Aksel: Hi, how are you doing?
DK: Pretty good. How are you?
Aksel: Very well.
Fia: Yes, very well, thank you!
DK: Awesome! I’m getting the video set up here…
(Skype video activated)
DK: Oh, this is great and I sincerely appreciate both of your time today, I know that this is going to be a fairly long day of interviews for you and I appreciate you taking the time.
Fia: Definitely! Our pleasure!
DK: So (Fia), I almost expected to see you in your persona (makeup).
Fia: You did? (laughs)
DK: But it is great to see you as yourself as well.
DK: So, would you mind if we go back to the beginning to getting a better idea of who you are and where you came from literally from kids and how music kind of took hold of you and got you to where you are today?
Aksel: Of course.
Fia: Yeah. Of course. I grew up in Linköping, Sweden and definitely really in a musical family. My dad is a musician as well, he’s a music teacher, my mom is a musician, my brother is a musician and hence I am a musician. So, a really prog family, I listened a lot to the house Gods, Genesis and a lot of prog rock, like Gentle Giant, King Crimson, Jethro Tull, old school prog as well as into the ‘80s like It Bites and things like that, that are really progressive rock bands which I loved. So that’s where I came from and I started to play the piano around 6-7 years old and also went to music education, the whole school time as well.
Aksel: Yeah, you were probably the most formally trained one of us (laughs).
Fia: (laughs) Yeah, maybe, maybe. I started to listen to Metal a bit in 7th, 8th grade (maybe?) I started to notice all these cool bands like Meshuggah and Dillinger Escape Plan and Converge. I got so amazed by all the energy, all the energetic kind of music coming from prog which is energetic in another type of way, with all the harmonizing all the long tracks where you can have the Jazzy, quirky parts for 10 minutes in the middle of a song coming to this which is a whole new world for me exploring this kind of music like Metal and I thought was so cool. Definitely really, really technical music, Metal is sometimes the hardest kind of music you can play by technical, so I am amazed by that. And always been singing in different constellations and different bands but never really felt like I got my full potential with what I’ve been doing so far in other bands and in my own songwriting. I never really felt that I came to the point where I was fully satisfied with what I wanted to do as a musician. So me and Aksel, we’ve known each other for 10 years and always talked about playing together, we have a lot of the same musical influences and a lot of the same interests for that kind of music, but never came to the point where we sat down and did it. You know? We always talked about “Let’s write together” because we had so much in common, what we liked and wanted to write and wanted to explore.. until we actually sat down. Thats where I guess it clicked for me and coming to terms with what I wanted to do as a musician.
Aksel: Exactly. I guess my musical background is slightly different in a way because I also come from a family who’s always listened a lot to music but not maybe played a lot of music in terms of instruments. Whereas, I started to play drums when I was maybe 13 I guess and I started playing locally with some friends just rehearsing in a youth center and playing Metallica covers because when I was I guess six years old my dad brought home “And Justice for All…” and it just completely shook my musical world, which was very tiny at that point. When I first heard the opening riff of “Blackened” I was just completely hooked at “What is this amazing sound that is coming out of the speaker and just grabbing me and forcing me to move around?” So I started doing living room concerts with my brother with chopsticks on pillows and my brother had tennis racket laying around. That was probably the breaking point for me where I started appreciating heavier music and I was very influenced by that type of Metal. Eventually when I formed my first band with my brother, we discovered Mastodon when I was maybe 16 and Brann from Mastodon really influenced my way approaching drums which is just hit everything at the same time all the time. I mean its a very good way of learning how to be fast, in a way it is because you learn how to do a lot of stuff, but in the end you start developing your own style. I started listening to Meshuggah as well and Dillinger Escape Plan which is an amazing band and listened to a fair bit of Jazz, maybe not the Miles Davis type but more the loungy type of Jazz. Which has also influenced my sense of melody I think in a way and like Fia said, we’ve known each other for about ten years and we started talking music basically instantly when we met each other because that was our common ground and then we…
Fia: We were the only ones at a party who liked Cannibal Corpse and I think thats where it all started, we put it on the CD and everybody just ran out, we were the only ones left. (laughs) Thats where it all began!
DK: That’s the sign you were looking for!
