Interview with Tomas Haake from Meshuggah
Interview by Chris Slack, March 29th 2008 in Seattle Washington
Note: On the way to the show I got caught in a hailstorm that dumped about five inches of ice onto the road in a 15 minute period. To avoid an accident I had to put my car into a curb which threw out the steering so I had to turn around and go home to get another car. Because of this I didn't have the time to ask some of the questions I was planning on.
Chris Slack: Your new album debuted at number 59 on the Billboard charts in the USA, something that is unheard of for most heavy bands. Did this come as a surprise to you?
Tomas Haake: Yeah, it did. We have been on the Billboard before, like in the top 200. I think the best place was 165. The whole scene has gone down as far as sales so the 59th place is still a good place because everyone is suffering in sales over the last years. We are definitely stoked about that, absolutely.
C - From what I understand the writing and recording of obZen took a very long time. Did this affect your lives outside the band differently than a normal 9-5 job would?
T - Yeah, I would say so. Not the same way for all of us because we all have different places and chores as far as when we are in the studio and work and so on. It was definitely a lot of work and speaking for myself I probably have been at the studio and recording space, which is also our rehearsal space so it's like a joint thing where we do everything out of. We have our office there and I probably spent 7 days a week there since we started tracking in May so I have been there pretty much every day up until starting this tour. Of course the album was done in October but after that there were a lot of things involving this tour, visas and we had to get a touring company here. There is such a tremendous amount of paperwork that you have to go through as a Swedish citizen to get everything to work over here. Luckily we have had help from people over here with that. It's been a lot of work lately; of course the album is where we put the most effort in. This time around as far as the whole recording procedure from when we started tracking the drums I'd say we spent six months in the studio just tracking, recording, mixing and all that stuff. This time around we are all pretty psyched about the final outcome, the production and all that. We did spend a lot of time doing mixes. We probably did around 25 to 30 mixes before we were completely satisfied. So yeah, we spent a lot of time on it, no doubt.
C - The guitar tone on obZen is incredible and very unique. Besides the 8 string guitars how did you manage to create such an unusual yet heavy guitar sound?
T - Yeah, it's kind of weird as we used the same amps and stuff as we did on the Catch 33 album. Maybe from just trying different mics and positions with the cabinets for this one. Actually I don't think we used cabinets for the production on catch 33, we only lined in. That would be the main difference. We still used the same amps for this one the Vetta 2 amps, the Line 6 stuff but this time around we used microphones and mic'd the cabinets. This would be where the added grit comes in and there is a bit more dirt to it. I really liked the guitar sound on this one.
C - Is there a song on ObZen that you could single out as the one you are most proud of? If so please explain why.
T - That would probably be "Bleed." The reason I am most proud of it is that for all of us, now that we are performing it live, some nights it doesn't quite work all the way but we make it work. It's getting better by the day though. It was a big effort for me to learn, I had to find a totally new approach to playing the double bass drums to be able to do that stuff. I had never really done anything like that before like the fast bursts that go all the way through the song basically. So I actually spent as much time practicing that track alone as I did with all of the other tracks combined. It's kind of a big feat to change your approach like that and I'm glad we were able to nail it for the album. For a while threw we didn't even know if it was going to make it to the album.
C - I really look forward to seeing you guys perform that tonight; it's really an insane song.
T - Yeah, it pretty much is. It's a hard one to do. It's one of those tracks where you can't lose it anywhere or it's really, really hard to get back into it. Once the patterns start breaking up and they're kind of permuting over time and it just goes on and on. It's really one of those track live where there isn't much headbanging and such going on because everyone needs to focus very much on what they are doing. But still I think that the song comes out strong anyway.
C - Many of the more acclaimed drummers in metal such as Gene Hoglan, Flo Mounier, Derek Roddy and Mike Portnoy have released instructional DVDs. Do you have any plans on doing anything like that?
T - No, not really. I wouldn't even know where to start with something like that. I would love to do something like that but at the same time I wouldn't really know how to show people as I've never really reflected much on what we do. We just play it as music and as far as the technical aspects that come into play where the drumming goes I just kind of play and don't think to much about it. So for me it seems it would be kind of hard for me to explain stuff. Then again instructional videos are not always instructional. They can be more or less entertainment of just playing stuff so you can see what the drummer is actually doing. Maybe I will do something like that. Perhaps as an instructional thing but more of something where you have different camera angles and you can actually see me playing. Usually in the live situation one doesn't actually see much, they just see arms wailing and it's kind of hard to make out what's going on. I could at least take it down in tempo and stuff like that. Maybe, but there is nothing in the works like that currently.
C - It's been three years since your last album. Who or what was the greatest influence on obZen stylistically?
