered songs from various albums. I also really liked the latest release from Symphony X. Allen is such an amazing singer (I forgot to list him as one of my favorite singers) and I find their productions to be extremely powerful.
(Click here to read our reviews of Communication Lost)