Interview with Andreas Svensson, Bass & Synth Player for the Swedish Doom-band Malsten
By Mick Michaels
COSMICK VIEW: Hello, Andreas! Welcome to The Cosmick View. Thank you for taking some time out of your day to chat with me, it's greatly appreciated.
Do you feel that it's still possible for an unknown band today to be plucked
out of obscurity and make it to stardom? Can a dedicated core of fans sharing
their music make that possible or has the internet and social media changed the
Andreas Svensson: The short answer is no! I’m absolutely convinced that the ‘rock-star’ paradigm is a thing of the past. But, it’s not so much social media as phenomenon alone that has driven this change forward. It is more the speed and volume of information that makes it impossible for one single artist or band to rise above the tide.
On the positive side this can be described as a democratization process, and as such it gives opportunities to bands that before would have had no chance to release their music and share it with the community. The downside is of course, as we already touched upon, that it’s getting harder and harder – as not to say impossible – for any artist or band to generate the attention around a release or a gig necessary to expand the fan-base.
This harsh and competitive climate can be very demoralizing for both new and old bands, but perhaps young bands today are more used to it. For their sake, I sincerely hope that they have a far easier time navigating all this then we old grumpy men do.
Do you feel that given the accessibility and social awareness of modern times
that a music underground still even exists today as it once did?
AS: Oh, it certainly does. But maybe it’s losing its edge. Let me explain. There are plenty of bands, labels, promoters, etc. today that label themselves as underground, DIY or the like. Indeed, Malsten can in many ways be counted among them. The label that released our debut album “The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill” – Interstellar Smoke Records, definitely promotes themselves as such.
To my mind, this self-defined underground status is a very different movement from what the underground scene in music and art was before. It runs the risk of becoming a promotional gimmick. A self-ascribed label used to categorize your product and market it towards your designated consumer-group. You can see this being done also by established, commercial artists and labels nowadays, which substantiates the point.
What I don’t like about this is that it’s a top-down process. Labels market their bands as underground. The fans on their end then choose among these underground-bands because they consider themselves fans of underground music…as if it was a genre of its own).
CV: What do you see as the biggest difference in music and how it is perceived from back say 35 years ago compared to music today? Has both the music and the artist evolved from your point of view?
AS: On the point that we just discussed, the underground metal scene of the 80’s and 90’s was more fan-driven than today. The trash-scene with bands like Anthrax, Slayer, Metallica, etc. is a good example. Those bands evolved into world-wide phenomenon when the pressure from their fans could no longer be resisted by the commercial powers that safeguarded the music industry. Another great example is the black-metal scene in the 90’s. Those bands fiercely resisted all commercial avenues, but still managed to leave a huge impact on both the metal scene and music and culture in general.
But both of those movements are beyond our personal experiences in Malsten, even if their music of course left a big impression on us when we were younger. My own experience within the music scene really started in the late 90’s. Back then, I played lead guitar in one of those death n’ roll-bands that emerged from the Swedish death-metal scene at the time. I remember that it was all about getting a record deal and touring then. Social media, or “the internet”, as it was perhaps only called at this point, was more of an add-on. The big thing was touring and releasing the music as physical product….if you could get your band signed to a label that was the ultimate thing. I remember the feeling of accomplishment that we had in that band when we signed our first record deal, and the distress when we didn’t sell that many copies….
To be honest, though, I think we sold a lot more album copies and merch with that band in the 90’s than we could ever hope for with a Malsten release today. The priorities for both bands and fans are very much reversed today. The physical products are more of an add-on to the digital world. So, in that sense, music-making has evolved for everyone engaged in it, both within the metal genres and beyond.
Musically, it’s actually a great thing being an older band in terms of age and maturity. I think that feeling is mutual in Malsten. We have all played in bands when were younger, and all that experience gives us a lot of confidence and security in our creative process. You sort of know what you want to do and what you don’t want to waste your energy doing. We all feel that it’s a great advantage having that type of confidence and knowing that the whole band shares the same type of experience.
Of course, age has its disadvantages. Remember when you could rehearse seven days a week and go on tour for six months being paid nothing but beer and food? That can’t really happen when you’re older. We all have jobs and families that we have to prioritize. Not to mention the fact that you grow a lot less technically fluent with age. It’s harder to play difficult parts and just remembering songs can be a challenge.
Do you believe bands and artists who have the biggest impact on fans and other
artists are aware that they are or is there more of a tunnel vision sort of
process for them keeping them somewhat in the dark? Can influential artists see
past their own work to be aware of the ripples they make?
