Meshuggah: A Discordant System
16-Sep-2013 Words: Brendan Crabb
Pix: Peter Zaluzny
Latest release: Koloss (Nuclear Blast/Riot!)
Band site: www.meshuggah.net
Swedish tech-metal sensations Meshuggah are headed back to Australia this month, this time as part of a crushing, Loud co-presented double bill alongside fellow heavyweights Lamb of God. Having just wrapped up their appearances on the European festival circuit for 2013, guitarist Mårten Hagström gave Loud the latest on their next record, Randy Blythe’s much-publicised dramas and thrash metal.
Q: Even though the shows themselves predominantly take place on weekends, many bands I speak to about the European festival circuit say it’s almost as exhausting as doing an eight-week American tour, just because of the sheer amount of travel involved. Do you find it that way?
A: Yeah, it’s quite deceptive if you haven’t tried it, ‘cause it seems, when you look at it… Like, last summer for instance. We did 12 festivals in Europe, and that just kills you because you’re like in northern Norway on the Saturday, then you’re supposed to travel home from there, so you have a van ride for like four hours to get to the flight and then get back home. Then you’re home for a few days and then you go down to Slovenia for instance, and you have to hop on like three flights to get on to a van that will take you into the mountains for like four hours. It’s a lot of travelling.
Q: Then there’s heading to a place like Australia, which has one main travel obstacle – that one rather lengthy flight.
A: Yeah, once you’re in Australia it’s all good. You fly between the shows, but it’s not the same way. You’re going to cities; that’s the difference between the festivals in Europe to when you’re doing Soundwave for instance. You’re going to cities; which means that you’re not far away from your hotel when you land. And you have days off in between, so it’s pretty smooth-sailing. As far as the touring cycle goes it’s pretty cool.
Q: You’re headed back to our shores, this time with Lamb of God. I believe the two bands have never toured together previously.
A: It’s been on the table a couple of times, but for different reasons it’s never been able to really happen. We were absolutely going to do Australia anyway, ‘cause we really wanted to bring the whole, to be able to deliver Koloss as far as we did with (2008’s) obZen, when we did a headlining tour as the first thing we did, and then we did festivals. This time we didn’t want to do that; we didn’t want to come back for another festival and we really wanted to do a full headline set. When the Lamb of God suggestion came along it was just, ‘okay’. So it’s a co-headliner and a great package from our point of view. We thought it was a really, really good tour, so it seemed like a no-brainer. Both bands are playing, I think, I know we’re playing the same set length but I think it’s like an hour-and-a-half or something.
Q: I’m sure like many people within the metal world you were actively following Randy Blythe’s recent trials and tribulations. What was your take on that situation?
A: I was following what happened; I knew what was going on. I kept up-to-date on the internet, but I really didn’t get too into it. It’s one of those things where it was fairly obvious what was going on, but it’s also one of those things where… It’s out of your hands sort of. But the thing is, it’s scary, stuff like that. And as a travelling musician or whatever you want to call it, every once in a while stuff goes wrong. And it doesn’t have to be something like that; that’s a very unique situation, a very strange and tough situation for Randy of course. But there’s shit happening all the time when you’re out on the road. You never really know what’s going to go down around the corner. It was a sobering thing I think for others, standing on the sidelines.
Q: Although obviously not on such a level as that, but have you witnessed similarly concerning or dangerous behaviour at Meshuggah shows?
A: No, not really. Sometimes, granted, you see stuff going down. But when you’re up there playing, you’re so focused on what’s going on on-stage that you’re not always… You realise that there’s a mosh-pit going on or whatever, but it’s not like you’re consciously taking it in. But we’ve been around for a long time, so yeah, definitely, we’ve seen stuff on the road that’s scary. But you can’t think about it that way. Every occupation has a hazard, so it’s not often that anything happens. The scary thing about Randy’s situation was how easy things can go wrong, and how bad and confused the consequences can get.
Q: Indeed. On the topic of the band’s live show, “hypnotic” is a word I’ve often utilised to describe it. What is running through your mind when you’re up there playing?
A: It’s a little tricky to explain, because it’s not, it’s something that’s just happening, you know? Playing live is a lot like playing a game, as a sport. You can’t drop the ball - you know what I’m saying? (laughs) It’s happening now, it’s happening right here, right now and nothing else is in focus. It’s a matter of deep concentration. So playing live is sort of like, I don’t know how to explain it, is like mastering a ride or something. It’s one of those things where you come in and go into a mindset where I’m playing, locked with what I’m hearing. We live in that, and just try to perform as good as we can, and just have a certain vibe about it. So that takes up about 90 per cent of all the focus that you have. That said we’ve been doing this for a long time. I walk on the stage, I notice when shit goes down, and I notice when something funny’s going on most of the time, even though you’re not 100 per cent in your own headspace. We interact with the crowd; you look at the people up front, but… It’s just a continuous flow. We walk on-stage and then everything has to just roll until we go off. So it’s a very weird headspace.
