InterviewsMay 28, 200815,900 views

Meshuggah interview

By Devin Braden
Meshuggah is a name that commands respect in the metal world. Their significant role in the 'tech' subgenre has been slowly gaining prominence on this side of the Atlantic since the release of their groundbreaking 1995 album Destroy Erase Improve. And thanks to a stint on Ozzfest, two high-profile tours with Tool, and countless hours spent traveling across North America, Meshuggah have firmly established their role as the elder statesmen of tech metal world, influencing dozens of new bands along the way. With their newest album – obZen – they have crafted an astute summary of their career thus far, and couldn't be happier with the result.

I had a chance to speak with drummer and chief lyricist Tomas Haake in early-April before a rare opening slot performance on Ministry's final tour. He had recently announced to the press some bad news regarding his debilitating degenerative shoulder condition that at one point threatened the entire tour; however, on this particular day, he seemed to be suffering no pain, moving his arm with ease during the band's load-in. On the table in the main section of their posh tour bus lay towering two stacks of Skoal Bandits tins, Haake himself gutting a dip throughout our interview. His graying beard and sage-like demeanor seem to contradict the surgically precise aggressiveness of his onstage persona, but as I would learn over the next half-hour, Haake is the kind of man who understands the importance of placing a bit of distance between himself and his art.

What are the origins of the Ministry/Meshuggah tour?

We were basically just asked by Ministry's people. It was right in the timeframe for us – it was perfect timing. The album just [came] out, and the whole tour made a lot of sense. We've known Ministry since 15 or 20 years back, so it's a cool thing to be out doing this. This being their last tour, supposedly, there's been a good turnout. We're really happy about it.

When acting as an opening band, you're obviously going to have a much shorter set time than when you're headlining a show. Do you prefer to play headlining shows?

Oh yeah, of course.

But you're okay play for 40 or 45 minutes, too?

Yeah, that's fine. I mean, I'm lazy – I'd rather play 45 minutes than an hour and 15, but I'd rather not be the support band. A lot of things are a lot easier when you're headlining. We don't really see ourselves doing more support tours after this unless it's something really super major.

The ticket prices on this tour seem to be a bit higher than normal. Has that been a problem for your fanbase so far?

It's been good so far. It's definitely a shame for our fans. If you're not into Ministry at all, it's steep to pay. It's pretty hefty to pay $45, $50, $55 just to see us play 45 minutes if that's what you're there for. But at the same time, people know what's going on – they know the setup and all that. We've still had a good turnout of people there for us, too, but it's an expensive Meshuggah gig.

How's the shoulder?

The shoulder is pretty good, man. It's actually very good – I haven't had a single pinch of pain so far. It was kind of bad a few months back, but I started working it out. I started strengthening the rotator cuff, which means you use rubber bands and you go, like, sideways – all sorts of weird kinds of exercises. Some people, they say, respond very well to these exercises. I guess I'm one of those guys. I'm really lucky. I'm stoked that I'm not feeling bad at all.

Are you going to need surgery like you originally thought you would?

I don't know. I mean, I may not have to, but I can never stop doing the workout routine. It's something that I need to do. It's only ten minutes a day, so who gives a shit? That's a small price to pay. But I might – it all depends. What I'm aiming at right now – what we're aiming at – is to be able to tour this album out, because doing anything like that will cut me away for four, five, six months.

Speaking of this album, it seems to be getting a pretty good response so far. In a way, it almost seems to be an amalgamation of every transformation the band has undergone – a song like "Combustion," for instance, recalls the band's early days.

Oh, definitely – the first track is definitely a straightforward thrash metal-y late 80s/early 90s-type track. It has that vibe – I totally agree with you. That aspect of the album, though, is not intentional – that's just an afterthought. We all discovered that it's almost like a sample platter of all the different albums that we've done.

Definitely. "Bleed," for instance, sounds like it belongs on Chaosphere.

Yeah, it's pretty technical.

Is that a difficult song to perform live?

It's a difficult to learn, and difficult to play live. We're slowly getting to where we feel really comfortable with it. There's this one part in that track where the pattern is permuting, and if you lose it in that pattern, it's really, really hard to get back into it. It's the very oddness of that repetition.

Have you nailed it every night?

No, no. I don't think people really notice it too much, but we've really only nailed it on a couple of nights. It's only tiny mistakes, though – people usually don't notice.

The North American copies of the album come in a slipcase with a sticker indicating that the album's artwork has been "banned." Is that true?

Yeah, but that's for the States only. You don't really need that in Europe.

Is there any particular reason you choose to outsource the design work this time around? You've never done that before, right?

