After very good new album "Sole Creation" we talked to David Johansson about its creation, cooperation with Agonia Records and everything in between.
Beyond all doubt "Sole Creation" is Kongh best album ever. Musicians often praise their very latest works, thus I suspect you also think alike, is that correct?
Thank you very much for saying so! We absolutely agree about it being our best album to date. While the earlier albums have songs which we consider being among our best as well, we still think the overall flow and atmosphere of the new one is superior to the other albums.
With the new album you managed to achieve the perfect balance between heaviness and melody, which was something missing in your music in the past. Are melodies a key to the success of Kongh’s last material?
We always had some minor melodic parts here and there but earlier, the heaviness was the key ingredient of our music. With the new album, we wanted to expand our sound a bit, making it more dynamic and interesting. The choice to use more melodic vocals (and more melody in the music overall) was one of these aspects. However, by doing this we did not intend to cut down on the heavy parts, they are still equally important. I don't like bands who are really heavy and then suddenly they change completely and lose that element. We still want to keep the brutality and heaviness, while still developing our sound, and introducing new dimensions. This was a conscious move and a conclusion we reached after listening to our earlier albums, playing the songs live for years etc. We found what we thought was missing, and the result, I think, is an album we always wanted to make but weren't ready to do until now. Meanwhile, I still enjoy our earlier albums and I'm happy with the way they are. I think progress is important in bands, rather than a catalog where all the albums sound exactly the same.
On the other hand, I have a high regard for your heaviest incarnations also, like "Drifting on Waves", which is an almost half-an-hour colossus placed on a split with Ocean Chief. Is there a chance that Kongh will come back to similar pieces in the future?
Hah, yeah, that's a long one! We wrote that song exclusively with that split LP in mind. We had been in touch with the label Land O Smiles for a while about doing some release through their label. Then they said that Ocean Chief had a 25 minute song, and we got the idea - "why don't we write a 25 minute song as well, that would be cool for a split". We had already played around with the thought of making a really long, epic song, and already had a lot of ideas, so we locked ourselves into the rehearsal space and jammed away. I think the result turned out nice, and it was a bit of an experiment for us, probably our most "experimental" piece. We wanted to explore the really long format that was a bit ahead of our comfort zone, as most of our songs are about 10-14 minutes. However, I'm not too fond of the production and sound but that goes for all of our earlier recordings. I guess you learn by doing, and that's part of the reason why the new album sounds better. We're more experienced and know how to handle a studio situation to reach better results. In the regard of doing another 25 minute song – well, you should never say never, right? We haven't gotten that far in the writing of new material yet, it's mainly about riffs so far, not songs.
Would you agree that "Sole Creation" is your most mature album, a big step forward when it comes to composition arrangements, and also with the most varied vocals? Why did you decide on so large share of clean vocals there?
I would agree to that, yes. I think it's better arranged, more varied and has a better flow. We took a long time to write the album (almost 4 years) and I think that's for the good. Instead of rushing songs together, we preferred to take it slow, and really reflect upon the material we were writing. Sometimes, a vision of what you want to do takes time to form. Also, when we write music, we try out a lot of different ideas and angles before settling for a final song structure. Every Kongh song has been changing shape probably a 100 times before it feels right. The reason for the varied vocals are several. First off, when playing live, I came to enjoy the clean singing more and more. It's more fun as a vocalist to actually sing than to just roar all the time. However I really enjoy the roaring as well, but doing it all the time could easily make the vocal approach a bit static. During the years, I also developed a better singing voice, and that's another reason I decided to use it more.
Your debut titled "Counting Heartbeats" received a nomination for the prestigious P3 Guld award. Do you care about this kind of distinctions, is it important to you? Do you think "Sole Creation" may repeat this success?
I wouldn't say that it is important to us in the way that we must achieve stuff like that in order to feel satisfied with our work. When you are truly happy with something you've done, you really don't mind if someone else doesn't like it or not. In the end our music is mostly a personal achievement. However, we very much appreciate all kinds of positive response we get, and being nominated for an award like that was something we were very happy about. It would be awesome if Sole Creation reached similar success in terms of nominations, but we're not taking anything for granted. While we think it's our best album to date, we can't presume that everyone else will agree.
