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Dark Tranquility guitarist and founding member talks influences, trends, and metal tourism

Martin Henriksson of Dark Tranquility interview

2013 marks the twenty-fourth year of existence for Swedish melodeath outfit Dark Tranquillity. That’s pretty damn impressive, don’t you think? Construct is also their tenth studio full-length, which is a nice round number, but what makes it extra special is that it doesn’t see any kind of drop in form for the band; rather, at a point in their careers where many prominent and pioneering bands have taken a dip quality-wise, Dark Tranquillity are still putting out strong records and gaining new fans.

A little while back I sat down with guitarist Martin Henriksson to discuss the new record, as well as trends and metal tourism! You can read our recently-published review of Construct here, and then dive into our chat with Martin!

Coming into music, growing up, what were some of your major musical influences?

When we started the band back in 1989 we obviously had a lot of influences as young kids, but since it was more than 20 years ago it doesn’t really make sense to speak about those influences anymore because we have been playing music for so long that it is hard to really focus on what you liked before. Now you are in a band who are more influenced by…not necessarily yourself but the whole industry itself and that plays into how we make music.

How do you guys react to when people/bands say that your music influenced them?

There is really nothing to interpret. If someone tells me that we inspired them; that we made them want to play music, then that’s great and I am very happy and proud about that for sure. It is an awesome thing to hear, when people tell you that what we did in the 90′s with albums like The Gallery inspired them, it just feels good.

Speaking of Dark Tranquillity albums, do you have a personal favourite? Or is it a mix?

Its all mixed you know, each and every album has its own place in our history. For me personally every album is kind of a statement of that time in my life. So each album is important in its own way, I think most of the albums relate back to a certain “thing” in my life and I like that certain aspect of the album. But for the albums in the 90′s, it doesn’t really relate to anything we have been doing in the last five years. But they are all important to me for sure.

Dark Tranquillity 2013
How do you guys perceive to new trends that have occurred recently in heavy metal?

We are all certainly aware of what trends and genres are starting up and sometimes eventually dying out. We see what is going on and obviously we know what people are saying about us. We are aware of these things but when people come up talking about “this genre” and “that genre” it is not really important to us.

I have seen in documentaries where certain areas/cites in Europe have become these sort of metal tourist destinations, like the old Helvete shop in Oslo. Many metal fans go there and it has become this weird tourist destination. Has Gothenburg become something like this?

We definitely have seen quite a few metalheads come to Gothenburg, just because of the bands you mentioned Dark Tranquillity, At the Gates, In Flames. Going back 10-15 years ago when all of us were recording albums all of the time, we would have foreigners come to our studio that we used from 1995-2005. People from Japan, many foreign bands coming to that studio to record JUST because they felt they could get that Gothenburg sound. They felt that they had to go there to get the same sound. We had bands from Mexico, from the States and we thought it was kind of funny really. You had all these people coming over here asking us what kind of bars we went to, just so they could go there and tell people back home that they had been to the same bar that In Flames or Dark Tranquillity had been to.

To have a “piece” of that place, for bragging rights?

Yeah (laughs).

Considering all of the activity and bands in the Gothenburg scene (In Flames, At the Gates, others) was your relationship with these guys more of a competition? Or camaraderie?

It was definitely camaraderie; many of us grew up together and we all knew each other as we were starting out our different bands. We were like 16-17 years old so all of us started hanging out, went to shows together. One weekend they would play, and the next weekend we would play, everyone would hang out, there was a lot of friendship.

On the subject of shows, from what you have seen can you speak to some of the differences between touring in the U.S. And Europe?

Yeah, there are plenty of differences, some of them very noticeable. We started touring the States kind of late; our first U.S. tour wasn’t until 2002 with In Flames actually. Back then we had already been touring Europe every year since ’95 so we had some experience, so the first time touring in the U.S. we did see the crowd differently, but now that we have been back to the States many times those differences kind of vanish, maybe on the first couple of tours, it’s more punk rock and smaller clubs and all that, but that is the main difference.

Of course every time we go to a new place – well there are not many new places for us to play, so for us, our experience when we get to play in a new country or a new city and play for the audience there for the first time – they are usually more enthusiastic then when you come back say, once a year. Its not like they don’t like you, but the reaction we get the first time is always something special to us. Touring the States the first two times was very special, even though it was on a smaller scale,  the audience was really fantastic and enthusiastic.

With these tours that you have done, has there been a band you have specifically enjoyed touring with?

Oh! There have been a lot of favourite bands we have toured with. In terms of sharing a bus with another band it gets kind of personal and there have been so many great bands and people out there. I especially remember sharing a bus with Hypocrisy a few years back, and actually, come to think of it, we have shared a bus with more Finnish bands than Swedish bands or American bands. A lot of those Finnish bands are super nice guys!

