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Interview: Messiah Marcolin (Candlemass)

Pure metal...interviews

It is really amazing how some people simply refuse to grow old. I was a fifteen year old boy when I first met Messiah Marcolin, the singer of the Epic/Doom Metal act Candlemass, moments after a phenomenal gig at the Athenian Rodon club. Fifteen years later, the Swedish frontman was still as approachable and pleasant, and also exactly as I remembered him to be, but also willing to have a long conversation regarding the release of the new Candlemass album, his days in Memento Mori as well as his appreciation for the Greek Metal crowd and my countryís tasty food.

Hi Messiah, this is one interview that I was really looking forward to. Whatís been going on with Candlemass lately - youíve got us all a little bit confused with this constant getting together and then after a while breaking up the band.

Messiah: Well, the first reunion that we did was in order to promote the remastered versions of our first few albums. Back then, we didnít have any plans on recording a new album or anything like that.

We started doing a few live shows, and then we realised that we could not really agree on many different things. There was, for example, and idea of doing an acoustic set which not all of us were in favour of. We still decided to do it, and it didnít sound good...well, it actually sounded terrible! We started like that, and there were many more arguments along the way before we even started thinking about recording a new album.

Leif was demanding a few things as far as the new album was concerned that I personally didnít agree with. The funny thing is that we were not even talking at the time - we would simply exchange e-mails, and if you cannot agree with somebody this way, then you know that things are not going that well.

When you read an e-mail that was sent to you cannot understand things like the tone of the voice of the sender or the mood that heís in, whether heís angry or not. Anyway, we realised at that point that things were not working as they should and we thought 'OK, thatís it - letís call it a day'.

Time went by, and then our guitarist Mappe (Mats Bjorkman is the guy's real name) got married and we all met up at his wedding reception. When we saw each other we realised that there were no hard feelings between us. We started drinking and we end up jamming to songs like 'Samarithan' and 'Solitude' while being completely drunk while wearing the wedding costumes - thatís where the idea of the bandís photo which is going to be featured in the album came from.

After that jamming session, we started talking about the prospect of recording a new album together. Leif already had a couple of songs ready, and he was talking with Mappe about the prospect of bringing Tony Martin (ex-Black Sabbath) or any other singer to record the vocals for it. They had the intension of calling this project Candlemass, and that made me think seriously about getting back with them.

Things were really simple: they said that they were going to do this album with or without me, so the idea of having another guy singing for Candlemass made me set up my mind and change my attitude towards that thing.

In the past, I used to think that either things were going to be dealt with 'my way, or the highway', but now things are different. I really didnít agree with the choice for the album cover, and I still wanted to have my picture with the monk outfit, but I though 'well, letís try something new and see what happens'.

So the white cover with the black cross and the Candlemass logo will be the final artwork of the album?

Messiah: The original idea was to have it standing out, so that you could feel it with your fingers, but I really donít know if this is going to happen or not...maybe it will be like that on the digipack version.

OK, but you havenít really told me how the last re-formation of the band took place.

Messiah: Yeah, youíre right. Well, next time we decided to gather all together and do a meeting instead of starting exchanging e-mails between us. We agreed about many things this time and established some rules regarding the economics of the band and many other things that used to cause us problems in the past. That was really good, because when we went into the studio, we had already managed to get rid of all that negative energy and simply focused on the songs that we wanted to record.

What about all those rumours which say that you and Leif are not exactly the best of friends?

Messiah: Thatís not really true. We have different opinions about almost everything, but itís nothing really personal. He thinks that one movie is good, I think that itís crap but thatís all if you know what I mean. Fortunately though, we like the same kind of music. I really like his song writing and he likes the way I sing so it always works out. Itís never been personal with me for Leif, itís just that weíre like the day and the night (laughs).

OK, letís try to focus a little bit on the new album, though. Not only have you presented us with a very simple album cover, but also with an equally simple name. Is there a specific reason behind that?

Messiah: I really donít know. The truth is that we never had an album simply called 'Candlemass' before, but if feels nice to be with a big label thatís very enthusiastic about promoting it. Candlemass has always been a small, cult band or something like that. We never really made it big, but whatís really cool about this band is that we have fans everywhere in the world. Every gig we do, we have at least a hundred people showing up, but hopefully now with a good promotion and many more live opportunities, we will be able to take the band to a bigger level. Why should we complicate stuff by calling the album something like 'Dactylis Glomerata' or something like that?

Am I to understand that you donít particular approve of the musical direction that the band followed with albums like 'Dactylis Glomerata' and 'From the 13th Sun'?

