TARTAREAN DESIRE WEBZINE
This interview with Markus & Nicklas of the Swedish progressive metal band Lithany was done face to face (the first portion) and by e-mail (the latter part) by Maud in March 2006.
In October 2005, in their hometown of Umeå, Sweden, Lithany joined two other local bands, Spinning Black Circle and Coine, along with out-of-town guests Poue, from Piteå, for the inaugural Umeå Underground concert. This was a great, varied rock/metal extravaganza organized by the talented and ambitious bands themselves, and hopefully the first of many UU's to come. During Lithany's set, which featured a wild intro followed by several songs from their self-titled debut album, the stage was far darker than for the other bands appearing that night, the five band members more like flashes of movement than people, and this actually added to the excitement of their energetic and quirky performance. The low lighting level was seemingly the band's choice. Partial illumination is, indeed, Lithany's approach to any presentation of themselves physically or factually. Their album's booklet identifies only the first names of the musicians, not even their instruments. No biography or list of band members currently appears at Lithany's website, and their old (fake) bio was noteworthy more for its (considerable) entertainment value than for its informativeness.
Lithany are much more forthcoming, however, when it comes to talking about their music, a cool technical/progressive metal hybrid evocative of Tool, Meshuggah, and King Crimson. The night after Umeå Underground 2005, guitarist Markus and bassist Nicklas were kind enough to join me for an interview at Kafé Station in Umeå. All too soon, it seemed, the place was ready to close for the night, and there was no way to cover all non-taboo things Lithany before we had to exit (despite being graciously allowed to remain for a short time after the doors were locked). But that simply gave me an excuse to track down Markus again a few months later and finagle a second part for the interview, this time via email. Lithany's first album was released on Discouraged Records in December 2005, and made available through distribution channels in January 2006, and in March 2006 there was an announcement that guitarist Mattias was leaving the band. We therefore had much to discuss, so please read on as, in Parts One and Two, Markus and Nicklas disperse the shadows to offer insights into their music and, to some extent, themselves.
Your bio is a tongue-in-cheek account of how the Dark Lord [Both Markus and Nicklas burst into laughter here.] realized that the "diablos of music were gone" and summoned you to "bring back the essence of music." In addition to this occult origin, you seem to have an interesting relationship with various demons, as your news items detail [more laughter]. Can you give me some information about the nature of your relationship with these demons?
Markus: All of it's pretty much tongue in cheek.
I kind of figured that.
Markus: Lots of the references are to movies that we enjoy. Pazuzu is a demon from the first Exorcist movie, probably the second and third also. And the biography is also just a fun story, a sense of humor. We're not that interested in giving information to people about us as private persons. We think most bands's histories are pretty much similar and not that interesting.
Who is responsible for writing all those news items? Would that be you, Markus?
Markus: Most of the stuff, yeah. The other members sometimes come with ideas or write something, but 95% of it I think is by me.
Well, a lot of personality comes through in those news items, which kind of compensates for . . . [Again Markus and Nicklas burst into laughter.] not having as much biographical information.
What are you trying to achieve with your music? What sort of sound are you creating?
Markus: I think if I just speak for myself, it's really fun; I want to entertain myself and just do music that somehow combines influences that I don't hear in other bands.
What are some examples of those influences?
Markus: It's pretty obvious that we like bands like King Crimson, Tool, A Perfect Circle. But we also have those experimental bands like Meshuggah. I really like Dillinger Escape Plan, Fantomas, Mr. Bungle, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, in a way Soundgarden.
Nicklas: The thing about our band is that everyone listens to so much different music, and it's a perfect mix when we write the songs.
Do you write the songs as a group, or is there one principle songwriter?
Nicklas: Most of them Markus writes.
Markus: I have a rough idea of what I want. I usually come in with riffs, maybe some melody ideas. Usually it turns out completely different than what I had expected when we rehearse it together. I don't think in all the time we've played together have I ever had the finished song.
Nicklas: We arrange it, and Mattias, the other guitarist [now departed], contributes ideas to the song, and I put in my ideas.
