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Niklas Stalvind - Wolf

Interview with Niklas Stalvind from Wolf
by Joseth Radiant at 24 April 2020, 4:25 AM

While it has been exciting to see the New Wave Of Traditional Heavy Metal becoming more and more popular as of late, there have been bands that have carried the torch of Traditional Heavy Metal for as long as they’ve been in existence. WOLF has played this style of music from the beginning and they truly don’t, according to the Facebook page bio, “give a shit about the flavor of the day. They play loud and make no excuses.” On a lovely afternoon earlier this month,Metal Temple writer Joseth Radiant sat down with lead singer and guitarist Niklas “Viper” Stålvind to discuss the band’s history, the double-edged sword that is religion, their upcoming release "Feeding the Machine," as well as nerding out about guitar gear.

MT: First of all, thank you very much for your time. Secondly, I always start every interview by saying that I’m not looking for a juicy bit of gossip or an exposé. I’m about the music and what inspires the music. Maybe we can also talk a bit about guitar, guitarist to guitarist.

Nik: Oh yeah, I’m totally into guitar gear! I’m a really big guitar nerd. I’m not a virtuoso of any sort, but I really enjoy guitars. I love that stuff. I could talk about it, well, how long do we have?

MT: As long as you have time for it! (Laughs) Now before we get into it, I gotta tell ya, before yesterday, I had never heard of WOLF. I received the files from Century Media earlier in the week, but I’m a busy man with work, family, and other albums to review. So I read your bio that was sent to me, and as I read it, I kept saying, “Yes. Yes! YES!” Tell whoever wrote that bio that they did an amazing job. The last line of the bio read, “That you cannot kill that which is forged in steel!” As soon as I read that, I was sold. And then I listened to the album! If this would have come across my desk for review, I have to say it’s my third 10/10 album for the year. It’s that good, and well done to all y’all!

Nik: Thank you very much! It makes me very happy to hear that. Thank you for those kind words.

MT: You’re welcome, man. So I did my research before today, and found out that you guys started around 1995, correct?

Nik: That’s right. Another outsider, Mikael, and I didn’t have any friends, so we found each other. We didn’t only not like music, but we didn’t like the 90’s. Speaking for myself, I felt like an alien all through the ’90s. I didn’t feel very good about it, and I felt very different and lonely. No one wanted to listen to the music that I enjoyed and no one wanted to play the music that I enjoyed. People were really mocking the music that I really loved and Mikael kind of felt the same. So he and I found a drummer and we started, and when we had the songs “Electric Raga” and “In The Shadow of Steel” that wound up on the first album, that’s when we knew that we had it. Then the drummer left and then we got another one who left not too long after that because was older and had already been through what we were going through multiple times. Then we got a third drummer who was actually an old classmate of mine that used to lend me KING DIAMOND albums. That was Daniel, the drummer of the first three albums. He, the bass player, and I wrote those albums and we really felt like, “Fuck everything! This is what we want to do!” And when the first album came out (self-titled debut in 1999), I didn’t know anything about the Swedish metal scene and I still don’t. But back then, the Swedish press was loving the Gothenburg sound and hardcore. But the elite press, they really despised what we were doing. They would say, “These guys are a joke!” Then we did the second album Black Wings and people just couldn’t ignore us because if you like Old School Metal, I think you should check it out. By then, no one could ignore us and we couldn’t be ignored because it was a furious Metal album. I’m really proud of that one; it had an impact on the Metal scene. Then we just continued, and we still don’t give a fuck about what people think about us. Still to this day, the mainstream Swedish Metal press still despises us. But the underground, they really love us because we are authentic.

