DATE OF INTERVIEW:
22nd June 2011
Communic first came to the attention of the metal public in 2005 when they unleashed debut album 'Conspiracy In Mind' with their incomparably fresh sound which is perhaps best described as a potent blend of disparate metal subgenres including thrash, power, doom, trad, groove and all wrapped up in emotionally charged compositions with a discrete progressive sensibility. The trio of Norwegian musicians that comprise the band, namely guitarist/vocalist Oddleif Stensland, bassist Erik Mortensen and drummer Tor Atle Andersen, a lineup that has remained intact since Communic's inception, have garnered widespread critical acclaim from the press for each of their three albums to date and adulation from a loyal fanbase. With just over a three year gap since the band's 2008 release, 'Payment of Existence', they're finally set to return in 2011 with a brand new studio album, 'The Bottom Deep'. A profoundly personal record for Oddleif in which he bears his soul both musically and lyrically, sharing thoughts and feelings from the very depths of his psyche and inner self, he spoke to Metal Discovery ahead of the album's release about his apprehension and excitement for emotionally exposing himself in such a way...
METAL DISCOVERY: Hi, how you doing?
ODDLEIF: Hi. Good, thank you.
(Oddleif Stensland on forthcoming new Communic album, 'The Bottom Deep')
"...when it comes to the personal level of it all, at one point, I had these thoughts that do I dare to actually release this because itísÖ like turning yourself inside out and letting everybody look into your soul, and itís kind of scary. Itís a mixed feeling of fear and excitement."
Communic - uncredited promo shot
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: I have to say that Iím loving the new album, ĎThe Bottom Deepí. On the press sheet, youíre quoted as saying that the songs ďmay seem straight forward at first, but there are many twists and turns that will just creep under your skin.Ē Was that your aim when writing the music to have instantly likeable tunes but with a lot of depth too?
ODDLEIF: I actually donít know if we had any thoughts at all. I had an idea to try to shrink it a little bit down to the core and get more to what Iím trying to say in the songs instead of just keeping on. Because when we are writing songs for Communic, itís always been easy to just continue with new stuff to put into the songs. Many of the songs on this album could have actually been put together and been one long song. But, like I said, I wanted to kind of shrink it down to basic stuff so I think thatís why some people, when they first listen to it, it sounds more straightforward but thereís a lot of stuff going on there. I think itís an album that actually needs many listens to actually get into it and, I think if people look deeper into it, they will find something more as well.
MD: I think the musicís very instantly likeable as well but I know what youíre saying about the depth because Iíve listened to it a few times now and I can hear stuff that I didnít hear the first timeÖ which is always good!
ODDLEIF: Yeah, even though we took out almost all the keyboardsÖ previously, we have used more atmosphere by using keyboards and stuff, and there is not much this time. Some of the effects you hear in the background were actually made on the guitar. There is some keyboard stuff as well but itís just the intro or in some kind of effort to get one specific mood or something. Earlier, we had more strings and arrangements done by keyboard. This time, thereís almost nothing of that so thatís why I feel itís maybe an easier album to listen to. Thereís not that much information. The vocals are more my way of singing; theyíre not layered with harmonies and stuff, but that was also something I actually tried to work with myself to try to not overdo it with vocalsÖ to try and use the melody line that you actually have and you donít need to put more vocals on top of each other to get it to sound cool. You use the basic line and then maybe add something in the chorus. Many times you can do it too much and itís difficult to say stop! [laughs]
MD: Iíve read you saying as well that you think itís your most personal album to date, lyrically. Is the album title, ĎThe Bottom Deepí, supposed to be a reference to how profound youíre being with the lyrics?
ODDLEIF: Yeah, that is where itís all coming from. Itís a really personal album and something that Iíve never done before. Normally, I try to put some of myself into the songs and the lyrics, from my point of view, if Iím talking about something Iíve experienced or watched the news, or whateverís going on in the world. But, this time, everything is linked to one incident in my life, one happening that actually put me quite far back, or down if you want to say, and that is where this ĎBottom Deepí comes from. That is where I felt that I was. I actually stopped playing guitar for seven months; I didnít touch my guitar because of all this stuff going on. Itís an album about my relationship with death and all these questions and thoughts that I have around this topic. And, as I said, itís based around one incident and all this came from somebody who was really close to me who passed away. For me, this is a really personal thing and itís much easier to sing about it than to actually talk about it. So putting it into emotions and feelings and putting it into your songs and try to express yourselfÖ and then everything feels better.
MD: So it was kind of cathartic in that sense, would you say?
