An interview with Dag, Tom and Erik of Nightingale

Nightingale is one of the countless projects of Dan Swanö — a very influential music producer in the world of death, progressive rock and progressive metal, and also one of the many in which he worked together with his brother, Dag, while having the support of two other talented musicians, bassist Erik Oskarsson and drummer Tom Björn. It started way back in 1995, and there are currently 7 released albums, in which one can find some amazing musical pieces. Unfortunately, due various reasons like involvement into many other projects, respect for personal life, etc, the members do not get to play live too often, hence I decided I shouldn't miss the chance to see one of the live shows they had in 2010, the other one having already taken place in Romania, a few weeks before the Helvation Festival in Finland.
The nice festival organisers made it possible for me to sit down for quite a while with three of the Nightingale members: Dag, Erik and Tom. I must admit I had many questions aimed directly at Dan (because many people think Dan Swanö when they hear of Nightingale, and then they go on thinking Edge of Sanity, Pan.Thy.Monium and a countless other bands and projects), but his absence worked to my advantage as I got to have a great chat with the other guys, who turned out to be incredible nice and willing to talk both about the band, themselves and gossip a little about the absent one.

Below you have the transcript of a long interview, taking you through the history of the band, some personal insights about each album, life stories about Dan Swanö. It might also answer some of the “Edge of Sanity” related questions as well. But first of all, it is full of fun, as there was a lot of good mood for the entire duration. Oh, and I witnessed another interview done by a Finnish guy afterwards, during which I heard some extra funny stories, including one about air drumming.

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Dan and Dag Swanö of Nightingale, live@Helvation Festival 2010
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

Me: Let's go back to the very beginning of the Nightingale project. Can you tell me how it all started? How did you get the need for Nightingale?
Dag: If you want to go back to the real beginning, the one who began the thing is not here. I just remember he just had some lousy band in the studio back then, he was very fed up with them. So at that point, considering the goth rock mood he was in, he wanted to make an album using drum machines, synth stuff and do it very quickly. So this was his goth project in 95. And then in 96 he wanted a second album, which became “Closing Chronicles”, and he asked me to produce it and I did. There were not that many ideas, just sketches of songs so I had to put them together directly. Then in '98 we got an offer to play a very short show Örebro, our home town, for about 10 minutes, which we did and asked Erik to play bass (since I already knew him and his band) and another guy to play drums. We had another show 5-6 months later in the same city, then everything sort of disappeared. I thought it was gone forever but then in 99 Dan got enough materials for a new album, and so “I” was born. It was basically made of some old songs I or Dan already had, some of them in Swedish. But there were no plans to have a band after that. The album took almost a year to complete because Dan had a lot of stuff going on and he went over and over again through the materials. I got 52 mixes of “Scarred for Life” at home, for example, and I can't really tell the difference between them. But the problem is that the vocals were way too low and when I told him to raise the vocals he said it can't be done since the master had already been sent. So it was pretty meaningless. The album was released in September 2000. Then we started thinking about forming a band, so Dan had talked to Tom's band, Memory garden, with whom he had done some recording and engineering for their first album. We were looking for a good drummer back then as Dan wanted to play bass, although I doubt he remembers that as he had too many ideas. So it was supposed that I'd play guitars, we'd have recorded keyboards and Tom would be the drummer. But I somehow convinced him it wasn't such a great idea to have him on the bass, since it wasn't his best performance. Hence we thought of Erik.
Tom: Dan gave me the album “I” when I visited the music store where he works. I listened to it a couple of times and I was completely hooked, so when I went back to the store I told him that if they needed a drummer, I was interested.
Dag: So back then Nightingale was sort of nothing leading nowhere, as Dan had a million of projects and I collaborated with him in Pan.Thy.Monium and Unicorn and others. I liked “The Closing Chronicles”, it was nice but Dan has never been a really live player, more of a full time studio guy, hence I didn't think much of Nightingale back then. At least not more than his album, his songs and me the producer.

Me: Yet, even if it all started so fuzzy, it lasted for 15 years.
Dag: Yes, but the first album is quite disconnected. It's a product of itself being so different from what we released afterwards. Yet, some people still only like the first album, I don't know what's wrong with them. I do the same with some bands though.

