Interview: Sweven (2020) / From The Bowels Of Perdition

Conversation with

Sweven

Sweven is the word that obviously continues to carry a certain significance for you, beyond what it meant initially, back when you were contemplating the title of the Morbus Chron’s swansong album. That said, The Eternal Resonance is the second consecutive collection of songs, in line of many hopefully, that you felt would be best represented by that unusual, antiquated word. Could you say something about your personal relationship with it and how did it grow to mean so much to you? Is there anything about its meaning, basic syllable structure or sonority that you feel goes hand in hand with the sensibility and attitude of your music?

Robert Andersson: When working on the material for the last Morbus record, I was looking for a single word able to describe the whole thing. After a couple of synonym hunts I found the perfect candidate. It’s not the first time I go for the less common words, but sweven was archaic and pretty much obsolete. Since I didn’t have any prior connections to the word, it was easier to form a personal bond with it. For example, calling the album Dream, which is of course what the word means, wouldn’t have worked the same way. The record came to mean a lot of things to me. From the initial spark and the following writing process, to the recording and the aftermath of the release, it profoundly changed me and the way I look at music. From that point on, I’ve never doubted what it is that I want to spend my life doing. By the end of it, the word sweven had been imbued with so much additional meaning. I don’t see the name becoming a bad fit anytime soon. Music is a way for me to take off and soar for a while. I want to evoke something out of the ordinary. So even though The Eternal Resonance isn’t as closely tied to dreams, those unearthly themes are still in many ways intact.

In order to properly understand how and why this band came about, it would be probably equally necessary to understand why Morbus Chron needed to be put to rest. Knowing that there was no drama nor animosity surrounding that split-up, could you please explain why did you decide to go your separate ways?

Robert Andersson: It was a classic case of creative differences. We were four main members, but the core of the band had always been Edvin and I. He’s like a brother to me. For some time it had become increasingly apparent that there was a disconnect between our musical ideas. One night he confessed that he hadn’t been enjoying things as much as he used to and, with the promise of even stranger music in the future, he had reached his limit. I saw where he was coming from. We had strayed so far away from the band we used to be that even I felt it was becoming a bit absurd to release this kind of music under a moniker we picked because you’d bleed from your ass. Pulling the plug allowed us to leave something behind that we were both equally proud of. It should also be mentioned that things were starting to simmer a bit under the surface. We were four very different individuals with contrasting views on the band experience. We all had our own discontent towards how things were going. To put in the simplest of terms, it just wasn’t as fun as it used to be.

Many underground death metal bands of your generation have tried their hardest to push the envelope as far as they possibly could, some of them even at the expense of losing their audience, but it is safe to say that no one ever pushed it quite as far as you did with The Eternal Resonance. Do you think that allowing yourself this much creative freedom could inspire others to now dare and move the needle themselves, not worrying if it’s too much? It certainly feels like there will be no such thing as too much or too far for aspiring, nonconforming musicians with death metal background after this album. Could you afford enough self-indulgence to allow yourself to see things this way or do you find such a notion way too pretentious? Do you even care about a possible impact your music could have on others?

Robert Andersson: I really can’t count on everyone to be as open-minded as you. Without a doubt, a lot of people will see this as a prime example of taking things too far. But that’s how it’s supposed to be. Otherwise I’d be doing something wrong. Pushing the boundaries has never been a goal in itself. It’s just an inevitable result of following through on my vision. All I’m trying to do is translating what I hear in my head, and that’s what I’ve been attempting to do for a good while now. From the beginning to the end of Morbus Chron, we did exactly what we wanted to do. Even when we had a strict set of rules of what was allowed and forbidden, the rules were willingly self-imposed. We were never concerned with any external factors. I have to believe this sentiment is shared by most up-and-coming bands. However, if that’s not the case for someone out there, and this album ends up inspiring that person to break free from their chains, that’s of course a heartwarming thing.

Death metal underground was where you spent your formative years as a musician. In the meantime, your understanding of music and your musical vocabulary have transcended those foundations to the point that it now feels like you don’t even belong in the underground environment anymore, without yet finding a new home anywhere else. That said, what is the audience you are addressing with this album and is having a specific audience something that’s even important to you? Do you believe that many people will succeed in reaching the bottom of this album, considering how much it demands from a listener?

