I have spoken with quite a few musicians over the years but few can claim to have been as consistently enjoyable and professional as Marduk’s founding member Morgan Steinmeyer Håkansson. Currently on tour performing the “Those Of The Unlight” and “Panzer Division Marduk” albums in their entirety, the friendly guitarist was kind enough to carve out some of his time to talk to me about the reasoning behind this month-long tour, his preparations for a new Marduk album as well as to explain why it took him quite a few years before he understood and appreciated the music of legends of heavy Rock such as Motorhead and AC/DC.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi, Morgan. It is a great pleasure to have you back in London
Morgan: It is great for me to back here also, you know.
- I think the British authorities should consider giving you a passport by now.
Morgan: (laughs). Yes, I have been to the UK quite a few times indeed. I start to really get to know this town, know exactly which store to go in order to get what I need and I like it. This (note: the Underworld) is not the best venue in the world but playing here has become more or less a tradition.
- It was interesting – while waiting outside the venue for this interview to take place, I saw on the staircase a picture of Legion (note: Marduk’s ex vocalist) hanging there. That proves the importance that this venue holds in the history of Marduk.
Morgan: I know what you mean. Yes, we have indeed played a few times before here (laughs).
- This tour you are currently undertaking is pretty special in the sense that you are giving us the opportunity to enjoy two very much loved Marduk albums in their entirety (note: “Panzer Division Marduk” and “Those Of The Unlight”). I presume that you will play them in strict order and back to back, right?
Morgan: Yes, that’s exactly what we will do. We plan on going on stage and playing them in strict order and with as much intensity as possible.
- For those who, for whatever reason, have not done their homework we are of course talking about “Panzer Division Marduk” and “Those Of The Unlight”. Today is the seventh day of a twenty three date tour. How have you enjoyed the band’s performances in Germany, Holland and Denmark?
Morgan: So far everything has been great. It is really great to go out and play this material for people that you know appreciate us doing this. I mean, there are people attending those shows who were not even born when “Those Of The Unlight” was first recorded. For them, this is a great opportunity to listen to this material in a live environment and it is great for us to be able to do this as well – it’s a perfect match. We were offered to do this tour by a booking agency and I was initially not sure about it as we had already done a “Panzer Division Marduk” dedicated tour twice before but still there were people saying “why don’t you also play the album here for us”. That’s when we thought “why not make a European tour and play the album”. It is just over thirty minutes long so we thought “let’s do something even more special rather than just add a collection of other songs” and seeing as it was twenty years since the release of “For Those Of The Unlight” we decided to play that album in its entirety too. It is one of my personal favourites so, why not? We decided to do this album in its entirety too just before we complete this year’s touring cycle and go back to recording new music.
- You know, Morgan, this decision is beneficial only to the youngest of your fans but also to people like myself who grew up in a country like Greece – a country that was too expensive and far away for you to perform gigs back in the day.
Morgan: You’re right. I wish that we could extend this tour and play more parts in places like Eastern and Southern Europe but it is really difficult to have things done as you really want them most of the times as it is not only your personal wishes that need to become fulfilled, you know? We have to consider logistics, other bands and everything but you never know – we may end up doing this thing again later on. It has been a crazy ride so far and it feels great to be able to play those old songs again.
- This tour feels quite relentless to me. I mean, with the exception of the 3rd of December, you will be performing almost twenty three days in a row – no break whatsoever. Now, that is very demanding indeed.
Morgan: That is perfect, just the way I like it. I hate days off. We had one day off already and, for me, that takes the steam off from the tour. I don’t like days off, I like to play constantly if I can so as to avoid losing momentum.
- Does the fact that this package features five bands make things easier for you? I believe that you have been given something like one hour to perform tonight.
Morgan: We don’t have an hour to play, more like seventy five minutes actually. That is the exact amount of time needed in order for us to perform those two albums.
- Am I the only music journalist to have requested a longer set from you guys?
Morgan: (laughs) No, I don’t think so. I agree with what you say but when you play music as extreme as ours very long shows do not work very well. I mean, I understand why this works for bands like Judas Priest and Iron Maiden as the intensity of their music is different than that of our music – our music wears you down much faster and you would not appreciate it as much if the set is longer than one hour.
