CULT OF LUNA – Synchronicity
Umeå, Sweden-based avant-garde metal outfit Cult Of Luna devised a manifesto in making January 2013 full-length Vertikal, a manifesto designed for the group to understand where they had previously tread and wished to venture going forward. Previous full-lengths Somewhere Along The Highway (April 2006) and Eternal Kingdom (June 2008) were inspired by the more rural, organic, and historical parts of northern Sweden. Vertikal marks a departure, favouring the modern and the future.
“It was not so much a manifesto,” reckons Thomas Hedlund, drummer for Cult Of Luna. “It was more of a way for us to find a direction for our creativity I guess, and just aim towards something. For us it became natural to do it with the help of visuals, in this case a movie. It was more of a statement for ourselves, to find a direction and find a contrast between what we’re doing now and what we did on the last album. That was the main goal, to find something new. We felt that on previous albums we had explored the more rural, organic and historical part of this area we’re from, but now we want to focus more on the city and what the city does to humans.
“I guess we’ve become more and more conceptual in a way over the years, but for sure it always started with a concept just to find a direction. First of all, there’s a few of us. There’s seven in the band, and we have pretty different tastes when it comes to everything (laughs). Music, movies, and everything. It used to be more difficult to keep everyone on the same page I think, because on this album everyone has been on the same page. On previous albums though, we’ve been throwing cellphones at the wall and screaming at each other. It’s always been an emotional journey to make an album with Cult Of Luna, and this album was no exception. We’ve grown a little bit older though, and we know each other very well. We know how to pick our fights, I guess (laughs). We know how to deal with each other.
“Sometimes it can be hard, but with this album we had a very high level of inspiration. For us, having a manifesto is a way to find a theme. We’ve done it before, but maybe it’s become more and more important and something that we spend more time exploring in the earlier stages of an album, but I guess it’s how we work. I think everyone feels that we accomplished what we set out to do in the first place with this album. That’s such a rewarding feeling, and we all share that.”
Devising a manifesto beforehand can be an effective way to combat treading over old territory. “If we still felt an urge towards something we had done on a previous album, we would totally do it again,” the rhythmist stresses. “I think that we can all be honest with what we want to explore. We felt that with our last few albums we were in the same sort of area I guess, and dealing with the same kinds of themes and so on. Yeah though, it’s a very effective way not to be stuck in the same place twice or in this case three times in a row. It helps, I guess. In this particular case we really wanted to have a change, but at the same time, when the album is done and we’ve taken this tour through all of the visuals and all of the concepts about the modern city and so on and so forth, it still sounds like us. If you hear the album before this one and the new one Vertikal, you can hear that it’s us. That’s also something that you learn over the years, I guess. It’s hard to change that (laughs). It’s more a matter of using the core of the band to your benefit.”
A near five-year gap separates the issues of Eternal Kingdom and Vertikal. “Part of it was just logistics I guess, because we don’t live in the same city anymore,” Thomas observes. “It takes more planning to find the time to rehearse, but also a few of us have kids and everyone has other commitments when it comes to jobs and so on. Also, we didn’t want to just make something hasty. We wanted to take our time, and we wanted it to be as good as it could be. We took our time to perfect it I guess, but part of it was the fact that we don’t live in the same city anymore. It takes more time, and planning.”
The record’s moniker is christened after the Swedish word for ‘vertical’. “It just fit very well with all of the visuals, and the straight lines of the concept that people had in the 20s – modern cities, straight lines, and big buildings,” the percussionist critiques. “It came from this, and it’s a good sounding name.”
Directed by Fritz Lang, 1927 German expressionist science fiction movie Metropolis. “We started talking about doing an album with ideas about the future, so it became very natural I guess to seek inspiration visually from Metropolis,” Thomas feels. “It was more of a kickstart for our imagination, and what’s interesting about this process is the fact that we all interpreted this manifesto if you want differently. Once again, we have such different tastes in the band, so everyone perceives in a different way I guess. At the end, when we come together and everyone brings to the table what he has been thinking of that’s when it happens. In that respect, we really compliment each other in a very good way because this is our take on this particular theme. If you asked each and every individual member though, you would probably get different ideas (laughs). We didn’t want to make it too clear either for ourselves. It was more a way of sparking the imagination, and starting the creative process.
