METAL’S BIGGEST PETERS: HYPOCRISY’S PETER TAGTGREN
Metal fans, let’s take a collective moment to consider ourselves blessed with some big Peters. Peters who will take you firmly from both sides of the mixing board with confidence and expertise. Sweaty, bulging-veined Peters whose live shows leave willing multitudes spent, sated, slack – and more than a bit bruised. These Peters, thanks to generous endowments of talent, stand fully erect as superstars in real metal. Each of metal’s hugest Peters share a rock hard work ethic, hardly pausing for rest between releases captured on tape and performances in the flesh, after which they simply move on to violate again in another city.
In the premiere installment of MetalSucks’ Metal’s Biggest Peters, I spoke by phone with Peter Tagtgren of Hypocrisy, who recently added a third instant classic to his resume with A Taste of Extreme Divinity (buy it now, DBAA). Tagtgren is a death metal household name and represents the rare quintuple-threat (guitar, vocals, production, songwriting, hair). With his feet up on the mixing board (awesome!) and in good humor, Tagtgren spoke at length about crappy production, freaking out metal fans, and why his bands Hypocrisy and Pain are ‘guinea pigs’ for the benefit of others.
A Taste of Extreme Divinity, is your tenth –
So Virus was the tenth!
Yeah, I think so.
Sorry. What’s your feeling so far?
It’s a continuation of the Virus [the album] but, if I listen to what people say when I’ve been doing interviews, it’s the most brutal album we’ve ever done – but also the most melodic. And it has a touch of the mid-‘90s stuff that we did, they say, [but] I have no clue.
How has your mindset changed over the years and after so many big recordings?
Mainly, my goal today is to write better songs, perform them better, and have better production on them. With the fast songs, we wanted to make them faster; we wanted to make the epic even more epic. It’s not really [about] trying to find a different style or anything. I think we developed our style over the ‘90s, which we’re trying to maintain. It’s really about the songs, not about trying to be a different band.
I’ve always wanted to ask about your time in Florida. To what extent did it inform your approach with Hypocrisy?
Maybe not so much. I think it was more from the beginning, the first two albums which have the American influences. But actually, it has a lot of Swedish influences, like Entombed and so on. When I started Hypocrisy, I wanted to have a band that was something between Deicide & Morbid Angel and old Entombed. That’s how it was in the beginning. But the more you grow, the more you go on your own path and discover your own style.
Cool. You mentioned that the focus of Hypocrisy is making great songs and not exploration?
Is that what your band Pain is for?
We did a different kind of Hypocrisy record with Catch-22 and people flipped out, y’know? So all the flipping out I do with Pain. It’s really good to have two different bands, because whatever doesn’t fit in one, you can use with the other. I don’t want to change Hypocrisy. It’s never been pure death metal. There are elements of doom, thrash, death, some squirts of black metal. [These are] just things I listen to that reflect in the songs.
It’s interesting to hear your say that people “flipped out” about Catch-22. It’s hard to tell if the comments a fan reads ever actually reach the artist. What’s it like from your perspective? You created the record –
— out of nothing –
— and people thought you overstepped your bounds?
Naah. I chose a different way of producing it. It was more American-sounding, drier, more in-your-face and punk. People wanted to hear Hypocrisy with a lot of reverbs and atmosphere. [On Catch-22] we did a 180. A lot of people got too surprised by it. Now that I’ve remixed it and given it that Hypo-vibe, people are like ‘Hey Why’d you do that? I liked it the old way!’ But when it came out, it knocked people on their ass because they were like ‘What. The. Fuck?’ You always have to try different things and then after 18 years, you know where you should go, and where you’ve been.
I think everybody was impressed when it was announced that Alexi Laiho would be Hypocrisy’s tour guitarist. Not your typical fill-in, is he? What the fuck, man?
[laughs] We’re good drinking buddies and good friends as well. Neither of us were afraid to do anything crazy. Klas [Idebirg] from Dark Angel has been helping us out for the last few tours since Andreas [Holma] left the band. [Alexi and I] were drinking a bit and I remember Alexi said he really liked Hypocrisy, and he knows most of the songs anyhow. We were always trying to do a tour together, either Pain or Hypocrisy with Children of Bodom. I just asked him ‘Hey. What do you think about just going with us for a month as a second guitarist?’ He said ‘Fuck yeah.’
I think anyone would say that. But you must be proud that you can pull in a ringer like that. Future fans notice that shit.
For sure. I’m definitely proud.
Do you agree that it puts a different perspective on the upcoming tour?
Yeah. I mean not only that … I asked him because we’re friends. We don’t hang out at festivals or in the studio. We’ll sit for just a weekend and just party and have a good time.
I think it’s a super great thing for Hypocrisy, especially considering how many weapons a band needs to get info-blinded people to participate in music.