AS: I would certainly hope that influential artists have some sort of awareness of their impact. However, today music artists can hardly be said to be the most influential in terms of lifestyle and culture. That role has been taken over by a wider palette of actors. Even to the point when what is “done”, be that music, or arts, or sports is becoming almost immaterial.
Personally, I have no strong opinions, neither positive nor negative, regarding this development. It’s a strong part of the democratization process that we just talked about. For most old grumpy men, like the guys in Malsten, it can feel laughable that someone showing off his or her shoes on social media can have the same or more impact as musicians putting out new and exciting music. But, you know, perhaps the younger generations are laughing just as hard at us. In some ways, I sort of hope they do.
CV: Does music need to be influential to be considered worth listening to in your opinion? Or can music simply be just an enjoyable auditory experience devoid of substance?
AS: Well, I think most of us listen to and enjoy music in a variety of contexts in our daily lives. It may be due to tinnitus, but I always have music on in the background, whatever I’m doing. Background music in this sense, for me can be mostly anything. The only genres I can’t stand are hip-hop and blues-rock (AC/DC and the like). For some reason, that type of music always irritates me.
For music to give you a deeper experience, I do think that it has to be considerably substantial. Like an opera, or a great coherent album or concert. It doesn’t have to be an intricate concept album, like “The Wall” or “Abigail”. It just has to include some elements that nails you to your seat, that focuses your attention and forces you, as a listener, to really take in the music.
With Malsten, our aim is to produce that type of music. That’s why we have chosen the concept format, and the genre of slow horror doom.
The world has been rocked by the COVID pandemic. The economy has been
sent into a tail spin in its wake, unfortunately. Bands worldwide have
been restricted with performing live and some it seems, restricted from earning
a living. How has the pandemic affected your band? Are you hopeful that
2021 will see many of the restrictions lifted?
AS: Like everyone else, we have been severely affected by the situation. The release of our debut album The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill was delayed for several months, which was frustration to us as a band and to the label facilitating the release, Interstellar Smoke Records.
Once the album was released, we had originally planned to do a lot of live shows supporting the album and widening the audience for Malsten’s music. Obviously, this could not happen, and we only played two shows in total for the whole of 2020 with only restricted audiences. The shows were a great success in a way, but of course we had wanted things to be different.
Sadly, I think there will be a while yet before the gig situation will be back to normal. But, we have hopes to start doing gigs again in the fall of 2021 or something like that. We are ready when the world is ready!
What do you feel artists and bands can do right now to stay relevant,
especially in an environment, such as the present, where performing in front of
a live audience is being restricted? What immediate options do you see
AS: Because of the current situation, we have been forced to restrict all promotion efforts with The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill to online-channels, and to be honest, it has been far from optimal. In many ways we are more of a traditional band in that sense, performing live and releasing records is our main thing, not constructing social media events and what have you.
But, the situation hopefully will inspire new ideas of marketing and dissemination. With Malsten, we will do some online performances in the beginning of next year. That is one thing you could do now as an artist that is actually very fresh and inspiring.
As an artist, what have you learned from the events of 2020? Are those lessons
learned different for you as a person than as an artist or are they one in the
same in your opinion?
AS: Well for one thing we have learned that catering to your social media channels requires a lot of thought and work. We have also realized that for us, and perhaps for the Doom genres as a whole, social media presence is a very slow build. You have to be tenacious, aiming at constantly providing the community with relevant content.
We believe that we have learned a lot with the release of our debut album, especially during the current situation. The fast pace of information flow has really surprised us, and the way that fans find new bands and new music is also quite different from when we released albums 20 or so years ago.
Fans today don’t seek out new bands and music. They only have time to filter what’s being bombarded at them. This brings new challenges that artists must meet. Either you are in front of the tide or you’re under it. There is no hoping that your album or music will take on a life of its own because of buzz going around in the fan community. It’s been a learning curve for us, and I think that the current situation has accelerated it in a positive way.
What's next? What can fans expect to see coming in 2021?
AS: 2021 will be an intense and inspiring year for Malsten. We will continue promoting The Haunting of Silvåkra Mill and as soon as possible we will make sure to give as many concerts as we can.
But, we have already started to produce new music, within the conceptual world created with our debut album. So, keep ears and eyes open for the next doom horror story from Malsten.
Thank you again Andreas for spending
some time talking and sharing with our readers. It was such a pleasure. I wish
you all the best.
AS: Thank you for all the interesting questions!
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