Sunday, October 13, 2019

October 13th, 2019 - It Still Has To Be Death Metal For Us: An Interview With Tomas Lindberg Of At The Gates

God kväll and hails metal heads!  I attended the Amon Amarth Berserker World Tour 2019 show on Thursday, October 3rd at the Complex in Salt Lake City, Utah.  While there I had the great fortune of sharing a beer and chatting with the very cool and very friendly Tomas Lindberg, lead vocalist of Swedish death metal legends At The Gates!


B&T: So... I'm here with Tomas Lindberg of At The Gates.  It is an honor to meet you.  

TL: No worries.

B&T: You guys are currently on tour with Amon Amarth for the Berserker Tour.  Why don't we start off talking about the tour a little bit?

TL: Yeah.  It has been really good so far... it's been only a week, but we kinda knew this was going to be an easy tour so to speak because we know all these bands from before... for a long time.  We've been to a lot of the venues before.  We have the same crew.  [laughs]  

B&T: Oh, that makes it easy.

TL: Yeah, so it's just hanging out, having a good time, and doing good shows.  It is super easy and super nice.

B&T: How many shows in this tour?  How long is this tour?

TL: 26 or something... 25?  Something like that.  About a month.

B&T: Let's go back in time a little bit.  How did you get started in music?  What was the impetus there?

TL: Me personally?  Well, back in the late '70s, early '80s, everybody listened to music in a different way.  There were only records or tapes.  I have some vague memories of some Chuck Berry tapes [laughs] and stuff like that.  Kiss was a huge thing in Sweden... well, everywhere of course.  So I was really intrigued by that when I was really young.  But then came along my sister's boyfriend (they've been married for a long time) and his record collection was the go-to thing for me because he had a bit of everything.  He had old, proto-hard rock like Wishbone Ash, stuff like that, Blue Oyster Cult  together with early punk, new wave stuff, some prog.  So that was like my upbringing.  And then when harder metal stuff was coming out, it was like a natural thing for me because I had the old school, hard rock upbringing together with the punk side and then when Metallica and stuff came out it was natural for me to just dive right into that.  

B&T: As far as both your singing and your lyricism, who were your biggest influences would you say?  I know that's probably a loaded question.

TL: Yeah, it's hard.  Yeah, yeah.  I mean any singer that has some kind of edge or... we call it soul I guess in the singing is an inspiration to me.  It doesn't have to sound the way I sound specifically.  I guess the first time I heard stuff like "Seven Churches" from Possessed, the early Bathory stuff I was really intrigued.  How can you make those kind of vocals, but still hear the words?  That was a big thing for me.  You can actually still hear the lyrics.  So early Possessed, early Bathory, stuff like that was a big inspiration.  

B&T: Nice!  Both lyrically and vocally?

TL: That's vocally.  Sorry, yeah that's vocally.  Uh, lyrically?  I don't know.  I started out doing more of the kind of black metal lyrics back in the early days.  I focused on that.  I think bands like Celtic Frost... writing intelligent lyrics or more intricate lyrics and still do death metal... that inspired me a lot.  My main influence for lyrics always comes more from literature.  

B&T: Okay... such as?  What do you read?  

TL: [laughs]  I read so much!  I mean everyone knows some earlier At The Gates is inspired by South American writers and the latest is influenced by Peter Weiss, the German / Swedish writer.  I read so many different things. Right now I'm reading Iain Banks the science fiction writer.  I'm always searching for new stuff.  I'm always looking for... it's kind of the same thing when you listen to a lot of music for a long time, you need something extra to kick you off.  It's the same thing for literature for me now.  I need the weirdness or the extra edge to it to make it interesting.  Thomas Ligotti is a huge inspiration as well.

B&T: When At The Gates split up in the '90s, I think a lot of us as fans thought, "Well this is it."  

TL: Me too.

B&T: What happened to get you guys back together?  I know you've been asked this a million times, but...

