DIABLO SWING ORCHESTRA – Creativity Gone Wild
When Diablo Swing Orchestra (DSO) released their debut album "The Butcher’s Ballroom" in 2007, they immediately became my favorite band of the new millennium. With their unique blending of genres they have now created two excellent albums that stand out in today’s metal scene as original, genre defying and innovative. The band really pushes the envelope when it comes to the challenging of the strict boundaries that various metal genres often consist of. Their musical formula is constructed through three main elements, which is metal, big band jazz, and female operatic vocals. (Not in any way to be compared with Nightwish.) In addition their music is freely mixed with an abundance of other influences. Everything from Russian folk tunes to salsa rhythms can be found in DSO’s repertoire. If trying to relate their music to other bands, it would be a sure thing for fans of acts such as Unexpect, Stolen Babies, Dog Fashion Disco or Subterranean Masquerade. But the band should also apply to fans of anything from Opeth and Leprous, to Faith no More and Mr. Bungle.
After seeing DSO for the first time live this summer, I sat down with two exhilarated and jolly talkative Swedes to have an introductive talk about DSO. The two chaps were bassist Anders Johansson and vocalist/guitarist Daniel Håkansson.
So how has the reception been for your two first albums? Are there any particular countries that have shown extended interest in DSO and your music?
Daniel: On that account, Mexico has to be mentioned. We did a festival in Mexico City this summer, and the response was fantastic. Generally we have gotten great reception all through Central and South America.
Anders: We have gotten good reception in Europe as well, although Sweden, Finland and Norway seem to be a bit more slow going. Norway has given us a bit more attention than Sweden and Finland though. In relation we have gotten better reaction from Russia. When doing a gig in Moscow, the response was very good.
As for the formula of the band, how did you arrive at the unique sound and mixture of genres that you portray today? Was there a trial and error phase for the band before you could nail down the formula?
Anders: Well… On our first album we were seeking out our direction a bit more than on our second album. Basically we just threw in anything we liked and tried to make some songs out of it. That is simply put, how we did it on our first album.
Daniel: Everyone attributes with ideas from their own personal preferences, and then we make a melting pot of the ideas and make songs out of it. I think this is partly how DSO differs from many other bands.
Anders: The basic melodies and harmonies aren’t as complicated as a first impression might give. I think the songs are quite easily digestible ground ideas which have certain alternative or avant-garde elements put on top of it.
Do you listen to so called "avant-garde" music or "avant-garde" metal yourselves?
Anders: Well, we have come to know some of the so called "avant-garde" bands of the same generation as ourselves, bands such as Unexpect and Stolen Babies. As we have connection through our mutual label, and we play music that can be categorized together as a small scene of its own, we have gotten to communicate with each other’s bands. Now I listen to both Unexpect and Stolen Babies myself and enjoy their music very much.
It seems like bands such as Dog Fashion Disco, Stolen Babies and Unexpect is part of an avant-garde movement which perhaps is on the rise in the states?
Anders: When I had a conversation with the guitarist of Unexpect, he said that there is an interest in America, but most booking agencies are still a bit unsure about these kinds of bands. Following the dismantling of Dog Fashion Disco there has been many bands picking up their legacy. A legacy that can be traced back to the early 90s late 80s through acts like Mr. Bungle.
So how does the composing of songs come about in DSO? Does each person bring his or her ground idea, is it results of jams or is it written together in plenum?
Anders: On our first album, the songs were composed much more individually than is the case with our second album. Back then, all the members weren’t in place during much of the compositional phase. Now it has become a joint effort were we all take part in the composing and arranging of the songs. This has also been reflected in our material. I would say that the songs on our second album are somewhat more streamlined. We feel very satisfied with the development and will therefore continue to follow the standard set on our second album; "Sing Along Songs for the Damned & Delirious" (SASftD&D). The part we found the most fun during recording of our first album was the swing elements. These elements was kept and refined on "SASftD&D", and we intend to see how this can be brought further on future albums as well.
In relation to literature and cinema, the eclectic mixing of already existing genres, creating something new of old components, is viewed to be a trait of postmodernism. Would you say that DSO is a postmodern metal band?
