Interview with Marten Hagstrom of Meshuggah
Interviewed 5/10/2003 by Michael Mitchell-Loud
The Swedish Metal band Meshuggah have long been recognized
as being at the forefront of the metal genre. Underground fans have adored
Meshuggah for nearly 15 years. However, due to Meshuggahs recent
high profile tours with Tool and Ozzfest, Meshuggah are quickly rising
somewhat to commercial success. Many individuals now recognize Meshuggahs
Mike Mitchell: First of all I would like to start the interview off by saying that you guys totally rock and are indeed one of the most original bands I have ever heard.
Marten Hagstrom: Thanks. We appreciate hearing that.
MM: Which brings me to the question--How does the writing process work with the band?
MH: Fairly simple but fairly different because whereas it seems like most of the bands jam out and have a lot of that going, we mostly sit at home and come up with ideas and record them on the computer just to get ideas down .I might write like two full songs, or two half-songs. Fredrik does the same thing and then everybody just putts their shit together then we start arranging it.
MM: Right on. Well, being that you are such an original act do you have other bands that you site as influences?
MH: Yeah well, to be totally honest as far as what we do with our music, I dont think that there is a major influence that taints the whole work. There is so much from growing up with the bay area thrash scene and like growing away from metal as far as the mainstream listening is concerned, and listening to other types of music. The last couple of years, most of the inspiration for writing music has come from other places than music. You know, like books, movies, things that happen to you in your life, things you wander about, and stuff like that. Most importantly, the inspiration comes from our moods and each other in general.
MM: Obviously, the newly acquired 8-string guitars has give Meshuggahs latest release Nothing an even more crushing sound. Whos idea was it to have these guitars customly designed?
MH: It wasnt really our idea. What happened was we were playing our 7-strings and we were sort of looking for a way to create a new sound, but we really didnt know where to go. So, we were like--it would really be cool to go lower and see what we could do with that, and pretty much all play bass, just to see what it would sound like on a song or two. Then we met this guy and got introduced to a guitar builder from Sweden. The dude showed us some of his regular guitars and a couple 7-strings, but he said he had a prototype that was an 8-string that he had just been fiddling with. He suggested that we might try that if we were looking for something new and if we wanted to go even lower. So, he whipped it out and we tried it and it sounded killer, so we just sort of went with it.
MM: So was it difficult to play on the 8-string at first?
MH: Well, not because of the fact that it was hard to
play, but because the technical aspect of it makes it so that if you are
power chord riffing on a 7-String, its going to sound fine but if you
do it on that type of a guitar [8-string] it wont really work out.
MM: The sound of Nothing seems to be a bit slower and more groove oriented than the EP None, Destroy Erase Improve, or Chaosphere, but it is still quite heavy. So, what inspired Meshuggah to go in that particular direction?
MH: Well, it was kind of a direction that we didnt go before, which is basically the whole bands idea. Not to say we force stuff--it is not like we sit down and say that we have to sound this much different or this much the same on every album. If we were to sit down and say to ourselves that we have a killer album, but it is just a replica of Chaosphere, and I know a bunch of bands that have done this-- they put out a record that is recognized for something, and then they do three replicas in a row--then they are out. I would rather stay a small band and try something new every album. That is why we did this with Nothing. Destroy Erase Improve was an experiment in dynamics and aggression. Chaosphere was like the punk out album, you know, like just way out there. This one [Nothing] was getting in to the more groovier and dark parts, so we will see how the next one works out.
MM: Is Meshuggah currently working on new material?
MH: Well, In very small scales. Right now we are just touring, but after this tour we will start writing some stuff and hopefully we will have some new songs by the end of the Summer. We are going to do a European tour, and then we will start really writing for the new record come late Fall.
MM: So how do you predict the band will evolve with the next album?
MH: I have tried to do that so many times and I suck so much at it. [Laughs]. You never really know because we are like one of those snow ball bands where we sit and we have a general feel of what our integrity is and what we want to keep of ourselves, but we are really not more than 20% sure of where we will be on our next record, but that is what is exciting about it--not knowing. Something always gets the snowball rolling and we end up going in that direction.
MM: What is the meaning of the bands name?
MH: Well, it means insane or crazy. When the band was in its infancy and we were just getting started, Jens was sitting looking through books and encyclopedias for some name ideas for the band. He came across the word Meshuggah, which means insane. We liked it so much we decided to keep it as a name. It really seems to fit us too, because we are all crazy and insane in our own ways. [Laughs].
MM: Well, I read that Meshuggah, being from Sweden, are accustomed to the cold of course, so you struggled a bit during Ozzfest. Could you tell me about that?
