Hot off the Press

Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity

by Justin DelPrince
– Columnist —

Over twenty years have passed since Melodic Death Metal pioneers Dark Tranquillity, from Gothenburg, Sweden, released their debut album, Skydancer. Fast forward to 2015 and the band is busier than ever, having visited six continents for in support of their tenth album, Construct, released in 2013.

Hardrock Haven had the opportunity to speak with vocalist Mikael Stanne from Dark Tranquillity at their recent tour stop in Cleveland, Ohio.

Mikael Stanne of Dark Tranquillity

Hardrock Haven: You’re on the second North American leg of the Construct tour, this time with Insomnium. How is the tour going so far?

Mikael Stanne: It’s been fantastic. We’ve been out for a bit over a week I think. Uhm… some fantastic shows. Some sold out shows. Some… just, in general, a really, really good time. We’re with the Insomnium guys and we’re happy to do a tour together. It’s been really, really good.

Hardrock Haven: And I think I saw that by the time this tour is over, you will have played over 160 shows in support of this album. Is that right?

Mikael Stanne: Yeah. I just took a look at the back of our world tour t-shirt, and I almost fainted, realizing that yeah, we’ve been doing this for a while.

Hardrock Haven: You have to have a couple of shirts, because they don’t all fit on one shirt, right?

Mikael Stanne: Niclas actually made it fit on one shirt. But it’s only on the triple XL.

Hardrock Haven: (Laughs) Nice. Does anything stand out as a highlight from this tour? Any new cities that you always wanted to go to?

Mikael Stanne: Oh wow. A few. Uh, we had a couple more shows in China. We played more in Tunisia. Uhm… Israel for the first time. We’ve done a couple of new cities here [in the United States], way more in Canada. So yeah, it’s been awesome. Just really, really good.

Hardrock Haven: On this last album, you had a bit of a lineup change and Martin Henriksson played bass on the record in addition to guitar. Do you think the band will continue as a five-piece?

Mikael Stanne: No. No, when we end this tour, we’ve got to find a new bass player. Kind of start writing together.

Hardrock Haven: That would be quite a thing to come into a band like Dark Tranquillity that’s been together for so long.

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, that’s been our issue for the last two years. How do we find someone who will fit in and who can deal with us? [laughs]

Hardrock Haven: Although there was a lineup change, it’s still four of the original five members plus Martin Brändström on keyboards for the last 16 years. With so many high profile lineup changes in other bands, how have you managed to keep it together so well?

Mikael Stanne: I don’t know. I mean we did grow up together. And, uhm, we discovered music together. We’ve been best friends since we were kids basically. So, uhm… so we have enormous respect for each other. Sometimes we… it’s not like we hang out all the time together, but we do, you know? And we have a lot of fun together on tour. And we love writing together. And part of it is just fear of doing anything else, you know? This is something that instantly became huge, a huge deal in our lives. We were 14, 15, when we discovered music, and we started writing and playing together, and that became everything, you know? And especially when you’re in that age, I think, you know, in your late teens, those are the formative years. It has really shaped all of our lives. It’s impossible to even imagine doing anything else.

Hardrock Haven: I noticed the song-writing credit shows contributions from all members. I’m sure that helps keep the peace in the band.

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, it’s always better like that.

Hardrock Haven: And I think that tears a lot of bands apart on the other side.

Mikael Stanne: Absolutely. We’ve always said that we share everything we create.

Hardrock Haven: You were talking about your formative days when you were kids starting the band. Last year you re-released your debut album Skydancer, the only album with you on guitar instead of vocals. You were very young when you recorded that album. How do you look back on that time?

Mikael Stanne: It was fantastic, but… and stressful and weird. And we had no idea what we were doing. I was 18 when we started recording the album. We really didn’t know anything, but it was so exciting to finally be able to record an album, you know, and be in a proper studio and have things sound kind of good for the first time, you know? Instead of the old demos that we did. So it was really exciting. And I guess, right after that album, when I started singing, and we got Frederick on guitar, then we finally learned how to play properly. We almost became so much better. And that’s when I felt that we started properly. We felt, you know, as you are in your early twenties, “we can do anything,” you know? And, that was a fun time.

Hardrock Haven: The Skydancer re-release also came out on vinyl and you’ve had some other interesting vinyl releases like the Memory Construct 7” single on the last tour and the Decibel Magazine flexi-vinyl. Are you a fan of vinyl yourself or is this just a matter of providing people what they want to buy?

