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Candlemass - (Lars Johansson) A left hand solution - February 2003


Yes, yes, you get warned all over about people, in this case people from the north of Sweden, where allegedly three words in a row are a lot. Now either the gentlemen Johansson and Lindh have been living in Stockholm for too long, are completely unusual or this theory about folks from northern Sweden is complete crap, because also lead guitarist Lasse Johansson was like a lively well of information for us...

Hello, I'm Lars from Sweden, I am searching for Alex and/or Val...

Alex: You have found both of us!
Val: Hi!

(relieved) I have found BOTH of you!

Alex: The reason why you could not reach us by phone before was because of your colleague...
Val: We were doing the interview with Mappe the first time you called...

Ah, you were talking with the wall of China, as they call him. It's a fact that he is so damn long that "Scream" magazine has baptised him "The Wall of China". (laughs)

Alex: Where are you calling from?

Stockholm.

Alex: You originally are from there, too? I've read that Janne is from the far north, from Älvsbyn...

No, I actually am from even higher north, from a town called Bodén. It's freezing cold up there, so I'm glad that I made it to Stockholm in 1984 already. Janne still has his family up there.

Alex: The northernmost I've been was Bollnäs... In December...

Oh, that's bad enough. I would rather go to Spain (laughs)

Alex: Well, I visited a friend, so I had a good reason, hehe.

Well, it was more a climate thing, you know? (laughs)

Alex: Now that CANDLEMASS are fully back in action, for roundabout a year now...

Yes, isn't it kinda weird? (laughs)

Alex: ...so how does it feel to be back again?

Well, at the start it was kinda confusing, everybody has been kind of busy with their own musical projects, but for some reason I don't know how to put it, but it is this kind of weird chemistry that worked again when we finally came together, plugged our Marshall Amps and Messiah goes into the front to the microphone, so we were like "There you go!" and when we then had everything shut off again, hanging out together after the rehearsal, you know how it is, you don't have your uniform on all the time, so it was very cool and relaxed. It's hard to explain though, I was very glad, because when we rehearsed in the first time, it was more than a year ago, it felt as if we had been off for, like, three weeks. So Goddamn it, it all came together again, even a bit more slower, because everybody was so very focused at that time. Everybody was actually quite anxious to hear, can we actually make it as a band, playing "Solitude" and it all and damn it, it worked, so why shouldn't we make anything from it. And then we got good response from the gig we made in Sweden, the Lucia gig on December 13th last year, where we played six songs for about half an hour, people went crazy and we thought why we should not try out some festivals and remaster the old albums, that would be some nice little promotion and everybody seemed to have a good time at that moment, so we thought that we would be stupid enough not to try it. And it went far beyond our expectations. Everybody we saw many new fans, younger people, 18 or 20 years old, who at our beginnings in the middle Eighties had been like 4 or 5 years (laughs) and they were into the music and you could see the fathers in the audience as well (laughs), that was something interesting to see...

Alex: That must be something pretty cool to see the whole family coming there...

(laughs) Yes, as a family reunion... (laughs) And we also tried to be as focused as possible and play the songs as exact as we could, actually I personally think that it sounded a bit better even than in the Eighties, that was in the Thrash Metal heyday, you know what I mean? Everybody was into this tucka-tucka-tucka-tucka. Still some of the good ones have survived through the dry times, but that was very much what the Metal scene then was. And then CANDLEMASS came and we were very slow at that time. So the fans looked at themselves and thought that that was something very different. Now these days, where the music is all around, it all is very heavy, I mean, PANTERA is in every living room (laughs), almost. MACHINE HEAD and all these heavy bands, everything is very heavy. Now CANDLEMASS come back and play these heavy songs and some of those bands, I've actually read some interviews, I can't remember the bands anymore, some of them mentioned that they liked CANDLEMASS and we went like "What the fuck! I didn't know that this or that guy, who did that good music actually had a little twist and liked CANDLEMASS as well!" Maybe we inspired that guy...

Alex: Maybe you didn't do everything wrong...

No (laughs hard), something turned out right (laughs)...

Gabe: How does the band feel jamming together again after all this time? Is it different now that you're "older"? Do you feel like the band still has the same power as it did back in the late 80s?

Well, it's like this that if we had any arguments in the old days, they are totally forgotten now, then we also have been travelling like a big family almost, I always bring my wife with me, our drummer has his sons, you don't miss anything. When you are out on tour for three months, you miss home, even though it's fun to play, you get homesick. If you bring some parts of your home with you, then it'll be like a great event, something that you enjoy together, like something that you can talk about when you get really old (laughs).

Gabe: How is the new CANDLEMASS material sounding so far?