Messiah: Leif always writes fantastic songs, and those two albums have quite a lot of good songs inside them, but to me they donít really sound like Candlemass. The chemistry that the original line up has is simply not there. Leifís other band, Krux, also doesnít sound like classic Candlemass but it is a really good band. With Krux, Leif can do anything that he really wants, but things become more restricted when it comes to Candlemass.

I agree with what you say. It is true, though, that the albums that you recorded with Memento Mori do incorporate quite a few Candlemass elements here and there, which I think has to do with the way you sing.

Messiah: I guess itís understandable, especially since I have recorded quite a few albums with Candlemass in the past. When an already established singer goes to a new band, you always have things like that happening. Memento Mori are quite different though, since they are more of a technical band.

So, when exactly did you first started composing the nine tracks which are featured in the new album?

Messiah: I think that the first song that we ever did for the new album was 'Witches', a song that we even played in the last show before we decided to split up for the second time. You will see this live recording in our next DVD which will soon be out in the market.

Another DVD release from Candlemass?

Messiah: Yes, that song is already there, but in a slightly different version with alternate lyrics and stuff like that. After we managed to short all the pending issues out, we entered the studio knowing that we only had ten days to record the ground tracks.

We recorded the album in Polar Studios where ABBA used to record their albums and also the place where Led Zeppelin recorded their very last album. We learned that the owners have decided to tear that place down in order to build some offices, so we realised that this was our last chance to record something in this amazing place.

It is really cool that we were the last band ever to record an album in that place, but we were only given ten days because of the fact that the rent is very expensive there. I believe though that we made the best out of it because everything was really well organised and we knew exactly what we had to do.

I had only two days to finish my vocals and even though the original plan was to also work in another studio, I really wanted to finish everything at Polar seems as they have some great microphones and good equipment there. I was unlucky enough to have food poisoning while recording my vocals, but still I managed to finish everything by getting one extra day (laughs).

Yes, I only needed three days to finish my vocals, and I did. I pretty much wanted to record everyone at the same time, so we all stood in the same room playing together in order to get the live feeling - something that we never did before.

'Nightfall' was a little bit like that, but it was only the rhythm guitar and the drums playing together which is not exactly the same thing.

Were any of those songs actually finished while you were in the studio?

Messiah: Yes. Iíve never even heard of 'Seven Silver Keys' before we entered the studio 'Copernicus' was also finished while being in the studio...'The Day and the Night'...I think that we also had to change 'Spellbreaker' more than three times in order to get it right. We were working really fast and we were really focused - there was not even one beer in the studio. I remember us joking about the fact that weíre no longer a Rock níRoll band and that we have all of the sudden became quite serious (laughs).

What about the production of the new album. I read in the press release that all duties were handled by Leif.

Messiah: No, it was also Pontus Norgren, our live technician who was also there with him all the time. When we were recording the album, the guy who miced up our drums was the same guy that had miced up John Bohnamís drums when Led Zeppelin recorded their album there - a brilliant engineer, and also the owner of the Polard Studios. His name is Leonard Esklund. It was great being there, listening to all these stories about the drugs, the groupies. Of course it was quite upsetting knowing that we were not even able to drink a single beer (laughs). That was really funny. Then we did the mixing of the album with a guy called Niklas Flyckt who has also won a Grammy in the US for mixing a Britney Spears song which is called 'Toxic'. Do you know this song?

I am afraid that itís way out of my league.

Messiah: That song I kind of like actually. I think that itís quite good for a Pop song but...anyways, the thing is that the guy is very talented and he mixed the album together with Pontus. Of course, Leif was there the whole time.

My opinion is that 'Candlemass' is a classic release with a fresh and quite modern production. Was that the bandís original intention?

Messiah: I think so. I mean, Leifís songwriting has changed for the better and I have also changed my vocal style a bit. Now I seem to have a better control over my voice. In the old days all I had was a fast vibrato which I used all the time, and I also used to sing full force. Now my voice has different dynamics and I use some new stuff too. I think that everybody did their best on this album.

Which is the song that you have personally contributed to the most and that you like best from the new album?

Messiah: I think that 'Copernicus' is a really good song, and I also like 'The Day and the Night' a lot - the more I listen to this song, the more I get into it.

What about the first song of the album, the 'Black Dwarf'? Something tells me that this will be the most popular song in the European arenas this season.

Messiah: I had food poisoning when I was singing that (laughs). It is true - I was singing, puking, singing, puking...

