About Me

Interview with Dark Tranquillity

After 31 years, Dark Tranquillity is still going strong. “Moment” is yet another album in a rich and vast discography that promises a lot. “Atoma” was acclaimed by the critics from all around the world and the Swedes want to keep the momentum going. We had the opportunity to talk to Mikael Stannen about all the new album, the new members Chris Amott (ex-Arch Enemy) and Johan Reinholdz (Andromeda, Nonexist), touring and, of course, the current situation with the COVID-19 outbreak. Here’s what he has to say.

M.I. - Hi, Mikael! First of all, thank you so much for your time and for the opportunity. How’s it going? Any trouble in dealing with this still going COVID-19 outbreak?

Hi there! Good! No one’s getting sick, no one’s getting hurt so all that is good. Of course, it’s just strange. Sweden has dealt with things a bit differently: not a lot of lockdowns, not a lot of shutdowns anywhere and people are careful. It seems to be going well, I hope so at least! Going out to see music, art and entertainment is what I miss the most. It’s crazy not having something to look forward to in terms of shows, having to strike all those festivals. There are shows that we were going to do, shows that I wanted to see… it’s kind of heartbreaking. But I’m trying to deal with it, we try to make the most out of it, just trying to stay creative, focusing on the good things, and doing fun new projects that maybe we wouldn’t have done otherwise. We’re keeping ourselves busy and trying not to think too much about the future that just might not happen any time soon.

M.I. - During such a pandemic, what do you do to keep your mind busy?

In the process of recording we were just making sure that this album is done. That has been occupying. But, in the last couple of weeks, I’ve had a lot of friends that invited me for collaborations and other projects just for fun. And doing that, just writing and recording, I can now enjoy, because I can do those things now since I didn’t have the time before. So that’s the upside and creativity is really flowing and the fact that it’s possible to devote all the time to do everything we want. We tried to make sure that the album was released as soon as possible, that everything looked cool, we made videos, we planned a live stream show, so there were a lot of things to do. I’ve been really staying busy and that’s always a good thing.

M.I. - Have you ever thought that, in a career with 31 years, you would see an album of yours getting released during a pandemic? What sort of feelings do you get when you think about this?

It’s weird not having plans to tour. Maybe in the first three albums we didn’t have that kind of plan and we didn’t speak about it because we only did one or two tours max for an album, whereas now that’s something that’s been ongoing for two or three years sometimes, and we always plan it. Now just not having that… weird, weird, weird! But we’re going to make the most out of it, we’re going to think of it as like going on tour. We brought the guys here, started rehearsing all the new songs, so that on the day of release we could stream a live concert from a really beautiful town. So at least it feels like we’re starting something. We brought our crew here, from Portugal actually, so that they could come here and we could work together as if we were going on tour, which is something I’m really looking forward to. And then maybe there will be another 4, 5, 10 months before we can do it again, but at least we have something.

M.I. - You mentioned something about a live stream show. Do you want to talk about it?

Yeah, sure. On the 21st of November we got together on a really beautiful theater and we just played the entire album, front to back, which is something that we have never done before (and may never do again, who knows) and it was a blast to see how these songs worked. It was an empty room but hopefully all the fans and all the people interested tuned in and enjoyed us, you know, and I kind of view it as a celebration of the fact that at least we can do something and somehow connect to those that are waiting for shows to start again. This is, in a way, as close as we can get to everyone and try to make the most out of it. 

M.I. - This is not the only thing that’s new for Dark Tranquillity. Chris and Johan have recently joined the band after the departure of Niklas Sundin. Being 2 experienced members, how are they fitting into their new roles?

Incredibly well. We noticed that very early on, when they joined us on the ”Atoma” tours, it clicked immediately. I think that we come from a very similar place, musically speaking. We get along really well, plus they’re incredible musicians. They really raised the bar as to what we can do as a band and then they have forced us to improve as well, which is a good thing for us. So, going into the writing of this album, having two guitar players changed a lot and influenced our decisions, but at the same time we wanted to retain what makes Dark Tranquillity unique and different, and use their skills in order to make a different album while not getting too far from our path.

