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Tomas Haake (Meshuggah)

Interview with Tomas Haake from Meshuggah
by Katrina Cannon at 19 November 2005, 12:56 AM

Well, I finally did it, I got my ultimate interview (well, second ultimate - Pink Floyd would be the ultimate). But I have to say this interview was better than what I could have possibly hoped for. To me, this was the most interesting interview I've done yet. Plus, being a fan of Meshuggah for over 10 years and always being intrigued by their music, being able to speak with Tomas and verbally dissect the entity that is Meshuggah, a lot of my questions and wonders about them were finally answered.<br><br>Even though at the time of this interview I was on tour with Chimaira, it so happened that Meshuggah was playing the same night as Chimaira in Cleveland, so I went down from our venue to where Meshuggah was playing. And even though it was about 8 o'clock at night and Tomas was sick from a cold, I thought it was very nice of him to do the interview anyway. That is, until I found out he had an ulterior motive…

Thanks for letting me do this so late.

Oh, it’s all good. Since I’m sick, I’m just pacing it here waiting to play, just sitting here on the bus doing nothing, so it’s all good. I wasn’t even going to do this interview until I heard that none of you guys in Chimaira has been sick yet, so then I was all about doing the interview, so hopefully you’ll get sick and pass it on to them. (Laughs)

Oh great, thanks. So if I get sick, I can blame it on you?

Absolutely! (Laughs)

Nice Dillinger Escape Plan shirt by the way.

Yeah, I noticed yours when you walked up.

How’s the tour been for you guys so far?

It’s been pretty good, absolutely. The routing is kind of weird but most shows have been really good and pretty packed. Yeah, we’re definitely satisfied with it so far. We’re not too far into it yet, only about 2 weeks, so we still got quite a lot to go.

Yeah, I was glad to hear that you guys were coming to the States.

Oh yeah, it’s been a while since we’ve been here, about 2 years now and before that we didn’t come here too often.

Tell me about the recording go for Catch 33. How did that go?

It was kind of a weird recording for us, not weird in a bad sense, it was just a different way for us to record. Usually we would all sit separately and write. Me and Marten \[Hagstrom - guitars/vocals] would co-write stuff and sometimes me and Fredrik \[Thordenthal - guitars/vocals] would co-write stuff but for this album it was all 4 of us in one room, all throughout the recording process. Basically, the whole album was recorded through a standard computer and the only thing that we actually did in a studio was the vocals, but all the guitar and bass recordings were done in more or less like an office space so it was definitely a different way of recording. But we really liked it, we wanted something different with this album. It’s definitely an experimental album that we weren’t even going to tour for at all. It’s just an idea that we’ve had for like 10 years and we just kind of wanted to get it out of our system and for what we wanted for this album that way of recording it worked out really well and the final product came to be what we wanted it to be.

So, we weren’t only satisfied with how well it worked recording stuff that way and working together with all 4 of us throughout the whole process but also with the final product, the production, everything. We’re pretty thrilled about it. We’re still kind of surprised about being out here playing and touring for this album, which was never really the intention. We didn’t write it to tour for it, it’s just one of those odd things that we wanted to do for a long time, just create something that was more paced and kind of trippy, I guess. We wanted to put the listener in a certain mood when you listen to it and I think we succeeded pretty well.

The reason we didn’t plan to tour for it was just because it is a one track album, it has 13 titles on it, but it’s one continuous track. It’s like chapters in a book for us. It’s not separate songs because if you flip from 1 to 3 to 5 and so on, it’s kind of in the middle of something, it’s not really a new song starting. We wrote it as one continuous track but we got weak and caved in to the label’s suggestions, I guess, because they wanted to have separate tracks, so we said ok, we’ll put a title on there that somehow represents that very part lyrics wise of the song but it’s still a one track song’. So it’s more like chapters.

That makes more sense now.

Yeah it does because if you see it as separate tracks, you’re gonna wonder what the hell are those guys up to, what were they thinking?

With Catch 33 some of the music is experimental and psychedelic. How did you become influenced to write in that style because it’s so much different than how you normally write?

