Mike Exley Speaks To Messiah & Leif

When anyone talks about re-unions, and, my God, there are certainly plenty of them about at the moment, all bands should realistically book an appointment with Candlemass bass player Leif Edling before committing themselves. Don't ask too many questions, it's been a long and arduous journey for the man from Stockholm - a journey which has involved several impromptu albums with line up's that have then gone onto implode spectacularly or in some cases produce only the most underground of releases, but just listen, because in the November of 2004 he hit on what was probably going to be the last chance for his number one line up to come back together, the new album simply entitled “Candlemass” which upon its release entered the National Charts at home at No.7 and has been one of their most successful releases to date. What’s more, as vocalist Messiah Marcolin explains to Mike Exley just prior to a recent London show, 2005 has been a whirlwind ever since on the back of it.......

So, Messiah, your feet really haven’t touched the ground then?

M - “Well, it’s really all been about keeping our feet on the ground and communicating! Without going into all the background as to why this band has come this far, this was the main reason we’d broken up so many times and it needed to be fixed. We’d tried to discuss new albums via email, tried to talk about ideas without really communicating and this is, of course, very unhealthy. So, when we met up again in 2004 at Mappe (rhythm guitarist Matts Bjorkman)’s wedding, we had a big meeting and decided, despite our different opinions, that we had to discuss ideas face to face or by phone and not get bogged down in our own opinions of things like songs, cover artwork, etc.. Mappe and Leif already had material written of course, Lars (Johansson) was on board and it was really my call. I had to apologise for some previous failings on my part, of course, but the whole band is much more mature in its approach to itself as an entity………… It’s all about compromise and making things happen now. This, funnily enough, is our first series of major back to back shows since then. We’ve done festivals and visited several countries, but this is the first full tour, and so far, it’s very positive.”

Your record company Nuclear Blast have been very supportive and the fans seem to be over the moon that your back. Is this your time do you feel?

M - “Well, we’ve certainly paid our dues over the years. In the old days, we signed some pretty unusual contracts as all young bands do, we toured anywhere the van would go, we worked pretty hard, so if we are going to be successful now, it’s a nice time for it to happen but we’re realistic too, of course! This is why we invested a lot of time in making the re-masters series of albums we did so up to date, working very hard on the contract with Nuclear Blast and putting as much into the festivals and other shows we’ve been offered. We’ve got a proper manager now, the studio experience was tremendous - everyone in the same room for something like 10 days and some great recordings - a little like doing “Nightfall” - and we really couldn’t be happier.”

The feel of the “Candlemass” album was incredibly fresh. Was that a direct result of the new openness’ in the band?

M - “Exactly. Most of the songs are done in no more than two takes, one in fact - ‘Born In A Tank’ - I actually did in one take because I had a particularly good spaghetti carbonara before it, but there was a very good mood in the studio and it really made the recording enjoyable. This feeling has carried on right through into the touring now too. We’ve only done a couple of weeks so far - it’s the first long tour since 1991 - but it sure beats the hell out of working in a warehouse, which is my actual day job when I’m at home. Yuck!”

OK. Let’s come to you specifically for a moment. If the band had not carried on, what would you have done? There’s a wonderful bit on the latest DVD “The Curse Of Candlemass“, where you say that if this was the case you’d like Eric Wagner to get kicked out of Trouble?

M - “ Ha! Ha! No, of course I don’t want that, but it’s always been my dream and my gift to be involved with music. I idolised Kiss, Trouble and many other bands but I’ve always dreamed of making music somehow. Trouble actually played that night in 2003 when we recorded the DVD. Force Of Evil were on the bill (their DVD is already available) and I actually have, on the bus at the moment, the rough copy of the Trouble one. They’re an amazing band. There were no overdubs that night; it was so raw, so excellent.”