How about telling me a few things about the lyrics of the album?

Messiah: Well, 'Black Dwarf' is actually under the table as we speak and heís about to bite your ankle (laughs). No, seriously now. This song is referring to the headlines that magazines use in order to sell their copies. Most of them, like the ones that newspapers use are just lying to people and just make up stories like 'Oh, Jack the Ripper was actually a nice guy after all'. These tabloids are either lying or not telling the exact truth, so thatís what this song is all about. The little Black Dwarves are all these little, deceitful letters. I think that Leif did a very good job with the lyrics of this song. On the old albums, and in songs like 'The Well of Souls' and 'Mirror Mirror' it was all about the struggle between the good and the evil. Nowadays the lyrics are quite the same but in a more modern way. Thatís one more new thing that people will find in our new album.

What about the lyrics of 'Copernicus', which is the other song that managed to capture my attention straight away?

Messiah: What are they about? I guess that they talk about the life of the famous astrologist, but I cannot say anything more than that - you will have to ask Leif.

So, apart from the music, Leif has also written the majority of the lyrics?

Messiah: Yes, of course. He is the one thatís writing all the songs, and we didnít really want things to be any other way. I am also very protective of Candlemass - I also joined the band as a fan when I listened to 'Epicus Doomicus Metallicus', so Iím the kind of guy that doesnít want to have any changes. I would prefer to have used an old painting as the album cover of the new album for instance, but weíre a band and since the majority has decided to try something new, then itís OK by me.

How does it make you feel as a singer, knowing that you will have to sing a song whose lyrics are not written by you?

Messiah: It doesnít really bother me at all. Leif writes really good lyrics and I have my own way to interpret these lyrics. Whatís also more important for me is the way that I sing stuff. Leif may come up with a certain melody, but I tend to take it and sing it in my own way. A lot of time I get melodies which are too high for me, so I sing them lower and other times where itís the other way round. You will also find some backing vocals in this album which are only present in the background, but they are there because I wanted them to be that way. When we are on stage, we donít have any harmony vocals or keyboards, so we wouldnít be able to present the songs the right way in any other case.

I have to say though that they worked really well in 'Seven Silver Keys'.

Messiah: Well, I believe that they were a little bit loud in that song. Take for example the song 'Born in a Tank' which talks about a person that was born in a tank, hidden from the face of the earth, living only with rats and ants (laughs). I think that itís a great song.

What was on Leifís mind when he was writing that song, I wonder!

Messiah: I think that he was unemployed during the period that he was writing that song (laughs). For that song I have prepared some really low harmony vocals which sounded like (note: at this point, Messiah started making some really funny noises with his mouth which generated more laughter, and stopped the interview for a few minutes). I tried to imagine that I was actually that guy (laughs). It kind of worked, but you canít really hear it so who cares.

Candlemass

Back to the fact that you started your Ďrelationshipíwith Candlemass as their fan. Did you know these guys from the early days when they were called Nemesis?

Messiah: No, but my band Mercy was on the same record label with them - that was when we were both signed with Fingerprint records. Back then we only used to have records - CDs were not really part of the picture yet. Both Nemesis and Mercy were on the same label but we really didnít know each other.

So, how did we end up having you calling Leif trying to persuade him to become the singer of the band?

Messiah: A friend of mine who was working for a fanzine at the time, sent me this tape of the bandís first album 'Epicus...'. When I listened to it I though 'fantastic, this is the best thing that Iíve heard since Trouble.

I remember asking this friend of mine 'who are these Candlemass guys - where do they live?' and when he told me that they were Swedish and that they didnít have a permanent singer, I asked him to get Leifís phone number for me. I remember calling him every other day, singing my doom songs for him over the phone, asking for an audition.

Leif was telling me, of course, that it was only he, a guitar player and a drummer involved and that Candlemass was not really a proper band at that point. I was asking him to arrange an audition, but he told me 'you live in southern Sweden - we live in the north. If you move up here, then we can talk about it'.

When I called him a couple of weeks later, he told me 'I thought I told you that you must move here first', but I straight away told him 'I live here now - letís arrange a rehearsal'. I was so determined to become part of this band, that I moved there before I was even promised anything. I believe that Iím pretty much responsible for getting the whole Candlemass thing going. I remember pushing them to rehearse and do some live gigs, but I still remember that the original drummer didnít even want to play any live shows. I remember him saying 'playing live - are you crazy? I cannot do that, there are too many people'(laughs).

Did Johan Langquistís contribution in 'Epicus Doomicus Metallicus' influenced your singing at all?

