If at any point in your life you’ve enjoyed a video game and a metal band, and you still aren’t familiar with Machinae Supremacy, you should probably be ashamed of yourself. This mostly-Swedish group formed back in 2000, introducing the world to the ultimate blend of SID sounds, awesome lyrics, and catchy metal music. That’s not the only frontier they’ve explored either, as they’re one of the few big bands out there who give free music and video downloads to their fans. Pioneers that aren’t afraid to keep pace with a changing world, these guys are a force to be reckoned with and we were excited to get a chance to talk to them about touring, music, games, and piracy!
Welcome back to Finland and thanks for taking the time to do this interview! We saw you guys last in October, though there hasn’t been an album since then. What brings you back out on tour so soon?
Rob: Good question. We did a fundraiser to go to a bunch of places, because we’ve not had the best success booking gigs and we want to push ourselves, so we figured if we can take bigger risks ourselves and fund much of the tour without trying to get a good deal so we can go somewhere, we’ll be able to do all that. Even so, we promised a bunch of countries and we did a few of them last year and now we figured we’d do the rest, but we haven’t managed to book all the countries because they won’t have us.
So we figure, okay, we’ll keep working at it, but at least we have a bit more in the UK and a bit more in Germany now, but what we want to add is France and Holland and Belgium. We have a few that we haven’t reached yet. We were there with Bodom but we haven’t headlined, so we have some stuff to do. We’re hoping to be a bit more ambitious than these four countries.
That’s how it is with us. We don’t book gigs well. I don’t know why, if it’s just because our niche is kind of off-putting to some venues or if they just don’t see the numbers. I don’t know actually.
Have you been to one particular country where you find people are really into your sound?
Niklas: This one.
Rob: Finland’s a good example. Russia won’t let us quit playing. There’s the standard, you go off stage, you come back, and in Russia they don’t care. They’re all like, “No, no, you’re not done.”
Jonas: Most of the eastern European countries. Poland, Czech Republic, they’re really good.
Rob: Then you have the countries where they don’t know you. Like when we opened for Bodom, we were in Italy and we walked out on stage and three thousand people were screaming like they’re fucking insane, and we’re like, “I hope they know we’re not Bodom.” They did and they were there to have fun and they didn’t know who we were but it didn’t matter. It was like, “These guys are with them, so we’re going to enjoy this!” It’s definitely different.
Have you ever toured in North America/South America?
Rob: Not toured. We played MAGFest, which is the Music and Games Festival. That’s where we met these Urizen guys that are playing with us now. We’ve only played in the one place in two times, but hopefully we’ll change that. Maybe next year.
What are your plans music-wise after the tour you’re doing now?
Rob: The next album, I guess. We haven’t really said, publicly, what we’re doing. In our current mindset, we’re working on the sequel for Phantom Shadow. Continuing the story, but 30 years after Phantom Shadow.
Let’s talk about music then! Your last album, Phantom Shadow, came out in 2014 and there’s been a lot of speculation about the story on Reddit and other places. Have you guys ever actually told the story yourselves?
Rob: I’ve told the story. We have this Monday thing that some fans organized; a sort of community where people watch YouTube videos and talk and chat. I told the story there once and everyone’s like, “Ah, I need to screenshot this!” and I was like, “Don’t worry, I’m going to write it down so everyone can read it,” and I haven’t done it.
Me and [Jonas], we have a pretty good idea of what the story is. It’s something we wanted to make into a video game a long time ago and we don’t do that obviously. So we figured, let’s use it for an album.
So you came up with this story quite a while ago?
Rob: Yeah, it’s an old story. We’ve had it since 2003-04 or something like that, and just been on the shelf. It was fun to get to use it.
Where did the story come from? How was it inspired? Anything specific?
Jonas: We kind of merged things. He had stories and I had stories and then we started talking and, well let’s make it the same story.
Rob: We have a lot of stories with songs that belong to the same universe but different times and different characters, so if you’re going to have a mythos that belongs to the band, let everything be in that universe, so to speak.