“I wish we could tour with them, you know? We kind of struggled to get a tour this time around actually. I suppose we’re sort of ‘untested territory’ now for promoters and the original packages with Cathedral / Nevermore had never really got beyond the planning stage; but Annihilator dropped off this tour and the Destruction guys were more than accommodating to us. They’re a great bunch, Nuclear Blast worked very hard and this is really good for us.”

How long can you realistically go on with this before Nuclear Blast start to ask about the future?

M - “Well, we’ve already begun to consider this and Leif has already written some basic ideas. I think we’ll start to work on those in the New Year and then we have plans for a new album next year. What’s important for me, is that we keep the consistency and the power that is Candlemass. People often label us as a Doom band, and that’s OK, but we’re also a very strong Metal band and that must never change. I want to be Dio, man. Always keeping to the essential heart of your music. I actually met Ronnie several times this summer, on festivals, and he’s one of the most genuinely nice people you can meet. One of the vocalists I admire the most is Ian Gillan by the way, also. If I had to find one guy who is a true inspiration for me, purely for singing, on Machine Head etc., it would have to be him.”

The DVD was filmed in 2003. Have any of your views changed now? You were quoted as being fairly uncomplimentary about Chapter VI in particular and some of Leif’s releases when you were outside the band?

M - “I still cannot watch some of the stuff on that DVD, not because I don’t like what Leif has done but simply because someone else is singing my parts? I mean, Leif is the songwriter in this band, we leave most of that to him because he has a wealth of fresh ideas all the time but I think that that is why Candlemass is the band it is. Of course, when the demos get to us, things change subtly in vocal presentation, or drum parts whatever, but you’ll still see Leif driving most of the songs forward because he’s the best at it. Lars has a side project which he writes material for, I am still working on a solo album for sometime in the future (God knows when!), but as far as Candlemass is concerned, it’s Leif.”

“At the moment, it’s vital that this line up develops again; you understand? There’s still a lot more that these people, together, can offer. Of course, if somebody has to drop out, like Mappe has had to do for a few dates on this tour so far, then you have to adapt, but for now, all the members get on well, we all respect each other a lot more and we want to exploit that new sense of strength by touring and making records again. Because we have the groundwork behind us, we have fans all over the world and it’s pretty cool to be able to say, yes, let’s go and play there. We know so and so will turn up at the show and the fans will enjoy it. It’s only Japan who seem not to get it - I never did understand that?”


M - “Well, we’ve always had this strange relationship with Japan? I don’t know why. Maybe, because we never had a particularly good distribution there or whatever, but they don’t seem to like Candlemass. Maybe we’re just too sad for them or something?”

Surely they’d get the new set with the superb combination of old and new energies?

M - “I hope so. One of the great things about the band now, for me, is the energy that we still generate on stage. It’s almost more important that we make sure the crowd enjoy it than we do now. The new songs fit very, very well and even though, occasionally crowds haven’t heard the new material, they still seem to feed off the one’s who have and generate a really good feeling. Some of the newer places we’ve been to, like Russia were really cool, so I’m very happy about where the band is sitting in the whole scheme of things right now.”

Yes, the roadmap. Where do you think you are in the grand scheme? Many bands have adopted your Doom label - Sleep, Grand Magus, Reverend Bizarre, even Nightwish; just to name a few?

M - “Well, I’m always very honoured if someone cites us as an influence and I love some of those bands, especially Reverend Bizarre actually, but of course, it’s not just our label! We ourselves are influenced by bands like Pentagram and Black Sabbath - I’ve just bought the first three re-mastered Pentagram albums and they’re great.”

Your singing style has stayed very unique. Did you ever have lessons to hone the style?

M - “No, not really. When I joined Candlemass, I think my father paid for three weeks of lessons with this old woman whose only advice was to have stomach support when I sing. But, my style is just basically the only way I know how to sing. Of course, this got me in trouble with these guys when I quit originally but we all now accept that that was really a gross misunderstanding which was more down to the negative feelings that were around at the time.”

