Colossal Chaos: The Return Of Meshuggah
Swedish progressive metal Meshuggah’s drummer Tomas Haake talks about his dream tour lineup and returning to India.
In 2010, Meshuggah performed in Pune for their first-ever India gig, which was part of a three-city Great Indian Rock tour that included stops at Bengaluru and New Delhi. The prog metal band opened their show with “Rational Gaze,” from their fourth album Nothing, released in 2002. A hushed awe settled upon the audience, who seemed to snap out of it only when the band kicked into one of their most mind-baffling songs to date, “Bleed,” from their sixth album ObZen (2008). Not a single person among the 2000-odd crowd stood still, launching into moshpits, windmill headbanging and even tears of joy.
In 2012, when Meshuggah launched their seventh full-length album, Koloss, they threw in a half-hour documentary in a limited edition DVD called Meshuggah In India. In it, among the crew’s concerns of a shaky stage and sound gear, Indian fans would be surprised to see the other side of one of the most memorable metal concerts in India to date – interviews with burned-out, sleep-deprived band members getting on and off buses and planes and checking in and out of hotels at the oddest hours. Looking back at it, drummer Tomas Haake says, “I don’t think we’ve been that tired, ever, in trying to play [live]… We were just so beat we wanted to cry when we were going to go up on stage.”
As true as that is represented on the DVD, Haake comes across as the funniest member of the band on the documentary. He’s complaining about getting foot cramps like a ballerina [“which I think is kind of sexy by the way,” Haake jokes on camera] and how, being tall and huge compared to Indians, he sheepishly admits he’s elbowed and punched a fan by mistake.
Although Haake is not sure about the band’s itinerary for their one-off show at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Delhi on November 30th at the Bacardi Arena, Meshuggah returns to India for what will be one of their last shows to promote Koloss. Says Haake, “After that, we have to start writing a new album. It looks like India is going to be the last show for this one.”
Are you planning another documentary in India again?
No I don’t think so. Last time we were there for three gigs, so we got a bunch of material together for that [documentary]. We’re doing just the one show [this time]. We never thought we would release it separately. We just thought we’d include it with something else, some other documentary or live DVD or something. But then, we had a look and it was pretty good, so we decided to release it as is.
I could tell from the documentary that the tour was a pretty tiring experience. But will it be a different experience this time, with the one-off show?
Yeah, definitely. I don’t think we’ve been that tired, ever, in trying to play. It was just the travel and everything that gave us just three hours of sleep at night. By the last show, we were just so beat, we wanted to cry when we were going to go up on stage. Definitely a tough journey; we were only there [in India] for four or five days in total. It was really draining on us. We had done a lot of travel time.
What are you guys planning to do while you’re here — will it be fly in-and-out, or staying a while longer?
I’m not actually sure at this moment, if we’re staying after the show. Sometimes, a few guys will stay and a few guys will head home. Or we’ll all go home. For this show, I don’t know yet. I haven’t seen the flight itinerary or plan yet.
A lot of other international metal bands mention Meshuggah has come here. Did you have a lot of other bands asking you about India?
To some extent, I think other bands have seen that documentary [Meshuggah in India] or heard we were there. A lot of bands have been in India before us, but it seems like it’s picking up for sure.
I came across an interview with Marten where he was talking about your show with Devin Townsend and Periphery. He mentioned the huge crossover crowd that loves all three bands. You’ve been touring with all kinds of bands now, so who are your favorites? Which other bands would a dream Meshuggah gig feature?
Wow, that’s really hard to answer. I think the best tour we’ve ever done, the best for us, which is opening for another band — that would’ve been Tool. I mean that’s a lot of years ago now. You probably have to divide into the one that felt good and the one that did the most good. For example, for the US market, touring with Slayer in 1999 was definitely the most important tour and kinda opened things up for us. But right now, I think the favorite show we would love to put together would have a bill of bands that are kinda our favorites at the moment – like a big co-headline show with Gojira and Mastodon, maybe. There are definitely a few bands.
The big difference this time is that you’re playing from Koloss this time. What can fans expect from your setlist?
It’ll be a good mix of songs from Koloss and ObZen. We try to do that most times. We haven’t played much of the old stuff for a while now, even “Future Breed Machine,” [from 1995’s Destroy Erase Improve] which people expect us to play, and we play it almost every show, but we get bored by it, after all those years. It should be good, man.