Yeah, I think for quite a lot of years we kind of liked the psychedelic aspect of things in certain bands and certain music. For example, like scores for certain movies, we’ve always been really into that style of things as well and how scores like that, if its really good, how they really work with the movie and enhancing whatever atmosphere you want to put in there. For us it’s just the other way around, like the score is the main thing and you get visuals from the score and that’s how we see it. When you’re listening to the lyrics or reading the lyrics and listening to the music, for us at least, it definitely gives us some kind of visual thing which is just a cool way of doing things. It still is one off, it’s still a separate album personally. I see our other albums as having this certain lane and with this album it’s in a different lane which is somewhat parallel but is kind of going sideways.

It’s not a pointer as to where we’re going with albums from now on, the next album is gonna be more like live related stuff where you have typical song structures between 4-6 minutes and so on. So this isn’t the new Meshuggah style or anything, it’s just something that we really wanted to do. But I still think that with each album that we’ve done, the style is different but for this one maybe just more sideways from what we normally do. We actually do play some 13 minutes off of it live as well and it’s working out pretty good. It’s working out now but when we were first pitched about touring for it, we were like aw I don’t know. Because the whole recording process, we had like 2 hours of music and all the riffs and drum parts that were written throughout had been changed over and over so many times and working on the computer all the time, we were tossing things around and we would cut out tiny little parts of guitar and riffs and put them into other riffs. So, none knew how to play any of the material on the album because it’s not like we’ve done it before where you rehearse the song then you record it.

This wasn’t done like that so no one really knew what the hell was going on. So finally, when we said ok, let’s try and rehearse this, there was a lot of work involved just to get things straight, especially with the guitars because the guitar work on this album is completely insane. So it was a good learning experience to have to learn it but it was really tough; it took like a month just to get this particular part down to play live, even with rehearsing everyday.

I’ve tried to learn some of your songs and it’s damn near impossible.

Yeah but then of course it’s even harder when you’re listening to an album, it’s hard to make out what’s going on. If you have the material like we do, you can slow it down, but if you have a CD, it’s kind of hard to do.

Yeah, the only thing I’ve been able to accomplish so far is the first half of Destroy Erase Improve.

That’s good still though considering, because it’s hard to hear what’s going on, especially with the faster stuff.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear and distinguish everything that’s going on in general.

Yeah. (Laughs)

Why did you do the spoken vocals on Catch 33 instead of Jens Kidman (singer)?

I’ve always done the spoken vocals. We’ve had some on each album. On Destroy Erase Improve it was Sublevels, on Chaosphere it was Explicit Machinery Of Torture that had a lot of spoken vocals to it, on the Nothing album, the song Spasm; it’s all spoken and I’ve always done all those. I guess basically I’m more familiar with the English language so it’s easier for me because when you speak, it’s a whole different technique. See, I couldn’t sing but I could do this. He’s a great singer, but not necessarily if you’re speaking like that, it’s kind of not the way he’s used to doing things. So that’s why we’ve always done it like that but we never do any of those things live, for obvious reasons, I couldn’t play and speak at the same time. But for this tour, for Catch 33, there’s this spoken part that’s labeled Minds Mirror, we do perform that but it’s played off the CD so for the first 2 minutes or so, then we go into playing the rest of the stuff.

Fredrik played guitar and bass on Nothing and I and he along with Marten and Jens played bass and guitars on Catch 33. Why didn’t you get a different bass player for the albums and why did you decide to have all three people play guitars and bass on Catch 33?

On Catch 33 we were working the whole album as a whole band effort. We wanted everyone to add to it and they’re all good guitarists. Jens is a good guitarist too. So, whatever parts that anyone wrote, a lot of the parts were so tricky and whacky that only the one who wrote it could play it, unless he sat down and rehearsed it for a few weeks. But how we did it, if Marten would come up with an idea, he would just record the guitar part then record the bass then we’d put a drum part to it and that’s how we did with all the different riffs on the album. If Jens wrote a riff, he would be the one recording it on guitar and since for us the bass almost always plays the same thing as the guitars do, whoever wrote the part for guitar would also write and record the bass for it. It’s not really too strange.

On a more standard way of recording things we would have probably had Dick \[Lovgren - bass] record the bass stuff for it. But this time around, since there was some pretty whacked stuff that we were writing and we wanted to get it down as soon as possible, plus we were writing so much and we were picking parts out of those 2 hours of music that we wanted and kind of tried to fit all of it in. This was the easiest way do deal with it.