TL: Yeah, yeah, but it's cool.  It's been a long time since I've been asked that question.  I think the main idea came from Anders Björler [former guitarist].  He was the one that quit the band.  His exit led to the dismantling of the band.  He felt that he needed some kind of closure because we never did what we had set out to do.  So he wanted to put together a tour so that everybody could see [At The Gates] one last time and we could go out with a legacy that was more intact.  So we all agreed on that and after some discussions, we laid out some foundations on how we wanted to do it.  And then it was just too fun I guess.  We noticed it was so fun to do it, hanging out together... but of course we noticed there was that one thing missing... that we didn't write new music together.  That little thing started growing [laughs] inside all of us.  We learned to say, "never say never" basically.  We had made statements like "this is it. This is the last tour" blah, blah, blah.  But then we learned we should never make those kind of statements.  It is too much fun being creative with these guys, you know?

B&T: And I'm sure that with the fans... 

TL: Yeah, yeah... we have amazing fans that are really supportive and that... you know we are a weird piece of death metal.  We are not an easy band to like straight away.  It takes a lot of commitment [laughs] to get into our stuff so we have very hardcore fans.  We are very privileged with our fanbase.  
B&T: I've always found your music challenging and it is very though-provoking.  It is not something you just listen to as background music. It demands your attention.

TL: Yeah, that's the kind of music we like as well personally.  I guess - this might sound weird - but it's like not wanting to waste your time on something that's not 100% urgent, and as you said, demanding your attention.... then we don't do it.  We only do stuff that means a lot and challenges us.  I think everything else would be a waste of time.  

B&T: Let's talk a little bit about the most recent album, "To Drink From The Night Itself", which is phenomenal.  

TL: Thank you!

B&T: It's just a fantastic album.  Maybe talk a little bit about the writing?  Is it... so one thing I curious about your band, do you come up with lyrics first?  Does someone come up with a riff first?  Is it a collaborative effort in terms of writing?

TL: It depends a little bit.  Back in the early days it was 50/50.  I think that's why a lot of the songs were so weirdly put together because the lyrics were written first and they were not always... the verse... how many syllables per line.  It was just my thoughts.  So they had to write stuff around that, which can sound pretty crazy.  Nowadays I write a lot of lyrics all the time.  For the last album I'd show some to Jonas [Björler, bassist] so he knows which kind of atmosphere I'm after and then he starts writing a riff that fits that... not actually lyrics, but just the theme of the lyrics.  We talk a lot about how we want certain songs... "which mood should this song project and do we have something that fits with these lyrics?"  We work together.  It is parallel in a way.  And then we put it together.  It means so much to us that the lyrics portray what the actual music does.  It's very intricate I know [laughs].

B&T: Now does some of this happen in the studio or do you guys do demos first and then...?

TL: Yeah, we do a lot of demoing and a lot of pre-production stuff at home and we have really long conversations.  When we are apart, we have e-mail threads... [laughs]... you know meter long [laughs] e-mail threads about certain songs.  It is a really good collaboration.  We agree on most stuff and there are no egos really in this band.  So basically I can tell anyone that came up with a full song, "Yeah, that riff is good, but the rest you can throw away.  Build a song around that riff."  And then they are like, "Oh, okay."  And they can say the same about the lyrics.  "I don't understand this part.  That's too weird or you're going to deep into something."  We don't have those egos.  It is for the best of the song always.  It has to make sense to everybody.

B&T: How long does it usually take for you to craft a song?

TL: That is very different.  Sometimes it comes together very quickly.  Sometimes it takes forever like we have all the good parts and you have a feeling for the song, but there is something that is not grabbing you and all the sudden you come up with it after months and months.  We had a few more songs we were working on for the last record, but they all changed and interacted with one another for a very long time, but we already had the ones you hear on the record.  Right now we are writing a bit as well and it's the same.  They are just floating around a little bit.  We try to do a pre-production a few months in advance before the studio so we know this is what we actually are recording.  So everybody can get their parts down and stuff.  Before that it's anything can go or add to it.  Everybody has to get the same feeling as the main songwriter has.

B&T: Now saying that you have some ideas going, we can expect a new album in the not too distant future maybe?

TL: Well, yeah... I mean we've been touring really hard for this one.  Our idea was to write a lot more and tour.  But you know how it is on tour.  You travel so much.  You are tired.  It takes a lot of energy just doing what you do.  We have some embryos floating around.  I have a main idea for the concept.  I don't want to say too much before.  As I said, it is in the early stages.  I think we have what direction we are going, but it might change in the birthing of it, you know?  Who knows what will come.  Something better might come up and steal the attention.  