MT: I totally understand what you mean. I grew up an 80’s kid, and in the ’90s, it was also a weird time over here in the US. What’s interesting is that with what’s known as the “tastemakers” now in the media, those people change seats and opinions so much that it’s next to impossible to keep up with them. I think that WOLF is in a great position because you can do what you want and you have a solid fan base. Even with the recent additions of Pontus (bass) and Johan (drums), there’s none of that awkward feeling when new members join a lineup. The sound is crystal clear and tight, which is everything you want in an album like this. I also noticed that on Feeding The Machine, you worked with producer Fredrik Nordström; I’m a big fan of him and his work. Did you actually go to Studio Fredman or did you just send the files over to him to work on?

Nik: We recorded it at Simon’s (Guitar) studio, SolnaSound. He built a studio, and he actually had to build two studios because he was almost evicted from his first one and then he made the huge studio. That’s why we recorded all the important parts like the drums and the guitars. The live room at that studio is a fantastic sounding, and Fredman (Fredrik Nordström) heard what we had recorded in there and was like, “WHAT?!? This sounds amazing!!” What helped the drums sound so good is that Simon knows how to tune the drums to the room because he’s familiar with that room.  And to put a top-caliber drummer like Johan in a great sounding room with a great sounding drum-kit, it sounds great! In a great sounding room, you don’t need to be a genius producer to make things sound good and it’s almost impossible for it to sound bad. The drum sound is SO important for an album. And also, hats off to Simon for the guitar sound. We had my Orange 100 watt amplifier and he had a Marshall Joe Satriani 100 watt head. We used a couple of different speaker cabinets, microphones, and preamps to get the sound. We tried out a lot of different amps, but those two amps were the ones we ended up blending together. It’s a great mix together; the Marshall and the Orange amps. I did all of the rhythm guitars and I mostly used an old Gibson Les Paul that I bought really cheap. That particular guitar has such a fantastic sound. So if you get the drums and the rhythm guitars right, then half of the sound of the album is already there. Fredman said that he had a really good time mixing the album. He was really enjoying himself, so that’s a good thing.

MT: That’s amazing. You can just tell that everyone was firing on all cylinders. You’re right; you don’t need to be a rocket scientist in order to get a great sound. I also love the idea of using both the Marshall and the Orange amps together. Because where ones leaves off, the other comes in and fills out the corners. It just sounds great.

Nik: If I had to choose one amp, I would’ve gone with Simon’s Joe Satriani Marshall amplifier. But everything sounds so much bigger when you have two slightly different amplifiers, and they just complete each other. I write most of my music, and when I write and recorded my demos, I think like two guitarists. So I could feel like one guy plays the Marshall and the other guy plays the Orange.

MT: Now as far as what actually inspired the album, some of the songs are pretty self-explanatory. “Shoot To Kill” for example, it’s pretty simple to understand. I really enjoyed every single song, but the one I was the most curious about was “Spoon Bender”. In my mind, I was only thinking about the scene in the movie The Matrix where the little boy says to Neo, “There is no spoon.” So tell me a little more about that.

Nik: Actually, the whole album was written during a time of soul-searching for me. I had a really, really weird period in my life where my life took a not-so-great turn when I was young. Maybe around 16 or 17. When I was in my 20’s, I got out of that phase, but I felt like, “What the fuck happened? How could I be so stupid?!?” So I just put the lid on my emotions and continued on. After that, we started WOLF and I tried not to even think about that period in my life. But somewhere deep inside me, this period of my life has always come back to haunt me in some way. I knew that I really had to go back there to face my demons, and that’s what I did writing these songs. At the end of the songwriting, I really felt like, “Wow! I feel free! I feel like I’ve been in psychotherapy for three years!” So “Spoon Bender” was one of the last songs that I wrote. The whole album is really critical about mainstream religion and it’s really critical about the anti-science mumbo-jumbo. At least where I live in Sweden, apart from Japan, Sweden has been one of the most secular countries in the world. But now, all of a sudden, religion has Sweden in its grip again. This time, it’s what I call a “not very nice religion”. I am amazed that people can fall for this fucking bullshit, and “Spoon Bender” is a critical song of believing in this fucking nonsense and letting it ruin your life. It’s inspired by a guy named Uri Geller, and he was claiming that he could bend spoons with his mind. He was on a lot of TV shows claiming he could do this, and of course, it was really just bullshit and really lame. People wanted to believe in this shit, and that’s why they fell for it. He wasn’t even a really good magician and a lot of better magicians who were skeptics that have totally disproved everything he did. But I also appreciate the showmanship of this guy, Uri Geller. He made a fortune of the fact that people want to be fooled. They want somebody to fool them. Every song on this album has different layers, and you can interpret each song in different ways. So this is kind of a multi-layered song. I’m glad you mentioned it because I wrote it as a bonus track and as a bit of fun. I really ended up liking the song, and I think it’s one of the cooler songs on the album.