Earlier this year, you guys had to do a few shows without Jens [Kidman] on vocals, preferring to use a backing track of his vocals and sometimes getting the crowd to sing along. That’s got to be difficult, right?
Yeah, he’s fine now. It was three or four shows on that tour. We just had to do whatever we could, you know? He [Kidman] completely lost his voice, so there was no way he could sing. It wasn’t a matter of him not wanting to sing. He just couldn’t even talk. He couldn’t make a sound. We didn’t know how long he would stay in that condition and these were the first few shows on the tour, so we were a bit nervous there. But you know, we have the recordings of other shows so we could use his live vocals from other shows and play with a click so it’s all synced. I think it worked out and people appreciated that we played and we didn’t cancel. I know some fans wanted us to play the versions [of the songs] without vocals or instrumentally. Even though that would work for a few songs, they don’t work without the vocals for a lot of the songs [from Koloss]. We figured it would actually get too boring pretty soon in the set for us to go without vocals. So we decided to go about it this way. It’s not something we wanted to do, but we had the choice. People could at least hear the closest thing to a real live show.
I read reports of how Jens was still represented on stage. Whose idea was it to put a mannequin with a picture of his face on it?
[laughs] Yeah, we did some different versions. One night, we made like paper cutout dolls and one was a blowup doll with his [Kidman’s] face. It was just something to make it a fun thing and not be serious about the fact that he wasn’t there.
It was as recent as last year that you guys started playing “Dancers To A Discordant System,” if I’m not wrong. Why was it never played before, and why did you decide to start surprising fans with it now?
I don’t know. We all like that song. Everyone has a favorite song from that album [ObZen]. We just thought it wouldn’t work with the spoken vocals. On the albums, it’s me on the spoken word vocals; Jens never did that on the albums. So the whole band, Jens included, always shunned those songs because “it’s not going to work” but we started rehearsing and then we thought, “Yeah, it doesn’t sound like it on the album, but it still comes out really well and it’s a cool song.” Sometimes we play longer sets, like an hour and a half and it [“Dancers…”] is nine minutes or something, and it’s meant for that, at like festivals and headline sets. We always played a part of Catch Thirtythree for a few years too and that’s 13 minutes or something [“In Death – Is Death”] and if you add “Dancers To A Discordant System” as well, those two songs are like 24 minutes. It makes a little bit harder to get the setlist right. Those are our reasons.
You had a new EP, Pitch Black, out in February. It included old songs but what prompted the decision to release it since it sounds very little like the sound on Koloss.
That was something we did in cooper-ation with [record label] Scion A/V in the US, where they help us out on tours with promotion. It was their idea to release something we hadn’t released before and if there was anything. We never really had any leftovers from albums, you know? This [“Pitch Black”] was the only thing we found that had been lying around for years and we never used it for anything. We just thought it would be a cool thing [to release]. We didn’t expect it to be a big seller. It was a promotional item more than anything else. For fans, it’s something you wanna have. It’s not your typical Meshuggah track, because it doesn’t have Jens’s vocals at all on it and we actually wrote it for the first Underworld movie . They [movie producers] asked us if we wanted to write music for that movie and we accepted. Finally, they chose two guys to do the music [score] instead. That’s the reason we never used that song for anything.
Meshuggah’s lighting director is also your cousin [Fredrik Haake], I’ve heard. And he’s also a drummer? Could you tell me a bit about how the kind of role he plays and whether he comes along to all your shows?
That’s not the lighting guy we use nowadays though. He’s been with us for a lot of the time we’ve been touring but he’s been like part of us. It’s correct that he’s also a drummer. He used to do lights for us for years, but of course, being a drummer, not mainly a lighting guy, he wanted to focus on drums and the different bands he was in. He suggested another guy [Edvard Hansson] for us to check out, and we checked him out and he’s really awesome. He’s been the one we’re using for a couple of years now. He’s also a musician, a bass player and a brilliant light engineer. He’s only 23 years old so it’s kinda weird, but he’s excellent.
The role he plays must be amazing.
Sometimes, I wonder if there are people who know the songs better than we do.
Meshuggah plays at Bacardi NH7 Weekender on November 30th at Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida, NCR
This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of ROLLING STONE India.