Overdrive had the pleasure of speaking with vocalist Johannes Michael Gustaf Eckerström as on the eve of the band’s North American string of dates which see’s them kicking things off in Florida on April
OD – First off, let’s address the departure in style from previous album ‘Feathers and Flesh’ (2016), from the outside, it seems like you all just said ‘fuck it’ lets really expand our sound, incorporate our influences and push the boat out, sonically. Would that be a correct assumption?
JOHANNES – That is a correct assumption for every time we write a new album. We have no interest in making the same song twice. You always hear the comment about artists that they are maturing, and as far as us getting better at articulating what we want to say and finding the path to get there it’s probably true that we do mature in a way.
However, more importantly, as we get older we care less and less about expectations. When you are a teenager I believe you run a greater risk to second guess your intentions due to the fact that you are still searching for an identity. I know this was true for me at least. In the last decade, I have enjoyed the process of peeling off layer after layer of bullshit when it comes to my art and my performance. In short, we do whatever we want and all we worry about is how good we think it is. If it’s deserving of an audience it will be heard.
As far as expanding our sound goes, that has always been in our mission statement. Every time we sit with a new master in our hands I can’t help but feel that we are just scraping the surface of something great and like we’re just getting started.
OD – You’ve been quoted as saying that this album is almost like a love-letter to the metal genre, itself. Personally, I can hear moments that touch on Maiden, Manowar and then these brutal guttural vocals splashed in with melodic clean cuts here and there. The navigation of styles blends nicely throughout, was this a bit a complicated task, seeing as there really is a multitude of styles embedded across the tracks?
JOHANNES – I think it could have been a complicated task if we would have worried about it. But we didn’t. We write metal as we love it, we no clear-cut rules in terms of which sub-genres we’re sniffing at. The driving force behind each song is the emotion and the parts we end up using and put together are there to serve the purpose to convey that.
OD – As addressed earlier, “Feathers and Flesh” is unmistakably a darker affair when compared to ‘Avatar Country’, with regards to the concept of the albums of late, do you approach the concept with the emotion rather than the storyline?
JOHANNES – In this case, as we decided to finally reveal the truth of our Glorious King, there was no other way to tell this story than with joy, hope, life and light. There are shades of longing and pain as well, but you are right to consider Feathers and Flesh a much darker affair, which can be said of most of our work if not all of it. I believe Avatar Country in hindsight very well might be considered our most positive release.
OD – The bands’ history goes right back to 2001 where you had released three studio albums prior to eOne stepping in and releasing ‘Black Waltz’ to the American market. The timing seemed just right for you guys as you were ready to take on the American market at this stage. Had this been any earlier, do you think that it might have been too soon?
JOHANNES – ’What if’ scenarios are hard. All I know is that things fell into place nicely for us around the time of Black Waltz’ release and there are a myriad of reasons for that of which the record label played but a small part, so I guess if we would’ve had the chance earlier that it might’ve been too soon. It is around about the same time that we started to gain momentum in Europe as well anyway, despite the fact that we had more releases behind us on this side of the Atlantic Ocean, so it all boils down to getting your shit together and releasing something that truly matters.
OD – Having been in the position of performing at both sides of the Atlantic, do you find that there is a dramatic difference with audiences, festivals and live shows in general?
Avatar is an extremely visual band, not forgetting the time and detail that goes into the concepts both live and with the albums. The visual aspect of music seems to be disappearing to a degree, much of the contemporary bands are tending to focus just on the music, unlike Ghost and Waitain, who put on a spectacle as do Avatar. Do you find that it’s a costly price to pay, especially when touring?
JOHANNES – No. Metal knows no borders. (laughs) People on the street, in the store or at the office may differ due to local customs and culture, but at our shows, we’re all Citizens of Avatar Country.