B&T: It sounds like your writing style, both you and the band, it is very organic?

TL: Yeah, yeah.  Everybody has a say and everybody is always interacting with each other and coming up with ideas to make a song.  I mean we've been doing this for so long it's like sometimes trying not to fall in the trap of sounding like yourself.  We want to sound like At The Gates, but we don't want to repeat ourselves.  That's the most challenging part.  We could be as crazy as possible.  We are into some weird shit [laughs].  We could write a prog record or an electronic record.  We could do that, but that's not... the challenge is to still make it sound like At The Gates, still be death metal, and still be challenging and thought-provoking.  I like the challenge!   I think that is harder than to write totally free.  We can come up with a weird record in no time, but it still has to sound like At The Gates. It still has to be death metal for us.  That's very important.

B&T: I would imagine that can be both exhilarating, but sometimes you might feel a little trapped I would imagine to some degree?

TL: Yeah, I think that's the beauty of it.  That's our challenge you know?  To have a sound that a lot of people know.  Of course it differs from person to person as well, but to recognize, "Oh, that must be the new At The Gates record."  It is an interesting challenge and it is actually fun.  It is not hindering or frustrating.  It is part of the process.

B&T: As a lyricist, as a writer, do you ever get frustrated or is it something you embrace when fans misinterpret your lyrics?  Maybe they don't quite understand what you saying, but they still love it and you realize in talking to them that they have totally missed the point of what you are trying to say?

TL: No, no... that's why I write more avant-garde, abstract lyrics.

B&T: Yeah, they are very abstract.  

TL: People that know me as a person or have followed the band for a long time probably know more about what I'm trying to say.  I always thought it is more interesting to not be totally blunt about something.  If you hear someone trying to tell you, "this is how it is" then it is just not as interesting.  But if it is more, "what is he saying? What is he trying to get across?"  Trying to figure that out, then it will stick with you and you will embrace it more.  I trick them into listening.  I like words and fucking around with words.  It is like a puzzle sometimes  [laughs].  But if I wrote very straightforward, easy lyrics and the people got the wrong impression, I would be frustrated.  But as I do what I do... that comes with the territory.  I haven't really heard people misinterpreting my lyrics that much.

B&T: Do you have any pets?

TL: I do... well, it's my wife's cat.  There is a cat in the house.  It's name is Cookie of all things [laughs].

B&T: Are there any bands or musicians that your fans would be surprised that you are a fan of?

TL: Oh, I don't know. I mean our fans are very open-minded.  They are constantly challenged by what we do.  I think our fans know that we listen to a lot of fucking crazy weird shit [laughs].  I mean there is a lot of old '70s soul and funk that I listen to, some jazz stuff, a lot of electronic stuff, even some early old school hip-hop, prog rock, a lot of hardcore punk.  I think everybody knows that though.  Of course death metal and metal in general is who we are; it is our identity.  We listen to that a lot, but then we have all this other stuff. That's inspiration constantly as well.

B&T: And you can hear elements, pieces in your music.

TL: Yeah!  Not so much soul and funk probably [laughs].  Hopefully not!

B&T: I've always found a more progressive element to At The Gates.

TL: Yeah, yeah... we are huge King Crimson fans.  

B&T: So the one question I always wrap up with is so after a show what beer do you crack open and what album do you put on?

TL: Well, for relaxation, it is usually... well, not usually... I go through phases with music and with beer.  Right now I'm in a stout / porter period in my life, but I would say anything from the Omnipollo Brewery in Sweden right now.  Any of their stouts are amazing.  They are amazing.  Uhh... what would I put on with that stout?  Right now that the song that is on repeat is the only song released from the new Swans record.  There's one track out.  That one track is on repeat until of course the pre-order comes out.  That's very relaxing, soothing in a dreadful way [laughs].  Something like that... some Swans and a stout.

B&T: Nice!   Thank you so much Tomas for meeting with me!

TL: No worries... it was fun!  Thank you so much!

If you get a chance, make sure to get out and see the incredible At The Gates currently on tour right now in North America with Amon Amarth and Arch Enemy!!


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