What or who is Hubnester?
Rob: It’s two things. One of the characters in Phantom Shadow becomes the Hubnester character in the end of the album. As you know, we have songs that we’ve done previously, like “Hubnester Inferno,” and we also mention Hubnester in “Oki Kumas Adventure.” In that, that refers to a spaceship because that ship is named after that character but it’s a thousand years later.
The riff from “Indiscriminate Murder is Counter-Productive” is quite similar to “The Second One” and if the listener wasn’t aware that “The Second One” was off of a concept album, they would almost think that these two songs are related thematically if they were just listening to the lyrics. How did that happen?
Rob: We wanted to do the sequel. We thought first that this is a concept album, we can’t really fit the sequel to that song into this album, but we figured, why not? Because the story in the song fits with the story on Phantom Shadow, so we figured let the music be the sequel and maybe we can look back the other way. Of course, the first one is more videogame-themed, obviously, but “The Second One” – it’s called “The Second One” for a reason – it does reference the first song. It works as a sequel and as a part of the story. It’s kind of twofold.
It does work, because when I was listening to Phantom Shadow at first, I didn’t realize it was a concept album and I was like, “Oh, cool, there’s a sequel to that other song! It all makes sense!”
Jonas: It’s also not the only sequel on Phantom Shadow.
What’s that the sequel to?
Rob: “Nemesis.” We don’t even have that song on an album. It’s one of the webography songs. “Nemesis” fades out on the riff that “Renegades” fades in on.
I’ll have to check that out! Bands like Nightwish and Within Temptation have been doing things like releasing movies and comic books with their albums. Are you guys planning or would you consider doing something like that in the future?
Rob: We would love to. I guess we don’t have the same budgets they do but… the comic book thing, actually, that we forgot to mention, but the Phantom Shadow story was devised originally to become a comic book. We had ideas to make video games and that’s where several of the stories came, like “Oki Kumas Adventure,” but we all merged into the same universe. Specifically, the part of this big thing that is Phantom Shadow was to be a comic book when the idea was born.
It would be fun to do. I’ve even been looking into, is there a way to narrow the scope enough so that it doesn’t kill us to do it ourselves. We haven’t found a way yet but I would love to do that.
I would love to see that! You guys have a lot of stuff going on with albums and soundtrack music and all that sort of thing. Is there any chance we might ever get a documentary from the stuff you’ve been doing?
Jonas: Problem is, we’re not all in the same place. We don’t work in a studio. We do everything from home.
Rob: We collaborate with Dropbox. Maybe we could think about that, if we do some specific project.
Tomi: I made a promise almost a year to make play-throughs or some kind of stuff. Instructional things. I just haven’t done it.
Jonas: Same here. It would be fun to do.
What about a live DVD?
Rob: We did that once. Did you see it?
Rob: It’s a fun story, actually. We played at Assembly. It’s the biggest computer festival in Finland. We played August 2011 there and they recorded the entire set and everything with multiple cameras and they spoke to us after and were like, “How should we release it? What do you want to do?” We were like, “Uh, we’re gonna put it on Pirate Bay.” So we did that. We uploaded it ourselves and we had some troubles with that. It seems like, first of all, you can’t link anything to Pirate Bay on Facebook. It says it’s an illegal link, and this was a legal upload! It was our official release. And, on top of that, our label manager, Alec, called me a few days after, like, “What the fuck is this?” I said, “We’re doing your job! We’re promoting our music.” He was cool though. He was like, “I get it, you guys are fine with your fans downloading your stuff. For now, okay this is fine, but please don’t do stuff like this.”
It was funny though, because everyone thinks it’s pretty cool that we did that. The thinking was that we’re a small band, so we could’ve sold, I don’t know, how many DVDs would we have sold from that? It’s hard to say, but I guess we get a hundred times more people to see it if it’s free and we got it for free. We didn’t have to buy it or pay the camera people or anything, so it’s a good thing.