This holds true for any band I’ve seen anywhere. Mosh pits are mosh pits. There seems to be a slight difference in intensity comparing north to south, however. Italians move around more than Swedes and Latinos move more than Canadians. But that’s the feet. Everyone head bangs all the same. (laughs)
OD – Avatar are an extremely visual band, not forgetting the time and detail that goes into the concepts both live and with the albums. The visual aspect of music seems to be disappearing to a degree, much of the contemporary bands are tending to focus just on the music, unlike Ghost who put on a spectacle as do Avatar. Do you find that it’s a costly price to pay, especially when touring?
JOHANNES – Of course it’s tempting some days to just say ‘screw this‘ and do an Anthrax and perform in shorts, but this is our path as it looks today and all we can do is follow it. There are actually many more bands in the underground trying to piece together some elaborate visuals with their music.
The reason you don’t hear about them is because they tend to fail. You can’t just slap on some paint, wear weird coats and think you have an image. First and foremost, the music needs to be strong enough. Secondly, whatever you do visually must truly come from the music. It’s concept art. You can call it an image if you want, but that is just one half of the truth. This is our method to become the music and to become Avatar.
OD – When you look at bands like Ghost, taking on the US also, do you keep an eye on their progress as a sort of a barometer of what to expect from certain states etc?
JOHANNES – No! We don’t have time to spend looking at other bands’ successes. It’s possible that someone in some office is doing that, but I am busy doing my thing and trying to have some free time from doing my thing so damn much.
OD – We are fast approaching ‘Festival Season’ and you have some very special shows lined up for this year. I see you’re performing at Rock Am Ring, Download, Grasspop etc. This has got to be a fantastic schedule to look at for the Summer. Do you find that playing festivals to be somewhat of a challenge rather than doing the smaller, club, theatre shows?
JOHANNES – Yes and no. They have different advantages and challenges. Headline means a longer set, which is good, but also, of course, more physically challenging. An indoor venue in our name is a controlled environment and we can set the pace and be more dynamic.
Festivals are more limited, which is a challenge in itself, as you want to make the most of a limited framework, but that limited space also means that it becomes inevitably easier on the body and mind. Two hours are longer than one.
OD -You’re also doing a very special show with Avenged Sevenfold prior to Download UK. Are you looking forward to sharing the stage again with those guys?
JOHANNES – We’ve toured with them before in both Europe and the US of A, so it will be familiar. We look forward to it a lot.
OD – With regards to the changes in the music industry since you’re first Ep release ‘Four Reasons to Die’ / ‘Personal Observations’, do you think things have changed for the better or worse?
JOHANNES – Everything we’ve released has been in the ”post-Napster”-era. We don’t know anything else. We are probably still in the middle of a polar shift that we’ll only understand in decades to come. It seems to have stabilized in a way, but still, there are remnants of the old ways while the future looks uncertain.
OD – Having been labelled with the ‘melodic death metal’ tag when you started out, do you find that you received a lot of hassle from fans when you started to change the sound and experiment with different genres?
JOHANNES – Not really. We are more popular now. We embrace every aspect of our past and I think people have come to learn that we are about metal without worrying too much about anything else.
OD – When you’re down with this run of Summer dates and we approach the Autumn/Winter months, will you be looking at Australian dates or perhaps taking some time off to begin working on the next album?
JOHANNES – I can’t say much about the fall and winter at the moment, but things are moving.
OD -Finally, it’s clear that you are a fan of the visual impact of live shows and album covers etc. Can you tell me who you would consider having the best album cover of all time?
JOHANNES – There are so many to choose from. But I would have to say the first that fascinated me as a cub was The Beatles, ‘Sgt. Pepper‘. That cover was amazing but equally bizarre in a sort of a good way. It’s stood the test of time that’s for sure (laughs).
Avatar will be performing in Dublin’s Academy on June 5th and Belfast’s SSE Arena on June 6th as very special guests to Avenged Sevenfold. Tickets are on sale now via Ticketmaster. Please check MCD Productions for further details.
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