"Sole Creation" opener track is probably your most "hit" piece, instantly catchy. Acting that way, I mean putting that kind of piece at the beginning of the album, reminds me YOB a bit. I clearly hear their influence in your music. Are you annoyed by such comparison?
No, we're definitely not annoyed. We're very big fans of YOB and I would consider them one of our biggest influences music-wise. So if we sound a bit like them, that's a good thing, but we don't consider ourselves a rip-off band, which there are many of out there. We want to combine our favorite aspects of heavy music and make something original out of it.
It’s the first time when “Sole Creation" cover so directly refers to band’s name. Was there any particular concept behind it?
The covers of our earlier albums has more abstract covers which we think responded really well to the atmosphere of the music. On this new one, we wanted to push the concept even further. We always liked the whole King Kong theme and it's been central in our music since the beginning. This goes hand in hand with our vision about the new album being a bit more accessible than the previous ones. Also, I think it ties the earlier album covers together quite well. The first one has forest on it, the second one had water. This new one combines those two and also shows what is coming out of the water. It also shows some of the deep space up there, so who knows which direction the next album will be heading?
Album was mixed and mastered by Magnus Lindberg of Cult of Luna. How this collaboration started? "Sole Creation" sounds more clear than your previous records, is this Magnus’ contribution?
We already decided earlier on that we wanted to do the new album different than the earlier ones as we weren't a 100% happy with the productions. We wanted to hire someone who was truly experienced in sound production of the kind of heavy atmospheric music we play. Magnus was one of our top choices as we appreciate his other work, so we got in touch with him and worked it out. We recorded the album at the same studio as we always used, which is Teknik Kompaniet in Vetlanda, Sweden. Magnus came there on the first day of recording, setting everything up the way he wanted it, and then me and Tomas did all the recording sessions ourselves for about 10 days. When it was all completed, I brought all the tracks up to Magnus Lindberg's studio in Stockholm and then I sat there while he mixed the album for a few days. It was a cool experience to watch a master at work, and also to be able to put my own input and ideas where it was needed. All in all, he did a great job and we finally got a production which we are totally happy about. It's very likely that we work with him on the next album as well.
All Kongh materials, including "Sole Creation", were recorded in Teknikkompaniet studio, under supervision of Peter Ludin. Did you ever think about working with any other producer?
Yes, all earlier recordings were done completely by Peter Lundin, he recorded and mixed. We are good friends with Peter and enjoy recording in his studio, it's started to feel like home to us. As I said, with the new album, we did most of the work ourselves. Both Peter and Magnus were there on the first day, setting everything up. We don't know yet where the next album will be recorded, or with who, etc. We will get into that later when we are getting ready to record.
Solo in "The Portals" was done by John Doe of Craft. Could you tell us few words more about enigmatic The Eternal Void, where you play together?
The band was founded during a time when all of the involved members (me, Tim from Switchblade, and John and Joakim from Craft) were busy working on our new albums in our "main" bands, so it got a bit delayed there. But there is a lot of material written and sometime this year, the plan is to get some kind of recording done. Musically, it's primitive and riff-heavy black/death metal.
You mentioned somewhere that you often listen to black metal stuff. Is there any connection between your interests in this music genre and your decision to sign a contract with Agonia Records? This label is still associated mainly with black metal. How did you get in touch?
Agonia Records has been interested in us basically since we released Shadows of the Shapeless and we've been keeping contact since then. We had a few different labels wanting to put our Sole Creation but I think Agonia seemed like the most fitting one. They are very friendly and professional and they have a lot of experience so we decided to go for them. Everything worked out really well. The black metal aspect felt good as well. We're mainly referred to as a doom oriented band, but I consider black metal a big influence as well, as we all listen to it a lot and draw inspiration from it, so we didn't feel out of place in the Agonia roster.
Some of peculiar fuzzy guitar parts, for example in "Sole Creation" or in "Skymning", reminds me a bit some black metal materials of Deathspell Omega and Blut Aus Nord. Are you trying to smuggle such sounds into Kongh music?
