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Interviews : “We love doing this together” – An Interview With Mikael Stanne (Dark Tranquillity)

By on February 20, 2018

Dark Tranquillity – Mikael Stanne

Dark Tranquillity are one of the early pioneers of what has come to be known as the “Gothenburg sound” in melodic Death Metal. After 30 years of recording and touring, the band bring a wealth of experience to their live shows, as well as more charisma than ever. That personality is vested in no small part in frontman Mikael Stanne, who relates his reflections during a quiet moment on the 2018 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise.

Dark Tranquillity are close to their 30th anniversary, and Stanne pauses as he collects his thoughts. “I guess,” he muses, the memories flooding back in his eyes, “we grew up kind of doing this. We were 15 when we kind of decided we wanted to be a band, and started playing drums and guitar and all of that stuff. We all lived on the same street and kind of grew up together as kids, and we decided to make something out of those worrying days where we just sat around listening to music, and we figured, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s do some music ourselves.’”

He leans forward to take up his coffee as he settles into the recollections. “And I guess those years were very formative, you know, that’s when you kind of become who you want to be, and all that stuff. For us, it was music. The band was such a huge part of our identity early on that it just became who we are.” Stanne smiles as though it’s a revelation even to him.

“I cannot really imagine life without it. So we just keep doing it,” he chuckles. “We kept on playing and touring and all that stuff. We don’t really reflect on it too much, we don’t really look back and get nostalgic about the good old days or whatever. We tend to kind of look forward all the time, look forward to the next tour and the next album, that kind of stuff, and really try to enjoy it as much as we can. I mean sure, we’ve had our ups and downs and conflicts and struggles, but more than anything it’s just been a great experience to improve and to come up with new, original ideas and also, at least for me, it’s a way to express myself in ways that I don’t normally do. You know, this is an extreme form of expression, and I’m just addicted to it. I need it. I need to be on stage and scream for a couple of hours otherwise I… I don’t know what else to do. I think that’s part of it, and also we do have a lot of fun. We enjoy each other’s company,” he says with a wry smile.

“We love doing this together. The last couple of years have been tumultuous, some members have left, so now we have some new guys in the band, and that has kind of reinforced this as well, even though it’s been weird not having the same guys around all of a sudden, these new guys have shown us more of what these songs are about. You start thinking about the songs in a different way, where it was maybe kind of routine for a while. Now all of a sudden we have to step up and become even better and improve as a band. That has really, really made for some amazing tours for the last couple of years.” He shakes his head. “I don’t know, I’m just going to keep doing this.”

When it comes to the songwriting in Dark Tranquillity, the process is as dynamic and ever-changing as the band’s output. “We try to change it up with each album, just to kind of start from a new perspective or have a fresh take on the writing process, but the last two albums, basically it’s been Anders [Jivarp] writes songs himself, then Martin Brandstrom writes some songs, and Niklas [Sundin] writes some songs, and then we kind of put them together and make rough demos out of that, and then we have a collection of however many songs, and then we start to kind of, ‘Right, this one we should keep,’ and then we change it, and then we kind of improve on those demos for a while, for months, and then I start writing lyrics for the songs that are kind of nearing completion. Then we throw away the songs that are not good enough and we keep the good ones. That’s kind of how it works. Anders and Martin, Niklas, they write really independently, but then once we have the basic structure of a song, then everybody kind of adds to that and improves the songs in many ways. Normally that’s how it works, and we could do this at home and then in our studio where we record everything like the demos, then we go to the rehearsal room and actually play the songs. Sometimes we don’t even do that, we just record it and then we have to learn to play the songs before the tour. It’s different. Things have changed dramatically over the last couple of years in terms of songwriting, but I think it’s all for the better. You get a better perspective on the songs that you write when you do that in the studio, when you can listen to it and take it home and really get into it, as opposed to what we normally did was we sat around in our rehearsal room and just played and played and played and played until we figured it out, but then you’re not really objective about it because you’re concentrating on playing and all that sort of stuff. It’s been really, really interesting to write like this. I really like it.”

