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With imminent debut full-length release 'An Empty Frame' showing that Sweden's Soliloquium have moved on and up from their Anathema and Katatonia et al influences, it seemed like a good time to have an extended chat about the band...

Interview with Soliloquium.

Soliloquium founder: guitarist/vocalist Stefan Nordström.

(1) Hello Stefan, and thanks for agreeing to be interviewed for Doom-Metal.com. Could we start with a formal introduction to our readers: who are you and where are you from?

Hi. Thanks right back for interviewing us! We’re Soliloquium, a death/doom metal project from Stockholm, Sweden. The band’s long-term line-up consists of me on vocals and guitars, and Jonas Bergkvist on bass. It’s essentially a solo project in terms of songwriting, but Jonas has been a part of it from the start.

(2) The earliest record I can find of you in is 2009, with Death Metal bands Desolator and Ending Quest. What was your musical background before that?

I started playing guitar and growling around 2003-2004, and I was rehearsing with various short-lived projects in the Stockholm area. Some of the people in those projects went on to play in fairly successful bands, and others just decided to cut their hair and get a proper job, haha. I was a pretty slow musical learner, so I’m quite glad that I didn’t get much pre-Desolator stuff on tape! I have no formal or informal musical schooling at all. It has mostly about been about covers and riffs in Guitar Pro.

(3) I understand Desolator almost turned out as Death/Doom, originally. What were your main influences and inspirations going into that project, and how did that figure in the eventual choice to perform Death Metal?

Well, we essentially just got into the (then) drummer’s living room and started rehearsing. There really wasn't any influential blueprint. We did a lot of Katatonia – “Murder”, but somehow we just felt the style wasn’t quite right for us. Back to basics old school death metal became a good starting point, since both me and Joakim (also on vocals and guitars) were shitty guitarists and fairly decent growlers at the time. So it was all simple powerchords and tremolos and the catchiest vocal lines we could fathom at the time. Beside our lack of skill, everyone in the band was into old school Swedish death metal music. It was in the beginning of the nostalgia boom, before the scene became overcrowded. We moved on from the style since then, but we still perform some of the old tunes live.

(4) What do you consider the main distinctions between Desolator and Ending Quest, given that they're both simultaneously active, and working in the same genre?

They’re bigger than people might think. We want to create something original and more serious with Desolator, which took us in a progressive direction. It really feels like we did something quite out of the box on “Spawn of Misanthropy”, even though it didn’t get noticed by many people. Ending Quest is just for having fun with old school death metal clichés, nothing else. I really doubt we will release anything more with that project, unless I go on a crazy Dismember/Autopsy kick and write an album worth of songs in two weeks.

Soliloquium: Stefan with Jonas Bergkvist (bass).

(5) Soliloquium was a later formation, in 2011, with Jonas Bergkvist - bandmate from both other bands. You describe it as starting as a Desolator side-project. How did that come about? Was it at all shaped by the early ideas for Desolator?

I think I was just jamming Guitar Pro riffs in my home music setup and realized it was good enough to release for real. It was one of those things that took a couple of years of “well, maybe I should actually record that stuff”. It was a period of experimentation and well, gambling, since no one in the recording process really had a practical idea what they were doing. I played rather sloppy on everything but rhythm guitars, and the amping and mixing/mastering was a first time experience for the person who did it as well. People on the internet seem to spin “Garden of Truculence” and “Autumn State” and enjoy them anyway, though. I like them as songs, but some of the playing is a bit off.

Soliloquium’s material has no connection to the Desolator music, but I had been writing death/doom metal with another friend for a bedroom project that never got anywhere. Some of those riffs wound up in “Remnants of Dying Dreams” on our EP “The Concept of Escape”, as well “Eye of the Storm” on “An Empty Frame”. There’s another old riff (2005-2006) coming up in a song for the next album as well.

(6) You got the demo release 'When Silence Grows Venomous' out in early 2012, and it scored pretty highly with critics. Were you satisfied with it? Did it achieve what you wanted at the time?

I think we’ve always scored well with Soliloquium and Ending Quest in reviews, ironically not so much with Desolator which is the full-time band. The problem was the one we’ve always had (and still have); the ones who hear it usually like it, but there’s just not enough people getting to the “play” button. At that point I was just glad to get the EP out. It made me realize that I was capable of doing a different music style.

Soliloquium – 'With Or Without' (Album preview video):

(7) You've said the style of the band develops each time you write a new song: despite that, do you have a particular compositional process in the way you go about writing? What sorts of things inspire you to start on a new track?

There are no boundaries or timetables at all. Generally, I just sit at home and jam with my digital guitar effects and Guitar Pro foundations in my headphones. Many times I just save a memorable riff or melody and leave it at that, and some day it hopefully connects with some other part in my library. I literally have hundreds of short Guitar Pro tabs lying around from over ten years of jamming, so there are a lot of ideas to borrow.

