Black Trip turned a lot of people’s heads with their awesome debut album, “Going Under”. In this lengthy interview with main man Peter Stjärnvind you’ll get most of the details on the material that constituted the first album, songs that Peter had been working on for years on his own, before he had a real band to play with. Of course you’ll also get all the essential details on the brand new album “Shadowline”, which is more of a band effort, with most of the members involved in the songwriting.
The roots of Black Trip can be traced way back in the early 2000s and demos recorded by yourself. Tell me a little about these early recordings and what you wanted with them.
– I wanted nothing special at all actually. It was mainly me coming up with ideas, and I just recorded demos on my own, as I have always done when I have written songs for other bands I have played in through the years, like for instance Entombed or Merciless . I always record drums in the rehearsal room and then do both guitars and bass. I prefer to have full songs to show other members, not only riffs. These ideas that I am talking about, didn’t really fit in other bands, and I really didn’t know what to do with them. Then I met Daniel Bergkvist in at a festival here in Sweden in 2004, he played drums with Wolf and I performed with Merciless. We spoke about the fact that it would be great to do a project that sounded like Mercyful Fate before the first EP, really demo sounding, dirty and raw heavy metal or hard rock. Then I started to record more seriously, wrote songs and did demos. The plan was to do it all with Daniel, but since he lived two hours away and got some problems with his hand, he couldn’t really play drums anymore, I did demos on my own, and also some rehearsal demos with Erik from Watain on guitar and Erik from Nifelheim on bass. That turned out to be “The Sleeper” which ended up on the first 7”. I had already met Joseph from Enforcer on some festivals too, drank some beers with him and stuff like that. And then, on the 22 of June 2011, we were at the Hell’s Pleasure festival in Germany, when the terrible thing at Utøya in Norway happened. I remember sitting on the tour bus and we heard some rumors about something happening in Norway, but couldn’t really grasp what was going on, because no one had wifi or anything like that. On that same night, I spotted Joseph doing backing vocals for Enforcer, and I just asked him over a beer after the show if he would like to try to do a demo for my project. He recorded the vocals on song “Voodoo Queen”, and when I heard that, it was clear that I found the right guy to finish the project. It took a long time to get everything done, but the intention was never to rush anything, I just did songs, threw away songs, kept some and had them on my computer without knowing what to do with them. I can’t sing really, so I wasn’t even bothered to try. After I met Joseph, we started to record vocals on my demos and tried to work a bit more seriously on the songs. For the first time I felt like I had a purpose or a plan.
These early demos Peter are talking about were basically the same that made up “Going Under”, released in 2013.
– Yeah, all the songs on the debut were written by me, before I had a band. Almost everything is more or less as the songs were on the demo stage, although some parts are shortened down, or made different when we started to play together. The oldest song on the first album is “Tvar Dabla” which I wrote in 2008 or something like that, “Going Under” is another old one. When I met Joseph, it was no point at all throwing away decent songs. At last I had a singer to pull it off. We just wanted to do an album with these songs and see how it turned out. I was surprised at the reactions, and was really happy to see the first reviews when “Going Under” was released. Finally I got confirmation that other people were also enjoying the songs.
You have played in many bands before, but when something is your own baby to the extent that Black Trip is, it must feel really special?
– Yes, in a few different ways really. I have done more than 20 albums as a drummer, but “Going Under” was the first one where I played guitar. It was really challenging as well…or writing the songs at home, sitting on the couch, wasn’t that hard, but when we started to rehearse to play live, I discovered I couldn’t actually play guitar the proper way with feedback and everything. I needed to relearn everything about palm muting and keeping control of the strings, since I had never played live guitar before. It was a challenge, but at the same time, it felt like a good thing to do. I had been playing drums for so long, and this felt like a good opportunity to do something totally different. You get different aspects and different ideas when you are playing another instrument as well. On some of the songs, you can really hear that the patterns are written by a drummer, you can hear the difference when a drummer writes songs compared to when a guitarist does. As a drummer, it is always important to have a logical pattern.
Most people know you as a drummer, for how long have you been playing guitar?
– Just for a couple of years. That’s it. Before that, I was only sitting on the couch playing, and never rehearsed or practiced lead guitar at all. I had to rethink and redo everything to evolve as a guitar player. From the first to the second album I hear a major difference. I feel more comfortable doing lead guitars now. I don’t think about it anymore like I did three years ago, and it all comes a lot easier to me now.
According to Peter, learning to play guitar was something he had to do to realize Black Trip.
– I had to, to get it done properly. It’s not like I have been practicing like hell anyway, but I had to focus in the beginning to play properly. I know I am not going to be a Yngwie Malmsteen-guitarist anyway, so I don’t try to be the fastest. I wanted to sound my best, it doesn’t have to be challenging for other guitarist. Still you known, when I talk to Sebastian, who has been playing guitar for something like 30 year, he says that he can’t do or doesn’t understand what I do with the guitar sometimes. I think every guitar player has a certain style, even if he doesn’t search for it. On the first album you can clearly hear it’s two different guitar players performing, but on the new album it’s not that clear in my opinion. Sebastian played faster licks when we played together in Nifelheim, but he had to be more bluesy when playing in Black Trip. He had to rethink his playing in this band as well because you can’t just go crazy and do totally fast licks all the time. It simply doesn’t make sense at all. I think we match quite well on the new album.
Do you think the fact that you haven’t been playing guitar for your whole life, makes you a bit different compared to most other guitarists around?
– Yeah, for sure! There is no way I would have written “No Tomorrow” like it is on the first album today. I remember Sebastian saying that the order of the chords is weird, and that it’s not natural to play like that. I thought it sounded good, but when I play it now, I realize it’s not the easiest riff. I didn’t really think about it while I was writing the song on my own. Some of the parts on the first album are interesting, because they’re written by a drummer who can’t really play guitar. It’s definitely not riffs and ideas that you would learn if you start to play guitar when you are ten years old. I did stuff “wrong” and it turned out to be somewhat original, I guess. Some parts on that album are weird, but they turned out cool nevertheless. Sebastian and Joseph had song ideas really early as well, but I said I wanted the debut album to be a collection of my songs only.
For the new album, Peter wrote six songs, Joseph two and Sebastian and Jonas one each.
– I think that’s great. I don’t care who write the music. I think it was better for the other members as well to wait awhile before they wrote songs for Black Trip. We are more like a band and more like a unit now. We know what works for us and what sounds good.
Do you think the fact that you now have shared the song writing responsibilities makes “Shadowline” a more diverse album than its predecessor?
– Of course! Both Joseph, Sebastian and Jonas thought about writing songs that would suit the band more nowadays. When we show each other material, I often say: I would never write a song like that. For sure it makes a more varied and dynamic album. Still I wrote the mere part of “Shadowline”, six out of ten songs, but it’s not that I have to do every song, that is not my main issue at all. When I write songs, I throw quite a few of them away early, because I think they’re not suited for Black Trip. The thing is, when you do it all by yourself, it’s hard to judge if a song is good or not. On the first album, I did two demos of the song “Radar”, and I was serious about scrapping the song away before we went into the studio. We tried it in the studio of course, and it turned out to be the first single, and probably the biggest hit on the first album. That says a lot, I think. You can never trust yourself, because you always think narrow minded in a way.. Sometimes you are not sure what’s good and what’s not, before you get other peoples opinion. On this album, I was sort of half-disappointed with “Coming Home”, before we entered the studio. I did two demos of that one as well, but just wanted to record it even though I was not sure of how it would turn out. Now its one of my favorite songs on the album. I don’t trust myself 100 percent, and that’s only a good thing, because if you are too happy and satisfied with what you are doing, it’s hard to think outside the box and do something interesting. I try not to think about what kind of song I am about to write. If I get a hook or a chorus or a good verse, it’s easy to write the song, but I am how it will turn out in the end anyway. For the first album I tried several times to do demos and write a shuffle beat-song. I couldn’t get it right, and none of them turned out good. Jonas heard me saying I wanted this type of track, and then he came up with “Berlin Model 32”. I thought it was excellent, and honestly could never had written it. In my opinion it’s one of the best songs on the album. There is no prestige at all involved in writing songs for Black Trip. If it’s a good song, it doesn’t matter who wrote it.
Even though Peter had all the time in the world to work on the songs for the first album and had to come up with the material for “Shadowline” in considerably less time, he didn’t feel any pressure.
– Not really! Just two weeks after the first album was done, I wrote the first song for “Shadowline”, “Danger”. I can clearly hear that it could have been part of the first album. We have also played it live for two years now. I wrote it, not because I had to, but because I was on a roll and I had a good vibe writing songs. Sometimes, there are two or three months where you barely touch a guitar because you lack inspiration. Since the new album was finished, I have recorded two more songs and have at least another two with demo parts recorded on my phone. Sometimes it can be inspiration from being in the studio and having a good time, and still have some vibes, or it can be from travelling to a cottage in the forest with a guitar, drinking a lot of wine. Sometimes good riffs come from that as well. I wanted it to be done and to be good of course, but I didn’t think about what the audience would think on any of the albums. For the first album it honestly wasn’t on my mind at all, it was more a case of “lets record it and see if someone wants to release it, how it turns out and if people like it”. If I write a song like “Danger” or “Die With Me”, which was one of the last songs I finished, and can say: “I think this is gonna work”, that’s enough for me. I would never use a song I am only half satisfied with myself. You can never please anyone anyway. There will always be people saying: “The first album is better, or all the albums are carp, you should be playing black metal again”. You know how it is today, in the internet days, there are always people complaining or telling you how much they love it. There is no point considering this when you write songs yourself, that would be really self-destructive. I wouldn’t be able to write songs if I thought about what everyone else would think about the material. You know what I mean? If I think a song would work for the band, and I am eager to rehearse it, that’s satisfaction enough . And when the rest of the band like the songs, that’s when I realize it’s doable. I never sleep as good as I do days before I record the actual demo of a track. I sleep so peaceful thinking about the song I finished. I like the satisfaction of finishing a good demo. Of course there are always parts that will be changed in the studio, especially when you record with Nicke Andersson. He’s always like: “Why do you have that riff for so many times? Remove it”.
The fact that you are playing guitar in Black Trip, does that also have to do with a wish to have a more central place on stage when you perform live? I mean, you have been sitting at the very back of the stage for years.
– Yes and no! I mean, yes of course, I love birthday cake, but if I was to eat it every day, I would throw up after a while. It’s the same with playing drums, I have been sitting behind the kit for 25-30 years, done over 20 albums and toured all over the world. Of course you get fed up with that. Not to mention all the carrying. My god! But it’s not necessarily that I want to be more central when on stage. I rather be a Malcolm Young than a Angus Young, if you know what I mean. Still you know, if I write songs on guitar, and recorded them, obviously I want to play them myself as well. That’s more important than what position I have while on stage. When I record demos, the best part is doing the bass guitar. I love recording bass! It think it’s so funny. And because I don’t do it that often, I really enjoy doing it. So it’s mostly about doing something different. If I had played the instrument for 20 years, I would probably not have played guitar every day either. I have to think differently when writing songs, and playing live is a different thing as well. I was really nervous the first time. Doing a thousand shows as a drummer isn’t of much help then. Everything is totally new. What if something goes wrong?
When Black Trip debuted with “Tvar Dabla” back in 2012, both the cover art as well as the title (translated it means “Face Of The Devil”) made me think that we had to do with just another occult heavy metal band…
– As I said, the idea at first, back in 2004-2005 was an early pre-first EP Mercyful Fate kind of sound mixed with some East European heavy metal-bands. Back then, there weren’t a lot of bands doing this type of stuff. However, the thing with music is , if you play with other musicians, it can never turn out exactly like you hear it in your head. Either you do it by yourself to make it exactly as you want it to be, or you go with the flow. When I play with another guitarist who analyzes the music differently or a drummer that plays differently, I can’t control everyone to do exactly what I want. That would be ridiculous. That’s the beauty of playing in a band. Since I met Joseph and got him to join Black Trip, he added a bluesier kind of vocal style. He also writes his own lyrics. Because of his input, the first album is more him than me, considering 95 percent of everyone that listens to the music, hear the singer first. If I hear a new band myself, I can get pissed off because the snare sound is terrible. You can get really disturbed about that, but it’s mainly because you have been playing drums for your whole life. Almost everyone pay attention to the vocals anyway, and I think the beauty of our first album is that my music and Joseph’s sort of bluesy tone and vocals work so well together. For Joseph as well it was a challenge to figure out how to get the best out of my songs. We sort of did the first single quite fast, and it took us all a while to figure out what we really were. Nowadays there are more bands doing the occult thing than the regular hard rock thing, so I am actually pleased that Black Trip turned out to be what we are today.
Looking back, there has been some development in your music already, from the Mercyful Fate-inspired stuff, via the first album which roughly said was a mixture of Thin Lizzy and early Iron Maiden to the new album that to a larger extent goes in the seventies direction…
– When we were doing the 7” me and Joseph, the idea was a sound centered around the period from 78-82. A late seventies, early eighties-kind of sound was what I was searching for. Maybe there’s more of a seventies hard rock feeling in the new songs, I don’t know. If you hear that, it’s probably true. At least for you. Haha! That’s the thing about music as well, I hear one thing, while you hear something totally different . Of course I would depressed if you heard a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers (quite happy that I had no less than two spelling errors in the band name in the original document, Leif) or something like that, but if you hear more seventies hard rock, that’s completely fine with me. I sthink and hope that we still have a recognizable identity in the music on both albums. Hopefully you are able hear it’s the same band on both albums.
Definitely. And the fact that you mix the late seventies sound with the more metallic, early eighties approach is something that helps Black Trip stick out and make you a bit unique. Many bands rely very much on either the seventies or the eighties, but fewer take the best of both worlds.
– Thank you, that was the main plan from the beginning. I think what you say is true as well, because there are bands that are more oriented towards 1983 Judas Priest like RAM or Portrait and other with roots in the seventies like Horisont, Graveyard and bands like that. I think we are in a spot that’s not too crowded at the moment, and that’s there, were the late seventies and early eighties stuff meet. If you hear that yourself, I have to say that I am really pleased. You understood us, I am fine now. Other people can complain as much as they like on the internet. Haha!
I know that Joseph writes the lyrics for Black Trip, but seen from the outside, how do you view, read and interpret his words?
– Sometimes I don’t know exactly what his lyrics mean, and some lyrics are definitely easier to understand than other. I like to come up with titles though, “Danger” for instance is one of the titles I really wanted to use. I always think about titles when I write songs. “Subvisual Sleep” was called “Sons Of Midnight” when I wrote it, because I thought it sounded a bit like a rough gang walking in the street with pumping guitars. At least, that’s what I heard when I wrote the song. For “Berlin Model 32”, I also came up with the title, and then Joseph wrote the lyrics straight out of the title. To be honest, I am not sure how to interpret a song like “Danger”, but “Berlin Model 32” is a song that you can clearly hear what it’s all about. At least I think so. Do you know Jönsson-ligaen? What is it called in Norwegian?
– Yeah, exactly. I have three kids, and was sitting watching a Jönsson-ligaen movie one night. Half a year ago or something, “Sickan” was going to Mallorca to do a hit, that involved breaking into a safe called “Berlin Model 32”. I wrote it down on my phone immediately, since I thought it was a really cool title. Joseph wrote the lyrics around a gang going down to Germany to do a last hit. It turned out to be a really cool idea.
At first I thought the song was based on a true story or something like that, but as nothing turned up during researhc, I began to think about Franz Jäger (a fictional German producer of safes appearing in said movie)…and the Berlin Model 32.
– Did you think about Franz Jäger from the old movies? You are the first one, but of course you are Scandinavian too. The Germans didn’t know, but they seem to love the lyrics nevertheless. This week we are playing Stockholm on Wednesday and Gothenburg on Friday , sort of release date, and will have four cameras filming us in Stockholm where we’re going to do a video for the song “Danger”, which was supposed to be the first single for the album. Of course our record company is German too, so they really fancied “Berlin Model 32” as the first taster from the album, and that’s fine by me. My first thought was: What, are we doing that song as the first single? But if that’s the song the people like, and the song that make them want to hear the full album, that’s fine. Even though I personally wanted “Danger” to be the first track from the album, I love all the songs on “Shadowline”, and you can never choose which song is going to be a favorite for the audience.
The word “retro” often pops up in reviews of Black Trip’s music. Are you okay with it, or do you feel it’s just a word used to cover up for lazy journalism?
– I don’t mind it at all actually. People will always use terms to make music easier to grasp. Personally I hate listening to music if I don’t know what it is. What genre is this? If I can’t grasp it, I can get really disturbed. When I heard the first album by Satan’s Satyrs, I was so confused. I liked it, but couldn’t figure out what it was. It sounded like Dead Moon with hedonistic satanic lyrics, or like biker gangs meeting Dead Moon in a weird garage way. You really have to have something to hold on to, for things to make sense. Once again, if people prefer to call us “retro” it’s up to them. Since we record as analogue as we can, only use vintage recording equipment and old seventies guitars and try not to mix as modern bands, I guess there is no way around it. We definitely not after a modern sound with compressors, completely without dynamics, like American radio rock or nu metal. That would destroy the whole feeling of the songs anyway. Two guitars, one left, one right, bass in the middle, vocals and drums. That’s it! We’re trying to do it simple and down to earth, with cool, old equipment. If that makes it retro, its fine by me. It would give me ulcers in my stomach thinking of what everyone thinks about the album. But when I got a text message from Fenriz the other day writing how much he enjoyed the song “Shadowline”, I was really happy. I was a bit surprised this would be the song for him though, but it shows that you will never know what people are going to think about your music. Some people will say you are a poser that do seventies retro music. You can’t please people who doesn’t want to be pleased. There is a lot of stuff that I don’t like either, but I am not going on the internet complaining about it. I am simply too old for that. As long as people like what we’re doing, I am fine. Some of the media has been really weird though. Its like they just copy what I say. I have always said that I am very influenced by old Saxon, and about 90 percent of the reviews of the first album mentioned that “Going Under” sounded a lot like Saxon. But it doesn’t! I said that we’re influenced by Saxon, not that we sound like them! I can’t hear Saxon in any songs on the first album. On “Shadowline” I have a pre chorus riff that is sort of Saxon, and still it doesn’t sound like Saxon, but since I once said this, people go on that we sound like Saxon. The record company said I had to say what my influences are this time around as well. I told them that I listened a lot to Brian Johnson’s old band Geordie lately. I like the early albums and how they record with a shaker in the right and a tambourine in the left. I mentioned Blue Öyster Cult as well, especially their dynamics and the way they sound. Some interviewers have already said that they can hear som Blue Öyster Cult in the new songs. I am not sure if I can hear that at all. I don’t think I ever made a riff that sounds like Blue Öyster Cult, but I am influenced by the how they sounded and recorded, the general atmosphere.
If you write something about influences in the information sent out with promos, there are often writers just copying that information and using it for reviews. I’ve seen this done countless times during the last 20 years.
– Yeah, that’s what I am talking about. If you gave me a CD and said, this is really inspired by this or that band, I would probably even without thinking about it, trying to hear those influences. Right now, I wonder what I am going to say on the next album. By the way, do you hear Saxon or Blue Öyster Cult in the songs on the new album?
No, at least not much, but the chorus in the song “Subvisional Sleep” made me think of Year Of The Goat.
– I never really listened to the band. It’s a Swedish band right? That’s the song I called “Sons Of Midnight” at first, and I when I wrote it, I was influenced by the French, early eighties bands like Attentat Rock and Trust. Mainly because of the dynamics, where the right guitar player does a totally different thing than the left one. Joseph wrote the lyrics, and it’s my fiancé that sings in the chorus. It just turned out as it did, because we tried different stuff in the studio, and because of Pia’s vocals as well. I guess Joseph wanted the song to be like a “Tvar Dabla” of the new album, a bit weird and theatrical…I am not saying you are wrong with the comparison though. I have heard Year Of The Goat, but haven’t been listening properly to them.
I understand that Black Trip is very close to your heart right now. Do you see a possible conflict here, with the other members involved in other acts?
– Sebastian, me and Johan just play in Black Trip, at least live nowadays. I think Sebastian has a Brazilian black or death metal project going on just as a hobby thing, but he’s not performing live with it. Of course there are going to be gig conflicts, and there have been some already, as both Joseph and Jonas is in Enforcer, who tours a lot. We try to work around it, and it hasn’t been a major problem yet.
In addition to Black Trip, Sweden has also produced bands like Dagger, Dead Lord and Humbucker, acts which seem to share a musical philosophy. Do you think it’s a coincidence that these bands sprung on to the scene more or less at the same time?
– When it comes to Dagger, I am not surprised, because they are as old as I am, and we all listened to classic hard rock and heavy metal when we grew up. Influences come back when you grew older, I guess. Your parents probably still listen to Elvis and Beatles, but my influences are different now since I also play guitar now. I listen more to Status Quo now, because their music is more guitar oriented. That makes a lot of sense, rather than people that are going: You didn’t listen to that band before. But I didn’t play guitar before! Before I got a driver’s license, I wasn’t interested in cars, but when I got the license, about 15 years ago, I started to get more and more interested in cars. It was the same thing: People were going: “You weren’t interested in cars before”. Of course not! It makes sense to be interested in something you have tried and have some knowledge about. So now, when I play guitar, I am more influenced by and interested in other bands, and I hear music differently. That makes a lot of sense to me. I am not sure if it’s a coincidence that a genre band like Dead Lord pops up now. I think it’s maybe a mix of people doing other stuff for several years and wanting to do something new as well. Dagger are old Dismember members that have played death metal for 25 years anyway. For them to go back to their influences, jam some bluesy heavy rock and drink some beers, that really make a lot of sense in my ears. I don’t think it is a problem at all. I get influenced by new rock and heavy rock bands as well, but because when you are involved in a scene, you play with these bands and of course you then can get influenced by them too.
For people who aren’t musicians themselves, bands like Dagger, Dead Lord, Humbucker and also Black Trip can sound quite similar. In your opinion, what is the difference between yourselves and these acts?
– The similarities, I think, are that we have similar lineups with two guitars, bass, drums and vocals. All of the bands are also influenced by old vintage equipment, guitars and stuff like that. When I listen to genres I am not really familiar with, the music sounds more or less the same to me. Of course that is different for a person that is into the genre. Take American hardcore for instance, for me it is a blur of bands sounding similar. I think there are differences between the bands you mentioned as well. On the first Humbucker-album, I wrote a song, and Joseph wrote the lyrics to it, and sang it. And of course, we are friends and hang out with those guys. Everybody said that Accept sounded like AC/DC when they came out, so do they? Not really! Did they? I don’t think that either. Accept did the song “I’m A Rebel”, that was written for AC/DC, but that’s it. I don’t think they sounded like AC/DC. I really can’t think about what Dagger or Dead Lord are doing at the moment. We all play old school rock and heavy metal, and you can’t do too much with this style, if you want to avoid end up sounding like Frank Zappa, that is. If you want to play good, classic heavy metal or rock, there are certain elements that just need to be there to make it work.
These bands have a pretty strong Thin Lizzy influence in their sound. Of course there has been some acts popping up now and then, but why did we have to wait for such a long time before bands came through with this type of sound? We’re talking about one of the really big bands here.
– Yeah, one of the best bands too. Either if you play sort of mid tempo and do double harmonies, it sounds like Thin Lizzy, and if you play it a little faster it sounds like Iron Maiden. Iron Maiden got it from Wishbone Ash, and Thin Lizzy probably got it from somewhere too. The circle has gone round, everything has been done. You just have to make it interesting. You can’t think too much about being too original and doing something totally new. A good riff is a good riff. It’s the way you play it and how the recording sounds and how you perform it live is that makes the identity of bands nowadays. How you package your music. If we had recorded modernly and had a photoshopped weird new cover on the album, no one would have said that we sound like Thin Lizzy. I don’t see it as a problem, it’s a bit similar to the death metal boom in the early nineties, every band sounded sort of the same, had the same influences. It’s hard to be all original.
With three of the members being in their early forties, while the two other are considerably younger, one could probably argue that the members will probably handle the upcoming tour differently, but Peter is sure this won’t be a problem.
– When you are 12 years old and your are with an 18 year old, it can be hard to get things to work, but if you are 28 and 41, the age span difference isn’t all that notable anymore. When I met Daniel from Wolf at the festival in Sweden in 2004, at the very same night, Joseph took a train by himself from Värmland down to Smäland where we did the festival. He was 15 or 16 and it was the first festival he got to go to on his own, along with some friends I guess. I signed his jeans jacket that night. I didn’t remember, and my first question when he told me was: “Was I nice to you?” Thankfully I was. Back then the difference in age felt huge, now it doesn’t feel like that at all. We have some good relations in the band, and we have played quite a lot together already.