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ASTRAKHAN's Per Schelander: "I have worked so hard for Astrakhan since 2017 and it’s just so hard to establish a new band today. I would love to make another album but right now I can’t see how I can afford that. That’s the bitter truth."

Interview with Per Schelander from ASTRAKHAN
by Mike McMahon at 25 July 2021, 8:06 AM

Sweden’s Astrakhan is a very deep and emotionally driven band. Metal Temple writer Mike McMahan was able to catch up with bassist and songwriter Per Schelander to discuss influences, the writing process, touring and the raw emotion involved in writing and recording their latest album, “A Slow Ride Towards Death”.

Hello, Per. First off, thanks for taking the time to talk with me and congratulations on “A Slow Ride Towards Death”. It is a tremendous record, front to back. There is an incredible Progressive feel to it and is as stylistically diverse as anything I have recently heard. Are there varied influences from within the band that feed that sound?

Influences are a special thing and everyone in the band brings their own background and influences. I know we all listen to a lot of different stuff, and have different backgrounds. Alex comes from the Grunge era and then continued to work as a musical artist and the gap between those genres is quite big. There’s a big difference between what has influenced me and what I listen too. When it comes to influences there are the classics like THIN LIZZY, ZEPPELIN and some bands from the NWOBHM scene. But influences are more complicated than what you choose to listen to as a kid because you'll get exposed to more music than that. In my case I’ll guess that hymns and folk music had influenced me lot because that was the kind of music I was exposed to during my first 5 years. My mom played organ and piano in church, so I am probably marinated in hymns and similar kind of music. Then there’s two albums that had a huge impact on me during my late teens and that is “Operation Mindcrime”(QUEENSRYCHE) and “Passion and Warfare”(Steve Vai). Those two records were eye opening for me - they weren’t pretentious, the songs had bigger stories to tell than your average love song and they were complex - I still love them both! What I listen to is also a different thing. The last years I tend to listen to more singer/songwriters and I love Alison Krauss’ voice. I also just discovered that I like almost everything that Elvis Costello has done, there’s something with his voice too.

Are there other bands from the genre that you might be listening to at this point in time? Seraina Telli’s DEAD VENUS project is something you might try if you haven’t heard them yet. Very Progressive.

You mean from the prog scene? The only band I have found interest in, in a long time, is OPETH - love their latest album in Swedish. I also like Von Hertzen Brothers from Finland. I took a quick listen to Seraina and that sounded pretty interesting - good vocals! I am a vocal guy and that’s what I look for the most in music - good vocals eat riffs for breakfast.

Are the songs written as a unit, or is there a principal songwriter within the band?

In many ways, this is my album because I pushed it to the limit and was leading the project. With that said, many songs are written as a unit, and it’s one of the first times that the world gets to hear music and riffs from Johan Hallgren. It used to be me and my brother Jörgen writing the majority of the songs; but things have changed. We are so much into the creative part of writing music. I find that fascinating that you can create things together, I love that process. For this album we met one weekend and no one had a single idea when we got there. We just started to play together and left two day’s later with four solid, pretty much complete songs. The first one we wrote for this album was ”Lonesome Cry”. It went through a few lyrical changes but most of the songs were there from the start.

Musically speaking, there is a brutality that flows through the record (I’m leaning to “Take Me With You” as a good example of what I am trying to describe); but such a frailty in most of the lyrical content. Are you speaking to the duality of man, here, or was that a conscious effort at all?

I find it hard to talk about the lyrics because I write lyrics in a stream of consciousness style. That means that at first I only write down the words I am singing to the song spontaneously. After that, maybe I see some kind of pattern and start to adjust and change to make some kind of meaning. I tend to write about loss, relations and maybe desperation. For this album, I wrote a lot about my relation to music and the thought of losing that relation or ability to play music.

As a musician, and I use that term very loosely in present company, I can certainly understand that. That is a highly personal emotion to be expressing in your music, and it is greatly appreciated.

PS - Thank you!

I hear so many different influences in Alex Lycke’s voice, and it seems to change from track to track. There is a point at the beginning of “What You Resist Shall Remain” where I would have sworn I was listening to Ian Gillan, and parts of “Lonesome Cry” where there was an intense Bowie feel. Are those stylistic changes just depending on the feel you want for the individual tracks?