Is there some sort of “bucket list” band that you would want to open for? Or any band you dream of playing for whether it’s a tour or a festival?

Well it would be awesome of course to share a stage with Metallica; we have shared a stage with Slayer at many festival shows. Iron Maiden actually invited us to be a support band on their show in Norway a few years ago, but we couldn’t do that, but yeah Metallica would be great of course.      

Shifting back to your music, you have come out with a new logo and style for Construct. What prompted the change?

When you hear the new album you are going to kind of notice it’s a little bit different from what we have been doing for the last four albums. This new album came about in a completely different way. Usually like most other bands you come together, you throw a few ideas out there and everyone works together and that is how we have written most of the other albums over the last 15 years. But in the progress of this new album we tried the same old thing but it didn’t really work out, we made some songs but we weren’t too happy with it.

So we thought that we would try something new, and it came out in a different way, and I think you can tell from the sound of the album. It’s not as aggressive as the last 3 or 4 albums, its definitely more atmospheric. It’s melodic, in a different way. The other albums would be directly melodic, with guitar rhythms but now it is more based on intricate ways of constructing the atmosphere of the album. We realised that this album is going to sound different, so we decided that if it is going to sound different it is going to look different as well.

For the actual recording of Construct was there a different way you went about recording the album? Was there a different step in terms of songwriting? What variances exist in terms of recording compared to the last four albums?

The writing process was different; before you would have at least 4-5 riffs and they would “go into this song” and we would just arrange it. With this new album, instead of having so much guitar driven riffs you are allowed new ideas. It not even metal, it could be just sounds, or a keyboard, something like that. We focused on making a song out of this abstract sound as a background, not as much reliance on guitar sounds like it used to be.

You guys have historically had a strong keyboard element in your music, how did that inclusion of keys come about?

I for one love having the keyboards in the band, the way it started out was, you know back in the 90′s we just focused on getting as much melody into each song as possible. Back then most of the stuff was super-fast, but we were still trying to get all of these melodies in at the same time.

At one  point we would stop and say there is enough melody in our head, but we can’t express it all, so we thought having the keyboards would add another element to this. That was quite a new thing in the scene at the time; not too many bands had keyboards back then, but now everyone does, and even if they don’t have a keyboard player in their band, they will have one on their albums. I think it’s a great thing to have, and the way we have developed our keyboard parts during the years, I really like that because in the beginning we would just have a piano song playing in the beginning of the lead or melody. But now we have kind of gotten away from that sound and that style of using the keyboards, now it’s more atmospheric. It’s important now to create sounds instead of just really straight forward melodies.

When you guys come together for a new album, how does that work? Do you designate time and duties? Is the recording process for the band more structured or loose?

It used to be very loose, whoever had ideas would just bring them forward then we would all work on them together. The way this album came out, three of the guys decided that it wasn’t going to work out the way we usually do it, so let’s try a completely different way of doing it. In a way that is more structured because it was not going to work for them. They went to the studio 8 hours a day, every weekday for 3 months in a row, and that’s how they wrote the album and in a way that is more structured than we have ever been in the past.

There is a tendency in metal for a lot of prominent musicians to work on numerous side projects, though you have personally never dived into side projects, is there any interest in solo work in the future?

Most of us in Dark Tranquility have only been with just this band, I’ve never played in another band ever. I know Niklas has some side project that he can go back to sometime but this is only a small part for him, his major focus is Dark Tranquillity. I know a lot of other bands that can share their time and have 2, 3 or even 4 bands all equally important to them, but I don’t think that is for us. And since I haven’t really done that yet I doubt that will happen.

In relation to your other band mates, do you guys spend downtime together outside of the studio?

Yes of course, we are great friends all of us, four of us started the band back in 1989, we kind of grew up together, went to the same school, lived in the same area. When we grew up we moved into town and all five of us in the band right now, Its maybe 3km away to the farthest guy from where I live so we live in a very close-by area, not all of us hangout all of the time. Me and Mikael hang out a lot, Mikael and Anders hang out a lot, it depends on what you do.

With the new album do you guys have any festival dates lined up or plans for a bigger tour?

Oh sure, there are a lot of plans right now, we do have a few European festival dates booked not as many as we usually have. A regular summer in Europe for us would be 10-15 festivals; I think we have 8 or something. Tours are definitely in the works, there is going to be a North American tour, I believe at the end of September to the end of October most likely.

Thanks for your time Martin. Good luck with Construct, it’s a great record!

Thank you.