Robert Andersson: No specific audience is addressed. But like I alluded to in the previous answer, open-mindedness is probably a necessary trait. Whether you come from a metal background or something completely different, there will almost certainly be some eyebrow-raising moments. Still, it’s not twelve-tone music. It’s not drone or microtonal. There is far more challenging music out there. So anyone that finds value in this album should surely be able to close in on the bottom with some effort.

This project is in essence a selfish endeavour, but I can’t sit here with a straight face and say that sharing the music with an audience is of no importance at all. I could just as well keep everything to myself, but I chose not to. If people are willing to join in and listen, that’s obviously something that a part of me finds attracting.

The front cover of The Eternal Resonance portrays the ripples that transcend the ocean surface and continue to resonate in the universe, with a tiny man causing such a monumental effect by barely dipping his feet into the water. It appears that there is symbolism galore woven into that image. Would you care to explain any of it?

Robert Andersson: There is a poem inside the album layout that laid the basis for the concept. It’s about a moment of creative bliss and diving into a state of flow. Becoming one with your task as everything else fades into the background. As if dipping your hand in the waters of inspiration, resonating with something larger and eternal, until you’re bitterly pulled back to reality. I wanted the cover art to be a metaphorical interpretation of this. Those states of flow have become very important for my well-being. It’s one of the few ways I’m able to turn down the volume of the constant noise floor. Without those tranquil states there wouldn’t have been much music to talk about. Raul took this idea and ran with it. There’s always been this artistic understanding between us, and I’m very happy with what he came up with this time as well.

Is it true that you wrote this whole album in a small cabin at a tiny deserted island in the Stockholm archipelago, that you literally had all for yourself, without a single soul to distract you in any way? Do you believe you would have gotten the same results had writing sessions taken place in a hectic atmosphere and daily stress of Stockholm?

Robert Andersson: The writing stretched out over such a long time that it’s hard to remember what was done when and where exactly. But those retreats away from the city were important. I usually make sure to go on a few of those each year, renting a cabin for a week to take a break from all the commotion. It’s balm for the soul. The trip you’re referring to was the last one where things really came together. It’s impossible to say how much of an imprint this made on the music. In the end, you don’t need a quiet serene space to be able to write. You can find equanimity in the worst of settings. But for me it sure helps a lot if I can silence the outside cacophony and be in an environment that more mirrors my inner nature. It puts me in a better mood and that’s often when inspiration strikes. It all comes down to reaching that state of flow. You don’t need a candle-lit parchment with blood as ink. A computer in a suburban apartment is probably preferable.

Considering that you have single-handedly written all the music for this album, with Isak Koskinen Rosemarin on lead guitars and Jesper Nyreliuson on drums playing on the record together with you, would you say that Sweven is a solo project or a regular band? Is it even important to you to firmly establish that at this point?

Robert Andersson: We’re a group of people playing music together. For me it’s not really important to specify things further. But since you ask, to me that sounds like a band. Isak and Jesper have both brought things to the table that I couldn’t have done myself. Sure, the music is written by me. That was almost entirely the case for Morbus Chron as well. For as long as I remember, I’ve always preferred to do things my own way. But without the aid of people who I trust and admire, these kinds of records would be impossible to make.

Presuming that you weren’t looking for just anyone to play on this album, what about Isak and Jesper assured you that they would be the right people to help you pull it off?

Robert Andersson: Isak more than proved his skill and commitment when he played with Morbus Chron. A far better guitarist than I will ever be and he’s well aware of what I want to achieve. It’s invaluable to have that common understanding from the get-go. They both have this natural musicality to them. I first saw Jesper perform when I was around 19 and he played in a thrash band. Later I found out just how versatile of a drummer he was. His contributions have shaped the sound and feel of this record in big ways. I really can’t thank them enough.

The Eternal Resonance is elegant, calm and overall very gentle album, not particularly heavy, but with several climaxes when malignity, negativity and misery take over. Does that palette of moods and emotions say something about what you personally went through while writing it?