“Over the years, I’ve increased the control over my voice. I can sing slow vibrato, vary the pace and the dynamics - but in the beginning, on “Nightfall” or “Ancient Dreams” it was pretty much the same. It’s maturity, like much of this band; being more professional. I don’t sing as high as I used to, in fact, as a band we’ve actually tuned down a notch or so and I think that that makes it even heavier than on the album. A half tone down form D. When we did all the festivals, with me singing high, it was real unhealthy for the voice. I don’t drink before a show, like some singers can, but still I had to protect the voice. Now, it’s much easier and I can sing night after night without straining it.”

“I have a very unusual singing style. I sing with my whole body. When I rehearse songs at home, I’m drenched in sweat because my whole body is on the move. That vocal teacher told me, “You should be relaxed when you sing. The shoulders relaxed, the posture right.” I’m like, so tense I want to kill somebody or at least, look as if I’m about to. The adrenaline works on me a lot. At the start of this tour, I actually had a very strong cold but as soon as I hit the stage, that energy took over.”

Comment on the DVD. It’s an interesting package?

M - “Those things are unusual in a way. You don’t see a great deal of money from them, but as a promotional thing they’re nice for the fans. There’s a few unusual songs on there - ‘Ancient Dreams‘, ‘Black Stone Wielder’ - that we don’t play very often, so that’s good too. It’s an honest piece of footage too. There’s the interview on there which was important, and some older stuff which many people may not even remember; like Mike Wead playing in Candlemass; and that was a long time ago.”

Finally, hopefully Leif is able to join us. Your perspective on the whole situation now too, Leif?

Leif - “Well, I have to admit that things are really, really good right now. There is a lot of respect in the band, everyone really gets on well and as Messiah said earlier, I believe, this is already creating some new ideas for me which we hope to build into an album next year. I think it will be on a parallel with this one, maybe a twin (but not a clone!) - the three or four ideas I have already are very strong and after the tour I’ll try and demo those and we’ll start rehearsals again with new material - then, we’ll see.”

“All the ideas that are coming to me now represent something completely new for me. “Candlemass” was brand new material - I destroyed all my old tapes, binned everything, took a hammer and crushed the lot and the new album will be just as fresh. It might be a bit darker than this one. This, for me, is kind of like our white album. White cover, the cross is the right way up, we’re very positive…………..”

Messiah - “Yes, time for some negative shit now, eh? Great!!”

Leif - “Yes, but I think it’s time for that again, and that our people can handle that now!”

Messiah - “You know; Candlemass has always had that mixture of ideas. Here, ‘Black Dwarf’ could be about the tabloid press, it is about them in fact, but also it could be about a black dwarf; literally a double meaning, fantasy and reality. Candlemass has a fantastic image; my habit, the crosses on stage (which they still can’t use in London!); it’s not just T shirts and jeans and beer swilling? But, we still can talk about real life from within that. I don’t want to trot out the same clichés…………”

Leif – “For me, ‘Black Dwarf’ is kind of our ‘Neon Knights‘. Some people have called the title “Cheesy” but it’s an instant song, very memorable, so if people remember it, I don’t necessarily mind if they criticise it for its title. This is our reputation catching up with us - we must be slow, and dark, doom metal, whatever. But, we always had fast songs - we always opened albums with fast songs - ‘Mirror, Mirror', stuff like that, so I don’t think it’s that different. It’s just a great album from this line up that complements this line up. It’s as though we are not allowed to do this. As though the doom element has become like this monster? Some of the new wave of Doom has become really too slow for me. You should be able to nod your head at least.”

Messiah - “I look at this from the perspective of ‘Witches‘. On the demo and the DVD, actually, that is quite a slow song but in the studio it’s very much up tempo and it sounds very natural like that. More like we now play it live. I was saying, “Could we just try it a bit faster”, in the studio and everyone was like, “Are you sick…” But, it worked strangely and that’s great. Candlemass, for me at least, is now a very special, much more democratic band and I’m really looking forward to seeing out this tour and then exploring how far we can take this.”

Thanx to Mike for the interview.

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