Vampire Interview for PlanetMosh, April 2014

Vampire Album Cover

Vampire is a dark, heavy metal band from Sweden. Formed in 2011, the band released their sole demo in 2012. On the strength of that demo, and about 12 live shows, the band signed to Century Media Records. Currently waiting for just the right tour deal to come along, Vampire are forging ahead with their 2014 eponymous release. Vampire‘s Possessed / Bathory / Celtic Frost inspired tentacles reach into the past as well as the future, drawing in fans of everything from hard rock to grindcore, with a potent blend of mid-tempo crushers. Here, Iris North has a chat at length with Vampire’s articulate vocalist, Hand of Doom, about Vampire, the band’s sound, cultivating mystique, songwriting, horror fiction, some of the evils of “the music business”, and the band’s future plans…

Hello Vampire! Your album is great. Thank you so much for answering these questions. 

Thank you for your appreciation and for your interest in Vampire.

Please tell me about your debut. It’s killer. Who wrote the songs, who wrote the music, during what time period was the music written, and all that?

The way we write is usually that me or Black String (guitar – ed.) has a couple of riffs we think would mix well together, and that are maybe even put in sequence already, and we show each other each others’ ideas and try to decide what is good enough to continue working on, and possibly what of our respective ideas that go well together. If we are full band, we try new ideas ‘with drums and bass to it’ from scratch. But when only me and Black String are in the rehearsal room, we usually sit down with one guitar each in our lap. It usually ends with me adding something to an original idea of his, or vice versa, and we sit there playing those ugly riffs together, without the amps on, and just go “yes, that’s really something!”. Every now and then we will get into a sort of creative fit, and I’ll jump behind the drum kit, and we’ll start arranging the song ideas, and record really hideous sounding demo takes on our telephones’ voice recorders. Best case, these sketches eventually turn into proper songs, but that means a lot of, often less inspirational, work.

I suppose the condition for ever getting into these situations in the rehearsal room, is to have some material to throw around together in the first place. I usually get the very best ideas whenever I have five minutes while waiting for my eggs to boil in the early morning and pick up my acoustic guitar and sit down on the couch in my living room and just play… anything. The best ideas usually come in twos – e.g. the first two riffs in “At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse” were written like that, and the three riffs that make the verses in “Jaws of the Unknown” were put together in like ten minutes or so. The difficult part is to come up with really simple, but at the same time very rhythmic and primal, guitar stuff. Two ugly riffs that go very well together are usually more useful for making a new song than one really brilliant riff.

We wrote the very first songs for Vampire in the fall of 2011, if memory serves, and these are the ones that are on the demo. Two of those ended up on the album, which was recorded in the fall of 2013. The last couple of songs were finished only a few of weeks before we entered the studio, and as a member of the band I can hear a certain difference in terms of their level of detail, compared to the more carefully wrought out songs. Some songs go through any number of adjustments, additions and omissions before we’re happy with them, and honestly, these tend to be the very best ones. You can compare it with writing anything; if you are not an idiot, you revise your job application several times before submitting it to an employer. I would suggest the merit of spontaneous creativity is a myth, especially when it comes to metal.

You guys are attracting an entire generation of listeners who were born in to a world that had cassette tapes and vinyl records as “curiosities”, “collector’s items”, or “obsolete”. You’re sort of bringing that back in a little way by selling limited quantities of cassette tapes, back patches, etc. You’re introducing this young generation to analog production and analog distribution. What’s next?

We see very little self-worth in trying to bring 1995 back all over again; we are not on a mission to turn back time. Whatever we contribute to the current nostalgia cult is well balanced against all sorts of modern utilities we use to bring Vampire out there: Facebook, Bandcamp, Youtube, Skype interviews, etc. That our releases have become expensive collector’s item is nothing we aimed for, but is rather quite regrettable, considering the ugly mechanisms of greed it sets in motion in many of those who happens to own any of them. When we started releasing our music, we chose a format that we ourselves would like to buy from a new band. Since we all find homemade CD demos completely uninteresting, not least since it an unreliable format that will fuck up in 10 years’ time, we went for the cassette. Then again, you shouldn’t underestimate the power over your thoughts and actions of trends going on around you; obviously it helps if you e.g. have friends who run an independent cassette label and you don’t have to think or act very much at all to get a nice looking tape out there, which was the case with us. Nothing happens in a vacuum, or at least very little. However, as much as you may theorize over the way we help bringing something back in culture, the bottom line is we only act on some half-dead record collector instinct we haven’t managed to get ourselves rid of since our teens: when you had to pay up, or you wouldn’t be able to listen to music.

