What Johannes Eckerstrom Really Meant When He Said Avatar Want to Save Metal
Avatar's Johannes Eckerstrom was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, chatting about the group's latest album Dance Devil Dance and a whole lot more, such as modern production approaches being to blame for a slip in today's quality of music.
Speaking about the new record and one of its standout tracks, "Violence No Matter What," which features a guest appearance by Halestorm's Lzzy Hale, Eckerstrom relays the song's serious message. In short, there is a zero tolerance policy for fascism, something the frontman says was a political policy that was "thoroughly" implemented in Europe 80 years ago and "was bad news for everyone."
He says the political rhetoric flying around today is very much aligned with this type of ideology and that "Violence No Matter What" takes an unquestionable stance even though Avatar aren't ones to tap into politics in their lyrics very often.
Elsewhere, he comments on his past remark about Avatar wanting to "save heavy metal," well aware it was a cocky thing to say while revealing his true intentions behind that statement. Eckerstrom takes aim at the "humanity" that is being lost in music recordings and that we need to be more accepting of "the beautiful sound of imperfections."
Read the full interview below.
The band was determined to make this record more focused and concise. What's most difficult about keeping songs direct into the point?
There's a self-gratifying part of writing that you can lose yourself in and just like, "Oh, look at this crazy thing we can do for the sake of doing it."
If that's what rocked your boats in what you want to create, that's fine. But I focus so much on what the purpose of this song is. What's the reason this is in there? What is the vibe? What's the feeling? It's not just, "This is cool," and then another thing that sounds cool. You really have to have a reason why one thing goes into the other or why something is in there. To demand that of yourself means that you've got to throw away individual things that in themselves might be pretty cool, but they don't serve the greater good of what this song is meant to be.
To figure that out and to kill darlings that don't necessarily have something bad about them in itself, is an ego killer.
Recording in the isolation of a rural summer home sounds too peaceful for angry music. How did seclusion actually heighten the viciousness of this album?
We got to focus on what we wanted to do and we were left to our own devices. We have worked with amazing engineers and people in various studios that has made the experience very smooth and enjoyable.
But now it was more down and dirty because it was just us and [producer] Jay Ruston doing all the heavy lifting ourselves. That made a world of difference just in the sense of living and breathing the project.
Most of the viciousness comes in writing, putting the songs together. The isolation fuels it in a sense that yeah — you get to disappear into it out there. But there was no need to make yourself angrier while doing it. Now it's about getting it on tape.
"Violence No Matter What" addresses an intolerant worldview. How does Lzzy Hale, an American duetting on the track, emphasize an uncompromising culture?
Where she's from is very secondary, which is maybe one of the points. Her American-ness didn't really play into it. What plays into it is, "Here are the lyrics. Are you into singing this?" — 'Yes, I absolutely am. I can sign off on this message any day of the week pretty much.'
The message, at this time, is globally relevant. In Avatar, as people, we are political in what interests us and what we care about, but Avatar, in our music, don't necessarily lean into that most of the time. Our value system informs what the songs end up being about and what perspective you take, but it rarely goes into whatever we vote for or don't vote for. I decide, in a sense, my view of how we as humans move forward is that we need as many people as possible around the table for discussion.
I don't think anyone could accuse me personally of being conservative, although I want them at the table. I want to fight them. I want the blob of humanity that we are when we come together to move forward collectively and ideas need to be challenged.
But there has to be a line in the sand. In our case with this song, it's fascism. Then you just choose to be the enemy of every other path forward that we should be taking and need to be taking.
Avatar, "Violence No Matter What" ft. Lzzy Hale
There's a certain [dialogue] in more than one place in the world right now — the promise of return to a former glory. [The rhetoric relays the message,] "Hey you, you're special and you're good because you are not like them and they took something from you. How much greater would it have been if it wasn't for them We can fix that together. We do it through ideology of violence and we're going make this or that great again. We're going to rise again. Remember we used to have one Reich and then we had that other Reich. How about the Third Reich? Yeah." That propaganda speak takes many different shape and forms and it's so harmful and dangerous.