Daniel: I guess you could call DSO a postmodern metal band. But in relation to DSO I would like to underline that we are not a metal band incorporating elements of Jazz and other genres. We are merely a band incorporating elements of metal, jazz, salsa or whatever we feel like to create our music. None of the genres are predominantly a DSO feature. We don’t play metal. We play music inspired by metal equally with inspirations form other genres. As long as it is swinging we could just as easily play all our songs acoustic as in an amped up metal form.
Anders: I get how you would call us postmodern. When it comes to using already existing elements to create something new, it would apply to DSO just as easily as it would to art or literature or whatever. This is also a part of the DSO mentality. We like to experiment with new ideas and influences constantly. We don’t like to dwell with the same similar stuff over and over. That is not the kind of band we are. It works for some bands, but not us. What you are saying is that DSO is the exact opposite of AC/DC, for instance. Precisely, it is important for us to not get stuck in a pattern, but to let our creativity roam freely.
What about your lyrics. Is there any thematic common denominator, or are the lyrics just as eclectically put together as your music?
Anders: First and foremost the lyrics are fitted to the music. As the music has been composed we try to come up with stories that suit the feel of each individual song. There is no theme for the lyrics other than this.
Who write the lyrics?
Daniel: It is mainly I who writes the lyrics, but also here, as with the music, everyone is free to come up with their own ideas. Often an idea is aired and discussed during practice. Then it is formed and fitted to the song later on.
Also the production seems to have been refined on your second album. Is the standard production-wise set for DSO, or can we expect unexpected changes in that field as well from DSO in the future?
Daniel: Our first album was a challenge since there are so many instruments and elements in our music that need to get the proper attention in the mix. On our second album, it was much easier, since we had a starting point with "The Butchers Ballroom". Still, the second album was less symphonic in the sound than our first one. The compositions were still symphonic, but somehow I find the first album to be somewhat more bombastic, which I actually like. The idea with "SASftD&D" was to not make the symphonic production be too big and encompassing. What we want is a symphonic feel, but still room to breathe in for other instruments as well. In many cases I feel that bands who, for instance, record with a whole orchestra behind them is creating a wall of sound without any breathing room. For us, it is important to maintain a certain symphonic feel, yet keep it light and fresh. DSO does have a sort of comic playful feel to it, which it is important to maintain. This playfulness could easily be diverted with a too pompous production.
Anders: From a metal standpoint, these pompous productions might be quite usual, but as it turns out, DSO is attracting lots of attention outside of the metal environment. Our accessibility could also partly be attributed to our production.
On your second album the first edition was a two disc release with a rather special promo video DVD on the second disc. How did the idea of making a video promoting the band with a short film get hatched?
Daniel: I’m not sure about the origins of the idea… It was a film documenting the background story of the band. When releasing the album we were wondering what we could put along as a sort of bonus for the first edition. The video was simply the result of a brainstorm on this. Since we get a lot of questions from our fans about the band, it seemed appropriate to answer some of the questions through a promotional video.
Anders: We try to keep an open dialogue with our fans, and we do get asked all kinds of stuff. Everything from personal history to questions about the equipment we use. And we are more than glad to respond and explain about these matters. The response we get when on stage, and from fans through conversations and questions, make worth all our traveling and sleepless nights. That’s what you think now…
The cover artwork on your latest endeavor is quite different from your first album. How did this latest cover artwork come about?
Anders: The idea came about in a pizzeria outside of Stockholm. I was contemplating how the songs and the title of the album could be incorporated in the cover artwork. Through discussion we came to the conclusion that it would be awesome to have artwork inspired by the American artist Mike Ryden. We wanted some sort of a highly questionable amusement park to be the theme. So we brought the idea to the artist who did our first album cover, Peter Bergting, and what you see today is what came of it. We are very satisfied with his work.
So what are the plans for DSO in the nearest future?
Daniel: We have some European festivals this summer, but mainly we direct our focus on writing new material and recording it, then planning our tour for next summer.
Any final message for our readers in Norway?
Daniel: We hope that we can include Oslo on our next tour. We are conversing with some Norwegian bands, hoping that we perhaps can do some shows together. We hope we can do something in Oslo, especially since it is not that far away for us. You can tell your readers who are waiting for a DSO gig in Oslo that we are waiting for them as well.