Latest Release: Aeromantic II (Nuclear Blast)Website: www.facebook.com/thenightflightorchestra
Swedish band The Night Flight Orchestra aka TNFO is no longer a guilty pleasure. The pop act started out initially as a side project for friends in established metal bands such as Arch Enemy and Soilwork to let off steam and offer an alternate creative outlet. Despite an ever increasing fan base and deservedly growing profile internationally, as every band experienced one way or another, the pandemic scuppered their tour cycle which in this case was for fifth album Aeromantic. So, in typically prolific Swedish fashion, the band wrote more songs and worked away at creating sixth album Aeromantic II.
TNFO is now quite possibly in the ironic situation of becoming more successful than the band members’ original bands and it is fair to say that for many scribes, Aeromantic II is going to be snapping at the heels for top spot for album of the year, with great song writing and undeniable ear worm choruses. Loud Online recently spoke to the eloquent co-guitarist David Andersson about the latest chapter in the TNFO discography and the processes behind such an exceptional career trajectory.
Aeromantic II is a great album. It is almost like it is the metal guys saying to Swedish pop, ‘We know what you do.’
Ha-ha, I guess so. But I don’t know that if you are aware but a lot of the Swedish pop writers who have achieved international success, many of them actually come from a metal background. Yeah, people like Max Martin and Shellback, they come from a hard rock, heavy metal, hard core background. So, I guess it is never a bad thing to have some metal running through your veins if you are a song writer.
That is intriguing as it feeds into knowledge of song structures and production. In that light, now at album number six, how do you sort out production duties?
Yeah, absolutely. We’re doing this in the same procedure as always in that we have always been producing and recording our own albums ourselves. We have never had an external producer so it is just us sitting in a studio, pressing record and seeing what happens. It is a very spontaneous process and I guess that myself, Bjorn [Strid – lead vocals] and Sebastian [Forslund – guitars and percussion] are the major song writers. We make basic demos and then we just go into the studio and then let everyone else sprinkle their magic and do their thing. It is very spontaneous and organic. We don’t overthink stuff. We just go out and see what happens.
Do you ever reference certain artists to get your sound in songs? For example, you might say, look at Bowie’s style for a song?
No, we never do that and the song writing is just something that comes together as a subconscious thing. We never sit around and plan, going, ‘Oh, we’re going to do this kind of song,’ or that, you know, but obviously, having grown up with all kinds of musical influences and very diverse musical tastes I guess it comes in. We are not about reinventing the wheel bit more like taking various components and elements to combine them in new and different ways. Hopefully we can add our own twist to the whole thing but it is never pre-conceived or something that we plan out. It’s just a case of whatever happens, happens. If you write a good song, then that is a good song.
Is it harder working for an eight piece band than a five piece one [Soilwork]?
No, not really. I mean, it could be, I guess, but with TNFO it has always been really easy. It is just like any relationship. If the chemistry is there from the beginning then it is kind of easy. Everyone is also aware of that, you know, we all have played in all kinds of bands in all kinds of genres as musicians. We have listened to all sorts of music so we don’t really have to talk much, because we trust each other to do the right thing for the song. But, of course, that is just because we are very experienced, listen to music and have played all kinds of music. So that is really easy and if I ask someone to play a certain part, I know that, basically, they will do the right thing. It is not like you have to sit around guiding people and telling them exactly what to play because we all know what we’re supposed to play and we all know that it is going to work out. It is easy but it would have been a nightmare if you have a different group of people and you had to give everyone detailed instructions. But for us it is like, ‘Okay, everyone, let’s go, we’ll press record and you do your thing,’ and it usually turns out well.
The rhythm section is one of the underrated things in early 80’s music. Disco music, for example, relies on the bass to drive it. So, why do people hook onto a melody line but aren’t aware that the rhythm section is what is working?
I think that on a subconscious level perhaps most people understand that and I mean, it just wouldn’t be anything without the rhythm section. That is something I think that sets TNFO apart from many other bands, the fact that we allow the rhythm section to breathe and do their thing. I think that a lot of modern rock music is too guitar oriented and even as a guitarist myself, when playing some classic rock music, a lot of it is ruined by having too much, you know, fat guitar sounds in the mix which sort of overpowers everything. I like the whole band to be able to have some space in the music and I don’t need to fill up every frequency with my guitar. I like for every instrument to have its own place within the music and to breathe, you know, so the drummer is allowed to play some crazy stuff and the bassist can do some of the occasional Jack Bruce thing. I think that is also what makes us unique because you don’t hear it that much on contemporary records, it is always just a fat guitar sound, a fat drum sound and it is all kind of a homogeneous sound which is kind of boring. We try to leave space for each other which allows the music to breathe and hopefully it all comes across as being a lot more organic. What do you think?