Me: Currently this is not the most alive project, let's say. You have two concerts this year, Romania and Finland. So what's holding Nightingale together? I know there is an idea for a new album.
Nightingale: Dan has ideas for that. We don't have a record label though, nor any stuff recorded.
Me: So at this very moment it's only a live act?
Dag: Sort of a live act. We go to sleep for about half a year, play a gig and it's been like that for some time now. We've never been dead, nor much alive either.
Erik: But I think that's one of the reasons that kept us doing this. We don't get tired of each other.
Dag: Some people say that we still play the same songs we played 10 years ago, but the truth is we haven't played them so many times to get bored of them. It feels pretty fresh, unlike when you play a song 25 times a month.

Me: All it takes to see Nightingale then is somebody's initiative to invite you to sing and to pay for that? You are not very picky?
Dag: Yes, we'd play everywhere (author's note - the band had a concert in Cyprus that was almost like a national event there). In Sweden we are not very well known, we can maybe bring 10 people to a small show there. It's difficult today when everything is so international and on internet and bands appear to be bigger than they are. Back in the 80s, you were either a local band or you made a record and you got big. But now we're a band selling a couple of thousands records all over the world, so we're not that big. The metal as a whole is quite a small genre. Dan needs his daily job to make a living.

Me: Once you release this new album, “Bravado”, do you have any more extensive tour plans?
Tom: I actually mailed Dan to ask if we have the title “Bravado” for the new album and he said that it is just an idea.
Erik: I actually haven't heard anything about it. Now we need to find out what the name means.
Dag: It would be possible that we do a tour or something, but first we must have a new record company to fix some things. For “White Darkness”, we worked with Black Mark Productions and the promotion was non existent. The album came out and then more or less faded away. We'll wait and see what a new contract might bring.

Me: How is the writing process in Nightingale? Is it Dan and Dag as masterminds or is everyone contributing?
Dag: At the beginning it was mainly Dan and me being involved a little in the composition part. The “I” and “Alive again” albums is a split work between us, same on “Invisible”, but then on “White Darkness” it's a lot of my songs, Tom wrote a song and Erik wrote the lyrics to three tracks. I suppose the new album will see more songs from Tom and lyrics from Erik. That will make the album more diverse. We never talked about it in particular, it just comes natural. On “White Darkness” I didn't intend to have all those songs myself. I said “ok, here are all the songs that I have and maybe 3 or 4 of them are really great that I'd fight to have on the album”. Dan said he didn't have any songs, and since we needed an album, we took whatever we had. There were no leftovers. We will try to record some extra this time and maybe release bonus materials. But I personally don't write Nightingale songs by default, they are not meant for that since it's not natural for me. It's maybe one out of ten that might be suitable. There were times when Dan said “oh, this is a good Nightingale song”, while I thought it would be a disaster.

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Erik Oskarsson of Nightingale, live@Helvation Festival 2010
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

Me: So you plan to keep Nightingale in the Nightingale style and not bring a big face lift.
Erik: No, it's a sort of special atmosphere in the band's music.
Dag: When I write my own stuff, I write all sorts of styles. I don't have any in particular, it depends if I'm in the mood for folk, for blues, for funk, etc. But Nightingale is very narrow and I find that interesting and challenging at the same time. But maybe the next album will be more rock or more prog. Maybe some straight drumming. Who knows.
Tom: On the “Invisible” album we had a mix of different vocals, with everybody singing. That was more rock, while “Alive again” was more prog.

Me: These songs that are suitable for Nightingale, are they in the range of sad songs? Are the lyrics based on certain moods or experiences?
Erik: They are kinda melancholic songs. The first albums were a concept and the lyrics followed some sort of story that I haven't figured out yet. And “White Darkness” is very emotional, speaking of loneliness and such things.
Dag: I don't write any lyrics at all. The first three albums all follow Dan's story line. I had some songs back then, but since they didn't fit the lyrics line, they had to wait. Stalingrad is such an example, a song I had from 82 and only made it on an album in 2004, as it wouldn't go along with the previous ghost stories. I actually never figured the story out myself, but it's not my style. I don't like such science fiction, I like more realistic stuff. I think the lyrics on “Invisible” and “White Darkness” add more dimension to the songs the way they are. I don't say they are bad though, but it feels like Dallas when Bobby got out of the shower and came back to life after being dead. So Dan killed this bastard, I think on the “I” album he really died and came back on “Alive again”, but doesn't even look like Bobby.
Erik: There are also happy sounding, soft songs on the “Alive again” album. Not so Nightingale. Like, for example, “The One”.
Dag: Some say that this is one of the worst songs we ever made.
Erik: When I played in a small project with Dan, called Godsend, and read the lyrics of their first album I think it's almost quite the same story. And the lyrics I wrote on the last album were ok to write because Dan had no ideas and there's never been a problem for me or Tom to come up with something new, as long as it satisfies the standards. Music wise, both Dan and Dag have very high standards. Which is good for us in the end.
Dag: We are somewhat like the band Queen. Two song writers who write most of the stuff and the bass and drum player come with one or two. And they end up as the biggest hits in the end.
Me: Then why not see you on Wembley someday?
Dag: Outside probably, selling hot dogs. Ghost hot dogs.