Sometimes I just get to the point where I realize “damn, this is turning into a song”. I think there usually is a defining moment when the material goes from a riff and turns into a full entity that communicates something. For that reason, or because of that experience, I’m becoming less anal about writing great individual riffs all the time and more focused on the overall picture. I think “With or Without” from the new one is a good example of that; there is no big main riff in there, it’s more about five or six atmospheric parts playing eachother off in a very rewarding way.

When it comes to composing tracks I’ve had riffs lying around for years, and I’ve composed tracks in a couple of hours. Musically, I wrote the song “Crossroads” in one of those spur of the moment jams, and it wound up being the opener on the “The Concept of Escape” EP. Lyrically, it can come about in many ways. I think the best lyrics are the phrases that just come to my head when I’m not even playing music. “Eye of the Storm”, “With or Without” and “Procession” were all lyrical concepts that started with a couple of words while I was on the move outside.

(8) 2013 saw the first EP, 'The Concept of Escape', released on CDr by Symbol of Domination, then there was 2014's 'A Night of Burdens', done independently. Could you not find a suitable label to move forward with, or did you just prefer to handle the second EP yourself?

“The Concept of Escape” didn’t really feel like a label release, since it was more of an underground CDr thing. We didn’t really try that hard with labels around that time, to be honest. I think we got interested in getting one after “A Night of Burdens”, and then we got stuck in the recording process for the album. I’m really glad we found Transcending Records, since the owner Mike is a guy who really gets the death/doom music style.

(9) It was nice to see Transcending Records pick up all the earlier material - demo, and EPs - and give it a release earlier this year as the 'Absence' compilation. How did you get involved with the US-based label: did you seek them out, or did they find you?

They found us through Facebook, if I remember correctly. I’m glad we did “Absence”, since I felt the older material got its proper CD release. It didn’t get much interest though, so I’m really hoping “An Empty Frame” does better in terms of sales and exposure.

Soliloquium merchandise available at Transcending Records:

(10) And did that have any bearing on the recent release of your full-length debut, 'An Empty Frame'? Was it already complete and waiting for a label release, or finished later as a continuation of the partnership?

The recording process for “An Empty Frame” was horrible. It took years to finish what should have been finished in 2014. I kept the label slightly in the dark after getting “Absence” out since I wasn’t sure if it was ever going to get finished. Luckily, Transcending wanted to release it the day we finally had a finished product.

(11) Backtracking a moment - the cover of The Cranberries 'Zombie'. I hated the original's pedestrian, sub-U2 triteness and dull grunge-rock sound. Whatever made you think a Swedish band doing a brutal cover of an Irish political protest song would work as well as it did?!

It was also one of those things from the “hmm, maybe we should just try it?” department that stayed there for a long time. I’ve always liked the darkness of the original song, and it has a doomy 4/4 beat as well an abrasive vocal delivery. When I started playing it with the metal distortion and the extra lead guitars I immediately realized I had something cool going on, and that feeling was nothing compared to the first time I growled it in the studio. I couldn’t believe how well it came together. It’s fun to watch its progress on YouTube, around 40,000 views now and there is always someone there to either love it or hate it. It's so polarizing. No one thinks it’s only an OK version!

Soliloquium – 'Zombie' (The Cranberries cover):

(12) Getting back to the point - I've just reviewed 'An Empty Frame', and we always like to give artists the opportunity to respond 'on the record', as it were: are there any comments you'd like to make on that review, whether good or bad?

I was extremely glad when I read that review. Since it was only previously heard by people in the band’s inner circle, I had no idea what to expect in terms of outside opinions. I guess this bodes really for it! The most important part is that the musical concepts rang through properly, because I have been actively branching out. “An Empty Frame” is not a straight death/doom metal album, and we’re not just the more catchy version of October Tide anymore. How well that came across makes me even happier than the grade itself. Really solid writing.

(13) Have you had much other feedback for the album yet, from either press or fans? Has it been generally positive and encouraging?

It's been positive! Most people who have listened to our pre-release lyric video for “With or Without” on YouTube seem to enjoy it. The first two reviews have been 8,5/10 and 8/10 which is also beyond what I expected. I'm pretty excited to hear people's reactions. Once again, the problem is the volume rather than the reaction. Hopefully we can create some more buzz this time.

(14) One thing I am curious about - it's often the case, in extreme Doom genres, that harsh vocals get more forgiveness and an easier ride than cleans. It sounds to my ear, though, that you're more comfortable and natural with cleans - is that an accurate perception? And would you like to change the balance of vocals in any respect?

Interesting question! You're probably the first person who ever said that the cleans sound more natural. I'm more experienced as a growler, but I enjoy doing the clean vocals more nowadays. If I sing at home, it usually winds up being calm singer/songwriter stuff (Nick Drake, Damien Jurado, Neil Halstead). I don't really have much in terms of a melodic compass though, so doing them in a live band is out of the question. I've gotten some critique for my clean vocals earlier, and it literally took years to get them somewhat in order, even in the studio. I think I got to some half-way point where I found some control to go along with the passion.

I think the balance depends on the music I write. I'm satisfied with the balance on “An Empty Frame”, because the clean vocals really light up the songs when they come in. It was also fun to finally belt out a couple of real choruses with them this time, as opposed to the shy alt-rock stylings I've been doing earlier. It's not impossible that I'd release something shoegaze or acoustic in the future with only clean vocals with Soliloquium, actually.

Complete discography: Demo 'When Silence Grows Venomous' (2012), EP 'The Concept Of Escape' (2013), EP 'A Night Of Burden' (2014), Compilation 'Absence' (2016) and 'An Empty Frame' (2016).

(15) Do you have any favourite, or essential, equipment that you use live or in the studio? If money was no object, are there any particular items you'd love to add to that?

I'm a strange musician in that sense. I don't really care about equipment or studio stuff at all, it's all about writing songs. I suppose a couple of neat $5,000 dollar guitars in different tunings would be nice if money wasn't an issue. I think the last guitar I bought (7-string Jackson Dinky) was over 10 years ago, haha.

(16) One question I always ask: what do you consider to be the essential qualities of Doom, and how do you go about realising them in your music?

Hmm.. I'm unsure about doom as a complete musical umbrella since I don't really listen much to the stoner and classic type stuff. But the reason I listen to the doom bands I do is usually since they can portray music as a landscape and create associations. Some Katatonia songs brings me straight back to good and bad moments from ten years ago, for instance. I've heard an account like this about a Soliloquium song (“Crossroads”) once from a fan, and it was a proud moment. I hope to get more of those accounts in the future!

(17) Maybe it's a little early to be asking, but have you any plans for the band right now? Any further recording in the pipeline?

Since “An Empty Frame” had so many delays we already started recordings for the next album. All the guitars, growls and half the bass is done. I do need to find a session drummer to handle the drums though. I'm really hoping we can be quick about it and release it in 2017.

(18) I haven't seen any mention of it, so do you perform live as Soliloquium? Would you like to, and is it a possibility at some time?

No, we've never even rehearsed as a full band. Come to think of it, I don't even think there has been two instruments playing together when learning the songs. A true bedroom metal project! In some kind of ideal dream scenario where I'd only do vocals I could to the live thing, but I think it's going to stay a studio project. I don't think this particular music style is that exciting to watch live either.

(19) And in the longer term, do you have any particular vision for where you'd like to take the band? Any idea how would you like it to be spoken of, looking back from sometime in the future?

I just want to keep developing the concept of the band and writing music I want to listen to myself. It feels like a have a lot of material in me, so it's probably more about working hard to make it into a final product than having a creative vision. It would be cool to achieve some kind of Doom:VS status, become a genre staple without being a band in the traditional sense.

(20) So, what else occupies your time outside of music? Is there anything you'd particularly like to be doing, given a free hand to indulge?

Except music it's basically two things: working out (mainly running) and travelling. Since I work full time it's a stretch to even get close to my goals in any of the three areas. If I get enough free time to travel somewhere I usually do it. The last two vacations I've been away in foreign for the full four weeks I was free, something that will likely continue.

Soliloquium – 'Absence' (Complete album):

(21) One final question - it's a bit of a generalisation, but one of the things I do find about Swedish bands is that they might not be united in style - and, obviously, the Gothenburg Melodeath sound is the one that's most likely to spring to mind - but, regardless of actual genre, there always seems to be a real polish and attention to detail on releases. Is there some sort of national characteristic or ethos that lends itself to that sort of perfectionism?

I'm unsure if I agree that it's a typical Swedish thing, but I think it might come from the fact that we have good studios and equipment, rather than only the musical side. That's also a generalization from my side though. I just have a feeling there is more high-tech stuff going on. Also, I've got the feeling that we have a lot of talented studio nerds everywhere that aren't really that expensive to hire. That makes it easier for bands without label support to release rather professional sounding music. I don't think I would associate Sweden or Swedish society with overall perfectionism though.

(21) To close, I hope we've given you the chance to present a good picture of the band as it is today, but if there is anything you'd like to add, the last words are yours.

Not much to add except that we're grateful for any kind of support from our fans. We're a small band, and every word of mouth action in real life or online matters!

Then it only remains for me to thank you again for your time and participation, and hope that you'll have success with the release of 'An Empty Frame'.

Thanks a lot for interviewing me, and for the kind review as well!

Click HERE to discuss this interview on the doom-metal forum.

Visit the Soliloquium bandpage.

Interviewed on 2016-10-06 by Mike Liassides.
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