It’s often said that the best art originates from suffering. That’s certainly the case with Swedish progressive rock band Wolverine and their Communication Lost album. It’s a really dark effort based on some intense personal issues and struggles individual band members had to face. Drummer Marcus Losbjer (ML) and vocalist Stefan Zell (SZ) talked candidly about the dark times before releasing Communication Lost, their reconciliation with the current status of the band and some releases both gents are really looking forward to..
Hi there and thank you for doing this interview. Your new album, Communication Lost is real proghead’s delight. How’s the feedback coming along and are you relieved the album is finally going to be released?
ML: We haven’t got much feedback yet since it’s very few people who have heard it. But the feedback we have got has been very positive. The fact that it’s finally getting a release is very relieving, it has been like giving birth to a child that never comes out.
SZ: Yeah, it’s been a long road for us. It’s been five years since Still was released so it’s an amazing feeling to finally be able to release the album. I do however think the album is worth the time spent on it. So many things happened to us, as a band and individuals, these past years so I actually don’t think the album would’ve been out sooner than it is. It needed this time, simple as that.
Long gaps between recording and releasing albums seems to be an integral part of the Wolverine history. How come?
ML: There are many factors to that I think, first there’s the time-issue. Second there have always been a “third-person” (labels) that have opinions when it’s best for a release and then there’s the third and biggest issue which is us being satisfied with what we put out.
SZ: We all have full-time jobs and Wolverine is only a hobby of ours. Things would of course look a lot different if we could make our living off the band but I think we’ve all come to terms with the fact that will never happen. We’re losing money on every album we put out. We’re in the band only for the fun of it and that, to me, is the best reason there is for being in a band. However, things being the way are, this make things move a bit slower in terms of song-writing and stuff. These last years, as I mentioned earlier, have however been a bit more extreme than previous years. I’m hopeful we’ll have our next album out sooner than five years but then again you never know…
To me it seems that Wolverine has found its definitive sound on Still. Communication Lost seems to follow the same blueprint, but it has a darker and harsher edge. What are your thoughts on that?
ML: I pretty much agree with that. Still was an album where we sort of “landed” in our search for our identity. The writing and recording went very easy and smooth. Communication Lost came out like a continuation from Still but was at the same time it’s total opposite in terms of writing and recording. It’s “darker and harsher edge” probably came out of the frustration making it.
How did the writing and recording sessions for your new album go compared to previous experiences?
ML: In short, it was a total nightmare. Not the recordings as such but the whole writing process. This has been by far the most painful writing and recording process yet. We started writing songs right after releasing Still in 2006. The original plan was to release Communication Lost back in 2008 but many personal issues came in the way. Stefan was also out of the band for a moment.
SZ: Actually, both me and Mikael (guitarist.ed) kind of left the band for a while. The truth is we’ve always struggled a lot when it comes to song-writing. We have five strong wills within the band and five totally different personalities. It’s tough getting everyone on the same page. I do however think this make the albums so much stronger in the end. We’ve really approached the songs from all possible angles by the time the album is done. I don’t think this will change in the future. During the last five years some pretty monumental things happened to me. First, I quit my old job, studied for 2,5 years and started a new job. This took a lot of my time and of course it makes your everyday life a bit rougher since the income as a student is nowhere near the income you get as an employee. In the middle of my studies my wife gave birth to our wonderful daughter, Freya. She was however born with a critical heart condition and it required surgery in order for her to stay alive. She was born in march 2008 and that whole year was nothing but a nightmare. She got surgery at the end of 2008 and after that she’s been 100% healthy but as you can imagine it’s kind of hard to keep focus on the band in times like that. Family goes first. The song we have out as a preview track, Embrace, is all about Freya’s birth and probably the most personal song I’ve ever written lyrics for. It’s very dear to me.
The lyrics on Communication Lost seems to be very dark and personal. Song titles like In Memory Of Me, Your Favourite War and Into The Great Nothing hint in that direction. What events and experiences formed the inspiration for the lyrics and subjects on your latest album?
ML: As for the lyrics that’s concerning myself, it’s about extreme jealousy, manipulation and control in a past relationship I had. Other subjects include: capitalism, miscommunication and love.
