Dark Tranquillity Vocalist Mikael Stanne Talks New Album ‘Construct’, Touring & More

By Andrew Bansal

Longstanding Swedish extreme metal heavyweights Dark Tranquillity have been around for a while, and their fan-base continues to grow even today, reaching out to newer territories rather rapidly. They  released the face-melting ‘We Are The Void’ album in 2010 and backed it up with some rock-solid touring all over the world. Now, they have completed work on their 10th studio album ‘Construct’, and it’s set to release via Century Media on May 27/28 in Europe/North America. Last night (April 15th 2013), I had the pleasure of talking to vocalist Mikael Stanne to discuss the making of this album, the band’s past and future tours, vocals, and more. Enjoy the chat below, and prepare yourself for the upcoming Dark Tranquillity onslaught next month!

Your new album ‘Construct’ is coming out at the end of May, and the public got its first taste of the album just today, with the song ‘For Broken Words’. That song is a bit darker and heavier than what you did on ‘We Are The Void’. Is that a representation of the new album, or does the album vary from song to song?

We feel it’s a pretty good representation. It’s not like the rest of the songs sound exactly like that. But it’s definitely a darker album. It’s definitely heavier in many ways. It’s more melodic, and yeah, it’s the first song of the album so it kind of kicks things into gear. At least we feel that way. We’re very proud of the song, the way it came out, and we felt like it would be a good choice for the first premiere. It’ll open some eyes, some people will probably be surprised by it, and that’s the reaction we wanted. I’ve been browsing through the band’s facebook page, and many people are like, ‘Oh Shit! That’s what we wanted! It would have been boring if they were instead saying, ‘Oh alright, another song, nothing special’.

Talking of ‘We Are The Void’, I think it’s an amazing album and one of the best releases of 2010. But was it important for you to not repeat and put out the exact same thing?

Yeah, for sure. As good as we feel about that album and the way that it came out, the writing process for that album was grueling and really, really difficult. We spent almost a year in the rehearsal room just going back and forth with songs and parts, bits and pieces here and there, and working so hard just to make it work! It was torture at times, but that eventually is a good thing because what comes out of that misery is something positive in the end. But it was really, really tough. So, after the touring that we did for We Are The Void, we just couldn’t go back and do something like that again for another year. We didn’t have the energy for it, we didn’t really feel inspired, we didn’t have the drive to actually do that. So we figured that we had to do something else. In order to make an album we had to do something drastic. What ended up happening was that we just kept booking more tours! Let’s do another tour, another festival, let’s do this and that, so we don’t have to worry about making a new album (laughs) because it just seemed like an obstacle that we couldn’t overcome. So eventually we just decided, ‘Fuck it! Let’s take all the material we have, go in the studio and just focus.’ Niklas, Martin and Anders were like,’Perhaps we all don’t have to do it at the same time. If the three of us start and put it together, it’ll eventually work for all of us.’ Because it’s easier to be three and not five or six, so that’s how it started. They prepared all the basic foundations of the songs, and then I started working on it, and we finished it. So, at least in our minds it was really an ‘against all odds’ kind of thing. We felt like it was not going to work. Where do we take this? Where do we go? What is it going to sound like? Is it going to work? Is it fun or interesting? Do we have something to say? It’s the 10th album, does it have any purpose? It was really like a low point, you know. But what ended up happening was that we were more energized, inspired and positive than ever before. It turned out to be a really positive experience, as tough as it was. The end result was so satisfying, because of the struggle we had to go through to get there.

I thought We Are The Void was a continuation of Fiction in terms of the musical elements, but this one is almost like a fresh thing. Would you agree with that?

Yeah, it’s kind of like a reaction to what we’ve been doing. It just didn’t feel inspiring to keep doing the same thing. As happy as we were with the direction, you just cannot keep repeating yourself for doing the same thing. You have to feel fresh. The slightest little change in the method of writing is a welcome one. If you can start from a different angle or perspective, it makes all the difference and I think we just didn’t want to do another album like that. We decided, let’s do it differently. This is more melody-driven I think, some of the songs are really heavy and others are really slow and mellow. There are some ‘out there’ parts and some of it is catchy and to-the-point. I guess we tried to strip out all the unnecessary stuff and focused on what was really important. That’s always a challenge too. Making simple, straightforward music can be as hard as making complex music.

That’s true! So, your bassist Daniel Antonsson was announced to have departed the band earlier this year, and you announced the completion of the album soon after. Just to clarify, does he play bass on the album?