ODDLEIF: Yeah, I think so and I actually feel that I donít care what people think about this album because itís something that I just had to do. For me, this is a big thing and something tragic for me but Iím not looking for sympathy; I donít want people to feel sorry for me. For other people, out in the world, this is nothing because you see whole cities swallowed by tsunamis and thereís a lot of crap going on. Other people have much worse things than this thing but, for me, this is something that I just needed to do and something that I actually hoped I never had to do. But, after doing this album, I feel much more confident in myself and my own being, and what Iím doing here on earth. We all have grandparents that pass away so at one point, or many points, in our lives we need to have a relationship with death. Even though this album can be enjoyed by just listening to the songs and just have a bunch of songs that you can listen to without bothering about the lyrics or whatever, for those people who want to look a little bit deeper, I donít think they will find the answer but they can find something to relate to and, hopefully, find some meaning to them in these songs.
MD: So when you say that you felt this was an album you really had to do due to the very personal nature of it at this point in your life, is there a sense now that youíve done this album you can move on kind of thing?
ODDLEIF: Yeah, now the next album will probably be a happy album! Because now I feel that I have to do something elseÖ the next album will be Vikings or dragons orÖ [laughs]Ö probably not but it feels like all the albums we have done have not been happy music anyway. So all the songs have been in a minor key and not a happy sound, but thatís the way that I like to write songs. But, when it comes to the personal level of it all, at one point, I had these thoughts that do I dare to actually release this because itís exposing my personalÖ like turning yourself inside out and letting everybody look into your soul, and itís kind of scary. Itís a mixed feeling of fear and excitement.
MD: So you feel a bit vulnerable in that sense then, in putting this out there in the world?
ODDLEIF: Yes, actually, but this is something that I just had to do. I love the album, and I love the songs, and I love to listen to it butÖ this is so damn personal. But releasing an album should be a time of enjoyment and excitement. I actually feel that but, at the same time, itís scary with the press wanting to know all about the lyrics, and you have to explain it, andÖ
MD: So very mixed emotions then.
ODDLEIF: Yeah and, right now, Iím really glad that I actually dared to do this. I could have just kept these songs to myself and listened to them in my car and just move on. I couldíve done that but I feel better now and I can move on. Although it took a long time for me to actually get into this writing mode again and get my feelings down because, as I said, I put away the guitar for seven months and didnít touch it. I actually tried to sit down with the guitar because I know we have a deadline in the contract with the record label so every two and a half years you have to have a new album and if you wait too long you have to start all over again and work yourself up again because people forget about you.
MD: When you put the guitar away for seven months and didnít touch it at all, when you started playing again did you find you were able to approach writing music in a slightly fresher sense?
ODDLEIF: Itís kind of strange because I can try to sit down and write songs and there was nothing happening, it was blank. Nothing at all. I said to the guys in the band Ė ďI canít do this anymore. I have to take a break and take a step back.Ē I also told Nuclear Blast, the record company, that I donít know when I can deliver a new album. Everybody was like Ė ďHey Oddleif, take your time; donít worry. Just let us know when you are ready.Ē That is a cool thing to get, especially from your record company, that you can take a step back. Weíre humans and not like a machine, and we are a small band anyway; they donít rely on us to make their money.
MD: They seem like a really friendly label in that way, Nuclear Blast, actually.
ODDLEIF: Yeah, they are, and that also helped me in a kind of way in getting back in that I didnít have the pressure. They said Ė ďTake your time and let us know when youíre readyĒ. The other guys in the band, they could have moved on as well but everybody was like, ďtake your timeĒ. I had this notebook and all the thoughts in my mind, I would write them down. In the end, when I suddenly found the energy, it actually felt like these songs were not coming from myself. Suddenly, everything changed in me and then this album was complete. Like, in my head and on the demos, it all came to me really fastÖ. [laughs]Ö it was just like, where is this coming from? Itís coming from ĎThe Bottom Deepí of myself. I didnít try to force anything. I had this notebook and was writing down all my thoughts concerning everythingÖ well, the thoughts that I had - why are we here? What happens after when we are buried down? Will we be remembered? And all of these kind of mixed feelings about religion, and all that going on so, yeahÖ [laughs]Ö there were a lot of thoughts in there but not many answers! Iím really proud of it and, in a way, this will be something for me that I wonít forget about this personÖ
MD: I have to say that thereís probably some of the heaviest music youíve ever made on there as well and thatís contrasted against a lot of clean guitar parts too. Would you say the heavy and lighter parts have become more pronounced and accentuated this time round to help express the personal nature of the lyrics?
