Interview: Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity

Over the past two decades, Dark Tranquillity have proven themselves to be perhaps the most consistent and long-lived of the countless melodeath bands to come out of Gothenburg, Sweden. That hasn’t stopped frontman Mikael Stanne from being an exceptionally humble guy, however.

the Crossing: We Are the Void was just released this past week. Are you happy with it?

Mikael Stanne: We love it, we think it’s awesome. I don’t think we’ve ever worked as hard on an album as we did on this one. We had to make sure it was new and different. Last year we celebrated our 20 years as a band we were thinking that this is the album that kicks off the next 20 years. We felt pressure to prove that there’s a reason we’re still around. So there was a lot of pressure, anxiety and self-doubt but it turned out really really well.

We wanted to explore all the different aspects of our sound; everything from the faster thrashy stuff to the ultra melodic and melancholy parts and we think we accomplished it.

tC: Do you have a favorite track on the album?

MS: I like “The Grandest Accusation” and “The Fatalist” a lot. There’s also an iTunes exclusive song called “The Bow and the Arrow” which we’re very proud of.

tC: Do mind if we step back a bit and look at The Gallery? It’s considered a metal masterpiece and you guys were only 21 when it was recorded.

MS: For me it was really special because we just changed the lineup. I started singing so I didn’t have to worry about playing guitar anymore, and we added Fredrik, who is an amazing guitarist, and it was like, finally we don’t have to worry anymore – we could play and not fuck up! We could get really technical and progressive or whatever and we could pull it off. It was so exciting; it was the first time we felt like an actual proper band.

“Punish My Heaven” was the first song we ever wrote with that lineup, and it was really exciting. We moved to a new rehearsal studio and there was just a lot of new stuff going on in the band; it was jut very exciting. We would rehearse for hours and hours and days on end. We liked it, but we really needed it, too. It was the first time we had worked with Fredrik Nordstrom, and that was great. I had been there before when I was with In Flames, but it was just exciting being in a studio where the producer understood our kind of music. As opposed to Skydancer, where we were working with some rock and roll guys.

There was a lot of video from those days when were just playing in garages that was on our Where Death Is Most Alive DVD and it’s actually really embarrassing! It’s taken us a long time to gather the courage to show that to anyone outside of the band. There is some other material not suitable for public viewing…but it was a lot of fun digging up all that old material. Niklas and I sat around watching tens and tens of these old video cassettes and just laughed at how silly and horrible we were.

tC: It was just inducted into Decibel’s Hall of Fame. How do you feel about that?

MS: It feels pretty good! I actually haven’t read the article but the guy who wrote it is a really good friend. He interviewed each of us, even Fredrik Johannsson, the old guitar player, about it, and we normally don’t do that. I can’t wait to actually sit down and read it. But it’s really an honor to be in there. I’ve read Decibel for years and there are some pretty amazing albums on that list. Perhaps one day We Are the Void will be on there too!

tC: After your switch to vocals, do you still find time to play guitar?

MS: A little bit, but mostly just acoustic guitar back at home for my own personal pleasure. I don’t write any riffs for the band, just lyrics, but I help out with arrangements and stuff like that.

tC: Dark Tranquillity has toured the world multiple times, released nine studio albums, two DVDs, and numerous compilations. Is there anything that you haven’t done yet that you still want to?

MS: The goal is always to make a better album, like the ultimate Dark Tranquillity album. That’s always on the horizon somewhere. We Are the Void is as close as we can get right now, but two years down the line we can probably do even better. And the same goes for shows, we want to tour countries we haven’t been to, we want to make bigger and better shows production-wise and we want to sound better. It’s all those constant improvements we strive for that keep us going and keep us interested. But there will always be countries we want to go to or festivals we want to play, but the biggest thing is to just have better performances and write better songs.

tC: We’ve heard talk about you coming back in May for a headlining tour. Is this true?

MS: Yes, that’s true! We’re going to start in South America and then coming up here and then going around Canada as well. It’s going to be very cool, finally a proper headlining tour in the States.

tC: When you guys play live, you aren’t your typical death metal band. Most bands try to look intimidating, hardly interact with the crowd and just try to act as ‘brutal’. DT always looks like they are having a great time, smiling and talking to the crowd a lot.

MS: I guess we just try to have fun. I don’t get that whole thing about bands just trying to look cool. That’s never really been our thing, I guess. Sometimes we do act like that when but that’s only when we aren’t enjoying ourselves. If the sound is horrible or the audience isn’t really there with us we have a bit of a different stage presence but those nights are rare. And of course beer helps. But Seattle is a little bit different for us because we have a lot of friends here and they are always in the audience and that makes me a bit happier.

tC: Other melodic death metal bands (Carcass, At the Gates) have been breaking up and getting back together while your lineup has been relatively stable. Why do you think that is?

MS: We just don’t have any other friends! I think it’s more of a work ethic thing; we need this to keep our lives together. After the first couple of years we realized that the band was something bigger than the six of us – something that we thought should exist no matter what. It became such an important part of our lives that we couldn’t imagine a world without it. And of course we really enjoy it. We love writing together and creating something out of nothing because it’s a challenge and we love touring the world and rehearsing. It’s also a fear of being without it. I cannot even imagine…whenever I get frustrated or angry I can channel that into my music and that’s what I need is to be in the rehearsal room and just scream for a couple hours. It’s just something that we need to do. We don’t reflect on it much or really even think about.

tC: You recently had a lineup change with the addition of Daniel Antonsson on bass. How involved was he with the writing on the new record?

MS: He wrote most of “Dream Oblivion,” which turned out amazing. He has a bit of a different background even though he’s from Gothenburg and we’ve known him forever. It took him some time to get into the way of communicating the way we do when we write. Over the years we kind of developed our own language during the writing process. I mean, none of us are classically trained or anything, so we just have to figure it out on our own. Once he got into that groove it worked out really well.

tC: What are some of your favorite records of 2009?

MS: Well, we’re touring Europe with Insomnium this fall, and their record was fantastic. And I loved Crack the Sky by Mastodon and Mars Volta’s Octahedron, even though that really isn’t metal.

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    • MaceK6
    • August 3rd, 2010

    Man, I can’t believe that when I met Mikael in Toronto, I froze and barely could say a word 😄 It was his birthday and i didn’t even say happy birthday -_- He’s a really great guy though, and I don’t think I’ve ever been more inspired by anything more than DT’s music, and especially Mikael’s contributions… for the past few months (since that last concert) I haven’t put anything on my MP3 other than DT’s 9 albums 😄 they’re just incredible… Can’t wait to see them again, and looking forward to a new album !!! \m/

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