METALSUCKS EXCLUSIVE: THE CROWN’S MARKO TERVONEN TALKS DOOMSDAY KING AND THE RETURN OF JOHAN LINDSTRAND
Swedish death-thrash quintet The Crown is so awesome that their music overcomes your personal preferences and tastes. They represent a hot bikini fox that even your gf ogles, a burger whose aroma mesmerizes your vegan pals, a party joint on which squares toke sociably. So, extreme metallers can laud the quintet as the elite of their genre, while everybody else can say, “I’m not way into that scene, but I love The Crown.” They’re a common denominator, an irresistible force. Though their stuff is out there, it gets in you. Everybody saw Star Wars. Everybody reads In Cold Blood. Everybody can love The Crown. This is my belief srs.
And there’s more Crown to love as of last week when they announced their second reunion with original vocalist Johan Lindstrand. This follows a hiatus-breaking entry in the Crown discography, the tight, monochromatic Doomsday King (with ex-God Macabre screamer Jonas Stålhammer). It’s an unusual Crown album, admits guitarist Marko Tervonen, and one made under “difficult” circumstances. Its reception was unusual too: Some fans perceived a thematic about-face by the devilish Crown and firmly decried Doomsday‘s Christian-ish tone. About this mild backlash, a friendly and laughy Tervonen spoke with MetalSucks last week between answering a billion questions about the brief Stålhammer era, his awesome strategy for The Crown’s next classic album (forecast for a late Spring release), the new opportunity to reunite with Lindstrand, their slight tour schedule, families, friends, confusable album titles, and the songwriting arsenal/ball-crunching power of the “properly” reunited Crown.
Anso DF: I’m super stoked about The Crown’s line-up news: For the second time, The Crown made one album with a different singer and then has reunited with original screamer Johan Lindstrand. Isn’t this crazy?
Marko Tervonen: Yeah, it’s crazy. We’ll have to re-record that album too [laughs]. No [laughs]. It is a bit crazy. Time flies so fast. In a way, we’ve done this before. At one point, Johan left and we had Tomas [Lindberg, then-formerly of At The Gates] doing vocals; then Johan was back, and then we split up. Then we did [2010’s Doomsday King] with Jonas Stålhammer. It is crazy [laughs] but it’s also one of those things that feels really good. It’s such an [amazing] thing to just be in the same room with these guys to create music. We started doing this when we were 14 years old. We’ve been playing in The Crown or together in some way for basically half of our lives. I’m really happy and feel really blessed that I can still have this part of my life. It’s really enjoyable for me.
For you, does Johan’s return make it really different from The Crown with Jonas Stålhammer?
Yeah, of course it is. Even when we had Tomas or whatever in the band, we always tried to make the best possible situation out of it. Of course it’s easier to be in a band where everybody is old friends — you know everybody’s pros and cons [laughs]. So, it’s a bit easier [with Johan]. I have absolutely nothing negative to say about Jonas; his contribution to Doomsday King was amazing and he’s a really super guy. It was all fantastic. But he knew when he joined the band that our first intentions were to sort of make a real reunion [counting all five original members]. Two years ago, it just wasn’t possible. Now the opportunity has come up. Yeah, he’s cool with it. We’re fuckin’ back [laughs].
What has changed in the past year or so to allow for a full Crown reunion?
It’s a lot of things. [Exhales] I think the biggest difference is that we are [pauses] — dare I say it — a bit more mature people now? The band is something we hope to have with us for many, many years. But at the same time everybody is on the same level of understanding what the band is and what our normals lives are. We all have babies and families, and of course priority number one will always be that my family feels good.
A few years ago, The Crown was always the main focus. We did a lot of touring and a lot of shows, all of us. But this time, we’ve tamed the beast of it [laughs]. We need to keep it under control so we can actually do this; that’s the most important thing. So the focus will be [on] one-off shows here and there, and festivals, and focussing a lot of energy on doing the best albums possible. We’re all in the same headspace, everybody, so it feels really good. It feels easy, actually.
Are you saying now that The Crown plans about the same number of live shows for the next album as you did for Doomsday King?