ODDLEIF: Yeah, because I try to have the focus in the vocals and try to create the atmosphere for the different parts that actually need it. We have always used clean parts and heavier parts so thatís not a new thing but, this time, I think that dynamic is more present. Itís like you feel when we are going down, and when we are going down to some clean parts we also take the tempo down, like we do in the normal situation when we are playing live. We donít keep one tempo throughout a song. Some of these songs have ten or twelve different tempo changes and people donít actually feel them. It flows naturally even though weíre just changing tempos not that much but you feel the flow of the songs better. We actually use a lot of time recording the songs when we are playing them in our rehearsal room. Iíll practice recording it live and then Iíll be sitting and tapping all these tempos to get that same exact feeling that we actually had when we played it. When we are in an aggressive mood we tend to pull it a little bit faster; weíre pushing it a little bit all the way through the song because we are human, weíre not machines. When we do that, and also record it, because we want to record it in time and in click, you program that click to change along the song and the way you play it so it feels natural in the end. I think that is also something people wonít notice about it but itís there. Also, we tuned down a little bit. The songs were coming from a darker place so we needed something with a little bit more of a darker sound. One of the strings we down-tuned to the next level and I think that works really well.
MD: Yeah, I think that adds to the heaviness as well. So you were down-tuned a whole tone then?
MD: One of the strengths of the album is it sounds that the music itself is actually telling a story by the way itís structured rather than simply having just the metal riffs and some clean guitar parts thrown together. It actually feels like the musicís got something to say as well Ė like, if you take the lyrics away and just listen to the music, it sounds like itís saying something all the way through, which is cool.
ODDLEIF: Thatís cool to actually get that feedback because thatís what I was trying to express. I wanted it to be more like reading a book or watching a movie. Itís more into that feeling; itís not just one song, then another songÖ of course, it can be that but, if you take your time with the album, you will find something more.
MD: Definitely. I think itís probably the best sounding record youíve ever made as well. It has a very natural sounding production, and I gather you produced the album yourselves?
ODDLEIF: Well, thatís cool to hear! [laughs] Yeah, I did that because I actually didnít dare to put this into somebody elseís hands.
MD: Ah, yeah, thatís what I was going to ask because obviously being such a personal record, was it important to take full control over how it would sound?
ODDLEIF: I canít let anybody else tell me how my guitar should sound! I love Jacob Hansen that we have used on our first three albums. He is a super nice guy and everything but, this time, I just had to trust myself. I know how I wanted this album to be so there was no point in hiring another guy to do this. It was not to save money because I think many bands today try to do it themselves in a home studio, but we booked a studio here in Kristiansand, here in Norway, the best studio in the area. We managed to hire the studio 24/7 so we had the studio twenty four hours a day, and we had our own key, and we used the technician in the studio on his normal daytime, like he was working from nine to five or something like that. Then, he went home and we continued to work and record the guitar and the bass. We used the technician in the studio and all his experience, like technical stuff, and we used our own ears and just telling how I wanted everything to be. In the end, Iím really happy that I actually dared to do that. And, of course, I had a backup plan if the mix wasnít good enoughÖ [laughs] I would be able to send it to somebody to actually fix it! [laughs]
MD: So did you actually do the mix yourselves as well then?
ODDLEIF: Yeah, together with the technician in the studio.
MD: Dan SwanŲ, who mastered the album I understand, is quoted online as saying some very complimentary things about the mix, saying that it made his job a lot easier to do. How does it feel to get that kind of compliment from a producer as renowned as Dan?
ODDLEIF: Itís really good because he was my backup plan! [laughs] The deal with Dan was that Ė ďHey, do the best you can out of it, let me know how it sounds, I will do a master test and, if we need to, you can take all the tracks and send them to meĒ and he would do his mix. We sent him the test track; we did one of the songs complete and sent it to him and, just a few hours later, we got a message back that the mix was perfect. So itís really cool when you are putting a lot of yourself into it. Iím not a producer, Iím a songwriter and Iím a musician but itís good to get that feedback.
ODDLEIF: I donít think itís because he wanted an easier job because he would have made more money if he told me that he needed to mix it! [laughs]
MD: Even nicer of him in that sense then! Heís also quoted as saying itís hard to label your music, which I think is a compliment in itself as well, but he said, for him, if he had to pinpoint it, it has a 1984-88 Queensryche epic kind of vibe. Is that something you can relate to?
ODDLEIF: I actually donít know. I read that statement and that was kind of what he was feeling about it. That is cool in a way because where Iím coming from musically, in the beginning when I started to play guitar, I was more into Megadeth, TestamentÖ American thrash metal from the early 90s. And then I got a bit more into the progressive side of metal like Fates Warning, Queensryche, Psychotic WaltzÖ
MD: I think that if you talk about Megadeth and what they were doing in the early 90s then they were starting to go a bit progressive with ĎRust In Peaceí, which I think is one of the best progressive thrash albums ever.
ODDLEIF: That was actually the era when I started to play guitar because I started to play guitar quite late actually. I bought my first guitar when I was eighteen years old and started to learn playing from scratch by myself. But that was in that early 90s thrash era. And I agree Ė ĎRust In Peaceí is actually one of my favourite albums and, in the beginning, it was Dave Mustaineís style of playing guitar and singing that got me into this. And, also, Metallica, of course. Also some of the progressive stuff like Queensryche and stuff soÖ [laughs]