Ivan Chopik of Guitar Messenger conducted an interview with MESHUGGAH guitarist Mårten Hagström at the 10th annual New England Metal and Hardcore Festival in Worcester, Massachusetts in late April. A couple of excerpts from the chat follow.
Guitar Messenger: MESHUGGAH has been getting significantly more media attention and gaining new fans with the latest release. What do you think sets "obZen" apart from the last couple of albums?
Mårten: For me, that's a real tough one to answer, because of the obvious fact that I'm not 100% sure why people are into a certain record at all. You never know. We're always experimental in one way or another, trying to come up with shit we find cool. In reality, since we've gone back for the first time in a bunch of years to a regular song structure and having the songs be a bit more direct and with a little bit more aggression back in it — I think just going back to that format makes it more accessible than it used to be for a long time. And maybe people have adjusted to us, as well. Through the years, people have been saying "Oh, that's kind of an oddball band." But people are slowly getting used to that, I guess (laughs).
Guitar Messenger: You started out with a strong thrash influence, and arrived at a more groove-based technical sound that we've come to know as MESHUGGAH. Having been on this path for the last three or four of albums, where do you see your sound going from here on out? Where would you like to take it?
Mårten: As far as I where I see it going, I have no clue. I don't think any of us have a clue. Because, in all honesty, whenever you're finished with an album and look back on it — it's a very rare thing that you had a preconceived notion of what it was going to be. So whatever's going to happen next is going to be whatever we're gonna feel like after coming off of touring for this album. Because that's what always happens. We go back home, we take a break, and then things just fall into place. We're pretty rigid with our sound. We tweak our sound a little bit, but we're within our own bubble — we produce and write our stuff. It's just a matter of what kind of mindset we're gonna be in at the time. I couldn't read the title of it, though.
Guitar Messenger: What's the typical writing process like?
Mårten: If you're talking about "Chaosphere", it was done in a different way, but the general way is that you come up with an idea — "Oh, cool thing. We should go do something like that." You hear it in your head and you sit down and record it on the computer and program drums and stuff like that. The cool thing is that kind of makes it so that we're so into the whole process, that you never really lift your head. So we really are one of those bands — we never jam on tour or write stuff on tour. It's at home. When we're at home and working together, we just bury ourselves in our little bubble, in our studio — and that's it.
Guitar Messenger: How do you approach all the polyrhythms in your music? I've actually sat down and tried to count out some of those overlying patterns — they're outrageous. Do you approach them separately?
Mårten: Ninety percent of the time I approach it the way you would when playing a blues. Because everybody knows the blues and it's a natural motion of something, but it's fairly set down so everybody can just pick it up. The thing is, I try not to think of it as rhythmic figures that start there and then stop, and then start again. It's how the figure sounds different, and works in a different way and moves as far as how it's grooving towards the 4/4 — that's everything. Some parts are difficult to learn, especially if you didn't write them yourself. They might not come as natural to you, so in the learning process you might break it down into numbers so you can get a view of what's actually down there, as far as what you're gonna do. But the way the music sounds to you is how it moves through the 4/4.
Guitar Messenger: What have been some high points and low points throughout your career?
Mårten: Low points: well, there's always a bunch of low points in a career that's this long. We've had our share of bad luck, especially back in the day — cut off fingers and shit like that. Fredrik cut his finger off and had to sew it back on [points to his left ring finger]; Tomas split his finger once… We've been having some accidents, man, involving hands. Peter, our first bass player, got sick and had to leave the band — the regular stuff you go through in your career, but it's kind of a bum-out when it happens. High points: whenever you release an album and feel satisfied with it. Getting to tour with TOOL — that was a great tour, we had a lot of fun. It was great being out with SLAYER. We've been lucky with tours, man. So touring's gotta be the high point, I think.
Guitar Messenger: Some of the original bands that you were influenced by now claim to be influenced by you — like METALLICA, for example.
Mårten: Yeah, METALLICA — those guys were the shit when we were growing up. I still have tremendous respect for them, and still play the old albums. It's hard to even bother about stuff like that. Because, OK — somebody likes your stuff; that's great, period. Whoever it is doesn't really matter. But it's cool, it's just something that's kinda weird when you think about it — we try not to. So we just do our stuff.
Read the entire interview at www.guitarmessenger.com.