Markus: So it's a collaboration, but the basic idea is usually from one or two members who bring it to the others, and we try to make something happen with the song. And if not everyone likes it, we just -
Nicklas: Throw it away.
Markus: Yeah, throw it away [laughing].
Nicklas: We're quite critical. We throw away a lot of stuff.
Markus: I think about 50% of our songs end up in the trash can [laughter].
That's the kind of thing fans hate to hear; they think of all that wasted material.
Markus: Yeah [laughing].
Who writes the lyrics?
Nicklas: The singer--he writes all the lyrics.
I would appreciate getting some information about some of the themes he develops in his lyrics.
Markus: It's a lot of personal stuff.
Nicklas: The things that happen in daily life. And we don't know exactly what he's writing his lyrics about [laughter]. We're most interested in writing the music.
Markus: I think lyrics are really important, and I get a general idea of what he wants to say, but I leave it at that. I don't really appreciate being told what lyrics mean because in some way they lose the mystique. Almost like the lack of information on our website maybe gives us a little mystique. I think a lot of the bands I like I don't have too much information about--even though I think it's frustrating [laughing].
Yeah, I always wonder about that with bands that don't want their pictures shown, etc.: as a music fan, do YOU want to know more about the bands you're into? But I can understand why you want to restrict information. . . . Do you think you might change that attitude at some point, as more people find out about your music? Do you think you might give in to their need for more information?
Markus: Maybe. We are five individuals. I am probably the person who is most against getting known, in a way. I mean, I don't want people to recognize me on the street, stuff like that. This is a hobby, but if Lithany ever gets anywhere, I don't have any need to be
a famous person, so to speak.
[to Nicklas] How do you feel about this?
Nicklas: I feel pretty much the same. If you look at metal bands, the music is less important than . . .
Nicklas: The image. And I think that's sad. 'Cause I play music because I love music. And, I mean, I'm quite not an interesting guy [He and Markus laugh.]; I work as a kindergarten teacher [more laughter].
[to Markus] What kind of day job do you have?
Markus: I am a project administrator. But I am a pretty boring guy who pays the bills and grocery shops and . . .
And makes music.
Markus: Yeah, and makes music, yep.
How would you describe your guitar technique?
Markus: That's a hard question. I don't know if I have any guitar technique whatever to speak of [laughing]. I try to make the best out of it. In a way, a lot of the music we make . . . I mean, everyone's an important part, and my guitar playing isn't any more important than anybody else's contribution. Usually the things we play aren't that complicated, even though a lot of people perceive out music as kind of technical and dense and hard to decipher, but it's more about . . . it's the whole group who makes things look complicated, in a way. We get lots of people who don't really understand how we think or what we're doing, even musicians.
Nicklas: But when we make our music, we try to play over our level.
Nicklas: To get better.
Markus: We always try to push our boundaries. And sometimes, like yesterday [at Umeå Underground 2005] the intro went really haywire. I don't think we had a beat right [laughing]. And all the people thought, wow, that sounds crazy. And . . . yeah, 'cause we don't really understand what happened either [continues laughing].
But you've sort of trained them [the audience] to expect strange things to happen?
Markus: Yeah [laughing].
Well, that's a real advantage--you'll never do anything wrong; it's always on purpose.
Markus: Yeah, exactly [laughing].
You did a live dvd. Is that something that's going to be massly available?
Markus: It's a thing we made only for ourselves and some friends. So there's not a cover or anything. And it's only filmed with a really simple camera, no special sound. But it looks good.
Nicklas: It looks really good.
[At this point we began discussing the anticipated release of Lithany's debut album, which had been finished back in June and was scheduled to be sent off for printing the during the week following Umeå Underground 2005. In addition to a normal desire to see the release of a recording long since finished (and a debut at that), Lithany was also feeling a sense of urgency due, as Markus said, to the fact that "it's easier to play [i.e. book] shows when you have a record released through a record company," adding with a laugh, "even though it's Nicklas' little brother who owns the record company." Nicklas was quick to interject, "it's real small, but it's good."