MH: [Laughs]. It was hot as a Motherfucker man! I mean Sweden gets warm; we got a real Summer in Sweden so its not like we are not used to heat at all, but being from Sweden and coming to Atlanta and its like the middle of the Summer and it is one of the hottest days of the whole Summer in Atlanta, I dont know how much it was but it was fucking hot! Playing at 2:30 outdoors with the sun beating down on you at that time of year sucks; regardless of if it was only thirty minutes or so that we performed...it still sucked.
MM: Other than the heat how was the Ozzfest Tour in general?
MH: Awesome. The only complaint that I have about the Ozzfest Tour was that we were in for over two months, and we could have done a lot more shows. The Ozzfest schedule was so fucking slow, and I understand why--he [Ozzy] cant go like for the whole mile, but the thing is that we did some off dates with System of a Down and Mushroomhead. As for the Ozzfest tour, it could have been more intense but it was a really good experience.
MM: What was it like opening up for Tool? Does Meshuggah have the same mutual respect for them that the have for you?
MH: Oh yeah, that was just one of those tours that everything just clicked. The crew was great, the band was great, everybody just got along and we just hung out. It was like also one of those tours that rarely come about that everything was just effortless. We kind of got the same thing going right now with Strapping [Young Lad]. Its like everything is so down to earth and still very relaxed. Both bands have been touring for years so there is none of that hysteria concerning what it is all about--its all good.
MM: What are the pros and the cons of relentless touring and being on the road all of the time?
MH: That is an easy question to answer actually. The pros are that you get to meet your fans and play live every night. The rest of it sucks. You are sitting in the bus, waiting around, sound checking, and waiting for food, all of which is just a drag. I mean, people that haven't been touring have no idea how much waiting we actually do. So that element of it thoroughly sucks, but playing live every night totally makes it all worth while. The real con to me is not being able to see my wife frequently. So, when we come back from this tour it will be nothing but that. This is the sixth month of touring supporting Nothing in the States. Hello! Thats only the States. Thats tough.
MM. So when is the Meshuggahs next break where you will get to do more of the family thing?
MH: Like I said man, this summer is going to be all that.
I mean, I am going to write some stuff, but I do that at home so its
all good. We are going to do two festivals at the beginning of July and
one at the end of August in Europe. Thats it, so we are going to
MM: How do you like playing in the United States verses Europe?
MH: Well, first of all, we haven't really toured Europe for seven years. We did do a short Switzerland/France tour in 2000 and we did two Scandinavian tours and stuff like that. As for the whole Europe thing, we haven't toured there for like six or seven years so I cant really compare. Personally, I like it better in the States because we are doing better over here. People here seem to be more understanding and appreciative of what we are trying to do. It seems that here in the States people understand us and what we are up to. They dont just go to shows because we are a metal band.
MM: Right on. I know you are rather busy so I will ask you one final question, something I always like to ask.
MH: Thats cool. Ask away.
MM: Throughout all the years of touring, what is the craziest thing that has happened either on the road, or while on stage.
MH: [Laughs]. The problem with that one is that there is so many. I mean, every tour is crazy. Every tour has something that you remember it by. There is always something that happens on the side. For instance, I remember the first time we were out with Tool. We were here in the States on September 11th. The show that day of course was cancelled, but two or three days after that; we were going into Canada and were crossing the border. So, the military is at the border and what happened was that we drove through Detroit and had to cross Windsor Bridge to get into Canada. So, we got across the bridge and it was all good. It took quite some time but it was easy enough. The military just got on our bus, said hi guys, checked our passports, and then bailed out. So we were like wow, and we just sat down and were like well we made it into Canada, its all good. Then all of a sudden I realized that we were back on the bridge again. I was like, I dont remember there being a bridge after the border crossing. So then I look out the window and I am like, that looks suspiciously like Detroit. So, our tour manager runs to the driver of the bus and yells, What the Fuck is going on and the driver says, Im sorry guys, I took the wrong turn. So, anyway, we finally get back across the bridge and the military just waved us by so we got lucky, but that was fucking weird! Stuff like that happens all of the time. One time we smashed into a deer and totally trashed the front of the bus. Stuff like that always fucking happens.
MM: [Laughs] So there is always crazy shit happening with you guys.
MH: Yeah, I mean parties get out of hand and stuff like that. Touring life is always pretty crazy because so much of that shit goes on that you dont even stop to think about it until you come home and you have been home for a couple of weeks. Then usually a friend calls you up and says, Hey, how was the tour. When you start talking about it you realize--What the fuck! Did that all really happen? Am I making this up? Its just a crazy life man. [Laughs].
MM: Well, Marten I would like to thank you for taking some time out of your busy routine to do this interview with me this evening.
MH: Oh, no problem. Thank you man
For more information on Meshuggah check out their web site at http://www.meshuggah.net/
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