DATE OF INTERVIEW:
4th October 2008
STEFAN ZELL; THOMAS JANSSON; MARCUS LOSBJER
Formed in 1995 by founding members, frontman Stefan Zell and drummer Marcus Losbjer, Swedish band Wolverine released their first EP 'Fervent Dream' in 1999 to wide critical acclaim, a refreshingly inventive debut effort that proved bands could occasionally be genuinely progressive within an all too often self-imitative genre of music. Sophomore release, and first full-length album 'The Window Purpose' (2001) further proved their innovative credentials within the prog-metal scene, while 2003's 'Cold Light Of Monday' and 2006's 'Still' demonstrated that Wolverine had also progressed as a band in their own right rather than relying on the generically progressive idioms that so many of their contemporaries have borrowed from. The Swedes also compose music that is as sonically accessible as it is genuinely progressive, so it has always been somewhat inexplicable that more mainstream success has eluded them (a similar plight experienced by Anathema with their post-death/doom career).
Returning to Baarlo for ProgPower's tenth anniversary, Wolverine would be playing two shows over the weekend - the original set they opened the festival with at its first edition in 1999, and a standard set on Sunday. Hooking up with Marcus just after the band's Saturday retro-set, after a brief chat, we agree to meet up again a few hours later at 9pm for the interview. Sure enough, we find each other outside the venue at that time, and make our way into the Sjiwa's basement for a beer to wait for Stefan and Thomas who are apparently en route. They arrive after a few minutes, introductions are made, before we all deem it more sensible to find a quieter area to chat as 'Sweet Child o' Mine' blasts from the speakers, so retreat to a convenient side-room. Convenient, although busy, as the room seems to be a popular walk-through from back-stage to the basement bar as members of Zero Hour, Alarum, Sun Caged etc, and even one the festival organisers appear at various stages during the interview! Laid-back, sincere and extremely friendly, the three Swedes answer my questions openly and honestly as some interesting discussions ensue...
METAL DISCOVERY: As well as the standard Wolverine set you’ve played the original set you obviously played at the original ProgPower in ‘99...
MARCUS LOSBJER: Yeah, that was today.
(Marcus Losbjer with his views on the current state of the prog-metal scene)
"I think progressive metal today has become a sound, you know, it’s not progressive anymore in that sense."
Stefan, Thomas, and Marcus in the Sjiwa's basement, Baarlo, Netherlands, 4th October 2008
Photograph copyright © 2008 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
MD: Yes, and some of those songs you haven’t played for many years?
ML: Some of those songs we haven’t played in like 8 years or something.
MD: Really? How much of a challenge was it to rehearse those again?
ML: It is a little bit different because we had a different way of thinking and constructing songs. So today, we have a total different approach when writing songs so it was all a bit weird you know.
STEFAN ZELL: Plus then we had a second guitar…
THOMAS JANSSON: …and other members.
SZ: The stuff was written for two guitars.
ML: So it’s a little bit of a change.
MD: Did you have to adapt any parts of the songs for one guitar then?
ML: We tried as the best we could, you know! [laughs]
SZ: I mean, the song that we had to cut today - that one is totally rearranged for the piano and vocals; originally it was done with guitars.
ML: Yeah, with drums and everything, but now we only play it with piano and vocals.
MD: Was you cool with cutting your set quite short earlier, or like grrrrr, we‘ve rehearsed these songs for…?
SZ: Yeah, it was a drag. I mean you have this vision of the gig you’re gonna do, and then all the stress before, and then they tell us during the gig that we have to cut one song.
MD: Just play for slightly longer tomorrow and do an encore or something and play that!
SZ: Yeah, we plan on doing er…something!
ML: We plan to just play that song anyway.
MD: Pagan’s Mind did it here in 2005 - Rene had to come on stage and get them to go off!
SZ: Yeah, probably it’s we’re too kind I think!
TJ: You want to behave, and be a good example of what you’re doing. You don’t wanna exceed the time limit, you know, it’s not fair to the other bands. It’s a two-sided thing.
ML: Yeah, it’s two sides because, on the other hand, they’re not fair to us! [laughs]…so why would we be nice, you know!
MD: Did you have any hesitations about doing the original set when Rene first approached you with the idea?
SZ: [Looking at Marcus and Thomas] They had!
ML: Yes, many hesitations!
SZ: I never had. I thought it was cool. And actually, I’m so glad we did it because it’s personally got me to rediscover what got us started; the joy of just playing. But the risk after doing it for…[looks at Marcus]…is it now twelve years…?
SZ…is that you always aim that you want it to be as good as it possibly can, and that’s good, but sometimes you need to let loose and just do something that’s fun. And this was perfect for that reason.
MD: [to Stefan] You played bass on the original EP?
MD: [to Thomas] Was it quite a challenge for you to learn the bass parts?
TJ: No, actually I have played some of the songs before at my first gig here in ‘01, so we played a few of these songs, but basically we haven’t played them for many years. But I was reluctant to…I didn’t want to play these songs because I thought it was unnecessary, but when we started rehearsing them, it was so fun to play. For me also, I decided that we have to continue this; I have to allow this music to effect my life more than I have done in the past few years. Actually, it was a good thing all in all.
ML: But it’s a very different kind of music, you know, if you compare now to then. At first when we were hesitating, we were like - it doesn’t represent us anymore.
TJ: In a way it doesn’t; in a way it does.