I did most of my intense and concentrated extreme metal listening during the years that metal was supposedly dead – all through the 90s in to the early 00s. There seems to be a rumor that metal died during those years. For me, that was the only time it was really alive. What are your memories of heavy metal in the 90s through 00s?

I must agree with you that I couldn’t at all relate to the notion that metal would have been “dead” during the 90s. What idiots draw up those heavily generalizing lines of music history anyway? You would probably have to go back to 1967 or something to find a bad year for metal music. People who understand metal as something which was massive in the 80s and faded away during the 90s get very little respect from me. Ever heard of something called Norwegian black metal? Give me a break.

On looking back, I definitely have the best knack of stuff released around year 2000, because that was when I was doing my fanzine, and got heaps of free CDs. Exploring the underground by editing your own fanzine was fantastic, especially at the time, which was of course before any conceivable record was available to everyone on the internet upon release. I managed to sneak my way into most of the bigger European record labels’ mailing lists and eventually had something in the mail box every single day when I came home from school. At “best” I could get 10 albums in a week, or more. Much of it was garbage of course, but I could trade away most of it and build up a respectable record collection without having to spend all the money it usually implies. Eventually it bugged me out, because it gets quite stressful to handle all that music, so once I had decided I had had it with the fanzine, I sent out an email where I asked all labels to stop sending me all that stuff, which I can of course regret now, thinking of it. Getting so much music in the mail makes you just skim through entire albums only to form an opinion about them. I cannot think of a certain album I bashed off that became huge, but one example of the kind of unfocused listening I talk about is the Thanatos re-releases put out in 2000 that I had no time for, but that I would probably appreciate much more today.

For a band who went right from the “demo tape stage” to the major label stage – like old times – how has that been? You decided to release the cassette tapes as a “hello, we exist” move, and then suddenly you’re signed to one of the oldest and biggest of the underground metal labels. 

It hasn’t been a big deal really. We are in our thirties, and have been in and out of bands since our teens, which means we have a rather clear picture of what we expect from a band, and from a label that band works with. Being on Century Media basically means that we get a proper budget to record, and can rest assure that the people we work with don’t tell lies but actually try their best to make it happen for us. However, it does not mean any economical success what so ever, and we are still basically limited to our own funds within the band to go out there and do stuff. It’s like dealing with any record label; only these guys are actually serious and experienced enough to not mean a lot of trouble and disappointments.

Someone mentioned “the usual mistakes of happy amateurs”. (as in, smaller labels making errors) What mistakes are those? What do you feel you avoided when you signed with a major indie label like Century Media?

To The Death was supposed to have released the demo as a 7” in 500 copies in October/November 2012, to sell on our two first gigs, but it was delayed until January 2013, which was after those gigs. To The Death tried to solve the problem by ordering another batch of 500 copies from another printing plant, which meant that we had two editions of 500 copies each delivered with only a week or so between them. One of those was pressed at 45 RPM and one at 33 RPM, despite identical labels and covers. And that’s all the bullshit we had to cope with in three months only. Imagine being on such a label for three years, or more.

About ending up on Century Media, we went with the label that seemed to be most respectful towards our artistic vision and that could front the money we needed to make a product that was good in all regards. I’d rather have 100,000 listeners than 100 listeners, and no underground credibility in the world could change that. If we wanted to “stay underground” at all costs, we could easily have released another demo tape with the same kind of songs and the same kind of production before the end of 2012, but we wanted to aim higher. It certainly doesn’t mean we get rich, or even earn a single dollar that we don’t re-invest into the band. But it lets us do what we like musically, and then reach out to as many listeners as possible.

Are you “full-time professional musicians” or do you have non-music-industry “day jobs”?

Yes, we all have other occupations than being musicians. Let’s save some of the relative mystique we have managed to stir here and not dwell too much upon things outside of the band.

What’s up with the fake names? I mean, Quorthon, Tom Angelripper, Ace Frehley, etc. have them so it’s not a bad thing and I’m definitely not against it. I’m just wondering why you chose to utilise anonymity in this digital age where attaching a name or brand to anything – a sound, even an idea – seems so vital.

The only master plan there ever was about our anonymity was that we wanted to let Vampire start with a clean slate, and see how the music could stand on its own two feet. For all people knew, the members of Vampire could have been 15 or 50, newly introduced to the metal sound or experienced players since decades back. Moreover, it was a way to give the listener a full package and uphold the artistic quality of Vampire, down to the smallest detail. Having our Christian names listed in the cover artwork would take away something, we figured. Once people started showing interest, we understood that it actually fuelled the flames that no one knew who we were, and at times it almost seemed like people were attracted first and foremost to the mystery of Vampire. If that filled a need among people, we were happy to cater to that.