- Especially for the poor drummer who has to do all that pounding.
Morgan: Oh yes (laughs). It’s not so much for us but for poor Lars (note: Borrdesson / band’s drummer since 2006). I was not referring to us, of course – for us it would be no problem at all (laughs).
- Morgan, when did the idea of performing these two albums together first manifest itself? Obviously, the inclusion of “Those of The Unlight” makes sense as there is an anniversary involved but what about “Panzer Division Marduk”?
Morgan: Well, we played “Panzer Division Marduk” twice before. We played it at the Party San festival as a ten year anniversary show and that’s when people started asking us to perform it again in a place close to their town. This spring we played it again at a small Belgian festival and guess what: once again people started writing to us things like “why don’t you come over here and play the album in its entirety”?
- Both are fairly short in terms of duration and so it does make sense to combine them. As there is a healthy time frame between the release of these two albums, five years to be precise, did it feel strange for you to realise the evolution that took place in the band’s style over this period of time?
Morgan: In one way yes but, still, it feels to me like both albums were recorded yesterday. They both sound so fresh and I am so proud to have recorded them so it feels great to be able to go on stage and play these songs for you guys. There’s a certain rush you get to feel in your blood.
- You cannot imagine how much I appreciate hearing you saying that as there are many musicians these days who have enjoyed a long career, with many albums to show for it, and who somehow reject their own past by saying things like: “I was not good enough of a guitarist back then” or “We were musically immature”. I understand that every musician needs to support their current musical offerings but the past ought to be respected also.
Morgan: Absolutely. There are certain musicians who discredit certain time periods in their career. I remember Quorthon from Bathory. At one period in his career he said that he hated his old stuff, that I all sucked. I can understand that feeling because back when his Black Metal albums came out a lot of people hated them and he literally got too much sh*t for them but later in his life, just before he died, he really understood how much his old music meant to so many people and that’s when he started embracing it and feeling proud of it. Same thing happened with Celtic Frost. They have been openly saying that there are parts of their history that they are not much appreciative of but they also changed their attitude at some point and that was when they realised how much their older material meant to a new generation of musicians and fans of extreme Metal. They are also very proud of their early albums, you know?
- Did you ever get the chance to meet Quorthon back in the day?
Morgan: No, no. I try to avoid meeting people whose music I really appreciate because this can ruin the picture you have of a band that you really like. I like to feel that the bands whose music I like really mean what they say and that they are what I want them to be. If you meet somebody and you end up having a bad experience it can ruin a picture you have been carrying with you since you were very young.
- Now, that is interesting as I had a similar insecurity before first interviewing you and now we are having the third or fourth great chat. I was thinking along similar lines back then but I am one of those people who believes that a piece of art, whether it is a painting or a piece of music, stops belonging to its creator upon its completion. What I mean is that, if I had thought less highly of you after we had first met, that would not have stopped me from listening to your music as I believe that it no longer “belongs” to you anymore but, instead, it belongs to the world.
Morgan: That’s an interesting point but it shows that maybe you should never meet people that you really like to avoid such problems.
- I don’t agree as, if that was the case, I would not have enjoyed those nice discussions with you. Now, every time I listen to a Marduk album I think of how much I have enjoyed talking to you and that makes it even more special.
Morgan: I see, Ok.
- Morgan, I am sure that there was quite a lot of rehearsing involved in preparation for this tour, especially surrounding the “Those Of The Unlight” material. I assume that you had to readjust certain elements from these compositions for this tour?
Morgan: Actually the rehearsals that we did for this tour consisted of two nights.
- Two nights only? Are you serious?
Morgan: We have a new drummer for this tour so we had a limited amount of time to work with his. We had two nights to show him the “Those Of The Unlight” stuff and two nights to learn to play the “Panzer Division Marduk” material. Lars, our proper drummer, is not with us on this tour as he has a problem with his back. He has a problem and so he could not perform the material as he ought to – something with his spine is troubling him. He told us “I will not be able to do this tour” so, with a few weeks’ notice, we managed to get hold of these guys that we have now and rehearse the material. This guy is very motivated and also very skilled so there was no problem at all.