Me: As far as I know you played an Edge of Sanity medley. This was one of the most successful projects of Dan. Do you try with Nightingale to also appeal to the fans of this project?
Dag: I think Dan is the last person to think about that. I've been talking for over 10 years to do an Edge of Sanity medley and he never wanted to do it. I wouldn't mind playing a long song of theirs, with Dan growling but he doesn't want to growl live. But I think that for those who come with the hope to hear some Edge of Sanity, it's worth to play 10 minutes of that to make them happy. It's the part of the history that people come to hear.
Me: Would you be able to tell me if there's any chance for Edge of Sanity to come back to life?
Dag: Not with the original members at least. One of them is a full time alcoholic and by what I see every day he cannot play guitar again for example.
Me: And how comfortable are you to play this medley?
Erik: These could be Nightingale songs as far as I'm concerned. The sound is like Nightingale.
Tom: There are very melodic parts and there's a lot of depth in them.
Erik: I wouldn't mind trying, but not a whole concert.
Tom: I would like if we convinced Dan to growl for one song.
Dag: We also have a problem with the duration of the set. Tonight we play for a long time, but usually it is 50 minutes or so or 30 minutes. And we already have 6 albums to pick from. So obviously Nightingale has to come first. But if it's a heavier metal event, we consider Edge of Sanity. There are also technical issues. For death metal you need very down tuned guitars, so we'd need an extra set of guitars. Playing Edge of Sanity with the stuff we are using wouldn't sound very good. Not to forget the corpse painting.

Me: How often do you rehearse for Nightingale?
Erik: Not that often.
Tom: We rehearsed like 4 times before the gig in Romania.
Me: Do you live in the same city?
Erik: Dag and I do. And Dan and Tom live in another city. So we see each other sometimes but we don't rehearse. But on the other hand we are all professionals by now and it's easy to pick it up from where we left it.

Me: Are you guys also involved in many other projects?
Erik: No. Dag and I play sometimes some small stuff, just to keep it going.
Tom: I play in another band called Memory Garden, which plays doom metal.

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Dan Swanö of Nightingale, live@Helvation Festival 2010
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

Me: I would like to know how did the musical life start for Dan Swanö?
Dag: He started really really young. He had no choice because I forced him to play. Hehe. I actually think the story goes back to our older brother who doesn't play any instrument but he was a very very dedicated hard rock fan. I think Dan started to be aware about music when he was 3 or 4 years old. I was playing in a band and he was always around, watching us playing in our garage. The first instrument he played was an organ, an Italian brand. We had a band, with our older brother and he played bass, but I had to teach him between the sets how to play a couple of notes. And I played drums. We were called “The Fords”. And Dan wrote some songs in an imaginary English.
Me: How old was he?
Dag: 5 years old. We also wrote some songs, but I still recall his imaginary language. And he played with his little fingers on the two organs displayed one on top of each other. Then we bought a drum set. I think it was around the time he was six years old that we got a drum set. Then he started playing drums. He and I played a lot. Then he started with this guy called Anders MÃ¥reby in this band called Unicorn. They had a duo. Dan played drums and Anders organ. They played a lot, wrote many songs and rehearsed 7 times a week. Every day. And even twice a day in the weekend. Then I helped them, with bass or guitar when they played live. I'm on the U.F.O. as well.
Tom: There's some videos on youtube actually.
Dag: A long while he didn't play any guitar at all. He played keyboards, we had a piano at home. I don't really know when he started playing guitar. Probably after I left, sometime around mid 80s. I remember telling him “Why do you play it upside down, stupid?” And he continues to do that. And he sort of learned to play the guitar upside down. And then it all sort of moved faster, more members came into the band, Unicorn got more serious, then by accident Edge of Sanity started. It was some sort of a joke. They put an advert in a newspaper and people wanted to actually buy their stuff. He started renting my place for recording, so I started to make money for doing nothing. But altogether I think he always liked music, he had it in his blood. And I think in his heart he is a drummer. And just by accident he became a guitarist. His guitar playing is good, but a very constructive type. He cannot really go on stage and just jam with people. He's not really a bass player, he plays keyboards ok but if you want him to make a good jam, that's drums. I think it's sort of interesting because he doesn't know the clichés of guitar playing and he can't really play other people's songs, he can play his own stuff very well though.

