From Nothing to Number "I"
CoC chats with Tomas Haake of Meshuggah
by: Jackie Smit
It's a funny thing, trends. Usually started off the back of something fairly obvious and arbitrary, it's always highly amusing to observe those who are first to jump on the proverbial bandwagon, staunchly claiming to be the ones who were "there from the beginning". With the exception possibly of Opeth, this ironic state of affairs has never been more applicable than in the case of Swedish math-metallers Meshuggah, whose star has been on the ascent from the moment that a morbidly obese Jack Osbourne waddled his way on to television and used their "Future Breed Machine" to intimidate his neighbours. True, they may have been around for more than a decade before that, creating some memorable slabs of metal like _Destroy Erase Improve_, but pre quasi-celebrity endorsement, the majority of the media would not give them the time of day. But times have changed and right now it looks as though the world at large has finally started to "get" Meshuggah. Thankfully though, the band seem just as hungry as ever to dumbfound, confuse and befuddle -- whilst still keeping it heavy, of course. I caught up with drummer Tomas Haake on the eve of the band's recent London show to discuss future plans, past mistakes and the sweet taste of comeuppance.

CoC: Your last album, _Nothing_, was released off the back of a lot of publicity and hype. You were on the Ozzfest, you'd been mentioned by Jack Osbourne on their show and you were being touted as the 'next big thing' in virtually every other magazine across the globe. In light of this, are you happy with the overall response you eventually got for the album?

Tomas Haake: Oh, of course we're happy with the response. I mean, sales-wise it's not like we've made it big or anything, but it seems like we're getting a lot of credit from other musicians and we're moving head commercially, so that's all good. As far as the Jack Osbourne thing goes, I think it's a bit overblown. It's three minutes of an old song, and I wouldn't really add too much value to that -- I doubt it really helped us all that much. We did get some extra press out of it, but that was from people who were more interested in why we were mentioned, rather than in anything actually about the band. So, we got some more press from it, but at the end of the day, it's not really press that you need. I think that the main reason that we got on to the Ozzfest was not because of Jack Osbourne anyway. The same people that booked us for the Tool tour were very involved in the Ozzfest, and having seen us the year before, they got in contact with us again and that got us on the tour.

CoC: It's interesting that you mention press that one doesn't really need -- in the UK especially, the mainstream metal magazines seemed to have a sudden change of heart regarding Meshuggah following your mention on the Osbournes, in the sense that writers who a few years ago would never give you guys the time of day, were suddenly acting as though they were your oldest and most loyal fans. How do you feel about this shift in attitude?

TH: Well, I think it's either a case of the people in the press taking too much notice of the things we talked about, or that people are actually finally coming to grips with what we're doing here. I'm not really sure, but I can imagine that it takes a lot of time for people to understand what we're doing, because it's kind of different. The average listener might not understand what it is on first listen. It's not something that you just put on in the background and leave it on. And that's what we like about this music. We like the fact that people have to really listen to it. You don't put it on at a party or something -- that would wreck the party!

CoC: With _Nothing_ Meshuggah seemed to take another step into a more concept-driven and avant-garde direction. Now with your upcoming EP _I_, you've recorded a single song of 21 minutes. What was the reason for doing something like this?

TH: Actually it was just one of those cases where everyone says "Fuck, let's do it." We were asked by Jason [Mann, from Mushroomhead], who now has his own small label that he's just starting up, whether we'd like to do something for him. At the time we were kind of in an argument with Nuclear Blast, because according to our understanding we had no more obligations toward them. So, we accepted it, went into the studio and played around and hoped that something good would come out of it, and it did. It's a really cool song -- Meshuggah fans will love it. It's really intricate and it really grabs you as a listener. It also goes through a lot of changes -- there are lots of mellow parts and then there are parts that (for Meshuggah at least) are faster than anything we've ever recorded. It has this kind of unserious touch to it as well; it's quite funny at times, but it has a lot of raw energy as well. I really think that people will like it.

CoC: Touching on the label issue for a moment -- your next album (_Catch 33_) is still being released on Nuclear Blast later this year, according to my knowledge.

TH: Yeah, that's right.

CoC: Have you guys decided to re-sign with them then?

TH: No, we haven't re-signed with them, it's just a matter of opinion. They say that we owe them a full-length album and in our opinion we don't, and instead of taking it to court -- no matter who wins the case, the drawback would definitely be on our account, because fans would have to wait longer for the next record, we wouldn't be able to tour... It's basically just a case of saying "Fuck it", and doing it and keeping the fans happy. And it's going to be cool album -- we're not going to be putting out a lot of nonsense. It's not a proper full-length if you will, more like an experimental full-length. Like _I_, it will be one single song, but at full-length. It's going to be much more guitar riff based than anything we have ever done as well, so there won't be as much of the drumming that kind of throws you off -- just more straightforward, but at the same time totally insane riffing.

CoC: I guess it stands to reason that this will be quite a departure from _Nothing_?

TH: I'd say so, yes. It's definitely experimental and we're not telling people that this is the next official full-length. If you're looking for another _Chaosphere_ or another _Nothing_ that contains a bunch of different songs, then this is probably not the album that you want to buy, but if you're interested in anything that we're doing then it's something you should check out. Like I said, I'm sure that Meshuggah fans will love it. It's definitely a step to the side of what we're doing right now.

CoC: Is there a single underlying concept running through _Catch 33_?

TH: There is a certain concept running through it if you will, because it is just one song with one set of lyrics. At the same time, the concept is very vague.