“It was Erik (Olofsson) who plays guitar in the band, who is also the art director of everything. He was the one who picked certain themes or certain films I guess, themes or films which would have more of an inspirational effect. There was also Art Deco art for example, and Erik made a presentation for us to contemplate and enjoy. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember the artists. Besides the movie though, there were other photographers and artists that contributed to this visual presentation that he did.
“The way I interpreted Erik’s presentation was being the idea of the modern and the future. For me, it musically contained the repetitive which can be found in factories and in modern societies, and it became natural to pay a lot of attention to repetition and the repetitive aspect of the music. Music wise, we also didn’t work as much as we did before with organic sounds, but rather with steel and metal. We made our own samples, and stuff like that. Because I’m the drummer, percussion wise we spent a lot of time trying to find sounds that could compliment the factory visuals.
“Once again though, this is filtered through the ideas of the 20s and their ideas of what the future would look like. Humans and machines emerging or the war between the two, and stuff like that. One could say that our interpretation of the future is a dark one, I guess. It pays more attention to that, the feelings of alienation, not belonging, and not being able to express yourself the way you want in a city, but also the struggle and the power of the humans too in this kind of context. Even though one could call our music dark I guess, I’d like to think that you could find the strength and will to change by listening to this and that there are certain brighter aspects to this too. Basically that’s how we are as humans, so it’d be silly if we didn’t reflect that on an album.”
Members Johannes Persson, Erik Olofsson, and Fredrik Kihlberg are responsible for penning much of the material. “They bring just an idea to everyone else, and maybe they’ve done sort of a demo with it at home,” the drummer divulges. “Other times though, it’s just a guitar riff. We then jam and work on it. As we’ve been playing with each other for so long, we know almost all of the time – depending on which person brings the guitar riff or beat – what needs to be perfected. Everyone has their strengths, but also their weaknesses as songwriters. We know each other very well now, and we know what obstacles there usually are – problems, I guess. Creatively, that’s usually how it works. We jam, but it can be very different. Johannes most often has a pretty clear idea of the song from beginning to end, although what happens in-between can be a bit more blurry (laughs). Fredrik can have just one riff maybe and nothing else, so we have to work more with it.
“It’s quite different, depending on who brings the music to the rehearsal space. If the songs are quite long though, it takes awhile for them to feel like actual compositions. For a long time it feels just like pieces put together, and you don’t really get the idea of the song. It’s more of a puzzle maybe, but then at some point you start feeling it as an actual song. It’s hard to tell when that happens and why it happens, but it almost always does. If it doesn’t though, then we don’t use it. At some point it has to have the structural elastic of a song I guess, which is more present since we don’t work that much with vocal melodies. A lot of the music is instrumental, and the vocals aren’t melodic. It’s a different way of writing songs, I guess.”
Which parts of a given track were repeated depended “on the songwriter, the one who’s done the basic structure of the song. Maybe he has an idea about this, and how it’s supposed to evolve and stuff like that dynamically. Also, it has a lot to do with what we manage to come up with in terms of the layers, with other guitar melodies or harmonies. Maybe what was more important on this album was what Anders (Teglund) played on keyboards, what he did and what he came up with. That was also a part of this exploration of the modern and the future, and that was a very conscious decision. On our previous albums, he himself has maybe sometimes struggled with finding a way to be a bit more free creatively in the process when it comes to harmonies in the music. It’s hard for him to find certain stuff to add, but on this album we went for it even more just to allow him to contribute not only in terms of the melodies and harmonies, but also textures just to give the songs a feel when it comes to textures. I really think that we did a good job with that. It’s hard to play electronics in this kind of music.