Well, that's interesting, because we had a meeting in September that we would be kind of stupid not to try it, because we had really good reviews and we also were really good between us, so we should be able to come up with something good. I mean, the pressure is really big, it has to be better music and the producer has to do some really good work to make it sound up to date with the sound that is expected of a CD these days, it's some kind of Michael Jackson complex (laughs), it all has to be better and better and better (laughs). Leif has presented some songs in the rehearsal and it sounds really good.

Gabe: Any particular album in your back-catalogue that it has some similarities to?

Well, you have this trilogy to fight with really, "Nightfall", "Ancient Dreams" and "Tales Of Creation", we shouldn't forget them, because of the production, there is a real cult around those albums, so we have to make it as heavy, you have to put this mood feeling into the songs, the sound, it has to be depressed and really heavy and slow and I think that what I have heard from Leif so far is really good material to work with. Well, I'm not really worried, it is always like good wine, so we plan to go into the studio at the end of January or so. And then it should be a month or something and I think the soup is done (laughs).

Hawk: So how do you deal with the expectations of fans and press concerning a or rather the new album? You had said that you are not worried about it, but don't you also feel a certain expectation, a certain pressure?

Yes, that was what I was trying to say with the thing that the music has to be as interesting as it was in the Eighties when it came out, with that twentieth century flavour now, it has to be doomy, but it also has to have this little edge that we put on when we were mastering the albums, we really have to take that, the touch that brings the fan into the Eighties, those 1000% of dynamite, if you understand what I'm saying, and still have that melodic thing going that puts you into different moods. That's also something, when you've been recording it all, you go "ah, this is ten good songs" or something, and then when it was done with the remastering and all, it still was good songs, but they sounded completely different. All to the better, of course. It was a really interesting experience.

Alex: While doing the DVD, what was it like to see the recordings from all those years back?

Unbelievable. The first DVD is the concert from 1990, from the double live album, I had never seen it. The films were locked in a locker in America at Metal Blade Records, because something went wrong at the time that is not interesting now, but it went up to the attic and was forgotten, They had a really, really heavy job to put it all together, you know? It was analogue tapes and ten years of dust and age, so they have had a very exhausting job to get it all together again, it has resulted in a really interesting video and the sound, if you have a home system with a really good sub woofer and all that shit, sounds like you are actually in the middle of the concert, if you shut your eyes and have it loud enough that you don't hear the telephone (laughs), then it really sounds as if you are right in the middle. (laughs)

Alex: Which expectations do you have for the DVD?

Actually my first reaction was that I was glad that it came out when I saw that it had that good sound. And the second CD with Sweden Rock, our first big gig again, just as well as the stuff from 1987, it was like a time machine (laughs), it was "Oh damn, did we really play THIS song"? I mean, the sound is not perfect, but it really is good enough that we can say "Oh God, I don't remember that!" (laughs) I said to Leif and Mappe "Did you remember that? I didn't!" and stuff like that. It was a very nostalgic trip after such a long time in the band...

Alex: Must have been really interesting to see all that stuff again...

Yeah, yeah, and that's the fun thing, at least one of us almost always had a video camera, there is so much fun material, we can make 10 DVDs or what, with all behind the scenes, but I mean, it would be too much, there must be enough portions to make it interesting, so we'll keep that in a vault for a while (laughs).

Thomas: How did you like the show in Wacken (2002)? Isn't that tough to play your style in an open-air festival?

I was kind of nervous, the first gig that we played in April, that we played in Greece, when we started out, that's an audience that is fantastic, they treat you like fucking gods, it's not that they come out and go crazy like you were the BEATLES, but they let you keep your privacy, yet they really love the music, are very into it and that was like playing poker with a good hand. You were nervous, but you already knew beforehand that it if you did a good gig, they would give you the same response as back in the Eighties and then it would just work as fine. And with that in the backbone we did the Sweden Rock here in June and it was just amazing. That also showed us that it seemed to work out fine (laughs). So we went like "ok, that was good, was next", which then was Balingen, "Bang Your Head" and that was just amazing, even though they lost my guitars in the traffic, I think they went to Tokyo or something. We had to change dates, there was a fantastic band from America, TITANIC TRUTH, I think they were...

Alex: TITAN FORCE

Oh! (slap to the head) God forgive me! They're wonderful guys. They were actually having breakfast when they came and asked, if they could swap with CANDLEMASS and they went "Yeah, but let me finish my fucking coffee" (laughs hard). There was no problem with that.
That was a fantastic festival, the whole thing, the build up around it, the catering, everybody was nice, no big headed assholes as you maybe meet sometimes here and there. It was nice and the weather was nice. A nice stage and the audience liked the gig and it was like "Yeeesssss!! Oh Goddamn, how many people!" Damn, I was so nervous that I actually did the drumcheck for our drummer, because he wasn't there yet. It was so weird, then they came and said "you are on in 10 minutes" and we were "What the fuck are you talking about?" The intro was already playing, so we were "ok, this is Wacken, there are so many people that I cannot see their faces". But it turned out quite well as well, we had a fantastic soundman and the audience seemed to like it, with so few minutes on your back, you are getting so stressed, but still it was cool.

