DARK TRANQUILLITY / THE HALO EFFECT Vocalist Mikael Stanne - “GEDDY LEE Is My Rock Star”

March 21, 2024, 4 months ago

By “Metal” Tim Henderson

feature heavy metal black death dark tranquillity the halo effect

DARK TRANQUILLITY / THE HALO EFFECT Vocalist Mikael Stanne - “GEDDY LEE Is My Rock Star”

BraveWords caught up with Dark Tranquillity and The Halo Effect vocalist Mikael Stanne recently to talk about all things metal and his incredible history in the Swedish death metal scene dating back to the early ‘90s. And it seems he has a story for every occasion. A man that talks the talk since he’s walked the walk! This interview was conducted just mere days from the announcement that Dark Tranquillity are ringing in a new chapter of their musical journey: the band has finished its thirteenth studio album, Endtime Signals (check out a new visualizer video below). The album will be released on August 16 via Century Media Records. More news on that soon, but in the meantime let’s talk about the past and the present. And of course there is a Canadian connection since Stanne is a major Rush fan. Indeed, all the world’s a stage and he’s been on many! 

BraveWords: The trajectory of Katatonia and Bloodbath is kind of similar to Dark Tranquillity and The Halo Effect.

Stanne: "Yeah, yeah, yeah, true."

BraveWords: Why do you have to do another project?

Stanne: "For me, I think it came down to -  I quit my job; I had a day job but I thought, 'I don't want the stress of being away and not being able to fully focus on music', so when I quit that I said, 'OK, let's be more open and say yes to things that are fun', and not say no to everything that I normally did. So then a friend of mine who lives close to me, and he's an old school death metal guy, he said, 'Yeah, I have this band together with Stefan Lagergren', who started Tiamat, you know, the early days, like Treblinka - horrible name..."

BraveWords: ...and they were black metal.

Stanne: "Yeah. And I was like, 'That sounds awesome! Let's do it!'. It was the same with Niclas (Engelin), he said, 'Yeah, I wanna make some music', and I was like, 'I wanna see you', because we never see each other. I mean, they were touring with In Flames all the time, I was always on tour, so it was like, if there's a reason that we can hang out more, I'm all for it. And then the idea came up of having Daniel (Svensson) and Peter (Iwers) and Jesper (Strömblad) in the band, and I was like, 'I can't say no to that!'".

BraveWords: You can't even make this shit up. You're going full circle. You were there from the beginning.

Stanne: "I met Jesper - there was this original metal club in Gothenburg called Valvet, or the vault, and that's where all extreme music kind of happened. It was synth, and industrial stuff, and metal -  just extreme anything kind of place.  A place where 'anything goes', kind of thing. We were sitting waiting for a show in the staircase, which is on the third floor, in the middle of nowhere. It was miserable, but at the time it was the coolest place in the world. And I met Jesper there. We started talking about demos, you know, Autopsy demos, live cassettes, and stuff like that, that we were into. A couple of years later we recorded Lunar Strain and yeah, that's how we met. That's how I met Niclas, and I met Peter through his brother Anders, who of course played in Dark Tranquillity for a while, and I've known since I was 14, 15. So, it's a small but very amazing community, you know?"

BraveWords: You look at the Swedish death metal scene and it's historic. I am Entombed's biggest fan, for example. Left Hand Path!

Stanne: "Yeah, of course, man!".

BraveWords: And Dismember.

Stanne: "Yeah. And for us, I remember Nihilist - they came to Gothenburg, with Grotesque, before At The Gates. That blew my mind. That was '88, '89, something like that."

BraveWords: Did you know L.G.?

Stanne: "Yeah! Of course, of course."

BraveWords: How tragic was that death? 

Stanne: "It was horrible. Last time I met him we were sitting in - we were playing a festival in Sweden, and they had just played. I remember it, just hanging out, just sitting, talking bullshit. I could tell he was not doing well, but still he was super funny and we laughed. Yeah, so that was horrible. But one of the last times we really hung out was in Mexico. We did a show together in Mexico City, with Deicide and Entombed, and that was fucking epic. We were on the flight together. I tend to remember those kinds of things. I hate the fact that he's gone and it's a loss to the metal community, of course, but also to me, as a friend. He was an amazing fucking guy. Victor Brandt who played in Entombed A.D. and Dimmu Borgir, he worked for one of the best breweries in Sweden, so we made an L.G. beer and I still have a case at home. Every time we record with Grant Cadaver, who was very much influenced by Entombed, I have a couple of cans of L.G. beer while I'm singing."

