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Niklas Kvarforth (Shining) : looking for darkness in broad light


Among the many races artists engage in – especially in metal –, aside from speed, technical skills, and volume, there’s the race to know who will be the darkest. Some have tried to attain darkness through sadness, musical violence, or a gory, grim imagery. Even if some artists harbor real sorrow or truly dark thoughts, we can’t help wondering if, in most cases, this darkness may not be a bit superficial.

For Niklas Kvarforth, it was important to underline that darkness can be found or expressed where you least expect it. In light, for instance – or, to put it more musically, in pop, from which Niklas had thought to borrow a few elements to make his project evolve. Instead he chose to take it down a more metal path, but not the one you’d expect: despite indications to the contrary, the man is attached to the music of the 80s and 90s, and to the way it was made and listened it. Those to whom going to a record store and discovering an album by going through the booklet is an important ritual will recognize themselves. For him, metal is all about heavy in its most traditional definition.

During the interview, Niklas Kvarforth insists on the fact that Shining’s evolution and positions are his – his evolution, his positions. And he wants his message to be heard. Hence the decision to go back to English lyrics, and to translate into English, despite the extreme difficulty of the job, his Swedish lyrics in a book called “When Prozac No Longer Helps”. His message is all about the dark aspects of his life and his hatred towards other human beings. At the end of the interview, Kvarforth points out that Shining is not a way to cry out for help, but a tool to drive these other human beings he despises so much to harm and kill themselves. Needless to say, the words and ideas are his own.

« Even the darkest darkness can be found in the light. It’s just a matter of looking in the right places. The statement I want to make by using this arrogant title is that we have always looked for darkness, but used different, non-standard, non-traditional ways of exposing it. »

Radio Metal: How are you doing?

Niklas Kvarforth (vocals) : A bit sick, and stressed, and tired. But otherwise, I’m OK.

The video you did with Håkan “Nordman” Hemlin shows a wedding between a dominant and corrupting groom and a desirable and deceptively innocent bride. The video uses this marriage to symbolize the insidious effects of substance abuse since, at the end of the video, the roles have been reversed and the groom’s life is destroyed. You have experienced that kind of obsession and addiction. How did you feel about reliving that past by doing this video?

I relive that past every time I perform that song live or listen to it. It really doesn’t differ. That girl is definitely not innocent! The whole point of the video is basically… There’s a lot of symbolism in there, but I don’t feel like going too deep into it. It’s rather obvious, I think. But it sounds like you’re on the right path.

The new album is called Redefining Darkness. Most of your albums and songs are in Swedish, but this time you decided to entitle your album in English. Why now? Do you think that the message behind this album needed to be understood by everyone?

The message behind everything I do should be understood by everyone. I always try to write English lyrics, but in the past years, I haven’t been able to do it. You have to remember that on The Eerie Cold, Angst, and on our first and second albums, the lyrics were entirely in English. There’s really no difference. It just turned out that way, you know. Anyway, I’ve always seen it as a big problem that people don’t understand my lyrics when they’re in Swedish. I’ve had a very hard time translating them due to the kind of poetic Swedish that I use – even if I don’t like this term. I’ve sat down a few times to try and translate them, without success. But now I’ve finally managed to do it, and I’ve put all these lyrics in a book called “When Prozac No Longer Helps”. It will be released on 7th December, so people can finally understand what the Swedish lyrics are about. Hopefully, people will then also understand that none of these lyrics are about suicide. People have always had this misconception.

How did you feel about those lyrics, when you rewrote them in a language that was not your natural language?

I couldn’t actually make direct translations to begin with, because, as I said, I have a pretty strange way of formulating things when I write in Swedish. That’s why it took so long: I had to look at those lyrics, go back to the days when I wrote them, and basically rewrite them in English. I needed to get the same vibe and meaning in those lyrics, without doing a direct translation. It was probably one of the hardest things I’ve done. That’s why it’s taken fifteen years! It’s good, and I think people need to see this, but they’re always asking me about it.

Redefining Darkness is kind of a strong statement. What is Shining’s definition of darkness?