ML: In a way it doesn’t because it’s really nothing similar…almost!
SZ: But it’s the base for the band. It’s the start.
MD: You’re a progressive band who have progressed, so it’s interesting to play that one day, and then the following day, this is what you’ve progressed into, so I guess that’s…
TJ: And, of course, these songs weren’t played the way they were played ten years ago.
TJ: Personally, I don’t play the lines that Stefan plays…or played on the songs. And we all have a new approach…
MD: Did you have fun playing them on stage today?
SZ: Yeah…if you put aside the stress of everything.
ML: Yeah, it was a little bit of…because everything was delayed, so we had to rush on stage; on with the stuff you know; on now…lalalalala…you never get into the groove.
SZ: And the sound was onstage…I heard it was good…but onstage, it wasn’t good.
TJ: I, for myself, couldn’t hear myself.
ML: I could only hear keyboards…
TJ: Yeah, it was a real disaster.
ML: So it was…I think we got into the groove…on the last song - ‘Again?’ or something…we started to get into it then.
TJ: You adapt to how it sounds, and you see that the audience likes it, it’s…when you have that sort of bad feeling when you get on stage and you don’t hear anything, and you’re just confused, and you don’t realise that the audience might enjoy it. You know, you’re so into this negative vibe that it takes half an hour to snap out of it, and okay, this is how it’s going to sound, and then it’s over! [laughs]
MD: This is your fourth time in Baarlo for ProgPower?
ML: Yeah, tomorrow’s the fifth! [laughs]
MD: Of course, yeah! How important is this festival to you, and do you love coming back to Baarlo?
ML: It’s special because it was our first time outside Sweden.
SZ: Yeah, we actually did one gig the day before in Belgium.
ML: Yeah, but it was the same travel.
TJ: For me, this was in ‘01, this was the first gig with Wolverine for me, when they asked me to join as a bass player. So we had three rehearsals and then we went into…
SZ: We know Rene that arranges the thing very well, so it’s special in that way as well.
MD: And it’s a nice little village to come to.
TJ: Yeah, really neat!
ML: Yeah, and all people know each other. It’s like a family - you see the same people…I’ve seen the same people this weekend that I saw in 2001.
TJ: You’re talking about the guys coming…the people who come to the venue…
ML: Yeah, the people coming to the festival. I recognise people from ‘99 and 2001...it’s the same gathering.
TJ: It’s amazing.
MD: You say you know Rene and you’re close to him - how did you end up signing to his label, DVS, in…2001?
ML: Actually, we signed onto his label, his first label Zizania in ‘99. Yeah, so ‘Fervent Dream’ and the first ProgPower was a little bit connected in that sense. We got to play at ProgPower at the same time we released the first EP, and it was on his first record label. Then, later on, he changed to DVS.
MD: I thought he just had DVS - I didn’t know he had a label before.
SZ: He had it with a pretty strange guy.
ML: Yeah! [laughs]
SZ: He was known to be a bit shady! So that’s why he split with that guy and started DVS instead.
MD: Wolverine are widely labelled as a progressive band - what does the term progressive mean to you?
SZ: Not technical!
ML: I think progressive metal today has become a sound, you know, it’s not progressive anymore in that sense.
TJ: Yeah, progression, evolvement, you know…
ML: Yeah, you don’t have that anymore I think.
SZ: It’s just technical.
ML: It’s just technical, so I think…actually, I don’t think we are a progressive metal band.
TJ: Not if you compare the styles, no.
MD: That leads me onto my next question actually - do you think there’s a need to differentiate between progressive as a genre of music, and progressive as a descriptive term for bands that are actually progressive and doing something different with what they actually do, you know, in any genre of music?
SZ: Yes, I think so.
ML: I think we need to come up with a different word!
TJ: Yeah, or maybe we don’t care, you know, we play music and it happens to…
MD: Yeah, I always say there’s two genres of music - music you like and music you don’t.
SZ: Yeah. I don’t care if we sound original or not; it’s just that I feel we need to do something different from album to album. So if you compare our first to ‘Still’, something has happened.
TJ: It comes naturally because we change…hopefully!
ML: Yes, we just write what comes out. It’s not bounded that we have to have this kind of riff in this kind of song. It tends to be like - okay then, I did this kind of melody, can we just do something about that. And then it might turn out as…you know, I did…there’s a song on ‘Still’ called ‘Sleepy Town’…
MD: You wrote the whole song?
ML: Yeah, I wrote the whole song and just presented it to the guys, and they’re like - this doesn’t sound like anything.
SZ: But actually, the thing was that you have this loop thing and the guitars they go backwards, and I said you have to do something from that because that was the only thing you had. And then he came up with this song like…oh shit!
TJ: You see, he’s a real mastermind when it comes to…singing!
MD: Will you play this song tomorrow in your set?
MD: It’s a cool song.
SZ: I like it.
TJ: It’s a bit of a challenge to play live actually because it is a really monotone…
ML: Yeah, you have to rearrange it, you know, you can’t play it the way it is on the album because it’s based on samples and electronics, so we had to rearrange it to a live version.
MD: Are those actually live drums on the recorded version?
ML: Yeah it is, but it’s a loop. We recorded the drums live, but we cut out a loop and did a loop on it just to get the static effect.
MD: It’s kind of ironic that a drummer writes a song that has no, you know, big drumming parts!
ML: It’s all a matter of the song - it’s not about…
MD: Of course, yeah! I agree!