Messiah: Yes, absolutely. If you listen to the way I used to sing with Mercy and the way I sing for Candlemass they are two opposite things really. I was indeed very influenced by Johanís singing, even though I never met him in person. When I was doing the audition for the position of the singer, I remember trying to sound exactly like him. I think that he did a great job on that album.

I know quite a few people who think that it was you singing on that release. Maybe thatís why Nuclear Blast chose to make this thing clear on the press release that I received along with the promo of the new album.

Messiah: He did a great job, but I think that he was a Pop singer and he was not really interested in this kind of music at all. I know that I was there when Candlemass did their first ever show.

Back to the new album. 'Candlemass' is going to be released on the 2nd of May through Nuclear Blast. How did you come up with an agreement with the German label?

Messiah: We recorded a two-track demo which we distributed to many different labels, the majority of which were really keen on signing the band. When we started recording the new album, we still didnít have a contract in our hands, so we prepared a rough mix of three songs 'Assassin of the Light', 'Copernicus' and one more that I cannot really remember right now, which we also sent to the labels. Straight after, Nuclear Blast contacted us and told us that they are interested in signing the band. They were really enthusiastic, and that was new to us - we never had a record label that was so happy to be able to sign a contract with the band before (laughs). In the old days, it was more like 'oh, you guys again'(laughs).

Candlemass

Allow me to try to dig a little bit deeper and ask what is the actual deal between the band and the label. Are you only going to release a single album with them?

Messiah: Well, we have a deal for this specific release, but there are options in our contract for other releases too.

It kind of depends on the sales of this album then.

Messiah: Yes, but what we want to do now is to promote the 'Candlemass' album as much as we can, to play gigs and do as many interviews as possible.

Which are the countries that you plan on visiting this time round?

Messiah: We have just played Spain for the very first time in a Metal festival in Grenada. We are going to play in Oslo at the Rockefeller, which is a three-day festival there and we are going to be headlining one of those days. We are also going to play in Italy for the very first time in a place outside Milan. Then we are going to do Sweden Rock. Bang Your Head and Wacken and also we are going to play in your country at the Rockwave festival in Athens. There is also a possibility to do a European tour sometime this autumn, but that remains to be seen. It is really hard with most of the guys having full time jobs - with me, I would be more than happy if I was to get fired or something, but the other guys have families and children and jobs that pay good money.

I guess that many of us are afraid that Candlemass are only going to focus on playing in huge festivals and ignore the smaller venues, where the contact with the audience is better and more direct. Is that the case?

Messiah: We are also going to be playing smaller venues. Itís just that itís so much easier to do the festivals, because you can reach to so many people in one time. Sometimes you need to play two weeks of shows in order to reach the people which you can have in a single festival appearance. Itís great that we get to do these festivals, but we still want to do our own gigs of course!

What do you prefer the most though?

Messiah: For me, itís great when we get to play places like Greece where people are so enthusiastic. I like the fact that they sing all the lyrics and...

The food?

Messiah: The food, of course (laughs). Playing festivals can be great as well. I mean, first time that we played Bang Your Head it was fantastic! People didnít even know that we were going to play because our guitars didnít arrive there on time and we had to change the day. What I like about festivals is that youíre given the chance to play for people that donít even know your band. When you play in clubs, the majority of the people that show up are your fans who want to hear the band live.

Messiah, are you satisfied with what Candlemass have achieved all these years as a band? How would you judge your career?

Messiah: Now that we have such a good album in our hands and a big record label supporting us, we have the opportunity to take the band to a higher level and start selling more albums. We were always more like a cult band, which attracted a specific amount of people, but now we can really change that. I have to point out, though, that weíre not willing to start writing pop Metal songs in order to attract the attention of the people. I hate it when Metal bands are doing that.

Do you believe that 'Candlemass' as an album is capable of attracting more people than just the typical fans of the band? Are younger Metal fans going to find it interesting in your opinion?

Messiah: I really feel quite sorry about all those young kids who never heard any songs from the old Black Sabbath and Judas Priest and they are only introduced to stuff like Linkin Park. I really hope that theyíll decide one day to look in the past and discover all these great bands - even bands like Iron Maiden who are still recording new albums nowadays. Things have changed quite a lot with all those Metal bands who are trying to make it big by doing all these pop songs. We, as a band, have a new album that is in many ways similar to the old seventies albums which had many good songs and not just focusing on a hit single or anything like that. Check it out, and you will understand what Iím talking about.

Which are the best memories that you have as a member of Candlemass so far?