MT: I agree! I’m of a similar mind to people like Ronnie James Dio, and even JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis. Where any good story, or song for that matter, should make you think, “I wonder what that’s talking about.” If you want to enjoy it on a surface level, great! So “Spoon Bender” was one of those songs where it made me wonder what it was about. I also understand what you mean about Uri Geller because over here in America, we have the televangelists and their antics. There was a guy recently that claimed to have a Holy Bible that was seeping anointing oil and that it was a miracle. Then some scientists examined the oil and it was olive oil you get at the grocery store, and so many people wanted it to be a miracle.

Nik: I get what you mean. Of course, I don’t believe in any supernatural stuff or any mumbo-jumbo. But if you have a faith that makes you feel good, it doesn’t destroy your life, you don’t force it on other people, and it makes you feel like you’re a part of something bigger and have common ground with other people, then it could be something beneficial to society. But it’s when you try to impose this and force it down people’s throats and make laws and that is absolutely ridiculous and against human nature, that’s when religion isn’t really good for anyone anymore.

MT: I really appreciate you putting that out there, and I can certainly relate to having to clean out the skeletons in my closet in order to get your head back in a better space. In the video for “Midnight Hour”, I noticed that the guitars that both you and Simon were playing looked great. Who made those guitars?

Nik: Simon’s guitar is made by a guy named Philip Jarrel. I think he’s an American, but he looks a bit Asian, too. He has his own guitar brand called Jarrel Guitars, and I believe Mike Wead of KING DIAMOND plays a Jarrel, as well. He had this Flying V style guitar, and he mostly makes his own style of Flying V guitar that its own thing. I’ve always been a Gibson guy; I LOVE Gibson Flying V’s. But recently, I felt it isn’t easy to play Metal with a guitar made for Rock and Jazz sometimes. I had recently felt like I had worn out my live Gibson Flying V’s, so I felt like maybe I should try a modern Metal guitar and see what that’s like. So the one I play now is a Solar Guitars (the guitar brand made popular by YouTuber Ola Englund) V that has an Evertune bridge (for the guitar illiterate, it is a new system that allows the guitar to stay in tune regardless of temperature changes or if a string breaks, which has made a lot of touring guitarists lives a lot less stressful). It gives me more freedom when I play live. If you’re a singer and an entertainer and you also have to play guitars, it’s a godsend to have the Evertune bridge. When you understand how it works, it’s really easy to set up so you can do string bends and vibrato and have it feel natural when you play. The Gibson Flying V has a shorter neck and I actually rebuilt my V with the Evertune bridge in it. It works okay, but since the Solar has a longer neck, I find that the Evertune bridge works better in that guitar. I can have lighter gauge strings on now, and it works great. I can put vibrato on chords, which is something that I like to do. I enjoy playing guitars without the Evertune bridge more, but in a live situation, I do what’s best for the show. I never have to look down or stop the show to change guitars or to tune the strings. It stays 100% in tune and it sounds better for the audience. It is a different feel to play the Evertune. You get 95% of the touch when you play the guitar, and the Evertune takes away a slight amount of the feeling of the way you play. But it’s really marginal. When I sit at home, I really enjoy playing a Gibson and playing around with the tone knobs and the pickup selector. You can get a lot of sounds from just a tube amplifier, an overdrive pedal, and a Gibson Flying V or Les Paul. It’s amazing at how many sounds you can get out of it. I really enjoy it, but I also really enjoy playing a modern Metal guitar now. I think I haven’t played a guitar like that since I was 16. It’s different, but it works out great playing live.