I guess so - but I wasn’t in the studio when they recorded the vocals. Alex works very well with Marcus Jidell (producer)and I totally trust them. On top of that Alex is such professional singer. You can push him in different directions and he can deliver exactly what you ask for. So I know from previous recordings that you could ask for stuff like - have a more Bowie or Cohen vibe here or make it sound like a young Ian Gillan or whatever. The tracks are different and every song needs a different approach or attitude, that goes for every instrument – you have got to give the song what it needs.

Were these tracks done with everyone in the studio, or did Covid force you to be separated?

This album is recorded during summer 2019 so Covid was not in our way during the recording. But when I approached labels in early 2020 Covid was sure in the way because everyone was scared… Anyway. When it comes to recording we like to record together. This time me and Martin were in the same room and we had set the sound from the beginning. The bass sound is only one mixed signal so there was not much to do in the mix. Same thing with the drums, the sound was pretty much set before we pushed record. We aimed for that with every instrument. Our goal was that it should sound so good from the start so the mixing process was more or less just using the faders to adjust the balances between the instruments.

There are a lot of bands really firing up the road at this point. Are you hoping to get out this year, maybe hitting some of the festivals, or doing a full tour?

Probably not this year because Alex is fully booked as a musical artist. He will do leading roles in big productions in Finland as well as in Stockholm during 2021. We are starting to look into the possibilities to actually bring this band to Europe during spring 2022 and are right now  in contact with clubs in Germany and Belgium who are showing big interest.

I still must go back and check out the live “Superstar Experience” release. That is quite an undertaking for anyone. What were those shows like, and is it something you may revisit in the future? I know that, for myself, it is something I would love to see in the States.

I would love to bring the show to the U.S! It was a great experience doing the shows and we worked so hard for them and the live album that it almost killed the band. We are a band that are guided by our visions and not by the obstacles that may be in the way. These shows did not come to us by accident, but rather out of the good experience we had playing “Gethsemane” as an encore. We never considered us being a band that works in the regular “album, tour and then start all over again” scheme. So after “Adrenaline Kiss” (2016) was released, we did some shows during a year and we started to think where do we go now and what do we want to do. On our way home from a short tour in Finland in 2017 we started to talk about the possibilities of doing more songs from “JCS” in a live situation. We love the music from “JCS”, and we also wanted to do something else other than just head back to the process of writing new songs - you need inspiration and breaks to make interesting music. The idea expanded and we pitched it to some theaters in Finland and they thought our ideas around the arrangement sounded very cool, so we started to work on it more seriously.

Was there video footage shot, other than the trailer, of an entire show? Any thought of releasing that on DVD/BluRay formats?

We couldn’t afford to hire a professional team to film the show unfortunately. It would have been great. I just have very raw footage from the F.O.H. The trailer includes some live clips and we also had lots of projections going on in the background. We wanted the show to both sound and look good.

How cool was it to get to work with Mats Leven on that project? I’m assuming he was a constant on the tour.

He was our first choice since we know him as a really good guy and a fantastic singer. I first met him when he stepped in for Mark Goals for three shows when I was in ROYAL HUNT in 2008. Then we have met from time to time. He’s just a joy to work with - professional, funny and he puts a lot of energy into everything he’s doing.

There seems to be a theatrical thread that runs through even “A Slow Ride Towards Death”. Is theatre a particular interest for the band, or is that something I’m reading into the material?

You may be more right than I want to admit here. I used to say that I didn’t like musicals. Then Alex joined the band. I remember working with him in the studio and I constantly described the songs and emotion in some kind o story line. I think all of our songs are like a full play compressed down to 6-7 minutes. Usually it takes something like 1.5 hours to tell such a story :). So I came to the conclusion that I am probably more inspired by drama than I thought I was. In general I am interested in art and for a matter of fact I have worked as operation manager/producer at a theatre here in Stockholm between 2012-2015.

You mentioned earlier that Alex was booked in leading roles. He is the major factor in the theatricality?