It says on your discography site that Meshuggah used drum programming for this album.


Is the whole album all programmed drums or are there live drums as well?

There is no live drumming on the Catch 33 album.

Why did you decide to go that route and use programmed drums?

Mainly for the same reason that we had whoever wrote the riff record both bass and guitar for those riffs. We’re very used to programming drums because that’s how we usually write songs but then we learn them, rehearse them, then I record live drums. Everyone’s really good at programming drums, so everyone’s kind of a drummer in that sense. Even if you look at the Nothing album, most drum parts that are on there are not written by me but are written by whoever wrote the part or the song or whatever, so they do a lot of drum patterns for our music, for most of them. And for this very album to be able to just come up with a riff, record it, record the bass and be able to record the drum part immediately, we programmed the drums. And what we noticed was for what we wanted this album to be, like a very guitar driven album. What we wanted was basically like a super steady emotionless rhythm section behind it. We have such great samples. We have access to such great stuff as far as drum samples and all that goes.

So, we just noticed early on that this just sounds fucking good as it is and if I were to go in there and record like super steady kind of held back drumming, it wouldn’t have come out this way, it would have been a totally different album. Also it would have taken forever just to learn this part that we play for 13 minutes, which that took us a month to learn and it’s not at all like the harder parts of the album to learn. It would have taken like half a year to learn all the drum parts especially with the way we did it. All the riffs were rewritten and revamped throughout. It would have meant going in and rehearsing something silly like for weeks maybe and record that, then a week later relearn it slightly different, record it again and maybe at the end of the week you’re not even using that part.

So for this album it was just the right thing to do and it’s kind of cool for our music. What we have always done, the drums are pretty prominent and it’s such a taboo for this style of music to say yeah, this while album is programmed drums. People kind of scratch their heads and we like that aspect of it as well because it’s definitely taboo in a very percussive Metal scene.

Yeah and when I found out about the programmed electronic drums I was just like hmmm.

It might seem weird, you know, but once you kind of understand how the album was written and all that, it kind of makes sense.

Yeah, everything’s starting to make a little more sense now. I’m gonna play the fan part here. I’ve been listening to Meshuggah for over 10 years now. You guys are my favorite Metal band and this is the ultimate interview for me. You’re answering so many questions that I’ve had for years and unveiling so many mysteries, I’m beginning to understand everything more and more and things that I’ve always wondered about are finally becoming clear.

Alright, that’s cool, wow thanks.

I is just one song that’s 21 minutes long. What gave you guys the idea to make that album?

That was released on Fractured Transmitter not Nuclear Blast Records. We met Jason of Mushroomhead at the 2002 Ozzfest and we got to be really good friends with him. He mentioned that he was starting a label and he would do anything to have us do something on the label, anything we wanted to do, like a 3 minute whacky song where we just go in and jam or whatever. We agreed to do it under the impression we didn’t have anything more left on the contract with Nuclear Blast, which was different from their perspective of things. But we agreed to do it and our idea was to just go into the studio and within a few days just record something whacked. But as always with us, once we started fiddling with it , we got more and more excited about it. All of us had theses grand ideas, so it turned out to be a 7 month project instead of a week.

We started writing Catch 33 before we recorded the I EP but we stopped because we lost sight of what we wanted to do. We started writing Catch 33 with live drums, we just went into the studio and kind of played together and we got about 5 minutes into it and it didn’t feel right so we kind of just left it at that and just went ahead with the I recording instead. Basically what we did with that recording was me and Fredrik would jam and we would come up with an idea so he would walk into the control room and I would be there just playing the drums. We would have a pattern that we would start playing but if I would stray, which I did immediately from that pattern, I would just continue to play something similar. That’s also how that album came to be real random. It’s almost impossible to learn. There’s no repetitive cycles of pattern, it’s just chaos basically, everything is like very, very random. It was also a funny way of recording stuff because what we would do is when we had a certain amount of drums on there, we would write schematics for the guitars, like how many hits here and there because it was impossible to learn it just from a musical side. Just listening to the drums and learning the pattern is impossible.

