A new era starts for Scar Symmetry
Scar Symmetry have gone through some changes since the release of their critically acclaimed album ‘The Unseen Empire’. Founding member, guitarist and producer Jonas Kjellgren has left the band last year. Since then Per Nilsson has stepped up from co-producer to full-time producer. He is now also the sole composer of all songs and the only guitar player. So a Scar Symmetry interview has to be with Per Nilsson. The band has now finished their new album ‘The Singularity (Phase I – Neohumanity) which the first part of a trilogy of concept albums. I had a chat with Per Nilsson about the new album, the lyrical concept behind it and his tremendous work load.
Marc: Scar Symmetry is around for about ten years now. How are you going in your tenth year?
Per: I think we are as strong as we could be, as strong as ever. I think after the previous album ‘The Unseen Empire’ there were some shaky times because the second guitar player [Jonas Kjellgren] left us to pursue a career as a bass player with another band. He didn’t quit the band at first. He just joined them to tour with them. Then, for about a year, he didn’t have any time for Scar Symmetry. We did a lot of shows where we had a session guitar player. Eventually he came around and he quit Scar Symmetry. We had to re-think what we were doing and come up with new ideas for the future. It was a bit shaky at first but once we started speaking about the idea of a trilogy of albums all of a sudden we had a new energy in the band. With Jonas moving on we had to make the effort to do the best album of our career. I think the spirits are high in the band right now.
Marc: You haven’t replaced Jonas yet. Are you looking for a session musician for the tour again or are you looking for a firm replacement?
Per: We definitely are going to have a second guitar player when we play live. I mean the idea is to have a session musician who is not playing with any other bands. I am pretty content with the idea. I think it has worked for me so far. At this point bringing in another guy is difficult. I don’t know who that guy would be. I don’t have anyone that I could see would really fit. I guess we could hold auditions for people to come in and play for the position but we could just continue as a fivepiece and would just have another guy when we play live. It is what some other bands do. They have a session player. They call him an official member but you feel those guys aren’t a full member of the band. I wouldn’t want to treat anyone like that. There is a new guy and he has the exact same say as everyone else in the band. It is a curious feeling whenever we would have a real guy.
Creativity works that way. I write all of the songs now and Henrik, our drummer, writes all of the lyrics. I think that really turned out well for us on the new album. My ideas for the second and the third album are that I write all of the music myself anyway. I don’t need a new guitar player to help me write songs.
“This new album sounds more like a unit.”
Marc: The new album is part of a trilogy. What is the concept behind ‘The Singularity’?
Per: The concept is sort of our take on the future of mankind and the future of technology and how these technological breakthroughs are going to impact humanity. There are a lot of people trying to predict what will happen in the future. There are some other ideas out there about some really cool and awesome but also horrifying things that can happen. We sort of pick and choose along those lines and come up with our own vision of the future. Not all of it is looking very good. The first part of ‘The Singularity’ is about what’s going to happen when we reach the technological singularity. The technological singularity is the point in time when we are going to see an intelligence explosion, when artificial intelligence has reached the level of surpassing human intelligence. We will also see the rise of super intelligent humans, humans using brain-interfacing computers and stuff like that to enhance human intelligence. And what this super intelligence is going to do is it’s going to cause a technological revolution because this super intelligence will usher in a new era of technological breakthroughs. They will come up with stuff that we today with our know-how and weak, regular human intelligence cannot predict. So in the first phase of ‘The Singularity’, the first album, we talk about freezing your body at the time of death. The technology has reached that point that they will be able to be resurrected and they get re-booted. People can upload their minds to machines and people can use bio-enhancements. All in all it’s going to create a clash of super-humans that we call neohumans on the album. They have the potential to turn on life because after a while they start uploading their mind to a machine and live forever from there. All of this happens with other machines and with robots with artificial intelligence so that you can’t tell the difference between artificial intelligence and organic intelligence. All of this will cause a big civil unrest in the world because there are going to be a lot of people that won’t use the technology. All these technologies are a really beautiful thing that can be used for a lot of good things but eventually it constitutes bad stuff only and the first album ends in an all-out war between these fractions.
Marc: From the musical point of view, what are the particular strengths of the new album? Did you change anything? Or is it a logical development from your last album?
Per: The obvious change in the creative process is that I am now the band’s sole song writer. Previously I co-wrote with Jonas. For me compared to the songs I wrote on the previous albums it is sort of a natural continuation of the path that I’ve been on. The thing that is different now is that I make all the musical decisions – for this album every single note has been written by me, all the vocal arrangements, all the drums, all the bass lines, keyboards, everything. It’s been cool for me because I managed to see through my creative vision from start to finish. There is a point about how the songs are sequenced on the album. The fact that I wrote everything myself brought coherence to the album. Even though the songs go in different kinds of direction there is still sort of a vibe to all of them that they have in common. I don’t mind the previous albums where I can tell which parts I wrote and which parts Jonas wrote. We have overlapping styles but there are things that are unique for him and that are unique for me. That, in a way, created some cool things but I think this new album sounds more like a unit which also fits the concept idea. It’s a body of work that you can tell belongs to the same album.
“Suddenly being handed over the writing responsibility that sort of set me free creatively.”
Marc: You are also the sole producer of the album for the first time and you played obviously all guitars. How do you actually get all those jobs together? That must be a lot of work.
Per: It really was. I mean that was something when Jonas was with the band. I loved writing with Jonas. I really like his writing style and he has written some of our best songs but when he quit that was hard on a personal level because I really like the guy. I love working with him but for me on the creative level to suddenly being handed over the writing responsibility that sort of set me free creatively. I can do what I want. I can get through my musical vision without having to pass it by someone else’s creative thoughts. That was really cool for from this aspect. Then I realised that someone has to produce the album. I have been involved in the production since the first album in a way. For each album I took a bigger piece of the responsibility but there is no question that Jonas was the main producer of every album. It was a real challenge for me to take on the full production but it was a lot of fun as well. Most of the album I recorded actually at my own home in Sweden, just in my little studio room. Henrik came for a week to record the drums, the singers came here for ten days and did all of the vocals and then Kenneth came to record the bass. It took nine or ten months to record the album. Most of the time I was sitting here all alone recording the guitars, keyboards and I do 80 percent of the backing vocals. I was really taking my time. I did really think about keyboard sounds and every little nuance on the music. I have really worked on it.
Marc: The album is recorded and will be out soon. What are your touring plans?
Per: We are actually making some plans right now. There is a little obstacle that came up which is obviously a really awesome thing. Robert is having a baby, his first child in February. That’s something that comes as a big roadblock for touring because I think we don’t want to do a tour without one of our vocalists. I’m not sure that we can make any full length tours. I think we are going to start with festivals and one-off shows and then perhaps by next summer we will do something longer. Hopefully we can come to Australia.
I certainly hope that they can make it over here. It is a great album with a great concept that would be awesome to hear live.