Scar Symmetry

Exclusive Interview Series: The internet and the music industry – Scar Symmetry – Henrik Ohlsson

As part of a new series of interviews EspyRock commander-in-chief Michael Hughes, who has just written a dissertation on the effect of the internet on the music industry for the University Of The West Of Scotland, will be getting the views of artists on the internet’s effect on the music industry. The interview series will cover what is currently going on with the band at the moment but will also feature a questionnaire ranging from topics as to illegal downloading, social networking, technology and the future of the industry.

Earlier this month I had the chance to submit questions to drummer and lyricist Henrik Ohlsson of Scar Symmetry. With their new album ‘The Unseen Empire’ being released in April, the band were out to kick start the new era of Scar Symmetry after their last release ‘Dark Matter Dimensions’ was not as warmly received by fans due to the departure of vocalist Christian Alvestam and the introduction of two new vocalists Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist.

With the album receiving great reviews the band are on a new found high and looking forward to a positive new chapter in their career Henrik took some time to reply to my questions regarding the feeling within the camp, the lyrical theme and a lot more including his thoughts on the music industry.

Be sure to follow the band on Facebook, Twitter and MySpace right here for regular updates.

Interview

First I’d like to thank you for taking time to answer some questions and that I thoroughly enjoyed the latest album when I had the chance to sit down with it.

Awesome, glad you like the new album. Looking forward to the interview, here we go!

‘The Unseen Empire’ has been out now for a few weeks now, how happy are you with the reception it has received from fans and also press?

Very happy! It seems like some people were a bit disappointed with our previous album “Dark Matter Dimensions” but the new album seems to have hit home with all fans, new and old and that`s great. I`ve only read good reviews so the media response has been incredible too. I think that “The Unseen Empire” has a good balance between brutality and melody and I was confident about the album, even before it was released, because I knew it was a strong release and it seems like the metal scene in general agree with me.

This of course the second album now with Roberth and Lars after the band parted with Christian. When they joined the band back in 2008, how quickly did it take to recover the positive vibe within the band and is it still carrying on today?

Well, we had an instant feel of relief once we got a new line-up together. It really felt like we could once again concentrate on the important stuff instead of disagreeing with each other about things, you know. But around the time when we recorded “Dark Matter Dimensions” there was this aura of uncertainty whether the fans would like the new stuff and that`s something I feel has vanished over the last year or so. I would say that the really positive vibe in terms of confidence and everything started some time last year, that`s when we felt that people started to accept the new line-up and it enabled us to hit the studio with a strong sense of confidence to record “The Unseen Empire”. I think you can hear the energy that is present on the new album, it`s like a totally different band compared to the previous album.

‘Dark Matter Dimensions’ was positively received but did have those who weren’t fond of it. I think that mainly came down to people becoming so used to Christian behind the mic that it did take time for fans to transition to the changes. Do you feel now that you’ve moved onto the second album that fans have adapted to the new era of the band?

Yeah, definetly. As I said earlier people really seem to embrace the new line-up in a whole different way nowadays and since “The Unseen Empire” came out so strong I think the acceptance of the new version of the band will increase even more this year and onward.

Has the writing/recording process differed in any way that has been seen as a challenge as you had to adapt to two vocalists?

The idea to have two singers in the band is something that had been in the back of our heads since 2007 basically. At that point we had done a lot of touring with only one vocalist and we found out that it`s incredibly demanding for one guy to do all the vocals in Scar Symmetry. That was especially evident on tour. So having two vocalists is something we`d been thinking about before it actually happened and once it happened it was like opening the door to a whole new world in the vocal department. We didn`t really have to adapt to having two vocalists, it`s actually natural to have two guys singing in our type of music because it`s like switching between two personalities vocally anyway, if you know what I mean. We have these aggressive, angry types of voices and these melodic, clean voices in the music. It`s like good cop/bad cop! Why not having one guy playing the good cop and one guy acting as the bad cop instead of having one who has to go schizoid doing both? I can`t see any challenges when it comes to song writing or recording with Roberth and Lars, it`s more a case of being able to do anything vocally when you have two guys doing lead vocals. Per and Jonas still creates the vocal lines and I write the lyrics, nothing has really changed in the song writing process compared to the early years.