So that’s how we did it. There were just a bunch of sheets and papers; it looked ridiculous with just lines like 3, 4, pause, 3, 2, 1, 4. That’s how we got the guitars down on top of the drums because the drums were just real random. We would do like a chunk and record the guitars, then we would go back in and jam something up like what kind of thing do we want this to go into, and we would jam and once we kind of felt we had something we would do the same thing all over again - he would run into the control room, I would record drums for like 15 or 20 minute takes and we would just be like this cool part right here, let’s just use this chunk, put it in there. Then we would do schematics for the guitars. So, it was like a puzzle that we kept building. It’s not a song that was written for 21 minutes and then we learned it and recorded it, it’s made up of like 7, 8 or 9 different parts that we then glued together into one song basically.

It’s funny to hear you say that your music is difficult to play because it is so random and it is off the wall sometimes.

Yeah, exactly. Especially for the I EP and for the Catch 33 album. We’ve always done repetitive cycles that are like not odd meters but are odd rhythms really, like a straight 4/4 beat but we play around that, we have odd figure cycles on top of that 4/4 beat which makes it kind of different. There are not a lot of bands that do that and that’s what throws people off because it’s kind of hard to get a grasp of what’s really happening. But for those two, the I EP and Catch 33 album, it really is random, I mean even for us, it’s not really repetitive cycles, it’s just pretty crazy.

Yeah, I know. There are so many songs where when I’m listening to them I’m trying to keep beat and it throws me off because it just totally changes and you’re doing different rhythms than what the strings are doing and I’m just like how do you guys do that? It’s like how do you keep up with so many different things at the same time and not fuck it up?

It’s a different way of making music, I guess, but we’ve been doing it for so long that we’ve always sort of strived toward the same thing.

You recently made a remix of Rammstein’s Benzin. How did you come to be involved in that?

Well, they asked us. We don’t really know the guys and we’re not really fans of their music. What we are though are really fans of their ideas of doing things. I have the greatest respect for those guys because they put all the money that they make right back into pyro. They’re more or less broke because they put whatever money they make back into pyro and that just amazes me.

There aren’t a lot of bands that do that, so that’s something we definitely respect but we’re not fans of their music. But they asked us and Universal Music sent us the song that they wanted us to do the remix for and we thought it sucked, their version of it. But we figured why the hell not, let’s give it a shot, because we’ve never really done things like that before but we figured let’s try at least. So that’s what we did and I think it turned out pretty cool. Have you heard it?

 No, unfortunately I haven’t.

It’s really slow and it’s not all the Meshuggah but you can definitely hear it in there. We took most of what they had out of there. We basically only used their lead vocals from their recording. Apart from that we made all new drums, all new riffs and it’s like half the tempo. It’s like super heavy and sludgy. Check it out, I think you’ll like it. But their original version of it, I don’t like it.

I’m not much of a Rammstein fan either but I’m definitely going to check that out.

Yeah, it’s different, but you’ll probably like it.

How did you come to incorporate an 8 string guitar?

We started using 7 string guitars in the early 90’s when they first came out. We were intrigued by being able to use a lower tuning and I guess it’s just the same thing with the 8 string. Playing those 7 strings for so many years, we just felt like we wanted to try something different and what it did was it made us write differently and it was like having new blood within what we do. It’s just something that all of a sudden you had an added dimension to what you could write, so that’s basically why we stuck with it, we really love the sound of it and being able to do the lower tunings. They’re not for everyone to play because to be able to intonate it and make it work, the necks are really long and wide like on a bass, so it’s not for everyone.

That I can understand. I tried playing a 6 string bass and a 7 string guitar and could barely fit my hand around the necks, so I couldn’t imagine playing an 8 string guitar, though I’d love to try.

Yeah, it’s difficult.

When can we expect another album?

After this tour we start writing again, which was what we were gonna do this last spring when we were done with Catch 33 because we weren’t gonna tour for it. We were just gonna take like three weeks off and go right back into rehearsal and start writing but now we did this tour after all. So, this winter we start writing for the next one. We’re definitely gonna take our time with this one though because we did a few mistakes in the past, as most bands have, like with the Chaosphere album, we accepted the Slayer tour so we had to rush the recording and the production suffered from it, I think. And the same thing for the Nothing album. We would have needed at least another three months for that album and when we had already gone into the studio for the recording, we got the offer to play Ozzfest and we accepted. But the album suffered from it, I think, especially production wise. We had to rush it real bad. We just didn’t have any time for anything, not to even reflect on what we were doing.