MT: Awesome. So Feeding The Machine is coming out soon, correct?

Nik: Yes, it’s coming out on March 13th. Friday the 13th. We’re going out on tour and a week into the tour, it’s coming out.

MT: Great! I also was really drawn to the artwork on the album. It almost looks like a CANNIBAL CORPSE album cover. I noticed that you had the amazing Thomas Holm, who created (amongst others) the legendary album cover for MERCYFUL FATE’s Don’t Break The Oath. I think you made a great choice with the artwork because it’s reminiscent of the old metal albums that make you want to stare at the artwork as you listen to the music. It draws you in, but it’s not grotesque to the point of being ridiculous.

Nik: There’s actually an interesting story behind the album cover. When I feel like I have the concept of the album in my head and I have most or all of the lyrics done, I call or email Thomas to discuss the album covers. We really want him to do all of our album covers with it and it’s kind of a tradition now. He has told us that he wants WOLF to be his band, as well, so we have a special connection with each other. So I told him about the journey I’ve been on in the three years of writing this and that I’ve been facing my demons. Then he told me, “Wow! We really have to sit down and talk about this”, because he had done the same thing himself in the past year. In his case, he doesn’t write music, he paints big oil paintings. This was one of those paintings from that time. It wasn’t finished, but it was something he started when he was going through this phase. After discussing ideas about what the artwork would be, he felt like, “Wait a minute, I think I already have the perfect painting for this.” So he finished the painting and he sent it to me, and at first, I was like, “What the fuck is this?” It was so different from everything that I had imagined. I was a bit shocked; I didn’t see that coming with the little girl and the gore. I looked at it for a day and put it down. The next day, I looked at it again and something inside me started to know that it was the one. The album cover spoke to me like that for four days, and then I took it to rehearsal and showed it to the other guys and they all loved it straight away. I think the album cover gives the songs another angle and dimension, at least for me. Thomas completely came from another direction with the “feeding the machine” concept and it was really cool, very original. You’re not the first one to mention CANNIBAL CORPSE, but that was a total coincidence. I don’t think that Thomas had seen any of their artwork or anything like that.

MT: I’m inclined to agree with you about how this was the one. In my own mind, I see that little girl on the album cover as Innocence. And being surrounded by all of the blood, guts, and ichor to me represents Innocence Lost. In my own journey, I’ve spent many sleepless nights shedding emotional blood, sweat, and tears to face my demons. So I really can relate to the concept you’re driving at. Thomas really knocked it out of the park, because you wouldn’t think that it’s the right album cover, but the more you look at it, the more you see that it makes sense. Now, I know you guys are going on tour here with Grand Magus. How many shows will you be playing? *Bear in mind that this interview was done before the coronavirus scare.

Nik: Something like three weeks. I can’t remember how many dates we’re playing, but I think it’s like 20-25 shows. It’s going to be in the UK and continental Europe. We’re not getting into Scandinavia this time, though. We just changed booking agencies recently and we’re looking to do another tour later this year.

MT: That’s great! We’d love to have you over here in the US at some point, as well. We have enough Traditional Metal bands that could fill out a tour rather nicely. I seriously appreciate your time today. And to close out this interview, instead of the cheesy line, “Ya got something to say?”, I like to ask what’s known as the Pivot questionnaire that was made popular by the TV show Inside The Actor’s Studio. It’s ten questions, nothing too raunchy or weird, but they are unique. So the first question here, what is your favorite word?

Nik: “Random”. I don’t know why, but I just like using the word “random”. It makes ever sentence more fun if you use the word “random”.

MT: I like that! So the next one is the opposite of that. What is your least favorite word?

