Freaks of Nature (Mercury)
An interview with guitarist Flavia Canal
by Scott Hefflon
This is your second full-length, but the first, Horror Wrestling, was released twice, right?
Right. First in January of ’97, then in May or June of ’98 we re-released it with the new record company (Mercury).
I was pretty good friends with the guy running The Enclave before it got dissolved/swallowed. He had your first record, a band called Fluffy, and I think he put out something by Sloan at one point.
I saw Fluffy in Stockholm. They were supposed to open for Marilyn Manson, but he had to cancel because they left their tapes behind.
Speaking of tapes, I notice your producer, Sank, did all the loops and programming, what do you do when you play live?
Right now, we don’t use any background tapes except when we open up with “Enter My Mind.” We run the intro loop, but when we start playing, we turn it off.
So you’re all live and not restricted by having to play with a tape.
Not right now, but we might change in the future. We’ve talked about it, but it sounds pretty good without the loops. When we write the sounds, the loops are always the last thing, so it’s not like we write songs around loops.
Kinda like the icing on the cake.
It’s just an added flavor, a kind of seasoning. The songs can be played just fine on their own.
You’re in the US again for the Ozzfest, how long have you been here?
We came here in the beginning of May and stayed in New York for a month. We did some press and recorded a song for the Detroit Rock City soundtrack. We did a T. Rex song called “20th Century Boy.” We also got a rehearsal studio so we could get ready for the Ozzfest tour. After the Ozzfest, we have a week off and then we go on tour with Black Sabbath and Godsmack for a month.
Was the song for Detroit Rock City your first on a comp or soundtrack?
We’ve been on a couple compilations here and there, but this was our first soundtrack.
What comps have you been on?
I found one we were on while at a truckstop in Sweden. I bought it. It was all old Swedish heavy metal bands from the ’80s, and then there was us. I don’t really know what else we’ve been on, but I think they’re mostly in Sweden and Europe, not America.
Your first record was on The Enclave, which is gone, then it was re-released by Mercury, which has been swallowed by Universal, and I guess you’re now on the blend of Island and Def Jam records called (not very originally) Island Def Jam.
Yeah, something like that. As long as they do their jobs, it’s alright.
How’s the response been to Freaks of Nature?
When we came over in ’97, we’d just released our first record and not a lot of people knew about us. By now, we’ve worked up a following and we get a much better response from the audience. It’s a lot more fun, obviously. The audiences have been good the whole time, don’t get me wrong, but they’re bigger now.
Not to fawn or anything, but Freaks… is such a solid record from beginning to end… A whole record, ya know?
What’s your favorite song?
I have a lot of them. First, one specific: Is it the guy from Clawfinger saying “Throw your hands in the air” on “Simon Says?”
No, why do you think that?
Cuz it sounds like him…
Oh, I thought you heard it from the bio they have in Germany saying that it is Zak Tell. It’s not. It’s an American who lives in Sweden named Herbie Crichlow. But we’re thinking of replacing him for the single release in September. Not that he didn’t do a good job, but we might do something cool and different with it with somebody, you know, known.
He doesn’t go on tour with you live just to say those few words, does he?
No, no… Actually, we haven’t played that song live yet. We’ll probably use a sample for that one part.
Do you know the guys from Clawfinger?
Yeah, very well. We all live in Stockholm and we’re on the same label in Sweden.
OK, to answer your favorite song question: I like the guitar riff in “Black,” the powerful melody of “Alive,” the Marilyn Mansonish croaked verses and belted out chorus of “I Wish…,” but my favorite song is definitely “Right Through You.” The first time I played the CD, I played that song about five times to catch every nuance before moving on to the next song. It’s like a Heart power ballad from the ’80s with so much more darkness in the vocals and crunch to the guitar.
Yeah, that’s a beautiful song. When it comes to listening, I like “I Wish…” and “Right Through You,” but when it comes to playing, I like “Crave” and “Leech” because they’re more aggressive. If you’ve ever been unhappily in love, you have to listen to “I Wish…”
There are themes I notice in the lyrics: seeing through lies and losing someone but having them forever…
I don’t write the lyrics, but my interpretation of them would be that the first album was about fear and anxiety, and the second album is more about love and frustration.
Let’s talk guitars. A lot of metal, especially “new metal,” uses huge-sounding production and guitar chords that’re almost explosions, but they don’t give you any riffs to sink your teeth into. There’s no great progression for aspiring guitarists to work and slave to master. You have dark, flowing riffs that sometimes sing as much as the vocals do.
Thank you. That’s what we like. It’s hard for me to explain it; I just play what comes out of my heart. All four of us contribute to the songs, and this is just what comes out. I might write aggressive riffs, but Martina (Axén, drums & backing vocals) writes beautiful melodies, and the songs are the combination. We all write, alone and with each other, but all the songs are arranged by all of us.
Do you have a lot of songs that either aren’t right for the band, or that’ve just never made it through the process to get on a record?
Oh, of course. I write a lot when I’m home, and some just don’t get that far. I even write these kinda Satriani songs – lots of leads and fluid melodies. I really like Satriani. Maybe I’ll put a hidden track on one of the albums someday.
Isn’t Meshuggah from Sweden?
Yeah, but they just moved to Stockholm. They used to live up north. We have a lot of bands here: Unleashed, Entombed, At The Gates, and a lot I don’t know the names of. There are a lot of musicians in Sweden. We have the most bands per capita in the world. Almost everyone is in a band. Even the police force has a band.
Why is it such a musical area?
Probably because the winters are very long and very dark. You can’t really hang around outside because it’s cold, dark, and depressing. It’s not like Spain or somewhere where you can sit outside in a cafe. You have to have some place to go.
What or who influenced you to pick up the guitar?
When I was 13, I was into the Runaways. Lita Ford was a big influence on me. I’m self-taught, so I’d listen to their albums and learn to play their songs. Later, I was very into Angus Young’s style, and I used to cover a lot of AC/DC songs. After that, it was ’80s metal like Dio and Satriani, and now I’m more into the kind of Pantera style songs.
You write a lot of dark-sounding, minor chords and half-step changes. Very big, ominous-sounding chords held long and dramatic.
I just grew into it. When we started six years ago, we had happier songs, you know? More upbeat, and not so many minor chords. Then we developed a taste for minor chords, and now we hate major chords.
Many of the bands you’ve mentioned have aggression and perhaps a dark side, but they all play, ya know, faster than you do. I think of your songs as heartbeat-paced. Comfortable and swaying; or if it’s aggressive, the slow burn of lifting weights as opposed to beating a speedbag.
I love our music – I don’t know if I’m supposed to say that – but I really love playing it and listening to the rest of the band. I really like Martina’s way of playing the drums: heavy and huge. She has huge drums. And then with the wonderful melodies and harmonies… (Laughs) I just love my band.
I have to give you credit for doing the only “interpretive” cover of Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” allowed (on the re-issue of Horror Wrestling).
That’s a perfect example. When we first started playing it, we played it the regular speed. But it didn’t feel right. So we were playing around while bored one time and slowed it down. It sounded really cool, so that’s the way we recorded it. That’s our pace. We did the same thing to “20th Century Boy.”
I think the word “dirge” comes into play here.
Dirge. Like Alice in Chains, Dirt especially.
I’ve never heard the word. I like it. Is it “d-u-r-g-e?”
I? I have trouble with some English spelling… Dirge. OK, I wrote it down on my laptop. It has a good ring to it.
I have to ask you about Alice in Chains, especially their earlier stuff that was, ya know, good. People have and will compare you to them, simply because you’re heavy, a little lethargically-paced, and while your harmonies aren’t the same as theirs, they’re closer than, say, The Mommas and The Poppas’ or ABBA’s (who’re also from Sweden, come to think of it – too bad I didn’t think of that during the interview).
Martina, who writes all the melodies, listens to a lot of Alice in Chains, but I’ve never really listened to them. I think they’re an excellent band, I’m more into Pantera riffs. But when you add Martina’s eerie melodies and harmonies, you get something very different.
I hear you get a lot of people coming up to you saying you inspired them to do their own thing, you helped them believe they could do it.
Yeah, quite a bit. A lot of girls, too, which is really cool. I’ve inspired people to pick up the guitar, I guess, and my only advice is to practice a lot.
Are you from a musical family?
My dad used to play an electric organ he had in his room. He would make things up or play things by ear. He can’t read music, but he can play a lot of things. He’s from South America, so he used to sing and play all sorts of that stuff. That may’ve affected my style a little because a lot of the music is in three, I think. When I write riffs, I write them until they’re over. They may be in three or five or nine. I don’t really know until I record them and then go back and count. There’s a song by Soundgarden, “The Day I Tried to Live,” that has such an odd beat, I just love it. I think it may be six beats followed by four, then repeat.
Not a lot of music theory in your background, huh?
No, not really. I like to learn by ear, and I write what sounds good to me. I can read music a little, but it’s like reading phonetically. But if someone plays something, I can usually mimic it back without much trouble.
One thing a lot of people probably don’t think of; Drain STH is a band made up of four very attractive women, but they’re four attractive women who’ve spent an awful lot of time alone in their rooms or working out the kinks to a song in a rehearsal space.
For me, it was always obvious that this is what I wanted to do. It was never a sacrifice to me. I don’t know where I got the drive or the urge, but I’ve always wanted to play the guitar.