Meshuggah's Marten Hagstrom: "There’s a lot of shit that we’ve done that I really truly hate!"

But he's not talking about Koloss...

Meshuggah hit our shores this week, doing a five show tour with Lamb of God and aiming to blow our collective minds. I caught up with rhythm guitarist Marten Hagstrom to discuss Koloss, the creative process and preparations for the next album.

The last time we spoke was just before Koloss (2012) was released and the band’s jaunt down for Soundwave; at the time you hadn’t had time to reflect on the album but now it’s been out for a while so what’s your view on it? “I’m really happy with it – we’re really happy with the way it came out and how it translates into the live scene. When you get an album out and you think ‘Oh, this is probably pretty good’ and then you look back on it and realise how close you were to hitting the mark that you were setting for it, like what you wanted the album to be, and for this album I actually think we got the closest we ever did so we’re still feeling really good about it.”

I ask if he feels the band will ever be able to perfectly capture what they’re setting out to do? I get a succinct and simple “No.” before he adds “I think that’s an illusion. It’s all about trying and the journey to accomplish that kind of thing but we’re never going to get it 100% - that’s kind of the death of creativity as well – to be a 100% satisfied with what you’ve been doing.” He continues “And what you feel is really perfect at the moment might not be so in five years down the road so it’s all a constant process of trying to evolve and come up with things. I think being in a band for this long, it’s also about how the band goes through different moods and what life does to you and every album becomes like a fingerprint of where we were at, at that time. What we focussed on with Koloss may not necessarily be what we want to focus on musically today, which I think is a good thing. When you’ve been around for a long time and have released a lot of albums, it’s a great opportunity for you to express different parts of yourself.”

You’ve been in the band for over 20 years so what’s your reaction to music that you wrote 10 or 15 years ago? He’s honest enough to note that “I try not to listen to our old stuff at all unless a song’s being proposed as part of a set list; it’s like water under the bridge – you can’t do anything about it – it is what it is and you have to live with it. But yeah, for sure; sometimes somebody plays you an old song and you just go ‘What the fuck were we thinking?!’ but at the same time you’ve gotta realise that the reason we did those songs, that today we might see as a big mistake, is actually still a part of our identity and maybe some of our mistakes are what initaillay attracted some people to us. You never know. So you can’t second guess stuff you already did but from the point, as a matter of musical taste, there’s a lot of shit that we’ve done that I really truly hate! But I also understand why we did it that way at that time – why it made sense to us to do it that way, back then, maybe in a manner that we would never, ever do today – but you just have to accept that some stuff that attracts you as a young musician coming up may not be as exciting when you’re 42, you know? And vice versa…”

You can almost apply that attitude to life. “Exactly! Most of the things that you think you’re in control of in life are actually things that are happening and you adjust to them then you look back in retrospect and it looks like you had a plan.” He cites the ups and downs of life as major influences on the band’s (and his) musical development.

I ask if there is any truth to the rumour that he and drummer Tomas Haake having been playing together since they were 9 years old, to which he says “Actually I’ve known him since I was five or six and I think we started trying to have a band when we were ten or eleven maybe?” So what were you playing? “I don’t know? Crap?! None of us could play; we were just sitting in his parents’ basement – he had a couple of drums to bang on and I had this really shitty guitar and amp,” and he recalls how bad they were initially: “We just went down there and banged away and shit until we started to sound kind of cool. But I think that was a really good thing for us, to start that way, because that actually made us create music from the get-go, even though it really sucked and probably sounded awful, from the get-go we actually tried to create, and that was the first thing we tried to do when we had instruments – not to play someone else’s songs. And I think that might have been a good starting point even though we obviously started playing cover songs later to get our skills. But the approach was always to do something of our own, even when we were 11, you know? Me and Tomas go back a long time creatively and as friends. He’s more family to me than most of my family. ”

He credits the majority of Meshuggah’s lyrics to Tomas, stating “There’s a good reason for that; he’s the one who likes to work a way with words, to sit down by the computer and actually play around and toy with the words – I used to do that when I was younger but now I write lyrics when an idea strikes me – it’s the same with music or riffs; when they come to me and I think ‘Ooh man! That’s really cool!’ I just have to go away and write down the lyrics or record the riff or whatever it might be. So we have a little bit of a different approach. He’s working way more at it than I am – I’m just waiting for somebody to come and point to the cosmos and say ‘Hey guy! Get off your lazy ass and write a lyric, man! This is a cool topic – come on!’…”

Regarding the Australian tour, Marten tells me that they’ll be flying in a few days before the tour starts “to try and get our bearings” and he notes from experience (this is the band’s fourth time here) that “if we aim to deliver then we need to have a day just chilling at the hotel before we go up on stage because it’s quite a jog to go down there, and it’s only when you’re hitting Perth by the end of the tour that you feel that you’re getting into the rhythm of things.” He bemoans the evil influence of jet-lag but says it won’t stop them.

He’s in agreement when I mention that (thankfully) the tour isn’t in the middle of summer: “We’re looking forward to it because the last two times we’ve been down under it’s been for Soundwave and for a Swedish dude it’s excruciatingly painful to do that! To play in the middle of the day or afternoon! But the experience live is so good that it doesn’t matter – you don’t think about it that much – but coming down and actually being able to play clubs when you guys have spring time; that’s gonna be a treat.”

Are you looking forward to touring with Lamb of God? “Definitely. They’ve been around for a long while and they’re really cool dudes. Finally we got it locked in together and it’s a nice country to be in so we’re looking forward to it.”

Meshuggah tend to put out an album every three or four years, so have you started working on the next one yet? “We never write on the road, I mean, there’s the odd riff here and there that might trickle through but we’ve always felt that we work best when we focus on a tour while we’re touring and then you cut that part off, you take that out of the equation and you just burrow in and you’re just in a little bubble of your own and you just focus on the creative process.” He points out that they’ve tried a few times to record on the road but it “never turned out good for us and it really did make things take longer so we need to do it that way. So what happens now is we’re gonna finish off the Koloss touring in late November in India and then we’re gonna start writing new stuff and we’ll be doing that for two years.”
So what will the next album hold? He laughs, adding “I don’t have a clue, dude! It’s gonna be as interesting for us, I guess, as it will be for you and the rest of our fans. It’s always a ride and always a process filled with a lot of anxiety and a lot of fun and a lot of exploration, and when you’ve been touring for a while it’s always really nice to see that the writing process is coming up because it’s what you started out doing, it’s why you started playing music; to write stuff.”

Meshuggah, on tour this bloody week!