The name Meshuggah is taken from the Yiddish word for crazy, and by golly is it a fitting name for these Scandinavian lords of avant-garde jazz infused metal, as they’re just fucking bonkers.
Hailing from the snow covered and metal loving land of Sweden, on the skin of things Meshuggah are your stock standard metal band. Most of the band have long stringy hair and goatees, their album art often includes references to runes and other archaic symbols and it’s very rare to see a picture of any of the members wearing anything but black. However their music is anything but stock standard.
With songs often incorporating complex rhythmic arrangements more commonly associated with free jazz than heavy metal (often accused of using impossible time signatures like 33/16, wtf?) as well as the band using specially made eight string guitars, the standard six not sounding heavy enough for them obviously, Meshuggah have consistently pushed the boundaries of heavy metal as a genre, never content with sitting still and always trying new things from album to album.
As they are about to hit our shores for the second time as part of the Soundwave Tour, I begged my way into an interview slot with guitarist Mårten Hagström to see where the band might move next (Oh and make sure you watch the video at the bottom).
Music Feeds: You guys have always experimented a lot with your sound from album to album, where is the band moving now, creatively speaking?
Mårten Hagström: Things are going to change around, mostly to do with the writing process. The way we always worked was someone would bring a song to us and we might rearrange things together or something, but it’s usually pretty much a finished product when someone brings a song in you know. So we’re maybe going to work on things together and mess around with things at an earlier stage as a whole band and see where that takes us. We’ll see how that pans out, but as far as what the next album is going to sound like, I’m really not sure. There’s always like a starting point you know where you realise ‘oh ok, this is where we’re going to go’, but it’s too early to tell. We’re going to start the writing process again once we get back from Australia, so we’ll see.
MF: You guys usually play live with all your instruments going straight into the mixing desk, what made you want to abandon amps?
MH: We decided quite a long time ago, after we started working with Line 6, we realised yeah it’s cool to have all those stacks on stage, but from a practical standpoint it’s just that running DI your sound’s just there you know, you just plug in, straight to the stage box and you’ve just got the tone you need. The monitor situation can be quite tricky, cos if the monitors go out on us, we’re dead, just dead in the water. So it is a risk but still, not even having to worry about feed backing mics on the amps and the difference in the ambiance of the sound from different stages or whatever, it really feels like something you can rely on.
MF: I can imagine, I mean considering the sound you guys generate live, setting everything up so it sounds good for the crowd and so you can keep track of what you’re doing would be a fucking nightmare. Has this solved all those problems then?
MH: To an extent at least (laughs)… But the way we approach our music… I mean the Meshuggah sound definitely has a mechanical aspect to it, no doubt, but the way we play it is no different than playing a blues twelve you know, it all ties together so that the red thread of the 4/4 beat that runs through everything we do just keeps us grounded. I mean, of course there is a lot of sound going on you know, with Tomas’ drumming and everything, sometimes it’s chaos on stage, but you know I don’t think we have a harder time with it than any other band, and the setup just makes it that little bit easier, you know, being able to rely on that same guitar tone every day and all you have to worry about is rolling in those three small racks in and that’s it, you don’t have to mess around. You know it’s cool to see AC/DC with three hundred Marshall amps, but that’s for them, not for us.
MF: You guys just recently released a live DVD, Alive. Was the footage all from one show or was it pieced together from a few?
MH: It’s pieced together from a bunch of different shows actually. We did it that way because… you know a lot of people want to see a whole show from beginning to end when they watch a live DVD, but it’s not always fair you know, it’s not always representative. This way you get to see what Meshuggah is like for four nights. You might not get to see the whole set but you get to see the differences between the shows, the different clubs and you get to see what life is like on the road for four days.
So we thought it was a cool idea to sort of cut it up and present bits and pieces here and there from four select shows. We recorded Loud Park in Tokyo, Japan, and then we did Montreal, Toronto and New York consecutively in three days on our headline tour for obZen, and for us it just felt like a better format for what we were trying to do with it, to have it kind of bare and stripped you know, not a lot of trimmings just the raw deal you know, just the raw show.
MF: Definitely. That way you avoid the stress of trying to make that one show perfect, you can just relax and play like you usually would.
MH: Yeah, and I think another downside is that if you just film the one show you can make that one show look a lot better as far a cameras and visuals go, and that’s what a lot of bands do you know. They spend a little bit extra you know, we film this place cos it’s a much cooler venue and we can rent some extra light, you know you trim it up, for that one show. Whereas with filming a few shows we were just more comfortable because we knew we actually had a couple of shows to just do our thing and not really have to worry about the cameras and all that shit. And we wanted it to be like that, we wanted it to come across as ‘this is it, this is what we do, nothing more’.
MF: Does that mentality carry across to recording? I mean, I know you guys usually spend a lot of time writing the songs and learning to perform them, but when you record do you go overdub crazy or just try and keep it to you guys just playing in a room?
MH: Not really anymore, and that’s what I was talking about before; we’re thinking of seeing where that kind of thinking can take us. In a way it’ll be us coming full circle cos back in the day there was a lot of that going on, but the last couple of albums, the writing process has been really long, and it always is for us, so it’s been more of a thing where we come up with what we need to do and when we finally get everything down and we’re like ‘ok this is sounding good, this is actually a cool album, we should start recording this’, it’s usually just a matter of getting it done, which means no jamming together; Tomas will play the drums and then we overdub. But we’re actually quite anxious to get back to how we used to do stuff to get back into the feel we had back in the day.
MF: Cool, well I’m running out of time, but before I go I wanted to ask you about the video for ‘New Millennium Cyanide Christ’, where you guys are all miming your instruments on the tour bus, how did that happen?
MH: (Laughs) Well, we were on the road opening up for Slayer in the US and we didn’t have a video for that album. At the time it was something that Nuclear (Blast, their label) didn’t want us to do, and we felt that, although we had ideas and everything, it felt like they were all going to be pretty expensive and we really didn’t feel like we were in a position to pull it off. So anyway in the middle of the tour we had a show that was cancelled because the stage was too small you know, we couldn’t set up our gear in front of Slayer’s stuff. So we just got the fuck out of there as we had a pretty long ride to the next show and we had a shitload of beer and whiskey there.
So we were just sitting there and we had this camcorder and I don’t really remember which one of us started talking about it, but we were just like ‘let’s get a little bit drunk and mess around with the camera’ and someone just said ‘hey, let’s making a fucking video’. So we were like ‘ok, what should we do?’ and pretty obviously we were going to goof around somewhat. So the more we did it and the more beers we got in our system it was like, this is kind of funny, so we did quite a few takes actually. We had all these different people filming, first we took a take where just one guy from the band was filming and just doing shots of the other guys and then we had our tour manager shooting the whole band. So we did that a few times and then we just let it rest and sort of forgot about it.
Then we got back home from the Slayer tour and we were like ‘what about that video?’ So we cut it and edited it ourselves and then we just pitched it to Nuclear cos we just thought ‘this is fucking hilarious, you know, we should really do something with it.’ But they didn’t want it. I don’t know why but at the time they just weren’t interested. I don’t know if maybe in their German way they were a bit scared of people not understanding the sense of humour or whatever, but in the end we managed to smuggle it out under extra stuff on Live & Rare Tracks. So yeah, it just goes to show you know, stick to your dreams or whatever (laughs)…
Check out the video itself below: