SYMPHONY FOR THE DEVIL
When Diablo Swing Orchestra discreetly emerged onto the scene around 2004 (or 1501, depending on how you look at it), for those who 'got' their music the band represented a breath of fresh air. For convenience's sake, their music is usually tagged as 'Avantgarde Metal' - in reality it contains elements of a wide variety of genres, such as Progressive Metal, Swing Jazz, Alternative Rock, Opera and Blues.
To be honest, when the band started out I would never have imagined that, two albums down the line, such an iconoclastic and uncommercial band would be achieving something of a cult status, which of course is pretty much what is happening. Amidst all this DSO took some time to share a few thoughts with me on their music. The band claims it enjoys privileged links with past lives from Sweden, their homeland - as I discover when asking guitarist/vocalist/song-writer Daniel Hakansson about what had been his underlying ambitions when co-forming the band...
Daniel: Well, we weren't really formed like a normal band. We were kind of drawn together as we were related with each other due to links in the 1500s. We did some genealogical research and got to know that our ancestors played in a band, or 'orchestra', 'ensemble' or whatever you would like to call it. Back in those days, the orchestra was hunted by the Church so the musicians made a pact that their orchestra should be reunited when the time has come and when the world should be ready for them - that happened to be us a couple of years ago.
Chris: With such unorthodox music, I'm curious on how you go about writing songs. Do you consciously try to sound original or do you just follow whatever form of inspiration comes along?
D: I think there is a general misconception about us wanting to be different. In this band we do like Metal but it's not the only genre we're into. We draw influences from music we like and Metal is just one ingredient that we use in the songs. We all come from different backgrounds and put each of our own influences into the music so that it all feels natural to us. I think it has to be that way - a band has to sound natural for it to work.
When we arrange the songs we never consciously decide we won't use an idea just because it won't be so original enough. I mean we also have pretty straightforward songs. If we all like a song, then it a good song - that's the only rule we have.
C: Is the organic feel of a song of continuous concern to you or do you worry about that once the main structure is completed?
D: I guess all songwriters have the problem of not knowing when to let go - deciding at which point a song will sound worse if you continue to fiddle with it. When we come together to play it, we'll all know when a song is completed.
In the rehearsal room, all the arrangements will have been made and then the final arrangements, when we get to hear everything clearly, that happens in the [recording] studio. It's kind of a long process. So usually we'll have the basic ideas which we try out as a band, then we'll put everything together in the studio. In reality, though, the concepts we use for each song are all different.
C: How would you describe the fans of DSO?
D: Actually we've been surprised when receiving e-mails and responses that tell us the kids' parents like our music. Even grandparents have been liking us - probably because in us they feel how Swing music sounded like back in their days, in the 1920s. It's a satisfaction for us that also grandparents can listen to our music and find something interesting. Also people not into Metal at all have told us they liked our music.
C: Everyone seems to find something that they can appreciate in your music...
D: Exactly. We have a mix of all styles and we purposely don't exclude anything. We bring in whatever we like into our songs especially since we're a band with a broad spectrum of influences. And that can appeal to a lot of people. The problem could actually be when you come to market it - that's something that could be hard for the record label.
Most people tell us its good music and that it's clear we put our souls into it. It's not mainstream music made for the mass market.
C: What has surprised you most about your gigs?
D: Well, what surprises us is that despite not having a large label to support us, we've still managed to reach a lot of people with the little monetary means available.
C: Have you ever encountered any difficulties in fitting in the lyrics with the music?
D: Yes, that's a constant problem actually and since I've been writing most of the lyrics, it's always a bit of a struggle. We can all agree, in this band, that the music is much more important. I'm not saying that the lyrics are not important at all but the music always comes first for us. However, we all think it's important that the lyrics fit in well with the music and we can't just write anything. Plus we don't want to have a certain style of writing that would appeal to a mainstream listener. In any case the lyrics have to go with the music because as I said, the music is what is most important for this band.
C: Why do you use several languages in your lyrics?
D: To begin with, personally I don't think that English would be suitable for the ballads that we do, especially with the kind of voice that Annlouice [Loegdlund] has. Or with my own voice, for that matter. I think that if you want to have a dramatic effect with those songs, the Italian language is more fitting.
C: So the reason for this is semantic, meaning the perceived meaning of a word or phrase based on its phonetic qualities...
D: Yes. For example right now I'm listening to Turkish Pop music and what I like about it is how language is used. I don't understand the meaning of all the words but the sound the words have make me want to know more about the language so also I can produce those kind of sounds with my voice.