Sibling loyalty notwithstanding, he's probably right. Although Lithany's album would be only the second release from Discouraged Records, the first being a V/A compilation entitled The Great Northern Conspiracy: Volume One, this independent label has secured distribution within Scandinavia via Sound Pollution, and I'm told that a North American deal is in the works.
With Lithany's album now released, it was time to find out more about their debut, their latest songwriting efforts, and future plans. What follows is Part Two of the the Lithany intervew, in which Markus was kind enough to entertain additional questions via a series of emails.]
During your recording sessions, which songs posed the biggest challenges to get exactly as you wanted them?
"Luther's Whip." Mostly because our vocal ideas didnīt work and we had to re-record and try new stuff. We recorded and mixed the record in 8-9 days, so there wasnīt a lot of time to experiment and that was a little bit of a problem in this case. Musically speaking "Mondegreen" was a challenge and still is in a way. There is a lot of stuff happening and the end part is pretty hard to play correctly.
Did you make many alterations to "Stapes 'n' Incus" and "Devilbox," two of the tracks that appeared on your last demo?
We didnīt change too much. I added a melody on the second verse on "Stapes" and took away a horrible little "solo" or whatever you could call it on "Devilbox." We have played those songs for a long time, so we knew pretty much how we wanted them. Whether the new versions are better than the ones on the demo is another question. I like the energy on the demo but donīt like the performance. Overall I think the new versions sound a lot better.
Can you give me some details about how you create effects--for instance, the sounds we hear at the beginning of "Mondegreen" and the ones that occur at about the 5:30 mark in "Luther's Whip"?
The intro for "Mondegreen" is created by Victor Kvarnhall [of the one-man ambient band Lope]. We gave him some ideas of what kind of sounds we wanted him to create. He hadnīt actually listened to the finished recording before, but knew what kind of music we play. We got a cd of ideas from him and used the parts we enjoyed. The sound you refer to [in "Luther's Whip"] is Nicklas playing bass through a synth pedal. Most of the sounds you hear on the record are bass or guitar; we have a lot of effects we like to play with in the studio and live.
What are your most unusual ways of doing effects? Are there any that you've more or less invented?
Hmm, I donīt think we invented anything or use our effects in any unusual way. We just try to find things that fit the mood of the song. We donīt use effects just for the effect. Most of the stuff we do is made with different effect pedals and in some cases we have used plug-ins in the computer.
In addition to the intro for "Mondegreen," which you mentioned earlier, there are two tracks on your album by Victor Kvarnhall. How did you get the idea to include them, and what makes them important parts of the album? Did he compose these songs specifically for Lithany?
I have known Victor for some time and thought about having something else than our own songs to give the album another feeling and not just pummeling people with heavy riffs. I like an album to be more than just songs and think that Victor's music makes our record more interesting. Yes, the songs are composed for Lithany but some parts have been used in the latest recording of Lope.
How did you find that wild cover art by Pär Olofsson?
He worked in the same house as me and I found our cover art when I was looking through his artwork. I really liked the picture and thought it would be great to use on our first album. (Pär Olofsson's homepage is www.parolofsson.se)
What is the current distribution situation for your album? During our first interview session, in addition to the distribution deal with Sound Pollution, you indicated that negotiations were underway with the Codebreaker label. Have there been any new developments?
Codebreaker showed some interest in our band for awhile, and after that we havenīt heard anything more. I assume they arenīt interested at this moment. But we have sent out a lot of records looking for a deal. Hopefully someone likes our music. It would be really nice to have distribution in the rest of the world. We and Discouraged are working together on the distribution deal, and if someone would be interested in distributing it somewhere outside of Scandinavia weīre interested.
I noticed that "Luther's Whip" has been getting some radio airplay. How extensively has it been broadcast, and do you have plans to release it as a single? Have any other songs gotten airplay?
As far as I know it has been played a couple of times on Swedish radio. We have sent out some records to stations we thought would be interested, and apparently some were. Our songs are pretty long, so there is a limited interest in playing our songs on radio. We donīt have any plans for releasing singles. If so we would probably record some new songs and put out a 3-4 track cd.