Q: On the live front, what type of set list are Australian fans likely to be treated to?
A: I’m not 100 per cent sure yet, we’re looking into it right now. We’ve been having, apart from the festivals, when we’ve been actually playing our own headlining shows we’ve been playing three different set-lists on the Koloss touring run. So I think that we’re gonna use one of those… But I think we’re also going to like pull out a couple of tracks. But right now I can’t say exactly what we’re going to play.
Q: The response the first you visited was enormous, and it seems like your Australian fan-base has just grown exponentially.
A: Yeah, we’ve been doing really well in Australia for some reason. We enjoy it a lot; we really enjoy touring Australia, it’s a nice country and for us to do well there is quite a treat, because like taking the flight over ain’t really cheap (laughs), as far the band goes. So it’s really nice to be able to do it, so we appreciate that a lot. It’s been good for us over the last couple of years. Like our band is slowly but surely with every album taking a little, a small step further and that feels solid, and Australia’s a big part of that, so that’s cool.
Q: How much longer do you plan to tour in support of the latest record before you bunker down to write new material?
A: End of the year. I think the last day of November is our last show for this album. So we’re basically looking to have some time off in December, and then we’ve been on the road with Koloss for like two years or something, on and off. So then I guess it’s about time to start writing new stuff again.
Q: You mentioned that every album represents a slight progression for the band. In your view, what is the next step forward for Meshuggah creatively?
A: I have no idea, and I never do. And I think that’s a good thing, ‘cause people sometimes say that we’re pretty unpredictable, but I don’t really think we are because we have a sound that’s been with us since at least like the None EP (from 1994), that’s very us (laughs). It doesn’t really change all that much, but it’s still a progression, and what I mean by taking a step forward is that we’re still, we’ve been around now. We’re veterans in this game (laughs), and we’re still having fun with what we do, with experimenting with the music that we want to create. So as long as it feels like we’re making it better, and as long as it feels like we’re doing something that we can at least stand for and be proud of, that’s all that we ask.
Q: So being afforded “veteran status” sits well with you then?
A: Yeah, definitely. Being the young gun is cool and all, ‘cause of the surprise factor. I think it’s sitting really well with us. I think we’ve found; not that we’re complacent and feel like that about stuff, because it’s very fickle, this business (laughs). But it’s at a point where we’re growing more and more to learn to respect, enjoy and appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to do this still. There’s a lot of bands that were around when we started out that aren’t anymore. So we’re lucky that way.
Q: What are your recollections of the early days of Meshuggah? What was the motivation, or main driving force behind making this incredibly heavy and uncompromising music?
A: Same as now, I don’t think it’s that different. I mean, definitely there’s certain things that happen now that weren’t around back then. We can make a living off it, which we couldn’t do back then, and so on and so forth. The real motivation for what this band is even about is that we’re a bunch of guys who are similar. Not exactly the same of course; but have a similar vision of how to write and create music. And to do that together, that was the thing. Then we kept feeding off each other’s creativity, and that was what we grew with, that was what made us be excited about our music in the first place. So I think that’s the same thing now, though. We were of course hungrier back then, but we were more naïve as well.
Q: Your earliest recordings were heavily influenced by ‘80’s thrash too. Is that something you still listen to much these days?
A: (Pauses) No. Every once in a while, you’re having a barbecue or whatever, drinking a couple of beers, one of the old thrash classics might come on. It’s not like it’s something we never listen to. And we still enjoy it, but it’s… Even though we’re still all of us metal-heads in the respect that we actually enjoy and listen to metal still, when you do it as a living, when you try to focus on your own stuff, it’s not always the chosen form of music that you would listen to, like it always was when you’re like 17.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Well, it’s looking really good, this upcoming tour. I think the package is really cool, and it’s the one tour that we’re going to do on Koloss for Australia. So I hope everybody interested is going to come out to watch it. I know that Brisbane and Sydney is sold out already, so it’s gonna be cool.
You can catch Meshuggah with Lamb of God on the following dates-
20/9: Tivoli, Brisbane QLD- SOLD OUT
21/9: UNSW Roundhouse, Sydney NSW (Lic A/A)- SOLD OUT
22/9: Festival Hall, Melbourne VIC (Licensed and Unlicensed areas available) www.ticketmaster.com.au
24/9: Thebarton Theatre, Adelaide SA (Lic A/A) www.venuetix.com.au
26/9: Metro City, Perth WA www.oztix.com.au
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