Alex: Do you still remember Bruder Cle in his monk's robe and his "Cross of Doom"?

Oh yesss!!! He was walking around only smiling... (laughs hard) I met a lot of funny guys, but that was really fantastic. On the first day I was really nervous that my guitars would not show up, I am lefthanded, you must know, so it was very difficult to find a guitar for a lefthander, but there are so many less guitars to chose from, my guitars have their own pick up sound channel, the whammy bar, so that I can play with them really rough for two hours without losing any tune. I don't have to change guitar every two or three songs. If I lose that, it's very hard to keep up with that.

Alex: So it is all custom made stuff?

No, not actually custom made, but everything chosen, from what I know will hold through the whole concert. You can even drop it to the floor and it won't even lose tune at all. If the wood doesn't crack, that is. I'm not that violent, though.

Alex: So you do not go THE WHO with them?

No, no, I cannot afford that kind of behaviour (laughs). That is a very expensive and dangerous thing. If you do that once, then people start to expect it from you every time and that would cost you a fortune. If I was right handed it would not be that big of a problem, there always is a quite good assortment of good righthanded guitars in music shops, so you can get a hold of something. So that freaked me out quite a bit in Balingen, but I still had a REALLY good time. It was a very nice little town, with nice cafes and that, we've been walking around, had a good time, the sun was shining (laughs).

Haavard: Do you feel any different playing live in Scandinavia than to play around other places in Europe? It might be just me that seems the band has a extra energy when coming back in their own region...

Well, actually no, because playing in front of 300 people is more intimate, something very close, while playing in front of 10.000 people gives me the same satisfaction, because you always have to do your best, no matter what, you always have to show the people that came that you want to do this for them, because they came to see them. If I put out a certain amount of albums, then hopefully they will give you the same back. Of course there are more butterflies in the stomach when you play, for example, in Wacken than in a small club in London with 300 people. But once you are done with the second or third song, then that is all behind you, then you are like a freight train. That's the way I can explain things. I never drink anything other than water before a concert, so I remain focused. What I do after the show, well, then the job is done, so I can have a beer and relax.

Gabe: So do you have any favourite country to perform live in?

Actually everybody has been treating us so well, so I can't really pick out any specific country. If you play, now this is only an example, if you play in Greece, the people don't see so much of the Metal scene as people in Germany or England or generally the middle of Europe, they are hungry, so they will you treat you with a different kind of respect and you can meet fans that know from interviews the size of your shoes and all, it's interesting. So I don't know, everybody as been so nice, the people, the audience, the press, everybody who we've met on the road, it's unbelievable. In the beginning we had figured that we'd only have the old farts coming back, having reached the Fifties soon, but it was not that bad (laughs).

Alex: How far off the 50s are you yourself?

Actually I was 40 in August, we played live at the Rockefeller Club in Oslo and the whole audience sang for me (laughs). The whole band gave me a big frame with an old picture of me and more stuff. We still had five songs left and they all suddenly started to sing for me (laughs). It was unbelievable. I was only bowing and thanking, thanking, thanking you soooo very much, that definitively was a memory for lifetime.

Alex: Could you give us a few words on each of the albums, how you saw them back then and how you see them now?

At the beginning you are in the middle of it, when you are recording it, you have to tour, you are so focussed into what you are doing, maybe the long rest of 10 years did something that when I now listen to it, it is like "oh, I have this old thing here" and "oh, that is good!", this is working and all that. When you are together with some friends and have some drinks, then you play the album and tell them to listen to their friend and there we go. But now the music scene has also changed so much in style and all that, so it almost seems like CANDLEMASS works a little better now than then. So therefore when you listen to modern music you have kind of a distance to what you have been doing. Sometimes you listen to it, because you otherwise almost forget that you had been playing on that album and it's like "that is a fucking good song there". Oh damn, that's me playing on that one, it's like a total revival for all of us.

Haavard: So do you have a favourite CANDLEMASS album yourself and why?

I really always have favoured the double live album, because at an age of 16 or 17 when I bought a double live album of URIAH HEEP, maybe RUSH, with dozens of pictures, you can see so many guitars, the people, the drums, the hair, the amps, it's like a boy's dream. And then we recorded a double live album ourselves, with so many pictures, I was on the picture, another boy's dream. Therefore, and we also played quite well on that album.

Haavard: How do you prefer to see a CANDLEMASS album ? Do you prefer to see it on vinyl or CD?