“For me who comes from more of a pop background than a rock background though, it took awhile for me to get into this repetition. I always thought ‘Okay, okay… Now we’re supposed to change; now the next part of the song comes,’ but it was always three times longer than I thought it was. It took awhile for me to get used to that (laughs). Once you get used to it though, you really appreciate the fact that we allowed the parts to take their time. It’s very rewarding to play, because you really get into it. It’s a trance almost, but also I hope it works the same way for the listener.
“I also like the idea of something being allowed to take time, because in modern society things are supposed to happen so quickly, and you’re supposed to make decisions really quick. You’re supposed to cram all of these things into your life, and there’s a constant case for more time to do things (laughs). In that respect, I tend to think of our music as a way of commenting on this, saying ‘Sit down, and let this take time. This song is very long we know, but we hope that it will be worth your while and just allow it to sink into you. For it to do so though, you need to give it time.’ It’s a goal on its own almost, to allow a riff to be three times longer than you would expect.”
Recording sessions took place in Umeå at Tonteknik Recording. “Tonteknik is Pelle Henricsson’s studio, where we’ve recorded all of our albums almost,” Thomas informs. “He moved the studio though, so now he has it in his garage. That’s where we recorded the drums and the bass guitar. Additional recordings were made in Stockholm.”
Måns Lundberg assisted. “He’s one of my oldest and best friends, and he’s helped with other bands that I play with,” the rhythmist discloses. “He’s good friends with all of us. It felt natural to ask him to just come in, and listen to some of the songs with different ears than we have (laughs). We’ve been working so long with each other, so it’s easy to do the same thing again. He doesn’t at all come from our background. He’s so much more of a pop producer, so he would definitely suggest things that we couldn’t have thought of ourselves. In terms of sounds, pedals, amps, and even guitars, he was really helpful with that. When it comes to guitar sounds, he knows a lot about gear and stuff so you get the sound that you want.
“Sometimes you just need someone from a different part of the music world to spark something, so it worked really, really well in that respect. He’s always been a fan of the band too; even though he doesn’t produce this type of music normally, he really, really likes Cult Of Luna. It was fun for him. That was basically his role, to record the guitars – not all of the guitars. He helped out sound-wise though, and guided how people played a little bit. His role was as a guitar guru, I guess.”
Thomas experimented with various approaches in recording parts. “On certain parts we recorded the drums without cymbals, yeah,” he confirms. “It’s just a way of being able to control the cymbal sound, and being able to compress and so on. It just sounds more free creatively when you can control the sounds. In certain parts it became more of a percussion… something like an overdub. If you listen to certain parts, they’re impossible to do with two arms and two legs (laughs). That was also a way of allowing ourselves a little bit more freedom when it came to patterns in songs. Instead of having to get a crash or playing the ride, you do a tom and snare pattern with both hands and just overdub them both.”
Drum parts were cut in Tonteknik, the studio room in question solely consisting of concrete, and without wood. “It emphasises certain parts of the drumkit, and it brings out more of a metallic sound,” the percussionist analyses. “It becomes very much live. The sound bounces much more than it does in a controlled environment where you have a cloth on the wall or something like that, or all wood. The sound bounces off of the surfaces and into the mikes much more. It became this very live… The sound is very much alive, but not warm. It wasn’t an organic sound. It still sounds very hard and almost annoying in some points, but that was what we were after. That would be the main effect it has on the songs.”
Cult Of Luna has a predilection for experimentation. “Everyone is interested, and are well aware of the tones for a specific part,” Thomas shares. “In a song, the tone can be defining. Everyone is interested, but for the most part I would say it’s between me, Magnus (Lindberg), and maybe Anders. We’re most involved in the details, whereas with the basic patterns everyone is involved during rehearsals. In the studio working with sounds and being picky with them, that’s something that me and Magnus are mostly involved in.”