I guess it’s time to do something new. We seldom record the music output. We sometimes record video. Did you see the “Laser Speed Force” video? We used bootlegged stuff that fans filmed from the audience to make a video. It’s fun stuff. It’s not the same, it’s not a documentary or a live DVD, but it’s taken from the real-life experience from the fans. It’s something.
Do you think there’ll be any more collaborative shows like you did at Play! with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra?
Jonas: I hope so. That was awesome.
I’d love to see you guys playing with The Black Mages someday. That’s my game fantasy band.
Jonas: Oh, count me in! That would be amazing. Just to meet Nobuo Uematsu would be…
Rob: We’ll invite them. They can sleep on our couch.
Definitely! Now, regarding your specific sound, the SID-music is really unique. Do you think the novelty of it is ever going to wear off for you guys when making music?
Jonas: Not to us.
Rob: As long as what we do with it sounds cool, I think. Then again, the people who know what it is, the people who had that in their experience growing up, it becomes a bigger thing than what it actually is. It’s nostalgia and adds to the experience. To everyone else, we don’t use it just to use it, we try to make something cool with it.
That ties in perfectly with my next question. How do you think your fan-base has been developing over the years? Most of your original fans probably grew up in that era of gaming and that’s probably how they got into the music, because of the nostalgia value, but what about the new fans? Do you think they “get it” or do you think they just think it sounds cool?
Rob: I think they think it sounds cool. We used to get a lot of shit that the vocals don’t sound metal. We get less and less shit about that. It seems like the audience has matured. It’s younger people, and a lot of younger people still care about video games as a culture. They don’t really care what the sound is. They reference lyrics. Less and less people seem to be up in the air about the SID sounds, but they’re still like, “This is a video game band!” We’re part of that culture and we show it.
Do you think there’s anyone out there who’s really doing what you guys do or have you filled a niche, or a gap in the need? Specifically referring to the gamer style of metal.
Rob: Since we started, you have a few bands that, if we narrow the scope to people who play rock or metal, you can hear those kinds of sounds in production. It’s cool to use them. I think for us, you have bands that play rock and maybe not specifically the SID sounds but some 8-bit sounds, like Anamanaguchi, who have rock music with Nintendo sounds.
I think, when we started specifically, it felt like no one was doing what we’re doing and now it feels like, if you just check out the chip-tune community, originally that was just blippity-bloppity things, but now you find more varied music. You can find rock music with chip sounds. I think, if you like our music you can find a lot of music like it now. You have to dig in the right places, but you can find it. I like to think we helped build that community.
Okay, now we can talk about games! What are you guys playing right now?
Jonas: I started playing Shovel Knight. Very cool, retro, 8-bit, lots of SID-sounds. Maybe Nintendo sounds. Inspiring!
Niklas: I did actually play the Plague Incorporated mobile game a while ago.
Rob: I’ve been on a streak. I think I’m a bit behind on what I should be playing, but I play the Alien Isolation. I played both Metroid games recently, and Journey. Now I’ve finally started with Grand Theft Auto 5. I’ve been waiting for it to get it on the next-gen and I believe it will consume a lot of my time from this point on.
Tomi: I play Starcraft 2 a lot. Still.
What’s your favorite game or game series, ever.
Jonas: I would say that too. Do you agree?
Niklas: I agree, but I’ve only played the 8-bit original and the 16-bit Super Metroid.
Jonas: That’s enough.
Niklas: It’s enough but I can’t really talk for the rest of the series, but still, those two would still make it to my top.
Rob: You can find in our music, and even actually in some stuff we have for the next album, you will find Metroid, at least atmospheric references and stuff. That still happens.
Are you guys doing any soundtrack work for games these days or have you finished that up?
Rob: We aren’t right now. We want to.
Jonas: I think the latest one we did is actually coming out, or just came out.
Rob: We will be doing the Giana Sisters 2, but we’re looking for some more indie stuff to do. Call us!
You’ve got the free-share music downloads on your website and you were just telling us about putting that video on the Pirate Bay, so what is your stance on piracy and all the controversy around that?
