COMMUNIC – Emerge From The Bottom Deep
Back in 2005 I remember being astounded by the debut album "Conspiracy In Mind" from this Norwegian trio Communic. At the time I hadn’t heard a band willing to be as progressive and twisted in their playing and yet so powerful, almost crossing the lines of Psychotic Waltz, Nevermore and old school power/thrash. Through the years their albums have provided literally weeks of enjoyment- as this is an act that you don’t just listen to lightly and not hear something fresh every time.
So when I heard the fourth album "The Bottom Deep" would be coming out in the summer of 2011, I knew it was time to conduct an interview with guitarist/ vocalist Oddleif Stensland. His calm demeanor and thoughtful reflections to my queries made for an engaging discussion- so please read on and learn more about this fine act.
You mention in regards to the new album "The Bottom Deep" a sense of fear and excitement regarding the personal nature of this album. Can you delve a little bit into these mixed emotions?
Yes I can. It’s actually quite difficult for me to talk about it. I will try to tell it gently without scaring you away. My main inspiration for the writing of this album is that I had a daughter that died. This album for me has been therapy, it’s just something that I had to do. All these songs and all these words in this album are really personal. Of course I’ve tried to disguise it a little bit- if you listen to the songs some people will see what I’m talking about, other people may not. Death is something that we all have to have a relationship to. One way or another- for me that’s why it’s a mixed feeling of fear and excitement because I’m putting out music that’s really close to myself and my heart. Exposing yourself – it’s actually difficult but I had to do it. I can sit back and say if people don’t like this album, I don’t care (laughs). It means so much to me, I had to do it. The lyrics are coming from a different place- I was extremely down, I didn’t play my guitar for 6 to 8 months. This isn’t easy for me to talk about- I asked myself this question many times before doing these interviews.
Did you have any concerns self-producing- and was it a conscious decision to keep the newer songs more streamlined and in your face than say "Waves Of Visual Decay" or "Conspiracy In Mind"?
The reason for doing the production on our own was that we had recorded our first three albums at Jacob Hansen’s studio – and I love his production but in the end I thought about the fact that we have to do something else. I didn’t want to repeat ourselves sound-wise. And also this album called for a little bit more organic sounding , and Jacob’s sound is extremely polished and he’s really good but this time I had to trust my own ears and rely so much on the producer. This time we booked a local studio here and it had everything we needed. We also used the technician there- but all the listening and sounds we tried to use the original drum kit so it wasn’t over layered with samples. I felt it was important to put even more of myself into this album. It’s all the way down to handwriting the material in the booklet. I believe we did it as up to date as we could. I’m really happy with it. Do you have the album?
Yes I do. I’m feeling like it’s back to "Waves Of Visual Decay" with a straight forward manner. The tones are a little bit heavier and you can tell some of the parts still have the off time things that Communic is famous for, but I hear a heavier, darker tone to the music which fit’s the lyrical vision you have.
Yes, and we did some changes in the tuning so everything is a little more darker and heavier as you said- maybe not as progressive but I think it’s there, you have to listen to it more. We have the tempo changes, but it sounds a little more straight forward.
Was Dan Swano always in the plan to master the record?
Yes, from when we entered the studio he was. We had some other options as well… we actually had some hope to fly in some guy to look over the work. We then thought about flying in Dan Swano from Sweden to Norway, the final week in the studio for mixing and mastering for special guidance. He actually told us he only works alone and you have to send him the files. If we wanted to send separate files he would mix those as well. We sent him the first mix that we did and he said there was no need to re-mix anything, just send me the files we wanted to master. He didn’t need to do much to the shaping of the sound. We had some second or plan B’s in case our own mixing skills completely failed- but we didn’t have to worry about it.
Is it tough live to pull off the heavy, slightly progressive riffing and multi-octave vocals? Are there times Communic thinks about adding a second guitarist for that rhythmic depth?
For me it’s something I have gotten used to – to sing and play guitar at the same time. I have to rehearse and practice for myself before I rehearse with the other guys. It’s like separating my mind- playing is one thing, singing is another and remembering the lyrics is a third part on top of this. I think it works pretty well. We have actually tried different guitar players over the years, we had a keyboard player with us for a European tour to lay down some sound behind the band. It actually works better with the three of us alone- at the time when you bring another person into the band, everything becomes more difficult. It’s more expensive- we get the sound that we want. We can’t jump around like monkeys on stage- I want to do a good show as well. So far it works for us as a three piece- it’s cool if you can pull it off. After we finish a lot of people in the audience ask us where do we hide the other people off stage because it sounds just as much with a band that has two guitarists.