Nik: This is a Swedish word. It’s a gender-neutral pronoun. In English, it would be “shim”. It’s where you mix the words “she” and “him” together. I don’t like it, because here in Sweden, we are politically correct in absurdum. I kind of have a love/hate feel for that word, because every time someone uses that word here in Sweden, I feel like the person using that word is either being sarcastic. When I read that word, I feel like someone is either being really sarcastic or is REALLY trying to make a statement about how good they are as a person. The word in Swedish is actually “hen”, like a mother chicken. So that’s my least favorite word. But it’s a bit funny because it also is “hen” in English.

MT: Very interesting. So number three, what turns you on creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Nik: Good question. It’s…it’s music, basically. I can get so emotionally connected to the music that it’s like I get teleported to another world. It’s hard to explain, but it’s like I’m getting drunk while remaining sober when I listen to music. For me, music just opens a gateway into something bigger and deeper than me and it’s something just out of this world. When I was a kid, I believed in God and the supernatural, but I don’t believe in it anymore. But for me, music is spirituality. When I’m creating a song and I feel like the song is there and I almost channel it into existence, that’s like a spiritual experience. I can’t really use words to describe it, but I don’t think it’s meant to be put into words.

MT: I wholeheartedly agree with you on that, because I believe that the closest thing in this universe that we have to actual magic is music. Where playing or creating music is almost like casting a “spell” and transcends reality at times. So next question, what turns you off creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?

Nik: Close-mindedness. That’s really a turnoff for me. A lot of musicians and critics, at least in the Metal scene in the earlier days for us as a band, a lot of them were close-minded. And I always wondered, “Why? What do you get out of it? Be open-minded!” Close-mindedness doesn’t get anyone anywhere or do anyone any good. Speak to different people, to people of different faiths, from different parts of the world or different cultures because it can only enrich you. So yeah, close-mindedness is a big turnoff for me.

MT: Wow! Very spot on! Here’s a fun one. What is your favorite curse word?

Nik: Oh, that’s a good one! I curse a lot actually, and I have a rich vocabulary in Swedish of curse words. I guess my favorite is “kuken”. It’s what I say when I get angry and surprised at the same time. Like, “Kuken!” It means, “cock”. It’s a really lame word, but my kids are always like, “Daddy, come on!” or, “That’s what Daddy always says”. I don’t know why I say it, but sometimes that’s the only response you have to some things. Laughs.

MT: I like that! So the next question is this. What sound or noise do you love?

Nik: Hmmm. That’s a good one actually. I really like sounds, and I hate certain sounds, as well. Some high frequencies really hurt my ears and feel like poking a needle in my brain. But some sounds are beautiful. Music opens up a gateway to something, and some sounds do that, too. I like the voice of Blackie Lawless, that’s a sound that goes straight into my heart. I had the privilege when we were on tour to hear ONLY his vocals through a huge PA system. They were doing soundcheck and they were trying out backing tracks, and I just got goosebumps. So it was only his voice with the backing tracks, and just the sound of his voice in a huge PA system was like getting a fist right in the chest. It was just pure magic. I also like the sound of rain. Actually, the song “Midnight Hour” on the new record was written during that time of facing my demons, and one night I just woke up all of a sudden and it was raining really hard outside. So much so that you could hear it from inside, and that sound was very soothing to my soul. It felt good that the sound of the rain was there and that it wasn’t quiet. I was really listening to that sound, the sound of rain.

MT: Great answers, man! So on the flip side of that last question, what sound or noise do you hate? And you had hinted at that in the previous question, with really trebly sounds or noises. I imagine hearing too much a cymbal on a drumkit in your ears would hurt like that, right?