I guess darkness is in the eye of the beholder. Most people consider darkness as being something black, that dwells beyond the borders of mankind. I want to show that darkness, even the darkest darkness, can be found in the light. It’s just a matter of looking in the right places. The statement I want to make by using this arrogant title is that we have always looked for darkness, but used different, non-standard, non-traditional ways of exposing it. That’s also what the title symbolizes. The white cover also symbolizes the inversion of darkness, as people see it. We want to give people a wider idea of what real darkness is, and what the worship and glorification of death can bring.

« I’ve always wanted to move either in a poppier direction, or in a more metal direction. And when I say “metal”, I don’t mean all the shit bands that are featured in magazines today. I’m talking about what happened in the 80s and early 90s, this heavy metal thing, which I kind of prefer to soulless black metal stuff that’s out there. »

Actually, in the extreme metal scene, every band tries to be the darkest or the most insane metal band. How is Shining different from those bands?

Probably because I am insane.

Do you think the definition of darkness that those bands have is superficial?

I don’t know. I can’t talk for people I haven’t met. I’m sure there are genuine people out there. But what people have trouble understanding, especially with Shining… I remember the last time we met, at Hellfest. People were very upset by that, because they misunderstood everything – which is great, I think, because that just proves how fuckin’ stupid people are. But it kind of gets to me as well. There’s something in this black metal scene that disturbs me. If you tell a joke, or if you have some kind of dark humor, they don’t understand it. But this is probably because we’re talking about kids here. We’re not talking about grown-up people. How should I put this? There’s probably a lot of genuine people, but they have to understand that there’s a difference between being a musician and doing dark artistry. If you burn for something and have passion for something, and especially for such a twisted subject, as people might see it, people are easily misled. But it really doesn’t bother me. I’ve met a few fucked-up individuals throughout the years, but I think some people are afraid to expose their hearts. I understand why: if you start showing your personality, all of a sudden, you’re vulnerable. People are afraid of that. I’m not. I can be very vulnerable, but at the same time, it has a purpose. My own well-being is not of any particular interest to me. What’s interesting to me is my goal. Simple as that.

« I would like to go back when you had to go to the record store and ask for the release date of a record. When it finally came, you were waiting and waiting, and looking forward to it. You could listen to it while reading the lyrics, and see the artwork the band had worked on. People today have an arrogant, strange way of seeing things. Everything is so easily consumed. I don’t like that. I think it’s really sad. »

Unlike all previous Shining efforts, the title “Redefining Darkness” isn’t prefaced with a number. Why is that? Is this album a turning point or some sort of fresh start?

Yes and no. I guess sometimes, you just need to change a few things to move ahead. I just felt now was the time to do it. It might look like a very small thing to do, but for me, it was a decision that has plagued me for the last five or six years. It was a really hard decision for me to make. I understand people might not get it, but it was something important for me.

This is the second time you work with the producer Andy LaRocque. It really seems that Andy understands your universe very well. What can you tell us about this collaboration?

Actually, it’s the first time, because we recorded the EP and the album at the same time. Ever since The Eerie Cold, we were recording with the same producer. That was a good experience and I learned a lot, but I kind of got tired of his attitude and wanted to try something new. I had actually been considering contacting Andy LaRocque for a couple of years, because I’ve always wanted to move either in a poppier direction, or in a more metal direction. And when I say “metal”, I don’t mean all the shit bands that are featured in magazines today. I’m talking about what happened in the 80s and early 90s, this heavy metal thing, which I kind of prefer to soulless black metal stuff that’s out there. Anyway, it was really the perfect choice. It clicked when we met. He almost became part of the band. We’ll be reentering the studio next year to record a new album.

Is it already written?

Most of it, yes.

What can you tell us about this record?

Nothing.

About his revelations on his mental health: « People probably think that this has to do with me trying to be provocative, or extreme, or whatever. I’m just fed up with people trying to dissect my mind and to figure out who I am without knowing anything. So I decided to share this. »

You’ve declared that you were not allowed to put a song from the new album online for many reasons. What are those reasons?