Me (to Tom): Do you feel challenged in Nightingale? Does he always come to you with ideas and tell you what you have to do?
Tom: Not at all. Of course he comes with some ideas. Dag also. I like that as I think it is so easy to just see your own style, do what you have always done and get feedback from your band mates.
Erik: Also when they write songs, they write with all instruments in mind. I don't have to do much.

Me: So, when you get a song composed by somebody who managed to play all the instruments on an album, they must be very easy for everyone in the band? They're not only written for guitar or keyboards for example, and the rest have to be filled up so much?
Erik: I hardly have anything to change to what I am given. Maybe some personal twists, but it makes it very easy to learn new songs.

Me: So what you told me earlier, probably means that Dan's own stuff like Moontower for example, stands no chance to ever be performed live?
Tom: We actually spoke about it on the wait from the airport yesterday and we told Dan he should put together a Moontower show for a festival or something. A one time occasion. To try to get the right people for that. Not to have like another band running, since he already has so much to do. I think the will is there, it's just a lack of time.
Erik: And there's his everlasting project that we don't think we'll ever see coming out. Second Sky. It is with some of the guys from Unicorn. They have something going for 15 years and only have recorded the drums. So it's on its way.

Me: How did you come up with the name Nightingale?
Dag: I don't know. It's from Dan. I used to be a bird watcher so it should be me, but it wasn't.
Erik: I think it's from another band's song name.
Dag: It's a pretty well known bird that sings very good, so it should fit. I love the way they sing. There's enormous power in this little gray bird.

Me: If somebody asks what kind of music does Nightingale play, what would you answer to that?
Dag: It depends on who is asking. Somebody who is not that familiar with music, I would say hard rock. But else I would say progressive hard rock. You also have to be careful with that term, because in Sweden, progressive means music that has something to do with left winged lyrics.
Tom: Prog music in Sweden is left wing, about society and stuff like that.
Dag: In Sweden there used to be a movement called Prog with very communist lyrics. Troubadours like, singing about society issues. But here in Finland for example, prog is such a wide variety of music, and good music usually. For some people prog is Dream Theater, but again, you have to be careful in Sweden because that is very political. In Romania it was something like Depressive industrial black metal and we were quite surprised to see such a title.
Erik: But for me, Nightingale is kinda like the hard rock I used to listen to when I was younger, with a little progressive thing in it. And it makes people who listen to it to find it catchy. It has catchy lyrics and there's nothing too strange about it either.

Me: Would you consider anything as inspiration for Nightingale music?
Dag: It's hard to answer that. It is a mixture of many things. Music we used to listen to when we were young for example, such as the roots of hard rock in the 70s music. For me, the first Nightingale songs remind me of Sisters of Mercy, but it's hard to pick just one band or so, since our music has to be a good song with good vocals and everything and not just inspired riffs with some words added to them. And Dan is more into the 80s stuff.
Erik: I think on the “Invisible” album you get quite a good mix of this old stuff.

