Sweden’s doomy vintage rockers, Avatarium, just released their third album, Hurricanes and Halos, so the time was appropriate to catch up with six-string maestro Marcus Jidell. He talked about the new songs, the making of the album, as well as their upcoming Finnish live debut at Tuska.
First of all, congratulations on your new album, Hurricans & Halos. To my ears, the songs on the new album are catchier than before, and while Jennie-Ann Smith’s vocals are great as usual, it feels like the material plays to her strengths even more than before. Was this more melodic and vocal-centered approach something you aimed for or did it just take shape naturally?
I think we aimed for a different mood on this album, because we wanted to take our music further. I’m not sure if it’s more melodic actually, but I think it’s more diverse and more bluesy and jazzy. We already had this sort of touch in Moonhorse, for example, but I’m glad that we can use it now a little bit more.
I also noticed that the doom elements have been toned down in favor of 70s heavy rock and other influences. Did the fact that Leif [Edling] now has another doom metal project [The Doomsday Kingdom] have an effect on Avatarium?
Yes, I think it’s good for both me and Leif to have a place (with The Doomsday Kingdom) where we can totally work with our love for old school metal! In that sense it’s a good thing, but Avatarium is rather a band in progress and we mix many different styles. When I take a look into my record collection and to what I listen to at home, Avatarium is more close to that now than it was a few years ago.
Hurricanes and Halos marks the first time you and Jennie-Ann have contributed to the songwriting. Was it intimidating at all to step into the territory of a prolific writer like Leif?
As a start we actually wrote “Deep Well” on the EP, so it’s not the first time we wrote something. And since that song is very popular when we play it live, it helped our self-confidence a bit. But I’m very happy to have Leif around me – he helped me a lot with becoming a better songwriter. But of course this also means that we have to bring very good stuff to the table, otherwise it wouldn’t make sense. It’s so inspiring… Leif works a lot on each song, puts great effort into small details, and so did we on our songs now. And since we always worked on song arrangements together, even before being involved in the songwriting, we had the feeling for Avatarium songs from the beginning on.
You have Mats Rydström on bass, now that Leif is concentrating on songwriting. How did you find him and how is he fitting in?
I saw Mats in a blues club in Stockholm; me and some friends went out for a beer and I was stunned, because he took all my attention while being on stage. I immediately felt that he would be perfect for the band. And Leif never played live with us, so we needed a new member anyway. We had Anders Iwers before, but he lives in Gothenburg, so working with Mats was easier for us and he’s just a brilliant musician.
One track that stood out to me immediately is “Road to Jerusalem” – can you tell a bit more about that song and how it came together?
It was inspired by Crosbys, Stills & Nash as well as Led Zeppelin’s acoustic stuff and their special way of tuning a guitar. That’s how it started, we wrote it completely on an acoustic guitar. And Leif really liked how it sounded and said, “You should try to do some sort of gospel lyric to that, something about finding the way to salvation,” and he came up with the title, before Jennie-Ann wrote the lyrics. There’s quite a 60s vibe in it and I’m very happy about that, as I always wanted to bring that flair into our music… Jimi Hendrix style.
You’ve named “When Breath Turns to Air” – a song with personal significance to you, as it’s dedicated to your late father. Do you have any other favorites on the album?
It’s hard to pick favorites; I think I love them all equally and we are very proud of that album. We always want to move forward and reach for new horizons and of course can’t wait to play the new songs live.
The sound of the album is quite warm and even dynamic by modern standards. Did you approach the recording process differently in terms of equipment or production choices this time around?
Once again, we’re continuing our journey with sounds and emotions and we’re getting better at what we’re doing. We used both vintage and modern equipment and what we go after is the gut feeling… how you feel when you hear the music. But we spend a lot of money on good studios and equipment, so yes, I can say that I’m extremely concerned about the sound. And this is the first time in my life that I’m 100% happy with it.
In the press release, you say the album title was inspired by the abuse of power in the modern world, yet judging by the song titles you haven’t abandoned the mystic fantasy themes of the previous albums either. As a creative person, do you feel it’s inevitable that your work ends up reflecting what’s going on in the outside world or is it possible to shut it all out and use music as a means of escape?
We are looking inside a human mind with our lyrics… we try to find the dark corners and a few bright parts. And I think music should be a way of escapism. Sometimes you need it as a form of drug. What we are interested in is the psychological stuff of a human mind, but also telling stories. We’re not a political band but we felt that there is too much crazy stuff going on in the world. Weird politicians… In Sweden, the second biggest party used to be a Nazi party 25 years ago. This shouldn’t be normal! We don’t want to be too political but we don’t want people to get used to right-winged crazy guys, even though they wear suits and act innocent. We always have to react when people try to scare us and try to exclude other people. Don’t get used to hate and discrimination!
A while ago you also joined Soen and played on their new album Lykaia. How has your time in the band been so far?
It’s been good. I started touring with the band after they had delivered their previous album and now I played on the new one and also produced it. They are awesome musicians and great guys, we have the same kind of attitude and I’m very happy to play with them.
Unless I’m mistaken, your slot at the Tuska Festival in Helsinki will be Avatarium’s first appearance on Finnish soil. What are your expectations for the show and can we expect club gigs around here in the near future?
We expect to be… brilliant. Haha. I love Finland and I’ve always loved playing in Finland with my other bands. We will play in a tentat Tuska, which is always better than in bright daylight. But we also hope to be able to play some headlining shows in the future and return to Finland, as it’s such a great country with wonderful people.
Thanks for your time!