That’s right. We’re gonna be pretty selective. I can imagine doing some shorter tours here and there. It depends. If people in the US want to book us, we’ll fly in right away. We love the US. It just needs to be done a bit more controlled. I can imagine, like, 20 shows per year. You can put a lot of energy into those and make them special. That way, we won’t become the sorta house band of Europe that tours all the time.
If I were in a major metal band, I would’ve called The Crown right away to join a huge tour. That would be my first priority. I’d push for a co-headlining deal.
[laughs] Cool. Actually, we have had some discussions about it. That is something we’d like to do. I find it very difficult to, um, leave my normal life for a couple months and play rock songs, then come back home and take care of my little son. It needs to be done in a different way for it to be possible.
My sense is that most bands are as popular as they deserve; each does something that its audience wants, big or small, for better or worse. But I think The Crown is an exception: Your band deserves a Children Of Bodom- or Lamb Of God-sized audience. Is time passing by for a Crown breakthrough? Are you at all conflicted by the responsibility to your music and the priorities of your family?
A lot less conflicted nowadays. In our heads, we think we have some sort of perfect [plan for] how we can continue. I would love for The Crown to still grow as a band and play to a bigger following; we could do even greater shows and cooler things. That’s always something in the back of my head.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m prepared to sacrifice everything for it. The band is the band. If we look at it with open eyes, it’s not The Crown that puts bread on my table. It’s my sort of normal life that takes care of my family and myself. So the band is fantastic to have in your life, an outlet for your artistic side. Even though if I didn’t play in a band, I’d still like music; that’s something that’s within me. But now I have an extremely cool outlet with my best friends to do it.
Is it too late for us to kinda become big? I’m not sure. It’s very difficult to see. I know for bands that want to get to that next level, there’s a lot of sacrifice. If we would do like 200 shows per year for five years, I’m convinced we’d become a bigger name. But as I said, it doesn’t mean that we desire that [to the extent that] we’re prepared to do the very hard work. I mean, we’ve done hard work, paid our dues, and done all sorts of crazy shit. In a way, we’re very happy about the level we’re at because we exist. The extreme [opposite would be] that I could have a life without my best friends, not being able to create music with them. So I’m a happy fuck anyway [laughs].
I’m still extremely happy that in these very weird days, there are still labels wanting to release albums and that they sell pretty good. That’s amazing!
Does The Crown have a deal for another record with Century Media?
Yeah! We’re gonna do one more.
Is CM happy about the new old line-up?
[laughs] Oh yeah. They were very happy. We’ve now started to rehearse new songs and the plan is to enter the studio sometime around February.
That’s gonna be really cool.
Very exciting! Talk to me about the new music. A band statement said that six or seven songs have been started. Is that accurate?
Yeah! We haven’t rehearsed all of them — just a couple of them. The songs are still in my head and Magnus’ [Osfelt, The Crown bassist] head. Every time we meet, we pick up a new song and just work with it. I think it will flow in the same way as always; there’s going to be a little new stuff and a little bit of old stuff, but always a focus on creating strong songs with good structures. That is something we’re working on. It needs to be a very natural flow in the songs, so we always tweak stuff right up to the end.
Doomsday King is an interesting link in The Crown’s chain. You guys had been apart for a while, and then reconvened with a new singer. You and I talked before the album was finished, but now can I ask you about your level of satisfaction with Doomsday King? Did it turn out like you wanted?
Yes, I believe it did. I know it’s a pretty hard album to digest. If you compare it to other Crown albums, it’s more of a straight line. Other albums went off and we broke down the tempo a little bit; there was a bit more variation. On Doomsday King, you can sense a certain feel from start to finish. It is a very brutal album and the production is pretty tight. I think it turned out the best way we could actually do it. The only opinion I have about it [relates] to production. I produced the album, and I have some opinions on how I wanna do the next one.
The biggest difference from the other Crown albums is that it was written by Magnus. That’s where you get the one style of music; a typical Crown album is written 50/50 by Magnus and I. That’s something we’ll do with the next one. I have a really good feeling about it.