At the time of writing, a music video to accompany Vertikal’s release has yet to be filmed. “I would think we plan to, though,” the drummer comments. “Right now we’re busy going on tour, but Magnus and Erik are both very skilled when it comes to making music videos. Most definitely we’ll do a music video, but a track hasn’t been decided on – not that I know of (laughs). I might be out of the loop.”
Eternal Kingdom marked Cult Of Luna’s final studio release via Earache Records. “We wanted a change,” Thomas reflects. “We felt that it was time to break new ground, work with other people, and see what that could do for us creatively. At the same time though, we’ve always done our albums inside a bubble. We don’t let anyone in until the album is finished. In this instance, that was really how it worked because we didn’t have a record deal until the album was done. We wanted to make it ourselves, and that process took time.
“We don’t have a record deal, but a deal solely for this album. Basically it started with a publishing deal, and they were the ones in charge of licensing the album. They have a really good network of labels they work with, so they could really guide us through this, and say who would be a good partner. So far, so good. We’re excited about what’s gonna happen in the US. This allowed us the most freedom to choose who to work with and so on. We were also tired with having this traditional record deal I guess, where we knew we had to do the next album with the same people. We were done (laughs). We felt we had done everything.”
The timeframe as to when Vertikal’s successor will arrive is uncertain. “I would think that we will take our time once again,” the rhythmist considers. “Me personally, I’m gonna do a tour with Cult Of Luna and then I’ll be touring with another band. The last tour we did was for three years, so for sure I won’t be able to work on anything new with Cult Of Luna for two years, touring and so on. Once we feel the need to make new music though, we’re gonna do it. Maybe if nothing happens, no-one wants us to play, and we end up finishing the tour very early, in maybe late 2013 we’ll start, but then we won’t have any shows in 2014.
“Cult Of Luna doesn’t write while on tour, so it usually takes some time. Touring with Cult Of Luna can be great fun, but for me it was kind of a long time. It can be exhausting, so previous tours I’ve only been doing shows here and there. I haven’t really been a live drummer for Cult Of Luna for awhile, although whenever I can that’s how we wanna do it. For us, we’re blessed to have Magnus in the band who can fill in and play live well. Since the last album, we’ve been exploring this two drummer thing a little bit more. The main goal is to use both of us for as many shows as we can. Everyone understands about this Phoenix thing, but of course if they had a choice they would like to play every show with me and Magnus.
“When touring’s done, everyone needs to take a little bit of time off before starting to think about the band. Time off can be almost a year. I don’t know if you’ve heard of a band called Khoma that Johannes, Fredrik, and I play with. I know that people are hoping for a new Khoma album, and maybe that is what’s next I guess for Johannes and Fredrik. That would mean even more time before the next Cult Of Luna album though.
“It’s just Cult Of Luna for the moment though, for sure. Khoma released an album (November 2012’s All Erodes) consisting of unreleased material, so the plan was to play some shows for that. I don’t play with the band live anymore, but that was the plan. I think they had to cancel some shows because of schedule issues though. With Khoma, for sure the next step is to write more songs. Since we’ve been working hard on the Cult Of Luna album, it’s obviously gonna take awhile.”
Phoenix release fourth studio full-length Bankrupt! in April 2013. “That is also the band that I’m gonna be touring with, which is why I won’t be touring with Cult Of Luna for more than this one tour. On February to March Phoenix will start pre-production and stuff like that, and in April the album will be released. Last time we released an album the tour was for two to three years.
“They’ve just mastered it, actually. Once I get back from the Cult Of Luna tour, I have a few days off and then I go to Paris for rehearsal sessions, to do rehearsals in Paris for a couple of weeks. We then go on tour. I would say it’s highly recognisable, but certain textures and certain dimensions of the sound and landscape are different. It’s still solid songwriting though, and very catchy. Since I was there in Paris to record I haven’t heard anything, so I don’t know. They might have changed everything without me knowing (laughs). I’m sort of curious too.”
Vertikal was released in Europe on January 25th, 2013 via Indie Recordings, and subsequently on the 29th in North America through Density Records.
Interview published in January 2013.
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