With the release of the brilliant new album Catch Thirty Three, Sweden's Meshuggah are cementing their legacy as one of the most original and daring metal bands of the last decade. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo recently had a lengthy conversation with drummer Tomas Haake about the writing and recording of the new album, and also about the band's immediate and future plans.
Read on for the full interview!
Sea of Tranquility: Hey Tomas, where are you calling from today?
Tomas: Sweden actually…
SoT: How was your stay in the US after I ran into you in New York at the CD Listening Party not too long ago?
Tomas: It was really good man, we did some press for the Catch Thirty Three record, then we went to Germany, England, and France, a bit of traveling, but it's all good you know.
SoT: How has the buzz been for the new album?
Tomas: The response from the press and the fans has been really good so far, almost surprisingly so. We definitely consider this to be somewhat of the "odd album" of what we do, but people seem to really be getting into it. We are certainly happy with how it's turning out.
Catch Thirty Three
SoT: It's a real different album. What are your expectations about how the die-hard Meshuggah fan will take to the new CD, and at the same time how the listener who has never heard the band before will react to hearing Meshuggah for the first time with Catch Thirty Three?
Tomas: Those are two definitely different things. Of course, most of the album leaked out on the internet before we released it, so many of the hardcore Meshuggah fans have already heard it before it came out, and we've gotten a good response from them. We expected a lot of people to say "oh, I don't know, what the hell are they doing?" (laughs) but it seems like it's going across well so far. In a way, this album might have greater potential to reach out to people like those into say, progressive rock, as it's not as brutal "in your face" as some of our earlier albums like Chaosphere or any of the others.
SoT: Granted it is a heavy album, but there's a lot more groove and bottom end, a lot more atmosphere, more extended instrumental passages, a lack of guitar solos…. wouldn't you also say there are less vocals on it?
Tomas: Yes, you are correct, there's a lot less vocals than on our other albums. There's a lot of lyrics, but if you look at the whole album and the length of the piece, there's definitely more instrumental parts than sections with vocals, especially when you compare it to albums like Nothing or Chaosphere.
SoT: This seems more like a guitar riff album…
Tomas: We always want to do something different with each album, but this one is definitely more of an experiment than the others. We wanted to do something unique with this one, and go for the vibe full out more than the technical or brutal aspect, and maintain that vibe for the whole album. Also the dynamical aspect of the album, once you take it down we really let it take its time before we take it back up again, and I think it makes for an album that's really an entity on it's own. We're really happy with the way it came out.
SoT: You're actually the perfect person to ask this next question, as there's been a lot of talk about it-what was the reason to use all programmed drums on this album?
Tomas: The way this album was written is very different from the way we normally write stuff, and a lot of the guitar stuff were done on a spur of the moment type of thing. We had the guitar plugged through a Line6 straight through to a PC digitally, and as soon as someone would come up with an idea for a riff, he would record that riff immediately, all four guitars and the bass, because a lot of the things are really, really random, like the notations and the actual finger placements on the neck, there's a lot of real quirky stuff going on. Maybe we could have done it, but it would have taken so much time to record drums to go along with these riffs, which had been changed like ten times each, at least, that I would have had to re-record and re-learn the drum parts over and over again. It would have taken too much time. That's one aspect. The other one is that once we were like 15-20 minutes into the album we noticed that the programmed drums sounded really good, the samples sounded so good even before we mixed them, and it just supported the overall feel and vibe of the album, the super steady, no fills, almost emotionless type of drumming, even though it sounds like a real drummer. We just felt it went well with the style of music we were writing, so we said "fuck it" and went with it. We have always been about breaking taboos, and as a metal band, and maybe especially as a metal band like us, we have a lot of musician followers, so maybe for us it's a little more taboo to use programmed drums, but to some extent maybe that's another reason why we did it.
SoT: Perhaps too it will be interesting for all the drummers who follow the band to check you out live on the next tour to hear you try to pull off the drum work yourself?
Tomas: Yeah, and I'm looking forward to it. We've started rehearsing the song, because only the guy who wrote that particular part knows that part of the album, nobody in the band knows the whole album. We never rehearsed the whole thing as a band. Martin knows this part, ok, so let's sit down with Martin and practice the part he knows, and Fredrik knows these riffs, and we would have to sit down with them. They would even have to relearn their own riffs, because so much of the writing of the album was random, and we would have to take things down a third of the tempo, and draw schematics and notations for everything as we are rehearsing right now, for the bass and the guitar because it's almost impossible to take it out by ear. It's challenging no doubt, but as you probably know we are just going to do a 7-8 minute outtake from the album, because the way we see it as just one long song.
SoT: No thought about playing it in its entirety?
Tomas: No, no, we would have to use a lot of sampled stuff. At some places there are like 10 guitars on top of each other, and they are not doing the same thing! (laughs)
The first 15 minutes of the CD we could probably play as it is pretty much on the album, but that's not the part we want to play. So we are not playing anything from the start of the album, but only rehearsing the more quirky parts of the second half of the CD.
SoT: Cool, that's my favorite part of the album…the "In Death" sequences right?
Tomas: Yeah, exactly.
SoT: So what is the plan as far as touring goes? Are you going to tour for this album, or tour for the follow-up to Catch Thirty Three?
Tomas: We tour for three and a half weeks in Europe, and after that we go right back into the studio for the next album. Normally the way it has worked in the past, we want to get as far away from the studio as possible after making an album and get out and tour. Just doing it so differently this time around has inspired us to want to get back to writing, especially back to typical song structures. Now it feels almost freeing to thing that we can write five-minute songs again-wow! That should be no problem! (laughs) So that's kind of how we feel about it now, and then it all depends on how the writing goes, which will dictate how much if any more touring we will do. If we feel come August or September that we are a little stuck, then we will head out and tour some more, but it's not the way we are planning it now. It's really hard to incorporate the album into the live set because we are not playing it in its entirety.
Destroy Erase Improve
SoT: You would almost be like doing a tour with no new songs so to speak, since you are only playing a snippet of the new one.
Tomas: Exactly. That's why we want to do it this way. We are aiming to have the next album out this time next year, which may be hoping for a bit much, but that's what we are aiming at.
SoT: So a US tour should be expected at that time?
Tomas Haake, Pete Pardo and Marten Hagstrom
Tomas: Yeah…we may still come this fall, but if not immediately after the next release, and with that album we will tour extensively. Then we will have a lot of new songs that we can incorporate in a better way into the live set. We'd also like to hit Japan, Australia, and South America as well.
SoT: We look forward to seeing you when you hit the states again!
Tomas: Sounds good, see you then man!