Dan Swanö – Recollections of the Shadowman

Sunday, 23rd June 2013 by David E. Gehlke

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One of the brick layers of the Swedish metal underground, producer, multi-instrumentalist Dan Swano has logged more hours behind the mixing board than humanly possible, all the while laying claim to a body of work that includes Edge of Sanity, Unicorn, Bloodbath, Nightingale, and his heralded solo album, Moontower. In fact, his resume would probably warrant a story onto itself, especially if we want to get into those legendary mid-90’s Unisound Studios sessions where bands like Dissection, Katatonia, and Opeth found their early sound.

However, the impetus for this particular interview is Swanö’s new outfit, Witherscape. Joined by guitarist Ragnar Widerberg, the band’s The Inheritance debut blazes a trail similar to that of Edge of Sanity’s classic years, while tracking down the musicality of Rush and the charm of vintage Priest. It’s a welcome return to form for Swanö, whose imposing death metal vocals also make a comeback, merging perfectly with his harmonious cleans.

This scribe has had the good fortune of being able to correspond on a semi-regular basis with Swano, so it was all laughs and stories when our man phoned DR from his new homebase in Germany. In fact, our chat was so lengthy, we’re going to run part two shortly. For now, read on…

Dead Rhetoric: You closed Unisound several years ago, but have since reactivated it. What made you re-open the studio?

Dan Swanö: I think I wanted to get away from the endless wheel that kept on going with two weeks with one band, and when they were leaving, the next one came. Because I was so booked for a few years solid, I had three days off a year, and it gets to you. At the same time, my son was young and I was having all of these bad nights with no sleep. It got to me. One of those days when I was not feeling the “love” from the studio, I went to a local music shop where I bought most of my equipment. They told me this guy was leaving and asked if I wanted his job selling studio things, keyboards, and synthesizers and I said, “Fuck yeah, I’m in!” So I quit the studio in February of that year, so it was like, “Tell all of your friends!” But, I had six months left [of work], so it was like, “Fuck, I have to go there. I need money to make a living.”

After a while of working in the shop, I was thinking it was okay, I’m a normal guy now. But while working in the shop, I started checking out all of this equipment, and thought maybe I should try to record something with it [laughs]. Before I knew it, I had a new place, I had a rehearsal room, which was a stone’s throw away from the studio, but in a cellar, not a cool tower. From there, I started to do the Moontower stuff, and the Odyssey stuff, then the Bloodbath mini-album. I called it “The Sanctuary.” At that time, I’d sneak down there in my lunch break and bring along some weird effect, and try out some flanger or something, but then I’d go back to the shop and sell gear [laughs].

Eventually, guys were like, “You’re still mixing Diabolical Masquerade and Project Hate, so maybe you should mix our record.” I did a band from England called Evoke, then I did Dew-Scented, and then when Novembers Doom got in touch, and told me they were thinking of ditching Neil Kernon and working with you, I was like, “Ah, okay!” I got really psyched up and bought new gear and from that point on, when things started to happen with Novembers Doom and their friends, I thought maybe there’s a future there. The ball kept rolling.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned you got into that cycle of doing too much. You’re doing quite a bit of mixing and mastering work these days, so are you worried you’ll get burnt out again?

Swanö: I would say that one of the good things about this whole record industry fuck-up with downloads is that the credits aren’t all over the place. Back in the day, you could pick up a record that said “Mixed by Scott Burns,” and everyone went there. I tried to make sure the band makes the call. “Oh, Death’s Human.” Then I will make them sound exactly like Death’s Human. When my name is not all over the place, it’s going to be like an individual feature for me. As long as I get paid, and I have a good time doing it, I love doing stuff…like I’ve done a lot of Jens Borgen imitations, and Andy Sneap, and I think it’s fun to be able to do stuff with my modest equipment to rip the sound off from a million-dollar complex.

I think it’s cool; I’ve done some really close mimicking of soundscapes I thought was close to match. I don’t have to deal with people in the room; we’re all over the internet. As long as people are answering their emails, they can listen to the mix in their car, play it for their mother, and then give me their opinion. No more guys standing over my shoulder “Why isn’t the bass louder?” It’s like, “Ah, fuck off! What do you know?” [laughs]

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve done some pretty high-quality stuff lately, like Omnium Gatherum, but like we were saying – there’s still a heavy workload for you.

Swanö: I believe that I have done some records that I would never listen to unless you put a gun to my head, but they have great sounds. The reason why you don’t mention these bands is because they suck. They never got to the next level because there’s a natural order of things. Bands that suck, even with a good production will not make it. Even if they run big ads in magazines or Blabbermouth, or whatever, but for me, I did my job.