Well, early on we did, but it's been 15 years or so. We did for this one because I came up with the title and what I wanted for the artwork: the lotus position, the three arms, the hands that form an arc of sixes … I don't know if you noticed, but that's why they're differently turned – they actually make an arc of sixes. It's kind of suggesting the inherent evil in man. And, for this – for the vision I had – I knew that we had to turn to photography. It's not something that I could do in Photoshop, so we turned to Joachim Luetke of Switzerland. He's done quite a few things: Dimmu Borgir, Pain, Arch Enemy, a lot of work with other bands. I just kind of explained my whole vision and why I wanted it, and he basically took it from there.

Are you completely satisfied with the result?

No, not really. I think it's really difficult once you outsource it. I've always sort of fiddled with stuff forever until we all feel that we like it, and I'm not completely satisfied. It doesn't really look like my vision. It still looks cool, but my vision was darker – in color scheme and everything. I was actually talking to him about it and he wanted to do a brighter sky and have it brighter because it clashes more with the blood. And it actually does – it makes sense. It really stands out for a metal cover, too, because it's not your typical metal cover. All those old bands go way black. A lot of bands do everything really dark. I feel that his vision – what came to be – is still maybe cooler in some ways just because it stands out on a shelf. You see it. For a metal cover, it's definitely different.

Lyrically speaking, the song "Pineal Gland Optics" almost seems like a continuation of "Closed Eye Visuals" from the Nothing album. Did you intend for it to be a sequel?

I knew you were gonna say that. [Laughs] It's not really a sequel, but it's kind of in the same vain topic-wise.

Well, there's certainly a contrast between the songs, too – "Pineal Gland Optics" seems to focus more on creation or regeneration, where "Closed Eye Visuals" has a theme of chaos or deconstruction. And, obviously, the two track titles are of the same origin.

Yeah, there are pretty close – definitely. That's intentional.

The language seems to suggest that some sort of psychoactive substance influenced these songs.


Do you feel that such a substance bears any lasting importance in your creative process?

No, not really. I don't see any importance in it. It's just … well, should I say no importance? I don't know – to some extent. It's a lyric that I really like 'cause it's different from the other ones on the album – it's not political, it's not really pointed at the human species as such, whereas most of the other lyrics on the album are more toward that direction. It stands out for me in that sense. A bit language-wise, too, but mostly because it's got different a content to it.

It seems to be the only song on the album that really veers away from the overall theme of finding "Zen" in the obscene.

Yeah, yeah – I guess it is kind of Zen-related … but drug-induced. [Laughs]

What are the band's plans for the rest of the year?

We do this, come back and we're home for, like, 3 weeks. Then, we do European festivals and off-dates with Dillinger Escape Plan in between those festivals.

So that tour is definitely back on?

No – it's not a tour, really. They're in Europe doing festivals, and the festivals are always [on] the weekend – like Thursdays through Sundays – so Monday through Wednesday, we do off-shows with them. And we do that until, like, one week into July, I think. Then, we have a few weeks off. We do some more festivals throughout August, then we do a European headline run in September. We're home for a few weeks, then we go to Japan and Australia. Home for a few weeks, then we come over here again for a headline run in November – most likely mid-November until mid-December.

Any recent band or album obsessions?

My recent obsession, I tried to get it today because we've been listening to it on the bus, is the new Cornelius album – [the] Japanese artist. I couldn't find it, though. What I bought here today was an Allman Brothers CD. We don't really listen to much metal – it's more, like, electronic music and rock. Me and Dick [Lövgren, Bass] have been listening to 60s and 70s southern rock – Allman Brothers included. You know, Lynyrd [Skynyrd] – stuff like that. It's pretty cool.

That's funny – a couple weeks ago, a couple members of the band Suicide Silence claimed in an interview that every metal band goes back to their bus after a show and listens to Creedence Clearwater Revivial.

Yeah, you want something softer to wind down.

Now, you toured pretty heavily with the band Tool during their Lateralus cycle. Do you find that you had any influence on the direction of their songwriting?

On what song?

Maybe in the song "Jambi" – in the guitar pattern.

Oh, yeah – okay, from their album. Right. Actually, Danny told me that they were definitely [influenced] to some extent – there were some influences from us on their album. Not that I could really make those influences out, but he said it's there, so that's cool. I mean, we try ourselves not to really be influenced by other bands as such, but of course it's completely impossible to shut everything out, and if there's one band that is very influential, and has been on us, it would be Tool. Just being out with them. I wouldn't say it's really audible or visible on this album, but if we had not done the tours we did with them, this album would probably not sound this way – because you're influenced by everything, you know?

Definitely. "Electric Red" sounds like it might have a little bit of a Tool influence in the bridge.

