AVATAR – Send In The Clown!
May 12, 2016, 2 years ago
Vocalist/evil clown, Johannes Eckerström, is the ultimate storyteller for Swedish theatrical metal band Avatar on its sixth full-length album, Feathers & Flesh — a concept album based on an 18th century fable. He and the band weaves a splendid mix of genre-defining elements on 14 anthemic tunes. Gaining loads of momentum since its 2010 Black Waltz release, the band is still knocking it out of the park. Eckerström spoke with BraveWords writer Kelley Simms about the new album.
BraveWords: How did the writing process go for Feathers & Flesh?
Johannes Eckerström: “It was a different beat this time with it being a concept album. We are a band who always tries to make a point to not repeat ourselves. And normally to outdo ourselves, we always tend to find a way to make it hard for us. Because as soon as you record an album in a particular way or with a particular idea, if you have that right, that process should be easier the second time around.”
BraveWords: Was there any pressure to try and top your last two albums?
Johannes Eckerström: “No, the thing is, what we learned during Black Waltz is, we don’t worry anymore about any outside pressure because it doesn’t help anyone and we don’t gain anything from thinking of what people will think about it. Of course in the end when we put an album out, we hope that people will be into it because by our strong beliefs, we are into it as well. But that is our only real barometer for it. I’m sure someone felt some pressure somewhere but not within the group.”
BraveWords: How do you think you’ve progressed from Black Waltz to Hail The Apocalypse to Feathers & Flesh?
Johannes Eckerström: “With Black Waltz, that is when we started to figure out the simple truth of heavy metal and to do it the proper way. You need a kick ass riff, and then you need the appropriate drum beat to go along with that riff and then you need to perform it really well. When you have the atmosphere, a vibe a feel and emotion, you just build on that. Being more secure in that basic craft of heavy metal means that we can take ideas further and further into different directions. I think Feathers & Flesh is our most diverse album where we could play around a lot with our influences and hopefully create something that hasn’t been done in this particular way. That is always our key ambition.”
BraveWords: What’s the concept of Feathers & Flesh?
Johannes Eckerström: “It’s a fable about an owl who goes to war to stop the sun from rising. That being said, it’s a story about vanity, not being able to let go and not being able to accept the fact that everyone dies and time will pass. And you cannot stop time. Obviously she (the owl) cannot stop the sun from rising. Along the way in her struggles she needs other animals in this fable that also have different perspectives and different human traits, and she’s being challenged by them all. But at the end of the day, she’s not able to turn that knowledge and those experiences into wisdom. And that would be the moral of the story. With it being a fable and all, it requires some kind of moral to be a proper one.”
BraveWords: How did you go about applying real life lessons to the concept with the characters throughout the album?
Johannes Eckerström: “It all started with Hail The Apocalypse behind us, and with that album, the big thing there was to record it live. That was the challenge that time and the new challenge this time was to try to tell a grander story, something that goes through the whole album. So the ambition to do a concept album came early on. It started out that each song would be a standalone, separate story, that we used pre-existing fables and then just twist the perspective. After a while it grew to be one big story over the whole album. That was inspired by Jean de La Fontaine, who is a French fabulist, who revitalized the genre of fables in the late 1700s.”
BraveWords: Although this is a concept album, did you consciously make each of the 14 tracks able to stand on their own?
Johannes Eckerström: “It was very important that once we knew we were going to dive into the great swamp of building with a concept album, means that you could easily lose sight of what we were coming from in the beginning. So it was very important to all of us that when this added depth and wide arrangements that is was still a strong heavy metal album. To me, Pink Floyd’s The Wall is a great example of a concept album that has so much going for it depth wise. It’s very profound, but it also has these classic rock tunes on it. With that aspect of it, we wanted to keep the essence of our particular strain of heavy metal intact.”
BraveWords: A book will also be available for purchase alongside the album. What is it about?
Johannes Eckerström: “The lyrics are written in the form of dialogs or monologues; it’s words that are spoken by the different characters in the story. The lyrics are presented in this book where alongside the lyrics is this epic poem, this 109 verses that tells actually what’s going on and what leads to the point where the songs take place. It would have been too much text for a CD booklet and instead we actually put out a book that fits together with a poem and a standalone piece of art. All the ways people consume music these days, from vinyl to CDs to MP3s to streaming, no matter how you listen to music, the book fits everyone.”
BraveWords: When did you transform into the evil clown persona?
Johannes Eckerström: “It was on purpose from the ‘Black Waltz’ music video. We had all the people in the video doing their side show stuff and next it was to have me representing the band to fit into what was going on there. Scary clowns are scary. We got lucky because we had been looking for how to visualize our music for quite some time leading up to that, and here suddenly we found the face of the music. It wasn’t really planned to be like that, but something clicked with all of us especially for me as I went through that transformation. Now on Feathers & Flesh, I as a clown stay relevant as a storyteller, like a jester at the King’s court being the one speaking the truth, if you will.”
BraveWords: Tell me about your upcoming touring plans and as well as what you like about playing in North America.
Johannes Eckerström: “The other year we did our first proper headlining tour, so the States have been treating us very well in the past couple of years. People have been embracing us and that’s pretty cool. In May, we are part of the festivals and in between there we are filling out some shows of our own and cover the continent as much as possible in one month’s time. Looking back, as it wasn’t that long ago that we did our tour there, most of my knowledge of what I thought I knew about the United States came from South Park. And to me, it turned out to be spot-on. You live in an interesting place!”