Monday, 3 March 2014

Interview with Esben from MONOLORD

Today – Aaron is interviewing Esben Willems drummer from Swedish Doom Rifflords - MONOLORD. The brilliant Doom Metal collective who may have just released one of the finest Doom Metal Records of 2014.

We originally said this about their debut album – Empress Rising:

Monolord have delivered a truly outstanding debut album that will leave you in a constant state of shock and asking the following question.

What did I just fucking listen to?

The answer is simple. Your favourite new Doom Metal Band. The name is MONOLORD. Empress Rising is going to be one of 2014’s landmark Doom Metal Debut albums. Ignore this if you dare.”

This hotly tipped Swedish Trio are going to turn some heads when the album is released in April 2014 through our good friends – EasyRider Records.

Lets see what Esben has to say to ourselves at Sludgelord HQ.

Welcome to the Sludgelord, pleased to talk to you guys and welcome. First of all, Congratulations! Your new record is something special. You must reflect upon it with a sense of a pride?

(Esben Willems)

Thanks! And absolutely, that fuzzed out soundscape was exactly what we were looking to achieve. We actually didn't have any specific genre in mind starting this band, we just wanted to make music as heavy and gritty as possible. If anyone wants to label it doom, stoner or sludge is entirely up to them. But we're totally fine with that; as long as people like what we do we take any labelling as a compliment.

The three of us have been making and recording music since forever, in ever constellation imaginable, so our influences come from all over the place. Thomas and I had a boogie rock band called Marulk before this – which actually in some sense was the start of Monolord – Mika plays double bass in the country noir band The Don Darlings and have a past in the grindcore band Rotten Sound, among many other bands, Thomas and I have d-beat side project going on whenever we get some spare time to play fast and scream at the broken society, and so on. We've been in more bands and projects through the years than we can remember.

(SL) Let’s kick things off, who are you, state your name (s) and purpose?

(EW) - Mika Häkki is is the man behind the bass, Thomas Jäger handles the guitar and vocals and I play the drums.

(SL) Summarise your musical journey (s) this point?

(EW) - Damn, that's a tough one to summarise in a few sentences. But as I mentioned, we have all been playing music and been in bands since we were kids. I think what we have in common is that we've always been drawn towards heavy music, and heavy grooves. As the mainstream hard rock and metal has evolved into something glossy, streamlined and boring, we have found inspiration in the heavier and grittier stuff like the rise of death'n'roll, d-beat punk, grindcore and things like that.

That rawness can also be found in a lot of other genres, so we would never limit ourselves to only listen to what's in the rock department at the record store. I think it's important as hell to listen to everything that has a heartbeat and an honesty to it. My only filter is exactly that; if it's in your face and confident enough to keep the flaws, it's got my attention.

(SL) What can fans look forward to from you in 2014? How is your schedule shaping up?

(EW)- At the moment, we're discussing possible collaborations with various people in the business, which means that if everything falls into place we'll be doing the first gigs as this band in a few months. After that we hope to tour the album as much as possible. The how, when and where is not set yet, but we're working on it. We wanna get on stage, soon!

I'm also a sound tech and producer, so my setup is how we record our music, at least for now. Empress Rising was actually almost entierly recorded in our rehearsal space, the only overdubs made elsewhere was in Thomas' house. This also means that we can work on new material whenever, so we're halfway done with the pre-production of the next album. Hesitation kills.

(SL) What springs to mind when you think about the completion of your new/current record?

(EW) - How it's going to be received by all the fuzz lovers out there. We're really satisfied with the album – the songs, the sound, the amazing work Nik Duduković has done with really capturing the essence of the album with his artwork – but you never know how it's going to be received by other people.

(SL) Who handles song writing duties?

(EW) - On Empress Rising, the songs are mostly based on riff ideas by Thomas, and some parts by me, which we then brewed into finished songs together. All lyrics on this one was written by Thomas, except the lyrics on the title track, which was written by Daniel Palm, the lead singer and bass player in Marulk. He was in Monolord when it still was a nameless project, but decided to leave when it became a band on this level. We're still good friends, though, so it was only a matter of priority and time.

But we all contribute in the songwriting. The making of this album has been quite strange in many ways. We became a proper band and Mika joined during the production, so in a sense this album defined this band. Since Mika became a member we have all been writing material to the next album, both music and lyrics.

(SL) How long was the gestation of your new/current opus from conception to delivery?

(EW) - Short and fast, haha! How long is a rope? Hard to answer, since this process has been everything at the same time, and it's still ongoing. The band started in early 2013 and we began the pre-production of what became Empress Rising at the same time.

(SL) The artwork is really great, was it designed with a particular physical format in mind? Who designed it?

(EW) - I'd like to say thanks, but all credits should go to the amazing Nik Duduković. He has really been impressively patient with our ideas, ambitions and countless revisions. And he nailed it, perfectly. We wanted something not so default doom and stoner and we're all really pleased with the result. The gnarly empress on the front is an artwork in itself.

It is primarily designed for the double vinyl gatefold format, so I'm madly stoked to see it printed.

(SL) As a music fan yourselves and given that music seems to be so disposal at times, how is it to a great package to your fans, and yet not alienate them by producing something which is not affordable. What are your thoughts on the finished physical product? What format is/will be available?

