Avatarium: a new icon for the Temple of Doom

It didn’t take Leif Edling long to come back with a new band after the release of Psalm For The Dead, Candlemass album which was announced to be the last. Not that he lacked musical projects, notably with Krux, but the perspective of putting an end to the discography (the band insisted that it hasn’t split) of this essential pillar of the doom scene that he lead with an iron hand for almost thirty years must have left kind of a void in his heart as well as in his fans’.

But life is full of surprises, and Edling found in Marcus Jidell, current Evergrey guitarist, a perfect match to start a new venture. So was born Avatarium, joined by singer Jennie-Ann Smith, Tiamat drummer Lars Sköld and Krux/Jupiter Society keyboardist Carl Westholm. This first attempt inevitably features typical Leif Edling riffs which will make Candlemass and Krux fans feel home. But Avatarium distinguishes itself through a new component: some musical parts strongly inspired by folk, almost psychedelic, music from the Sixties and Seventies, which create a most interesting contrast.

In the following interview, Marcus Jidell tells us about the creation of this band (which Mikael Akerfeldt from Opeth was originally supposed to front), of this unknown singer coming almost out of nowhere and however talented, of their wish to make an album that renews with the organic side of the Seventies’ bluesy rock, of his love for improvised music and Evergrey, which should soon get back on track for the sequel to Glorious Collisions.

« When Leif comes with a song, he comes with a kind of black and white painting, so we bring in the colors and finish the painting. »

Radio Metal: How did this band Avatarium come to life?

Marcus Jidell (guitar): It started with Leif [Edling] who called me to ask me if I could help him to record demos for some songs that he wrote. So, of course, I accepted since I really like his songwriting. So he came to my studio and we started to record some demos – I think it was “Moonhorse”, “Lady In The Lamp” and “Avatarium”. As soon as we started recording, after one hour or so, it felt very good and we thought that we’d really like to work together. We had the same vision about how we wanted it to sound like. So when we finished recording these three songs, we said that maybe we should do something more out of this. We started to talk about getting a singer. We talked about different singers. From the start actually, the very start, I know that Leif and Mikael (Akerfeldt) from Opeth talked about doing something together. That’s actually how we started to write these songs. But then Mikael Akerfeldt couldn’t participate since he was working so much with Opeth. But, anyway, when we had recorded these three songs, we talked about singers and there were a few that we liked, but one day we thought: “Wouldn’t it be cool to have a singer with a more bluesy, rock’n’roll kind of feeling, more in a Seventies kind of style?” And when we said that, I came to think about Jennie-Ann [Smith], since she has a lot of feel. I mentioned that maybe we should try her. Leif had never heard her sing so he was a little bit nervous I guess, but he said: “Well, let’s try.” She came and sang on the demos. First she sang on “Lady In The Lamp” and it sounded very good. But then when she sang on “Moonhorse”, we were really excited because it sounded so cool! We went home, we listened to the recordings and then, the same evening, me and Leif talked and said like: “We must work with Jennie-Ann!” Then it was like “Ok, now we have a band!” Concerning Lars (Sköld), he and Leif know each other, they had played together already and I knew he was a great drummer, he was an easy choice. And Carl (Westholm) and Leif have worked a lot together, and I’ve worked a little bit with him as well with his band Jupiter Society. So it was put in place very quickly I must say.

Most of the heavy riffs on this album are 100% Candlemass or Krux and even the vocal lines often recall these bands, like on the song « Boneflower ». Did Leif Edling give the other members instructions or advises on how the heavy riffs and vocal melodies had to be played?

He wrote the riffs and the melodies, so you can say that. Of course the riffs are supposed to sound [like what he has in mind]. But the soft parts, the verses and all these sort of almost pop stuff is more what I added actually. The riffs are how he writes them, but of course I changed a little bit here and there, I always do that. Jennie-Ann also changed and added some stuff; she has her own feel and her own way to sing. When Leif comes with a song, he comes with a kind of black and white painting, so we bring in the colors and finish the painting. That’s how we worked.

How is it for a guitar player to have in his band a bass player like Leif Edling who has such a strong musical and creative personality? Isn’t it a bit complicated sometimes?