Aksel: We always talked about doing something together and when we eventually just got our act together and said “OK we need to sit down and make something”, we did so over the course of a week in a cottage out in the woods and we just sat down without any preconceived notion of what we should write. We just said “Let’s just make something happen” and I remember you having some sort of melody on piano and we just instantly latched onto it and wrote a song out of it and I guess maybe two or three hours later we had one of the songs for the album.
DK: Which song was it?
Fia: Deus Ex Homine.
DK: Oh, OK.
Fia: And it just felt so natural and came so easy and I think because we’ve known each other for quite a long time and always talked so much about it there were no feelings that you had to hold back or that you had to feel embarrassed or anything like that. You could just bring out the ideas and we took them on with open arms and just tried to do things of it. And it just felt really natural to us to do it which was a great relief as well because you know if you’ve been talking about doing something together for ten years and then you sit down and like “Wow, we can’t do this together” That would have been a disappointment.
DK: Why didn’t we do it sooner, kind of thing.
Aksel: Eventually, down the line everything just became more clear that we need to make this into a band and we need to make an album and we need to try to make something out of it. We found members both through our previous bands and some new guys who are just equally interested in this type of quirky Metal I guess and everything just fit together really nicely…
Fia: Yeah, great people, great musicians who, as you said had the same interests and were ready to give this their full attention as well and when we spend time together and we’re rehearsing or writing music together everything just feels and you know it sounds a bit cheesy but it feels really natural, it feels like we’ve know each other our whole lives and this is what were in to do.
DK: That’s what is most important; that you feel that comfortable together. Especially, you’re going to be on the road together at some point and you’re definitely going to have to be around each other all the time and if you’re not that comfortable, its going to be much more difficult.
Fia: Yeah, definitely
Fia: So we came together and formed the Great Discord. I mean, we had some thoughts about the band and the whole visual presentation behind it the other guys really liked it. We formed the whole concept behind this album together, which is also a name for us. Although it started with us two writing the first couple of songs and started up, we wanted it to be an effort that comes from all of us as a band as The Great Discord.
DK: Was the visual aspect, did it precede the name of the band or did it follow the name of the band?
Aksel: I think it sort of materialized when we listened back to the first songs we wrote in the cottage because when we listened to it, it sort of cried out in a way that this needs to be presented in a specific manner and how can we make the music more interesting for us and hopefully for people… or how are we going to present it to the world basically? What makes sense for us to create in terms of the visual aspect? So we sort of, quite quickly actually started to think about how you (Fia) would look, because of the music’s technicality and the spastic, it requires a focal point, it requires something you keep your attention to and that became Fia, an onstage persona, where, maybe you know how she looks?
Aksel: Yeah. She becomes something that is not supposed to be a person,
Fia: More of an entity. Like, you’re not supposed to know if it is good or if its band or hateful or harmful or joyful or sensual or whatever you can connect it with…
DK: …Sorry… With the videos you’ve already shared out, you have the one with the blood being spattered on you and it does present the darker image kind of image, but then “Woes” has a very serene, very beautiful tone to it that I think really captures both sides of you very well in just those two clips alone.
Fia: Yeah, thank you so much! I guess that is the point of it as well, when we look back at it, we can tell that it became ten short stories of these ten songs where we try to put it in all from the extremes to just plain emotions that people go through daily as sorrow or sadness or power and joyful feelings to the real extremes like we had the cannibal and we had the necrophile and that’s maybe not conditions that every person goes around bearing, but they’re part of life and people actually do live with these kind of conditions so for me the stage persona is supposed to represent all these kinds of emotions, the discordance in people’s lives. Does that make sense?
DK: Very much so. I am very intrigued and very interested to see how you’re going to present this in a live format. Am I correct in assuming you’ve not played many shows yet?
Aksel: No, we’ve only played live once…
Fia: ..And it was a show here in our hometown.
Aksel: A local festival basically
Fia: It was a great show, it was so much fun and it really intrigued us all that we’re so excited to come out on the road and play more because we really want to show ourselves to the world now. We’ve been working with this record now for almost two years.