Robert Andersson: I was on the longest roller coaster ride of my life, with towering peaks and sunken valleys. But it wouldn’t be accurate to say that this coloured the music itself in any major way. In hindsight, the actual songwriting process wasn’t too bad. Sure, it took time, but that’s usually the case. I like to let things cook slowly. Making sure it’s completely right before moving on. I’ve always been a very up and down person though, swinging back and forth on the emotional continuum. Today I know better how I function, what pushes my buttons and what helps. I manage it better. My personal growth lines up almost perfectly with the analysis you make of the music. I lead a calmer, less heavy and more gentle life. But there are still those moments of intense pain and negativity lurking around the corner. It’s not far-fetched to imagine that this broad palette of moods influence the kind of music I write.

The Eternal Resonance goes far beyond being merely a homage to its influences. So much so, in fact, that it seems virtually impossible to decipher where this record comes from musically. The fact that it doesn’t sound like anything or anyone, was it a result of a conscious decision to completely silence your subconsciousness, burdened by a lifetime of listening to the music of others, and recognise what your own voice sounds like and what it has to say?

Robert Andersson: I don’t see it as a burden. For most of us there has to be some time of copying and mimicking until you’re ready to test your own wings. We’re all a result of our musical input in some way or another. It would be interesting to drop off a guitar to some completely isolated tribe and see what they come up with without any preconceived ideas of what a guitar is. Let’s be honest, they’d probably smash it to pieces, but it’s still fun to imagine what would come from it.

There has only really been one time where I consciously tried to push towards some bigger evolution, and that was on A Saunter Through The Shroud with Morbus Chron. It’s pretty obvious that I wanted to take a few steps away from the more standard death metal we’d played before. And those were important steps to take. When the time came to write Sweven, a distance had already been established and I told myself to just write whatever the fuck I wanted. Not consciously trying to sound like anything. The Eternal Resonance was conceived with the same mindset. But of course my musical vocabulary has grown and I’m able to express myself with more clarity.

Although The Eternal Resonance relies primarily on elaborate and complex songwriting, your powerful vocals are also an enormous part of its appeal. Do you share that sentiment?

Robert Andersson: Yes absolutely, or this would’ve been an instrumental project. I love instrumental music. It’s probably what I listen to the most. But I have to admit that the voice has certain qualities that are close to impossible to replicate on other instruments. It’s hard not to be affected by screamed vocals in some way. It surely doesn’t have to be a positive reaction. I’m just saying that it’s hard not to feel anything when someone is screaming their lungs out with complete sincerity. It’s relatable in a way that a guitar riff will never be. I’ve seen people leave the room when they heard screams because it made them so uncomfortable. It pierced deeper than the rest of the music did. Personally, there’s choir music out there that moves me more than anything else. There’s something so pure and profound about it when done right. I guess after ages of aural communication it’s probably innate in us to respond strongly to the voice.

Was signing with Ván Records a business decision or a matter of aesthetic compatibility? Or both?

Robert Andersson: It was Philipp Schulte from Century Media who introduced me to Sven and Ván Records. I was in contact with Philipp shortly after Morbus Chron had disbanded, telling him that I had plans on continuing in some form. After some discussion he forwarded me to Sven. He knew of my previous work and it felt like a good match, both from a business standpoint and aesthetically. So he’s been on board pretty much from the start.

According to your own admission, working on The Eternal Resonance caused you a lot of heartache and headache, especially towards the end. Apparently, countless hours had been spent in attempts to correct what you felt was wrong with the album, but to no avail. Now that a few months have passed since you said goodbye to it and moved on so to speak, do you have a better understanding as to why it was so impossible to reach that something that ultimately stayed out of your reach? Where did you fall short?