I think we all tend to think that a concert/music is more than just the sounds. We want to make it bigger and maybe more arty - we are not exactly MOTLEY CRUE :). Nothing wrong with them, they just have a different theatrical aspect to their music.

How has the writing process evolved from the first release to now? It seems that you have certainly grown with it through the years.

As i said it used to be me and my brother Jörgen’s project, but things have unfortunately changed. Something changed after we did ”Jesus Christ Superstar”. We used to inspire each other and write really good stuff together. This time it was harder, and in my opinion I had to push everything so much harder than I was used to. In the end he didn’t like the material, after everything was recorded, and left the band. ASTRAKHAN didn’t start out as a band, but has become a band more and more, and I want to hear every member and enhance everyone’s personality.

Have tensions lessened between you and Jorgen since that time? If that is none of my business, feel free to tell me to shut up.

We are of course on speaking terms and I guess he is recording some kind of solo album. I just think it’s a sad situation after all the work we have put down in this band. We are not 20 anymore and you can’t just start a new band that have everything you always wanted to have in a band. We had that; but he chose to quit.

Talk to me about the vision behind a song like “Youtopia” or “M.E 2020”. Both those tunes were of particular interest for me, and they are both quite brilliant.

”M.E 2020” is based around a theme that Jörgen had lying around for almost twenty years. We have tried it for every album but every time, we got stuck. This time I was determined that we should work until it was done because the main theme is so good! Maybe I was a bit too determined because this song was one of the songs that Jörgen and I didn’t meet each other and maybe he thinks that I ruined his song. I had a vision of a long and dramatic song which, definitely the last song on the album. That was my vision - the grand finale!

It is certainly that. Fantastic song.

Thank you! I wasn’t sure because of all the hassle I had with Jörgen, but everyone seems to really like that song, so I guess I did the right thing and trusted my gut feeling. ”Youtopia” is a different thing. It started out that I fooled around with my bass and tried to play an old Swedish folk song out of memory, just the melody on bass. I couldn’t quite remember it so of course I made mistakes and played the wrong notes and hey - the main melody for ”Youtopia” was  written. I played the guitar melody for Jörgen and his only response was – ”that will be a good song”. My intention was to write a moody dark ballad but once again, creativity wanted something else. I was looking for drum beats and by accident I started a drum loop with an indian vibe with lots of toms while I I was playing around with the melody. From that moment the song took a different direction. Lyrically, it deals with the feeling that you invested too much in a relationship? That the person you thought had it all has limitations? The idea that something is perfect always dazzles you and makes you blind. I elaborated a lot with bends on this one to capture the feeling and make the music go with the lyrics - Something isn’t right, disharmony…

It is a very effective track, and one of my favorites on the record. That song is another example of the lyrical ”frailty” I spoke of earlier.

PS - It’s one of my favorites too, and one of them where I have written every note and word.

Assuming you can get out behind this record, what kind of timeline would you imagine for any future release?

Right now I can’t imagine anything like that. I have worked so hard for Astrakhan since 2017 and it’s just so hard to establish a new band today. I would love to make another album but right now I can’t see how I can afford that. That’s the bitter truth.

Again, Per, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me. I am very happy that I was assigned the review for “A Slow Ride Towards Death”, and that I have been able to delve into a bit of the band’s history. I wish you guys all the best going forward and can’t wait to see what’s next for you.

I am so glad that you wanted to do an interview with me without asking me to pay to advertise on your site. I get 5-10 mails every week from magazines all over the world that want to do an interview with us, but first we have to buy an ad in their magazine. That is so weird because after a record like this I am broke! My job is to produce music, their job is to write about interesting artists - whether they are paying or not! As a musician you are so fed up with the “pay to play”, but nowadays you also have to pay to be interviewed so you can reach an audience who can see you pay to play at some club. It never ends and it is always the musicians who have to pay for it. If we don’t produce new music, there won’t be anything to write about and the magazines would die in a year. So, by doing this interview with me - you are the future!

At the end of the day, everyone with Metal Temple is a fan first, from the newest writer to the General Manager. I consider it an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to interact with you on any level, and again, I appreciate it greatly. Thanks, Per.



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Edited 21 September 2021
 

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