Swedish ensemble Diablo Swing Orchestra, whose name gives a clear idea about their sound is active for more than fifteen years. They were truly pioneering in their early days and still very inspirational how they manage to deal with their line-up changes and handling personal challenges. They were also a reason why they cancelled their last year’s performance at Czech festival Brutal Assault. Fortunately, they will have another chance this Thursday, after incredible nine years, where I spoke to band’s extremely friendly guitarist Pontus Mantefors the last time.
We have spoken at Brutal Assault 2010 which is a long time. Pretty long, was also a time space between your latest album Pandora’s Piñata from 2012 and the new album Pacifisticuffs from 2017. What was happening in the meantime and what challenges were you facing as a group?
Yeah, it has been a long time but it is great to be coming back and to hear from you again! We did do some touring after PP but as always with this band it is usually gigs here and there and not combined longer stretches. And gaps between albums are usually at least a couple of years. This is due to all members of the band having quite different living situations and also the fact that we are spread out over almost all of Sweden. During this period of time we also parted ways with Petter (drums) and Annlouice (vocals). Petter had been with us for one album (PP) and Annlouice had been with us since the first album.
Petter is a great drummer and we parted mutually as friends when he decided to move on. Annlouice has been widely missed by many including us and she reluctantly decided to leave the band due to her operatic career taking off. It started to become very hard for her to find time for the band and at times impossible to book gigs since she was being booked up for opera shows several years in advance. Gladly during this time we got in contact with Johan Norbäck and Kristin Evegård to fill the voids. Johan came with us to South America for our PP tour in 2012 and in addition to him being a perfect musical match for DSO we all immediately became very good friends. After Annlouice left the band we got in contact with Kristin through Johan and it was immediately very clear to all of us what a fantastically beautiful voice and enormous range she has and at the same time being a great piano player. Both Johan and Kristin are also very productive writers both musically and lyrically and have both added a lot in the work leading up to Pacifisticuffs.
Unfortunately you cancelled your last year’s show at Brutal Assault. I dare to guess, there some challenges also since the release till today? Hope everything is ok now and you are ready for massive touring. 😉
There were some challenges as you guessed, however of a private nature. We were really sorry that we had to cancel but it just wasn’t possible to perform the gig under those circumstances. We are definitely ready for more touring! =)
Give us idea about the latest album concept and how does it fit to the artwork?
The album concept is more political than that of DSO the previous albums. This has a lot to do with the state of the world and that it in many parts is moving in directions that we don’t agree with. The artwork as portrayed beautifully by Sebastian Kowoll is set in a quite rundown suburban environment. Something is amiss however with the centered triangle shifting the viewer’s perception and a character beneath it, causing the triangle or working against – who knows. As we enjoy to symbolize duality and different perceptions also this artwork includes an alternate reality to the front on the back of the album set in darkness.
Give us an idea how did the songwriting go this time? Does somebody has more creative input or do you develop songs together?
More and more members are involved in the writing for each album we have made and this time around practically everyone has contributed in everything from small sections, riffs and words, to complete lyrics and almost complete arrangements. As we rehearse new songs and try things out ideas get thrown around, reshaped and one rule that we try to follow is that all ideas should be tested and played before being rejected.
Balkan for life
On your earlier releases, I had feeling you were trying to create a theme songs, almost individual worlds. Now, enhancements as Balkan, country or fun elements are more as a bonus, as your main strategy is a good song. Do you agree?
Well, themes are a part of the process with each song when ideas are discussed but the quality of the song is number one and the most important is that we feel right about the style it turns out to be. Many ideas might be spawned from short ideas, riffs, rhythms etc and in that stage a theme might be very clear but through the progress, especially since so many of us contribute, the initial style, theme or general feeling of the song might change. Sometimes it can change many times during the writing and pre-production stage.