Robert Andersson: The Eternal Resonance was in essence a DIY effort. We had some assistance during parts of the recording, but mostly I took care of things myself. This sounds like a good thing on paper. No one has a stronger connection to the material, so naturally it follows that I know how to best present it sonically. Instead it turned into a giant mess of doubt and anger. The songs were so important to me, and I felt that I wasn’t able to complete them in a way I thought they deserved. I know all the ins and outs of this record and it’s extremely hard to look at things from a less zoomed-in perspective. When I listen to it, I don’t hear what you hear. And that’s especially true when you’re in the middle of the process, sitting on hundreds of tools to change every little detail in the smallest of ways. It’s extremely hard not to lose sight of the bigger picture.

Presuming that you are probably dead tired of The Eternal Resonance by now, and still very much immersed into those countless little shortcomings you believe the record suffers from, are you able to listen to it and actually enjoy it for what it is?

Robert Andersson: This material is the closest I’ve come to realizing my vision. Even though there are some areas where I felt I came up short, the lifeblood still flows eagerly through the music. Nothing will change that. Whenever I manage to look past all the bullshit and annoyances, I find myself being very proud of the record. Those moments have been few and far between, but we’ll see when the dust has settled. I might be able to appreciate it more.

Going through what you went through to get this album done, do you believe that an artist can afford the luxury to be a happy or at least satisfied person? Is suffering in the creative process absolutely inevitable?

Robert Andersson: Whatever your field is, when you’re pursuing something deeply important in life, a lot is on the line. Letting yourself down could yield devastating results to your self-image and self-worth. Anyone pursuing their passion knows the struggle. So I think it’s hard to avoid suffering altogether. Whenever you’re doing something of great personal value, there will always be that fear that you’ll fall short. I wish I could silence those demons. Because most of the time they’re nothing but detrimental to your creativity. But maybe the heartache and agony contributes in some way. Maybe it adds something genuine to the music.

Given how uncompromisingly harsh and critical you are about every little detail on this album, was it difficult to restrain yourself from having the same nitpicking mindset when it comes to Isak and Jesper and their performances? Going through that long and painstaking recording process, did you manage to preserve your personal relationship and have it unaffected by all the stress and madness that was presumably going on during that mentally exhausting period?

Robert Andersson: I put them through hell, but they handled it admirably well. After all, we were insanely rehearsed. In the end it’s just a hard album to perform though, and with the added pressure of recording, there will be objects thrown around and some head-butting. As an example, except for a few specific parts, we didn’t record to a click track. I’ve always enjoyed the more free feel you get with a drummer than can rush and drag here and there. It adds an organic touch to the music. But nailing those small drifts and an overall good tempo for the tracks took some serious effort. Most of the issues arose after they had done their parts though. It was a battle I fought against myself. And during that time they showed nothing but patience. Eventually the whole thing just fell into the shadows and it became something we didn’t talk about. I had long since stopped making promises and kept silent about any progress or regress until I knew for sure it was over. It was a bleak time, but we came out alive.

The thing that you’ve just said, that the album might be a difficult one to perform live, do you see it becoming a problem down the line, when and if you start touring?

Robert Andersson: Completing the record exactly how I heard it was always more important than it being easy, or even possible, to perform a hundred percent live. I know that when I add a third guitar, it’s not going to be replicated in a live scenario without some technical wizardry. And that’s ok. Live is already a very unique situation. A slightly different interpretation of a song doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Three guitars aside though, there are new sounds and textures that really add to the whole. Piano, synthesizer, percussion and other layers, without which the music would lose a lot of depth. A regular five people line-up will probably not suffice.

Speaking of performing live, you were always very open and sincere about feeling the unbearable anxiety before going on stage and dealing with the nerves. Have you learned how to battle those insecurities and make the unpleasantness somewhat easier to deal with?

Robert Andersson: Alcohol. If you’d go out and look for people and personalities suitable to front a band, I’d be at the bottom of the list. I’m a lone wolf. Rarely do I enjoy that kind of spotlight. It’s weird how things go sometimes. In the end, it comes down to confidence. If I’m confident in the band and what we show up with on stage, I can manage the stress. It’s not unbearable the way it used to be when I started out. Looking back, the amount of filth and vomit this mouth has spewed forth, both figuratively and literally, is staggering.

