On Halloween, I had the opportunity to sit down with Johannes Eckerström, the evil clown, organ grinder, carnival ringleader of the metal band Avatar. The band hails from Gothenburg, Sweden and I have to say that I was a little apprehensive going in. First off, I can barely speak English, my native language. How was a Swedish metal star going to handle it? The answer? Surprisingly well. Second, the Nordic countries take their metal WAY more seriously than we do here. Our death metal bands don’t burn churches and keep the brains of their suicidal lead singers. Was I going to end up in the back of their bus. . .on ice? Clearly, I did not. Let’s dive into the interview, there is a lot of good stuff here. Enjoy!
So, how’s America been treating you guys? We’ll get the stupid question out of the way first.
It’s been good. It’s our third tour that we’ve done over here and I think this time there’s less culture shock, you know. We’ve got the place more figured out than we did the first time. I also feel like we’ve put our existence here in stone, in a way, finally. All these tours have been great success stories for us beyond anything we have experienced anywhere else. It went much faster over here than it did in Europe. So it’s always been great. This is the third time we’ve played South Bend, the first two times as openers. I would argue that the second time we were here we kind of stole the show and the third time we are back as headliners already. At least we fill half of it, you know? It’s a big place, so it’s been growing exponentially.
So who did you tour with the last time you were here?
Pop Evil and Escape the Fate.
I’ve been listening to Hail the Apocalypse pretty much straight for the last two or three months. Best Buy kept selling out of them. That’s saying something, because South Bend is not a big metal town.
South Bend is a pretty big Avatar town, though.
I was looking online and sites are calling you guys death metal or the new wave of Swedish death metal. I don’t hear it, but are you guys cool with that?
I’m cool with whatever people want to call us. I know what I am a fan of. I aspire to do something that doesn’t sound like something I am a fan of. So I leave that question open but our roots are definitely in death metal That’s the music we played when we became a band and were learning to figure out how to use our instruments. That’s what we are rooted in as a group and then we all bring these different kinds of influences to the table and became more groove oriented in a way than I would say pure, old school death metal is. So, yeah, death metal is a part of the whole thing. There are multiple layers there. I let people be the judge of what they should call our music. I don’t want to be the old cliche and say that I don’t want to put any labels on it. It always sounds so pretentious. Yeah, we are a metal band and we are trying to keep the metal fresh. Fresh, and real, and genuine, and true.
I would certainly not put you guys in the category with Cannibal Corpse and Deicide. I’d put you more in with Machine Head and Slayer. Not thrash, but more of the traditional metal the bands have become, especially Machine Head. Now, you guys toured with Pop Evil and went out with Sevendust, right? You don’t sound much like you’d fit with those two bands.
Those are the opportunities that have been given us. When we toured with Sevendust, Launca Coil was on there with us. We were different from that stuff, but we are different from other stuff anyway. When you say Slayer, I don’t think so. It would have been awesome, we are huge fans. I don’t see why we would be closer style wise to Slayer than Sevendust. That’s where it’s tricky. If we were to label ourselves it would be easier. If we knew how to label ourselves it would be easier to know which bands to pursue for opening slots.
Now, what are some of the bands that have influenced you?
My big four, personally, are Beethoven, The Beatles, Black Sabbath, and Devin Townsend, ruining the whole ‘B’ thing. These are the four that shaped me the most growing up. In metal, Helloween with that style of European power metal, that music really brought that sense of urgency, a sense of purpose to the music. Then that journey to the extreme started from there. You meet a friend that’s into black metal, then meet a friend that’s into death metal, and that’s all she wrote. In extreme music, I would say again Devin Townsend. The Haunted were also a very big deal for us as a band starting; when learning how to play, how to scream. The Haunted were BIG influences.
I have heard of The Haunted, but have not actually heard them (he looked shocked).
Their album The Haunted Made Me Do It and also their self titled debut album were the big things. Also their third album One Kill Wonder, when it came out. You know At the Gates, I hope.
I have heard of At the Gates.
At the Gates was one of the pioneers of Gothenburg death metal. When they split up, At the Gates members started The Haunted. You do need to listen to At the Gates. You need to listen to Slaughter of the Soul. That will explain where most of the American bands in the 2000’s stole their riffs from. Stuff like Killswitch Engage. They say it straight out. That’s where they picked up so much of their sound. Slaughter of the Soul. That’s your homework.
So, you guys are heading home in a couple days?
We fly back home and we have almost two weeks off. Almost, not quite. And then we have a European tour coming up.
Yep. Co-headlining with The Defiled.
I was listening to Black Waltz on the way in. I’ve been listening to Hail the Apocalypse, a lot. You definitely have the ringmaster, organ grinder, carnival sound going on on Hail the Apocalypse. Is that a running theme? I haven’t heard the other three albums prior to the most recent two.
It started with Black Waltz. It started after we were done recording, actually. I don’t know if you’ve seen the video, but the first music video we did for the album was the title track, and it just so happened that while working on some other ideas we met a sideshow artist and we made a music video with a sideshow, a freakshow, theme. They wanted to put me in the context of the video and have the video make sense. And scary clowns are scary so that is what we did, basically. It just clicked. So, we felt we finally found the face and the voice of the music. Now I am not just the lead singer, I have become the Eddie situation, you know what I mean? It came with Black Waltz and has grown from there. We’ll keep running with it as long as it allows us to be creative.
That’s it for part one of my interview with Johannes Eckerström. For now, enjoy this video for Black Waltz, the video that inspired the creation of the evil clown that is the front man for Avatar!! Stay tuned, as part two of the interview will be up soon!!