(EW) - Spot on, disposal is the word, sadly. The double vinyl is expensive, but not overpriced, and we think most dedicated music fans know that. We're in the alternative section of the business where few make much money, not even the labels. Beyond the vinyl, the album will be available on cassette, cd, download and streaming. The physical formats are also ways to make the release not so disposal, and the digital formats are ways to make it available to everyone.

(SL). Speaking off, getting a record out there are you a) Indiegogo (crowdfunding) or b) career no no

(EW) - I'm not sure I completely understand the question...? Anyway, the album will be released by a small but relentless label, EasyRider Records, that has already gained a hardcore following, due to it being a music loving label in close connection to both bands and fans. I just saw the first EasyRider tattoo the other day, by the way. That's hardcore.

(SL) The best and worst things about being in a band?

(EW) - It's almost impossible to describe the pro's and con's without it being a cliché festival, but the best things are without a doubt the feeling of making music you love with your best friends, and on top of that getting that music loved by strangers. The worst thing is that's it's insanely hard to do it full-time.

(SL) Influences and heroes, what are turn offs and turn on’s?

(EW) - For me personally, the turn off's are all kinds of namedropping. I'm interested in how things sound, look, feel and taste, not who did what to who and when. As a band we're influenced by everything from a face melting concert to the perfect morning coffee. The perfect hangover can result in the perfect 12 minute fuzz mantra, just as discovering a new band can.

Turn on's are anything that sparks the inspiration; black humor, really nasty weather, a Bill Sabbath t-shirt.

(SL) Any record from the past or present that springs to mind?

(EW) - Our record collection spans wide, really wide. Of course we're all Black Sabbath-fans – who isn't? – but apart from the obvious we really do listen to everything. Right now, I listen to a lot of doom bands and singer/songwriters (Sahg is playing in the background at the moment), Mika is soon going to Austin Psych Fest and has those bands on high rotation, Thomas is spinning the everflowing stream of new vinyls that arrives in his mailbox, mostly focused on all things heavy.

(SL) The last album that kicked your arse?

(EW) - The first one that comes to mind for me is Earth Rocker by Clutch. Fantastic fucking band, in every way.

(SL) What was your first instrument or musical experience and what do you use today?

(EW) - My first instrument was drums, which is still what I primarily play. When the feeling comes, there's an occasional abuse of guitar and some throat noises. Thomas is a guitar player at heart, but a kickass bass player as well. Mika just plays everything, and good, I have no idea how he does it.

(SL) One item, gear or otherwise that characterises your band and one item from your set up you cannot live without?

(EW) - I've always liked the idea of making the most of what is available. It fucks your mindset up in a good way and forces you into creative solutions you would never have thought of if you had all the equipment in the world available to you. I would like to think that if we were dropped at the end of the road somewhere with only a backline made of tin cans, stereo speakers and barbed wire available to us, we would still sound like Monolord.

(SL) Pro-tools versus old school?

(EW) - Pro Tools can be old school, if you know what you're doing. The recording equipment is not some kind of magic boxes that makes musicians better than they are. The only thing I would never do is the beat and pitch correction that sadly has become standard in many cases. We recorded the album with Pro Tools, but I use it just as a tape recorder, the only difference is that it's digital. Analog equipment doesn't make things old school, just as digital equipment doesn't make things sterile. It's how you use the tools, not what tools you use.

SL) Has their been much opportunity for your band to do live shows and is playing live still as important today given the influences of the web and social media ?

(EW) - We're just in the beginning of being Monolord, but there are already some interesting opportunities to play live that has surfaced. And yes, I think playing live is more important than ever, and more fun. When the amount of music released overwhelms you, it's a relief to see a good show. I think the live scene will continue to grow, and we're happy for it. Playing live is the primary reason we make music.

(SL) Who are some your favourite bands you have toured with and what have been your band highlight (s) thus far

(EW) - I'd love to answer this one in a year or so. When it comes to highlights, so far it's been an incomparable feeling to put the needle to the test press of the vinyl when we got it. We're all really looking forward to releasing this one. First of April, people!

(SL) What are your survival tips for the road ?

(EW) - Making sure there's veggie food, good beer, a sober sound tech and a proper place to sleep that's not in the kitchen at the bartender's cousin's student flat. Then all is good and the fuzz is on.

(SL) Vinyl Junkie or Ipod flunky? Discuss

(EW) - It all depends on the time and place. Vinyls are so damn hard to play in the tour bus, the needle keeps jumping up and down. iPods, do they still exist, by the way? But as long as good music keeps flowing through the speakers, it's not that important what the medium is. A good quality vinyl played on good equipment is balm for the ears, but it's just one of many ways to listen to good stuff.

(SL) Finally, do you have any final comments/word of wisdom you’d like to bestow upon us?

(EW) - Not much more than that we're looking forward to seeing you all live!

Thank you on behalf of The Sludgelord.

(EW) - Thank you on behalf of the Monolord; good talking to you!

Thanks to Richard Jones at Sheltered Life PR for arranging this interview and Esben from Monolord for taking the time out to talk to us here at Sludgelord HQ.

Empress Rising will be available to buy on CD/DD/Cassette Tape/Vinyl from EasyRider Records from April 2014.

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Written by Aaron Pickford