Catch Thirtythree (Nuclear Blast)
An interview with vocalist Jens Kidman
By Tim Den
Meshuggah proved with I that their dynamic prowess and imagination blossoms even brighter under experimental, sprawling circumstances, so it’s no surprise that Catch Thirtythree is the band’s best since the glory days of None and Destroy Erase Improve. Expanding and retracting like an elastic, the band breathes in and breathes out, organically ebbing and flowing from one section to another in a 47-minute, continuous landscape. Leave it to Meshuggah to make 47 minutes feel like a brief journey. Granite-heavy riffs disintegrate into moody passages as the band re-embrace the power of subtlety, letting “songs” such as “Mind’s Mirrors” and half of “In Death – is Death” play crucial roles in building mysteries. Minimalist notes and pregnant pauses litter the consciousness with ghostly dissonance before exploding back into rubbery grooves. A mosh pit’s paradise with the occasional poisonous oasis to lure you away. Catchy Thirtythree proves once again that, when they feel like it, Meshuggah can take metal beyond impact alone.
For the past 10 years, you’ve been crowned the most relevant, progressive, and overall “best” metal band on Earth. How does that feel? And, more importantly, how the hell do you guys do it!?
(laughs) Feels like I just ate a good meal! It’s great and it feels amazing, and we’re very humbled by all the compliments. We’ve always just done what comes naturally. We started this band 15 years ago and have always just played stuff that we like. We do it from our instincts. We never think “Will people like this song? Or that song? Will they like this part?” We just do what we do.
In the beginning, you were also the guitarist, right?
Yeah, I played guitar and sang.
Why did you change to just singing? To concentrate on the vocals?
Ummm, to be honest, I can’t really remember. (laughs) It was so long ago, like 12 years ago. I think it was just like “why have two instruments? Why not everybody have one instrument and really concentrate on it?”
Tomas (Haake, drummer) had been playing with Marten (Hagstrom, rhythm guitarist) since they were nine. They’d been in other projects growing up, so it was really natural to have an old friend join.
But you’ve had problems keeping a bassist these last few years, huh?
Actually we’ve only had two bassist in the last 10 years. Is that a lot?
Well, no, but didn’t you have a lot of people fill in after Peter (Nordin, original bassist) and Gustaf (Hielm, last permanent bassist)?
Not really… Peter got sick in Spain during one of our tours in 1995 – he had to take a train all the way back home – and Gustaf pretty much came in as a live bassist right after that. He wasn’t “permanent” until a few years later, though…
We have a new bassist named Dick. Great name! (laughs) He’s not a permanent member yet, just for live shows right now. But he fits with us really well. When he joined, he immediately felt like family. Like an old friend. Personality-wise he’s on the same level as we are. I think it’s because we have similar backgrounds, and that was the problem with Gustaf. We didn’t share the same background and personalities. He didn’t fit with the people in the band. He was an amazing bassist, an absolute monster. But for us, Fredrik (Thordendal, lead guitarist) grew up in the same town of 100,000 people, Tomas lived one town over with 40,000 people, it’s more than just musicianship.
So Dick didn’t play on Catch Thirtythree?
No, it’s just me, Fredrik, and Marten.
You played bass?
Some. And guitar.
Was it the first time you played an instrument on an album since the early days?
Yeah. It used to be (after Contradictions Collapse) just Fredrik and Marten doing all the riffs, but I played a little this time.
I remember a French friend of mine, back in ’95, telling me about you guys doing that tour after Peter went home… Fredrik played the bass and did all the solos on it, right?
(laughs) Yeah, he did. It sounded pretty cool! I think we did 10 shows that way. I have this video of us on that tour in Glasgow. It’s really good quality, too. I watched it and was like “wow, that sounds amazing! And we look so symmetrical on stage, just the four of us. Why have a fifth guy?” (laughs)
What kind of background do the Meshuggah members share?
We lived really far up north in Sweden. At the time – it’s going away now – there were really good social programs. One of them was that there were youth houses or youth centers everywhere, and kids could go there after school or after dinner and hang out. You could watch movies, play instruments, eat ice cream, play cards… It gave kids a place to go instead of throwing them on the streets. They stayed out of trouble and – for us – introduced them to music. So we spent a lot of time at those youth houses. They were so great. There are not that many of them now, but in the ’80s they were everywhere. Everybody (in Sweden) is shouting for them to come back, but the government is saying “we don’t have the money.” So instead, the kids are now just on the streets, getting into trouble, breaking stuff, fighting. We live in Stockholm these days, and this is becoming a problem. Crime is accelerating, and the government is saying “blame the parents!”
Ha, sounds like the States!
(laughs) It is! It’s becoming a lot like inner American cities!
“It’s the video games! Heavy metal!”
(laughs) “It’s because of Ozzy!”
“Judas Priest told me to kill myself!”
(laughs) When you’re 16 or 17, it’s really expensive to get a place to practice, you know? But there were these… “studies” that paid you to rehearse. You could sign up to learn how to weld, how to paint, how to sculpt: All you had to do was fill out this form. So, as kids, we’d go and sign up for two hours to “study” music, like between 6:30pm and 8:30pm or something, and we’d play and get $10 bucks an hour for it. Which was great, cuz we could pay our rent or whatever with the money and practice.
Despite the fact that your music is incredibly heavy and intense, you have never tried to look “evil” or “brutal” or stereotypically “metal.” Even on stage, you guys seem to goof off and smile all the time, which is supposed to be “un-metal!” And that video with you guys singing into pencils…
(laughs) Yeah, that was a fun video! We did it ourselves. There was no plan or real camera. We were just bored. We were on tour in America with Slayer, our first time in the States. I was driving a lot, our drum tech was driving a lot, our tour manager was driving a lot, basically anyone who had a driver’s license. It was a new experience for us, having to drive such long distances. (laughs) After touring America, your road experience is never the same! (laughs)
Everyone I know who’s seen the video loves how you guys don’t take yourselves too seriously. Cuz most metal bands try to be so tough and…
“Evil?” Yeah, we’re not really into trying to be “evil” or “dangerous.” I think most bands do that to sell more albums. Maybe we’re not smart enough to do it. (laughs) But, you know, we just care about the music. We let the music speak for itself.