Well, you can put more music on a CD, of course, actually, maybe a little better sound even, but you get such a small package. If you wanna see some pictures, you end up with so small a booklet, which will be looking like shit when you are continuously flipping to it from the top to the bottom and back again (laughs) instead of the thing that came with the old vinyl albums, it was like reading a book when you were checking out the music. Nowadays you have like a fucking puzzle (laughs), some bands have a big sheet from the beginning and then it all has to be put together in that little thing, so that you have to put it all together again...

Alex: That's the map effect...

(Relieved) The map-effect. Yes, that's the word I've been looking for, thank you! (imaginary bow)

Alex: You both had not been part of CANDLEMASS for "Dactylis Glomerata" and "From The 13th Sun".

No, because that was something Leif did after ABSTRAKT ALGEBRA.

Alex: What is your opinion about these two albums?

Well, actually it has to be a thing for Leif, because he recorded the ABSTRAKT ALGEBRA when CANDLEMASS had split it is a good album, no doubt about that. Then he with musicians from ABSTRAKT ALGEBRA he recorded two albums as CANDLEMASS, but some people like them and some people don't. I've got no problem with that, I think there are a couple of good songs on them. It is the same thing with every band, as soon as they change vocalist or maybe change other parts in the band that may sound important for the sound. As an example let's take Mappe, he has a really massive guitar sound, he's like a fucking motor, you can always lean on him when you're playing. There would be no hesitation there. Also as lead guitarist you have to put your personal twist into it and the fans have found their favourite sound in the band. So with that change, it does not necessarily have to turn out something bad, but it is just something different. And when we changed with "Chapter VI" that came out after the double live with a different vocalist, Thomas Vikström, he's a good vocalist, but it was not what most fans were expecting. Because he has a different voice, he wasn't Messiah, he didn't have this charismatic effect that Messiah gave to the audience, so they were expecting that. So that was CANDLEMASS, but another kind of CANDLEMASS. That's also the way that I see "From The 13th Sun" and "Dactylis Glomerata". They have good music, Leif can call it CANDLEMASS, I have no problem with that, some people like it in a way that it is a different kind of CANDLEMASS.

Alex: And what were you up to in the mean time? I know of ZOIC...

Yes, that was so weird. We released it with Soundoholic in Japan and the very same week they went bankrupt or something. The bailing man took hold of the whole company. I can see the album on auction for 20 Dollars or more, after that I made another little project called TARMAC, unfortunately there was another French band called TARMAC, so we renamed the band to CREOZOTH. Have you seen Monty Python? You know the guy who eats until he explodes, that's the very name. We just took a "z" instead of the "s" and an "h" at the end. This is kind of like a work shed, we kind hold it together, me and Jan, we've had this project for other musical ideas, not as doomy, just Heavy Metal, definitely, but a different kind. The leftovers that come to my head and have been presented to Leif that he might want to add to the new album. I play the kind of music you know about, but I listen to everything. If you hear that the musician believes in what he is doing, then it touches you and then you think it is good. Then it does not matter what kind of thing, it's a mood thing (laughs).

Alex: But to shortly come back to ZOIC, you had been in the band VENI DOMINE-singer Fredrik Olsson...

Yes, it's a very, very nice guy, a friend of mine.

Alex: So do VENI DOMINE still exist?

Oh yes, yes, they have released an album a year ago, I think they're trying to release another one.

Alex: Oh, after their third album you didn't hear ANYthing of them anymore...

Yes, well, they are an excellent example for a band that suffers from the problem that Heavy Metal is not such a big scene. If you want to sing about Jesus, it is very hard to be accepted in your own homeyard, then it's hard to get an audience among yourselves. There are a lot of Christian Rock-bands, but it is a very narrow stream. But to come back to VENI DOMINE, they are very good and the guitarist is very good, too, he's another friend of mine, we meet at least once a week and the vocalist works about 500 metres away from where I work (laughs). But they are working on some good new material.

Alex: And the traditional last question of TMO-interviews: "What is your favourite question about CANDLEMASS that you've never been asked yet, but would finally like to answer?

Oh, man, actually there never had been any questions that anybody has forgotten for some reason. We are a very uncomplicated band, one vocals, no keyboards, everything is simple, the music is heavy, not difficult to get into. People have asked me so many strange questions, so I don't think any has been left out... I once made a terrible mistake, I called somebody a name and it was actually in an interview, hehe...

Discography:

1986: Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (CD, Black Dragon)
1987: Nightfall (CD, Axis)
1988: Ancient Dreams (CD, Active)
1989: Tales Of Creation (CD, Music For Nations)
1990: Live (CD, Music For Nations)
1992: Chapter VI (CD, Music For Nations)
1994: The Best Of Candlemass - As It Is, As It Was (2-CD, Music For Nations)
1998: Dactylis Glomerata (CD, Music For Nations)
1999: From The 13:th Sun (CD, Music For Nations)
2003: Documents Of Doom (2-DVD, Escapi)

Alexander Melzer



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