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Life in the ChaosphereóKNAC.COMíS Exclusive Interview with Tomas Haake of Meshuggah

By Jeff Kerby, Contributor
Monday, December 2, 2002 @ 11:22 AM

Jeff Kerby at it Again!

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Any sunburned, joint-toking metalhead who attended one of Meshuggahís pummeling sets during this summerís Ozzfest can attest to the obvious fact that these musicians from Sweden play a complex form of music that most other bands just arenít capable of duplicating. The time changes are other worldly, and their lyrics are given more to creating images and conveying emotion than they are about telling the traditional stories about fishnet sporting bitches or parties that last into the early morning. Formed in 1987, Meshuggah has been producing their own version of death metal for about fifteen years now during which time they have produced six albums and three EPís. Although the groupís newest endeavor entitled Nothing possesses the usual stellar musicianship, it has nevertheless still garnered the band mixed reviews from their fans. While some listeners see the disc as a more melodic departure from such group classics as Destroy, Erase, Improve and Chaosphere, others realize that musical departures can also be seen as a sign of a bandís growth.

When Jack Osbourne blasted Meshuggah through the speakers in his room earlier this year in an attempt to seek voluminous vengeance on his hated neighbors, the group suddenly found themselves receiving attention from the media in this country at an unprecedented rate. Although fifteen seconds on ďThe OsbournesĒ might not translate into multi-platinum sales, Meshuggah certainly hasnít had any trouble selling albums either as can be attested to by their latest release debuting in Billboardís Top 200 last summer. For a band whose music is as challenging as Meshuggahís certainly is and with only small label backing to support them, this was doubtlessly a surprising feat. The group has most recently been touring this country in support of Tool in a high profile opening slot which has the potential to make almost any musician look diminutive in comparison, however, Meshuggah has proven over the course of numerous shows to be a more than adequate support act for a headliner who is nonpareil in the execution of its performances. Of course, the backbone of Meshuggahís intricate attack is drummer Tomas Haake who recently sat down to discuss the bandís past, present and future in metal.

KNAC.COM: Is it a huge consideration for you to have Meshuggah garner vast commercial success in the United States?

TOMAS: Well, not really. Thatís never been one of our goalsóif it was, we probably would have put this band on the shelf a long time ago. I mean, weíve been playing together for like a decade now. Itís kind of a goal, but itís definitely not a necessity.

KNAC.COM: Considering that many people still consider Meshuggah an underground band, was it strange playing at Ozzfest due to the amount of people who attend?

TOMAS: It wasnít exactly strange because the people really got into our music and found it refreshing. We were pretty different from many of the other bands on that tour. A lot of the other bands were more of a jump up and down style of music. No, Iíd say we felt really comfortable with it, and the fans got into it.

KNAC.COM: Did you like playing the second stage because itís a more intimate setting?

TOMAS: Yeah, Iíd much rather play there than the main stage.

KNAC.COM: Meshuggahís musicianship is widely known throughout the world of metal and has been noted by the likes of Tool and Slayer. Does that mean more to a band that isnít as concerned with widespread album sales?

TOMAS: Itís definitely important. You still need confirmation as to why youíre doing itóitís like that calling to you. I think every band likes it to some extent. You like to hear good things from guys like Tool who are huge, you know? But even just to hear it from the guy on the street corner selling newspapers who maybe just went to a show is great too. Itís the same type of thing. I think most bands would say thatóeven big ones.

KNAC.COM: Do you like playing for Toolís audience more than say the fans of another group?

TOMAS: Yeah, Tool fans tend to be kinda open minded---.

KNAC.COM: Do you think theyíre looking for something different?

TOMAS: Yeah, maybe. They seem to cross quite well, but some shows are kinda lame, but usually itís a good response.

KNAC.COM: Fans expect a certain amount of complex time changes in your music, and I was looking on the Internet last week and discovered some guyís thesis which centered on your music. Do you think thatís strange? For example, I donít see too many people posting lengthily dissertations on Winger.

TOMAS: I guess itís not too strange because itís not really a familiar way of writing music to most people, so people seem to think itís odd. I guess thatís why they would be interested in that way.

KNAC.COM: Do you think they read too much into specific aspects of the music either lyrically or instrumentally?

TOMAS: Yeah, maybe. Sometimes we donít even know theoretically exactly what weíre writing about. Weíre not really schooled musicians in that way, and it isnít really the point. We donít really have a clue as to what theyíre writing about us most of the time either, and I donít mean I donít careóI mean if they like to listen to it, we just donít really see the point in over analyzing it. The funny part of it is that the people who do this are usually wrong.

KNAC.COM: Is it hard to get lyrics that match this type of music?

TOMAS: Yeah, sometimes itís really hard. The first thing we do when we have the song finished is sit down and put like where the actual words and syllables on the vocals should be. We donít want to make it too complexówe try to keep it as straight as possible while still accenting some parts, so it can be pretty tough work.

