I know that I should know much more about ANAAL NATHRAKH than I do but this interview is my introduction to the band. Answers from Dave.Anders Ekdahl ©2018
Do you notice that there is an anticipation for you to release an album? Have you built a large enough following for people to eagerly await a new album?
-I’ve no idea, that’s not really the kind of thing we think or worry about. We’ve heard from people who are excited to hear it, certainly, but we don’t conduct focus groups or public polls or anything like that. We’re excited about the new album ourselves, and that’s all we can really be responsible for.
Is it important for you that a new album picks up where the previous left off? How important is continuity??
-No, not at all. Continuity in and of itself is only a good thing for people who want to make or buy an album that sounds predictably like the last one. But that doesn’t mean that as a band you should ever make an album that sounds like your last one… unless you want to. What you want to do is the only thing that can validly dictate how an album sounds. If you were happy with your last release and essentially want to extend it then fair enough – that’s how Gav used to characterise Bolt Thrower albums, and it never seemed to do them any harm. But if you want to change, then change – that works for some bands just like staying the same works for others. Ulver spring to mind. In our case, we aren’t trying to distance ourselves from our previous material – if we wanted to do that, we’d probably use a different name – but there is always evolution and progress simply because of how we write new material and who we are.
Was it hard for you to come up with a sound for this album that you all could agree on?
-No. There are only two of us, and we generally agree with each other about how we want Anaal Nathrakh to sound. As long as we’re on the same page, and we usually are, then there’s no wider democracy that we have to respect. And we both tend to concentrate on our particular domains – Mick sticks to music and I stick to lyric ideas and vocals. So for the most part, beyond the occasional suggestion, what we each say goes. And in the vast majority of cases, we can depend on the fact that we will both see the point and agree with what we each do. Nobody else gets a say, and that’s how we like it.
How important are the lyrics to you? What kind of topics do you deal with?
-They’re very important to me, but it’s not that important to me whether they’re important to other people. Without the lyrics and the ideas behind them meaning something to me, it’d be rather ridiculous to use them as a basis for such intense music, don’t you think? Screaming and wailing and generally making a caterwauling fuss about things that seem desperately important to you? Yeah, that sounds fair enough. But doing that over stuff that isn’t important to you? Well maybe there could be some kind of nihilistic gesture going on, but in general I can’t see that lasting very long. One album, maybe a gig or two and you’d start feeling like a right twat I expect. But that doesn’t mean that anyone else has to care. This isn’t a stunt for attention, and people are free to just listen and get something out of the music without paying attention to anything more. There’s just plenty more there to get into if they want to. We deal with a lot of topics, but in general the themes tend to relate to despising humanity or various things about the world, and to laying bare the things which underlie society. Anaal Nathrakh exists kind of as an entity of its own – it’s part of Mick and I, but it also seems to think and point out things for itself, that’s how it works for me. And that entity is intensely misanthropic, very negative, and thinks that almost everyone, everywhere either fails to understand the predicament they’re in, or is lying. On A New Kind of Horror, one of the big influences was poetry from or about World War 1, particularly Dulce et Decorum Est and Aftermath. I’d encourage anyone to look them up and read them. Beyond that, there’s a fair amount of liner notes that explain bits of the ideas. The rest people will have to think about for themselves.
How important is the cover art work for you? How much do you decide in choosing art work?
-Like pretty much everything else, we keep complete control of artwork because we make it ourselves. As well as a musician and a producer, Mick is an artist. So nowadays with artwork it’s usually a matter of me talking to Mick about the ideas and themes which are behind the lyrics, and then the two of us talking about how we might translate those ideas into an image. One feature of that discussion is that we’ll often send each other images we find or that we come up with that have something like the right feeling. That can be quick, or it can take ages – for this album it took us a long time to get the visual ideas right. And then when we’ve got the idea straight and we know the atmosphere we’re aiming for, Mick will come up with the artwork. I think it is quite important, personally. Usually the artwork comes after the audio, so in the sense of contributing to the album, it’s irrelevant. But once the artwork is in place, it can seem to contextualise the audio. Not necessarily, but if it’s done well then it can do so. And that means it’s an opportunity to augment or enhance to music on an album. Albums must stand or fall on their sound, of course, but good artwork can bolster the appreciation of that sound sometimes. As such, it’s certainly important enough to pay proper attention to.
How important is having a label to back you up today when you can just release your music on any sort of platform online? Are there any negative consequences to music being too readily available to fans?
-Strangely enough, I was talking with a friend about this the other day. He does music, too, albeit very different music than Anaal Nathrakh. And he was considering whether it would be better nowadays to go without a record label. I don’t’ think the main considerations are around the availability of music to fans. Not any more, anyway. Yeah at one time availability required labels because of simple physical manufacturing and logistics. But today, even if you ignore piracy, the availability of music to anyone with an internet connection is basically total. Whack it on Bandcamp or similar, get it on Spotify and hey presto, everyone can hear it. But that’s not the only thing record labels do – they also promote albums, they organise interviews, and in an important but nebulous way they contribute to the idea that music is something people own and usually pay for. I don’t raise that consideration because I want people to pay us lots of money, what I mean is that if music isn’t something that people pay for, then it can’t be something that people get paid for, and that means that fewer and fewer people will be able to afford the equipment to make music on, or be able to justify spending the time to make music when they could be doing another hour at a factory or whatever. Equally, for me at least, if music isn’t something I can own, then I have a diminished sense of attachment to that music. Perhaps that’s a sense that’s phasing out now. Lots of younger people don’t own any music at all. But for me, if I feel a connection with music, I want to have my own copy of it. And for a lot of people, record companies make that possible. So, perhaps because I’m some kind of horrific dinosaur, I think record labels still have an important place.
I guess that today’s music climate makes it harder for a band to sell mega platinum. How do you tackle the fact that downloading has changed how people consume music?
-You adapt to it. Adapt or die. For example at one time, artists and labels would have been horrified if there had been a platform such as youtube with users illegally making music available for free to millions of people. Nowadays, record labels are the ones putting music on to youtube. A New Kind of Horror isn’t out yet, but if you search online you’ll find that Metal Blade uploaded our last album to youtube themselves. Things are simply different today than once they were. You can wish that it was different, or you can embrace the new opportunities afforded by the shifting way that music and people interact – neither course of action will change the facts. We’d probably be in a different position in many ways now if things were the way they were 25 years ago. But if things were the way they were 250 years ago, we’d probably be serfs living on turnips. The past is gone, deal with now.
Does nationality matter today when it comes to breaking big. Does nationality play a part in if or not you will make it big internationally?
-Breaking big? I’m not sure, because I’m not sure what counts as big. There are certainly differences between the likely trajectory of bands from different places. As I understand it, in parts of Europe and Scandinavia, bands can get state help with paying for rehearsal space costs, for example. So that’s a big leg up to begin with, at a level that can make a big difference to whether a band will get anywhere at all. Then on a totally different level and scale, I think a band would have to be absolutely huge in their home country of, say, India, before they got much attention in the West. From speaking to people over there, I gather there’s a vibrant underground. But who have you heard of? Maybe Demonic Resurrection, and that’s probably about it. And partly that’s got to do with the geography involved. But none of that means that geography is entirely responsible or can be used as a crutch – if you’re in a band, concentrate all your effort on being brilliant, and don’t blame geography for the effects of tour mediocrity. There will always be those who are apparently greater and lesser than you, and drawing comparisons between them and you or thinking about how you’d be doing better if you came from somewhere else is wasting time that you could be spending on being more brilliant.
I use Spotify and Deezer but only as compliment to buying CDS (it’s easier to just have your phone or pad when you’re out) but I fear that soon music as we know it will be dead and buried. What are your worries as a band?
-Yeah, I do the same, at least some of the time. Though I tend to buy downloads rather than stream on the go – Spotify is for discovering stuff at home to me. Mick uses streaming too. In fact I think he uses services like that more than I do – I still buy most of what I listen to, even if I try things out on Spotify or whatever first – I’m not sure he actually owns much music nowadays at all. I doubt that music as a phenomenon is in danger of disappearing, but I do think some things will have to change to protect the kind of music that’s actually worth hearing. The way things have been going is kind of like neoliberalism in general – the industry moves more towards streaming services, and there’s a lot of money floating round in that. But in order to get a decent share of it, you have to be huge. And you can’t get huge without huge backing. So music gradually becomes more and more about marketing what people with money to invest think people with less money will want. More manufactured pop, albeit better manufactured pop than in the past, and apparently niche things which aren’t actually niche at all. And less support for more organic routes into creativity, because the money only goes to the big boys. I don’t know how accurate a picture that is, but it seems plausible to me. And that model is unlikely to lead us to musical nirvana. Thing is, the creative impulse isn’t going anywhere. So I think whatever happens, music will appear one way or another. The question is just whether the executive tier of society will be the principal beneficiaries, or musicians and music lovers.
What does the future hold for you?