- I presume that he is a Marduk fan, right?
Morgan: Yes and he’s a bit younger than us which also helps. It is tragic that we cannot have Lars with us on this tour but we told him that it’s better for him to step down and let his back heal properly as he’s had this problem for a year now and it was getting worse and worse and would not have gotten better if he had to play the stuff that he normally does. We told him to step down, let his back heal properly and then come back once he’s truly ready.
- Wow, that’s a tough one. I hope he gets better soon. Morgan, with regards your personal contribution to this live event and based on experience and added skills acquired over the years, did you feel the need to readjust certain guitar parts or did you decide to stick to the original formulae used?
Morgan: More or less the latter, I would say. I did not see any reason to make any changes because we still play in a similar way as a band, only difference being that we now have one guitar instead of two, which was the case when these albums were recorded. We just play our songs in a basic way, the way that they were meant to be performed in the first place.
- I assume that quite a few of the songs from “Those Of The Unlight” were never performed in a live environment prior to this tour so it must feel quite strange to be able to finally play them live, right?
Morgan: Yes it is but it is also very interesting for me to go out and play them. When we did the first show for this tour I was thinking to myself: “Oh man, this song we have never played live before” and it was songs that were first recorded back in ’93. It was very interesting to realise that the first time they were to be performed live was twenty whole years later.
- And how many experiences you have acquired as a musician since then, right?
Morgan: Quite a few: a lifetime of experiences!
- Are there any songs from “Those Of The Unlight” which you found to be particularly difficult in terms of live interpretation?
Morgan: Not really. I think that we worked most of the stuff really well, especially the more atmospheric ambient parts – I think that everything worked out really well.
- Well, with the exception of your good self, the remaining members of the band’s current line up were not part of the picture when these two albums were first recorded. That must have been quite an interesting thing to observe too, right?
Morgan: Yes, that is true in a way, but I do think that the new members do more justice to the music than some of the old guys did.
- Care to further elaborate on that? I, for one, am quite interested to see how Mortuus (note: band’s singer) will perform these classics tonight for us. I mean, the singer is the focal point in any band and Mortuus has such a trademark style of singing so I really cannot wait to hear his interpretation of those songs.
Morgan: I think that he performs them really well before, even before he joined the band, his first experience of Marduk was through listening to “Those Of The Unlight” so, as you understand, he was really keen to go out and play this material, being from his favourite album and all. That is another good reason why we want to do this thing. What can I say: it works really well on all fronts.
- Are you one of those artists who can become inspired by his own music? I mean, do you see the next Marduk album as more old school as a result of this tour you’re currently undertaking? Are you already feeling the creative juices flowing?
Morgan: Yes I do because we have already gone into such a direction with the new material. We all felt this coming as a natural force and so when we get back home after this tour is over we will start making the ideas already created fit together but the concept of the next album has already been decided a long time ago.
- Can you give away some more info relevant to the release of the next album?
Morgan: No I cannot (laughs).
- Morgan, you need to stop doing such things to me – it’s not funny, man, and it’s something you keep on doing to me time and time again! (I laugh).
Morgan: I know but there is nothing that I can do about it. So far I have completed seven sets of lyrics and there’s more coming. We are going to get into the studio and forge different ideas together and take as much time needed before we record anything so as to let them ideas develop a bit first and become as good as they should be. Then we will begin recording them, something that will take place sometime next year.
- I am happy to hear that. Do you feel that Century Media has provided you with enough time and support to work on your ideas? Are you happy with the way they treat Marduk at the moment?
Morgan: Yes. It’s great to be able to work with a label like Century Media. When we signed with them I knew that this collaboration is going to be a good one. They never interfere with regards layouts, for instance. They have offered their services in that respect but our layouts are created by our vocalist, the albums are being mixed by our bass player (note: Magnus “Devo” Andersson) and we do not have a producer. We handle such duties ourselves because we like to work in a very specific way and we know how our music should sound. The guys from Century Media never interfere with my work and I don’t interfere with their work. That’s how things are. They know what they need to do with regards promotion and distributions so I don’t want to get involved with that.