Some say that longest enduring bands have a pair of voices, so to speak. In other words, two great songwriting powers can represent two equally necessary elements, like a sandwich’s bread and meat. The Crown has the Marko voice and the Magnus voice, represented on Possessed 13 by “Bow To None” and “Kill ‘Em All,” respectively. Can you explain why Doomsday King was all in Magnus’ voice, so to speak?
It was because the songs were actually written before The Crown got together [again]. Magnus had written the songs and [planned] to start this new project, Dobermann. I think you and I spoke about that last time. The songs were written without even thinking about The Crown; it was just [meant to be] thrash/death metal, really aggressive music. He had nine or ten songs done, and then he called his friends to help him. He called Janne, then he called me, and suddenly we Crown members were in the same room. Somewhere down the line, we thought, ‘Shit, we should do this as The Crown because it is very Crown-ish in so many ways.’
So the songs weren’t written [for] The Crown. But when we started playing them and putting them through our personal filters, it became sorta Crown-polished in a way. But it was definitely not our typical [process in that] I didn’t write any of the songs. I wrote a few melodies and stuff like that. But the next album will definitely be more Crown-ified [laughs]!
[laughs] I think that’s noticeable to listeners. It is made by The Crown guys with most of the characteristics of a Crown album. But you can hear a difference.
Yeah! I can understand that.
But now you’re in 100% Crown form.
Yes. I think because we’re creative now, we’ll have the luxury of having too many songs. It’s going to be a nice problem to have to select the best ones. Maybe we’ll release a bonus CD or whatever. It’s a very good time now.
Well, Marko, if you and I had spoken in 2003 around the time of Possessed 13, I would’ve suggested to you that the only logical next step for The Crown would be a double album!
[laughs] Yeah. Not so many bands can get away with a double album. They’re hard to digest. So I take that as a compliment. Thank you [laughs].
Is it confusing that Doomsday King‘s title is so similar to that of another album by The Crown, Deathrace King (2000)?
Not for us. For us it’s a completely different monster. But I understand that reaction. It made sense for us when we made the album. You can imagine that there was a lot of brainstorming going on. But actually it was very easy; someone suggested it and we said ‘Yeah! Sounds good!’ And we never looked back.
Were any of you asked by your record label or management, like, ‘Wait a second — Doomsday King? Are you sure?’ How did you reply?
[laughs] Actually, they didn’t mention it! We were kinda waiting for it. They didn’t mention it — at least, not in a negative way. That’s why we never looked back [laughs].
Well, that’s easy! Say, I noticed that some fans of the album reacted in an interesting way to its lyrics. Is Doomsday King a Christian-themed album in any way?
[laughs] What do you think?
I think it’s impossible.
[laughs] Actually, I remember when I started seeing that [kind of] of comment, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was like, “What the fuck is this?’ [laughs] Like we became Christian [laughs]! It’s a lot of fun. We are glad so much about it. It’s silly.
I really don’t know [the reason for that reaction]. Some lyrics, of course, are written in a provocative way, you could almost say. I remember Magnus mentioning this very early that it’d be fun to sorta provoke the Satanic metal heads. Obviously it worked [laughs]. I definitely wouldn’t call the lyrics Christian; that’s fucking ridiculous [laughs].
Well, user comments on the internet are not renowned for their accuracy. But I felt doubt when some commenters sounded so certain, as if they’d read an interview with The Crown that addresses the topic. So I’ve been dying to confirm that with you. Pretty absurd.
Yeah, it is. The internet is a pretty dangerous toy for kids with opinions. The shit spreads so fast. You know how it is.
The Crown has experienced production troubles on at least one album. Now that you’ve become The Crown’s producer, what are your thoughts on those situations?
I could talk about that for a week [laughs]. Production is my biggest passion. I think you should narrow it down [laughs]!
Sure! Do you wish that you’d been producing The Crown’s albums from the start?
No, no no. When we did our very first album in 1994-95, The Burning, I wasn’t skilled enough. I’d produced some demo tapes for friends around that time, but … No way. Only in the recent five years have I felt somewhat comfortable producing and mixing albums. It’s a pretty difficult thing. Sometimes I feel, ‘What the fuck am I doing mixing albums? They sound like shit!’ The next day, I think, ‘Hmm. That doesn’t sound so bad!’ It goes up and down.