Were the guys in the band and record label very understanding when you had to deal with the loss of your daughter?
The other guys in the band were understanding of how I was and what state of mind I was in. Regarding the record label, I got nothing else but understanding. In the contract we had 2 and a half years before we had to come up with another album- and now it was 3 and a half years since "Payment…". They told me to take the time I needed, do it my way. It’s cool to see Nuclear Blast thinks that way, they are humans as well and not a machine thinking about making money, they have a lot of bands that they can release in the interim. They don’t make their money to live off of Communic. I could tell them what was happening, I didn’t know how long it would take for me to get better, I didn’t even know if there would be another album, but they were very cool about things.
"In Union We Stand" will be the bonus track. Have you always been a fan of Overkill- and why choose this particular song from their Taking Over record?
Overkill is actually one of the first bands that got me into playing guitar and heavy metal in the first place. That kind of early thrash metal from the states, Metallica, Megadeth, Overkill, Testament- those bands were very important to me. This will be on the first edition of the actual album- all first editions. It’s an album that I listened a lot to, and when we sat down to think about songs we were going to have as bonuses we recorded 3 tracks this time. I wanted to record this song in our way, the way I know Communic could do it. We weren’t sure how it would end up but the result is pretty cool. We have another track for the Japanese edition – "The Fire Still Burns", and we have an Itunes exclusive bonus. All 3 of these tracks will be available on the double vinyl edition of the album. The third song is "Hurt" by Nine Inch Nails.
What do you see as the advantages of being a power trio?
Ha ha… the advantages is there are less people on the road, less people to argue with. For us it makes everything a little bit easier. Sometimes when you are writing songs and recording you want to build things up with two guitar players, and I just play everything myself. We haven’t been four people so it’s hard for me to talk about the advantages. If you add another guy, there is the money issue, you have to have another hotel room, more gear, it makes everything a little more difficult.
Do you consciously try as a guitar player to think like two different players when you are doing some of your parts?
Normally I think like one guitar player- we put these songs together in the rehearsal room. We always record or rehearse the songs live before we go into the studio. When I solo the bass player switches his sound a little bit so it sounds more fuller. We think like a three piece but when we go into the studio I record it with more guitars so it sounds heavier. You need to make it like a picture, with details in the background, listenable at once… you can then listen to the album 10 times and hear all the details. It makes it more interesting to listen to over a longer period of time, while in the live situation you are more in the moment. They go home, they go back to the memory of the show- kind of two different environments I think.
My favorites on the new album include "Facing Tomorrow" with the triplet-like drum rolls and shifting power/ doom riffs and the moving "Voyage Of Discovery". What were your influences and approaches to these songs?
It’s kind of difficult to explain… some of these ideas are from older songs, ideas that have been lying around since our debut album. I didn’t know when or how I could use some of this stuff and it all fell into a place where it should actually be. Everything on this album is pretty much darker in a way. Of course there is a lot of triplets and stuff going on with the way we are playing it, but overall it has a darker feel. So as a result, this is a difficult question.
You have open involvement through social media and the message board for your official website. Do you enjoy the fan interaction- and do you believe it subtly influences how the band has developed through the years?
Yes, I always answer emails and questions for the band through our website. The forum isn’t that active because we have been lying in the back the past few years- no tour after the "Payment Of Existence" album. We now have an official Facebook page, and I like being able to give something back to our fans.
How does it feel to receive so much critical acclaim consistently in Communic’s career- loads of high marks and album of the month rankings in major metal magazines?
Yes, of course there is some pressure when you are releasing a new album and everybody is expecting that everything you produce so to speak turns to gold. I don’t think too much about it- this new album was written for my own sake, and if people like it that will bonus. I hope it will do well with the critics but I think it was more difficult before the "Payment Of Existence" album because people told us this would be our do or die album. Now I just look forward, I have a lot of new music for new albums and I feel really inspired, I have a lot of music in me that I want to get out. I can’t wait to see the response in the summer to this album.
Do you have any special tour stories or fan encounters through the years?
There have been a lot of memories. Playing Wacken of course, also our only show in the USA through ProgPower. That was really cool, we took a trip to the states for a week, spent a vacation there. The gigs that are higher up there can be the festivals. We always try to meet up with the fans after the shows, we like to talk to them, check out the other bands.