I’ve seen it mentioned that the recording process of Vertikal was longer and more scattered than ever before. Were there any particular reasons for that?
Well there’s the most obvious reason of us not living in the same cities. We all have very busy schedules, and to meet eachother and to write and record…it takes quite an effort for everybody, and people have kids, people have jobs etc. One important aspect was that we didn’t have a record label, which meant that you don’t have anyone nagging about getting the album done all the time. So I think that could have sped up the process a bit, but in retrospect I think it was good – we didn’t rush into anything, and we wrote a whole lot of different songs of which not all of them made it into the recording process. We could actually choose songs that would be working toward the goal we had.
There’s a very prominent theme behind this record, based on the aesthetic of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. Was there a conscious moment at which you decided upon this theme and then started to write material, or did you identify the theme only once you noticed the writing process going in a particular direction?
When it came to the time to start writing again, we wrote a manifesto. Firstly we had to understand where we had been, where we are at the moment and where we want to go. For the last two albums – Somewhere Along The Highway and Eternal Kingdom – we had been in a very rural environment in the countryside, very much inspired by the north of Sweden where we are all from. So we needed to go into the city; go into the future. We pretty much wrote down how we wanted the album to sound, and the words that were used were “industrial”, “monotone”, “repetitive”, “harsh”, “grey” and that it was going to sound like a “factory”. We were sending pictures back and forth, and many pictures started showing up from Metropolis, and this whole art deco movement and the German expressionist era, so when we found that we really understood which way we wanted to take the album.
Only then did we start writing. That has made the process much easier in a way; there were much fewer arguments, as we all knew the direction we had to go. Even though everyone was not as involved in the songwriting process, they colour their instruments in a way that has been pre-decided. Everybody knows where to go when it comes to sound, when it comes to playing style…we said that we were going to try and record with more down-strokes; it should be more static. So it had impact on everything from guitar sound to drum recording – we recorded the drums without the cymbals and added the cymbals later to get the very static sound. We were recording the sound of hitting metal rods and ladders and stairways, cutting them up like beats…I could go on and on about this. But everyone knew where they are heading, and I think that’s a good tip to all bands out there – I mean, there are often one or two creative minds in a band, but it’s good to have everybody on board with where you are heading.
I think that’s quite an interesting way of working. Perhaps some bands may think that asserting an idea early on would restrict them; was there any point at which any of these ideas – using downstrokes, for example – felt unnatural?
I don’t know what is natural and unnatural…playing electric guitar is pretty unnatural in itself! I think “challenging” is the right word, and it was very challenging. One problem of coming to these ideas and manifestos is that it’s still using abstract terms. One joke within the band is around people fighting about what is “good” or not; everyone wants the record to be as good as possible, but the problem is with what the concept of good is. This process at least helped us narrow the options down. It wasn’t me that came up with the downstroke thing – that was Erik, one of the other guitar players. If we hadn’t have talked about this industrial, factory feeling, and he suggested doing downstrokes, it’d be like “why? Why do you want to do that?” But when we had this whole idea as a backdrop, it was totally logical and I understood right away – this was a good way of trying to execute our idea.
I’d like to go back to when you mentioned overdubbing the cymbals and experimented with hitting metal objects. So is this a record that came together as much in the studio as in the rehearsal room?
Not when it comes to arrangements. To be honest, I’ve been writing a whole lot in my computer now. When you present a song and start rehearsing it, and you let the whole song out to the other band members, it always turns out in a much different way to how you actually thought. With that said, when we were done, we were pretty much done – the thing that we worked on most in the studio was the sound. For example we brought in Måns Lundberg – a friend of ours and a very, very talented guitar tech and guitarist – and he helped us in finding new sounds, perfecting our guitar playing, coming up with new ideas, all within the window of the manifesto.
Has he worked with you on previous records too?
No. Umea’s not a big city, and everyone that’s involved in the music scene and within the same age range will know eachother. He hasn’t played this kind of music before – he usually does completely different stuff. That’s the reason why we sound the way we do; most of us have no background within the heavier music scene.
There’s definitely a sense that you guys aren’t anchored to a particular sound, which is great – from my perspective it’s kept everything very refreshing as you move from one record to the next.
But it’s very hard! This is our sixth album, and it’s very hard to reinvent and get inspiration. So I do understand if bands get stuck in their tracks and struggle to reinvent themselves, and maybe some bands should just actually record the same album over and over again. Many bands work like that. “Movement” in the musical genre isn’t always good – not for the listener anyway. I can imagine how musicians get bored as I have the same attitude, but there are many bands that have been changing their music and restoring their name. I really hope we haven’t done that, but I haven’t been more proud of an album than I am with this album. We just have to wait and see how the audience react.
The last two records have had particularly prominent themes. Is that a means of trying to galvanise inspiration?
I think one important aspect of artistic work is having boundaries and limits. I think many people do themselves a disservice by working too freely, as then you don’t challenge yourself – anything can go. For example, in my day-to-day job, I work as a casting director for movies, and I usually say to the actors, “look – we could do this scene hundreds of times today, but the only thing that makes us stop is a deadline”. You can always overwork things and do 367 mixes but sooner or later you need to say stop, and I think that having a clear theme is a way of challenging yourself as an artist. I think that’s a good way of working. It doesn’t have to be a story with a narrative…I mean, make an album out of the colour blue, for example. For us as listeners, it doesn’t necessarily have a clear connection, but for you as an artist it helps you in knowing where you should be heading.
You’ve got a lot of electronics on this album, with a lot of striking sounds that I wouldn’t normally associate with a Cult Of Luna record. What was the process like of bringing those electronics into your sound?
For the first time, the keyboards were an integral part of the writing process. On Eternal Kingdom we tried to have the electronics in mind when we wrote, but we couldn’t do that in the same sense…when we wrote the songs they were basically ready and then we put the layer electronics on top, but this time we had the electronics while we were writing. It made a huge impact, as you clearly can hear.
There’s a prominent point on “Vicarious Redemption” where you’ve got a dubstep-style throb replacing the guitars for a bit. It certainly feels as though the electronics played a key part to the creative process.
Yeah. I think there are a few more parts that are just keyboards and vocals, like on “I: The Weapon”. It’s using it as an instrument rather than just as a melody maker.
How are you planning to carry off the record live? It’s a dense record with a lot of layers…
I guess we’ll have to wait and see! I mean, we have been able to play these songs live in the rehearsal rooms, so it won’t be such a big step taking them on stage.
I saw in a recent interview that you disclosed the whole concept behind your last record, Eternal Kingdom, as a hoax. What was the intention behind this?
With all respect, doing interviews is not the reason why I went into music. After being in this business for 10 years – doing interviews, reading interviews of myself, seeing people just repeating what I’ve said, reading magazines never putting out a critical questions, never motivating the artist to think about why they say stupid things, glorifying stupid behaviours and stupid artists as part of a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle that is worth taking after – I was so bored with it. Since music “journalists” do not seek the truth but just repeat what you say, I wondered how much I could lie and get away with. And it turned out that I could get away with a whole lot.
During the two years where I was lying constantly, never did I get a critical question. So we released a book, taking it out of the musical world and into the literary world, and we got caught by a local newspaper even before the book was released. So this new album is about scepticism, about confronting creative ideas, critical thinking, free thoughts and admiration towards what we do not know. If the last album is based on a lie, this album is…well, not based on the truth, but on the seeking of real truth.
Cult Of Luna’s website – http://cultofluna.com/