Aksel: Yeah, we’ve been planning the whole live thing for a while and incorporating a lot of technical aspects, you know, intros, outros, backtracks all that stuff because we have a lot of stuff going on in the music that we don’t want to be lost in the live situation because we’re only five people, we can’t really make all the noises physically so we needed to have that aspect as well. To make it as seamless as possible; not having the real start and stop, but more of a whole that is connected through the small interactions between the songs and then of course the lighting comes in which is also a very integral part of how we’re going to present it. For example, when we listen to music, we usually see music in different colors, where one song is blue, one is red, one is green and we try to keep the songs color theme when we light it up in that specific theme but we feel that this song is green, ok so its going to go in green or some variations of green for the most part and try to keep it as cohesive as possible in terms of colors as well. Then of course, since we’re just starting up, we can’t really bring a lot of props so its going to be more focused on Fia’s persona and the way she acts on stage and the lighting aspect of everything. We’re going to put as much effort as possible into that to make it cohesive and make it like someone has given it a little bit of thought.
Fia: Yeah, and really try to bring that extra energy to the shows like, for me when I watch shows as we said earlier named bands like Dillinger Escape plan which is a band you just get amazed by watching with all the energy, it gives you energy to watch them and also that’s what we’re trying to do, to give 150% of us, every one of us. I think that for me it becomes really easy with being this persona because I get so into the different characters that I am supposed to express with the vocals and the whole embodiment of it, it gets quite easy for me to really get into the character and just give my everything.
Fia: So, super excited!
DK: You definitely hear that with actors who wear the prosthetics and whatnot, I am sure it is pretty much the same thing, you can get much more involved and invested and being in the moment.
Aksel: Step outside yourself for a moment.
Fia: Thats what happens, sometimes when I look at myself in doing shows (other shows as well) if you look at a recording of it, sometimes I really cannot remember that I did those things on stage, you know? It’s like “Where was I?” because apparently I was just somewhere else making up movements and stuff like that. I guess when you’re in that state on stage, you hit the spot.
DK: When was the last recording done on the album? Like how long ago was the recording part of the process completed?
Fia: in December?
Aksel: Yeah, the last vocal takes were done in December and we did some minor keyboard stuff in January and the mix and master were early February.
DK: OK, so, fairly recently then.
DK: I was going to say, since you were working on it since 2013, I wasn’t sure how long ago it was recorded, since music evolves when you play it over and over, I wasn’t sure if there was much of a change from the recording to what it is now.
Aksel: Well, when we started writing, we weren’t even a band so the difficulty of actually feeling the songs when you’re actually playing them was sort of hindered. But then when we started playing together as a band, I guess we were I guess maybe 70% finished with the material so the last 30% was written while we were actively rehearsing as well. So, there were definitely some changes both to the new stuff we wrote together and the old stuff that we had written like tempo changes. Ok the song feels a bit off or weird in this spot so we need to change that. We haven’t actively been working on it every day for this amount of time, it’s more been pockets of very intense work here and there we had other commitments. When we actually worked on it, it’s been very efficient, very goal-minded and very rewarding because it worked so well with us just working on it.
Fia: Yeah and I think we both felt quite instantly when we started writing that this is something that we want to give 100% of attention to and it took us a while then to get out of the other commitments that we had left before we, even though we knew this is what we wanted to do, it took almost a year, or a year and a half before until we were able to give it our all and really go for it. Thats also a relief.
Aksel: Very much.
DK: OK. You both had your hand in producing the album and Aksel, you engineered it, had either of you had experience in engineering or producing?
Fia: Me? None. (laughs) But I learned a lot!
DK: Trial by fire.
Aksel: I’ve done some albums before where I’ve mostly been a musician, but I’ve learned along the way, I mean, I have some amazing friends around me who are very, very proficient at everything regarding making an album basically, so I’ve always had a backup somewhere that could help me out when I hit a rough spot basically. Yeah, the engineering part was something that I was very eager to try because it is very stimulating when you’re actually get it right. It is a very trial and error process especially when you’re doing it for real the first time almost by yourself, but it is still extremely rewarding because I enjoy working with that stuff so much, in that sense and because we knew so well what we wanted like OK we want the snare and the kick drum to sound like this and that and we want the guitarist to have this type of sound and we want this guitar to sound like Pink Floyd or whatever. So, we always had a point of reference that we could go back to and try to double check everything if it sounds similar or way off or maybe it was even cooler this way.