No, he left before that. We decided that it wasn’t working anymore and he wasn’t really there for the band. His mind was somewhere else and he wasn’t really pulling us in the right direction, so to speak. So we just felt like it’s not working, and this was before we started writing, actually. But we made it official a little bit later, so it didn’t affect the writing or recording at all beside the fact that we didn’t have a bass player during the recording. But Martin used to play bass, and when we talked about it, he didn’t think it was a bad idea. He was like, fuck yeah! He hasn’t played bass in the band since ’99 but it made perfect sense and he came up with some really, really cool stuff. His playing is immaculate and perfect, so it was very cool and I was very happy to hear his bass playing in the band again. Now we’ve got to find a session guy for a while until we find someone serious. For a while we’re just going to take it easy and have session members.

Before the start of the interview we were talking about the last North American tour. That was in 2010. Almost all bands keep coming back to America every year, even the European ones. But was it just a case of Dark Tranquillity touring in other places or working on the new album that prevented you from coming back in the past 3 years?

We did a lot of other tours actually. We did China and many other territories. It was kind of sad because we wanted to get back to America but it didn’t make any sense financially and time-wise. I guess we always thought that we should make another round, we probably will, but it just never happened. We did some short European tours instead, and kept postponing this inevitable hard work that we didn’t want to put ourselves through (laughs). But now, the American tour starts in late September. We’ll announce it pretty soon. We’re really excited about it. We’ve got some fantastic support acts and I’m really looking forward to that. It should be one kickass tour!

That’s great to hear. I was also just looking at shows you have coming up in other countries as well. A couple of them stood out to me. You have a show in Tunisia and another one in Dubai! Have you played there before? Most bands usually don’t get to play in such places.

For sure! Tunisia we played two years ago I think, and it was really cool. We pulled 20,000 people. It was insane and awesome! This kind of revolution thing happened, then it kind of died down (laughs), and now we’re finally going back again. Then Dubai I have no idea about! It seems interesting and of course we want to go. We hope we’ll get to stay there for a little bit and see the country. It’s a fascinating, weird, crazy country and we want to see that. We’re looking forward to it. There’s nothing better than to play in a new country for the first time. There’s always something special about it. There’s a sense of anticipation and expectation, and to see the reaction of the audience and feeling that energy is the best thing in the world.

Were you surprised that your music has actually reached out to those places? Either that or you have a really amazing booking agent!

It is amazing that it’s reached out like that! We have an amazing booking agent, but it’s ourselves. We do most of that stuff on our own. But it’s great that we get the offer to play in some of these places you wouldn’t think of as places having a fan-base. You don’t know because sometimes you don’t even get in contact with people from such places. People in parts of Eastern Europe sometimes, we have no idea about because nobody speaks English so we don’t see any reaction from them on facebook or anywhere else. But when you get there it’s fucking fantastic! So there’s a lot of places like which we don’t think of as metal places but they’re awesome. We’re very happy to travel like we do and see new places. We’re going to India again pretty soon, so that’s going to be cool too.

Oh, I don’t think that’s even been announced by anybody. This is the first I’m hearing of it!

Oh, wow! We’re definitely confirmed for a festival in the early summer. It’s not that far off, probably in June or July. It’s the Bangalore Open Air.

That’s awesome. Last year they had Kreator as the headliner. But how was your first show in India, in 2011 in the city of Hyderabad?

It was really cool. We had no idea obviously of what to expect. It was huge. The city itself has around 12 million people which is almost twice the total number in Sweden (laughs). We played at a university and it was so nice. We had the time of our lives. We spent a week in India, got some vacation time in Goa and couple of days in Hyderabad. It was fantastic, the show was excellent and some really cool bands played there. Definitely looking forward to coming back.

I’ll end the interview with an album-related question. On the previous album, I think you explored some deeper styles of vocals that you don’t normally do. Is ‘Construct’ more standard in that sense or are you continuing to experiment with it?

Oh, I don’t know! It does feel different and it feels really good this time because I recorded it in a different way. I had a handheld microphone which I was singing into. In the usual process I have to stand up and stay still all the time, but with this thing it was a huge difference, at least for me because I always had the mic in my hand and I could sing whenever I wanted to. Whenever I’m in the studio it’s uncomfortable and frustrating to just stand the whole time, but then we found a microphone that actually works better if you hold it, and it made such a big difference for me. I’m so happy with it, and it just felt like such a relief to record every day. It has a different sound to it, and it’s hard for me to explain but it does feel good. I’m very proud of the way the vocals came out. It sounds exactly the way it wanted to sound. I’m more pleased with this album than with many of our past albums actually. It just felt right, vocally.