Meshuggah Interview with Marten Hagstrőm

Meshuggah have always been at the forefront of stretching the boundaries of extreme metal. They combined different metal styles and were one of the first bands to introduce 8-string guitars widening the sound options for metal bands significantly. Meshuggah are about to finish the touring for their 25th anniversary and released a new live DVD.  Read below what long-time band member and song writer Marten Hagstrőm had to say about the DVD and future plans of Meshuggah.

Marc: Congratulations Marten, you are celebrating your 25th anniversary at the moment.

Marten: Thank you very much for that. It’s been a long time (laughs).

Marc: You now give your fans a treat in form of a new live DVD. What can you tell me about the DVD?

Marten: I know that a few people were kind of surprised – a little bit wondering why we didn’t release a live DVD for ages and then we released one 4 years ago and now we release another one pretty close to the last one. There is a pretty good reason for that or at least we think there is and that’s the fact that the first live DVD we put out we were really happy with but it showed a part of the Meshuggah touring experience that was very honest and very gritty so to speak. With the new album we took great care to actually build a show that was more a ritual experience, more of a show than before, not just five guys having their way with their instruments but actually having a thought through live design, nothing fancy but still putting more effort into the visual part of our live set. We thought it would be a good idea to document it, more so for ourselves but then we thought if we’re gonna document it for us why don’t we do it properly and make a DVD. That’s why we made it. With where we are at right now it is the closest and most fair representation of the feeling what it is actually to be at a Meshuggah live show without being on stage. We hope that we portrait a little bit of what we do live.

Marc: You really tried to emulate the experience of someone being in the crowd.

Marten: I’m proud that you feel like that because that is what we went for. Anthony – who actually made the DVD for us – his idea was to make it interact with the experience of what we do but more from a fan point of view than anything else.

Marc: You are now going to play a few shows on Europe in December. What are your touring plans for 2015?

Marten: Next year we are hopefully not touring at all (laughs). The December touring is us finishing the 25th anniversary that started last summer. We’re gonna do a couple of festivals. It’s not 100% confirmed which ones but we’re gonna do four maybe five European summer festivals. Apart from that it’s gonna be all writing. The reason for that is pretty simple: we almost never tour while writing. We almost always keep these separate. We kind of hibernate when we go into writing mode. We do that now. The only break up from that is going to be the tour in December and the summer festivals next summer.

”We kind of hibernate when we go into writing mode.”

Marc: How is the work on the new album progressing at the moment?

Marten: Slowly at the moment but that was to be expected. We are not in any rush or panic because we know that the way it always works with us is after we finished the touring cycle we start slowly going over bits and pieces that might be left over, come up with some new ideas. It’s always slow and there are parts here and there. Then all of a sudden somebody finishes a song or has a song and then it snowballs and we are in the middle of this crazy creative process. Then it’s pretty much happening all the time. Right now it’s the early days of the writing.

Marc: It has been reported in other interviews that you all normally write songs on your own and then present them back to band. These songs then get not changed anymore. Is that still the way you write songs?

Marten: Yes and no. There has always been a collaborative element to the way our music comes about. Generally none of it comes from jamming while we rehearse. It comes from what we play on our own. Having said that I might write a song which is pretty much the way it is, this is the song, this is it. Someone might think we change this and that, very small corrections. But sometimes it is that I have a song that is close to finish and I feel it is lacking something and then the guys hear it and they come up with ideas. Sometimes it’s a collaborative approach in something that does already exist. Sometimes it’s collaborative on just a single part. But we do it in front of a computer, in a demo kind of environment.

“I always hear a new song as a whole band playing it in my head.”

Marc: When you personally write a song, how does it work for you? Where do you get your ideas from?

Marten: I don’t know (laughs). It differs a little bit. For instance just before I started doing the interview I wasn’t really planning on playing guitar at all today. But I’m sitting at home having a cup of coffee before I made the first call and I was just having my guitar next to me on my couch and I just started to play randomly. Then all of a sudden I heard something in my head and I said ‘Wait a minute’. Then I played it and then I took my iPhone and recorded that little short piece acoustically. Later I’ll go back and bring up QBase and record the guitar, do the drums. I always hear it as a whole band playing it in my head. That’s one way of coming across an idea. It might be while I’m out shopping for groceries, picking up my kid from day care. It can come whenever. So I’m trying get the idea down somehow.  The second way of how things turn up in the creative process is when you already have an idea, maybe I have three or four parts that I put together and recorded the guitars and programmed the drums for. You know, started to make a demo already and I try to get the feel with my guitar what would be a cool way from here to progress. What can I do with what I already have? So those are basically the two different ways that I come up with ideas. It’s never something I think about. It’s always something that happens.

Marc: It sounds like your music has been a natural progression and hasn’t been planned by the band in a way that you planned to sound like this or that.

Marten: Exactly. We never did that. There is nothing wrong with having a major plan. There is nothing wrong with sitting down and planning ‘We would like to create a piece of music that goes towards this or that’. For us the entire reason why still after all these years it’s interesting for us to start a new album project is because of the fact that we really don’t know where it will take us. We really don’t know what this unit of persons will end up a year from now. That’s the exciting part. If we sat down and decide on what we wanted it to be it doesn’t take us on that magical way. That’s kind of the whole creative idea behind the entire band: to go with our own flow.

Marc: You play 8-string guitars now. That change happened a while ago. What has influenced your decision to play 8-string guitars?

Marten: There are a few reasons actually. We made this change in 2000. What we did was we looked for the instrument that would accommodate the sound that we were looking for. We didn’t know that at the time but thinking about it in retrospect on our 1998 album we started to write some parts, some riffs and some songs that were kind of oriented towards leaving the traditional thrash metal power chord riffing and we were going more towards a single note style. What we did was we realised that we sounded that we all more or less played like a bass.  It became a single string environment. So we met up with a guy who said ‘what you are describing, what you are planning and what you want instead of everybody playing the bass on a certain track why don’t you go for baritone because that would make that happen naturally.’ We were like ‘that would be cool but wouldn’t that be even better if we played 8-string guitars.’ From there we got a prototype and we used that prototype. Instantly we realised this was a game changer for us. This was gonna enable us to play so much stuff that we weren’t able to play. Some of the stuff that you come up with in your head didn’t really translate when we recorded it. But when we had the 8-string all of a sudden the tone carried the idea. I don’t know if I make a lot of sense but that was what happened. Basically it is an experiment to make the instrument accommodate the ideas we were coming up with.

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