BraveWords: Let's have some fun. I call this the Brave Words Rapid Fire.

Stanne: "Rapid Fire, OK."

BraveWords: What's your favourite song on British Steel? Hence Rapid Fire.

Stanne: "Oh fuuuck! OK. I mean, it's a bit early in the morning for me to recall."

BraveWords: The last song is the best song.

Stanne: "Yeah?"

BraveWords: ‘Steeler’. For me. How fucking heavy is that?

Stanne: "Yeah. And, it is probably the best, but it's not the song that, you know, that got me into Priest. But it is probably the best on the album. So yeah, I would agree."

BraveWords: Who is your rock star?

Stanne: "Geddy Lee."

BraveWords: I don't think I've ever read a book in my life that actually put me to tears. And I listened to the audiobook version.

Stanne: "Yeah me too. And he has an amazing voice of course. Oh I loved it. And I saw him in Wolverhampton (UK) two months ago. Fucking amazing. Everyone was crying. It was incredible."

BraveWords: The moment that changed your life, and you looked in the mirror, and you said, "Music is going to be my career".

Stanne: "May '89 in Gothenburg. A place called Kåren. Kreator played, and I was so excited. It was insane."

BraveWords: Which album … Pleasure To Kill?

Stanne: "No, Extreme Aggression. Right when it came out."

BraveWords: The big Epic record. That was a big moment for thrash metal, to have a major label sign Kreator.

Stanne: "Yeah, and I went and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen. I was standing in the back. We had kind of just started, you know, like I was thinking about getting a guitar and stuff. Then I saw Tritze, you know, the original second guitar player. And I was like, "I want to do THAT. Where you just go like (mimics tremolo picking) and you headbang the entire show without caring. Yep. That's what I want to do. And then two months later we started the band. Kreator, and especially seeing them in our our hometown, in a venue that we kind of knew, that was magical. Because every band played in Stockholm or Copenhagen or somewhere like that -  somewhere close, but not Gothenburg. So, when we got cool extreme metal shows it was mind blowing. And that show, yeah, it started it for me. And I went to art class when I was 19 or whatever, and I did one of those kind of layout experiences, and I used all the stuff from Extreme Aggression, because it's a pretty stylish album. I did this whole thing, and I won some award in class. It was displayed in my high school, in the cafeteria or whatever, the lunch area, on the wall for years, what I did out of Extreme Aggression. So I'm pretty proud of that."

BraveWords: Does Mille know that?

Stanne: "No."

BraveWords: Have you met them many times?

Stanne: "Yeah, yeah we toured together. I've told Mille a lot of embarrassing things. I called him once when I was 14."

BraveWords: You called him?

Stanne: "Yeah. When he lived with his parents. I wanted to know the lyrics for Flag Of Hate, because we wanted to do a cover when we just started. And I called him to ask him about the lyrics, and he said, 'I don't remember'. And then he hung up."

BraveWords: That is really funny! Have you ever asked anybody for an autograph?

Stanne: "Yeah. But it was a long time ago. I collected a lot of things, but autographs is not one of them. But I asked David Vincent to sign my back. Before Dark Tranquillity we were called, as a joke, Septic Broiler, and I had a logo on my back. In '90 they played in Sweden, and I asked David Vincent to sign my logo of Septic Broiler, which was before Dark Tranquillity, and he did. So that was cool. And it was pretty epic. Fuck. It changed everyone's life in Sweden, seeing fucking Morbid Angel on the first tour. Ahhhh."

BraveWords: What's the Swedish encyclopedia of death metal? 

Stanne: "Blod, Eld, Död - Blood, Fire, Death." 

BraveWords: Yeah that one.

Stanne: "It's a friend of mine who wrote it."

BraveWords: Exactly. I read that when Morbid Angel did an in-store in Gothenburg or wherever it was like the second coming.

Stanne: "Yeah, they did this show, and it was like kind of like a festival thing, it was like three or four hours away from where we lived, but everybody was there. I remember, of course, the Dissection guys, and us, and At The Gates, and In Flames, all of us went together. I was 17, and of course, a lot of the Norwegian guys liked Slayer magazine and a lot of the old fanzines. It was a fucking epic. And I think it kind of changed our view of what is possible. Because in our minds Morbid Angel was just that one band that was like, 'Whoa, fuck! This is amazing!', but we didn't know that you could actually tour and travel as a death metal band, you know? It kind of lent credence to the fact that you can do this, and that gave us a lot of inspiration."

