Dom Smith drops in (virtually) to talk to Johannes Eckerström, the lead singer of the metal band AVATAR. Topics include lockdown, how he defines success, what AVATAR means as a band, their new album and a surprising metaphor about an onion.
Lockdown can be a productive time for people, and that was true for Johannes as his lockdown consisted of work and family time, “Most of the days I’m absolutely fine, me and my wife have lots of work to do anyway, that we can do from home, I keep a good exercise regimen and its summer so we can be outside.” We talk about gaming as well, with Johannes talking about his new-found enjoyment of Xbox. “Cause I got the Xbox One late, then usually I like those games that are small little masterpieces, in terms of length of content, like Portal or that style.”
Formed in 2001 in Gothenburg, the death metal band AVATAR consists of Jonas Jarlsberg, John Alfredsson, Johannes Eckerström, Tim Öhrström and Henrik Sandelin. They have released seven albums since their inception and are on the verge of releasing their new project ‘Hunter Gatherer’ on the 7th of August this year.
In terms of defining success and what it means for Johannes and the band: “how I personally feel about what we’re doing and what we’re making.” Johannes continues by saying “We’re very good at making peace with that every time, that sense of ‘well we like it’, and we are the only five people who truly have to live with this music for the rest of our lives.”
Being a metal band means a broader audience range than most artists would ever dream of, He says: “The cool thing about metal is that the age and gender nowadays it can be so very mixed on whose standing there, and when you have people who are much older or much younger than yourself, connecting with what you do, there is something going on there, that’s extremely cool.”
There are other important topics to discuss as well, such as what AVATAR means as a band. With almost 20 years under his belt so far, Johannes offers a humble answer: “As we are pushing ourselves to always move on as artists to move onto the next thing and we’re getting older as everyone else who has the privilege of staying alive. That means your intentions always change, and that means there’s always that next album you haven’t done yet.”
Another topic he brings up during his answer is that of the elusive ‘perfect album’, to which he gives a perfect summary. “The intentions will change, and therefore the ultimate album will never be made, it can only be the best thing it could possibly be at that time.” He also gives a witty answer in terms of success, “we have never been number one in every country across the world and not taken a private jet to the grocery store, so there’s still room for growth if that matters.”
Throughout any artists career, they learn and grow with their music. This is no different for Johannes who says that “I hope not too much, artistically in the best of cases, the lyrics can be some sort of summary of where you’re at, it’s impossible to remove your ego when writing because in a way it’s all ego, it comes from within but at the same time to not let ego still get in the way for what you want to say and hitting new levels of honesty artistically.”
In an unlikely but brilliant metaphor involving an onion, he perfectly summarises the effect of creating art and what impact that has on the artist by saying, “Each album is like peeling away a layer of bullshit, peeling an onion, getting closer to the core of things, eight albums means eight layers gone.”
After having normal jobs for years the group remain very democratic, this shines through in the interview from Johannes whole persona and attitude to the questions. You can tell success hasn’t gone to their heads.
Talk soon turns to their upcoming album ‘Hunter Gatherer,’ where we ask what influences are behind songs such as ‘Colossus’. “The monologue was specifically for the music video, and the idea came from looking at the early seasons of The Twilight Zone. When the creator/writer would be on set and talking and giving a set-up of what this episode was going to be about, very much about the philosophy behind it in mind”, remarks Johannes.
After that enlightening and inspiring chat with Johannes, I think we can all agree that we are better for it.
Interview: Dom Smith / Words: Brett Herlingshaw