You know, the record industry. Our record label had some restrictions. We can’t walk around that, it’s just something we had to accept. But in a way, I think it’s a good thing, because I always want people to experience an album in its entirety. I think it’s actually a very foolish move to put out one song. People just expect to hear everything beforehand. I don’t like that. I would like to go back when you had to go to the record store and ask for the release date of a record. When it finally came, you were waiting and waiting, and looking forward to it. You could listen to it while reading the lyrics, and see the artwork the band had worked on. People today have an arrogant, strange way of seeing things. Everything is so easily consumed. I don’t like that. I think it’s really sad, you know?

In order to give to your fans a preview of this new album, you did select a mere fraction of one of the songs and put them on a video where you introduce us to your cat, Miss Katze Kvarforth. Since she’s now a rock icon, can you tell us more about her?

To tell about her, I have to tell about the first trailer. People were annoyed that we were selling out by signing to a big label and doing all these shows. Not that I really care, but I wanted to make a point and mock all these people. So I had this 57-year-old guy film me in his bathtub. When they saw that, all of a sudden, people started to complain that I was doing what everyone else does. They don’t seem to remember that I did this back in 1996 as well, when Shining first came up with the naked, bloody pictures. I thought it was funny that people got annoyed, so I wanted to do something else. My manager wanted to put up a second trailer. I wasn’t interested, but she told me over and over that we needed to do it. So I asked her to film me with the cat, and people started to complain about that as well, which is funny! In conclusion, people suck and Katze is the light of my life, so to speak. She’s actually sleeping on my lap right now. It’s better to have her than to go out to a pub or something. I stopped doing that, because I just fought all the time.

Do you think cats are metal?

I don’t know what’s metal and what’s not metal, you know! And I don’t really care, either. Katze is Katze. Whether that’s metal or not, I don’t know.

« Shining is a tool to get people to hurt themselves and kill themselves. If people don’t understand that and think I want to kill myself, that’s just ignorance. Of course, I’ve been suicidal at times, every now and then. But my faith in destroying the lives of others is far greater than a simple will to end what is a problem in my life. »

You talked to the press about your mental health. Why did you choose to share that with the rest of the world?

People probably think that this has to do with me trying to be provocative, or extreme, or whatever. I’m just fed up with people trying to dissect my mind and to figure out who I am without knowing anything. So I decided to share this – why not? I think most people have mental problems. Of course, mine are pretty extreme, but that’s probably because of the path I chose so many years ago. When you play with fire, you get burned. That’s probably what happened. At least I’m able to cope now.

You often talk about suicide and self-harm in your music. We often see reactions from people who say: “If he promotes suicide, why doesn’t he do it?” What would you answer to that kind of reactions?

It’s very simple: Shining is a tool to get people to hurt themselves and kill themselves. If people don’t understand that and think I want to kill myself, that’s just ignorance. Of course, I’ve been suicidal at times, every now and then. But my faith in destroying the lives of others is far greater than a simple will to end what is a problem in my life. This has always been the case. But people don’t understand that, and I can’t do anything about it. I don’t really care that much, but I hope they’ll buy the book and read the lyrics. Then they’ll understand that I never said things like that in the actual lyrics. It’s always been directed to the listener.

Have you ever listened to or met the other metal band called Shining – the Norwegian one?

Yes. I was in Norway, and I went to see their show with Maniac and someone else in this local place in Oslo. I think it was in 2006 or 2007. I remember I went backstage and introduced myself as Niklas from Shining. I think the guy’s name was Jørgen, so he said he was Jørgen from Shining, and we had a laugh. We should definitely play some shows someday. All my respect to them, they’re an excellent band. But I’ve had this name for my band since 1996, and I have no intention of changing it. I don’t think they do, either, but that doesn’t bother me.

« People suck and Katze is the light of my life, so to speak. She’s actually sleeping on my lap right now. It’s better to have her than to go out to a pub or something. I stopped doing that, because I just fought all the time. »

That’s all for me. Do you have one last thing to say?

Yeah, everyone should check out the new Peste Noire album. Maybe not the new, he’s recording a new one, but the one before that. It’s probably the best thing you’ve ever heard from France.

Interview conducted on October, 26th, 2012 by phone
Transcription: Saff’

Shining’s official website: www.shiningasylum.com

Redefining Darkness, out since October, 29th, 2012 via Spinefarm Records



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