Yeah, the part with the toms? Yeah, that would be the one part that – as an afterthought, not deliberately – is definitely kind of Tool-ish.

How do you like the newest Tool record?

I love it. I haven't listened to it as much as Lateralus, though – I was really heavily into that one. The last two years, I really haven't listened to a lot of music – I've just been writing, recording – and so I haven't properly … I've listened through it a bunch of times, but I really haven't gotten to grips with it. It's a really difficult album. It's amazing, and it's great to see that a band like that with such complex music can reach such levels. They actually reached [those] levels with simpler music, but now they just keep getting more and more difficult with each album, and [are] still staying up there as far as sales [go]. It's really cool. It's a true indication that there's at least something healthy going on in the music scene.

You recently went back and revisited the Nothing album, overdubbed the guitars and added some additional parts to the songs. What was behind the band's decision to do so, and are you happy with the result?

Not completely, but in all honesty, it wasn't really … I mean, we re-recorded the guitars, we exchanged the snare drum for a sampled one. Some stuff like that. But we did that – or Fredrik did it – for our own sake. He spent a few weeks re-recording stuff just to see what it could have sounded like. We never liked how it sounded, the production of it, just because we had the Ozzfest coming up and that whole album recording was just really stressed, and [we] did it in just a few weeks. The production suffered from it, I think. We didn't really have time to do a lot of things, to go back and redo stuff. We just wanted to do it for ourselves, and Nuclear Blast heard of it, and they strongly suggested we re-release it because they also liked the new production once their heard it. It was on their behalf, it was on their side – we weren't really gonna do that.

There have been some positive responses to the DVD portion of the re-release.

It's just a few tracks live and a couple of videos. It's nothing much, but – yeah, it's kinda cool.

Have you ever given any thought to doing a full-length live DVD?

Yeah, yeah. We have, and hopefully it will happen this fall – either on the European tour, or when we come back to the States.

Speaking of the Nothing album, have you ever heard of The Acacia Strain or A Life Once Lost?

A Life Once Lost I've heard about. The Acacia Strain I have not.

You might be in for a surprise, then.


Well, it just seems that some American bands have been pretty heavily influenced by that album. I'll leave it at that.

Okay, yeah.

Ok, one last question: now that it's been out for a couple of years, how do you feel about Catch Thirtythree? It seemed to be the kind of album that split the fanbase right down the middle upon its release.

Yeah, there were a lot of people that kinda disliked it.

But it seems like the album has gained more of a following in the years since its release.

Yeah, it has – definitely. It's been one of those albums where it didn't sell very well initially, but it's been keeping on. Sales have been very steady compared to other releases we have – where you have a peak at first and then it kind of dies down and it stays on a lower level. By now, it's actually sold quite a lot. I definitely think that it took some time for people to understand what we were getting at.

It's really the kind of album that needs to be listened to from start to finish.

Oh, yeah – totally. It's kind of trance-y in its own way. It's got that vibe to it just because of some of those really long ongoing riffs and movements, and kind of the slow progression of the track, you know? It's a headphones type of track.

Definitely. Do you have any final thoughts?

I never have any thoughts – final, or initial.


Post Comment
Mike_ 5/28/2008 2:25:43 PM


ryan_ 5/28/2008 2:34:01 PM

i agree on the ticket prices....they sucked. if im gonna pay that much to see meshuggah i want at least an hour long set from meshuggah.

depo BSA_ 5/28/2008 2:36:08 PM


deez_nutz_ 5/28/2008 3:34:47 PM

this band is nu-metal

alifeoncelost_ 5/28/2008 4:30:09 PM

durr derka durr durr durr.

g_g_ 5/28/2008 5:32:47 PM

pretty good interview, a rarity for Lambgoat

facefarts_ 5/28/2008 8:44:48 PM

i love how he has never heard of the the acacia strain, they think they are such huge rock stars. gay band.

redandblackink_ 5/29/2008 10:24:22 PM

yeah, it's totally ridiculous that one band hasn't heard of another.

Dave2112_ 5/31/2008 12:37:50 PM

Facefarts, please shut your mouth. The only reason Thomas knows who ALOL is is because of the fuss that was raised around the Meshuggah record. The band as a whole really only support innovative artist/metal bands, not run of the mill youth driven metal dance music bands.

agreed_ 5/31/2008 10:42:29 PM

^ ill co-sign on that. altho i do enjoy acacia as well, its not ridiculous that meshuggah has no idea who they are... what real impact has acacia made that would warrant any real recognition?

thisbandhasalwayssucked_ 6/23/2008 9:31:06 PM

Band sucks nuff said