It can be really difficult, because not only do I try to listen to all the artists all the time to think about it as a musician, but I get lost in a little bubble, just existing there by myself for a week or two weeks [during a project]. It’s a pretty difficult process. It’s becomes a bit easier over the years, because I’ve produced all kinds of albums — not just metal — and every genre is a challenge. That’s what I appreciate; those challenges make me a better producer.
But I believe that Deathrace King, Crowned In Terror, all those albums … I wouldn’t have done it better. Not at all. But I really look forward to the next album because there were a lot of challenges with Doomsday King‘s recording and mixing. For the next album I have a plan. You’re gonna feel it; it’s going to be very powerful.
Look, I worship the album Possessed 13 and that worship relates directly to its production. The album creates a world for its listener; it has three acts, a great track order, and a resemblance to classic horror cinema. It is these touches that make P13 bigger than its songs, something that lives in the mind. That’s why it belongs among metal’s ten or twenty best albums ever.
Whoa! Thank you.
Nah, I think nearly all metal fans would agree after ten good listens or so. It’s a slow-burner, but ambitious and magic as hell. Will the next Crown album build on P13‘s approach?
Yeah! Actually, you’re absolutely correct; that is my intention. I want to create a feel and mood that will feel very right for the album. There are certain approaches that we really want to have; I want to avoid drum samples for the next one. I want to have a dynamic, [exhales] … Maybe not ‘natural’ in a boring way, but ‘natural’ in the sense that you’ll feel that there’s a band sweating and playing. My hope is that you will feel the energy and dynamics.
I have a lot of opinions about today’s productions. In a sense, I feel that we went a bit too far on Doomsday King; it’s pretty, pretty damn compressed, everything. I want to [pauses] be able to hear a spark of life; it’s not gonna be a fucking dead, electronic production. I’m so bored with that shit. You’re gonna feel a band playing. That’s my plan.
You used drum samples on Doomsday King?
I’ve never mentioned this in an interview, but here’s the thing: The whole album was very [sighs] difficult to record. The drums were recorded almost a year before we started the guitars. At that point, the way that we could do it was to have Janne [Saarenpää, drums] play on his electronic kit; basically, it only recorded MIDI signals — even the cymbals, hi-hats, everything.
So, there’s not a trace of acoustic sound on those drums [laughs]. That was the only possible way for us to do it. Janne had just had a baby; he’d get up at four in the morning and spend two hours recording drums at home and then go to work. It was very hectic. We couldn’t have a studio ready for The Crown for three months with microphones placed. So it’s 100% digital drums. Janne still played it; it’s his style and we haven’t edited it. There’s some small mistakes here and there, but it’s only natural. He’s a human being. The whole sounds are pure digital.
Weird! Yes it is! Absolutely weird! And I had to struggle in the mixing process to make them sound a bit natural [laughs]. That’s a lot of compressors there to make the sound pump, in a way. But it also gave the album a certain feel; to me, it has a much colder feel to it. The levels are basically the same all the time — the kicks, the snares. It’s a very different feel to it. That’s why I want to go all the way opposite with the next one.
Part of The Crown’s identity is Janne’s drumming. Unlike some drummers, he sounds like a human playing drums, not a machine. And the other players sound like guys playing along with a drummer, not to a click. So it’s shocking to hear about the way you made Doomsday King.
It is. It basically goes in the opposite way of the way we’d like to have it [laughs]. All of the albums were done with natural drums, with a couple samples here and there. But those were the options: to not make the album or to make it this way.
Well the happy ending is that Doomsday King is an awesome album anyway.
Yeah! I’m still proud of it. Next to the other ones, it’s a good piece of Crown history, of where we were at the time. I have no regrets in the big picture; it’s the best album we could make at the time. My focus is on the next one!
Were you satisfied with promotion of Doomsday King?
Yeah, definitely. In the business, a thousand bands come and go every day. So it was amazing to see that when we announced Doomsday King, there was a lot of people reacting to it. One thing we can say about the people who have followed the Crown is that they are loyal. When they like us, they really fucking like us. That is amazing. We were out of the scene, years went by, and when we came back, those fucking hardcore people started writing emails telling me how much they love the band. That is amazing. That’s something we respect and appreciate.