M.I. - How did they contribute to the recording process? What new ideas did they bring into the creation of “Moment”?

I think that most of the material was already written on the beginning of the last year and it was just a matter of how we could bring in the new guys. Chris was in New York so it was kind of difficult when Johan started and he dug into the material, trying to figure out his way of playing and interpreting the songs. It took a few tries until we could get it and understand his playing style and thought process. It was one of those things of going back and forward, where we do something, send something to him and get things sent back… and eventually we get there. That was a fascinating process and eventually we ended up sitting in a studio for a long week, long days and nights of just writing and trying to come up with something. It has been a really, really creative and rewarding time. Then we just had Chris coming in just adding his lead style, his solo style and his melodic sensibilities and I couldn’t be happier with the way that it turned out. But of course, I think that we had a lot of time to prepare for this album, and it was really needed.

M.I. - How did you come up with the idea for the title “Moment”? 

I wanted to write about the different choices we make, about how we deal with those, with the circumstances and unexpected occurrences, how your experience and your past influence the future and how a certain moment can change everything, when you can go in one direction and it brings a disaster, or when you can go into another direction and it will lead you to an immensity of sorts and you will learn something. It’s also about that moment where you can discover something about yourself or about the world and all of a sudden you see things in a new light. Those defining moments in your life that just take you somewhere else. That was the initial thought and then I wrote songs about how information is polarizing, all of a sudden, about how we tend to look at each other on different prisms based on where we are from, about stupidity that kind of permeate society. Basically, I’ve been very angry and disappointed with where the world is going, so I’m trying to figure out where that’s coming from, how it works and the mechanics of thought. And then, the pandemic hit and all of the songs the I’ve written and the title started to make even more sense. It all fell into place, and all of the worst-case scenarios that I’ve written about became true in the weirdest way and it was kind of scary. The title was sort of a temporary one, but once the pandemic hit, it became obvious that it had to be the title.

M.I. - From what we’ve seen on “Phantom Days”, the philosophical part of the lyrics is still there. What is it that inspires you to create this sort of deep, emotional and thoughtful lyrics? I mean, you already said that you’re angry at the world; do you want to talk about that?

Yeah, I mean, that’s an ongoing thing. When I was young, I was mad at the society and the things around me. And I haven’t given up, but I’m kind of resigned to the fact that things are not going to change. Maybe when I was younger, I thought that maybe if I told people some things, they would make all the smart choices, but that’s not true at all. I just think that in the last couple of years, even though we have all the information technology and access to everything, that made things… I wouldn’t say worse, but activates this inherent device in nature where we think that others are different and we don’t like them because of that; this kind of territorial narrow-minded thinking of “it’s not me, it’s them”. And now we have access to all the information in the world in the palm of your hand or pocket, basically, and still people choose to filter all that information just because it’s uncomfortable to them or they’re not smart enough to grasp it or you’re not interested enough to learn but they’d rather just use the simplest way of deduction, and that’s enough for them and they just move on and suddenly have an opinion on something and make decisions based on an incredibly limited knowledge. That’s just not acceptable to me. It exposes us as who we are, as a species, and how ignorant we can be and how stupid a conversation can get where everybody has a voice; I get terrified by that, and makes me want to write about it. Not on live, not to anyone, not on any comment section. But I can scream about it, and if it’s versed in a way that it makes me feel better, hopefully someone will get that can sympathize or feel the same way and let the be an outlet for frustration through music. Maybe that’s our role in society.

M.I. - “Atoma” was an incredible album that has been praised from critics all around the world. What can we expect from “Moment” and what can you tell us about it?

I think it’s a refinement in every aspect of all the things that we learned from “Atoma”. The heaviness of “Atoma” it’s even heavier here and the emotional and melodical impact are even stronger. And the new guys really accentuate some of the emotional aspects that we wanted to convey and it’s been really fascinating to see how they interpreted the songs, and I think it sounds fantastic and I believe it’s our best sounding album so far. There are some videos and new songs coming out and I couldn’t be happier with the way that it turned out. We have worked harder than in any other album and I’m really proud about it.