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Dag Swanö of Nightingale, live@Helvation Festival 2010
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

Me: Which is the album you are most fond of?
Erik: I like the “Invisible” for some reasons, even though I didn't contribute that much to it. But I liked that when we did it, we had to rehearse the songs before for a long time.
Dag: It was the only album we really did this way. For the others, it all had to be complete. Maybe some songs on “White Darkness” were played live before and got put together the last minute. For “Invisible” it was more interesting as we played all the songs on that album live and that made it maybe the most Nightingale album in the end. It also has two of my best songs on it (“Stalingrad”, “A raincheck on my demise”), and my worst song as well (“Worlds apart”). I also think the song “Misery” is a very crappy one. But that's the thing I also love with many bands, they have ups and downs. An album like “I” is the most even album we ever made. I think every song is good but it doesn't have any really killer song. “Alive again” is more uneven, so is “White Darkness”.
Erik: The thing with “Invisible” is that it is our first real band album. It is the first without the concept, it has a different sound, it has everybody singing.
The Finnish guy who joined Nightingale for the interview: This week I have asked Dan if he can pick 13 most important albums from his career and that maybe influenced the Nightingale sound in a way, and this is the reply I got: Marillion, Rush, Kiss, Judas Priest, Kansas, Queensrÿche, and more.

Me: When it comes to album art, is there an artist you are working with or is it a band's idea?
Erik: I don't really know, it is Dan's baby again. He doesn't draw them again, but he worked with a Hungarian guy for one of the albums. Then for “White Darkness” it was a guy from Sweden who took pictures of us in white suites and with smokes. On “Alive again” it is a photo of an eye then something added in Photoshop. And we get to be asked if we like it, and it's usually “wow, cool”.
Tom: I was a bit surprised with the Chinese letters on the cover. Dan said it's something like “Never give up”, but we're not quite sure about that so it as well can mean something else.
Dag: As long as the cover suits the music, we're fine. If we were to take photos in a pub, drinking beer or so, I would be quite against that.
Erik: And no nudity.
Tom: I think Dan didn't want anything black with that album, since it is all over the place.
Dag: Ever since we agreed to call the album “White darkness”, we agreed it should be white and we came with this idea.

Me: There are many people collecting vinyls today. Do you consider releasing anything for them?
Dag: No. I hate vinyls. If the record company wants to do it, I can't stop them, but I'm gonna buy some and then I'm gonna smash them. Over my dead body. I lived through vinyls so many years of my life and I don't want it back.
Tom: I think it has a lot to do with the nostalgia. Young kids today they haven't really lived (Dag's correction: they haven't suffered the pain of vinyls) through that.
Dag: We also hate cassettes. It would be really cool if we released an album on a cassette though.

Me: How was it for you to play in Romania?
Dag/Erik/Tom: It was cool, we had a great time.
Me: I know it was very late at night…
Erik: There were some things going on with the setlist and the time we should play, but overall it was a good show, nice venue and nice people.
Dag: I don't think many people have heard of us before, but some enjoyed the Edge of Sanity medley for example or they seemed to know some of the songs.
Tom: Mostly on every show we do there's some guys standing in front of the stage
Dag: And they always look the same — a bit fat, with glasses. Why are there no girls?
Me: Do you want fat girls with glasses?
Dag: Nonono. But about the Romanian show, I believe the gig was very well organised and we are very pleased with the outcome.

Me: You don't do much of a stage show..
Erik: We don't do much headbanging.
Dag: We don't have any hair. Except Tom. But drummers don't headbang.
Erik: And he's not allowed to take his tshirt off because all the girls in the audience would look at him. So he has to sit still and drum. And shut up.
Dag: We are very democratic when it comes to song writing and recording, but when it comes to performing it's a dictatorship. Actually that might explain the fat guys in the audience. They say “oh, there's another fat guy, I'd better watch him”.
The Finnish guy: You should make a rule like “No better looking guys than the band are allowed in the audience”
Dag: Then there would be very few people left in the audience.
Erik: Have some bags.
Dag: It could become the Ku Klux Klan. Maybe not such a big problem in Finland.
Erik: But we don't have these cliché looks that most metal bands come with on stage. We just play. We just want to play the music. And not show how often we go to the gym and do nothing while we're there.

Me: Do you know anything about “Odyssey”, the new solo project of Dan's?
Dag: I play on it, a guitar solo. It is going to be released soon, but since it is Vic records, it might as well be in 25 years. Tom has some experience with the recording company, I call them Sack records. But the album is finished though.

Me: What about interaction with fans? Do you keep in touch through any pages?
Dag: Ultimate metal forum is what we are checking and check it quite regularly.
Erik: We have our own facebook page as well.
—censored discussion about what fans debate on forums—

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Nightingale, live@Helvation Festival 2010
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / StudioRock

By Andrea Chirulescu