Eclipse – Shifting the ParadigmTuesday, 19th November 2019
Beyond an obvious passion for heavy metal, many writers at Dead Rhetoric also appreciate diverse tastes that come from the older days of melodic hard rock/ AOR-style music – acts like Europe, Def Leppard, Journey, etc. who dominated the charts during the 70’s and 80’s and developed healthy careers that launched arena superstars. Many European bands over the past 10-20 years have taken those influences and put their own take/twist on things to develop new material and gain appeal to a youthful audience. One of the elite acts in that current breed is Eclipse from Sweden.
Since their 1999 start they’ve released six studio albums, gained acclaim globally, and push melodic hard rock/metal to the masses. Their seventh record Paradigm could be their most focused and dynamic record in their discography – blending folk-like / cultural aspects from their native country into their rich vocal harmonies and massively catchy musical hooks at the core of their sound. We reached out to vocalist/guitarist Erik Mårtensson through Skype in the midst of their headlining European tour – and he was happy to bring us up to speed on everything from lineup changes to songwriting, video making to craft beer – plus thoughts on arena rock and the state of melodic hard rock/metal today compared to the glory days of the 80’s.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you fill us in on the recent lineup changes within Eclipse, as you’ve lost long-time bassist Magnus to replace him with Vicke Crusner, the brother of your drummer Philip? What circumstances took place for this change?
Erik Mårtensson: Having a band is like having a second family, and it takes a lot of time and effort to give 100% in a band. We felt in the recent years Magnus the old bass player couldn’t give 100%, and it affected the mood and the whole vibe of the band in a very negative way. I think it was best for everyone if Magnus took a step aside and we have Victor on board – it’s fantastic to have him in the band. He’s a great bass player and great off stage as well. We are on tour in Europe at the moment, we are in Belgium and being on tour is 1 ½ hours to 2 hours on stage, and then you have 22 hours of the day together not playing music, so (getting along) is very important.
Dead Rhetoric: How is the current tour going across Europe to support the new record?
Mårtensson: It’s going great, far better than expected. There are a lot of people everywhere, it’s fantastic. We are playing a classic venue in Belgium called Biebob, where a lot of great bands have played before and we have played here a couple of times before as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Paradigm is the latest Eclipse album. What did you want to accomplish with this set of material that maybe differs a little bit from previous Eclipse records?
Mårtensson: For every record we always try to find out what Eclipse can sound like. When you start out as a kid, you always start by imitating other bands and then you always try to make your own copy of it. For every record we always try to find our own way of doing stuff, and I think with this record we took a big step forward. Incorporating a lot of folk music tones from Sweden, some of the music that we heard growing up. It’s a great record and probably the record that I’m most proud of.
Dead Rhetoric: Can you delve a bit into the development process of your songwriting and how things evolve and shift from the demo stage to the final outcome? Do you find that you are very self-critical because of how you’ve been able to establish a strong fanbase through the years and do not want to disappoint them?
Mårtensson: When we are writing stuff, let’s say for Eclipse when we are writing together, Magnus Henriksson the guitar player and myself, we usually sit down and plug in guitars – it could be acoustic guitars or electric guitars. We just start riffing and come up with different ideas, trying to find the spark that fires up the inspiration. Sometimes you can sit down for a day and not come up with anything – or sometimes it takes just five minutes and you create almost a full song.
We usually write together in the studio. When we have something, we fire up the studio and make a simple demo of a riff, a verse, and a chorus. Let’s have a listen to see if it sounds good. If it does sound good, now we have a song and we leave it aside – or sometimes we set about writing the whole song from start to finish if we have a flow. Sometimes the demo can be extremely close to the final album version. Sometimes we rewrite things and while recording we may change stuff when we do the actual album recording.
Dead Rhetoric: When it came time to make choices for the singles and videos for the album, was that a difficult process given how strong the material was on the record?