Fia: Yeah, exactly.
Aksel: So it was, fortunately for us, we had in that sense, an unlimited amount of time to actually make the album, so we had time to make mistakes.
Fia: And it was important for us as well to take that amount of time because we really wanted to make it the record that we wanted to produce. You know? And I think we complimented each other quite well as well because of the great amount of singing (or vocals) that’s on this record, a lot of harmonizing and me having experience working as a singer in studios, I had also quite a great idea of how I wanted the singing to sound and how it was a good learning phase for me and Neils Nilson who helped us with the mix and master of the album, because he had never been mixing these types of vocals before, at some point of the album, it’s a choir singing and its me singing or dubbing myself eight times with different harmonies or things like that. So, we really wanted that part as well to sound good and it can be quite tough, quite hard to get it right and I don’t know much about the technology you know?
Aksel: We have this good way of communicating what we want and that really helped and also the fact that the people on the album are proficient musicians, really helped out a lot and cut down on the retake time where we got a lot of takes quickly which was good and we wouldn’t have to choose between five thousand takes to find the best one, we can just look through maybe five or ten takes to find the best one.
Fia: Yeah, exactly. So, even though it was a long process, it was necessary and it never felt like you came to a point where it got boring or you get tired of it. It was always a living breathing thing through the whole process.
DK: Well, I have to say it is truly an amazing album, I mean you did an amazing job with it, it is a very deep album, it is not what you would normally expect. I don’t know if labeling it as Metal is totally appropriate, I mean, it is and it isn’t, it is so much more than a Metal album.
Fia: Well thank you so much! That is quite a compliment!
DK: You’re welcome! There are psychological aspects to it, its just a deep emotional whirlwind of activity going on and you have to peel back the layers and think about it. I just got the lyrics last night and was able to really delve deeper into the lyrics with the music and I was really thankful that you put out the album, it is a great effort, especially for being self-produced.
Fia: Thank you so much, that means a lot! Thank you!
Aksel: Thank you very much!
DK: You’re welcome! How did Metal Blade come into the picture? That was one thing I didn’t see on any of the info I was looking over.
Fia: Oh yeah, yeah. We had a few demos that we wrote and we just felt like we came to a point that we really wanted to try, if anyone would be interested in our demos, so we sent a few of them out to a few different record labels and Metal Blade and hence then Kelli listened to it…
Aksel: Yeah, seemed to catch interest basically and that sparked a conversation that spanned a few months I think where we explained what we wanted to do, how we wanted to present it, what our, what [we] think our potential is and try to sell ourselves as best that we can, of course, that’s what we do, and it really seemed to strike a chord with Kelli at least and she managed to fide us into being signed by their label, which is a…
Fia: It was an awesome thing, I mean, it was unbelievable when we got the mail back that they wanted to sign us, it was great and also a challenge I think because Metal Blade has a fair crowd of fans and people who, we have noticed are not particularly a fan of our kind of music or at least not used to it, because they have Goatwhore and Cannibal Corpse you know and the real “True” Metal fans and it has been a challenge so far as well to present ourselves in that forum.
Aksel: We seem to have a polarizing effect on the Metal Blade fans because some of them obviously hate us because they only like Cannibal Corpse and Goatwhore, but at the same time Metal Blade has started to sign these progressive acts like Between the Buried and Me and Native Construct and that stuff. So, there is definitely a crowd there that really loves this stuff and we’ve noticed that too, so its been a very interesting process of presenting music because some people really love it and some people really hate it and they start fighting over which one is the music professor of the two or something.
Fia: Yeah, exactly… and I think that is a great thing as well because what we’re trying to do with our music is to get some kind of affection or some kind of emotion out of the people who listen to it and either it is hate or that you really like it in a positive way, its an emotion so apparently it stirs something up and it makes people turn their heads, which is, I mean for me that is a great compliment as well.
Aksel: Yeah, I mean it is sort of a receipt that we’re doing something right.
Fia: Or maybe its a defense mechanism, I don’t know (laughs)
DK: (laughs). I’m not sure how much more time we have left, I know you’re pretty much segmented. Real quickly did you want to talk about what is coming in the next few months? I mean, obviously June 2nd we have the album release and I’m very much looking forward to seeing the big splash around the world.