Those piano sequences you have mentioned earlier were performed by your brother, who is a professional pianist with an academic background. Did you get to pick his brain in the process? Was he even bothered to improve his little bother’s silly metal album by lending a word of encouragement or some invaluable advice or insight?

Robert Andersson: Developing the instrumentation is something I want to explore further in the future. If the core of the material is right, there are thousands of ways of arranging it. I’ve always had a soft spot for piano, so when I was working on the demos I decided to give it a shot. It turned out to be a great way of adding both power and beauty to the songs. None of the tracks were really written with piano in mind, but once it was added it was difficult to imagine things without it.

This was my brother’s first time actually hearing what I was doing musically. You’d imagine from a classical trained musician that he’d pat me on the head like I was an idiot. But he actually struggled a fair bit. For one thing, he wasn’t used to locking into a steady groove. Just the way the music developed was very different from what he was familiar with. It wasn’t a walk in the park by any stretch of the imagination. Hearing him analysing what I’d done theoretically was amusing. Often times it’s really not as weird as you might think yourself.

Considering that both you and your brother are deeply devoted to music, how is it possible that you went down two such different routes within what appears to be essentially the same journey, with him becoming a classically trained musician and you basically a noise-making, screaming musical villain?

Robert Andersson: My interest in music came at a much later point in life than it did for him. He’s three years older and must have started playing the piano at the age of five or something, quickly developing a passion for classical music. As a contrast, when I was five I had nothing on my mind but sports. There was a piano at home which he naturally gravitated towards. I on the other hand showed zero interest. I was probably busy juggling football or playing The Legend Of Zelda. But there was always music around. Kinks, Beatles or whatever garbage was popular on the radio during the early 2000s. When I found Metallica and Slayer that’s when things clicked for real. So our ways into music couldn’t have been much different. It’s nice that we were finally able to do something together, even if it took 25 years to make it happen. I know it’s not the last time.

Speaking of deeper knowledge and understanding of music, some half a year ago you moved from Stockholm to Sweden’s largest island of Gotland to attend the music school and study composition for two years. Considering that your body of work up to this point proves you more than capable of writing quality rock music, what precisely was the motivation for making that decision? Is your long term goal to abandon the concept of rock music altogether and venture into something more challenging or do you just hope to become more competent and better at what you already do?

Robert Andersson: I wasn’t expecting to get in. I mainly saw it as good practice for the next round of applications. But unlike other schools, this one took in students with limited knowledge of theory, and so I was accepted. I guess it can be seen as preparation for higher educations for those who are interested. I’d been eyeing the school for some time. Tired of the city and needing a change of scenery, the prospect of studying music for two years on a more or less dead island was enticing. There’s no long term goal to abandon rock. If anything, my time here has just amplified my love for it. After painfully listening to works of György Ligeti for three hours, it’s soothing to listen to Mayhem. It’s normal music in comparison. My musical preferences and ambitions are pretty set in stone. I’m not seeking guidance. I just want to acquire the tools to better understand what I’m doing and improve my craft in any way possible.

When you compare yourself to other students with more knowledge and better foundations than yours, does it feel like you have a lot of catching up to do? Have you already reached that point where you have learned just enough to understand and put in perspective how ignorant you actually are?

Robert Andersson: The biggest hurdle to overcome was actually understanding how notation works. I didn’t speak the language at all, while some were pretty fluent already. It’s hard to absorb new information when you lack the basics. I’m still catching up. Always a step behind it seems. Of course you’re learning stuff, but it’s hard to assess while you’re in the middle of it. For each thing you manage to wrap your tiny head around, hundreds of doors open to new ideas and concepts that are out of your reach. It’s a humbling experience. At the end of the day, everyone here has their own journey to make, starting and ending at different places. I try not to be too hard on myself.

Performing the entire Clandestine album with Entombed must have been a surreal experience, especially with one of the shows taking place on the very same day the album had been originally released 25 years ago. The way you explained your decision to join them was also very charming, by saying that you would have regretted it for the rest of your life had you not done it and that you didn’t do it for yourself, but for your 16 year old self. How satisfying was to be on that stage that evening and did you feel more nerves than usual waiting to get on?

