Preaching Pure Hypocrisy - Interview with Peter Tägtgren

If someone someday constructed a Mount Rushmore of Swedish death metal, there's a very good chance that Peter Tägtgren would be a candidate for inclusion. Revolutionary in his early days and a mainstay in the worldwide genre now, Tägtgren is just about ready to drop "End of Disclosure" on the world, the newest album from his primary band Hypocrisy. That's only the beginning of the musical year for Tägtgren, however, as he's also about to hit the road for a tour and somehow found time to work on the new Children of Bodom record. We were honored that the man himself found a few minutes to spare to talk with us about all of these things and more.
M. DREW: You’ve got a whole new album out, what’s new on this record that long-time fans will have never heard before?
PETER TÄGTGREN: I don’t know, I think it’s more cleaned up. It’s always going to be Hypocrisy, I guess. For the last couple of months, I’ve been listening to this album so much because of mixing and mastering and all that shit. It’s not so much different, but it’s so much more cleaned up, the new one. There’s not so much stuff in it, it’s more straight to the point, I guess. There are a lot of elements that reminds me of olden days, intros and stuff like that, how I built the songs, I guess. It’s not that we’re playing Meshuggah or anything like that [laughs] and we’re not playing AC/DC either, but it’s more cleaned up. It’s more catchy. I don’t know what to say coming from the middle of the whole shit, for three months straight I had a direct perspective of it.
M.D: Speaking of different elements, what really caught my ear was the sampling in the middle of songs like “The Eye.” Where did you get that stuff, and what made you decide to incorporate that?
PT: Some of it I made myself. Some of them were taken from documentaries about whatever I’m singing about. So either I made the sample, or they’re taken from Youtube clips or something.
M.D: This album, like all of your albums, as a writer and musician, you change pace a lot, you display a lot of variety in your songs. Is that something that comes to you naturally, or do you want to try and show as many facets of your band as you can?
PT: It comes very natural. I think after the second chorus it feels like ‘okay, now it’s time to do something else.’ I get really bored really easy, I guess that’s why all the Hypocrisy albums or the PAIN albums or whatever, don’t really sound the same after each other. When I get comfortable, then I get scared, I want to do something else. Shouldn’t be comfortable to write music [laughs]. It should be hard.
M.D: With all the orchestration and pieces coming together in your albums, do you write all those lines simultaneously, or do you compose them one at a time with the end in mind?
PT: For this album, I started writing thirteen, fourteen months ago. I wrote one song and then I did something else for a month. Then I wrote another song and also went back to the one I wrote previously, fitting it together or fine-tuning it or whatever you want to call it. Then I took a break for a month, then I did the same thing with these two songs, plus I made a new song. So I’m always constantly coming back and forth to try to perfect them to my taste.
M.D: As you keep coming back to an album and adding to it and adjusting it, at what point do you know that it’s done?
PT: When the deadline is totally gone and there’s a reschedule or the tour is coming up and I have to release, [because] if I wait another two or three months, it’s too far gone and I would fuck everything up. So I just have to let it go. Even for this album, I would like to have had a week more to actually mix it to be happy. But I had to give it away, because I already went one month over deadline from what Nuclear Blast needs to do their promotion. I didn’t want to jeopardize that shit and I didn’t want to jeopardize the tour because all the tour stuff was planned a half a year before…this release date was planned a year before. So I didn’t really have too much choice [laughs]. It seems like a lot of people are happy with it anyhow, it’s just me being really anal with it.
M.D: Then this is a strange question to ask, but I've heard "End of Disclosure" and it’s a very good album, do you feel it could have been better than it is?
PT: No, not music-wise. Maybe sound-wise. With the songs on it…I think if I would have had more time with the songs, then I would maybe make them worse. As far as editing or changing this or that, I think it’s as good as it gets. I guess that’s the most important thing. It doesn’t sound like “St. Anger” or anything like that [laughs].
M.D: The deadlines and having to give it up and all that, is that part and parcel with coming out with a new album? Does all this business filter in?
PT: Yeah. Especially with this tour we’re doing, we’re doing like, thirteen songs that we’ve never played before, or played a long time ago. There’s only six songs left from the last set that we did. So there’s a lot of memories come back, you know? [laughs] All these new songs, and songs we never played live, like four really old ones. It’s really insane to learn it again, you know?
M.D: It’s something most people, including me, never experience; as you play old songs and the memories come flooding back, do you ever have a moment of ‘I can’t believe I wrote this?’
PT: When I listen to the albums from back in the day, maybe I can go ‘oh, my God.’ But when we play, we’re better musicians, we have better knowledge. I have no problem at all playing old stuff. When I listen to the songs sometimes, I go ‘what the hell?’ It may be the sound or the way we were playing [laughs].