Messiah: I would say that it was when we did the very first reunion show in Greece at this Sporting hall in Athens. I still remember asking the crowd 'Athina, are you ready to go Doom dancing?' and the whole of the crowd started doom dancing. You could see people as far as the eye could reach doom dancing (laughs). It was a great vibe. I was not in the band for something like twelve years, but the old albums seem to have lived a life of their own. It seems that people were talking about them, spreading the word mouth to mouth because every year the royalties would keep on coming! When we did the reunion show we saw kids who must have been eight or nine years old when these albums were released. Thatís cool - maybe we will be able to save a few kids from Linkin Parkís music after all (laughs).

What is it in the bandís sound that managed to keep the interest of the fans going during these twelve years of absence?

Messiah: I think that you get only one chance in your lifetime to achieve what we did with this band. For us, this original line up really works. We have a special chemistry which is present both in our records and also in our live appearances.

Take for example Deep Purple with Ritchie Blackmore: when you have a fantastic line up like that splitting up, itís really difficult to get anything as good as that. If any of the current members of Candlemass is not there in the band, we will not sound the same anymore. We are really lucky to be together again. I had many people asking me 'oh, are you going to stay together this time, or are you going to once again split up?'

My answer to that is that you cannot live your life like that - you have to live for today. I can go out right know and be run over by a car (laughs). This album will be released soon, we will be here to play live, so if you can make it in one of the festivals do it. Who knows whatís going to happen in a year or two! Maybe Leif will tell me that I cannot wear the monk robe any more and I decide to leave the band! Now things are much better and I think that it helped a lot the fact that I decided to change the way that I was thinking.

Well, I do hope that next time that I will see you guys playing live, you will still be wearing the monk robe, and not those suits that you were wearing on the photo sessions of the new album (I laugh).

Messiah: Of course. This was one of the new ideas that we tried. This is the new Candlemass which still has the same old way of writing songs and performing live. We will probably wear the costumes only for the release parties where journalists want to go and have the first opinion on how the band sounds nowadays.

What kind of relationship did you have with the music press all these years?

Messiah: I never had problems with them really. It is great when someone likes what you do, and even if someone says that they donít really like our new album I would say fine. Everyone has their own opinion - I donít really get mad about things like that at all. There is free choice in the world and thatís a good thing! I really donít think that the music that Candlemass is suitable for all the people. There are many people who like listening to Pop music, so I would say 'go ahead and listen to it if you want' - I donít have to (laughs).

What about Memento Mori - are we ever going to see you singing in another album with them?

Messiah: You never know. It was pretty fun doing those two albums and I had a good time plying with Snowy (Shaw: drums).

Can you explain to me why, even though you chose not to get involved in the recordings of the bandís third studio album 'La Danse Macabre', you came back and released one more album with them a few years later?

Messiah: I left the band then because, even though I was writing the vocals melodies for the songs, the others wouldnít give me any credit for them. I remember saying to Snowy 'hey, I wrote the vocal melodies for that song - can I have some credit?' and him saying 'no, this is my song', so I left the band. After they did the third album, we started talking again and the first thing that I asked them was 'well, how do you feel with this thing now - if I write the vocal melodies, will you give me some credit?' and they said 'yes, fine - no problem' so thatís it!

Do you still like those albums then? Do you think that they were successful?

Messiah: Yes, I believe that they were quite unique, but for the time being, I think that there will be quite a long time before you see any new Memento Mori coming out. Any free time that I have from my obligations towards Candlemass, I spend on writing my own songs. I plan on releasing a solo album sometime in the future.

Why donít you tell us a few things about it then?

Messiah: Well, I studied for two years in order to become a sound engineer and Iíve been buying quite a lot of stuff like a mixing table, free amps, microphones in order to open up my own personal studio where I would be able to record my own albums. Now that Candlemass are signed with Nuclear Blast, Iím 100% dedicated in the promotion of the band, but whenever I get some free time I work on some songs for a future solo release. Things are going to be even slower this time.

Have you shown samples of your work to any labels yet?

Messiah: Itís too early. I just bought this logic thing now for my computer, so that I can record my vocals and the guitar riffs that I have and start putting them together. I promise you that itís going to be really heavy though - you can bet on that (laughs).

Alright Messiah, I think that Iíve covered all the questions that I had prepared for you.

Messiah: Thank you. If any of your subscribers will be given the chance to come and see us in any of the summer festivals that weíll be doing, just take it. Life is too short to worry - just do it (laughs).


Interview © 2005 John Stefanis

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