Fia: Yeah, we’re really looking forward to that, of course, we’re releasing the album and just getting it out there and see how people…
Aksel: ..take it.
Fia: Yeah, take it.
Aksel: Well the plan is obviously to tour on this and hopefully, we have some fish lines lying around and the most immediate thing would be, we’re in talks with a band called Dead Soul which is another band in our neighborhood basically that has released and album and they’re going to release another album soon, so we’re thinking about maybe doing something together with them. We’ve talked to some promoters and they seem to be very down with the idea. So, hopefully late summer/early fall we’re going to be on the road with them in the UK and hopefully some parts of Europe. And then we have some other prospects that are sort of not as far along in the talks yet, but the plan is of course to tour…
Fia: …TOUR AROUND THE WORLD!
Aksel: Yeah! And eventually come to the states as well.
Fia: Yeah, definitely.
DK: You’ve definitely gotta get in on some of the festivals too.
Aksel: We were unfortunately a little late to this summer because it is difficult for promoters to book a band when they haven’t released anything and since most of the festivals are booked…
Fia: Two, to three years ahead.
Aksel: Yeah, it kind feels like that. Its difficult to get on those when you release an album in June, unless you have anything before that.
Fia: Yeah exactly. This is the first thing that we’re releasing so, the big thing right now is to see how people take it and hopefully that it comes out well and people enjoy it and give us the opportunity to come out and show ourselves to the rest of the world.
DK: Awesome! I am not sure if we’re out of time here…?
Fia: I think our time is up.
Aksel: I think we are, unfortunately.
DK: Thank you both so much for your time, I mean its been incredible to get to know you beyond the music and I really appreciate everything!
Fia: Thank you so much! Lovely to talk to you!
Aksel: Thank you man, thank you very much!
Fia: Hopefully we’ll talk again!
DK: Definitely, I look forward to it!
Fia: Thank you! Bye!
The Great Discord are:
Fia Kempe: Vocals
Aksel Holmgren: Drums
André Axell: Guitars
Gustav Almberg: Guitars
Rasmus Carlson: Bass
How do you describe an enigma? In the case of THE GREAT DISCORD certain words come to the fore: Cinematic. Grandiose. Haunting. Soaring. Devastating. Unique. But still, it is perhaps impossible to paint a vivid picture of the Swedish unit, whose layered, textured music gets under the skin and is as likely to conjure exhilaration or a sense of poignancy in the listener as it is a profound and deep seated unease. “We wanted to make an album that gets to you. Having Duende means having soul, the aspects of music that makes you shiver. The darker elements in the music that makes it convincing and enthralling.” states vocalist Fia Kempe. “We did not want to make an album you could have on in the background. It’s supposed to jump out and grab you, hold you down and make you consume a new piece of it every time. Lyrically it deals with the mundane as well as the extremes of what you as a person potentially live with.”
The relationship between Kempe and drummer Aksel Holmgren has stood for many years, connecting on a deep personal level when it comes to music, though it was only when they came together to form THE GREAT DISCORD in 2013 that their collaboration began. Sharing an interest in progressive music, they count the likes of Genesis and King Crimson as well as contemporary acts such as Meshuggah and The Dillinger Escape Plan among those who have inspired them. At the same time, individually they look up to a diverse array of musicians beyond the confines of this genre, which broaden the musical base they are working from, and from the start the duo were not interested in merely regurgitating their influences. With a sound rooted in weighty, contorted metal with Kempe’s formidable, beautiful vocals soaring above the mechanized tumult, they constantly shift between tones, moods and dynamics, and with every song on Duende they simultaneously challenge and seduce the listener, eluding easy pigeonholing. “We both have very specific ways of writing and we compliment each other very well. The first song we worked on came together in a day, and straight away we could see that we were onto something special,” says Holmgren. “The driving force behind everything we do is a desire to artistically tell a story, and have that reach as many people as possible. In the process, we have come to learn that this comes naturally to us. This is what we do.” Recruiting guitarists André Axell and Gustav Almberg alongside bassist Rasmus Carlson the band evolved into a fully-fledged entity, all of whom share the same passion and devotion. “With our music being what it is, the need for a shared passion and understanding of this type of music was fundamental,” says Kempe. “And we were fortunate enough to find these incredibly talented musicians. People who share our drive, vision and commitment, and with them in the fold everything seemed to fall into place. It’s an extremely fulfilling musical relationship, and yet it feels like we’ve only just scratched the surface.”