Scar Symmetry The Unseen Empire ArtworkOf course the biggest draw to this album when you hear it being described is the topics you chose to write about. Firstly what made you want to write about conspiracy theories, the illuminati and new world order and such topic?

We`ve touched upon these topics before, especially on “Pitch Black Progress” which had kind of an Orwellian, Big Brother-theme to it, and also on “Holographic Universe” which touched upon the all-seeing eye and Illuminoid cults. Even the first album had at least one song touching upon the Illuminati. But when we had these elements on the earlier albums it was kind of subtle and not so much to the point, this album had a more focused approach in that regard. So the topic is by no means new to us but I wanted to do an album that put the whole thing about the Illuminati into serious focus instead of having it kind of in the background or whatever. The main reason for that was actually Jonas (Kjellgren, guitar) because he had been reading about the Illuminati and that kind of inspired me, it was the first I felt that someone else in the band had some sort of genuine interest in what we`re doing lyrically. So Jonas was definitely the spark that made me focus on this particular topic lyrically.

Secondly to that, do you feel or believe there are certain conspiracies right now that are going on around us? The most recent event is of course the death of Osama Bin Laden, which there are people believing that there is a future conspiracy with the US.

Well, sure. There are constantly conspiracies going on even though labelling them conspiracies automatically makes you sound paranoid because of the energy that the word “conspiracy” gives off these days. Maybe it was a conspiracy to make the word “conspiracy” sound phony, who knows? Ha ha. Anyway, the attitude that I had when I wrote the lyrics for “The Unseen Empire” was that everything that happens in the political world are means for the elite bloodlines to advance the agenda of global domination. By embracing that point of view you look through different lenses compared to the lenses of the common worldview and everything significant that is displayed in the mainstream media are a case of “problem-reaction-solution”. Those three steps allows the leading elite to realize ideas that would never be accepted by the general public if they were just presented out of the blue. So…the Illuminati, or whatever you want to call them, creates a problem and gets a reaction from the masses and then they offer a solution, the idea they wanted to realize to begin with, which is now automatically accepted by the people of the world. If you look around you see that sort of stuff happening all the time. So, yeah, there are multiple CONSPIRACIES going on right now around us.

You recently spoke about the band’s name with ‘Scar’ symbolising the negative, brutal side of the band and ‘Symmetry’ symbolising the positive, melodic side of your music. Is this something that you focus on when writing lyrics; do you look to build from negatives to a positive within a song or over an album or does each song simply tell its own story?

I tend to write with a more brutal approach for the death metal vocals, l normally use more of an aggressive approach and awkward words and stuff like that for the growl parts. When I write the clean vocal parts it`s more about emotional stuff and I usually use words that are more simple and therefore gives a better flow to the melodies. But it`s not like all the clean vocals carry a positive message, it depends on the song and what vibe I`m aiming for. I use a lot of metaphors and symbolic stuff in the lyrics and that goes for both the brutal parts and the melodic parts. It would probably be more accurate to say that “scar” represents the brutal side of the band and “symmetry” symbolizes the melodic side of the band because the clean vocals travel into some pretty nasty areas lyrically so it`s not like the clean vocals are all about flowers and peace… I would say that each song tells its own story.

In a recent interview I did with Travis Meyers of Margin Of Error I asked about musical influences but he spoke about how his influences are more visual which made me think of this album having known the topics you had chosen to write about. Is that anything that could be addressed to way you write or thought about this album as the songs have been topics that have been covered in a visual format before?