BraveWords: I love that.

Stanne: "The At The Gates guys, everybody, credits that show as one of the pivotal moments of the scene in Sweden. There was Pestilence as well. On the Consuming Impulse tour. Ahhh, yeah!".

BraveWords: You are at a bar. There's an empty stool. Who would you like to sit on it? Dead or alive. Bon Scott? Elvis? Jimi Hendrix? David Vincent?

Stanne: "David Vincent I would love to meet. But of course I mentioned Geddy Lee before, and I'll say it again, probably him. And if anything goes, then of course Neil Peart would be the ultimate. I would love to have a nice big glass of Macallen with him and just not even ask him anything, just go like, 'Please just talk. Say anything, and I'll be happy."

BraveWords: No offense, and I'm a huge Rush fan like you, but he didn't really want to be around anyone.

Stanne: "I know, I know and of course I say this because this is a fantasy." 

BraveWords: A couple more questions. When I was reading Keith Richards' biography, the first Rolling Stones record was all covers, and he talked with Mick about writing their own songs. Do you remember the time that you wrote your first song?

Stanne: "Yeah. We did, like, joke songs first. Just internal, stupid things, when we were 14 or whatever it was. The first songs that we wrote were just goofing off and like trying to see if we could put some thing together, like a riff, a melody, stuff like that. And then we did a couple of covers, some Kreator covers, and Paradise Lost covers I think it was, and the first song that we wrote where we were kind of like, 'Hey this is actually pretty good', was called Into The Void Of Tranquillity. It was like 7 1/2 minutes long, or something like that, because we didn't know how to edit ourselves, you know? And that's what kind of decided - we chose the name because of that first song. Actually it was Niclas Engelin, we were sitting at a party, like in '89, and he said, 'Hey, what's the name of your band?' And we were trying - we wanted to call it Void Of Tranquillity. He said I don't know what a 'void' is, like I don't know the word in English. He said, 'I've seen you guys and it's pretty dark, maybe Dark Tranquility'. And I thought, 'Hmmm, maybe you're onto something there'. So the first song was that, but of course then we wrote a lot of songs that we ended up not using, or recording. I remember feeling like, 'Hey we actually pulled something off'. We did something we could be proud of. We rehearsed in my parents' garage for hours and hours. Sometimes we were there for eight or 10 or 20 hours. We just went in for lunch or dinner, but otherwise just played, played, played. Because it was so exciting and actually making something of your own, that we felt sounded cool, was incredible. I loved it."

BraveWords: Speaking of Garage Days, what's the best cover song? Who has recorded the best cover song?

Stanne: "Oooh. What band? An obvious one, I think, Jeff Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah is maybe the best cover song of all time, in my opinion. I think, what was it, I think Death did like..."

BraveWords: Chuck? They did ‘Painkiller’. And they pulled it off, the vocals.

Stanne: ..."Yeah they did ‘God Of Thunder’ as well, on some tribute. I remember thinking, 'Fuck, that is cool'. There was a record store/label in Gothenburg called Dolores Records, where I used to work, where everybody worked at one point, and they put out cover albums, so they did a Maiden one and a Metallica one, and we were on it and that was fun. But some of those versions from other bands, like At The Gates, or local bands, were pretty damn cool." 

BraveWords: What's left to conquer?

Stanne: "Nothing. That's not the way I think. It's more about, what else can we communicate? Or, how can we make the most of what we do? So for DT, that is it, our mission is to talk about things and write about things that matter to us. The Halo Effect is kind of like spreading our version of whatever we started back in the day, and have fun with it. So, I don't know. There are no, like, 'Oh, we need to do this and that'. We've done enough to not have to worry about that. But of course the challenge is always like, to make that perfect song, perfect album, where you feel like, 'Yeah, we nailed it'. But at the same time you can be super happy with something like the latest DT album that we just finished. I'm beyond excited about it, and the latest Halo Effect album that we have recorded already but it's coming out later this year. I love every part of it, but I know that we can do better next time. There's always that. Never satisfied really." 

BraveWords: There a Reign In Blood in your blood?

Stanne: "There has to be. There has to be, you know? That's the aim, where you make the perfect album, and then you can relax.”


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