Stanne and Dark Tranquillity played the very first 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, and the experience is still fresh in his mind. “Wow,” he murmurs. “Yeah, we were on the first cruise, seven years ago was it?” He pauses with a frown. “Something like that. And the thing is, I’d heard about this two years prior. I don’t know who told me, but someone said, ‘There’s going to be this Metal cruise, it’s going to be crazy,’ and I was like, ‘No way. There’s no way they can do that. There’s no way they can pull that off. It seems just like something that you talk about when you’re drunk,’ you know?” He gestures wildly and pulls a face as though heavily inebriated. “‘Oh, let’s fucking, imagine what it would be like to have a cruise full of Metalheads!’ So I remember saying to all my friends, ‘It doesn’t matter if we play or not. I’m going. I’m definitely going,’” he says firmly. “And then it turned out that we were booked, one of the first bands. I think I was still sceptical, even when we went over here. I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’ still. Then stepping onto the boat it was like, ‘Okay, this is actually real.’ It was such a surreal thing for the longest time that it was cool that it actually worked out and it’s become such a huge success, and such a cool thing that everybody wants to be on here, play here or go. Everyone I talk to back home in Europe is like, ‘Oh man, how is it, should I go?’ And I always go, ‘Yes, absolutely, you must do it,’” he finishes emphatically.

There’s no doubt Stanne was the most excited member of Dark Tranquillity to play the cruise. “I don’t know, I love festivals” Stanne speaks more quickly in his obvious enthusiasm. “So I love when it’s this kind of condensed, like you can see 10, 15 shows in a day, stuff like that, it’s amazing. Some of the guys are like, ‘It’s weird because you cannot really go anywhere.’ You know, it’s great when you’re at a festival and you can actually go, ‘Fuck it, I want to go home,’ or ‘I want to go here.’” Even as Stanne speaks, it’s very clear he doesn’t share this view. “Here you’re kind of locked in this ship, and that’s what I like but not everybody does, you know? But I think this is really, really cool. It becomes such a special environment, a special mood on a boat like this. It’s full-on madness, I love it.”

Dark Tranquillity is no strangers to cruises, so seasickness hasn’t been a huge worry. “We haven’t talked about it yet on this cruise. And it doesn’t really affect you that much, this is such a huge ship. I mean sure, you can feel a little bit of movement,” Stanne moves his head from side to side, “but not that much. We’re doing some other cruises in Europe later, there’s one that goes from Stockholm, Sweden to Helsinki and back, and if the seas are rough, that’ll happen,” he says with a knowing smile. “So I think Anders [Iwers], our bass player, he’s probably the one that feels it the most. We’re actually going on a cruise immediately after this one. We’re just going home to Sweden, then we’re going to Finland and there’s a cruise leaving from Åbo I think, going to Stockholm, and we’re going to play there. It’s going to be weird, that’s a tiny boat compared to this one,” he chuckles.

Stanne is firm in his preferred selection of beverage on the cruise. “Beer, all the way. I do drink cocktails of course, but I’m a huge, huge beer geek. So the selection, I’m not too happy with on this cruise.” He speaks almost through gritted teeth. “But it’s okay.”

It’s a reunion of old friends for Dark Tranquillity, but when it comes to who Stanne would most want to tour with in the future, it’s a tough decision.

“Ooooh,” he muses, turning the thought over in his mind. “We have toured with a lot of bands on this cruise.” He draws a long breath. “Some of them I would love to tour with again. Insomnium, Kreator, Swallow the Sun. Maybe, I love the guys from Meshuggah, maybe that. That would be cool. That would be fun,” he nods wistfully. “Witchery I would love to tour with, I love those guys. Naglfar I’m really dying to see. I’ve toured with some of those guys before, back in the 90s and shit,” he laughs. “That would be cool, too. I don’t know. Exodus, I would love to!”

Though the cruise is a social occasion in many ways, Stanne offers his reflection on who is the most reclusive member of the band. “Well, it kind of changes depending on mood, but right now I think on this trip Anders, our drummer, is probably the one who spends the most time in his cabin, but I think especially today he’s just worried that if you go out, you start drinking, and then you kind of screw up the show later,” he chuckles. “We play pretty late tonight. But I think we all try to go out and hang out and spend some time with people here. We have a lot of friends on this cruise. The hardest part is having enough time to actually hang out with everyone you want to meet.”

Another aspect of the cruise is karaoke, and Stanne has plans. “Ooooh. We’ve been talking about it. I think I will do it on this cruise. We’ve been talking about it, me and a friend, we’re going to do a little duet. If it works, we’re going to do Subdivisions by Rush.”

Many wonderful memories are made on the 70,000 Tons of Metal cruise, but when asked to reflect on the best, Stanne has a clear response. “On this cruise, it was probably Swallow the Sun today, actually. It was really, really beautiful. I have some friends, and we have a really, really strong connection to this band, and actually to this cruise in particular, so it was particularly emotional and special, so that was the highlight for me today.”

Stanne’s final message is simple. “Well, for anyone who hasn’t been on this cruise, book your tickets now. Get over here. It’s pretty damn special.”


Head to the official Dark Tranquillity website: www.darktranquillity.com.

To find out more about the 70,000 Tons Of Metal Crusie, head to the official website: https://70000tons.com.

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