Nik: Yes. Also, I had a co-worker in my car recently and they were coughing a lot. Just the sound of them coughing in such an enclosed space like my car really hurt my ears. That frequency was just hitting me in the ear and hurt like a needle to my brain. But they were a really nice coworker, and I couldn’t say anything because they couldn’t help it. It was almost like that frequency hurt my soul and it was very painful for me. I also can get really distracted in my thoughts, especially by sounds. So if someone turns on the mainstream radio and it’s crappy music or commercials or kids just talking rubbish, it’s really annoying to me because I can’t filter it out. It’s like it’s coming to attack my mind and I hate it because I can’t tune it out easily.

MT: I get that. So the next one is, what profession other than your own (also other than the music and the day-job) would you like to attempt?

Nik: A graphic designer, I think. That’s what I was studying for when I was in what you would call “high school”, around age 16 to 18 years old. But then we had the crash in the financial sector in Sweden so everyone was unemployed and I never got to work with that. I still draw and paint sometimes, and I still have the eye for it, but it’s another world of technology for me. So I kind of feel like I’m missing out. I really enjoyed that and it was something that I was really good at and had a talent for, so that’s something that I would have loved doing. Also, when I was studying at university, I was studying psychology and I really fell in love with researching and the way that science works. I think that science, apart from art and its different forms like music, artwork, and visual arts, is something that really makes us human and it speaks to our souls. But science can really enrich our lives and it’s the best way to gain new knowledge throughout the world. I think we’re living in a golden era, where science has made huge progress. It’s not that science is just facts, science is a process and it’s a body of knowledge at the same time. So far, we haven’t come up with a better method than science, so that’s something that really intrigues me, as well. So researching is something that really interests me, but I wasn’t really the academic type. I didn’t want to be in the university fighting with other people trying to stab you in the back in order to climb the ladder in that world. That part kind of put me off of it a bit, but I really appreciate studying psychology the way I did because it’s really enriched my life with either research on my own or in other fields. For me, it was like development for my soul to do that.

MT: Fabulous! And on the flip side of that, what kind of profession would you not like to attempt?

Nik: Hmmm. An accountant. Because I have a really hard time concentrating on things that I find boring. I have to really force myself to do something like that, and often I fail at it so I don’t bother with it. Actually, that could be interesting, but at one point in my life, I had to work in a sausage factory. I was working on an automated line just doing the same stuff over and over again and felt like I was living in a nightmare. I was only able to work at that job for a day, and I was standing there working opposite to what I thought was an old lady. I was thinking, “How can people do this? Why don’t they get mad and do something about it?” I had asked her how long she had done this, and she told me that she had been working there for ten years. I was young at the time, and I was shocked that she had worked there that long. So I asked her how old she was, thinking she was maybe fifty, but she answered, “I’m thirty years old.” I thought immediately that I couldn’t do this anymore, I needed to go to school or something like that. So really monotonous work is something that I cannot do because it feels like someone is just killing my soul. I’m glad that there are people that can do that, where they can just work and listen to the radio and they go home. But I couldn’t do that.

MT: Okay, now the last question here, and it’s kind of a humdinger because of everything we’ve previously talked about. If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say to you when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

Nik: “Good work! You never gave up!” Ya know, if I met God at the Pearly Gates, and He was telling me, “Look, I gave you this talent and that talent, but why didn’t you do anything with it? Why did you complain all the time?” Honestly, that would be a nightmare. So at least if I don’t succeed, if I know I’ve done everything that I can to fight for what I think is right, to fight for what I want to learn or achieve, if it doesn’t turn out to be the best thing in the world, that’s okay with me because I know I will have given my everything. But if I know that if I haven’t given my everything, then I know I would really have regrets and that honestly scares me.

MT: Nik, those were some really great answers, man! Thank you so much for your time. It was so much fun to nerd out about the guitar and talk about life. I can so relate to everything you’ve said because I grew up around people doing menial labor doing the same thing over and over again. As well as forcing yourself to exorcise your demons. So there’s a lot of common ground between us, and you definitely have a fan in me!

Nik: Thank you! This is actually the first interview I’ve done where I got to be a guitar nerd. Laughs. It was a very inspiring conversation for me, as well. So thank you very much!

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