Yeah, me too! I saw a lot of bullshit about it on Blabbermouth but who gives a shit.
[laughs] I know! Those commenters! They totally bum everybody out with their negative shit.
It’s always good to get a reaction – it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative.
Then you can take that and go kick ass on stage.
The last time I saw Hypocrisy, I must’ve looked hilarious with my mouth open and my eyes bugging out. I wasn’t the only one; the entire venue was abuzz after the set. Bouncers pumping their fists and shit? You guys destroyed.
Oh that’s cool. [laughs]
Sorry, but it was one of those rare moments. You’re also Peter Tagtgren the metal producer. Don’t you think it’s cool that established guys like yourself are guiding other metal bands? The metal musician/producer is a relatively recent development, right?
Um, in the mid-‘90s I just wanted to clean out the whole death metal sound, coming from the ‘80s with really shitty production. First of all, back then you could never hear a bass anywhere. Well, unless the music stopped while the bass kept playing by itself. My main goal was to make good sounding albums. That’s really how it started. I was tired of complaining about bands’ production. So I tried to change it!
I can think of some potentially great records that are marred by weak production. I’m imagine that a producer catches even more flaws. Can you give us any examples of production you don’t like?
No, I don’t wanna badmouth anyone. You know, certain bands should have a really weird sound; Darkthrone should sound like Darkthrone. That’s what they’re about. Certain bands should have certain sounds. [For] other bands it helps more to have a good sound.
[laughs] What’s your role in the studio? I’d hesitate to disagree with you.
Oh! You know, taste is so different [among] people. Mainly those who ask me to help them already like what I do and trust me. But it’s so different from band to band. When I was doing Celtic Frost [hard C pronunciation – ADF], they’d been working on the album for three years. They pretty much knew what they wanted, but didn’t know how to get it. They asked me to help.
Three years? It turned out killer.
Yeah, it was their comeback, [Monotheist], y’know? I guess they wanted someone who knew how the fuck to get their sound onto a CD. I didn’t get involved with how many times a riff should be played or anything. It was mainly [a matter of getting] the best performance and the best sound. Other bands say ‘Hey, do whatever you wanna do and we’ll see what happens at the mixing.’
Does a producer ever worry about giving too much away of his or her ideas?
I don’t know. With Hypocrisy and Pain, I work so many [sighs] fucking hours to get it the way it is. I have that luxury. With other bands, you have one month from the time they enter the studio until it’s supposed to be done. So, as a producer you take the safe things that you know will work. It’s not like you can experiment; you do not want to fuck up someone’s album because you placed the microphones wrong and now you can’t save anything of a certain instrument or something like that. Usually, you have a couple of days to sit and fuck around; with Hypocrisy or Pain, I can sit and fuck around for weeks. That helps me work faster with other bands. I’ll be able to say ‘OK I tried this with Hypocrisy for weeks – it doesn’t work. Let’s go another way instead.’ There really are benefits to having these two guinea pigs that I have. But also I don’t see myself as having a sound that I own. It just comes from what it is when you work a long time on it.
It’s easy to be a fan of dudes who make improve metal in a broad sense.
Ha, I mean, I forced so many black metal bands to pick up a five-string bass. Especially when Dimmu Borgir came up, they were like ‘What?!’ I told them ‘If you wanna have balls in the fucking production, you gotta do it!’ They were so new that they didn’t argue with me. [laughs]
That was really how it started. I did the same thing with Immortal and also Marduk. I forced them to tune the bass down, and not only do the super-high frequency stuff. You want the whole enchilada.
It’s a big sound, and it places you among good company with Devin Townsend and Peter Wichers.
Yeah! They are not the dudes in the ‘60s sitting behind a mixing board having never been out on the road or never even played that type of music. You gotta have someone who lives it, eats it, and shits it.
Do you actually have time to shit?
Do producers have wish lists? Is there a band that needs the Peter Tagtgren treatment?
Uh, just listen to the new Metallica or the new Slayer. The sound… I think they could get it much better.
Ugh, that Metallica record. What a disappointment.
Yeah, for me too. I don’t know what the [talk] was all about. Everybody was like ‘It sounds like old Metallica!’ It sounds like James Hetfield has a cassette deck at home with the parts that didn’t fit or weren’t good enough for Master of Puppets or any of the ‘80s albums. So 30 years later, the pull out the leftovers from that time and record it. And the sound is just terrible. The guitar sounds are okay, but the vocal sounds and the drums are fucking shit. It sounds like a demo! A big band like that? I guess they don’t give a shit – they want to do it their way.
Their way sucks now.
Yeah, I think so too.
Anso DF is a former music journalist who formerly whaled on easy targets and praised already legendary metalists on Hipsters Out Of Metal!