Interview with Mårten Hagström of Meshuggah

Probably every musical piece out there is a matter of experimenting, but the Swedish band Meshuggah has been really pushing the boundaries of experiments and has offered a very genuine extreme metal since their 1991 release called Contradictions collapse. 5 more studio releases and 20 years later I got the chance for a short talk with the band's guitarist, Mårten Hagström, after their performance at Norway Rock festival 2011, in Kvinesdal Norway, with the support of my colleague Ståle Malkenes who took the photos during the interview.

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Mårten Hagström of Meshuggah live@Norway Rock festival 2011
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / studiorock.ro

Let's start by asking what's happening in the life of Meshuggah
MH: Right now we are doing these summer festivals, about 12 or something and then we'll probably try to finish up an album. The next album is coming along and we're looking to finish it in the fall or winter and Nuclear Blast plans to release it in March, as that's the schedule.

But what stage are you at right now? When I asked at Inferno there was one song ready.
MH: We could have been far by now if we really wanted to, but the rehearsing is taking a lot away from the writing process. What happens now is that we're still writing. We put down like one song with drum tracks and everything. We're doing it a bit differently now. Normally we are finishing off all the songs, get them together and record them. Now we are writing songs and whatever song gets finished first we record that one. So it could be spread out a little bit. That's why we only have one song recorded so far. When we get back from Italy, on Monday, we're gonna record a second song and then hopefully a week after we're gonna do a third song. We've got like…well, it's too early to tell cause we might just change things. Right now we got a lot of material. So it's a matter of getting it together, arranging it. It is a good plan, hopefully.

Any surprises that I can ask about on the new album? Would you consider going into new instruments or so?
MH: Instruments wise we are not gonna go anywhere new, but, well, when we make an album we at least think that we try to do something that's not totally different, yet our sound with a different groove. This time, from what it feels right now, it's gonna be a little bit slower and a little bit groovier album. But that's just generally. I think that we will like this album better than the media.

Is it the same writing process with Tomas writing lyrics and..
MH: Yea, this hasn't changed, yet. He still writes the lyrics. Musically, well, actually I don't know about this album, but usually, on previous albums, it's been divided between me and Fredrik and Tomas. Maybe Dick is going to have a song or two now, Jens as well. But it actually depends on what we decide to have on the album in the end. Right now everybody is writing and we are dividing as much writing as possible between us.

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Fredrik Thordendal of Meshuggah live@Norway Rock festival 2011
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / studiorock.ro

What about other side projects of Meshuggah members? Are there any going on? Like for example Fredrik had this collaboration with Morgan Ã…gren..
MH: Actually that was Fredrik's solo project on which Morgan participated. Actually right now, apart from Meshuggah, Fredrik is doing his Special Defects 2 but he's saying that it will probably get few years until it's done. Besides Meshuggah he's got a lot of other stuff for which needs to take his time. But he's working on it. I also got my thing, a stoner metal band that's just me.

Like a one man army?
MH: Actually Fredrik is supposed to play the drums. He's a good drummer, a really good one. But he's faking out now since he's got so much other stuff to do. What I'm doing though is that I am putting together an album with everything, bass, guitar, and it's like Meshuggah but stoner.

I need to hear it, I cannot manage to picture that.
MH: It's very introvert and very me. It's not full of the technical part at all but it's the vibe I like. And our sound engineer is going to play the bass. That's the main plan. Even if I do it the proper way, full album and all, I might just just keep it for myself.

That's just unfair!
MH: You have not heard it, you might think it sucks, you know!

But I need to hear it to judge it
(conversation interrupted by the other guys in the band to announce that they're satisfied with the chef)

What's the story of Future Breed Machine and its various versions?
MH: It was pretty obvious to us, quite early or back in the days where starting out, that this would be one of the songs that when you talk to someone who doesn't know you that well, they would still go 'oh, you people made that song'. It was kind of our hit back in 95, so we played that song so many times. Today, well, live it's not a problem, people wanna hear it so it's good, but it's not quite a song we like to rehearse. So we've been messing around with it to make fun of the song that we always had to play.

How often do you rehearse these days?
MH: Never. Heh, actually way too little. Before this show we rehearsed…

In the bus, like in the video?
MH: Not really that bad, but close. We rehearsed two times for this show. We played two weeks ago so it's not that bad, but we didn't even rehearse the whole set once before we played. What we do is we just go in and we rehearse a week before a couple of songs, songs that we think would need a bit of practice. Like for example one song we didn't get to play today as we only had one hour, but we plan to play it in Italy, is New Millenium Cyanide Christ. It's gonna be played live for the first time in a lot of years. But to make an excuse, since we are in the album writing process we are pretty warmed up and we also have a lot of stuff on our minds.

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Jens Kidman of Meshuggah live@Norway Rock festival 2011
Photo: Andrea Chirulescu / studiorock.ro

Like Jens asked the crowd today on stage if we'd rather hear a Meshuggah song or a Rick Astley one, did you ever think of covering a song and make it Meshuggah style?
MH: Well, not like that, not a Rick Astley song but we've been messing around with the idea. Actually some years ago we had this idea that everyone in the band comes up with two songs. So you end up with 10 songs. And everyone picks whatever song they want to have covered. And then just try to meshugganise whatever there is. But that's how it goes with the band actually, we had that idea for like 7 years and we never done anything about it. So maybe one day. I would maybe cover something of Voivod.

The interview ended here actually, but there were a few more minutes of chat during which I thanked the band for allowing photographers for all their set at Inferno festival and MÃ¥rten agreed that both artists and photographers are there to do their job and why would any of the two parts prevent the others from working. Unless you have a hobby for sticking your camera right into the musician's nose and making him a nasty - and sometimes painful - surprise when he changes position. He also said that if you're at all offended by the cameras and flashes then maybe you should actually do something else than being on stage. Plus we heard a funny short story about how he ruined a foam screen placed on the side of a stage at a gig in the US as his guitar got stuck in it but luckily noone seemed to notice.

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Meshuggah Interview
Photo: Ståle Trøan Malkenes