Meshuggah's Mårten Hagström on 'That Awkward Style of Music'

All we would hear was "stop playing this awkward fucking style of music"

Within the realm of the Swedish born Meshuggah, there are endless possibilities – these djentlemen bend and sculpt and pave their way through a genre that is yet to find its limits; it’s very fabric is stretched to produce time and time again a world class sound; a distinctive sound... The Meshuggah sound. At times the band has professed their ignorance of music theory over the years... Pfft; but I say Meshuggah are rewriting the book on music theory. Reeling in praise from the band’s latest release The Violent Sleep of Reason Mårten Hagström takes Metal As Fuck down the enigmatic rabbit hole of this sound – a trek that requires java it seems. “I’ve only gotten through a couple of interviews so far; I’m still drinking my coffee in the attempt to wake up” Mårten laughs. And who could possibily have coffee without a little Meshuggah....

The Violent Sleep of Reason, congratulations on yet another incredible album, fans are yet to find a flaw. When it came to writing this album, did the band have predictions on the final product – did you have a vision in mind? “A vision, eh, it’s hard as we never really sit down and have a plan on what an album will sound like, it just comes naturally. After writing a few records you start to pick up on certain things and go in certain directions – something that sounds fun and something you want to explore and see where you end up. We had made some decisions on the approach of the album though as we knew how the writing process was going to be set up; it was pretty much how we always do it. We knew that Dick [Lövgren - Bass]and Tomas [Haake – Drums] were going to work well together and in fact this was the first time Dick was involved with the writing process and that was obviously going to introduce something new because this always happens when you throw a new mind into a mix, you know. Then I wrote on my side, headed in my own direction in order for us to make an album we could actually rehearse and record live like we use to do back in the old days – so that kind of altered the entire process because the songs had to be finished earlier than usual, so that changed things up”.

A Meshuggah album is always met with high expectation from fans as the band have continued to sculpt and bend the style of ‘dejent’ – so when it comes to creating combinations within the material; how difficult is this process? “It can be really difficult and it can be fairly easy, I mean for this album and for me personally it was a challenge because I was writing.... I didn’t dislike it, and I hear myself saying this a couple of times now and it sounds as if I’m not a fan of the situation [Laughs] but I was witting for the first time with the songs of the project that I’d heard from Dick and Thomas in mind to create a dynamic so where I felt that something wasn’t there I’d step in and write for the ‘flow’ so I was writing for the flow [Laughs] and this was very cool and is what we eventually strived for in one another, and it was fun – we had fun, going back to some old school ground”. As you mentioned, and it was something that was only just made apparent not that long ago – that the material was in fact recorded live which, as you revealed, something that the band hasn’t done in many years, what was behind this decision – was it to achieve a more natural sound? “Two reasons – one, we knew the way we wrote this that it would be helpful for the expressions of the songs that they were really, truly rooted in our system when we recorded it. Second of all, yes we wanted to get back to a place where we allowed more energy back into what we were doing. Energy that we hold as a band live, when everyone is focusing at the same time – that makes a massive difference. Also the way we composed the album, we wanted to work in a place we hadn’t worked before – a new studio, a new mixing engineer and we went for 3 weeks nonstop – solidly rehearsed and put down a really cool album. The process we had worked in the respect that, I mean for some reason we anticipated that it’s not good for a band like us to sit on what we usually do, so it was a lot of stirring things up and changing the pace”.

Meshuggah continue to smash the boundaries that we; the fans, consider limitations of the genre – in saying this, does the band have limitations? “Yeah, of course. [lowers voice] I mean we’ve got plenty of limitations. I would say that there are always things that you want to do within the band that are not (for totally different reasons sometimes) musically doable. The trick is to be experimental and forward thinking enough to know where it’s feasible to take the style that you’re confined within..... [Laughs] was that good? [Laughs] You know what I mean – you have a certain sound you are trusted to use and there are limits as to what you can do within that sound but the band itself; within that realm there is endless possibilities”.

