DATE OF INTERVIEW:
29th November 2012
Featuring Cult of Luna's two guitarists, Johannes Persson and Fredrik Kihlberg, alongside vocalist Jan Jämte, it seemed Khoma were set to hit the big time when they released their sophomore album, 'The Second Wave', on Roadrunner Records back in 2006. With widespread critical acclaim for their atmospheric, emotionally-charged alt-rock/metal aesthetic and an ever growing fanbase of loyal supporters, the Swedish trio were indubitably on the rise. It was, therefore, something of a surprise when they abruptly disappeared from the public eye for nearly three years with many believing the band defunct. Not so. It seems this was a mere transitional period for Khoma where they consciously decided to escape music industry bureaucracy so they could focus predominantly on creativity and artistic integrity which entailed relocating their whole setup back to Scandinavia. Thus they re-emerged in 2010 with a brand new studio album, 'A Final Storm', on small Swedish label Selective Notes. And 2012 sees them return once again, this time with 'All Erodes' on Pelagic Records, a retrospective collection of unreleased material from their near-decade in existence, aimed at closing a chapter before a new one begins. And recently becoming a sextet with the recruitment of three new permanent members, Khoma are primed to begin a new chapter. Frontman Jan Jämte revealed all to Metal Discovery during a half hour chat...
METAL DISCOVERY: Firstly, congratulations on ‘All Erodes’, a stunning album. I gather all the songs were written between 2002 and 2012 and it’s been described as an epilogue to your first three albums “to sum things up before we move onto the next step.” Did you feel this was a necessary release before moving on?
JAN: Well, I think so. We are not known for producing albums at great speed; it has always taken us some time between the last three records. And we were sitting down wondering and thinking together about how we should proceed and we just started to go through old material, and I found some songs that we had totally forgotten which were demo versions of the songs ‘Dead Seas’ and ‘Armo’. We just realised that we had recorded so much material through the years that we had lying in our drawers that we really like. So it was like a process of going through the band’s development - I mean, we’ve been together for almost ten years - and just trying to figure out, in some ways, what we had done, who we are and how we want to proceed. So it’s been a good process and, in a way, closing the book and finalising the chapters that have been ‘Tsunami’, ‘The Second Wave’ and ‘A Final Storm’.
(Jan Jämte on the artwork for Khoma's latest release 'All Erodes')
"...instead of having this passive musician-listener relationship, you’re trying to, even in the artwork, create some kind of interaction where people have to dedicate themselves trying to grasp what it’s about and trying to decode everything."
Khoma - promo shot
Photograph copyright © 2010 Uncredited
Interview by Mark Holmes
MD: Were all songs newly recorded or did some takes already exist from previous recording sessions?
JAN: It’s a mix. The earlier songs that we wrote, maybe in 2003/2004, we had to do some re-recordings; we had to put on some new vocals, put on some new instruments. The songs that were recorded for ‘The Second Wave’, the Roadrunner release, were finished so we just had to mix and master… actually, we just had to master those tracks. The last songs, from ‘A Final Storm’, we had to mix and master again. So it’s a combination of different things.
MD: Although the tracks are essentially new for anyone listening to ‘All Erodes’ because people wouldn’t have heard them before, do you actually see this release as a brand new Khoma album, more of a retrospective, or both?
JAN: I don’t consider it a new album because it’s not something we’ve released with the intention of finding new listeners or opening people’s ears to Khoma. We just wanted to do something that felt more exclusive for the people who have been following us through the years; trying to give back something. That’s why we decided to make it a very limited edition of this record and putting a bit of extra love into it and doing this special vinyl version. So I don’t consider it as a new album.
MD: So more like a cross-section of everything you’ve done to date really...
JAN: Yeah, exactly. And even though I really enjoy all the songs of the album, otherwise we would never have released it, it’s not our way of cleaning out the closet and trying to make some money. We really enjoy the album but it’s still not a new album if you know what I mean.
MD: Yeah, I know exactly what you mean. One for the fans; the fans that have stuck with you.
MD: Were you tempted to develop any of the compositions for ‘All Erodes’ to fit in where you’re at artistically in 2012 or are the tracks pretty much as they were originally written?
JAN: Two of the songs, as I said, the ones written first, ‘Dead Seas’ and ‘Armo’, we had to do quite a lot of rearranging, re-recording and trying to get the songs as we wanted them to be, to realise their full potential. That means that we updated them a lot. I mean, the structure and melodies are still there for the most part from the early days but I’d say those songs bear the mark of Khoma 2012 as well.
MD: So what about the others that were already recorded, were you tempted to change those in any way?
JAN: You can always go back but that would’ve made it a different release that we should’ve re-recorded everything from the start and, if we would’ve done that, we would probably have discarded some of the songs. So we didn’t want to go into it too much and re-arrange and try to fix things. It’s also a value of letting the songs have the track of time. Even though, for me, it was quite a surprise when I heard the finished result – I was expecting a more disparate thing that you would really hear between 2003 and 2012 but I still feel that the songs tie together pretty good and they’re also working together dynamically. When we’ve written albums, we have never focussed on individual songs; we’ve just tried to make as good an album as possible and I think ‘All Erodes’ is still working in that respect.
MD: Far from disparate, like you were saying, I think it’s very cohesive and has a good flow to it so I, personally, can’t tell what’s from 2003 and what’s from 2012. The music’s all pretty timeless anyway, I think. In that sense, that’s the essence of it.
JAN: That could be either a really good thing or a really bad thing! It could be a sign that we haven’t developed at all…
JAN: …or it’s just that the songs… I mean, they don’t feel outdated. I think that is a really good thing.
MD: Yeah, definitely. I have to ask as well, as all the tracks are very strong compositions, why did none of them make it onto the original albums during the periods within which they were written?