C: Do you think elements from Turkish or Middle-Eastern music will one day find their way into songs by Diablo Swing Orchestra?
D: I listen to a lot of Middle Eastern music. My wife was from Iran so I've listened to a lot of music from Iran. So yeah, we will probably use that in our music if we feel it fits the song.
C: What is the meaning of the title "Sing Along Songs For The Damned & Delirious" (album released in 2009)? In particular who are these 'damned and delirious'?
D: With both album titles and song titles we try to incorporate elements of the album or song. We think that this title kind of sums up what the album sounds like. 'Damned and delirious'....well we're singing for people who can perhaps be considered weird to be into this kind of music.
[As this interview was taking place, several band members of DSO were passing by Daniel and myself. I took advantage of this to ask them a few questions, starting from drummer Petter Karlsson who has only been with the band since last January.]
C: Petter, how did you come to be part of Diablo Swing Orchestra after having played with Therion for around 4 years?
Petter: Actually I had already quit Therion at least one and a half years before joining DSO. In the interim I did start a few projects but as such I had been without a band. I knew about this band [DSO] and I thought they had some really cool music and that was the main reason why I had wanted to join them. I had heard from a friend of mine that they were looking for a new drummer so I contacted Daniel and told him I would be available to join the band.
C: Do you think the music of DSO and Therion have anything in common?
P: Yes, absolutely. There's the mixture between different styles of music, such as the Operatic voice, the Classical instruments, Heavy Metal...
C: So do you appreciate the overlapping of genres in music?
P: Yeah, I think it's cool. I always enjoy trying to create something different.
C: Daniel, what bands, musicians or composers continue to influence DSO?
D: Well we always seem to be influenced by this composer called Ben Charest - he wrote music to the film "The Triplets Of Belleville". I believe that that music was nominated for an Oscar around 2005.
C: So are you also influenced by film-scores?
D: Yeah, that as well. And bands such as Muse, who have been a big influence to me personally, Primus...
C: I could definitely sense the influence from Muse in the music of DSO...
D: And as I said, we all bring in different influences besides Rock and Metal. I would say we're more influenced by particular songs than actual bands.
[At that point I noticed that DSO guitarist Pontus Mantefors and the band's cellist Johannes Bergion were in close proximity. I asked Pontus what he thinks changed musically from the first album of DSO to the second...]
Pontus: I think the 2nd album is a lot more playful. Considering the fact that it was after the first album that we settled on our sound - we pretty much evolved our sound after the first album. By doing that we found out what we really liked in the songs from the first album and that's why the second album turned out the way it did. It's a lot more playful because we all enjoyed playing those songs. They're still hard songs but playful hard songs.
C: Johannes, do you think the more challenging thing is what to include in or what to leave out of the music of DSO?
Johannes: It's been a struggle since the start because we had so many elements that we had wanted to involve in the music. In our second album there were more arrangements better suited for the cello. In fact we had had some problems in the first album in the sense that the bass and the cello seemed to compete with each other as a result of us wanting to fit in several musical ideas.
C: Are you academically trained as a cello player?
J: Yes, I went to music college for some years in Gothenburg.
C: What about Annlouice, the band's soprano vocalist, does she have a following from the Opera scene?
D: Well, she works full time as an Opera singer. So it's just natural for her to sing with us as well.
C: Guys, do you know when you'll start work on another album?
D: Actually sooner than you might think, maybe as early as June. We have some basic ideas for a few songs but we'll start arranging them in June when we've put one month aside for that purpose.
C: Do you have any idea on how it will sound like?
D: Well to begin with, since Peter is now in the band, we'll have a more specific arrangement for the drums. Petter is also a songwriter so he's also contributing to writing songs.
[I turn to Petter, who is now sitting beside me...]
C: So now from now on you'll be giving your own input to the songs of DSO...
P: I hope so, although we haven't really started yet.
D: I'm quite sure it will happen.
C: Don't you feel it's become increasingly difficult to come up with music that sounds fresh and challenging for the listener?
D: It depends. I mean we never think from that perspective when writing songs. We never think like: 'OK, what shall the listener think of this song'’ If we like the song, even if it's not challenging for the listener, we still put it out. As I said in the beginning it's not the end goal for us to be different. We just like this kind of music. We like playing it.
C: Those were all the questions I had planned to ask. I wonder if there's anything you'd like to add...
D: I hope some listeners come to see our shows and I hope they will like the music we're writing as well.