CoC: Looking back at how Meshuggah has evolved and the extent to which the band take more and more chances with every album, what has been the inspiration behind all these risks you've taken?

TH: I don't know, really. In one sense we've started listening to a lot of different music, compared to what we listened to before. We don't really listen to metal all that much anymore -- more electronic and alternative styles. I think -that- on one hand has probably contributed somewhat, and also the fact that we just don't listen to all that much music in general anymore. You know, we make our way as we're going -- we influence ourselves while we're writing, as opposed to being influenced by other bands. We couldn't give, you know, a fuck about what's trendy now or what's working now. We've never cared about that stuff. The changes that we've gone through in between _Destroy Erase Improve_ up until the next full-length have been pretty big, but where we'll end up after _Catch 33_ -- that's hard to say.

CoC: You haven't considered nine-string guitars yet, have you?

TH: <laughs> That would be difficult. You have to make the guitar neck really long for that. Even with these eight-string guitars that we're using, for them to be intonated properly and to sound good, you need the guitar neck much longer. So for a nine-string you're pretty much stretching the limits!

CoC: You mentioned earlier that Meshuggah is being referenced a lot more by other bands lately and your band's influence is starting to become more and more apparent on up and coming acts like Mushroomhead. Out of fan, press and peer recognition -- which do you value as being the most important?

TH: <pauses> That's really hard to say. It's definitely cool that we have influenced other bands, because it's definitely an indication that a lot people listen to our music and a lot of people are into what we do. There's a lot of people that come up to me and say that they're really sorry if we think they've ripped us off, and we usually listen to their stuff and find that there's a lot of our sound going on there. But at the end of the day, we still haven't found anyone that sounds like us. Usually there's a lot of drummers out there that think they can do intricate parts, but to copy the style of guitar-playing and the bass-lines that the guys in our band do is really hard. It's not that we really mind either, though. Music is free for everyone to take and remake. If that's what you want to do, then go ahead. We don't want to do that. We're not interested in sounding like anyone else. We definitely feel like we're pioneers in a way in this metal genre that we play in. As far as getting our music out and getting new fans -- that's what we're about. It gives us the energy to continue. I mean, that's basically what bands do. They try to reach out to new people, and as long as we keep growing with each album, that's a good sign.

CoC: So aside from all these things that go along with being in a band, what drives you as a person to still want to make music?

TH: Well, within the context of this band, I feel very free. I can program or write or come up with pretty much everything and it won't be like when we started out. We will always try to make songs out of everything that someone comes up with. I mean, if it doesn't work out, then that's okay too. We all have a fixed idea of where we want our music to go and what sort of sounds we trip on where we can say: 'Yeah, that sounds really fucking cool.' So, that's definitely the strongest driving point for me. As a band we also feel that we've only just begun. There's so much more out there to collect and to create. That's a really strong driving power.

CoC: Touring with bands that don't necessarily have a strong connection on a musical level to what you do, like Tool, etc. -- is that something you want to do more of in future?

TH: That's not something that we necessarily want. To us it doesn't matter if we're opening for a death metal band, or if we're headlining with a band that we love. We just don't want to open up for a band that we think sucks, or have a band open for us that we don't like. That was also the setup with Tool -- they could have had any band, but they wanted us on the tour and we got decent pay for it too. So it's evident that they work in the same way.

CoC: Who would be your dream band to tour with?

TH: I grew up listening to Rush, so to me it would be great to tour with them, although I don't think that our music would work with that. Tool was definitely one of the bands that I wanted to tour with. Metallica, of course -- I think their fans are a lot more harsh to opening bands, but I think that our music could work along with a lot of different styles. With Tool we didn't expect it to work because of their music style and because their crowd is like 50% girls. We don't really attract girls other than someone's girlfriend, you know. I don't think that we're your typical "girl's music".

CoC: You're known for taking a long time between recording albums, so what can we expect from Meshuggah in the next few years?

TH: Well, that's the cool thing now -- we have the EP coming out this year and then _Catch 33_ around October / November. So that will be two releases in this year, and we won't tour for them. So right after they're released, we'll start on the next proper Meshuggah full-length. When we're done with that, we'll probably try to stay on the road for a while and get the most out of it. We also want to go to places we haven't been yet, like South Africa, Japan or Australia when we do that tour.

CoC: What would you regard as your greatest personal accomplishment in Meshuggah so far?

TH: It's really hard to say. I mean, I consider myself a drummer first and foremost, but we really put a lot of collective energy into the lyrics as well. I can't really name one lyric I feel very strongly about, but I think that overall the development that we have gone though lyrically is one of the great accomplishments for me in this band. It's easier for me to learn to play than it is to learn to express myself through writing. We feel strongly about not having the same type of lyrics that all the other metal bands are doing. We try to stay away from all the metal clich├ęs that other bands do.

CoC: Any last words?

TH: No man, I never have any last words. <laughs>

(article submitted 7/31/2004)


ALBUMS
5/6/2012 D Lake 9 Meshuggah - Koloss
2/25/2008 J Smit 8.5 Meshuggah - obZen
4/19/2005 J Smit 7 Meshuggah - Catch 33
7/12/2003 J Smit 6 Meshuggah - Nothing
10/19/2001 C Flaaten 5 Meshuggah - Raretrax
1/16/1999 A Bromley 9.5 Meshuggah - Chaosphere
1/1/1998 A Gaudrault 6 Meshuggah - The True Human Design
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