Mårtensson: It was a very difficult process. We couldn’t agree at all within the band. We had six or seven choices for the singles, so we were really confused. Then we asked around about 30 people, some close and a bit further away from the band. You don’t want to ask your mother about what the single should be. We needed honest opinions. Every single song on the record was chosen by someone as the best song on the record – so it really didn’t help us that much. Some songs like “Viva La Victoria” was a standout track. I also think the ballad “Shelter Me” was another standout track of the people we asked. We choose one of those songs, and the label wanted “The Masquerade” to be one of the singles. You can’t fight about everything, so we did one from each camp.
Dead Rhetoric: What can you tell us about the video shoots for “Viva La Victoria” and “The Masquerade”?
Mårtensson: That was done in Gutenburg, Sweden with a guy Patric Ullaeus, he’s been doing a lot of metal bands here in Sweden. A very professional guy, we did actually both videos in the same day it went so smooth. Which is pretty unheard of, but it was the afternoon and before we broke for lunch he told us he had everything he needed for “Viva La Victoria”. Want to do another? It was a lot of fun.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you think you started to notice Eclipse gaining momentum and making a serious mark in the melodic hard rock/metal scene – were there specific benchmarks in terms of albums, festival appearances, tours, etc. that you can now see where you were making notable progress personally and professionally?
Mårtensson: I think when we did the 2012 album Bleed & Scream, that was the first record where we kind of decided we were going to make a record and have it sound like our own, stop copying so much from other bands. Of course you do copy and borrow, but we wanted to have our own touch on the music. From that album, it got people’s attention in this genre. And that was more in the melodic hard rock and metal scene. The new album is by far our most successful album – even though it’s only been out for not even a month. It’s our most successful album in terms of streams and record sales. We are doing the right thing, spreading our music to pass outside of the core fans now. More and more people are getting into us which is a fantastic thing.
Dead Rhetoric: Do you believe melodic hard rock/metal and AOR-style bands today will ever have a chance to reach the pinnacle of say the 70’s, 80’s, and early 90’s artists that were achieving major arena headlining success and reaching major media outlets through videos and radio?
Mårtensson: Absolutely not. I think it’s a subgenre now. I don’t think melodic rock bands will ever gain that measure of success again. Those days are over, those major label days are over. Some bands do have success, there are exceptions. Even a band like the Foo Fighters, they have been going on forever. Even if I considered them new, it’s still relatively old. Bands like us, H.E.A.T., we are not stuck in playing the small venues but I don’t think those arena days will come back. New genres and new music have taken that over. I would love to be on arena stages.
Dead Rhetoric: I grew up in the arena rock era, and I feel what you offer musically is capable of reaching a wider audience like that. If major media would get behind it…
Mårtensson: The rock media is 100% behind this, and it’s fantastic. Your major magazines – we are a Swedish band and if you look at major Swedish music magazines, they are not covering this kind of music at all. It doesn’t even exist in their vocabulary, it’s hard reaching those… at the same time I don’t really care. The fans that we have, we are out on tour, and we are on a European tour for a month. The people that come to these shows, they are die-hard fans, it’s fantastic meeting these people every night in different nights and different cities. Those are the people that make this genre go around. The reason we are on stage is because of the audience, and it’s fantastic seeing them.
Dead Rhetoric: Is there a wide range as far as the age groups, demographics for the shows?
Mårtensson: We have younger people as well. It’s kind of different between the different countries. Like streaming, if you have Spotify, you can see as an artist who is listening and the age of the listeners, which countries. 55% of the listeners for Eclipse are under 34 years old, which means there is a new generation listening to our music – which is a fantastic thing.
Dead Rhetoric: What would surprise people to learn about Erik the person away from the music?
Mårtensson: I don’t know. I’m a regular guy, I’m very down to earth. I love being out in nature, skiing. (laughs). I like to drink a beer in a bar with people, like anyone else.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you differentiate your songwriting abilities and guest performances for other bands from what you develop within Eclipse, Nordic Union, and your other endeavors? Does your outlook differ on a case by case basis?
Mårtensson: Yes. If I am writing for let’s say W.E.T., I have a goal that this is how I want things to sound like – and I try to reach it. I may not always reach it, but I set my aim for something. When I do Nordic Union, I set my aim for something else. That’s why they sound different – but I’m still the same writer, it gives them some similarity. But with Eclipse, we always try to experiment a lot more with the band. It’s got a wider influence base. If you want to hear the music that I love to do, 100% it’s Eclipse. With the other acts I try to set the aim more.