Yes, well, I know that Jonas was thinking along the lines of the album concept when he wrote some of the songs. He followed some internal images of the topics and created music out of that basically. But other songs were written regardless of the album concept; they were put together by riffs and melodies that came from other sources within the minds of Jonas and Per. I`d say it`s a mixture of approaches when it comes to the song writing.

From reading the views of fans and reviewers, the top/favourite songs changes all the time but the pick out songs seem to be ‘Seers Of The Schaton’, ‘The Draconian Arrival’ and ‘Astronomicon’. I know that ‘Seers Of The Schaton’ holds something a bit special for you as the most insane song off the album for drumming but what songs would you pick out as the key songs for people to check out if they haven’t heard the album already?

First of all I have to point out that the song is called “Seers of the Eschaton”, the label did a little typo there on the early versions of the track listing. But anyway, it`s hard to give people a good view of the new album by just listening to three songs since all the songs present different aspects of the band. “The Anomaly” is a hit-song and it shows that side of the band. “Illuminoid Dream Sequence” gives you the progressive side of the band. “Extinction Mantra” shows you our heavy side. “Seers of the Eschaton” is a fast tune, “Domination Agenda” goes back to our more simplistic, hit-song elements. “Astronomicon” unites the fast and progressive aspects of the band. “Rise of the Reptilian Regime” is both catchy in parts and damn heavy in other parts. “The Draconian Arrival” is a very melodic tune, driven by atmosphere. And the album finishes with “Alpha and Omega” which combines pretty much all the elements in one way or another. But, well, if you listen to the first four songs of the album I guess you have a pretty good picture of what we`re about.

You have some festival dates booked over the next few months, looking forward to these dates? Are you currently preparing tours in support of the album?

We`re very much looking forward to the festival dates, it`s always fun as hell to play at festivals because of all the fans, bands and all the other people that are there. We`re going to be busy taking care of the festival dates throughout the summer and then we`ll do an Australian tour followed by either a European tour or a U.S-tour. We haven`t decided yet. Then we`ll do some dates in South America before the end of the year. And next year we`ll continue promoting “The Unseen Empire” through shows, tours and whatever comes our way!

Illuminoid Dream Sequence

It has been notable over the years that the band is quick to follow up on an album so when you do have spare time what do you like to do?

Personally I hang out with my family a lot. I have a girlfriend, two kids and four dogs and they occupy a lot of my time of course. Other than that I`m involved in a couple of other music projects, I read a lot of books, watch movies and shit like that; nothing spectacular.

I would like to thank you again for taking some time to answer these questions and please feel free to add anything you wish.

Thanks to the fans out there, your support is immensely appreciated! Hope you like the new album and keep checking our Facebook/MySpace sites for the latest info. Cheers!

Internet and the music industry

The biggest issue with the internet for artists is of course illegal downloading and there has been a rapid decline in value of the industry as the internet expands throughout the world. Several artists I have spoken to have stated that it has become part of life and that now selling albums is no longer a profitable business; money is solely earned from touring. What are your views on the matter of illegal downloading?

There are both positive and negative sides to it. I like the fact that you get your music out to a lot more people than in the past when internet wasn`t available. It`s easier to spread your music nowadays. Everything about downloading and the internet would rule unless there was this little thing called money… Because the money-aspect of it sucks! I don`t know how much money we would have made if there was no internet but I`m sure we would have earned more than in the current situation where a lot of people “steal” albums. I mean, we haven`t made much money out of our albums at all since a lot of our money goes into touring. You said something about making money on tours but since we`re often an opening act on tours we don`t really make any money out of that, touring is actually one of the most money-consuming things in the world for us as a band.

Do you feel that any of the current methods such as watermarking or streaming based models which have users paying a fee to stream music will take off and help stop the illegal sharing of music files? Or do you see any strength with the idea of giving away your music for free, having it shared around the world and again relying on touring to make money?

I don`t think you can stop the illegal downloading. As long as people can get something for free there will always be people who choose to get it for free. It`s part of human nature, I guess. But yeah, things like Spotify and sites that allow easy access for a modest sum of money will probably keep part of the population on the legal side of consuming music. I think it`s awesome that people can explore music through the internet, it`s a great opportunity. I wish we would make a lot of many through touring because that would probably solve the money issue. Right now we`re working to make that happen and I basically keep my fingers crossed. As long as we don`t really make money out of anything as a band we have to keep our day-jobs and kind of struggle to make it work. At some point we hope to stabilize financially with or without the help of actual album-buyers. If there`s a will, there`s a way!

The global recorded music industry saw a 31% decline in value from the years of 2004 to 2010 but the digital music market has seen a 1000% increase in value over the same period. Do you see the internet’s influence on the industry as the sole cause of this decline or do you believe there are any other factors which you consider an issue?

If no internet was available then people would have to buy their albums from the stores, it would basically be like in the 80`s when bands actually made money out of music and spent millions recording albums. I really can`t see any other reason besides the internet and illegal downloading for the decline of album sales.

With such a growth in the digital music market, many artists have already stopped creating physical albums; the most notable is Rob Zombie who stated his most recent release would be his last physical album as the growing popularity of iTunes and Amazon is now controlling album sales. The IFPI recently published findings that 16.5% of internet users in the United States purchase their music digitally than physically.
Firstly as an artist and music fan, do you still buy physical albums or do you download from digital music stores? Secondly, do see the digital music markets as something positive for the industry and your career as a new and cheaper distribution method?

I buy albums AND I consume music digitally. Both have their ups and downs. I think it would be sad if there was no physical albums at all, having grown up during the 80`s and 90`s I`m very attached to physical releases. Digital releases doesn`t feel real to me. I have a hard time picturing the music industry without physical albums; especially in metal we have a strong culture when it comes to holding an actual album in our hands. I mean, a lot of metal albums are still released on VINYL for god`s sake! That`s how rooted physicality is in the metal universe. I would prefer a world where the albums are released both physically and digitally and I do think that there will always be some sort of demand for physical releases when it comes to metal albums.

Extinction Mantra

As the digital music stores assist in distribution, other factors that come into releasing an album are marketing and promotion of any sort. What are your views on the ability to use the internet to promote and market yourself?

It`s great! Facebook is awesome and MySpace was also important once upon a time. I think Facebook killed MySpace though… The labels allow bands to still record videos thanks to YouTube. Internet is very important when it comes to promotion and marketing these days. I would say that the internet dominates those areas and it takes over more and more. Nothing is faster and more direct. I mean, I can record a video at home today with the latest band info and get it out to everyone within minutes!

Social networking has naturally become a massive asset in the industry for labels and artists to be able to interact with fans on an everyday basis from anywhere in the world. Do you feel that if the social networking boom hadn’t taken place that it would effectively hinder careers as there would have been no direct route to communicate with fans?

Yeah, well, things would definitely have looked different. It`s great to have a close communication with the fans and there are absolutely positive aspects to that. Sometimes I feel, however, that the mystical aura that surrounded artists in the 80`s for example gets lost because of the intense communication channels. I remember when I was a kid and all these heavy metal bands seemed otherworldly and there were all kinds of rumours circulating because of the fact that you only had magazines and TV giving you certain angles where the artists were more or less gods or something. Nowadays you can look at clips on YouTube where Bruce Dickinson wipes his ass or whatever. Well, maybe not that, but you know what I mean. The vibe is a bit different. I would say that some careers would have been hindered without the internet and some careers are hindered by the internet, ha ha!

A big development in recent years has been the hardware and software that has been created for anyone and everyone to purchase. We now find aspiring artists building their own home studios at their computer by purchasing top of line software, sound cards, microphones and such. What are your views on the technology advancements in recent years from software, hardware and even to the MP3 itself? What positives or negatives if any do you see from these advancements?

