MARTEN HAGSTROM OF MESHUGGAHHHHH!! THE METALSUCKS INTERVIEW
By all accounts, the Meshuggah / Cynic / The Faceless tour earlier year was exactly the masturbatory dude-fest it promised to be from the get-go. With a lineup like that, how could it be anything less than completely mindblowing? Before the show I had the opportunity to catch up with Meshuggah guitarist Marten Hagstrom. I asked him about the touring lifestyle, how the band’s sound has evolved and changed over the years, Meshuggah’s now near-legendary cult status, and one question that really got his goat about the hoardes of Swedish melodic death metal bands that have grown to popularity in recent years. Our chat, after the jump.
How’s the tour going so far?
It’s been awesome so far. It’s a short run – about three weeks. This is the second to last show, and it’s been all good so far apart from the normal routine of everyone getting sick. We’re just fine though.
Is it a lot harder to tour in the winter?
Yeah, it’s harder. You get sick anyway. It just depends on the type of person you are. Summer tours can suck too because they’re so fucking hot. The cold doesn’t really help.
Certain people in the room not withstanding [motions to the members of The Faceless, standing in the corner], have you had a chance to check out the other bands on the tour yet?
Yeah I’ve checked out both The Faceless and Cynic on a couple of locations whenever I have the time to do it. It’s especially good to do before shows to just go down and catch a couple of songs to get geared up. This bill is awesome. Everyone is a good player, and it’s kind of a cool dynamic. Cynic is pretty mellow all the way through and The Faceless is all over the place. So they go through a lot of dynamics, chill us out, and then it’s us. So I think the setup for this bill is awesome, and we were lucky to get it together.
The last time you guys came through, you guys were opening up for Ministry. What was that tour like? What’s different about this tour; obviously you’re headlining, but what’s different about the preparation that goes into it?
The preparation itself is not that different. Being the opening act is always the same deal. These guys are going through it now. You got short set changes and you can’t adjust to everything that is going on. All the responsibility lies on the headliner to get the show on the road. With Ministry, we still had a really fucking good set. We got to have 45 minutes. The tour itself was pretty wild. It was a fun tour to be on. It was packed pretty much everywhere. We had a lot of fun. Preparation wise: there’s a lot more preparation that goes into a tour like this. When you open up, most of the facts are there already because someone has done it. This is a longer set. It is an hour and twenty-five so there is a little bit more rehearsing. Not that we actually did rehearse – we should have.
At this point in your career you guys have… 6 albums?
Maybe. I don’t even know actually. I haven’t counted them. (laughs)
How do you go about putting a set list together with so much material to choose from?
Obviously we try to make a pretty good cross selection off the new album, which [we] over-emphasize a little. I think we play about 5 songs off of the new album. When you know what songs you are going to play off of the new album, you kind of build the set around that. You’re like “okay here is what we’re promoting right now”. Then you’ll start looking for what makes sense. You have to have a little bit of Destroy Erase Improve and a little bit of Chaosphere. To keep it interesting you have to span your entire career when you’re headlining. If you’re opening up you don’t have to give a fuck about that. When you are headlining, you have to span as much as possible because a lot of the people are there to see you. Building the set list was basically deciding what songs from the new album and then trying to build it in a sensible way around that.
Do you ever get a lot of old fans saying “play more old stuff”?
Not anymore. We actually used to get it more than we do now. You still play old stuff. This set list spans from 1994 up until now. “Humiliative” is the oldest song we have and that’s like 93-94. So it’s a long span. More people are pissed off that we don’t play more off of Catch Thirtythree than we’re not playing off of Contradictions Collapse for instance. That’s what you hear more frequently.
Do you think it’s because the new album was the best ever selling in the States? Do you think that has a lot to do with the way people are reacting to the new stuff?
Yeah. I guess so. I don’t know how much this album has sold. I think it’s around 65 [thousand] or something. It’s not our best seller to date because nothing has sold a bit over 100. I’m not really sure. I don’t get into numbers and figures and stuff like that. I think Nuclear Blast is counting it to be over 110-120. If you compare where we are today with downloading and whatever goes on as opposed to when we released Nothing, that’s massive. Record sales since then are like halved. I think it has a lot to do with that. In America, apart from Catch Thirtythree, which really wasn’t properly promoted because Nuclear Blast felt a little weary about pushing an album that was one long song for 37 minutes. Apart from that we’re doing better with every album. With Contradictions Collapse, not a lot of guys are into that anyway. That album is not really representative of where we are today. I think we [have since] found the recipe for the way we wanted to sound. We have the framework of where we want to keep our sound in Destroy Erase Improve. That was where we found it. Everything before that is cool shit but still very much finding your way around.
Once you found that sound that you guys identify with, how do you balance from album to album to stay within that framework but still keep it interesting and change it a little bit?