Dude, older people in America all remember where they were when John F. Kennedy was murdered. I remember exactly what I was doing when The Crown announced their break-up in 2004. I was in public, wearing my Aerosmith Permanent Vacation shirt and I reflexively cried out, ‘No!’
[laughs] So you’re one of those freaks I was telling you about! [laughs]
Yeah. Let’s backtrack to something we touched on before. Did you say that Jonas always knew about your wishes to eventually reunite with Johan?
When we approached Johan a few years ago to join The Crown one more time, he said, ‘No, not this time. I have priorities with One Man Army & The Undead Quartet.’ So we just left the idea and started focussing on something new. That’s when we called up Jonas. But in a way, I’m pretty sure that Jonas knew that … Because that was our intention to have a proper reunion, and Jonas wasn’t a hired gun, and when we got Jonas the plan was to continue that way. But things happened. I was out this summer with Johan having a few beers, just talking. I kinda felt that he was extremely positive about joining The Crown again. We just started talking seriously about it, and said, ‘Wow, we could actually do it this time.’
So we talked to Jonas and said, ‘This is how The Crown is going to continue, y’know, going back with the old line-up.’ He was so cool with it; he said, ‘No problem. Johan is the singer who deserves to be in the band.’ There are no hard feelings. Everything was done with mutual respect. It was all good. This is the way we’re gonna continue now. Let’s see what happens.
What will you miss about Jonas?
Oh [laughs], shit, there’s a lot of things to miss. He’s a really, really great guy. One thing we really appreciated about Jonas was that he’s super-creative. He wrote the lyrics to half of the album and got them done really fast. He has a lot of ideas; he even played some mellotron on the outro song. A really creative guy. The last time we had Johan in the band, he didn’t write that many lyrics. It was basically done by me and Magnus, and he wrote some stuff here and there. But during the time that Johan has been in One Man Army, he’s become a very productive lyric-writer. So he’s on fire to write lyrics and get involved now. That’s gonna be really interesting.
Actually, Jonas is in a band called Bombs of Hades, and we just discussed that we should do a show together here in Sweden to properly say goodbye to each other. It will be really cool to do a show like that, and do a song with Jonas. I’m sure we’ll be connected again in the future. He can hang with us in the studio and have some beers. Cuz I really enjoy his company. He’s a good guy.
That’s the best way to do it. There’s no time for fighting.
Yeah, we’re fucking too old to start bitching at each other [laughs].
What will be the fate of other projects by The Crown members, like Engel, Angel Blake, and One Man Army?
I’m sure everything can co-exist. I put Angel Blake a little in the background; my emphasis is on The Crown now. I want to continue writing music for that. And Marcus [Sunesson, guitarist] has Engel; they just did a new album and a tour. It doesn’t need to be a problem; I’m pretty sure everything can co-exist. The Crown isn’t the most active band in the world, touring-wise, so if someone wants to go on the road for six months [with another project], go ahead! We’ll always find a way to go forward anyway. No one is stopping anyone. We’re grown-up people [laughs].
It sounds like you are really excited about making another Crown record. That energy is going to lead to another great Crown record! So I’m excited!
Yeah, and I own my own studio. So we will have time to spend on tweaking everything until it’s the best we can do. So I have very high hopes for the next one. The songs we are working on sound pretty damn powerful. If I can just get the production right —
MT: — I’ll be happy with it [laughs].
You plan to record in February, right? So we can expect a release in fall 2012?
Yeah, hopefully before that. I would love to release it before summer. That would be the best thing. We could do festivals again; that’d be great timing. But at times, I’m a bit too optimistic when it comes to calculating time [laughs]. Let’s see how it evolves.
I really want to thank the people that remember us; that’s an amazing feeling. They will hear a lot more good albums. We plan to be around for a long time. We have realized that this is part of our lives; I wouldn’t want to be without it. For us, the focus is having a new album every 18 months or two years, and have fun with it, and leave a nice stamp on metal for the next generations.
The Crown slates February for recording of their eighth album. Working titles include Dartsgame King and Methface King.