Dan Swanö – Recollections of the ShadowmanSunday, 23rd June 2013
Dead Rhetoric: You have the Witherscape album coming out soon, but you had a phase where at least for your recording output, you weren’t doing much metal. What made you want to get back into the metal mode you had ala Edge of Sanity and Moontower?
Swanö: It was never really a conscious decision to super jump out of it and shut that door in terms of me releasing stuff. I made the decision to cut back on my hours with my day job and move to a small flat where I can have a really small studio room next to it with really great isolation so I can hear what I’m working with. I cut to 50% in the shop, and so I can really compete with the best mixers out there. Honestly, there was not much playing going on. I didn’t sit down on the couch with an acoustic and watch TV. I would work 15-hour days, then woke up with what felt like a hangover from the constant listening to new sounds or frequencies. I didn’t care about the music. I was all about equalizer, compression, monitoring levels…it felt like boot camp for me, now I have to get on top of my game. I knew had to really get on top of my game, and I know how to mix records, so then I could start writing again.
The funny part is that I got good at my craft, and the mixes went faster and faster. I learned myself, so now I can play guitar [laughs]. I bought a baritone guitar and a little studio amp and a pocket recorder, and I sat down on my sofa and riffed the hell out of myself. I think I had maybe 20 or 30 riffs and then maybe two or three were good. A few of the riffs on the Witherscape album came from the re-awakening. Then, I hooked up with Ragnar, who had a shitload of unused riffs lying around and they were the perfect match. All of my stuff sounded like it could have been the new Edge of Sanity, Crimson-style or Moontower, Pretty nasty stuff. He had all of this metal, super-nice, like early Judas Priest soft parts that I couldn’t write because I’m baritone so they’d sound fucked up.
We made the decision to transcribe all of my deep, evil riffing to a normally tuned guitar, for a good riff sounds good on a fucking banjo. We just made this choice that so many of the coolest records ever are in standard tuning, and we would make a record in standard tuning because everyone is tuning down like hell. It just gave us the sound a different a flavor and go back to the 70’s and 80’s, before all of this 8-string or 7-string crap that’s going on. But with Witherscape, we wanted it sound aggressive in another way, like the aggression you get from a normal-tuned guitar, and this Ronnie Dio power voice meeting my most angry, grizzly bear of a growling voice. I think we got it all down…I’m really proud of this record. We put a lot of work into it.
Dead Rhetoric.com: Is it nice to start something new? You’ve had your hand in so many projects and bands, but this must be exciting.
Swanö: Absolutely. Instead of going back and saying, “Maybe this could be called Odyssey, or maybe this could be my solo record and Ragnar is my Mutt Lange,” let’s just call it something new. At that point, Nightingale was born out of weirdness. It was supposed to be a one-off Goth album, but we’ve done six progressive rock albums. How did that happen? [laughs] And Bloodbath was also born out of like, a drunken, fun thing. I’ve never sat down and said, “Hey, let’s start a band.” And Witherscape was the first time I’ve talked about forming something. Normally, you start jamming because you’re in the right place at the right time. We had so much material and were dying to do this and it came from the structured planning that comes with Ragnar being a family man and with me having so much going on. It was really cool to see that you could plan it and it turns out to be magical.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you miss the band environment? I know there were always issues in the Edge of Sanity camp, but with Nightingale, your brother [Dag] is in the band…
Swanö: I would say that I am lucky enough to have had it. Unicorn, around ’88 to ’91, we were really, truly a band. I wrote some stuff on the piano at home, then biked to the rehearsal, and there it happened. Nothing happened anywhere else. You taught the guys the parts, then the magic happened. We were 14 when we started, and we had no life. Maybe you had school or some job, but, that was our life, but there is no way that you are 40 years old that you can have that again. There’s always someone not showing up because they have to pick their kid up from soccer practice or something [laughs].
Nightingale is as close to a band as I’ll get. I would have no problem to spend weeks with the guys from the band not playing music, just in the room talking, drinking beer, watching a movie…they are the best guys. We also happen to play together. Edge of Sanity was nothing like that. Not to say I hate the guys because I don’t, but we didn’t come from the same neighborhood or background. We were complete strangers in any other way than we all loved Death’s Leprosy and the first Pestilence record. When I wanted to expand the sound, they were always like, “That’s gay, and we can’t do that. I don’t want that Napalm Death blast beat in my music!” Then from the third album, we had a deal where they’d do their stuff, then I’d do my stuff, because we had a contract and if we didn’t fulfill it, we’d go to court. When Unicorn broke up, it was over with the band, I did that.
I like when it’s a little bit loose. There is nothing on paper that says we have to make another Witherscape record. It’s entirely up to the cosmos if they will give us the good riffs, then we will do it. I will never put out a bad, sub-standard Withescape record just because we had to, because in my eyes, we did that with Edge of Sanity, after we turned sucky in my ears and eyes [laughs].
Dead Rhetoric: With the success of Opeth and Katatonia, do you have some sense of pride? You were there with both bands at the beginning of their career, and had a big hand in helping them get started.
Swanö: Katatonia more than Opeth. Sometimes you can speculate, but if Katatonia had used to the blast-beat part they were trying to use in “Without God,” and I wasn’t there to stop them, I don’t think they would have made it past their first demo. You never know the twist of the universe; I really took them under my wing, maybe because they were Edge of Sanity fans and that made me proud. I made sure their first demo kicked ass and put keyboards on and made sure it was super-cool, and in a few weeks or months, they had a deal.
With Opeth, it was like taking on this mastodon-sized production (Orchid) in a few weeks with a very small budget, like $1,000 [laughs]. I woke up at 7 in the morning, and would mix 24 hours straight. I was bleeding out of my ears, then one year, it was released. I have nothing to do with the success of Opeth musically; I never touched anything – I was just happy to be the guy recording them.
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