Avatarium: Use Your EarsTuesday, 3rd December 2019
Developing a bluesy brand of psychedelic hard rock with prominent doom metal influences, Avatarium have quickly become a fan-favorite since arising in 2012. It also helps when you have a known musician like Leif Edling from Candlemass as a fixture in the bass playing and songwriting process. Although now with their fourth album The Fire I Long For, he’s stepped back a bit with minimal songwriting contributions to allow the other members a chance to grow and shape their sound. It’s very organic, emotionally-driven music – the melodies and hooks aiming to reach that second and third level of connection, demanding the listener to absorb through the ears, process through the brain, and enrich the heart.
We reached out to guitarist Marcus Jidell who has been feverishly tackling the numerous interview requests for Avatarium on this album swing. We had a delightful chat about why this record seems to be connecting to people more than ever, what he’s learned about songwriting from Leif, his thoughts on Candlemass being nominated for a US Grammy on an album he was producer for, as well as how he looks at music and computer technology these days when producing records.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the biggest transformations and differences on the fourth Avatarium album The Fire I Long For compared to your past releases with the band?
Marcus Jidell: A good question. I think maybe we managed to get more of the blues and psychedelic elements, the darker things also that I try to bring in. We could do it in a little bit of a different way this time because myself and Jennie were a bigger part of the songwriting process this time around. We could bring that in from the start this time around. That would be that. I think you can hear that in the songs a little bit on this album, and because of that I’m a big blues fan. The old blues singers like Jimmy Reed and Muddy Waters, and these kind of guys. To bring that already into the songwriting process, I think it makes a difference of how the album will sound.
And also sound-wise, I think I really as a producer this time managed to get the fat and powerful sound that I always wanted Avatarium to have. I’m happy with the production as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Was it on purpose that Leif Edling only contributed three songs to this album this time around?
Jidell: Yes, it is. One of the reasons is that he has a lot of things to do – he’s back in Candlemass again, and they have been working so much since The Door to Doom album, so he doesn’t have as much time. I asked him if he wanted to write some songs if he had the time, and he said maybe he can write three songs and we would do the rest. That’s a done deal, and that’s what we did.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe you’ve been able to sharpen the focus and diverse approach as you feel comfortable with each other as musicians and knowing how to craft material to get the best performances out of the people within the band?
Jidell: I think so. I think it’s been a learning process, every album. And I also think we’ve been finding our style more and more. It’s like where we are now, it feels like a good platform to continue from on the next album. Also, we have a new drummer, Andreas ‘Habo’ Johansson, he’s both a very good friend of mine and one of Sweden’s absolute best drummers, he’s an amazing musician. That also gives a certain sound to this album. Both him and Rickard Nilsson the keyboard player, they are such great musicians and they compliment things so much playing-wise and with a lot of great ideas, great arrangements. It was Rickard Nilsson who did the amazing arrangement on “Stars That Move” for example he and Jennie-Ann Smith. We have a band that are amazing musicians now, and also very good friends in life. It’s a good combination.
Dead Rhetoric: I was going to mention Rickard’s playing on the record too – how much of an asset is he to the band’s sound at this point?
Jidell: He’s a very big asset. He’s one of the guys I really trust when I ask him questions about anything- the songwriting process or whatever. He’s a very big part of the sound. Myself, Rickard, and Jennie would sit down with a bottle of Grappa and talk about what we wanted the album to sound like, one and a half years ago before we started to work on the album.
Dead Rhetoric: One of the main standout elements to Avatarium is the emotional and vibrant vocals of Jennie-Ann Smith. How do you believe she’s developed as a singer/ lyricist with the band – does she push or challenge herself to deliver stronger, more memorable performances each album out?
Jidell: I would say so. I think she just gets better and better for every album, even though she’s always been great. She puts a lot of energy into both her performances and the songwriting, lyric writing and the vocal performances. She’s a natural talent as a singer, she’s probably the best singer I’ve ever worked with, and she’s my wife. She’s an amazing musician. That was one of the reasons I can be a producer- because everyone in the band is so great. I can have trust in them so I don’t have to be worried and tell everybody what to do all the time. I can stand somewhere in the background and let them make decisions and let them perform. So my role as a producer is more like putting it together and keep the focus and keep the course straight to where we want to go music-wise. It’s fun to work with.