Dead Rhetoric: Did you have unique lyrical content for this record- I’ve heard that you have expressed some thoughts on American politics this time around?
Mårtensson: Yeah, especially with Nordic Union we did as well. People got really upset, especially Ronnie because he was not a big fan of Donald Trump. Some fans thought it was fantastic. Some people say you should just play rock and roll, you don’t know shit about politics. Well I do know a lot of about politics – I read a lot and I’m well-educated when it comes to politics. I think musicians should speak up more, it’s bullshit that we can’t say our opinions. People get so afraid, people should speak their minds and I think a lot of problems in politics relate to the fact that people don’t say what’s really on their minds. It’s causing more problems than solutions, actually.
Dead Rhetoric: Where do you see the state of the music industry today – if you had the opportunity to change things from your perspective, what would you change and why?
Mårtensson: Well, the glory days of selling physical records and making money from record sales, those days are over. Especially with newer bands – we are never going to have that lifestyle. Streaming doesn’t pay enough, but I still think that streaming is fantastic for the consumer. I listen to a lot of bands I wouldn’t have otherwise listened to without streaming. The problem with streaming music, it doesn’t have the same value as it used to have. When you spend twenty dollars for a record, I probably listened to it more than if I streamed it for free – because you give something of yourself to appreciate it. It’s on its way to something new, and we are in the middle of it.
Dead Rhetoric: You develop a deep understanding and connection with your fans through social media. How do you feel about these platforms and tools to gather insight and develop community? Do you wish these tools existed when you were growing up and learning about your favorite musicians/artists?
Mårtensson: I don’t know. I like social media and I really dislike it as well. Sometimes I can get completely fed up with the whole thing. I think we spend too much time looking at our stupid phones. As well, people with the same interests get together and social activity goes on because of social media, so I’m kind of in the middle on it. In between the old and the new. It’s fantastic that a fan can send me a message directly through Facebook, ask me a question. I would have loved that growing up playing the guitar, and how to get the right guitar sounds. I was from a small village in Sweden, no one knew. Everything was a complete mystery, how to get that cool sound from the 80’s records. We had to experiment for years. Now you can go online and watch YouTube and learn whatever song directly. It takes away some of the mystery as well.
Dead Rhetoric: Working with musicians in so many capacities as a songwriter, performer, producer behind the scenes, what are some of the key insights you’ve learned that you pass along and have people consider – or mistakes that are made that you wish you had learned early on?
Mårtensson: Well, I made a lot of mistakes professionally. I think what I’ve learned through the years is you should always do the things you love – because when you do something from the love of it, it will be good. Working with fantastic singers like Ronnie Atkins or Jeff Scott Soto, they are 100% professional and have high work ethics. There is a reason why these guys after a lifetime are still in this business. Because they deliver 100% professionally, every time.
Dead Rhetoric: I’ve heard that you have an interest in craft beer. Can you tell us about some of your favorite brands or types of beer, and would you ever consider developing something in conjunction with Eclipse for your fans in that regard?
Mårtensson: There are a lot of brands that sell Slayer or Kiss beer. The thing that almost every brand of beer that is associated with a band is that it’s shitty, lousy beer (laughs). If I would do something, I would do a proper craft beer. My brother is a brewer, he could probably be brewing it for us. My favorite beer is actually English ales – the pub ales, the bitters. The real ales from the UK are fantastic, and I like wheat beer from Germany a lot.
Dead Rhetoric: What types of goals do you set for yourself in the short term or long term?
Mårtensson: Enjoy life, you have only one. Enjoy it while you can, that’s the only goal that I have.
Dead Rhetoric: How do you see the next twelve months playing out for Eclipse, and what other activities will you be doing between your studio work, songwriting work, other projects?
Mårtensson: The upcoming year is going to be really busy with Eclipse. A lot of shows planned, the schedule is looking really busy which is a really good thing. In between that, I will spend time with my wife and my kids. We will try to record some new material, work on some new W.E.T. material – and I think pretty soon we will start writing a new Eclipse album as well.