SZ: The album is indeed very personal. To me it’s an album about change. It’s about going from one place to another. I’ve certainly changed a lot these past years and it has influenced every single word on the album.
One thing I really like about Still and Communication Lost is that the band manages to write very memorable songs with a technical undercurrent, but you never indulge yourselves in instrumental masturbation. Is this a conscious decision and something you strife for when composing new material?
ML: For me it’s all about the melodies and the songs. The technical stuff works only as a complement for enhancement if the song demands it. Music is about emotion not about technical virtuosity in my opinion.
SZ: I agree with Marcus. We decided long ago to focus on writing good songs, As an old Dream Theater-fan I’m also impressed by people who play their instruments well but the truth is there are so many people out there who is technically light years ahead of us. Why should we even try to compete with them? I think it shows, especially on our first two albums (Fervent Dream and The Window Purpose), that we were a bit too influenced by the technical side of writing music. It takes away a bit from the core of some of the songs.
Albums like Cold Light On Monday, Still and Communication Lost can hold their own against the best albums of high-profile prog bands like Porcupine Tree, Pain Of Salvation and Riverside. It’s a mystery to me why Wolverine doesn’t get the same level of recognition and appreciation. Does this bother you and what’s your take on this?
ML: It has to do with a combination of things I think. A lot of things in the world of today has to do with being at the right place at the right time and meet the right people, making the correct decisions at the right time and so on. Another thing has maybe been ourselves not trying hard enough.
SZ: I don’t agree with Marcus about us not trying enough. I think that we tried the best we could all up until after the release of Cold light of Monday. We did practically every gig we were offered but things never really took off. I think we would be in a different place if we had management and a booking agency. Then again, none of those seemed interested in us either. The title of Still actually hints about how nothing ever seemed to happen for the band despite the fact that we put out albums that, in our opinion, we really great albums. By the time Still was out a lot had changed on personal levels within the band which made any touring hard to go through with. We did however go through with a short UK-tour as support for Anathema but after that things just died off. It was really frustrating wanting to at least make part of a living off the band while the truth was that nothing happened. We got great reviews and feedback for every album we did but we kind of never moved past that. Today I see myself as too old to ponder over why things never take off for Wolverine. I have a beautiful family which is my main concern, I have a job that I love and I’m in a band that fulfils my every creative need. I’m in a really good place right now and it has brought me peace of mind. I’m happy for as long as life stays this way. If Communication Lost brings any commercial success to the band that’s a bonus but it’s no longer what I strive for. I want to write great albums and in my humble opinion that’s what we have done by releasing Communication Lost which is an album that I truly love.
Communication Lost is your second album on Candlelight Records, a label known for cutting edge extreme metal. What’s a prog band band like Wolverine doing there if I may ask?
ML: To make a long story short: We released Cold Light of Monday on an Earache imprint called Elitist. Founder of the Elitist imprint was Lee Barrett. After Earaches’ decision to dissolve Elitist, Lee Barrett left Earache and went back to his former label Candlelight and brought us with him.
Some very strong prog releases saw the law of day this year, like Amplifier, Beardfish and you guys. What albums are you particularly looking forward to this year and why?
ML: I have big hopes for the new Amorphis album. I’m also hoping that Depeche Mode or Bruce Springsteen will release something new this year.
SZ: I’m hopeless when it comes to Queensrÿche. I’ve been disappointed by their releases ever since “Hear In The Now Frontier” but every time they’re about to release a new album I get my hopes up. I think it’d best for me to realize that they’re no longer a band that will comply to my taste but here I am, hoping that the album they’re working on right now will be a return to triumph. I also hope Kiss‘ next album will be good. I really liked Sonic Boom and thought it was a great return to good form.
Time for the final question. What does progressive music/rock/metal mean to you?
ML: Today progressive music is something that is its own genre. To me progressive music can be any type of music with new ideas.
SZ: I think progressive metal today is equal to technical metal, which is a shame. I think the word progressive is being abused in today’s music. Progressive music should, just as Marcus says, present new ideas and ways of approaching music.
Written by Raymond Westland