Agreed. Bands that became huge, like Duran Duran, have an underrated rhythm section.
Yeah, I mean John Taylor, as a bass player, is doing some phenomenal stuff. It all kind of went over people’s heads at the time but listening back now, there is some really advanced stuff going on in the rhythm section. I think that is why we still listen to Duran Duran, whereas a lot of other bands, from that era, sound a bit one dimensional now because they might have had the odd, good chorus and a couple of hits. But Duran Duran had something more than just that and I guess that is what we aim for too with TNFO. We want to provide entertainment and catchy music but at the same time, we want it to have some sort of depth, both musically and lyrically. Even if it is a catchy pop song, you can still find stuff happening underneath the catchy melodies that are interesting in themselves.
A song like Zodiac has a musical interlude that does include some guitar work but is largely a rhythm section part.
Yeah, absolutely and that reminds me of Chic with Nile Rodgers. He and Bernard Edwards had this thing when they were producing where you were supposed to break down the groove in the middle of a song. So, you break down the groove to its bare essentials and then you build it up again. I have always loved that and I’d say that is sort of what we were trying to do with Zodiac in that you play the song and then you break it down into its bare essentials. You just keep the groove going and them you build it back up again. I like that and it is one of my favourites.
Not trying to push the influences aspect but the song How Long did remind me of Kim Wilde.
Oh, yeah, I mean, I wrote that song but I didn’t think about her music as such. I’ll always agree though because I love Kim Wilde. Who am I to say no to that comparison? She did some great stuff back in the day so, as long as it reminds you of something great, I will always agree. Ha-ha.
Fair enough. The solos have those subtle nuances from influential guitar players from earlier generations. Aspects like a bent note going to a tapped note. Stuff that was happening in the 80’s including the outro solo in Amber Through a Window, where all the other instruments fade out at a lower volume level as the guitar plays out.
Yeah, thank you, I love doing that kind of stuff and it was kind of frustrating when I grew up during the 80’s practicing the guitar when I was learning all of the shred guitar techniques and once I came of age, the grunge thing happened and no one wanted the flashy guitar solos anymore. But now it is okay to do it once in a while and it is nice to have a bag of tricks that you can do. I like that too, that whole Toto thing when you play the outro solo and you’re able to get it all out there.
That’s the thing, it was always the middle eight solo when the producer says that you can do your thing but it has to be a linked musical story within the song. But at the outro, that was the opportunity to go off as a guitarist.
Yep, and I love that. I am very much into that, I’ve written guitar solos a few times in the past. At heart though, I am an improvising musician and I think that almost all of the solos on this album, or perhaps all of them, are improvised. I just like to press record and see what happens. That is where I come from but it also quite boring because you can always hear when the solo is improvised and when it is written beforehand. I like the spontaneous stuff where you just hit the ground running and just see where you end up. All of my heroes like Ritchie Blackmore and Eddie Van Halen, it is all improvisation and that is something that I really like. I listen to a lot of jazz music and I play some jazz myself, John [Manhattan Lönnmyr], our keyboard player is also a jazz musician who also improvises a lot and I think that it gets a certain spontaneity and I think that is makes things more interesting that having everything being arranged beforehand.
I gather the harmony guitar parts need to be organised with Sebastian?
Yeah, the harmony guitar parts need to be organised beforehand but the proper solo solos are mostly improvised.
Mentioning the 80’s, a lot of those classic solos on big artist releases were session guitarists. It would invariably be done in the first or second take so your point in improvisation makes sense.
Yeah, and that is something that getting lost a bit, in modern music, that whole thing of being capable of improvising stuff. I got a bit sad when I read a guitar magazine and Misha Mansoor from Periphery, the djent band with three guitarists, he was complaining that, ‘Oh, it is so boring composing guitar solos and it takes so much time,’ and, ‘Oh, it is really annoying when the guys ask me to compose another guitar solo.’ I thought, ‘Well, if you were a proper guitar player you should just go in there and so stuff.’ You don’t have to compose stuff, and I mean no offence, they are great musicians but it is just like in my world of complaining of stuff like that, you shouldn’t need to spend days composing guitar solos. If you are a proper musician you just press record and do stuff.
With the guitar gear side of it, because that was the era of rack mounted gear and a slew of toys, were you tempted to go analogue?
Yeah, but to be honest, we mostly use just plug-ins. The most important thing is to have a proper tube amplifier, miked up. Then the effects can come from anywhere, basically, but we try to record everything with the effects as opposed to putting everything on afterwards, which is an industry standard these days. So, if I have a good sound we just try to record it with effects and everything from the amp and, you know, some is just like presets in Logic [Pro] and it works as well. Everything is a case of, if it sounds good, it sounds good. We don’t spend much time on guitar sounds, it is more like just plug in and play and it is all in the fingers anyway.
