Avatar’s Johannes Eckerstrom: ‘I Don’t Want My Metal To Be Safe and Comfortable’ [Interview]
Avatar frontman Johannes Eckerström was the guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show. The singer discussed the band's new album, Feathers and Flesh, along with the pressure of following up a concept album, the 60 page book that accompanied the release, the band's theatrical shows and more. Check out the full chat below.
How are you?
I'm not too bad. I've got a fever and all those things that makes for a greater challenge. But, I'm a happy camper anyway.
I'm good. Great to talk to you. Sorry you're sick.
Hey, yes. It's a magical little jinx thing. For me, I'm usually the one who stays healthiest the longest, but, I don't know. I’m getting older, I guess. The most important part is that you feel good during the show. I can pretend for one and a half hours for part of a day and that part always feels good. And, then, I can be a miserable piece of something the rest of the day.
We're here to talk about the new Avatar album; it's called Feathers and Flesh. It's a concept album and concept albums can end up defining a band for their entire career, like Queensryche and Pink Floyd. What's the most important thing that you need to consider after Feathers and Flesh?
That's a very good question. When making an album, we don't really think of it as an album of albums although that is, of course, the intention. That in the long-term you want to make another one and another one and another one. But, it’s just once we start to write something, we just have to create what we feel compelled to create. And, I don't think the next one will have anything in terms of concept.
Once upon a time, there was something and something happened, like this one. Because we always want to do something different with it. For sure, we are carrying with us the sense of having become better and better at having to write through an album and being able to talk more about abstract things while writing. All that we will carry with us, but maybe we did things backwards.
Like now, we did our The Wall and the next one is Dark Side of the Moon. And if I remember my chronology correctly of Pink Floyd, I think they did it the other way around, right? So, yes, we are now, as we always do, once an album is finished. It's been out for four months but for us that's like an eternity. All the songs are old because that was what we were last year.
It's very strange that what is new in the ears of the people that we intend to have be the ones to listen to. It’s still new to all the listeners. But, for us it’s old music. We are already of course talking and thinking about what the next step is — we're not sure yet. It's about not repeating ourselves and doing better and better every time. There's always something else wrong with the last one if you ask the artists themselves.
Really theatrical performances, I've seen you live quite a few times. What made you fully aware of the importance of the theatricality to music?
Well, it's just something that we ourselves like and other things. Step one is, we are fans of music. We are metalheads. But, on top of that, we've been fans of conceptual things or artists that turn the vision into something more than just the music. Just to be able to visualize what it's all about. That is what we feel compelled to do it because that is what we ourselves and enjoy the most. If it's important or not, I'm not sure. Because I'm also huge Cannibal Corpse fan and when they stand there in their used to be black t-shirts and the wrinkled backdrop and just kick ass, it's also equally amazing to me. So, is not to me something that is objectively important. But, is very important for us and the stuff that we do.
You wrote a 60 page book to go with the Deluxe Edition of Feathers and Flesh. Which was more of a challenge to write?
That is hard to compare. But, with the book it was of course a new challenge. Like every pretentious idiot on the planet, I always nurtured the dream of writing a novel. But, we think 60 pages or so it was already quite an ordeal. Just a challenge, in this case, because we wrote the music and outlined the story and what it's about, I knew what I was supposed to write, what I needed to write in order to make it work.
But, then it was just new to me, the sheer amount of words. And, those words have to be the right words. It needs to be written in a good way. That was a new challenge for me, just the volume of the writing that came with it. Anyway, maybe that's the hardest because that was a new challenge. For this time.
But, that being said, it wasn't exactly easy to put this album together musically either. It never is. We never wanted to be. If it's easier, it means because we are staying in our safe zone. We’re staying inside some sort of framework that where we feel safe and comfortable. And, I don't want my metal to be safe and comfortable.
Agreed. I think metal should be dangerous.
Exactly and on multiple levels, so you need to try to put yourself in one way or another or preferably every possible way. Metal is, if you want it to be, quite technical music. Like the way metal musicians play, it's kind of like using super powers, you shred and you scream real loud and you play really fast. It is intense, physical — it's very physical. And, that part, you all want to improve and increase that at the same time you want to push yourself as musicians in general. When it comes to the groove and when it comes to most important of all, the ability to tell the story, to create an emotion, to make the listener feel what we intend for them to feel. And, all those things need to be pushed every time.
Why is it so important that Avatar is influenced from bands far removed from death metal?
Well, there are many reasons to it. When we started out it was — we were definitely somewhere between the stuff we were listening to the most while we met and learned how to play guitar together. In that period it was a lot of death metal, melodic death metal, technical death metal, old school — different levels of extreme music that laid the foundation for us as young musicians.
At the same time, we were fans of a whole bunch of things and also always felt it's been important to us to keep the metal we make relevant, interesting, new while still paying respect and tribute to the culture it's a part of. In that, of course it makes it interesting to look at and take inspiration and influences from things outside of metal. Especially for Feathers and Flesh, the two main influences that were really important that we talked about a lot were the Beatles and Queen.
Specifically because, beyond being the two greatest bands ever, they were also bands that were able to pull off every song that was extremely different on most of their albums. It's hard to pinpoint the defining track or song because there are so many different things going on and still, it always sounded like the Beatles or Queen. We've grown to trust that whatever we write, the fact is that my vocal chords are my vocal chords and no matter what I sing, and trust as musicians that our sound lies within our fingertips, wrists, throats and just the way we approach our instruments.
So to have that multifaceted dial and still — trusting that 'Don't worry it will sound like Avatar in the end.' We don't have to paint ourselves into a corner. Therefore we use influence from all over. It's just somehow more fun. As a diehard Judas Priest fan, and a diehard heavy metal fan, it's just a little more fun and it's amusing to ourselves to hear an interesting rhythm or a Brazilian bossanova piece or some Swedish folk music and use that in our metal instead of using that metal rhythm of Judas Priest into our metal, it's metal on the metal on the metal which is awesome, but then we don't really contribute anything new. I just feel that metal deserves to be revitalized as much and as often as possible.
What's been most satisfying about the way people have reacted to the latest record?
I guess not only when someone has heard the music and liked it, but also read the book and took part of the whole thing, that so many people were interested in doing that. Especially in this day in age where we consume music is the way it is. People are skeptical to — is this something — will people sit down and hear the whole thing, read the whole thing and let it sink in?
I'm glad that we didn't underestimate people and then, I guess the response what people tell me at shows or people tweet me, the fan art that people are making. All those things that feel like people took the whole thing in. Not just the singles. So, it was worth while to go the extra length and really provide a piece of art that was more than just a bunch of single tracks.
It sounds like you have a lot of touring coming up. Any other plans you can share for 2017?
The touring will continue in one shape or another spilling into 2017. There are some dark spots on the world map that we want to fill in. Maybe the first thing that we are trying to have happen next year is to do some more touring closer to home, meaning a European tour coming up we do two Swedish dates but — we took geography in school as kids and we know there are more cities in Sweden than Gothenburg and Stockholm. Same goes for Norway. More local things. This is the second round in the States and then again, the European tour we have after that is going to be really awesome but there are lots of people that live in Europe that enjoy banging their heads. So we need to fill in those blanks and hopefully look further east.
Thanks to Johannes Eckerstrom for the interview, Pick up your copy of Feathers and Flesh at Amazon or digitally through iTunes. Keep up with all of Avatar's activities by following their Facebook page and find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
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