M.I. - After 31 years, how can you still be so creative about the lyrics, still innovating and reinventing things? What is it that keeps you going after such a long time in this industry?

I’m still angry and I still want to scream about things to get them out of my system. Of course, that the hardest part is finding new and different ways to express it. That’s the part I struggle with the most and that takes the longest time, because you have a song and you think “Oh, this is good” but then it sounds like something you have done before and you have to figure out into something else. But that’s part of the thrill and part of what it is, trying to express what you feel in different ways.

M.I. - Still on this subject, Dark Tranquillity has a remarkable discography in a career acclaimed by many. What other accolades do you expect to accomplish?

Oh, wow, for me… that is it. Just having a trajectory that we carved over the last couple of years, where things are constantly improving and moving, where the quality of the productions, the music, the song writing and the performances are just keep improving. That’s what I want, I want things to eventually be perfect, like… there’s nothing that can be improved. For me, that’s an ongoing thing. For 2020, this is as far as we can take our music, but I’m sure that, in 2 or 3 years, we’re going to start thinking about writing more and we’re going to start thinking that we need to change things again into something new. And that’s it, you get tired of yourself and you start wanting to try new things, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

M.I. - About Sweden, we have always seen a huge amount of heavy metal bands coming out of Sweden and many of them accomplishing great success in their respective careers. Arch Enemy, Opeth, Amon Amarth, At the Gates and, obviously, Dark Tranquillity, to name a few. In your opinion, what makes Swedish bands so successful in the Heavy Metal industry?

Well, you mentioned some of the best ones and they’re very, very different. There are very few points of comparison, and I’m a huge fan of them all. The bar is set high for music, since the 80s. Back then there was a lot of good pop, rock and metal bands that came out. So, early on in the 90s, when Death Metal became a thing, the bar was set high where it had to be really good to survive somewhere and that has allowed the best to evolve and do very different things. I remember Opeth when I was 17, and doing shows with Arch Enemy in the late 90s and they have changed very much, with Amon Amarth when we toured together many years ago… and it’s so cool to see how they have evolved and turned into these different and unique bands. It’s something to be proud of for sure, but musically I think it’s all about the quality, the dedication, the passion and the honesty, as well, like no one is pulling on a show or trying to be popular. It’s music that really comes from the heart and this is exactly what these bands want to do for the right reasons.

M.I. - Mikael, it seems as though this is going to be another amazing album. After this, what can we expect from Dark Tranquillity in the future?

For now, we’re focused on releasing this album. And then, hopefully we’re going to plan some shows and try to be prepared as well as we can be. We’ll just wait that the situation hopefully can be resolved so we can go on tour. But for now, this is the focus until late December, and try to see what comes up.

M.I. - Any plans on touring to Portugal?

If we can go somewhere, Portugal is definitely going to be there on our tour, in April or May, if it happens. We love Portugal, and we had a fantastic time the last time we were there. It was great meeting a lot of friends, especially because our crew is from Portugal and they insisted that we played there. Amazing, amazing time, one of the highlights from the last tour, honestly.

M.I. - Is there anything you would like to address to our fans in Portugal?

Buy the album, it’s going to comfort you hopefully, and support bands, be cool to bands who cannot tour, because touring for many people is their main source of income and now that is gone. That’s what I do, I buy a lot of shirts, a lot of records and a lot of live stream concerts, because I know that is something very, very important to bands. Live streams are the closest as you can get to bands, so buy the tickets and the cool t-shirts. We want to be there, but right now we’re going to have to make the most out of it and make it as cool as humanly possible.

M.I. - Mikael, once again, thank you so much for your time. It’s been a huge, huge honor. I hope the end of this outbreak isn’t too far away so we can see some live shows soon enough.  

Very cool, great to talk to you, hope to see you soon. Cheers!

For Portuguese version, click here

Questions by João Guevara