Now the change in the ‘guitar sound philosophy’ – it has been mentioned by the band that you wanted to ‘de-machine’ certain aspects of the Meshuggah sound, can you take us through this? “The latest real revolution that we had was to go back to a time where you would go pick up a couple of amps that sounded really good, you’d put them in the studio – you had that one you really trusted but you wanted to try out another to blend in. You’d set them up and crank them through some cool cabs.... The old school way of recording metal guitar – so that’s what we did. We took a bunch of heads and cabs with us down to Puk Studios and cranked them and tried them out. For this album that was the biggest thing. There is also more separation between the bass and the guitars this time around, actually more than ever really. And there is something to be said about getting back to a time when you were younger, a time you were accustomed to, it spikes the passion again”. As you mentioned previously, Dick’s involvement throughout the writing of the album added a whole new dimension, so what elements did he add that enhanced The Violent Sleep of Reason? “Quite a lot, though now I’m trying to speak of things I really don’t know [Laughs] because since we deliberately sat separately for one another; a process in which you would lock yourself away for hours and only come out when you had something – Tomas and I have collaborated in the past and I would work with his drum skeleton; we’d make sense of what was going on and translate it into a riff whereas Dick differs a bit is with tonality and goes places sometimes where we haven’t gone before as far as laying down harmonies”. Well here’s one you will be able to answer on your own behalf – now you have all definitely developed your craft and aptitudes over the years as musicians being a part of the band, so what personal goals or milestones have you achieved in your career? “Woah [exhales] that’s a tough one.... I’m stupid enough to always think that the best is yet to come [Laughs] I don’t know why, I think we’re going to go off and do more cooler stuff and its gonna get better [Laughs] There is one thing, it’s not a milestone – like it’s easy to just point to stuff that’s happened like I’ve had moments where I was thinking, shit, this is pretty cool, like when we opened for Metallicaok, these guys are one of the reasons we started the band in the first place, so this is pretty cool. Stuff like that – there has been plenty of but that isn’t a milestone or an achievement in my mind. If there is something that has made a difference and the reason why we still stick around and feel proud of what we’re doing, is because we’ve kept at what we’re doing – we’re stubborn. When we started out everybody told us; stop playing this awkward fucking style of music - yeah man. Up until Nothing.... It’s not like we didn’t have fans back in the day we just stopped getting pushes from other labels. All we’d hear from the business, some industry folk, even other bands ‘you guys can play, why don’t you play sensible music’ I’m glad we’ve been stubborn and stuck to our guns. The accomplishment is the longevity”.

The term ‘technical’ is thrown around a lot these days – and the main focus for a hell of a lot of bands around; bands that would consider Meshuggah as their biggest influence – I describe these bands as ‘The Musicians Band’ – the bands that play for musicians and who are definitely appreciated by musicians – being technical in your music in one thing however if you aint got groove, you aint got nothing. What I’m eventually getting to is the complexity of a Meshuggah song; how does the band manage to hold the technicality yet employ the groove? “Well.... That’s the key question isn’t it? I don’t really know and I’m not even sure that we always do up to the extent that I would like but the thing is that we’re a fringe kind of band and we’re on some kind of border where things are often a hit and a miss, though I hope we hit more than we miss. The dynamic you’re talking about though is truly, super important to us – it’s what makes it be music, and emotion. I need to be able to sit down and enjoy it and be able to feel a range of emotions. You’re not aiming for the response ‘wow, that’s technical’.... That in itself has no merit”. I can appreciate the technicality that bands produce; some are creating some really tricky shit. Sometimes though the point of it all is lost in a flurry of zazzy guitar “Yeah, and I hope I’m quoting this correctly, I might not be but there is an old Jazz piano player here in Sweden that use to say ‘the music is in the pauses, in the silence, in the notes you are not playing’ and there is an odd genius to that remark because that’s actually what is true – you can make things play at the right place but you have to know how to let the music breathe. Even though we’re playing very intense and technical stuff, it has to breathe and that needs to have another dimension added to it; the groove, so you can nod along”.

Progression can often leave the heavy metal behind in many respects; as there are many avenues to take – does Heavy Metal in general have its limits with progression, as when heading into progressive territory it often leaves the metal aspect behind “Yeah I think that’s true because when you tend to think of progressive music – its a loose term. Real prog elements come into play when metal bands are going for the aggressive stuff, rather than a truly 'feet planted in metal soil' type of progressive band. I think that metal can get left behind, yeah with bands who try to go into new ground because some how that is a natural way of pushing out. For certain people, and fields within metal the sheer fact of sticking to the exact expression is actually something to take pride in. I mean Judas Priest are suppose to sound like Judas Priest, not fucking Yes" [Laughs] 

Ok, so we've gotten through the hard hitting questions, I hope you've guzzled down your coffee because now we are going to talk tours and what Meshuggah have in place for the remainder of the year and into 2017 "Well - we officially start The Violent Sleep of Reason tour in October in the US then after that we have a European tour lined up in November/December, then we'll have some time off. 2017 we head to Great Britain and then we have some stuff lined up after that I can't confirm - but then of course Australia!".




Saturday, 11th March
Tivoli, Brisbane

Sunday, 12th March
Enmore Theatre, Sydney

Wednesday, 15th March
170 Russell, Melbourne

Friday, 17th March
Metropolis, Fremantle


Tickets available through MJ Presents

Read the review of The Violent Sleep of Reason here

The Violent Sleep of Reason is available now through Nuclear Blast: