I have had the chance to speak to Niklas Stålvind, singer and guitarist in Wolf a few times already, but a quick search through the archives here at Metal Squadron reveals that none of those interviews are to be found here. Well, time to do something about it, as the band just released a new album “Feeding The Machine”. The following interview was also the title story in the March edition of Scream Magazine.
Niklas, if you look back at your last album, «Devil’s Seed», how do you view that album today both as an album standing on its own as well as a part of the Wolf-discography?
– After we released it, I was very proud of it and thought it was one of our best albums. The production is simply amazing, but after a while I started thinking that the album lacks some fast songs. Also, the production sounds very deep and expensive. If you listen to it with really good headphones or on an expensive stereo, you can really hear the depth of it all. I thought like: Okay, we have done this now, we can not take this thing further, or it simply wouldn’t be Wolf anymore. We wanted to go back and do more aggressive, in your face, simple, straight forward heavy metal. That’s the feeling I got after a while. I discussed it with the rest of the band, and they were feeling exactly the same. We should be doing more simple, straight up heavy metal.
Does this mean that you felt you were at a crossroad when you started working on this new album?
– For me personally, it felt like that. For every album since «The Black Flame”, and especially since «Ravenous», I have been writing mostly about personal stuff. It’s my way of dealing with life. Most of the songs on «The Devil’s Seed» deal with the fact that I got burnt out in 2012 and was really in bad shape. When I got back together and started working on recovering , the album was therapy for me, and it deals a lot about my recovery. This new album is also very personal and terapeutic for me. It deals a lot about deeper issues in the past, from my youth. My life took a really strange turn when I was 16 or 17, and I have never gone back trying to understand it. Now I felt like I really had to do it to become a whole human being, if you know what I mean. My method of dealing with deeper issues in life has always been to write music. So I view “Feeding The Machine” as a completely different different animal compared to “The Devil’s Seed” which is like a thing from the past, at least that’s what it feels like now.
So what happened when you were like 16-17 years old, that turned your life around, as you put it?
– Well, I had a life crisis, like many teenagers. I met the wong people at the wrong time, when I was most vunerable. That lead me to very strange ways, it’s very personal so I dont think I am ready to really openly discuss it yet. My personality is that I am an «all or nothing»-guy. I’ve always been like that. I get really obsessed by things. By that time, I thought I had found the answer to life and universe and everything, you know. And after a while, reality catches up, and you feel confused and depressed again. That was a really weird time. I dont know how to say it, but I just realized I had been wasting many, many years on something that wasn’t really good for me. And when I moved on, because I couldn’t understand how I could be so stupid, I just moved on, put the lid on and never talked to anyone about it. I just kept it to myself. When I look back now in old diaries, it’s like several years of my youth are just gone. There are stuff I can’t recall, I can’t remember when I did stuff or in what order. It’s all like a blur. When I had written the last song, it felt like it was out on the other side.
So you did actually write a diary at this time?
-Yes, I did. I write sporadically, but mostly when I suffer. When I really feel good, I forget about writing. My diaries are very deep and soul searching. I also went back to check old calendars, because I was really confused. What the fuck happened between those years? There were like four or five years when everything was really, really crazy. I am glad I did write, but when I look back at those diaries, it’s like a completely different person has written them. And it was, of course. Its been many years, we change all the time and move on. Some traces of the past are still present in our consciousness. Some people say they are exactly the same as when they were 16, and they’re kind of proud of it. Not me, I am not that person. In 10 years time I will not be the same person as I am today. I think that’s a natural thing. I write very personal, but I try to write so that anyone can get something out of the songs. It’s not about me, it’s about the listener. I also try to write for the person that just want to grab a beer, headbang and crank the stereo on a Saturday night. You don’t need a degree from the University, to be able to enjoy Wolf. Even though we write music like that, there are often people, often very unexcpected people, like young girls in the twenties, saying they have been listening to Wolf and that our music has been very important for them in times of struggle. I have experienced it many, many times. They don’t look like metal heads at all. I find that fascinating.
Niklas says he doesn’t know why the time was right to write songs about this period in his life right now, but he tries to explain.
– One day I saw something on the Internet that reminded me of this period in my life, it might have been a documentary or something like that. I’ve have always known for my whole adult life that this is something I need to get to the bottom of. I can’t pretend that it never happened. I just knew that someday I had to deal with it, and now was the right time. I was dealing with this thing for two or three years, and I am really glad I did. I guess it’s what most artists do from time to time, its our way of dealing with life and trying to understand it.
When I feel a little down, I don’t always want to listen to music, but when I do, I always get in a better mood.
– Yeah! I went to Prague once. That’s the only time I went somewhere for a vacation. I am an extremely boring person, I just sit in my studio, go to work and do boring daddy stuff. I am not a vacation kind of guy, and I dont go on adventures. But this time, when I was a bit depressed, I went to Prague, and followed in Franz Kaffka’s steps because I had read his books. I went to the place where he is buried, and visited his grave, and there were lots and lots of notes and stuff that people had put on his grave. I realized that «Wow, he really had an impact on people, not only me, but thousands and thousands of people.” I picked up one of the notes to read it, I felt a little like spying. It said something along the lines of: “Thank you so much for writing those novels. It makes me feel like I am not alone.” That’s exactly what happens when you are sad and depressed and listen to sad music, or when I am frustrated and angry, I feel better off when I play extremely aggressive music. You get the feeling you are not alone, someone else has also been there. That’s the beautiful thing about art, I think.
You spoke about when you felt burnt out some years ago. Was it mostly in your body or in your head?
– I was diagnosed with fatigue syndrome and it just hit me like a big hammer in the head. I was leaving my kids for day care and was at my way to work, this was in April 2011. Suddenly I got a text message from my wife. I was working on a at the time crazy schedule, not 9-5, but evenings, mornings and weekends. And she was also working like that, and we had just bought a house. My work was really demanding, working with drug addicts with diagnoses, they were really crazy. I got the text message, and opened my calendar to see, and it was all a blur with colour coded stuff, all our schedules. I then got dizzy, it was like someone hit me with a baseball bat in the head. Everything went blurry, and it felt like I was on a big ocean with huge waves. It was very unpleasant, so I just sat there for thirty minutes outside daycare and I couldn’t get myself to start the car. When I finally did, it felt like I was on one big carousel, so I had to stop on the next parking lot. I then called the ambulance, and they were ready to come and help me. I told them I would just sit there for a while to see if I got any better, but later I had to go to the hospital and after a while I was diagnosed with fatigue syndrome. It felt like the brain just shut off. It was a terrible experience. A lot of my friends have been through exactly the same thing. It is really common, at least here in Sweden. People early in their career, who start their own family and have a demanding job, are often hit by this. You work your ass off, and both parents have to work, because otherwise you can’t live. I was really, really sick. I couldn’t drive my car for two weeks, and just sat in my arm chair staring at the wall. I couldn’t do anything. Then I got some really good help, I saw a therapist and she helped me a lot. That’s when I started writing the lyrics for “The Devil’s Seed”. It was a way of dealing with it all.
The songs on “Feeding The Machine” were written during a quite long period of time. Niklas thinks that is something the listener might be able to hear.
– I think the first song I wrote was “Shoot To Kill”, which I wrote in late 2014 if I remember correctly. It felt like: This is the start for the new record, and this is gonna be the opening track. The song is very classic Wolf-style and has all the Wolf-ingredients. But after that, I started to try to go into different territories and explore a bit of other sounds and landscapes. Some songs got half finished before I threw them out. And there was another entire song where I had written and recorded everything except bass guitar, and I totally forgot about it. It was something I did as a therapeutic thing, and then I realized that it wasn’t good for the album, so I put it away. The long writing period hopefully means that the album is quite diverse, without too many repetitions of one or two songs. My intention was that the listener shouldn’t get bored of the album because everything sound the same.
Do you have an outline before you start to write of what type of songs you are going to include, or do you write individual tracks, fast, slow, heavy ones and just put them together?
-This time I really tried to think of the album as a whole. It feels like I really wrote an album. Simon (Johansson, guitar) wrote one song which he sent to me, and I tried to fit that one into the whole album concept as well. I always had this album overview, with the opening track, the title track…not completely song for song, but making sure it contained certain elements. More so than on every Wolf-album in the past, this is not a bunch of songs thrown together, its really an album concept, music wise. With the lyrics of course, it’s always like that. You are writing an album, probably going through a period in your life. The lyrics reflect the person you are then.
Some time ago, Wolf got a new rhythm section, and it seems the new guys just made it to the new album.
– For a bunch of different reasons, it took us a year to finish the album recordings. We had recorded bass and drums with the old members, but then they left, both of them. We had no idea how to proceed, but Simon and I decided to finish the album no matter what. But during this process, we got two new members in the band. It felt like destiny actually, not that I believe in that stuff . We hadn’t even started searching for new members. when we found them through mutual contacts. Mike Wead from King Diamond is a friend of ours and he helped Simon out in the studio. They were brainstorming about the new drummer, and Mike suggested Johan Koleberg, a guy he had seen perform in Gothenburg recently. It turned out he was an old friend of Pontus Egberg who is also in King Diamond. One thing led to another, and it turned out Johan was looking for a band and Pontus was also interested in joining on bass guitar. It is really weird how everything came together. When the old members, Anders (Modd, bass) and Richard (Holmgren, drums) left, they left us in a really, really bad situation. We had an album recorded, but were just half a band. At the same time, I never tried to make them feel guilty. They really felt they had to move on, and I respected their decision. There were no hard feelings from my side. When we got the new members on board, I really can’t describe the feeling. I was so excited. When we heard them play for the first time, we realized that «this is it». We didn’t have to look any further. We soon realized that we had to release the new album with the new members. It took a couple of weeks more, and then we had new drums and the bass recorded. As the main songwriter in the band, those songs are my babies, and I don’t take lightly on my art. When I heard what Johan and Pontus did with the songs, it felt very right, and it felt like the songs were finally home. I think it was great to get some new blood in the band. I have lots of respect and admiration for the new guys.
When you are an original member that has been in the band since the very beginning, maybe you need some fresh blood once in a while to continue doing what you are doing?
– Yeah, I think so. It has happened before, that members have grown tired. They felt like: «this is not me anymore». Every time it has happened, I just went: «OK». When relationships end you just know it. It’s exactly like you said, an injection of new blood. Sure, I would have loved if I had been in a band like Rush, where three guys (RIP, Neal Peart) know each other inside out, but Wolf isn’t that kind of band, and I am really glad we got some new faces.
The title of the album, “Feeeding The Machine”, is it aimed at social media or Facebook in general?
– Those are the things that inspired me, but I have heard other interpretations of the title as well. A long time has passed since I wrote the song, so right now I have a different perspective and also see it from a totally different angle. But when I wrote it, it was about social media and what it does to us, and how we keep feeding this machine all the time. It’s not only good, you know. When you create a really powerful machine, then you should be aware that someone could take over the control over that machine.
Take the algorithms, for instance, if you put a like on something at Facebook, you end up getting more of the same stuff that you liked in the first place. And if you are are a member of a group on Facebook and have some radical views on things, you can think your opinions are normal, because people in these groups agree with you.
–Things can be used for good or bad. It’s not like social media is bad, but it can surely be bad. And it can surely take control of you before you know it. I think you got to be aware, I have the song «The Raven» on the new album for instance. It’s a song about how or cell phones are now controlling us, and not vice versa. The new technology is great, but it is also comes with a risk. The thing is, not only are you using it, it is using you. Or someone is using you. If you use Facebook, you are the goods. It’s a reason why you don’t have to pay for Facebook. It’s the same thing with Google. Google and Facebook own the fucking world now. And they surely have an agenda. I love the new technology, but you got to be aware. We think a million thoughts a day, but if you really think about it, you will see that you have changed the way you are thinking due to the social media. You think more like a “YouTuber” or a someone using Facebook. I have noticed that I think more in terms of Facebook statuses now, where the fuck did that come from? It is both interesting and scary, and more people need to be aware of these things. Don’t be a fucking brainwashed zombie without a thought of your own!
I noticed one nice thing on your Facebook-page recently, where a guy wrote that he was a fan of the band, but didn’t like the new song you had put out. He got a really nice reply, which is something I think most bands wouldn’t have bothered to do. Something along the lines of: «There is another video coming. Hope you like that one».
– It’s usually me or Simon writing on that page, and it was me answering that particular comment. When I read the comment, I felt a little like I do when I read comments beneath videos at YouTube. Those comments are often very negative and nasty, but you have to remember they often come from random people who see your video in their feed and might not even be a fan of the band or this kind of music at all. In some cultures, people think that their opinions actually matters. «The singer is just a poser…blabla…this is nothing special». Ok, but why do you think someone bothers what you think? When I first read the comment, I felt it was one of those negative things, but I tried to answer him in a polite way, and then it turned out it he was really a Wolf-fan, he just didn’t like this song that much. If I had been a douchebag, we would probably have lost a fan. Funny that you noticed it, because that comment made me think a bit as well, how I turned it to something positive.
Wolf has done a version of Angel Witch’ classic «Atlantis» for the new album. According to Niklas it wasn’t exactly an easy task.
– The original bass player in Wolf owned the vinyl of their debut album. I borrowed it from him and really liked it, and especially this track. It is really good, with the harmonies, and the kind of flamenco guitar thing. I also like how the song is built up. So “Atlantis” has always been with me, and I always felt we should cover it one day. Now we needed a bonus track, as we used the bonus tracks as an ordinary tracks on the album, because we felt they were too good. I thought of “Atlantis”, as we had to find a song that we could record really fast. Simon was producing it and I got things together, Johan came in to do the drums, and he hardly knew the song at all, so Simon had to tell him what to do. I then came to the studio and learned the song my way and then it was back to do the vocals. The problem was that all the lyrics I could find on the internet was very disappointing. I couldn’t beleive that an English speaking guy had written this, it was just some weird, random bullshit. I had a suspicion they weren’t correct. I couldn’t hear all the words the singer was singing either, because of his English accent and because it was recorded a long time ago and his vocals weren’t really clear. I was a bit frustrated, but then it turned out our drummer is friends with the drummer in Angel Witch.
Yeah, Fredrik Jansson. He is Swedish.
– I had no idea, but Simon knew who he was. In the end, it turned out he was one of my Facebook-friends as well. So we asked him if he could find the lyrics. He sent us the lyrics from a Japanese vinyl-release and they were even worse! We just laughed at it, and asked if Fredrik could check with Kevin Heybourne if he had the lyrics. I then got a SMS from Kevin five minutes before I was going to do the vocals. I corrected the lyrics, and did the song in two takes. I love the result, the song sound very spontaneous.