If we stop at Balkan element, I really love track The Age of Vulture Culture. Do you have a passion for Balkan music and do you love trumpet solos? Let me know please your opinion on Macedonian band Agusevi Dzambo Orkestar in the video. 2:20
I will start with my opinion on the video – I absolutely love it. I’ve actually seen it before. Maybe when surfing around for inspiration. =) Kidding aside, we usually find it more interesting to have Martin (trumpet), Johannes (cello) or some instrument other than regular guitar play the solos. The most important part is what fits the song best and what makes it sound interesting.
What music do you enjoy in your free time? My range includes progressive metal, modern jazz or ambient electronics. Of course next to sad Balkan music, where you need a gallon of red wine, as I am half “Yugoslavian”, half Czech.
At the moment I’ve been listening mostly to some bluegrass related styles and full on psy trance. But for me it varies a lot and usually goes in cycles of a couple of months with completely different artists and genres. And sometimes I can only listen to one artist, maybe even only one specific album for a month or so and then I also have periods where I just skip and hop around any kind of style and genre. I guess it all depends on what state I am in as a person and how I feel.
Today, we can see around us many bands working well with swing music and transforming many genres into swing. I must say Diablo Swing Orchestra went ahead of its time! However, how do you personally consider this modern trend? Does it lead more fans towards you whether it’s metal audience or non-metal?
I think swing is fun and I am glad that others do to. Honestly, I have no idea if the audience we have is mostly metal, non-metal or if they identify themselves locked to a genre at all.
I would like to kindly ask you for an opinion on my friends Dirty Rudolph and his Inglorious Rock’n’Roll Mates.
Nice rendition of a classic song. It’s fun to hear old songs in new ways like that. To put a trumpet solo instead of electric guitar was a good choice.
I could feel especially some connection with Dirty Rudolph singer within deep male vocals around 1:30 on Knucklehugs (Arm Yourself with Love). I am really glad this element is more present on the latest record, especially on the first track Knucklehugs (Arm Yourself with Love). Correct me if I am wrong, but is it you? 😉
It is Daniel singing that part. It was planned to be Johannes (and he does that part live) since he has by far the deepest voice in the band but because of poor planning on our behalf during the recording process Daniel had to record that vocal. Still it turned out fantastic I think but Johannes voice could have been even deeper.
As part of this interview will go also to Czech gear oriented magazine Muzikus, please give us an idea about the gear package you rely on tour.
Well for me, Daniel and Anders Fractal Audio processors is what delivers the sound. Controlled by midi pedal boards. The sound quality, stability and patching possibilities gives us the opportunity to play with practically identical sound on every venue independent of what amplifiers are available at the venue or festival. The amps on stage are only for monitor and since we never bring our own amps it’s wonderful to be able to deliver consistency regardless of that. Anders, Daniel and me play custom made instruments made by a very good friend of mine.
Since there are eight of us on stage and that we use speaker monitors on stage Johannes is (to avoid feedback issues) kind of forced to be playing an electric cello which of course is far from the sound of a proper cello. We are working on making a move to in-ear and removing amplifiers and monitors completely to be able to bring in a real cello on stage. This will also most likely be a relief for the sound engineers since the number of microphones we use on stage combined with stage volume tend to get us dangerously close to feedback. 😉 Johan (drums) utilizes two floor toms and one hanging on the kick, maybe not the most common setup. He always brings pedal, cymbals and two snares (a regular and a piccolo) but other than that relies on local backline for the kit. Martin (trumpet) and Daniel (trombone) bring their own instruments and Kristin prefers to play Clavia Nord Stage pianos.
Any recent cool gear discoveries?
It’s not really a very recent product but I would love to play around with the Plasma Pedal. That thing sounds absolutely crazy evil and original. I love it when pedals have such a distinct character, it can be very inspiring.
For the last question, any recent unpleasant technology surprises and how did you handle them?
We seem to have misplaced our wireless guitar systems so this show is gonna be connected by cable. =)