Dead Rhetoric: When it comes to her lyrics, is she working hand in hand as the music is written – or does come in with some preset lyrics ahead of time?
Jidell: The way we wrote the music this time, Jennie and I live together but we did sit down together and let’s say finish a song. I would have an idea and I would play it for her, she would listen and I would do a very simple recording. She listens to that, goes away and works on lyrics – and she would have a chorus and words for it – I would listen and come in with another idea. It would go back and forth between me and her. The lyrics are such an important part of the song and the sound of a song so – the song doesn’t work any other way. You can’t just force in something you want to say, it needs to work with the music and you need to find a flow so to speak.
Every song, there are a lot of different ideas that pass through before the song is finished. And also a lot of songs don’t make it to the album as well. Everything is not as good as its supposed to be, so to speak. When everything falls into place, that’s a very good feeling – and that’s what we aim for all the time. And we are extremely critical when it comes to the material – we really want to do the best that we can, on every song.
Dead Rhetoric: How did the idea for the grey-oriented sparse cover art come about?
Jidell: It was an artist that we worked with Erik Dagnell, who came up with the idea. On the vinyl cover it’s the way we want it to look, with the gold and text and the grey and dark figure. It’s up to your own imagination if it’s a demon or an angel or whatever it might be. I really love the artwork, because it especially works best on the vinyl.
Dead Rhetoric: Are you satisfied with where Avatarium is in terms of band status and career development, or are there always newer elements or visions that you want to achieve to keep you moving and motivated further down the road?
Jidell: I think we could have reached even further actually if we had toured much more. We didn’t tour as much as we should have, for different reasons. I’m extremely happy that we can make albums and that we have fans that buy them and listen to them. We have a stable fanbase but to be able to continue to do this we need to reach out to even more fans and reach out to more people. I love to do this, and what we are doing is important for me and can be important for other people. I can see that people get emotional and touched by what we do. The short answer is we want to reach out to more people with Avatarium and I definitely think that we can.
Dead Rhetoric: Candlemass has been nominated for an American Grammy award for best metal performance on an album you produced/recorded. Does this provide validation for all of your hard work not only as a musician, but in the recording/production realm – and what has a band like Candlemass meant to you personally?
Jidell: It’s an amazing thing to be nominated for a US Grammy. It’s a quality mark for me, it really feels like… that we are doing something right. I feel extremely honored about that. I don’t think anyone even thought about being nominated for a Grammy. We are extremely happy about it. Being a musician and a producer sometimes, I work a lot in the studio and I don’t meet that many people. Sometimes I think about does anyone care about what I’m doing? Sometimes I can get that feel, and when you get a nomination like this it feels like, wow – we reach out and someone is hearing us. The message in a bottle, you know?
Candlemass of course – when I was a teenager I was a Candlemass fan. They’ve been around always for me. When I was able to start working with them, that was amazing for me. I love the guys, Leif and myself, he’s like an older brother to me. We’ve been working so much together now, we meet up several times every week. I learned a lot from him – that’s one of the reasons why we can write so many good songs on the album as we do, because we learned a lot from him. He’s one of Sweden’s best songwriters to me. All in all, to work with Candlemass is amazing, one of the most fun things for me to do and challenging of course.
When you get this kind of nomination, it inspires me to do even better things, try to work harder and continue to do what I am doing.
Dead Rhetoric: With Leif acting in an older brother capacity, what types of things have you learned from him or has he helped you think about, especially in the songwriting realm?
Jidell: I think its just watching him write songs. Some of the songs I’ve been helping him do the demos for a long time, and I just watch him. How concerned he is about making the song as good as it possibly can be. And how much he works with every song. To see that has really inspired me to do it the same way. It’s a philosophical thought about songwriting, it gets stuck in my head. You can’t really explain everything in words, his mindset when he is writing songs has inspired me a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: You mention in an older interview on Metal Temple webzine the fact that ‘music is not supposed to be just technical and perfect, it’s about expressing and finding out who you are and share that with others.’ Do you believe that modern advances with computer technology have taken some of that heart and soul/ human element away in today’s recordings, thus making it harder to stand out against the classics?