I enjoy both those bands but we haven't deliberately tried to sound like them. We don't really set out to sound like any bands in particular. It's more like we're searching for certain feelings or mindsets rather than sounds of specific bands. We like a lot of different music so I guess several different styles finds their way into the melting pot.
Last year Kongh didn’t play live too much, but before you played live a lot, among others you shared the stage with YOB. Is Kongh a concert band? How your music works in touch with the audience?
Correct, we decided to take time off from touring and only accepted the most interesting offers we got. That's because we needed to focus on the new album. We actually decided to take it easy with tours in early 2011, but then we were offered 28 shows opening for YOB, and you can't say no to that! That delayed the plans for the new album a bit but that was only a good thing, it left us more time to work on the music and that YOB tour was very good for us promotion-wise. I think we reached a bunch of new listeners.
We really enjoy playing live, yes. The volume and atmosphere during live shows takes the music to another level than you get listening to the albums, I think. We toured a lot in 2009 after the Shadows of the Shapeless release. I remember booking a lot of tours by myself back then. We just wanted to get out there and tour in order to get our music out. However, now I think we already reached a larger fan base who will check out the album anyway so we didn't book a bunch of DIY tours this time. We prefer to take it easy and see what offers we might get. We accept all offers which we find interesting, so there will most likely be a fair share of touring on this album too.
Soon you will play in Sweden, alongside Meshuggah. It's quite an interesting set. Do you think fans of technical twisters made by Meshuggah will enjoy your playing, which is much simpler? What are your other live gigs plans for this year?
Yes, Meshuggah got in touch and wanted us to be main support on their Scandinavian dates, so we will play 5 shows with them next month. That's really nice, as we are big fans of their music. It's hard to say what kind of reception we will get at the shows, they're much more technical than us, as you mentioned. They have a wide audience though, and we still have the heaviness in common, so hopefully some of them will like Kongh too!
While browsing the list of your live gigs, I’ve noticed that your first live set was played in 2005 in Vetlanda Mental Institution. Could you tell a bit more about it?
Yeah, this was back in 2005 and the only material we had was two songs, both about 20 minutes long (one of them later was reworked into Drifting On Waves by the way). A girl we used to drink with during the weekends, her mom worked at Vetlanda Mental Institution and they sometimes did these "field trips" for the patients. They thought it was a good idea for them to come out and experience some extreme doom metal. So one day, they showed up in our rehearsal room, about 10 of them and a couple of doctors. They sat down, we played our songs and the atmosphere in that room was "special" to say the least. I mean, it was our first actual concert with this band, and I don't think any of the visitors were really into the kind of music we played. I think most of them enjoyed it though, and afterwards they wanted to use our instruments and stuff so it turned into a jam, "One flew over the cuckoo's nest" style.
Kongh exists as a duo and you record bass parts by yourself. Do you think about extending Kongh line up permanently?
I like the concept of doing both guitar and bass by myself in the studio and have no problem with that. However, when playing live, which is what we do the most (studio work is only happening once every third or fourth year anyway) we have a bass player.
Center point of one of photos put in "Sole Creation" booklet is your Gibson Les Paul Custom Classic White 2007, with Orange and Marshall amps plus Orange and Mesa cabinets in background. Tell me more about your equipment and why did you choose Gibson?
My first guitar was a very nice Epiphone Les Paul which my dad gave me when I was 12. I played that one basically every day for about 10 years, then I started to buy more guitars. So I grew up playing a Les Paul guitar. I don't know if that's why I like them so much but I never tried a type of guitar later on which I felt more comfortable with. They look great, feels great, sound great. I bought my Gibson Les Paul in Chicago 2008 and it has been my main guitar since. I still like my old Epiphone very much though. Changed pickups on it last summer to Gibson Burstbucker Pro's so now it sounds great as well. I even used it on Sole Creation on the heavy ending part of Skymning and I plan to start using it live in the future also.
The Orange Thunderverb 200 is my main amp and it has been since 2007. Love the sound and power of it. I can recommend it to anyone who wants a really good amp. I normally pair it up with a couple of 4x12” and that's it. Effect wise I barely use anything at all, only a Boss DD-7 Digital Delay for the delay parts. It also has a nice chorus delay effect (called "Modulate" on the pedal) which is what I'm using heavily on the Skymning track.