The rhythm figures are well done whereby you might have a chiming, delay effected guitar in the verse, such as in Moonlit Skies. So, it’s the production thing of going from a more dense intro to different setups during the verse and back to the chorus. Do you sit down with Bjorn and plan it all out?
Nah, it depends on who has written the song. Bjorn writes songs on guitar too and he is usually quite specific on what he wants. For my songs, it is, you know, you have a basic idea when you write the song and I mostly write on guitar but sometimes I write on keyboards. It all usually comes naturally and it is just about providing a basis for the rest of the band to work around. I like the rhythm guitar to be a bit more Malcolm Young styled and that gives other people space to do their things around it as opposed to fiddly about on guitar all the time and the others just sticking to their parts.
You’ve got six albums thus far and this one is very good. Looking over the discography though, is there one track that best represents TNFO?
I mean, for me personally I think I do like the slightly progressive side of things as well. So, one of my tracks that I am most proud of and I think sums up a lot of the spirit behind the band, is a song called Last of the Independent Romantics. The last song on Sometimes the World Ain’t Enough. I think it is a bit more epic, it has some progressive elements and also, is a bit groovy, melodic and melancholic, it shows of the range of what we can do, at least parts of it and yeah I like the epic stuff.
In contrast to TNFO, with Soilwork, is that somewhere that is more for baritone guitars or also six string guitars?
Yeah, we use six string guitars for Soilwork too just tune them down to B natural but yeah, of course you approach the instrument in a different way because the sound is so different. Obviously with Soilwork, the sound is based around the guitar in a whole different manner than with TNFO where the guitar is just one of the instruments. When we play in a metal context, like we do with Soilwork, the guitar needs to have more focus and so of course, it is a different thing for the actual recording process whereas the song writing, at least for me, the main difference is that you use a different guitar while writing a Soilwork song. But the actual process is very much the same, it is all about finding something that you latch onto; it could be a melody, a riff, a phrase, a word, or a concept or something. You get an idea and you just try to expand on it.
Pop music very much uses backing vocals to bolster a chorus. Do backing vocals also become useful in Soilwork? Do some aspects of TNFO lend themselves to Soilwork?
Well, it’s the same thing, with Soilwork it is mostly Bjorn but he loves arranging his own backing vocals. He usually puts some stuff in there, in the background but it is kind of liberating sometimes with Soilwork, you can just have a screamy chorus and if you have a good guitar riff going on, and perhaps a guitar melody or something, you just have a screaming vocal over it and it can still be catchy. I like to explore various forms of catchiness and catchy can mean so many things, but I am a sucker for good choruses but they come in all shapes and forms.
The recent EP, A Whisp of the Atlantic, has the first track clocking in at sixteen minutes and is full of blast beat drumming. It is full-on. How do you rehearse a track like that?
Oh, we didn’t rehearse it. I wrote all of the songs on that EP, including the title track and I just send Bastian [Thusgaard], our drummer, the demo, and I mean, I had a rough idea of what I wanted on the drums and he just took it and put his own mark on it. Unfortunately we don’t have much time to rehearse when we go into the studio so we just send the basic demos around and then we add on it once we are in the studio. It would have been nice to rehearse more before we went into the studio but at the same time, if we rehearse stuff too much at a rehearsal space, it kind of kills some of the spontaneous stuff that can happen in the studio as well.
Are there any tracks from the earlier Peter Wichers era of Soilwork that you look at as untouchable?
Ah, I don’t know, I mean we are a different band now to what they were back then, obviously. We have gone in a very different direction but I do very much admire Peter as a song writer and a guitarist. I started touring with Soilwork on and off back in 2006, after Peter left for the first time and I’ve been playing those songs so many times live that it is sort of like, even if I found some of them untouchable from the beginning, it is something that I will play myself sometimes and so I’ll lose perspective. But I really do admire a lot of the song writing and in a way it is a shame that he is still not active these days but like I said, when I became a full member of Soilwork, I have always been a song writer myself and from on The Living Infinite, and every album ever since, I have been writing at least half of the songs and sometimes more. I am a very different kind of song writer and musician compared to Peter and I guess that is how it should be. I never tried to copy what he had done because we are very different but I really admire him and when we do play the old songs live, I do try to stick to the original thing as much as possible. There are some great songs but at the same time, I want to base our lives on the things that we do now. If we have just been a nostalgia band, playing the old stuff, I would not have been interested and so the fun thing is that we have some new Soilwork fans who aren’t really familiar with anything that happened before 2012, they just like the new stuff and that is really exciting for me.
Dance music often uses a 3/4 time signature compared to 4/4 in rock. Did you ever find that challenging for TNFO?
No, not really, as long as the song writing is good, it usually just comes naturally.