FEATURE INTERVIEW – JONATHAN HULTÉN: “The most wholesome thing to do is to accept the change and become one with it.”

Posted on by Oran

The enigmatic and highly-talented former Tribulation guitarist/songwriter, Jonathan Hultén gives his first interview of 2021, focusing on his critically-acclaimed solo album ‘Chants From Another Place’.

Photo by Soile Siirtola © 2021

If you’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing ‘Chants From Another Place’ just yet, then I am truly envious.

That first time is an unforgettable experience that gently weaves through one’s senses like a curious spider. A heartfelt, deeply personal and delicate collection of breathtaking compositions inhabits Johnathan Hultén’s debut solo album.

Albeit a far cry from his [now] former creative entity, as guitarist and songwriter for Swedish Gothic-infused, Doom/Death project, Tribulation. ‘Chants…‘ displays the true depth of Jonathan’s songwriting ability, all the while achieving an equilibrium of darkness and hope, shrouded in mystery and brilliance.

Hultén’s sudden departure from Tribulation was indeed a shock, considering is was common knowledge that the follow-up to 2018’s ‘Down Below‘ had been announced for a late January release [‘Where Gloom Becomes Sound‘, Jan 29th].

His official statement explained his intentions to follow his heart, declaring: ” I won’t stop creating music and art as long as there is a heartbeat left in this body, that’s a promise.”

It is clearly understood that his statement [posted via his official social media on December 4th, click here] is a line in the sand with regards to commenting on his decisions, so bearing that in mind, we turn our focus to the debut album and what lies ahead in the creative horizon.

Photo by Soile Siirtola © 2021

OD – ‘Chants From Another Place’, for those who don’t know, is your first solo debut LP, can you give us some background as to how long you had been writing this material before you knew you were ready to commit to recording?

JONATHAN – I’ve been writing acoustic songs since my teenage years and have assembled something like a memory bank of ideas. Some of that very old material made it onto the album, but the largest part of “Chants From Another Place” was written in 2018, the same year most of it was recorded.

Looking back, I guess it could have been done earlier from a practical perspective. But all things have their time, it was a matter of getting mentally prepared more than anything else.

OD –  The album is a deep captivation and beautifully recorded/produced body of work. I believe you were solely responsible for just about every aspect of the recording, as well as the artwork. Being so immersed in a project like this did you ever find it to be all-consuming at times?

JONATHAN – Thank you! The recording and artwork were created by me, but at the same time, I can’t stress enough how important Ola Ersfjord’s mixing skills and creative feedback was to make the songs be as good as they could be, as well as how decisive Nacho Montero’s drumming was for “Outskirts”.

And yes, it was an all-consuming project indeed. But being immersed in “quests” like this is how I make sense of life from day-to-day. It brings me a lot of motivation and joy.

OD –  You have been quoted as saying the album is: “an inward journey” and “a tale of spiritual death and rebirth”, can you dissect these statements with a little more depth?

JONATHAN – These are concepts a lot of the songs are dealing with. In the videos for “The Mountain” and “Where Devils Weep” they are especially being elaborated on. Death and rebirth, in particular, is a theme that keeps coming back to my mind as a metaphor for the events and processes we all go through in our lifetimes, all of them in different forms and through different phases.

As life is ever-changing we are ever-becoming, constantly pressured by outer and inner circumstances (such as the passage of time, personal development etc.) to leave behind our selves of yesteryear; mentally, emotionally and of course physically.

In my humble opinion, the most wholesome thing to do is to accept the change and become one with it, to metaphorically “die away” from your old self and be born again, hopefully as a more “whole” and mature human being for each cycle.

OD – The overall aesthetic of ‘Chants…” is so well designed and gives a cohesiveness to the whole project. As well as creating, performing and recording all the music, you also illustrated the artwork. Can you give some insight into the overall concept of the cover?

JONATHAN – Thank you so much! The goal was to have a cover that could summarize what the whole album is about in one single picture, like a first glance-introduction.

I had a couple of other sketches in mind at first, but as soon as I started working on it a simple idea came up that immediately felt like the way to go; a face in profile that through its expression (hopefully) could convey the most prominent emotions I feel are residing in the album; melancholic reverence, sadness and a subtle, but ecstatic joy.

I think of it as a self-portrait of sorts, but as it is drawn “from mind” it’s maybe more in a figurative sense rather than in a literal one.

OD – I understand that you created the animated videos also. Was this your first time working in this capacity/medium and if so, did you find it to be a challenge, especially since you were responsible for all the other working factors with the album?