Cool! Is there any other Lithany news you'd like to share?
We are currently looking for a replacement for Mattias who, after six years, decided to leave the band. We are discussing taking in a keyboard player instead of a guitarist but that all depends on who are interested and what works for our music. Either way we are going to continue as a band.
It's very good to know that Lithany will carry on. Had you already been thinking about adding a keyboardist before Mattias decided to leave the band? Were there keyboard-produced sounds you would have liked to use on the first album? Is there a song or songs on the debut that you think would have been especially enhanced by keys?
Yes, we have [previously thought about adding a keyboardist]. The problem is that we didnīt want to be a band with six persons in it; there is enough trouble with five people. If you want to rehearse, play live, record and stuff like that, it gets more and more complicated. I, talking for myself, havenīt felt the need of a keyboardist on the record. I canīt speak for the rest of the band in this matter. After Mattias quit we talked about adding a keyboard player instead of another guitarist, and we are right now searching for a new member. It could also be another guitarist. It all depends on who we find. We are keeping all options open and whatever works suits us. Umeå isnīt that big of a town and sometimes it can be hard to find people who want to play similar music.
Have you been working on new material?
We have written five new songs and have a couple more that we are working on. I would like to record another album this autumn but we will see what weīll do. Our debut is still pretty new and we havenīt been playing live supporting it, and that would also be nice. We would like to play outside Sweden and have talked about it but nothing is planned yet.
Are gigs pretty much put on hold until you find a new guitarist or keyboard player, or can your live set be adapted to a one-guitar line-up?
We have talked about playing live just the four of us. That wouldnīt be a problem, but I think some of the songs can sound a little "thin." I mainly play the riffs and some melodies here and there, and Mattias added a lot of the strange sound effects and a couple of solos. Our songs work without this, but there would be some parts that I think
wouldn't sound as good. I think it depends on what kind of gig we would be talking about. We wonīt arrange anything on our own, but if we get an opportunity to play we will consider it. With any luck we will find a new member soon.
About the new songs, can you offer a little preview of what they're like? How much of the new material is contributed by Jakob, your drummer?
Right know he has written one whole song. He has also contributed a lot with riffs and melodies to our other songs, the arrangement and his drumming of course.
When talking about Jakob back in October, Nicklas said, "he's taking us to a higher level. And I think he can come up with some new song ideas." You added that you were working on learning a song written by Jakob, which you described as "a little bit more melody-based," saying it was harder for you to play because of its difference from what you're used to playing.
Jakob is the only one in the band who knows what he is doing in a theoretical way. He has some musical education, and his knowledge makes our rehearsals and writing more effective, at least in my opinion. Jakob likes to write pretty complicated stuff and some of it is more melody-based than our usual stuff. His way of writing is a bit awkward for me to play, probably because he likes unusual chords that, for me at least, are pretty hard to play.
When I write I am always looking for good riffs and a way to piece them together; the melodies and effects are added in a later stage. Nicklas, our bass player, also writes music in a similar style as myself. A lot of the stuff I play is pretty easy; the hard part is all the different time signatures we use. Jakob's ideas are usually hard to play, for me at least, and have a lot of strange time signatures ;-).
Do you think your music has gotten less melody-based over time? The only pre-Devilbox [Lithany's last demo] song I've been able to hear is "Kleines Lager," which seems smoother (but not in a bad way) and more melodic than your later material. Or is "Kleines Lager" somewhat atypical of what you were doing then?
I donīt think our music is less melodic than before; it has gotten harder and, dare I say it, more metal than our old material but not more or less melodic. I think some of the older songs sound like a bad and softer version of Lithany, but that is only my opinion.
Any version of Lithany is pretty damn good, and that's NOT only my opinion ; ). Many thanks to Markus and Nicklas for giving us so many details about past, present, and future incarnations of the band. And thanks also to Kristoffer at Discouraged Records for his helpful information.
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