We recorded the vocals in like seven days and for Chaosphere we used eleven weeks for the vocals, so there’s a big difference. For the mix we used two days and then we mastered the day after. Then the morning after that, we flew out to Ozzfest. So it was pretty crazy. We never had the time to listen to it or anything and normally we use like two weeks for mixing and then stay off of it for a week or two, then master it. That’s like the way we would prefer to do it at least. But this was like record and once the recording was done the next day, do two days of mastering then take off to the US. So, it was pretty crazy.

This time we’re definitely going to take our time and not have any tour offers distract us, hopefully. So yeah, we’re gonna take our time for this album, which unfortunately we’re not fast song writers. Writing this type of music usually takes us quite a lot of time, so I would think that the better part of 2006 would be us writing and recording. But then again, like after that, we’re gonna tour more seriously. Like we still haven’t been to Australia or Japan or South America, so we’re gonna try to do the whole world next time over and do Europe and the U.S. probably at least a few times each. So we’re looking at doing maybe two years of touring after that album, that is our plan at least. So hopefully like late 2006 or early 2007. It seems weird because it’s still 2005 (Laughs). A lot of bands just go to the studio for three weeks and they write as they get there, then they record and they’re done and for us one song could take a month just to write one song.

I’m not surprised. From knowing your music I’m not surprised at all that it takes that long.

Yeah and we scrutinize everything too. We have a tendency to maybe overdo that a bit but at the same time the music kind of demands it in a way.

Are there any plans for a live album or DVD?

Yeah we have plans for that too. Unfortunately we don’t have the material like live performance recordings or anything to release that prior to the touring after the next album, so it’s probably not going to happen until like 2007. And if we do a thing like that, we really want to do it professionally and get like 6 or 7 cameras out and record like 10 shows and have a separate audio rig for that as far as recording devices go - like use pro tools or something to bring that out. It’s gonna cost a lot of money but we don’t see any point in releasing like a half shady bad sounding DVD. We want to do it all out in that case. It’s in the plans but it’s not gonna happen within the next year.

Meshuggah has a distinct recognizable sound unlike any other band. I can’t think of any band that has ever sounded like Meshuggah or even come close to sounding like you guys. I mean, if someone were to put in a Meshuggah CD, anyone familiar with you would automatically know it was Meshuggah. What’s the secret?

First of all I do see us as somewhat pioneers in this certain genre of writing music, in a certain way with the kind of odd cycles that we do. There aren’t a lot of bands that do that. That’s one reason but maybe more importantly is the fact that we do pretty much everything ourselves. If you have a band that may play a similar style of music but they bring in an outside producer, you have a lot of things that can affect the way a band sounds. We always do everything ourselves, like studio wise and we’ve never had an outside producer or anything and I guess that also adds to the uniqueness of the sound because maybe having an outside producer wouldn’t have sounded the same way. So, that’s also I think another reason why there’s not a lot of bands that are like us.

Also we’ve been very lucky in finding each other and finding a very healthy writing situation. We’re all very inspired by each other’s ideas all the time and nowadays we don’t really see ourselves as having outside influences from bands really. We can be inspired by bands and movie scores but not really influenced. We have a tendency to really feed off each other in the band, just there are so many ideas going around within the members of the band that we don’t really see ourselves as wanting or needing any outside influences as far as what we want to do with our music.

I think there are a lot of extremely good musicians out there but finding 4 or 5 people that genuinely want to go in the same direction and that can’t really grow together like we have done over the past 15 years we’ve been together. It’s more unique, I think, and it’s one of the major aspects of how we sound. Also, it’s just the simple things on tour, like we have never had a fight within the band, we’re just guys that like each other and we happen to have the same musical taste and we all want to do the same thing. That is somewhat unique I think and that also of course definitely transponds in the music we write.

Any last words?

No, I never do, I never have any last words. And his final last words were nothing. (Laughs)


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