Well, I don’t know because it’s not really a conscious effort. We cannot sit down and say “how should we go about changing shit up this time around” and sit around and think about it. What happens is we go back home and eventually you pick up the guitars and start getting ideas. The first time you come up with something that feels intriguing and you want to work on it, and when you feel that something is inspiring you then you go with it. It becomes what it becomes. There is no second guessing that type of thing. For us, if we try to over think shit, we mess it up. It would become shit because it has to be a kind of spur of the moment thing.
At this point in your career, 15 years and however many albums you have, you guys are pretty legendary. A lot of young bands look up to you. How does it make you feel?
I’ve been getting that question quite a lot. I don’t see it that way. I never felt that we were anything other than a Swedish metal band. I know what we’re doing is a little bit off, but the thing is that “legendary” type of stuff . . . Slayer is legend. We’re not. It’s cool though. What’s gratifying is to have people get influenced by what you do. I don’t care if it’s one guy. At least it would have made a difference to that person which is awesome. The more there are, the better it is. I’m good with that. It’s awesome.
Do you ever hear any of the new bands and think “that guy ripped off my riff”?
Not really. It happens where you think “oh, these guys listen to us” because you can hear certain stuff that is in there. There is a fine line. You never know, they might have been inspired by something that I was inspired by. Maybe they are into a metal band that I used to be into and easily have the same influence. Like if you have a band called Soul Burn which is one of our songs and it sounds like they used the same shit and setup, it’s flattering. Once again getting back to Slayer, they can fucking beat up half the bands on the planet for that in that case. It’s flattering if anything.
You guys came from Sweden with a lot of famous metal bands, at the same time as a lot of melodic death metal, which has sort of gone its own way now. How do you feel about that scene and those guys?
I hate it. I totally loathe it. Listen, I have nothing against the guys in the bands. I have nothing against the bands. I’m happy for them. If they’re doing well and if that’s what they want to do then fucking “hey good for you”. If you’re talking from my personal tastes, I prefer when bands play metal and not Schlager and pop music with fucking attributes of a metal band. You got two guys with distorted guitars and then you got two chicks singing and three keyboards and then they play “lalalala”. It’s not why I got into metal. It’s not like I’m saying it can’t be melodic. Cynic is very melodic and still fucking awesome. There are a lot of bands that people appreciate a lot over here, like I said I’m happy for their success, but I do not care for their music at all. It’s formula music. It’s built the same way that pop music is. It’s performed the same way pop music is with back tracks and everything. They’re like “oh, we’re so fucking bad ass and we look so hard”. Most bands from Sweden know what they’re doing when they’re playing. That’s a great benefit. It might be music that I hate, but they can still pull it off which is alright.
It’s good for all Swedish bands I guess.
I have nothing against it, but I would never listen to it. Having said that, there are a shitload of Swedish bands that I adore. The Haunted is a great fucking band. Entombed is a great fucking band. There is a lot of cool fucking shit around. A lot of the stuff that does well in Europe doesn’t necessarily do well over here. It’s like Nightwish, they’re from Finland, to call that metal is a fucking insult. It’s probably good music, but it’s not fucking metal. No way.
At least they know what they’re doing.
Oh, they know what they’re doing. They got it down. That’s why they’re doing well. Nuclear Blast is doing great.
Yeah, they put out a lot of good stuff.
They do. No doubt. It’s not the melodic parts that are the problem. I love a lot of melodic stuff. If you listen to Mr. Bungle, it’s melodic all the way through, but it’s great shit. I just want some thrill and excitement, something that makes me go “oh these guys have an original idea.”
The Faceless are a young band. Are there any other young bands that are coming up that you’re excited about?
To be honest, the last couple of years, I have really been out of touch with the metal scene in general. Bands that I consider new bands are not new bands anymore. Like Gojira, for instance, is fucking awesome. They’re not a new band anymore. They’ve been around. They got a couple of albums out. They’re headlining.
To Americans they’re new.
But they’re from France and have been around. They’re a great band. When Scarve was still around, they were a killer band. There’s shit around, no doubt about it. Whenever we get into writing mode, I never listen to other types of music. So I write, we do an album, and then we’re out on the road. We’ll be getting back home and having a little time off. That’s when I’ll be browsing through new shit that people have been talking about on the road.
What’s next? Are you taking some time off? Doing summer festivals?
Yeah, we’re doing European summer festivals. We’re going to do a short Scandinavian run in early April. We’re recording a live DVD and we’re recording tonight and we recorded the last couple of shows. We’ve got to work on that. So that’s going to take some looking over. So it’s summer festivals and then back into writing I guess.
Yeah I guess. It seems so soon already.
For us, yeah. When we finish this off, we’re going to have 135 shows under our belt. It’s not that much, but it’s still enough. We could tour for another year, but then we would be so sick of it all at the end of the tour that it would take 3 years for us to finish the next album. That just doesn’t make sense. It’s better to compromise the touring for a year or year and a half and then start over.
Thanks so much.
No problem man.