KNAC.COM: Is it the objective of the band to create emotional responses and feelings in your songs rather than engaging in linear type storytelling? How hard is it to string visual images together in an attempt in invoke an overall feeling?

TOMAS: Thatís definitely our goal. To us it brings out what we are trying to get across through our music. Whether we feel the vibe or not, weíre trying to play something really difficult. The whole idea is to create whatever sounds good or fresh to us right now. If people like it, they generally pick up on the vibe.

KNAC.COM: Does it seem like you write more about internal issues rather than external influences?

TOMAS: Yeah, weíre trying to do more and more of that actually. Itís still in the background of some songs, but overall, itís definitely more in the singular.

KNAC.COM: What leads you to that change?

TOMAS: I donít know. Itís just more interesting to me. In some ways itís easier to find topics.

KNAC.COM: Does it bother you if people label your music as death metal? Do you see your music as being a lot more than that?

TOMAS: No. I donít necessarily see it as being more---death metal is ok. Itís just when they try to label us as ďmath metalĒ or ďcyber thrashĒ thatís when it gets strange. I can relate though if people want to classify us as death metal. Itís really hard too because people ask you to label yourself.

KNAC.COM: Do you constantly feel the pressure from your record company to categorize your music so that they can market their product to a particular niche in the industry?

TOMAS: Not recently, but in the early years it was kind of like that. They were having trouble figuring out how they were going to promote us. It was harder, I guess to kind of explain our music in a few simple words. You know, it was a bit like that.

KNAC.COM: Is it easier or harder to be on an independent label? Iím sure there has to be a certain trade off between money and artistic freedom.

TOMAS: Yeah, I mean we pretty much have the freedom to tour when we want to tour and record when we want to record.

KNAC.COM: Was having your album debut in the Billboard Top 200 anything you could have expected?

TOMAS: Not really. We definitely didnít expect that. Even though we feel that we are growing in the US, this music is still challenging and complex for the listener.

KNAC.COM: I guess Jack Osbourne is a supposed to be a big fan of yours. Did you have any contact with him during Ozzfest?

TOMAS: No, not really. If heís a fan of the band, thatís cool, but I think the whole thing got blown kind of out of proportion. I think they used like four seconds of one of our songs in their show or something.

KNAC.COM: You said that Meshuggah was a bit of an outcast musically when you were on that tour, how hard was it to live day in and day out with the other groups? Did you interact a lot with the other bands?

TOMAS: Yeah, for sure.

KNAC.COM: Who did you hang out with?

TOMAS: Mushroomhead and Hatebreed---Down to a certain extent too. We didnít really even care what type of band the people were inóit was like great guys are great guysóand the rest didnít matter. We donít care what kind of music they play, thatís two different things.

KNAC.COM: How hard was it for you with all of the parties going on to stay on top of your game musically? I know that you donít like to drink before your shows. TOMAS: I donít drink the day before a show. I may drink a little bit the day of the show--afterwards, of course---but I just try not to get too hammered. I guess thatís easier for me than it is for the other guys though. To be honest, to be able to stay on top of things, we should slow down.

KNAC.COM: Did it take you a few shows to learn your lesson back in the beginning?

TOMAS: We did a whole tour that was a test as to what we could do when we were all fucked upÖand we couldnít do shit.

KNAC.COM: But did you think you were doing well at the time?

TOMAS: Yeah, but I heard recordings later, and it was like kindergarten.

KNAC.COM: Has it mostly just been a progression of getting to the point of being wise enough to handle it?

TOMAS: Yeah, at least for me itís like that. I have to always be conscious of what Iím doing. If I drink like six beers, I figure thatís enough. I try not to just lose itóat least not the night before a show.

KNAC.COM: Is there more pressure being on a bill with a band as precise as Tool?

TOMAS: There probably should be, but there hasnít been so far. We have some good shows and bad shows just like any other tour.

KNAC.COM: How were American bands an influence? I know that Metallica was big for you. Is there anyone else that you can cite as having been an inspiration?

TOMAS: There were lots of bands that we grew up with like Anthrax who were influential to an extent. Others were bands like Metal Church and old Slayer as well as some progressive bands like Rush. The early years were really a mishmash of influences. Nowadays, we deliberately try not to listen to other metal as an influence so that we wonít be too derivative. Especially on this album.

KNAC.COM: This one is quite a bit different too. Have you found critics or fans having difficulty accepting the alteration to the sound?

TOMAS: Yeah, thereís been some of that, but it has been expected too. We have always strove to make each album a little bit different. You know, but there are some die-hard fans out there of Chaosphere or some of the other material who may find the changes a bit challenging.

KNAC.COM: In the end, does it matter?

TOMAS: Not to us, and I donít think it does on a sales scale or a popularity scale either. We just try to do what feels true to us.

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