About Me

Interview with Avatar

One of the best and amazing albums come from Sweden and has a name: “Dance Devil Dance”! It was released on the 17th February 2023, via Black Waltz Records, and Johannes Eckerström, the vocalist, shared some stories with Metal Imperium, such as the composition, the influences behind it, “The Twilight Zone” and much more.
Did you know that the name “Avatar” doesn’t come from the movie?
Read more to know the answer!

M.I. - Hi there, Johannes. Thanks for this opportunity to talk with you. How are you and the rest of the band?

Thank you! I’m good, thank you! I’m currently sitting in the rehearsal room, I’m renting with some friends, here in Helsinki, working on the songs for the tour, trying to learn what to record, really and it’s a good time! And the rest of the guys? I’m sure they are fine! They are all back in Sweden, of course. We communicate so much leading up to the release day. So, we’re all really busy doing what we love!

M.I. - Let’s talk about the band’s name, shall we? You’ve chosen “Avatar” way before the movie came out. It’s a manifestation of a deity in bodily form. How did you come up with that name? Care to tell us the story behind it, please?

That’s all thanks to John! He learned what an “Avatar” was in Religion class, in 8th grade, and took it from there! I wasn’t involved in naming the band, because the band was started by John and Jonas. The meaning that we bring to it, I guess, is something like the idea of finding your potential, your inner strength, your hidden potential, so to speak! There’s more to human than meets the eye! So, therefore you can manifest your greatness in this world! It’s an old school thing for John! 

M.I. - Your new album: “Dance Devil Dance”, came out 17th February 2023, via Black Waltz Records and it’s your ninth.  Awesome album! How did you come up with this name and did the Devil dance to this album? What’s the story behind it?

Thank you! If we start with the title and the title track, it got a lot of things that went into making this, what it became and it’s fair to call it “The Spiritual Journey”! I’m a total atheist to begin with, but at the same time I’ve come to understand the power of a ritual! Not magic power, just real power! The power of symbols, those things in life and useful spirituality can be just in a way how you deal with the world. Certainly a spiritual point of view can value, even if you don’t believe in bullshit, magic, Gods and things that don’t exist. It’s just a way of structuring yourself! 
So, in that sense, some ideas that blend in for this album came from there. During this pandemic, I started to run far, at least further than I had done before. Just exercise! The beautiful thing, if you go for a jog, that lasts long enough, you can get runners’ high! Somewhat running under a scorching sun, the pulse is through the roof, I’m running 12K, playing loud, rave music in my ears and I get the runners’ high! In this runners’ high, a sense of peace inside gets me and I come to understanding that I am Satan! 
That is what the symbol of Satan starts to mean to me and it becomes a tool, a weapon, a symbol, a point of view that becomes oppositional to the bullshit of this world. There’s a huge chunk of bullshit in this world that you can attach to a point of view that is religious, very much of an organ religion, very authoritarian! That comes through in the very little sense, in theocratic countries, like Iran, the United States or whatever. Where this place took a huge role, but I also think it deeps into more a secular society as well! 
Satan becomes this symbol for everything that the people don’t like! The Bible doesn’t like democracy, free thinking, feminism, a lot of things that I like. So, there’s Satan, in all that becomes a symbol, I guess, in all that bullshit! 
Then the dancing! There’s a vey symbolic musical reason for putting “Dance” in the title! I think there’s a problem with Metal today, that so much Metal is best enjoyed if you sit down and shut up! I’ve been to the opera! I like opera. I’ve been to the ballet. I like ballet! I like to sit down and shut up sometimes! But I don’t think Heavy Metal is about sitting and shutting up! Heavy Metal is about sweat, movement! Heavy Metal is something that you put in the car, in the ears, like you’re in a party or whatever! Should be a true part of your life! Active life or whatever that means to you! Heavy Metal is Rock n’ Roll and Rock n’ Roll is Dance music! That is something that is missing in the mindset of a lot of stuff that comes out today. Like there’s a general overall problem with Metal today, that is so recorded, written, then recorded and performed in a way that it becomes stiff! There’s no humanity! It’s very cold and there’s no blood flow in it! 
This album is a very conscious attempt to work in the opposite direction! So, I guess there you have “Dance With The Devil”! 

M.I. - This album is clearly one of the best albums of this year and when we hear it, it’s easy to say that Metal needs rescuing. Can we say that with this record, you have that ability to save it? In what ways do you think that we can also contribute?

Obviously when we’re talking about saving Heavy Metal, it’s not like I feel: “Oh! We need to save Megadeth! Megadeth are fine or whatever!” (laughs). But Metal can be more than a finger exercise or more than something that you just listen in front of your computer! But the parti t is playing in your life and therefore how it should sound, how it should be recorded! It is very important to take that fight, I think, because if we disappear too deeply up our own asseholes, Metal loses touch with the world and ultimately loses relevance. 
But what I really think is that there is a ton of great, contemporary Metal going on in the reality of it. In part I think it’s true, but also in part we’re just having fun. 
I think it is our jobs to honor, respect the genre that we love so much. Metal gave me everything: I met my wife in a Heavy Metal concert! I’ve been able to see the world thanks to Heavy Metal! I made my friends through Metal! I pay my bills with Metal! I have to thank Heavy Metal for so much in my life and I think we owe Metal in return to try to evolve it, take it with us through life and do the next great thing with it! Just try not write the same song twice!

M.I. - Eleven tracks were written. How did you compose the lyrics for this record? What were the main influences this time?

There were million differences: big or small, but definitely this study of the symbolic power of Satan was a big thing! Then, in general, it was a challenge, because so much of it was written when we were locked down. It was important that we did make an album: I didn’t want that world to feel small, because for a while we were living in a very small world. It was a challenge to keep the world big, while working on this. To be part of a world that we can be far way from there for a while! Now there was a big challenge this time. Some anxiety and feelings that rose out of the whole pandemic itself, but especially the politics out of the pandemic, the failures out of the pandemic, the stupidity, the selfishness, the opportunist behavior of people. All these things bled into it overall without reasons to be depressed when you look at the world. 
Some of that despair I think overall, connected to what the spiritual journey is about... movement, celebration, freeing the body, challenging yourself, stand up for yourself. All those things at the same time, dealing with the sadness, the pain and don’t let yourself down and others. It’s just a lot of things that go into it!

M.I. - “Chimp Mosh Pit” is very intriguing. Moshpit is a way of life inside the Metal community. When you go to a concert, do you also do that or just watch others do it?

It happened here or there that I’m in the pit (laughs), but depending on what show it is! Like if I’m on the guest list of a big show, they usually give me the seats and stuff! But I do most of my moving on the stage! Most of the concerts I go to are our own concerts! It depends where I’m at! If I get enough opportunity, I like it still!

M.I. - “The Dirt I’m Buried In” is a song that has a very characteristic sound and a strong “The Twilight Zone” energy. How did you come up with that influence and music video? 

Musically, there’s one on every album that takes forever to finish! That is the song, parts of that song are really, really old. Sometimes when you have an idea that feels very different and you work on it, you cannot fool yourself. You try to make it like the other things. You try to force it to be something it is not. It’s only when we can fully accept the song for what it is, loving for what it is, let it become what it needs to be, it’s truly when we finish the song. It took a while just to get at that point like: “It can be funky! Let’s get disco!”. Treat it like that and being ok with it! It had a long journey of being some different versions of it out there in this past year or two even before that. When it comes to the music video, there’s certain things that we really like! Everytime we want to make a musc video, John and I end up talking about old movies, surrealism, David Lynch, “The Twilight Zone” of course. I think our big “The Twilight Zone” moment, was actually on the last album: “Colossus” that I spoke in the beginning. That’s completely a tribute to “The Twilight Zone”!
You have certain pieces of music that sound good if you drive through the night! There are certain songs that are extra good with that! I see you have Placebo posters in the background! They have good night time driving songs! Exactly! Certain songs like that! We started with that! It sounds like driving! It sounds like you could be in a car! I could sing in a car! “Ok! Where are we going?” We just had a brainstorm back and forth! It was one of those times that sometimes one of us comes with a complete idea! 
Some other videos, are very much collaborations in figuring out what’s about and everything and this was really a big time collaboration to figure it out! 

M.I. - “Gotta Wanna Riot” is another song that is full of life and the instrumentation is the proof of that. What do you want to riot about? The past events? Tell us more about this song, please.