- Well, it certainly seems that this arrangement is working really well.
Morgan: It does because the people that are assigned to us are doing a very good job – it’s just that we work for the same goal but operate on different fronts.
- This tour is going to keep you occupied till Christmas more or less, which is the time of the year for people to spend with family and friends, right?
Morgan: Yes, of course. We will get back home the day before Christmas. We are flying out on the 22nd of December and will be home late on the 23rd or something like that.
- So, based on your current plans, how do you see things happening for you in 2014 with regards recording and other obligations? Come on, give me something here.
Morgan: We have a few shows coming up but no real big tours so far. We’ve got a few offers from the States which we are currently taking into consideration but our main focus will be on the new Marduk album. We have, however, already booked a festival appearance in Norway at the Blastfest Festival (note: 20-22/2) and we have already booked one that is going to be officially announced soon which is for a festival called Hell and Heaven or something like that (note: it is indeed called Heaven & Hell Metal Fest and takes place between the 15th and the 16th of March) in Mexico city. That’s all I can confirm so far but there are also a few summer festivals coming up that we might participate in. Apart from that what we will do is stay home and work on the next Marduk album.
- Mexico must be a very good play for a band like Marduk to perform – a good market for Black Metal.
Morgan: It is. It’s always good for us to play there. I don’t think you can sell that many albums in this country as they know how to produce them themselves (laughs)…but it’s always good to play there as the energy that the fans put into these shows makes the whole experience really worthwhile. We did a South American tour last September, if I remember correctly (note: it was in August) and it was a great mini tour indeed. We played in Mexico City and went to Chile – a place that we haven’t played for many years prior to that show. We also played for the very first time ever in Peru and we also went back to play in Brazil which was also great for us.
- Well, there are five bands performing for us tonight, one being your countrymen Grave which are nothing less than a legendary band. Something tells me that Ola & Co were handpicked by you guys for this tour, am I right?
Morgan: Yes and it makes sense as we are on the same label. We had a few different choices but we opted for Grave. I mean, we’ve known these guys for many years now and they are indeed one of these legendary old school Death Metal bands from Sweden that we really like. It’s a great combination of styles to have on one billing and it’s always good to be on the road with a few crazy Swedes (laughs). We only have Swedish bands on this tour.
- Swedes, well Scandinavians in general, are known as people with a great appreciation of personal space. I wonder, how can you cope with members of five different bands being on the same tour bus?
Morgan: It’s Ok: you get used to it. I mean, we’ve been doing this for so many years now. When you get inside the tour bus that’s pretty much your own little world you know? This is a hard tour for me, on a personal level as I am playing two shows each night: I play bass for one of the other bands which is called Death Wolf.
- That being the case, I will have to let you off soon as you need to prepare for the first of tonight’s shows.
Morgan: True. You see, I have plenty of things to do on a daily basis. My approach to music is different with this band as it is more of a…I don’t know how to accurately describe them…a combination of Motorhead…Misfits and perhaps even Amebix, the old Crust Punk British band. It’s a whole different thing with more regular sounding vocals and…just different.
- I think that the day when I meet a Scandinavian musician from an extreme Metal background who does not mention Motorhead as a main influence will be the day that I will stop doing this.
Morgan: Motorhead are such a unique band and the power of the music is very extreme as far as I am personally concerned. I really got into them relatively late in life. I didn’t like them that much when I was young. It was as I got older that I started to appreciate the greatness of their music and same applies with AC/DC. I hated AC/DC when I was young, never quite understanding why they were featured in Metal magazines but the day comes when you finally get it, you know? It takes its time I guess.
- Ok, I guess I will have to let you go now as you have to prepare yourself for the Death Wolf set. Thank you once again for taking the time to do this interview – it was great talking to you once again.
Morgan: It’s my pleasure and it steadily becomes a tradition by the looks of it! (laughs).
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