We chat with Meshuggah
Europe is in the middle of an unusually icy winter and Meshuggah guitarist Marten Hagstrom has been shovelling a ‘shitload’ of snow over the last few weeks while enjoying some rare home time in the north of Sweden. It’s a long way from the heat of an Australian summer as the band prepares to jump on a plane headed for the first Soundwave of the year in Brisbane.
The eternally poly-rhythmic group has a new album Koloss set for release in late March, due out just after their visit to our southern shores. It’s been four years in the coming and Marten feels that they have created something special that reflects the bands musical perspective more than ever before.
“We always make music to try and please ourselves first and foremost and I think we’ve managed to do that more this time than any time before. It’s more organic sounding and in our own minds all the songs pull their own weight a lot more than usual. There’s a lot of melancholia in it as well as the sinister and dark stuff so I think it has more dimensions to it than normal.”
As a band Meshuggah have influenced many musicians over the years and even more recently a new wave of artists have popped up under the ‘djent’ monicker. I asked Marten whether there was a moment over the recent years when the band realised they were making an impact away from home. He mentions the first tour the band did of the US in 1998 where they were prepared to be complete unknowns but left the tour pleasantly surprised with their following. He also mentioned the first time the band toured Australia.
“We’d been doing interviews and getting some requests to go over and play but we really didn’t take it that seriously. We thought ok some guys might like us down under but probably not that many if we haven’t been there and toured. So the first time we came down we realised that damn we’ve really got a pretty big fan base here. It’s one of those things where you realise that when you lift your head out of the fucking black hole that is the band, and you realise that you’ve been doing this for a long time and it’s been doing reasonably well… it’s kind of always a surprise.”
Marten has a stoner rock project on the back burner and with Meshuggah taking up so much of his creative time he finds it difficult to find the energy for other musical passions. “The funny thing is that with me personally it’s something I really enjoy. I love stoner rock so I’ve got this thing I’m doing on my own where I explore that side that maybe can’t come into Meshuggah. The problem with it is that both listening to it and playing stuff like that is that Meshuggah takes a shitload of time and whenever you’re off you rarely find the motivation to do stuff musically. It’s a style of music though that I really appreciate.”
Meshuggah as a group touch on many concepts that most artists would stay well away from. The message behind the bands last release obZen was that we [human beings] have found ourselves in a zen like state through a mixture of obscenity and obscurity. With the world since the albums release in a constant state of competition surrounding power, I asked him if he felt that we as humans would ever change our obscene habits.
“From a philosophical standpoint you know it’s hard to say,” he says gently, and I can almost hear his ever active mind ticking over as he speaks. “The power trip of people in charge – and you can go back to the Romans – it’s always been that the way the structure and the way the power pyramid works is that it’s a matter of control.”
“If you look at Western society and the so called democratic and free societies it’s still – I mean it’s a lot better than living in Iraq- but it’s a piece of illusion to say that we are people who have one hundred percent of control over what is done. Bureaucracy is still something that moulds people a lot and religion does also. obZen was meant to say that we have a statement and a direction where all the people who say that ‘Okay, I’m a good person, I want freedom for all people, I want equality, I want healthcare, I want whatever’, well that’s all well and good but on the other hand when that action is supposed to be followed through there’s always a certain amount of power hunger.”
“I think that as long as the monetary system and the banking system is set up the way it is I think we’re pretty much stuck, but then I’m talking about the developed countries and there’s more to be said about that I mean it’s a big topic, we could expand on that for hours.”
Listening to Marten put his thoughts to words I couldn’t help but ask has this concept of obZen filtered through to the way we as people treat each other?
“I mean my favourite author is Robert Anthony Wilson and his biggest statement was that ‘I do not believe anything.’ Because he considered firm belief to be the death of freedom of thought. The day you accept a dogma, the day that you’re one hundred percent sure of that is the day that you stop thinking. You’ve accepted a truth and that’s not necessarily good if you want the time to develop and you want to expand your thinking and your mind.”
“On the other hand never, ever confirming that you are one hundred percent sure of something means that you’re always living in constant flux, so you know it depends.” He takes a rare break in thought to chuckle before finishing. “Certain people like to have certainty and some people don’t, that’s just the way it is.”
Meshuggah release Koloss on March 31 through Riot Entertainment and are en route to Australia for Soundwave Festival, and some epic sideshows with Devin Townsend Project and Dredg (Tuesday 28th Feb @ The Factory in Sydney and Wednesday 29th Feb @ The Forum in Melbourne.)