As we started playing live, though, we realized we had two options. We could either dress up like a circus gimmick band like Kiss, or we could show exactly how little we treasured all this anonymous hush-hush bullshit and just go up on stage and do our thing. I think somehow the nihilistic attitude we showed with going for the latter alternative impressed people more than if we would have hidden behind masks up until now. The whole secrecy around who we are probably mattered to raise interest in and create an aura of mystery around Vampire, but it hardly matters very much now, and I would be sorely disappointed if I learnt that people like our music less because they know who the idiots in the band are.

Someone in the band said they’d like 16-year old death freaks to want your albums in 20 years… that will make most of the band much older then their fanbase. As ‘content creators’ and artists, how will you aim to stay relevant?

I’m very far from sure we will, but I like to think that we are relevant to people listening to us today, because we somehow strike a note and touch people’s emotions in a way they find exciting or pleasurable. If the year is 1994, 2014 or 2034 doesn’t matter very much, as I believe qualitative music is timeless, at least to the people who were really touched by it in the first place. Then again, there are VERY few bands, and yet ever fewer styles of music, that stay exactly as refreshing and interesting as they were at the top of their game. Personally, I can’t think of one single band that I have liked exactly as much as when I first discovered it, granted that band has been known to me during at least the last 8 years or so. Bands age, some of them well, but I can’t think of any way to steer away from the fact that everything comes and goes in waves. Hell, even Iron Maiden were referred to your local student fraternity shack in the mid 90s, and these days it’s almost impossible to imagine they weren’t always the undisputable kings of heavy metal. I don’t flatter myself with the idea that Vampire will “stay relevant”, because I’m sure we will not. In 20 years’ time, though, to go back to the departure point of your question, chances are that our kind of music is AGAIN considered cool, which would mean the occasional 16-year-old would dust off Vampire and save it from the bargain bin.

Are you aiming for exclusivity? Will yu be one of those ‘we only play out once a year’ bands that sell out their shows in minutes because of their rarity? 

Something we discovered is that once you release an album on a reasonably big label, people start throwing all sorts of crazy tour deals after you, but if you don’t want to end up paying for playing your own gigs you will have to pick very carefully. Touring in Europe (and hopefully beyond) is something we all would love doing, but the right offer hasn’t come up yet. Touring, especially overseas, is a big economical risk without the proper back-up and preparations; just look at our friends in In Solitude who got themselves into a real mess of a situation on their last visit to the US. Right now, our label is looking into the possibility of sending us on tour with two somehow similar bands that we know we get along with fine during early winter 2014. I cannot say anything more than that as of now, though.

We are not aiming for exclusivity, but rather for touring options that can meet this rather simple demand: someone pays for us to play, and takes responsibility that we can move safely from one city to the next and get the chance to sleep comfortably in a horizontal position during night time. For one reason or another, this modest arrogation is frowned upon as absolutely outrageous in large parts of the music industry, which is probably rather telling of the structure of the entire system. Something tells me this has changed during the last 10 years or so, and we are not interested in partaking in any of that degrading idiocy new bands are expected to jump on without a single thought.

You have played a couple of live gigs, and have a couple more planned. Does the crowd have favorites yet? If they do, what song or songs are those? Do you guys get the old-school circle pits going?

As far as I have been able to tell, the demo songs still seem to be most rooted among our listeners, especially “At Midnight I’ll Possess Your Corpse”, which we always start with, and “Under the Grudge”, which we typically end the set with. Both of these are easy enough to sing along to during the chorus, which I guess make them ideal songs to play live. I haven’t seen any circle pits during our gigs, or maybe some of it when we played in London, but it feels like a very Anglo-Saxon kind of metal/hardcore listening behavior and isn’t anything we are used to up north. If people stand still and can’t take their eyes off the stage, I am more than happy. If they walk away, you should be worried.

Do you play live as a 5 piece band, or are those guys replacing a couple of members in the original ‘power trio’ for the live setting?

As you can see on the album cover artwork, there are four members in Vampire these days. We are always flanked by a second guitarist live, but who it is varies from time to time. So far, we have worked with guitarists who are already occupied with their own bands, which sometimes makes it difficult to make schedules match. As long as the core of the band stays intact, it doesn’t really matter who joins in to help us out, though.

What made you decide on an analog recording? It’s said to be the ‘hip’ or ‘in’ thing to do with collectors in “the underground”, but it’s not necessary to record in analog to release a cassette tape or vinyl album. Are you courting a collector’s or boutique market?