A few years ago, there was some neo-Nazi rally thing going on in a smaller town in Sweden, which sucked of course.
The silver lining is that the people who went out to protest them came out in such a legion — a bigger crowd against the Nazis there. I saw a picture from that where a guy held up a picketing sign that roughly translated to, "I can't believe we still have to go out and protest this crap."
These kind of ideas... we thoroughly tried them out here in Europe roughly 80 years ago and it was bad news for everyone. No one had a good time at the end of that. It's an awful thing that has it happened and the way it did, at the very least we can expect to have learned our lesson. From time to time, we keep swimming deeper and further into dangerous waters with these kind of things. It feels like we are somewhere still in a period of that.
That's the song. All the things you could be and can be or should be or want to be or believe or don't believe... you don't get to be a fascist.
You've stated that heavy metal needs to be saved. Why does metal need to be saved and how will Avatar do that?
For starters, I'll say that obviously it's not like Avatar need to go and save Megadeth, for instance. There's plenty of good metal and all contemporary things coming around.
That being said, if I'm at the gym and I put on one of those playlists on Spotify — All New Metal or whatever — to see what's going on this week, I'm lucky if I enjoy 20 percent of it. It makes for bad lifting music. If I switched to hip-hop, there's something wrong.
There are a couple of things going on that I disagree with and we as a band disagree with. With metal, there's always been and always will be a technical aspect to what we do — the lads shred and we play fast and we make it physically demanding for ourselves when we push ourselves with ourselves.
If you lose yourself and smell your own farts too much, you might end up with something that is metal that is best enjoyed if you sit down and shut up. I think that kind of misses some of the point of what this music should be. Heavy metal is a subgenre of rock 'n' roll and rock 'n' roll is dance music. Our dancing is different — it hurts a bit more — but it's still movement to music. That's what we want — music that you can move to that creeps into the rest of your life.
That music that maybe [encourages us to drive] a little bit too fast or maybe we got motivated to lift [weights] just a little bit more. Or maybe it leads you to pee on a stick and see you are pregnant because someone got frisky. Music that has advanced and really infiltrated part of your life for real.
Don't get lost in the intellectual part. Another issue is production and losing touch with being organic and people trusting less and less in the beautiful sound of imperfections or the beautiful sound of humanity in music.
If you spend a lot of time recording those drums, but then maybe you use something like Beat Detective, which is it's auto-tune for drums. Now you sound perfect. Well, no, now you sound like a machine, but not quite yet because we couldn't afford to be in a certain studio, so we buy a sample bank, we replace all your hits with with some accomplished North Swedish drummer's hits instead. Now you sound like him but you don't sound like him because you're not playing on his albums and he didn't use that sample bank himself anyway.
You kill the DNA of your performance and it's not just drums — obviously this can be done in different ways with everything.
Then we all sit and wonder why Motorhead still sounds so rad — because it wasn't done like that. We have to lean into more of the humanity of it and there's a lack of that.
I say we're going to save heavy metal cause it's a funny, cocky thing to say, but there's definitely a part of this that we're doing that comes from not liking everything we hear.
Performance and theatricality are essential to the presentation of your music. Visually, how will you bring the songs to life on tour?
We've wrapped up production rehearsals as we are hitting the road here in Europe and the U.K., then short break and we'll do the continent before we head over to North America.
I feel like we're putting together the greatest show we have ever done. It's all about finding the balance. The correct term, as you say, is "theatrical." It's not theater and there's a difference. Going back to sit down and shut up music, there's also art forms that are made for you to sit down and shut up and they should be. I've been to the opera and I liked it, but that's not a metal show. We have theatrical moments to elevate certain parts of what we do and we have also built the most beautiful stage we have ever done. That gives a lot of room for spontaneity as well for the rock 'n' roll factor in what we're doing. You need a bit of both and I think we're hitting the perfect balance with that — it's dark, it's gritty, and, at the same time, glamorous and fabulous.
Thanks to Johannes Eckerstrom for the interview. Get your copy of 'Dance Devil Dance' here and follow Avatar on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Spotify. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.