JAN: I think the answer to that lies within the idea that we always try to write albums and not individual songs. So that means that we have taken away songs that we really feel strongly about. That’s what I’m saying with these songs, that we enjoy the songs, we really like them, but they’ve not fit into the entity of the albums. We might’ve had songs that are similar dynamically or similar emotionally and we’ve felt that other songs fitted better to the whole picture. So this actually means that we have made some pretty rough decisions by taking away songs that people actually have, like “this is my favourite song”… “okay, I’m sorry, but it doesn’t fit so we have to leave it out.” We’re really glad that we could take these songs out again and create a new entity.
MD: There’s a particularly effective remix of ‘All Like Serpents’ to close the album – who was responsible for that idea and the actual remix?
JAN: It’s the keyboard player from Cult of Luna who’s done it. He just asked us if he could do a remix of one of the songs and we were just happy that he had the time and was willing to do it. We’ve used it when we’ve been playing live here in Scandinavia; sometimes we’ve used it as a kind of really strange intro blasting out through a really big PA. It takes people some time before they realise it’s actually a Khoma song! And then you just go out and go for it!
MD: You play the whole eight minutes as an intro?!
JAN: No, no!
MD: You’ve found a new home at Pelagic Records and the previous album was released on Selective Notes, another small label. What would you say smaller labels such as these can bring to the band as opposed to your previous experience of being signed to Roadrunner?
JAN: For us, Khoma was a band that was started because of a need for creative and emotional freedom and, when we started the band, we never had any intention of making it or selling a lot of records or getting a rock star treatment and touring all over the world. We just wanted this space where we could be ourselves and do this kind of music. So, for us, it has never mattered if we release it on a really big label or a small label. The main point, the thing that we really cherish with the people who work with us is that they respect us and respect the band and what we want to do. And, sometimes, I can feel that is easier on smaller labels that have a really big artistic integrity where they’re not in it to make money and they don’t care if we are constantly on tour or not. They’re just in it for the music and they want to make a product that fits the music artistically and they don’t care if it costs a euro more or less on every production unit.
So we’re trying to distance ourselves from the logic of the music industry where making money is the most important thing. I’m not saying that Roadrunner works in that way; we really enjoyed our time with Roadrunner and we’re still great friends and I’m really sad that the England office has closed down. So that’s kind of a general way of looking at the music industry and, for us, that comes from a DIY culture; it comes from anti-hierarchical values and ideas. It’s just easier for us to collaborate with people who share the same vision and have the same ideals as us; it makes it less friction. I mean, people who are working with Khoma to make money will be disappointed because we’re not following the rules and we’re not willing to compromise.
MD: So it’s more leaning towards and much more biased towards the artistic side and away from the business side of the music industry…
JAN: Yeah, that has never been the intention with this band and all that has happened to us throughout the years, we’re really thankful and really happy that people are putting the time, effort, energy and money to make Khoma a band that can actually reach people. You know, we’re able to put out records, we’re able to go out on tour… that is because of all these people but Khoma is still what it is – you can’t take away the soul or the essence of the band.
MD: You mentioned the vinyl format of ‘All Erodes’ and I gather that’s got some pretty special packaging with silk-screen printed artwork. Was that an idea of the label’s or did you guys have an input too?
JAN: We’ve always been really dedicated to the artwork as well, and everything that surrounds the band. I think that comes also from the DIY mentality that we’ve been brought up in. We want to have control over everything in the process and that doesn’t mean we have been satisfied with all that we have done; some of it looks like shit! The idea of doing the vinyl and doing everything this way is a close collaboration between us and one of our friends who actually did the design.
MD: The artwork looks very effective.
JAN: Everything’s not perfect, it never is, but at least there’s an idea behind using the Morse code.
MD: You have to work harder to actually read it!
JAN: Exactly! That is also an idea… instead of having this passive musician-listener relationship, you’re trying to, even in the artwork, create some kind of interaction where people have to dedicate themselves trying to grasp what it’s about and trying to decode everything. It’s kind of also a way of creating something that lifts up the feeling of something that is common; something we do together. That is the same thing that we try to do when we play live. It’s not people coming to watch Khoma, it’s the room that we create together. The concert is totally dependent on the mood of the people who are there. It’s an energy that we create together.
MD: Khoma have always been billed as a three-piece but the latest promo photos show six members. Is this a case of some of the session players you’ve had over the years have now permanently joined the band?
JAN: Yeah. We’ve been playing with the same people for quite some time now and it has never been our intention to be only three people. It’s rather been a result of other circumstances where we’ve been working with people who unfortunately don’t have the time to play with us live, for instance. But now we’ve been playing with these people for over two years and everything is working out really, really great and they’re all great musicians and great friends who have great values so there was no hesitation from our side to invite them to become fulltime members and also contribute with writing for the next album. It opens up the next chapter; we’re starting up a new book. Three more people added to the mix will probably create some interesting results.
MD: Do you think that will make it easier or more difficult for the creative process, having more heads involved?
MD: I did read a recent interview where you implied the creative process has not always been a smooth one for Khoma.
JAN: No, no, no. I guess if you do something because you really must, you really have to and, as I said, the reason for starting Khoma in the first place was the need to express all this. That means that people have very strong opinions and they’ve invested a lot of emotions into the project, it becomes like everyone’s lovechild. And then, when you start writing and start doing things, too often it turns pretty nasty with heated arguments and discussions. There are people who have very strong wills in the band but, hopefully, adding three more people can change the dynamic. Instead of me and Johannes going head-to-head on every issue that we’re discussing and Fredrik standing in the middle, there are actually three more people that can say, “hmmm, let’s do it like this.”
JAN: I definitely hope so!
MD: In that sense, it’ll make it easier, I guess.