When illegal downloading started for real you saw a lot of bands beginning to record their albums in home studios because they couldn`t the same kind of recording budgets as before. Just look at Yngwie Malmsteen, King Diamond etc. The problem was that it sounded like shit! I think you need a professional studio to take care of the job somewhere down the line, even if it`s only mixing and mastering. You just don`t get the same quality from home studio stuff, unless it`s supposed to sound “garage-y”. When it comes to mp3 I think it works but it depends on how you consume the music, the quality is of course better if you get FLAC or regular CD`s etc.

While purchasing hardware/software and recording in your own home studio is a method of removing big studio costs and staff costs, recently fan funding in return for incentives has become a new way forward. Recently in the UK bands such as Madina Lake, Funeral For A Friend and The Blackout have used Pledge Music (Kickstarter in the US) in which fans contribute towards the cost of the studio in return for signed albums, special gifts and more. Do you think this method of involving fans more intimately in the creation of an album and offering them incentives to do so could be a way forward to combat the losses through piracy?

Yeah, if it works it works. But it feels like it`s just a way of keeping something that is about to die alive artificially. I don`t know, everyone does what they have to do in order to keep producing music, it`s just a bit sad that musicians aren`t treated better than they are these days. I`d like it to be a job just like any other trade where you get paid and so on for working but that`s not the way it is now. I mean, a lot of people enjoy what musicians do and music is a big part of pretty much everyone`s life in one way or another. That`s got to be worth something, right? We shouldn`t have to beg for money, that`s all I`m saying.

Scar Symmetry BandIn the United States from 1999 to 2009 there was a 17% fall in the number of people hired as a musician and in Europe, while not directly musicians, the estimated number of jobs likely to be lost due to piracy in the creative industries will reach 1.2 million by 2015. Do you worry as an artist that you will ever be swept by this wave and be forced to leave the industry you love in order to provide a better living for yourself?

Yeah, I worry a little bit about that. So far I`ve been able to work it out even though it`s been a struggle at times. Since I have kids and a family I have to make sure I get money from somewhere and music doesn`t really put money in my pockets as it is now. That`s why I have to balance my day-job with the music in order to make things work and it kind of gets harder with each year, to be honest. I will always create music no matter what and I`d love to do it professionally but in order to do it professionally it has to generate money. I`m kind of stuck between doing music on a fairly high level without earning anything but a modest amount of money and at the same time work full-time as a normal guy to be able to pay the bills. I mean, there are only so many hours in a day and sometimes it feels like I`m in two places at once. Or three places. Ha!

When you consider the industry previously to the time before the internet and to now with the internet in full swing, what do you see for the future of the industry?

Hopefully there will be a way for musicians to earn money from their music digitally, there are ways even now and hopefully it`ll get much better in the future. I think that the labels that have survived so far will remain in the industry, there have been many obstacles for them already and they seem to have dealt with them. There are two roads that they industry might take, either it gets better thanks to some revolutionizing idea or it will get worse where a lot of bands will not be supported in a proper way by the industry. On the other hand the internet allows bands to promote themselves and that will probably be a big thing in the future. A lot of bands have already made careers on their own and if that thing takes over there won`t be a music INDUSTRY anymore, not as we know it today anyway. It`ll turn into something completely different. But you know, as soon as a band gains some degree of popularity you always see a bunch of vultures…I mean managers and the like emerging and they usually convince the musicians to give all their money to them in the end. Ha ha. That`s the way it goes. Since musicians are mostly busy making music and being creative you have all these other people concentrating on the money aspect of it all and making sure that anything that is earned ends up in their pockets.

     

About Michael

Michael is the owner and creator of EspyRock. He is your general all round geek; sports fan; TV show fanatic. You can find him sharing his thoughts on his personal Twitter account. Contact Michael on Twitter or via Email.

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