While on the self-produced Duende the band push themselves to the limit to deliver the best possible performance nothing comes off as forced, and though the mix is pristine and ultra-precise it never places perfection before passion. Moreover, within the maelstrom of gripping noise is very real, human emotion, and across the record Kempe and Holmgren explore the darker aspects of human nature as they weave compelling stories, touching on both the existential and the societal. “Some of the themes are very relatable while some are more extreme,” explains Holmgren. “For example, “Eigengrau” is about drug addiction, and it tells a story both within the music and lyrics. The chaos at the start of the song is supposed to be representing the struggle with the psychological and emotional weight of addiction, and then as it progresses it reaches a point of giving in, an acceptance that this is going to kill you, it’s going to destroy you and your life and everything you have, and the music becomes more sorrowful. Then we have songs like “The Aging Man”, which as the title suggests is about a man coming to terms with his pending death, “Ephemeral” is about depression, and “Woes” is pure sorrow, which is something that everyone feels at some point in their life. But alongside those we have “Selfæta”, which is a narrative about the life and death of a hermit cannibal. “A Discordant Call” is a first person story and struggle of a psychopath suffering from dissociative identity disorder, and “L’homme Mauvais” is about a narcissistic necrophile, all of these very dark states to exist in, serving as counterbalance from the “mundane” and the more relatable.” However, the band are not interested in hammering anyone exposed to Duende into submission with relentless heaviness, and in both the lyrics and music there is a push and pull, an ebb and flow, shifting unpredictably from fearsome anger to aching sadness, or from unnerving the listener to uplifting them. “It’s supposed to be emotionally dynamic. You can only be angry for so long. After that you need some other aspect to take over, so that you don’t drive yourself completely insane,” states Holmgren. “That’s how life works,” Kempe continues. “If you’re struggling you might find yourself angry and upset, you react, you act on impulse. You might not be aware of what you are doing. After that you might feel remorse, regret, everything calms down, and our music embraces and embodies this. There are parts of our songs that are supposed to be challenging, they’re supposed to be tough to get through at first, but then suddenly there is space to breathe, to reflect. Maybe you find something you didn’t know were there. Make you feel better about yourself.”
It is this constant, ever-shifting dynamic from which the band draw their name, recognizing that life is conflicting emotions and thought processes, and from these derive a struggle, a discord. Taking this a step further, the band brings these elements into their visual presentation, and most powerfully in Kempe’s transformation into her onstage persona. “We wanted me to be the personification that connects all these little dots, to be the manifestation of all of these elements. I am sorrow, I am weakness, I am ambiguity, but at the same time I am your strength, your passions, your soul. What essentially makes you human. And, in those human elements the murderous cannibal, the psychopath and the necrophile has their place. Extreme utterances of course, but still, uncomfortably human.” Likewise, the band bring a strong theatrical element to their live performance, adamant that they are only interested in playing shows in which they can offer audiences more. “It wouldn’t work if we just came out in jeans and T-shirts,” says Holmgren. “It needs to be spectacular, it needs to be some kind of show, and this theatrical element is important. It makes it more of an experience, it makes it more engaging, and it allows us to really bring these themes to life.”
While music pundits and critics will fall over themselves trying to label the unique and intriguing sounds contained within Duende the band are more interested in presenting their music to the world, with the hope of making a profound musical connection with the likeminded. Having been working toward the completion of the record for nearly two years the band have perhaps only just arrived at the beginning, and the ambitiousness of their music is further reflected in their goals. “We obviously want to take over the world,” Kempe smiles. “We really believe in our vision, we really believe in the concept behind everything that we do. We want to entertain people. We want them to come to our shows and experience everything that we have visualized for this band, and we want them to relate to the emotion that we’re putting into our songs, to be able to find something in THE GREAT DISCORD that they cannot find anywhere else.”