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Mikael Stanne - Dark Tranquillity

Interview with Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity
by Justin Wittenmeier at 20 October 2018, 5:23 AM

On Sept 7th, at the Gramercy Theater in New York, DARK TRANQUILLITY started their North American tour with Finland’s AMORPHIS, OMNIUM GATHERUM, also from Finland, and Portugal’s MOONSPELL.   One of the last half dozen or so shows left was at the Diamond Hall Pub in Louisville, Kentucky where Metal Temple writer Justin Wittenmeier saw all four bands tear up the stage. Prior to the show,  he was lucky enough to sit down with DARK TRANQUILLITY vocalist Mikael Stanne and speak with him on a variety of subjects.

Thanks for setting down with me before the show, I know you are very busy.

You are very welcome, not a problem.

Tour going well so far?

Yeah, it has been going great…incredible!

So “Atoma” has been out two years, give or take.  I’ve noticed you are still incorporating a lot of songs from that release into your set list, which is good of course.  No doubt there continues to be a positive fan reaction for “Atoma?”

Yeah definitely, we are still kind of on the Atoma tour.  We started out preparing for seven or so songs from the new album and that has kind of change over the three North American tours we have done.  It is just a matter of finding the right songs that feel good to perform, knowing the audience is getting into them.

Changing it up for the fans is definitely a good thing.

Definitely and it changes it up for us too, as a band.  Sometimes you start to feel like you are doing the same thing every night and, for me, that can get boring so we do like to change things up from time to time.

So next year is going to be, I think, the 30th anniversary of the band?  So you’ve formed around high school years…

Yep, I believe so, thirty years.  We are 15 or 16 year old.  When we did Skydancer, we wanted to do something different.  Of course, we love Death Metal but we wanted to incorporate some different ideas and styles into it.

I suppose that is why Skydancer contained a lot of acoustics, a lot of melodic passages?

Yeah just because we felt like no one was going something like that at the time.  We didn’t have an idea of what exactly we wanted to do but we knew we wanted to sound different from everyone else.

Me and other fans know that you guys are often times considered the main force of Melodic Death and that classic “Gothenburg” sound.  How does being called that feel from your side?

Of course, from our perspective we don’t see it like that.  We don’t really think of ourselves in that way.  For a long time during the 90’s, it felt like a weird thing to say and I couldn’t really see it.  Looking back at it now, the early years of us and the other bands, of course something special was happening but, for us, it was about trying to get away to be different, trying to rebel against normalcy in a way.

What did your parents think of you and the band mates forming this Death Metal band so early?  Were they supportive?

Yeah they were absolutely!  They didn’t care for the music per say and they thought it was just a phase at first but at the same time, my parents let us transform their garage for a rehearsal room.  My mom would make dinner for us everyday (laughs) but yeah they were there for us.  They figured it might one day pass and I would go back to being, like, a normal dude but that didn’t happen! (laughs)

At what point in your career, did it move past being “teenagers in a garage,” and start to feel like the band was something that was going to last, maybe do it for a living?

I don’t know if I ever viewed at something I wanted to do for living exactly…more like something I wanted to do with my life, you know?  I’ve never thought about it as a profession or a career. It’s always been something that is us, the band, we are together..let’s make some music and see what happens.   But I guess when we made “The Gallery” and tours started happening we felt like we could do it, that we were becoming the band we wanted.  But money wasn’t and still isn’t the focus…we just wanted to get out there and meet people who liked our music and perform for them, as many as possible.  We still do.

I guess that is the key to your longevity, that you have never been worried about money or viewed it as something you had to do.

We never had expectations…we just wanted to do this and see what happens.  With every turn, we of course like every good thing that has happened to us but after The Gallery everything has just been like a bonus, you know?  We just still want to tour and play music for people, that is the goal.

All your albums sound different yet you keep your signature sound.  Every album sounds fresh, sounds different but it still sounds like Dark Tranquility.

I think with each writing process for each album, we think about and ask each other what should we do.  More often than not,  we just say, “let’s do the opposite of what we did last time,” or try to get away from our sound as much as we can and try that direction.  If you have that frame of mind going into the writing process, you can keep things still feeling fresh and exciting.  It gives us some creative freedoms in a way, to open up the door for new ideas.  Then you can shape those ideas and figure out what you want to do in each song.

Have you guys written any songs were you stepped back and noticed it was something we couldn’t put on the record, that it wouldn’t work for the album in question?  The bonus tracks for “Atoma” were so different and became bonus tracks.

Not really but maybe there were songs were we thinking “No, this isn’t good enough” but there isn’t anything we actually recorded that we decided wouldn’t work and scrapped it.  Of course, we have written songs very early on in the writing process and decided it wouldn’t work and changed them.  With the “Atoma” bonus tracks, we realized really early on they were going to be different.  But instead of changing them and trying to make them sound more like the rest of “Atoma” we decided to make them sound as different as possible from the rest.

With “Atoma”, you have reached eleven albums that isn’t counting EP’s, demos, bonus tracks…you just have so many songs.  How do you decide what goes in a setlist?