That song is the perfect example of the marriage between the Rock n’ Roll, the dance, the fun and some really dark shit, because it’s really talking about awful things, but in such an exaggerated and playful way. It’s called “Jackstadt Opposition”, I guess between these. Two very distint emotional perspectives! It’s somewhat people reverting to canibalism or people building bombs in the basement, but ultimately a song about their despair and desperate actions. The need, the urge for want to destroy some shit, you know? Yeah! It’s one of those where you deal with something really twisted, but besides playfulness. Songs about outsiders, poverty but then it’s also about saying: “Yeah!” in a chorus. It’s a weird clash by the sign. 

M.I. - The title track directed by Johan Carlèn is a celebration, a way of celebrating love, lust and democracy. In what ways do you think that we must and need to find our paths?

It’s a big question. I guess that I don’t know if I have the answer for everyone, but definitely again I think it summarizes so much what this album is about. Again, equaling Satan to freedom is a big part of it. If you look to what we did on the two last albums, it was really funny! Or at least we tried to be funny! Then we hung together, where we really, really, really tried to not to be funny at all! Now it comes full circle, to where we can return to the Metal Circus and there is what this album is at. We’re dealing with darkness, exploring the darkness but, at the same time, we celebrate in the darkness. We like torches in that darkness. I guess that’s a health thing to do from where we stand. But again, “Dance Devil Dance” it’s just having fun with those ideas!

M.I. - “Valley of Disease” is more aggressive, in terms of riffs. Are we the ones responsible for our own path? How should we handle it?

“Valley of Disease” it’s really about self-reflection, you know? “I am the problem!”. “I warned you, didn’t I?”.  I sing in it. This is strange writing in “that valley” and “that valley” is, of course, inside of your own mind. It’s strange writing “the viper”, as far as I see as you, you know? This is the story of that song! 
I’m not here to tell anyone what to do. I can share my point of view on things, fully knowing that I’m wrong as well. I know it, you know? In another seven years, the cells in my body have switched out and I’m a different creature. I try to stay humble, like those kind of questions are hard for me to answer. Self-deprecation at worst, self-reflection at best going on “Valley of Disease”. Self-hatred, but maybe self-destruction to rebuild oneself.

M.I. - And what about the music? We can hear more Melodic Death Metal and Progressive Metal vibes into it, especially the guitar riffs. Was it difficult to compose, play and rearrange them?

Progressive in the terms that there’s evolving that I’m willing to use the word like that, but at the same time, it was very important that the songs got shorter, more direct focus on choruses. To me, this is Judas Priest British style in the sense. I was reading Rob Halford´s book at the same time as we were writing and when we got to the chapter talking about “British Style”, it very much resonated what we were trying to do. And I was to cut out all the fat. If you look at a song like “Child” or “Wormhole”, that’s a bigger emotional journey. It’s a very big advanced painting of a song. Both of those examples! If a song hunt together, maybe we would make an angry, sad, spooky, trippy song. Now I feel like we do one angry song, one sad song, one spooky song. One at the time! To me, when talking Progressive, it’s either about the musical advanced stuff, but I don’t think this album is very complicated. It is really good instead (laughs)! 

M.I. - Jay Ruston, who has worked with important names such as Amon Amarth, recorded this record with you. How was it for you to record with him? Could you tell us some secrets behind the scenes?

The whole recording was a secret behind the scenes experience, because we did it away from the world, just the five of us and Jay, hidden in the forest, in Sweden! Last album we did with him, we were in Los Angeles. So, it was a very different situation. We have worked with him a few times now and become very close, I think we sink up very well, just what kind of people we are, what we like, what we value. We are all dog people, we are all vegan. We are a bunch of things all of us, that we share closely!
Behind the scenes secrets´, there will be a documentary coming about the band, that will give away some very fine secrets of the making of this album! Other than that, I don’t know if something specific comes to mind. It’s just a good time with him: it’s very easy to work with him. He’s the hardest worker!
Ow! One big secret about Jay that can be very embarrassing for him is that he didn’t really know “Slaughter Of The Soul” before we showed ito him (laughs). But he was very impressed (laughs)!

M.I. - Johannes. Thanks once again for this opportunity to talk with you and say hi for the rest of the band. Would you leave a message for the Portuguese fans, please?

I don’t even think we did fifty shows. We are fixing that this time around. We look forward to come back to the world overall and come back many, many more times than before! It’s finally a triumph for us to play in Portugal and I couldn’t be happier about it.
We will see you very soon!

For Portuguese version, click here

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Questions by Raquel Miranda