JONATHAN – I was new to animation so it was a challenge for sure, but an enjoyable one. Figuring out the whole technical side of things was like laying a puzzle, knowing what the result should look like but not knowing how to get there.

Diving into a new task oblivious to whether one will make it or not is exhilarating. The backside is that it has a tendency to get overwhelming, so one has to find strategies to overcome that.

But the thrill of exploration that comes from pushing onwards and coming out on the other side with a new creation is so rewarding that it is always worth the effort.

OD – Of course, the pandemic has prevented live events from taking place all over the world. Should things return to some kind of normal in the coming years, do you have plans to tour this album?

JONATHAN – I think that 2021 will be the year of making ‘Chants’ evolve more into the direction of being an art project rather than a straight forward singer-songwriter live act. More videos and collaborations will definitely happen. But of course, when and where it’s possible, I would also hope to play a few shows. We’ll see if that becomes reality.

And in 2022 maybe a new album will be coming out, who knows?

OD – Do you have any kind of methods for writing between your solo material and Tribulation? For example, do you have to approach each project with a different mindset, or does it just flow from your sub-conscious regardless?

JONATHAN – The initial feeling of that a song is soon to emerge is the same, but what makes the difference is what you do with the creative impulse once it has landed in you. Depending on how you direct the energy and what form of expression you choose it can come out very differently, but the emotional core can indeed still be the same for both an acoustic and a metal song.

OD – Having seen you perform with Tribulation a few times, it seems that you slip into an alter-ego with your stage attire and makeup etc. Can you comment on this person we see on stage and the thought process behind the character [if there is one at all]?

Photo by Soile Siirtola © 2021

JONATHAN – I see that character as an isolated portion of myself that can be given the space to expand within a fixed framework such as the stage and a performance. I have this idea that art can be a vehicle that, step by step, can bring oneself closer to becoming more grounded and self-integrated by extending and exploring the boundaries of ones’ personality, i.e. getting to know oneself better.

If I were to analyze it and try to explain why it is like it is in my case, one take on it could be that the sweeping movements and excessive energy output is the expression of a drive that wants to liberate itself from internal and external bonds that are holding it back.

I think this “drive” is the will to dance and express oneself, a wish to find the courage to be happy, to dare to say yes to life and embrace existence to the fullest brim, even if just for a fleeting moment.

By getting acquainted with and allowing this energy, this portion of the soul, to momentarily manifest in the world, I hope in the long run to gradually merge it more and more with the everyday-self in order to basically become a better person. So to perform, according to this idea, is both an immediate and intense transformation but could also help; for long-term personal development.

With that said, this is just one way of describing it, my mind has created a narrative in an attempt to explain the “why” and “what”. But in the end, I’m not sure I’ll ever truly and fully comprehend what it is, and why it has been important to me, but maybe I don’t have to understand. It just is.

OD – From your experience as a touring musician, artist, composer, is there anything that you would like to change within the creative industry, from a global perspective?

JONATHAN – From the perspective that I hope that the world, in general, will go in a more sustainable and environmental-friendly direction I think it is good that many things have the possibility to move more and more into the digital sphere – a development that was hastened out of necessity during 2020.

Live events are of course still very important, but the more options the better, the more creativity the better.

OD – If you were to reference a source of inspiration, be it a person, place, body of work, literature, art or music, what would be the most inspiring for you?

JONATHAN – The art of Yoshitaka Amano [see below] is a standing element in what has been particularly inspiring regarding ‘Chants…‘. The colourful, yet melancholic palette of watercolours and all the imaginative clothes with all their pointy details and beautiful patterns – I find it so delightfully wonderful. Even the more sketch-like illustrations have an ethereal quality to them. It’s always immensely elegant and sometimes it’s truly next-level visionary.

天野 嘉孝(Yoshitaka Amano) © 2021 www.kaifineart.com

OD – Finally, are there any other projects that you are working on that you would like to share with our readers?

JONATHAN – In January 2020 I had the honour of contributing with vocals and lyrics on the song “The Invisible Past” by Crippled Black Phoenix. That song made me push myself to transcend what I thought I could do as a singer and it was such a liberating experience. In fact, it was so much fun that I’ll definitely continue doing this as much as time allows. In 2021 there will surely be more guest appearances.

Chants From Another Place’ is out now via this link and major streaming sites.

Oran O’Beirne

www.overdrive.ie © 2021.

Photos by Photo by Soile Siirtola © 2021