Avatar’s Johannes Eckerstrom: ‘I Don’t Believe’ Next Album Will Be a Concept
Avatar frontman and representative of the King, Johannes Eckerström, was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. He discussed the band's royal new album, Avatar Country, which invites listeners into the band's homeland and shares how their state visits (concerts) offer a glimpse at the life within it. The new record marks the second consecutive concept album for the Swedes, but the singer envisions different creative pursuits in the future. All that and more in the chat below.
We're celebrating the release of the latest Avatar album, Avatar Country, which is out now. It focuses on hope and strength, which is a complete turnaround from the last album. What leads to such a different message?
In one way, I think it's a very natural thing for any band to do. Once you do A, you want to do B. Once you paint something blue, the next painting you want to be red because you're done with blue for a while. I think that's part of if not all bands', many bands' journey forward. It's just whatever you end up doing you absolutely don't want to do what you just did.
But in this case, because Feathers and Flesh was a story about failure, fear, loss, death. It was very dark and sad — sadness was a big part of it and it was a piece of fiction. So this is a reaction against all that when we instead decided to speak the truth. Opening our borders of Avatar Country. Tell people the truth of the nature of our King and thus since the album is a celebration of our King it naturally becomes like you say about hope, strength, life really. It's way more of a heavy metal celebration this time around at least compared to what we have done in the past and it had some heavy passages anyway, but in the name of the King, let's celebrate.
The word "King" appears in the title of every song on Avatar Country. What is significant of Kings to the overall concept of the album?
I think it speaks for itself that we are celebrating our mighty good king of Avatar country who is our glorious king indeed. So glorious that he has seven solos in the first song and there are so many aspects to this king. That there are so many different ways of telling his story and so many aspects of him that you do need a full album. So, that is why, yes you're right, we have "Glory to Our King," "Legend of the King," "King After King," "King's Harvest," "The King Speaks," or my personal favorite title, "Silent Song of the King Pt. 1 - Winter Comes When the King Dreams of Snow," because there's just so much to him.
This is your second concept album in a row. Why is the concept album format so comfortable for this band?
Well, first and foremost the whole idea of when we did Feathers and Flesh was that it was not comfortable to do it. We didn't know exactly how to do one or what it meant to write within a locked in concept, which is the original reason why we did so. Then I heard from at least the more progressive world of music that it's kind of a cliche that once you start concept albums it's hard to stop. This wasn't meant to be a concept album until we realized the time was right for people to find out about our King because we had been hinting at the existence of Avatar Country. I've been hinting about our position of our King within the kingdom.
For example, the new music video you do see the Avatar Country flag and you do see it on stage. We had some of that on the earlier albums. You saw every thank you list we've done, where you thank people on the last page as you tend to do, they always gave special thanks to Kungen, and Kungen is Swedish for "The King." Just the nature of our King and the timing of it all, and what we now had the urge to do, kind of forced us to do something that is essentially a concept album for the second time in a row.
But I don't believe that the next album will be one. It will be now important now to break that pattern because doing a concept album broke the pattern of what we did before. That is always what's its all about for us. We don't want to repeat ourselves, we don't want to write the same songs or the same album twice. It's all about finding new angles, new ways of casting light on what we're doing.
It really showcases your vocal flexibility. What dictated the way you approached singing different songs on this album?
First, thank you very much. There are a couple of things happening. The first thing, it goes against the idea of let's not write the same song twice and therefore one way of making sure the melodies are somewhat new is of course to push my style of singing or the range I'm using into places where I haven't been. It's physically impossible that I would sound the same as a previous album because I am somewhere range wise.
Then as we are doing metal, I realized this from growing up and having played in an orchestra as a trombone player or different kind of ensembles in school while learning music, that a very important aspect of a genre of metal is the physicality of it. It translates into how we feel while we're listening to metal. There's a reason we want to headbang or when people enjoy listening to metal at the gym they get pumped up or whatever. There is something visceral and very physical in the music that comes from in a huge part that the performances are physical.
We all love shredding guitars and it's not necessarily because it's so impressive, which it is, but there's a physicality that serves metal and that's the same with every style of a great metal vocalist. That we scream, we shout, we try to hit those extra high notes. There are all those things that become trademarks of metal music performance. They are there for a reason, and that's physicality I want to keep on achieving. Because as soon as I have written something in a way that I push my limits, once you've been touring on those limits for a year, and have become easier to do live then I feel this need to just reach for the new heights to push myself towards the next thing that is hard for me to do, and thus reintroduce a physicality over and over to the music.
You've always been conscious of the theatrics to music. How will theatrics be used to present Avatar Country on tour?
Well it becomes interesting when again we operate in reality in a different way than we have in the past. Especially since Feathers and Flesh. Now when it's the real deal and a real King, suddenly the concert is a state visit. I remember when I saw that old Harrison Ford movie, Air Force One. It stuck with me when they save the President from the airplane at the end, and he goes on another plane, that other aircraft becomes Air Force One because the President is on it. It's kind of similar in Avatar Country that when The King enters a venue, that becomes the Royal Castle, the House of the King in Avatar Country. Therefore, it's very important this time to really bring people a slice of life from Avatar Country with us. It should be like crossing a border into our land, our world, and our King's world. That affects number one, it's the most ambitious stage build this time because it needs to be worthy of a King.
Yes, we did bring our King's throne with us this time so it's extra royal. Then the theatrics in general, it's important for us to always start and end in the music and that the theatrics and visualization is always an extension of what we are expressing musically. Which is, when you say we've always been into theatrics, yeah we started to see into the theatrics once we found a way to have those things make sense with the music. It's important that it all communicates the same thing and points to the same direction. You cannot just put any outfit on any band and think that will work. My favorite example of a famous one is when I saw band photos of Queensryche in what I think was the Operation: Mindcrime booklet. It never made sense to me, although I love the album.
Thanks to Johannes Eckerström for the interview. Grab your copy of 'Avatar Country' here and follow Avatar on Facebook to stay up to date with everything they're doing. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show at this location.
See Photos of Avatar Live From Their New York City Stop