No, it hasn’t been complicated at all actually, because he gives me a lot of freedom to do my own interpretations: most of the time I’m changing stuff, adding chords, playing the way I play, etc. And most of the time he says: “Well, yeah, if you think it sounds good, let’s do it!” So I would say that he’s very easy to work with. But most of the time we felt the same way on how we wanted it to sound. We’ve been listening a lot to music in this process together, especially me, Jennie-Ann and Leif. We’ve been listening to a lot of 60’s and 70’s music that we like. We have a lot of music that we like in common. So it hasn’t been hard at all, I would say!

« Many times, on the albums I’ve been doing […] when I listened to the result I was thinking: “Well, this is not exactly how it sounded when I recorded it!” I’m getting tired of that. »

The riffs are really heavy and really contrast with other softer moments as well as with the singing, like on « Moonhorse ». Was this contrast something that the band was actually purposely looking for?

Yeah, really, because that’s the difference if you compare, for example, to Candlemass. When it was soft, we wanted it to be even softer. We want to bring in a lot of dynamics in this band. In most hard rock bands, the drummer hit the drums with all the power he can all the time. But we thought: “Let’s play softer”, not only with the drums but also with the guitar, bass, the vocals. When you play acoustic instruments, you have a lot of dynamics, and you forget this when you play on an electric instrument. But you actually can work on the dynamics with electric instruments as well.

Jennie-Ann Smith, the vocalist, isn’t very known in the rock/metal scene, can you tell us more about her and about how you got in touch with her?

She has been touring a little bit in Sweden, but she never had her own career. She’s been having a regular day job three days a week and then she’s been touring around in Sweden with different stuff and that’s how I met her from the start, because we played music together. But she’s been writing music. When she’s doing her own stuff, she’s more like into rock and blues, not hard rock and metal. I actually don’t think she ever really looked for having a career, but she’s an amazing singer. I played with Candlemass in Barcelona and I brought her with me, and she really liked the music – well, of course she had already heard Candlemass before that. She likes the music that Leif writes. I think she actually has had a lot offers to do stuff earlier, but she has turned a lot of these offers down, because she didn’t want to do that kind of music. So, that’s why she’s unknown and I hope she’s going to be a little bit more known from now on, because she deserves it!

Was the choice to have a female singer somehow a way to ensure a true differentiation between this band and the members’ other bands?

We didn’t even think about a female singer until [I introduced Jennie-Ann]. Leif had in mind somebody who’d be more in the vein of Robert Plant actually. But I think this music is very different from what all of us do in our other bands anyways. So this is a full room for us where we can be a little bit more experimental, sensible and even more heavy. It’s open for jams and all this kind of stuff. That wasn’t a reason to bring in a female singer. The only reason we have Jennie-Ann is that she’s an amazing singer.

You said: « We had an urge to make an album with a very organic sound and no fixing and tricking in computers but just try to make great emotional music ». Does this mean that you focused more on the emotions than the perfection of the execution?

Yeah, really. We produced this album ourselves and most of it was recorded in my Damage Done studio. Many times, on the albums I’ve been doing – I’ve been recording a lot of stuff -, someone was producing it or editing stuff, but when I listened to the result I was thinking: “Well, this is not exactly how it sounded when I recorded it!” I’m getting tired of that. When I listen to music today, for me, everything sounds too fixed, too tight and too clean, and it’s boring. We recorded the album with a computer and everything, but we wanted to use great amps, great instruments, great pre-amps, a great mixing board, etc. to get this more organic sound. We tried to use the computer more like a tape machine: we were like “Ok, this is a good take”, or if it wasn’t a good take we’d do it again.

« The music from the 60’s and 70’s is where my heart is. »

Have you thought about recording the album live?

We thought about doing that. Maybe next album we’ll record everything live. And I think that hopefully we’ll be able to record some live gigs in the future.

Were some of the first takes kept in order to give this album more spontaneity?

Yeah. There are a lot of first takes that were kept actually. I think that most of the solos are first or second takes. Some of the vocals are also first takes. Jennie-Ann really delivers every time in the studio. Same for the drums. There are a lot of first takes actually, but not everything. Sometimes when you write and record songs you kind of bump into something where it’s like: “Ok, how shall we make this sound good?” That always happens somewhere in the recording.

Erik Rovamperä, who did the artwork, says he was inspired by « the heretical idolatry of the pre-Christianized cults throughout ancient Europe and esoteric allegories of the late medieval secret societies. » Is this a theme that is developed in Avatarium’s music? Can you tell us more about the lyrical content of the album?