It is frustrating and difficult sometimes of course.  Some songs we just have to play, they are so expected.  But we try to choose the “songs in between” where we try to surprise people or an older song some people haven’t heard.  Some songs like “Terminus,” and “Wonders at Your Feet” we always try to include.  But sometimes you have to figure out what to take out of the set list to do things like time constraints.  It can be a nightmare to choose but at the same time it is fun to go back and look at some of the songs, some of the older ones and rehearse some of the more obscure songs.

Do you rehearse before every show?

We have got out of it.  We actually used to all the time until until about 2010, we would do it twice a week.  We still rehearse before a tour but everybody is so well versed and we have been doing it so long.  But that is as a band..individual members practice on their own like with Anders and his drums.  We rarely have a chance to do this as a band in an actual rehearsal room since we are spread so far apart.

With newer touring members Chris and Johan in the band, I guess the dynamics of the songs have changed somewhat?

Yeah of course.  Also, with Anders with bass there is more new guys than old guys in the band (laughs) so it is crazy.  I’ve known him since we started the band, so at the time time it is familiar.  We didn’t Johan before two years ago but he is such an incredible musician, we have a blast together.  Chris we knew from Arch Enemy so these new guys make perfect sense, it works so well together.  Right now we are the best live band we have ever been.  Everyone is at the top of their game, we have never sounded better.  That isn’t a knock against past members or set ups, but we can do anything now.

I guess there was a period of adjustment with newer members after playing so long with Sudin, who isn’t currently touring. Did it take some getting used to not having your longtime friend on stage?

Of course, yeah,  standing on stage with three new people is different but at the same time it is fun and exciting.  It is very easy to feel like you are doing the same thing over and over again, like you are going to work so it’s been great with some changes.

You just have to keep going you know?

We still have a great time doing it.  Sometimes tours can be tough, sure, but it is still very rewarding.  Of course, I do miss my home, I want to see my family, but we still have a passion for doing this.

I’m glad America is treating you well.  In the past, you mentioned there was no room for racism in Metal, and my country has never been more divided.  Was there any particular experience you’ve had that made you want to say this?

We travel around the world every year; of course, just seeing racism, just a dividing between people and opinions and stuff…it is like, “really? Do we really need this?”  We see it everywhere and it it is a simple as that.  It is really frustrating but as horrible as it can seem, it is something that fuels my imagination and writing.

Your lyrics contain so much depth, very psychological and they ask a lot of ourselves, to look within and figure things out. I guess you sometimes turn any negative experiences into something positive.

Yeah I guess…I mean, sure, but I don’t consider myself a negative person but getting things out of my system is good and I hope other people can feel it to, to get a release from the negative aspects.

*notices my Zelda tattoo

Oh yeah, I’m a huge gamer.  You like to game too, right?

Fuck yeah (laughs).

I’ve been playing since the NES days.  Playing any games right now?

I have the switch in my bunk right now.  But I can’t wait to get home and play Assassin’s Creed, Forza 4. I want to play Red Dead Redemption too, can’t wait for that.

You play on the tour, in between the drive to shows?

Normally I do, I did in on our Europe tour.  The bus right now doesn’t have the capabilities to get too much into it right now.  I would to be playing Spider-Man right now (laughs).  We had a song in a game once, and I have a lot of friends in the industry.  But not a lot of playing on this tour, at the moment.

Going back to tour, I know you toured for a few years on Construct, and your two years in for Atoma.  How do you decide how long to tour for a particular album?

It depends.  I think now we have done three North American tours and two for Europe.  Next year we will do Asia, Australia..stuff like that. I think after that we won’t do anymore long tours for Atoma, we need to get back to writing.

Starting a new album?  Lately there had been a larger gap in releases for you.  Are you thinking of closing the gap for Atoma’s follow up?  Any ideas for the next album?

Yeah, we are thinking of that but it depends on how long we get into our writing.  We really don’t really have ideas at the moment.  I write the lyrics but, right now, Anders (drums) and Martin (keyboards) are the main song writers and we haven’t really got together yet.

“Damage Done,” Most of “Haven,” and “Character,” didn’t have much in the way of clean vocals.  How do you decide what vocal style to use on the albums?

Depends on the song.  I listen to the song…in parts or sections.  Maybe this part needs some sort of melody, not just screaming.  Sometimes I’ll float the idea to the other guys and see what they think flows.  So it really depends on the feel of the song.  For instance, “Clearing Skies,” originally had a clean vocal chorus for a long time but I tried something else and felt it was better with the screaming/growls.

It seems like the final track on each release is just really epic, really good, does the band end each album like that on purpose?  Maybe like going on with a bang, so to speak?

After an album, we sit and try to figure out how to put the album together.  We agree on the opening track, for example, and go from there.  We try to keep the big songs for last, I like it when an album finishes strong, so different from the beginning of album.  It is planning and making sure the album flows all the way the through.


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Edited 28 January 2023

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