Mikael Stanne: I’m definitely a fan. I love it. I mean, that’s what I grew up listening to. And I’m happy to see that there’s a resurgence, you know? Like people are actually collecting and buying vinyl, and I do all the time. And it’s cool. Yeah, all of our releases are on vinyl, as they should be. You know, it’s great for collectors, and it’s fun for us as well. It’s something that we always pay extra attention to, and also our record label are big fans as well of that. So, it’s very natural.

Hardrock Haven: I noticed that you’ve had special covers for the vinyl editions as well.

Mikael Stanne: Oh yeah.

Hardrock Haven: So aside from vinyl, what formats to do you use for listening to music? Obviously you can’t take your vinyl on the road with you.

Mikael Stanne: No. I use a streaming service, WiMP. It’s one that I… that I really like because it’s super high quality. It’s a Scandinavian service but it works here too. It’s fantastic. I really love it. I discover a lot of new music through that service all the time, you know? That’s something that I’m really into. Just find a quiet place somewhere, put your earbuds in, and try to find new music that’s related to other artists that you’re into.

Hardrock Haven: Do you find you’re still able to still stick with listening to a whole album all the way through?

Mikael Stanne: Oh, absolutely.

Hardrock Haven: A lot of people say that with streaming services, people are not listening to whole albums.

Mikael Stanne: Nah. I can’t do that. I don’t listen to playlists.

Hardrock Haven: How does it feel to be credited as one of the founders of a genre of metal, Melodic Death Metal?

Mikael Stanne: I don’t know. It’s hard to think of it that way. Of course, we are very proud of what we did when we were young. We set out to create original and unique music, and in a way, we succeeded. So of course I’m really happy with that. I’m glad that, you know, us and the other bands from Gothenburg, got a lot of attention because of it. And it’s cool. I remember being annoyed and pissed off about it, you know, in the mid-90s, where we felt like… “no, we’re original. We want to be… we are different.” But it was just, you know, lumping us together with In Flames and At the Gates, and all those other bands. We are so different, but nobody could see that. But I’m glad I got over that, and now I can embrace it and enjoy it.

Hardrock Haven: Do you embrace the term [Melodic Death Metal] now? I can see on the other hand, it kind of sets expectations, like, you’ll always play one style of music

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, but I’m okay with that. I think for me now it’s … I think of it more or less as a quality … kind of seal approval kind of thing.
Hardrock Haven: You’re very energetic on stage with the headbanging and getting in people’s faces and jumping off the stage. Who influenced you with their stage presence even if not necessarily the same kind of music you play?

Mikael Stanne: I think it’s probably Tomas Lindberg from At the Gates. I saw him with his first band, Grotesque. We were neighbors from when we grew up and he was a great friend.

Hardrock Haven: I saw that he was in your DVD that came out a few years back, talking about the old days. So that had to be kind of fun to see that band get back together after so many years.

Mikael Stanne: Ahh, I’m so happy for them.

Hardrock Haven: And now they’re on Century Media with you.

Mikael Stanne: Yep, I’m ecstatic.

Hardrock Haven: And speaking of Century Media, you’ve been with them a really long time now. And I think before the last album came out, you signed with them again. What do you like about working with Century Media?

Mikael Stanne: I like that they’re super honest. They’re really good at what they do. They respect us. We respect them right back. They’re big music fans, you know? Album geeks, just the way we are. They’ve always allowed us to do pretty much whatever we want. We said to them early on that we’d take care of all the stuff, you know, surrounding the album. We’d do the artwork, the production, we record in our own studio, we do all that stuff. And you do your thing, which is put it on plastic and vinyl and release it. And that’s what they do. And I think it’s been working out great for us.

Hardrock Haven: Well, after this tour you just have some one-off shows for the rest of the year. And then it’s back to writing?

Mikael Stanne: Yeah, that’s the plan, to get back to writing as soon as possible.

Hardrock Haven: Well, anything else you’d like to say for Dark Tranquillity fans who might be watching?

Mikael Stanne: I’m just really thankful for the fact that we’re allowed to do this, year after year, and come back here, see a lot of great people, and have fantastic shows. We love it, so it’s pretty cool. But we look forward to getting home and writing at home. Two and a half years of touring is a lot.

Hardrock Haven: Thank you very much for your time.

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