I think the thing he was inspired by was the name, Avatarium. Avatarium is a place where you can worship half-Gods or Gods, or some creatures, whatever you want to worship. That’s why he got inspired by the meaning of the name and he took in his thoughts about that [to make the artwork]. The lyrics have all different stories, but the main thing about the lyrics was that they had to be poetic, so you could have your own understanding on what they are about. That was important.

What are your plans with this band and what is its status? Is this your main band now, because all of you guys are all busy artists actually?

Yeah, all of us are. Sometimes it’s a problem when you have two bands for example, but all I can say is that I talk to the band everyday and all of us want to go on tour with it. All of us are extremely proud of this album. We really hope that we’ll be able to go out and tour, and that people will like the album as much as we do, so we can play live.

Hearing you playing on such an old school doom metal project is quite surprising, considering the fact that you’re known for playing in bands like Evergrey or Royal Hunt, which are more progressive and melodic bands. It looks like your influences are very diverse. Can you tell us more about your musical background and your musical taste?

My musical background and tastes actually started with classical music. I started playing cello and I sang opera children choir when I was a kid. That’s how I started to learn music. Then I started to play guitar a little bit later, and practiced a lot. When I started guitar, when I was thirteen years old, I already knew a lot of music, since I already started music since I was a kid. So it was very easy for me to start to learn and play guitar. When I grew up, my parents listened to classical music and jazz. These were the only things they listened to. And then I had an elder brother who brought home hard rock music. So I listened to classical music, I listened to jazz, and then I started to listen to blues and all these heavy metal albums like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Yngwie Malmsteen, Deep Purple, all that kind of stuff. I’ve always been trying to find new music, new interests in music. I would say that I listen to many different kinds of music. I like a lot of music, but there is also music that I don’t like (Laughs), of course. But what I enjoy the most is music that has some kind of space for improvisation. The music from the 60’s and 70’s is where my heart is, like Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Mountain, etc. I always loved Johnny Cash. Miles Davis is one of my biggest favorites. Of course I like progressive music as well, since I’ve been working in that style a lot. There are some progressive elements in Avatarium as well.

« I need to have [moments of improvisation] in a gig, because I get bored if I just have to play the same thing every time. »

Is Evergrey a band where you can actually express your love for improvisation?

It’s hard to do that. I’m trying to put in [that element]. It was the same thing with Royal Hunt actually. It’s much easier in Avatarium than in both of these bands. But when we play live with Evergrey, we have these moments where me and the keyboard player we just play without knowing what’s going to happen. He starts to play some chords and then I start to play along, sometimes the band comes in and joins us. So we have some moments in concerts where there are improvisations. If we don’t have that, then I will… I need to have that in a gig, because I get bored if I just have to play the same thing every time. And for the solos, sometimes I play as they are on the album and sometimes I just play whatever I feel like. But Evergrey is very much structured. But it’s also fun, you know? Both in Evergrey and Royal Hunt, there’s so many things going on in the music, so it’s very cool to learn these songs, to be able to play them and play them live with great musicians. That’s also a great feeling.

Is Tom S. Englund actually reluctant to let you bring these aspects on Evergrey’s albums?

We’ve been talking about that too actually. (Laughs) Because we talked about when we’re going to do the next album, and hopefully we’ll meet each other and find a way to do this, while still keeping the Evergrey songwriting style. You know, Tom is a big fan of Pink Floyd and this kind of music, which I like too. So we also have a lot of music in common.

You released an instrumental album a few months ago. Do you think you’ll do that again in a few years?

Yeah, I really want to do that. It’s been an amazing response, I would say, although it’s been released on a small label. It took a long time to do that album but I really want to do another one. Next one won’t take such a long time to make. Hopefully sometime next year I’ll start to write for another instrumental album. I love that format, it’s free. It’s not a style, it’s not a genre, it’s just music. I just write whatever comes into my head. It’s a very cool and creative thing to do.

Can you give us an update on Evergrey’s current projects? You mentioned a new album, is there something already written?

Nothing is really written yet, but I know that everybody has ideas. We’ve been talking about it last time we met. Everybody has idea that they want to make songs out of. I’m going to have to talk to the guys, because the plan is to start to write. I know that Tom is going to start to write soon, because he wants to do a new album.

Interview conducted by phone on October, 2nd 2013 by Metal’O Phil.
Questions: Metal’O Phil and Spaceman.
Transcription: Spaceman.
Introduction: Spaceman.

Avatarium’s official website: avatariumofficial.se

Album Avatarium, out since November, 1st 2013 via Nuclear Blast

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