I guess it is hip to say you have all sorts of organic/analogue/whatever ideals for your sound, and then it all sounds shit anyway. To be sure, you don’t have to record analogue to release the music on analogue formats. You would probably be surprised if you saw the stuff we recorded the demo tape on, keeping in mind how that recording sounds, but it is more a matter of how well you know the technology you are using than about what stuff you use. We turned to Svenska Grammofonstudion for a number of reasons, not least because it is very close to where we live, practically within walking distance from my apartment, and we knew some of the guys who worked there before. Oskar Lindberg is an academically trained sound engineer with years of experience, which means we could be confident he would make the very best of our quite modest economic means. What we didn’t want was another one of those scene productions where you can listen for five seconds and then pinpoint what studio they used. I cannot think of any metal band that has recorded at SGS before us, which is very good.

The band has talked about trying to get a certain ‘over the top’ ‘humor’ across to the listeners. But the lyrics seem very serious. Your website doesn’t have a lyric sheet, so what lyric message are you funneling to listeners? I’ve heard that it’s got some dark horror?

There is nothing, or at least very little, humor in our lyrics. What we mean by including an element of humor in the music is rather exactly about that: the music. I would suggest that MOST good death metal has an element of humor in the musical expression, were there is a tone of either almost comical violence or a weird feeling that anything can happen… As I just proved, this is not very easy to put into words. Let me give you an example: listen to the drum playing in “The Heretic” by Possessed. There is a brilliant nonchalance in the way it is just bashed out without a single care in the world for what the other members are playing or how it “should” be done. That is one example of the kind of “humor” we see in death metal. Not very funny? Of course, it’s not about fun, but about experiencing something dark and violent with good spirits.

We always try and get the same feeling from putting our songs together. The ideal Vampire song is a song that manages to stir a great deal of energy in the listener and raise some good spirits, and simultaneously evoke a dark and foreboding atmosphere of doom and the uncanny. Think of a really eerie and murky horror film that makes your skin crawl. Then think of a brilliant metal song that makes you want to laugh because it’s so good; Vampire should be in the very middle of these two feelings. We are all about positive feelings, but positive feelings can be very strange indeed.

As the main lyricist of Vampire, I obviously draw lots of inspiration from horror fiction, not least contemporary horror literature from Sweden (I can recommend Andreas Marklund and Anders Fager). I am a fan since childhood, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the other members in the band share that interest. I would say most of the horror flavor present on the album comes from me, being an avid follower of anything horror for the last 20 years or so and a big fan of that sort of inclusions in metal. But things wouldn’t appear on the album if not everyone in the band liked them. There certainly is a general idea to strive for a certain uneasy, uncanny, or ghastly atmosphere in the music of Vampire, and where that impulse comes from, I really don’t know. We all like spooky, dark, and unsettling moods in music, be it the weird noise of The Birthday Party or the mournful grimness of Burzum, and combining that passion with the energy and attitude of 80s death metal is definitely an ambition we mean to make the most of in the future. Serious or not, well it’s both at the same time. There is no way you have to appear serious all the time in order to be serious with what you do.

Someone in the band mentioned liking a bunch of horror movies, one of them being “low budget”. I thought of YouTube concert videos when I saw that phrase “low budget”. What do you think of YouTube and it’s ubiquitous “digital distribution” of music? Do you think a music discovery site like YouTube would help, or not help, Vampire? 

What I meant by low-budget probably had nothing to do with Youtube, but with films produced outside of the film studio economy with meager, yet sufficient means. Youtube has undeniably helped spread the music of Vampire, but if it has done so in a desirable way or not is another question. e.g., instead of preserving the experience of seeing Vampire live for those who were there, anyone anywhere can have a muggy video shot with the same kind of crap sound you can expect from a telephone recorder, minus everything about a live gig that you cannot catch on video or tape. I am not an enemy of modern technology, but considering the sort of momentum we had in the wake of the demo release, it would probably have been better if people abroad had only heard OF our live gigs than had been able to see them for themselves during the first year or so.

I use Youtube myself every once in a while to check out bands and avoid buying blindly like you were referred to in your teens. Apparently, it is the most widely used music channel of all possible streaming services out there. There are probably ways to use it in more creative ways than we have done so far, but it’s fine as long as people who are interested in what we are doing can check us out to see what we are about.

You guys have found that time-tested, good music formula. You’ve found a niche vacated by (at least) Celtic Frost, Usurper, and Bathory, and you’re happily wedged in there now. What’s in Vampire’s future cards: where does Vampire go from here?

Hopefully we go on tour this winter. Then there will most likely be some kind of release from us before the end of the year, but that’s merely plans as of now and there is really nothing more to say about it right now. As far as I can see, we will at least remain relevant throughout this year…

Do you have any parting words for your fans or readers?

Sök och du skall finna.

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About Iris North

My formal position is: editor and music reviewer. I joined the PlanetMosh army in 2012. I enjoy extreme metal, 'shred' guitar, hard rock, prog rock, punk, and... silly pop music!
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