T - (sighs) That's really hard. We try deliberately not to have outside influences as far as other bands and other music go. Of course it's definitely impossible to shut everything out as you are continuously affected by stuff such as the music you hear in everyday life and so on. I couldn't name any particular influence though, it primarily comes from ourselves and in writing mode we really do feed off of each other for ideas and so on and shut everything out but the group ourselves and not take in too much other stuff to just do our own thing.
C - Complex heavy music has been getting more and more popular over the past few years. What factors do you think contribute in making people more open to this type of music?
T - I think there are many different reasons. I think one of them being that there are an increasing number of bands trying to go sideways from the main scene and try to do something different. You also have certain bands that are big bands, Tool for example who is a huge band. A band like that helps as they sell a shitload of albums and they are continuously pushing. Every record gets more and more difficult. There are a lot of bands like that within different genres that really try to push the envelope and that really helps. I think people are just getting more used to it and more open minded to the odd stuff.
C - The last time you toured the states you were part of a pretty straightforward metal package. Is the audience reaction different now that you are playing with Ministry?
T - It's been really good so far. It's still early into the tour so it's hard to say but the shows for use have been great. There have been a lot of people coming out to see us too so we have absolutely had good shows, no doubt. I think it's a good mix. I don't necessarily think that bills have to be a certain way. You can mix things up as long as it's not really a total clash. You'd have fights every night just from the differences in crowds. Ministry is more of an industrial, straightforward rock and samples, over the top but still aggressive music so we are alike as far as that goes.
C - With such an extensive discography how do you select the songs to perform when performing in a support slot?
T- That's always hard, especially when you have a 40 minute set. We've kind of dropped out from doing the oldest stuff. For example, songs from the first album, we haven't done those in years and years. By now the style that we are doing is so different from that which we were doing 17-20 years ago that it's kind of hard to play that stuff. You're not that person anymore so to speak. That was also really technical stuff but in a different way than what we do now. The oldest stuff we play is from 95, but most of the stuff is from obZen and the Nothing albums.
C - If you could tour with any single band or artist, living or dead, which band would that be?
T- Man, that is a tough question. I think Rush. That would be great to be a support act for them. I know that will never have an opener though because they play for like 3 ½ hours so that will never happen.
C - Does Meshuggah ever get together to just jam for fun?
T - No, never. We have never really jammed except for the few off time when we had a shitload of beers or whatever. We haven't really jammed together for 10 years. The music is all very constructed. We write it on computers, program drums first for the demos and that's how we go about things. Me and Fredrik did jam stuff up for the "I" EP that we released in 2004. That was somewhat of a jam album but to a very small extent.
C - Did Fredrik use his Ibanez Iceman on obZen, or is that just recently acquired for the tour?
T - Yeah, actually we had them shipped for the first show of this tour so we had never seen them before. So these are the first few times that he has used that.
C - Will the Iceman be a production model like the RG or is it a one-off custom?
T - No, I doubt it. The problem that you immediately run into with that is with the 8 string they have a longer scale which makes this one extremely front heavy. You don't have the horns like with the RG style guitars so you have to put the strap really close all the way to the right. That makes it really tip forward a lot and it's a bit heavy to play it live.
C - Are you planning on visiting any countries that you have not visited before in support of the new album?
T - Yeah, Australia, Japan and New Zealand. We don't know yet but hopefully before we are done touring for this album we'll have done a few shows in South America and possible South Africa. That would be cool. But at least we know it's already booked as far as Australia, Japan and New Zealand. We have done Scandinavia, Europe and the US, those are the only territories we have really covered.
C - What are the bands plans after this tour?
T - June 21st we start doing festivals in Europe and off-dates with Dillinger Escape Plan and Between the Buried and Me in between the festivals for a couple weeks, then we have some weeks off. Then more festivals through pretty much all the summer then a European headline run in September. Then there's the Japan/Australia thing in October and probably, the way it looks right now, coming back to the states most likely for a headlining run in late November, mid-December or something like that.
C - Any last words?
T - No, I never have any last words. I'm kind of bad at things like that. Imagination runs low when you're trapped in a bus all day.
C - What exactly do you do when you're trapped on the bus all day?
T - I work out. It might seem weird but I have these weird rubber bands so I do some workout exercises. It's mainly because I have this shoulder issue, aw crap I forget what it's called right now.
C- Yeah, I remember reading something about that in an interview you did in February.
T - Yeah, I thought I would have to have the surgery but now with the exercises I'm doing, constantly doing every day even on the bus the shoulder is really fine and I haven't really suffered anything from it for the first few shows now. Knock on wood that it continues that way because I was kind of afraid that once started playing every day that it might get worse and worse but so far so good.
C - Exercise is definitely better than going under the knife.
T - That's for sure!
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