Rob: I think sometimes, when the times change, there are always going to be people who try to hold onto what was. This is basically how capitalism works. If you have something of value that you can sell to someone that they can’t get on their own then you have a product, pretty much, but if people can just get it then you have to wake up to the reality that this is no longer something we can peddle like it’s gold. Music is a valuable thing and we promote culture. We see it as, it’s much better that people hear our music than buy our magic, if we had to choose.
My point is, it would be a misunderstanding of how the world works to be upset about piracy, if you know what I mean. It seems like, sure, people want to get paid for their work, but the world changed and now you have to get paid some other way. Or, you can still get paid for it. A lot of people on Bandcamp put up a “pay what you want” or sell stuff digitally but not charging much. Like I see someone charge $7 and there’s no middle-man. I’ve noticed from our fans that if they know that the money goes to us, they’re much more eager to pay.
I had this thing I used to say when they’d talk to us about, like, “You know, I’ve actually never bought anything of you. I just downloaded it.” They’d sort of confess. I’d say, “That’s fine, but you have to do something for me. You have to send it to everyone you know. That’s the price.” Funny, I think that’s how we got a lot of recognition was people were so eager to do that. Part of that was telling that we said that. People want to give something back, but sometimes that is not money.
Jonas: Sometimes it is, like with the crowdfunding tour.
Rob: Yeah, we never ask for money and then once we ask for money. We want to come tour, please give us money, and then people were willing to give.
Regarding the whole Patreon thing and crowdfunding, people want to give money to things they like. They don’t want to go through record companies and everything. They’re like, “Hey, you make something I like. I like you, so I want to give you my money.”
Rob: Exactly. They don’t want the suits to get the money. They want the artist to get the money. That’s actually how the world should work. I guess that’s what has happened and I think you’ll be able to find interviews with me from before we had a label where I said, “The label is becoming obsolete.” What happened for us was actually the entire problem I told you about before, trying to get gigs.
One year, it could have been 2004-5-6, people wanted us to come to this Hultsfred Festival in Sweden. We were #1 on the fan voting list. So I called their booking and they said, “Okay, what’s your label?” I said, “Nah, we don’t have a label. We release our own music.” “Okay, well you can call the demo booking.” “But it’s not like that! Come on, we’re serious.” Basically, when Spinefarm contacted us, it was like, “Uh, I think we need this.” We need the street cred of an actual label. But now, it’s almost 10 years later. Maybe now the time has matured. Maybe it would be easier for each individual artist now.
I’m down to the end-of-interview questions now. What’s the coolest/geekiest stuff you’ve ever seen fans do at your show?
Jonas: I think one of the craziest things is getting a tattoo. There a couple of them out there of [our logo].
Rob: It’s not that geeky, but it’s dedicated.
Niklas: We had a few people bring us presents.
Rob: Right! We have a Russian doll of all our album covers. You open it and you get an older album cover. I think that’s gotta be at the top.
Jonas: The most impressive is the oil painting [Niklas] got.
Rob: Oh yeah! A fan brought him an oil painting. Like a real oil painting. Really cool stuff. I guess nothing has been super geeky.
Jonas: Maybe when you get to sign a Commodore 64 or old Gameboy or something.
Are you still wearing the Konoha gloves on stage?
Rob: I did not, last gig. I have them. They’re here, but they’re kind of disintegrating. I have new ones but I haven’t used those either. I think maybe that phase is done and it’s time for something else.
One last question: What is the nerdiest thing you’ve ever done?
Rob: [Niklas] built a laser-guided car.
Niklas: Yeah, that’s pretty geeky, I guess.
Rob: No one can beat that. What can we do? I guess we started a SID-metal band in 2000, ahead of our time. I don’t know. I’ll think of something in 2 weeks.
Niklas: Then we’ll just hack your website and change it.
“The nerdiest thing I’ve ever done was hack this website and change this answer,” right?
Well, thanks again for coming out, have a great show and an awesome tour!
Text: Amy Wiseman | Photos: Eliza Rask