Jidell: Yes. I really think so actually. Of course there’s a lot of great bands and great artists that manage to do great stuff anyway. It’s very easy that you get stuck in that way of thinking, that you try to look at the screen and look at how tight everything is and listen if the singer is 100% in key. All this kind of stuff that can sometimes make music interesting, the small mistakes and the human things, that’s what makes music interesting for me. It’s very easy to stop listening when you have a screen in front of you and when you can fix mistakes. I think that’s a problem, but more and more people are thinking about it. Hopefully things will get better and better.
I always try to… if there is something that is not 100% in a take, I always try to not fix it directly. Let it stay there, and if you still think it’s horrible, then maybe you can do something about it. Most of the times you don’t even remember what you didn’t like, they are such small things. If you correct all these things, and you have a perfect and totally boring product.
There’s a lot of knowledge back in the day that people had that maybe is a little gone. Technicians who had knowledge about microphones and stuff to capture instruments, the way they sound. A lot of this knowledge is hard to learn just by yourself in a room with computers, you need to talk to the people and learn. I learned so much from working with other people, like Michael Blair that I work with – he plays percussion with Tom Waits and a lot of other artists. Just talking to him, every time I am in the studio with him I learn a lot of new, old tricks I can use. Meeting people and working with other people – and use your ears, that’s what music is about. Music is all about your ears, your heart, and your gut. I think this kind of music is not supposed to be too intellectual – it’s supposed to be from the heart and the gut. You are supposed to feel things, to me anyway.
Dead Rhetoric: What do you consider some of the personal highlights in your musical career, given the work you’ve done over your lifetime with Royal Hunt, Evergrey, and Avatarium among others?
Jidell: I think now with Avatarium I’m extremely happy. This is a place where I can challenge myself, and explore new ground, new sounds, new emotions. To me where I am now is the best place ever for me. Being able to produce great bands like Candlemass, this stuff is a great journey and I’m very happy to be able to do that.
Dead Rhetoric: How is it for you to be working with your wife in Avatarium? Are you able to separate personal time from professional time, or are there times where conflicts arise and how do you handle them?
Jidell: That’s a good question. I think we are getting pretty good at when we work, we work, and when we are a family, we are a family. Sometimes it’s very hard, with this release we have been doing so many interviews and so much promotion, it’s been sometimes hard. We are a little bit worn out, both of us at the moment actually – but soon we will have a little time off. One good thing is that, we listen to a lot of music together, we are in the same development. Today I played an old Jimmy Reed album and we listened to it together and talk about, discuss developing a song with this kind of groove or melody. It’s also good, we are on a parallel musical universe. In that sense it’s easier – but there are give and takes with everything. Hopefully we can keep the marriage together, otherwise it may be hard to keep the band together (laughs). You never know, we do our best – we have a good relationship, we try our best and husband and wife and we try our best as the singer and guitarist, songwriter, and producer. We’ll see in five or ten years, where we are.
Dead Rhetoric: What’s on the agenda for Avatarium over the next twelve months for shows, festivals, outside activities?
Jidell: We are going to do some festivals in the summer. We will also do some shows in Sweden in January – and we have some one or two off shows in the spring in Europe. We have a booking agent that wants us to play a lot. Hopefully we can do a tour in the fall of 2020 in Europe – one or two tours. Of course we would love to come to America and play – hopefully we will be well received by people over there and new people will find out about Avatarium. To play live is some of the reason to write music and to record music – at the end of the day, it’s the most amazing feeling. To be in a room together with people that love your music, and we can share this music together and they react and we react. It’s a communication and a vibe that I don’t think you can find in many other places. Maybe if you are religious and go to church – and music can be so emotional and it can reach more outside boundaries. When you reach that spiritual thing with an audience, it’s an amazing feeling to me. That’s one of the greatest feelings.