Robert Andersson: I usually make sure to have some sort of exit strategy in those situations. And the first gig was on a fucking boat. It was somewhat relieving to know that I could always jump off the railing. I felt a responsibility that’s not present when performing my own music. Entombed, Death, Autopsy, they were all essential in my formative years as a teen. So it was huge on a personal level. And listen, as a fan myself, I’d be skeptical to see Entombed with a new singer. It was a perplexing situation to say the least and it took some soul searching before I agreed to do it. I tried my best to disengage Robert from the whole thing and just look at myself as a tool for them to perform the music. To be there only as an instrument. In retrospect, I’m very proud to have done it. It’s something I’ll never forget. Being able to share the experience with Edvin was out of this world. Our 16 year old selves wouldn’t have believed it.

There was even an offer to join Entombed full time, wasn’t there? How difficult it was to turn that one down, especially considering all the reasons that made you accept to perform with them in the first place?

Robert Andersson: I’d been very open from the start that I didn’t want to partake in anything big other than those two shows. Alex asked afterward if I had changed my mind, but I was sure. I was satisfied after the first show and I still am. I wish them the best in their efforts. I know there was talk of possibly recording new material. I hope they find the right guy if they move forward with those plans.

A bit of trivia about you that went under almost everyone’s radar is your involvement in one of the most interesting death metal albums of 2016, the eponymous one by Stockholm’s Temisto, that ironically also went under pretty much everyone’s radar. Since it was your first time producing, recording and mixing an album, are you satisfied with how it turned out? Do you keep in touch with those guys?

Robert Andersson: I love that record. It’s a shame if people miss out. As with any zero budget recording, you do the best you can. You can always wish for better circumstances, but ultimately you’ve got to work with what you have. It turned out alright. They’re both great guys. Leo I’ve known more or less since recording his pre-Temisto band Whore back in 2010, which is equally chaotic and brilliant. He’s a unique character with a unique style. Better than anyone I know when it comes to writing that kind of metal. We’re actually in the process of gathering a group of misfits to create something vicious this year. So if things pan out, there will be more music in this vein. It should be good.

When Morbus Chron is discussed, A Saunter Through The Shroud EP, that you have previously mentioned, tends to get overlooked for some reason. People either enjoy the wild debut or the contemplative sophomore and refuse to settle for a compromise that A Saunter Through The Shroud essentially is. Why do you think that is the case?

Robert Andersson: A Saunter Through The Shroud is a weird release. I listen to it once in a while and I’m always amused by the sheer amount of riffs and ideas that are put into each song. Channeling The Numinous probably stands out as the most hectic and unstable of the three songs. I wanted to prove to myself that we could stand on our own legs and not just copy and paste Autopsy riffs. Today I might think I went a bit too far on some of the arrangements. I mean, it’s all over the place. But at the same time, those are the reasons why I still like it. The lyrics changed quite a bit. High on shrooms, staring at the night sky, wishing to be carried away by some unknown force. A lot of existential questioning that left me wanting to write about something else than the tongue in cheek dark humor on Sleepers In The Rift. So yeah, a weird release that doesn’t really sound like anything else we did.

There were a couple of occasions when your music directly and very intensely affected my mood, and to this day I can’t help but get quite emotional whenever I listen to the song Beyond Life’s Sealed Abode. Indeed, the beauty and sentimental value of your final scream in that song is something that never fails to move me emotionally. At the risk of being too personal, I must ask where that scream came from?

Robert Andersson: Sweven was a record that dealt with overcoming the shortcomings of life through dreams. The music, the lyrics and the art described my paradise. With that said, and with the lyrics in front of you, I don’t think I have to get more personal than that. It was one of the most memorable moments of the recording when I sang the last verse of that song. I was literally moved to tears and I think you can almost hear that. I wasn’t sad. All I felt was a relief as I imagined my ascent to the stars. Then I opened my eyes and I was still standing in front of the microphone. The vision was gone, but it had been forever captured on tape. I’m extremely glad that it did and I applaud your question. When you realize your music has managed to do exactly what you intended it to do, it’s fantastic. Thank you.

 

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