M.D: You’ve got Hypocrisy and also PAIN, who are similar but different bands. Is there one style that inspires one more than the other? I guess I’m asking if they cater to different parts of your personality.
PT: My music taste is very wide, it’s always been. I was brought up on everything, the whole fucking shit, from time to time, whenever it was. I’ve mainly always been about the heavy stuff, in the late ‘70s it was Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and shit like that. But also CCR and Sweet and The Ramones, it was just a whole bunch of shit, plus popular stuff, Zeppelin and ABBA and blah, blah, blah. But my main interest was always in the heavier stuff. And the heavier it got towards the ‘80s and ‘90s, the more I got into it.
M.D: As PAIN, you’re a one-man army, while with Hypocrisy you have more band members and studio musicians and people in the mix, though not for this specific album. Do you prefer to write songs by yourself, or do you find it easier to be part of a team?
PT: I don’t know. On this album we got all fucking weird because this time it was only me on the whole fucking album. I was in the studio for four days, and I wrote everything. Actually, I had Lars [Szöke], old drummer, coming in just to spice things up, because me and him in the past did a lot of teamwork together writing songs. Also, me and Mikael [Hedlund] did a lot of team work, but this time Mikael had some personal things, he didn’t really have time to write music. So I was there by myself, you know? So I had Lars there to help me out, because the whole Hypocrisy sound from the past was about the three of us writing different riffs and different styles and writing together. Definitely helped me out with the last song of the album, “The Return.” And my son actually helped me out with two riffs on “Soldier of Fortune.” So that was pretty ‘wow’.
M.D: How’s that, to have your son help you write a song?
PT: Oh, it was great! It was really cool. It’s like going with your dad to the ballgame or something [laughs]. It was really special, I was really happy. He’s a really good riffer, and he’s only fourteen.
M.D: Does he share your musical philosophy, or does he surprise you with the things he’ll come up with?
PT: No, I think we’re pretty much the same, although he likes more modern metal and stuff like that. Like, Whitechapel and newer death metal, or whatever you want to call it. He also likes Slipknot and Cannibal Corpse and all that stuff.
M.D: Speaking of, death metal since its inception has come a long way. What do you see as the future of that genre?
PT: It gets more and more extreme. Musicians are pushing themselves more and more into insanity. Which is cool, I really admire these kids, playing blast beats at 260 bpm or just doing Yngwie Malmsteen scales at a million miles and hour. I think it’s cool that they’re definitely pushing the envelope. It’s not really my cup of tea though, I like it simpler and catchier. But it’s good for us; they kick us in the ass so we have to fucking wake up.
M.D: There are tons and tons of death metal bands who have come out in recent years, and they’re all very talented, but it seems like they all sound generic, they all sound like each other. As a man who’s had success in that genre, what is the quality that those bands lack in your opinion?
PT: Ooh, I don’t know. [Pauses.] I don’t think I’m the right person to say anything because I haven’t listened to that much of it. [I will say] you’ve definitely got to have some hooks, even if you can totally shred on your instrument. I still think you need to have some hooks and some catchiness that people can get into, not only being impressed that it’s super fast, or super technical. You need something that people can instantly remember.
M.D: Is that something you concentrate on when you’re writing songs, putting in hooks that will catch the listener’s ear?
PT: Yeah, it’s…I totally write from my heart, you know? If I get bored with a song, then I know something is wrong with the song. Especially when the chorus comes in, you should definitely feel ‘this is the fucking chorus.’ It should make you feel really patriotic, or like a hymn, something like that. In my book, that’s just my taste.

M.D: Switching topics, it’s a busy year for you, because you’re also producing the new Children of Bodom album.
PT: Actually, I just produced the vocals, there was no more time [laughs]. That was the plan from the beginning. I also did that on “Blooddrunk,” he [Alexi Laiho] calls and needs a kick in the ass every once in a while.
M.D: So how do you change gears then, from songwriter to producer?
PT: I don’t know, it’s…they’ve got their music and everything, and you come in and go ‘no, that’s not what I would do.’ I only tell them what I would like to hear if I listen to the song because I know it’s music now, and then he’s gonna start singing. And he starts singing and I go ‘no, no, you got to go deeper, deeper, deeper.’ Because he really wants to go super high. That was pretty cool, he was getting into it a little bit more. If you hear his voice on the other albums, it’s more into death metal in some parts. Just give more variety and wait with the screaming til the chorus or something like that. It’s just a balance of my taste.

But if I produce with a band from scratch, usually you start with the drums and try to get the best drum sound you can get and try to get the drummer to do the best he can. You push them, but you can’t push too hard because then they break. Then nothing good comes out. You have to be like a psychologist. When it comes to guitar riffs and stuff, it’s more ‘maybe this tone on this string instead of that, because it sounds better.’ They try it, and they either like it or they don’t. I’m just a guy who comes with suggestions all the time, I try to get them to be as good as possible as musicians.

M.D: For those of us who have never been in a recording studio, how much influence does a producer have?
PT: I think that’s individual to each producer. I think some producers come in like Hitler. Some other are more like a fifth band member. I think every producer has their own touch to it. I know Rick Rubin likes to lay on the couch and not do anything [laughs]. That’s a joke, though it is a rumor I heard. All producers do it different, I think.
M.D: What do you enjoy about being a producer? What do you get from it that you don’t get from songwriting?
PT: It’s cool because my only goal is to kick the ass of the previous album they did, whoever comes in. Especially if I never produced them before and then you listen to the previous album and go ‘okay, we got to do a thousand times better,’ because that’s the goal. Not just a little bit better, but a thousand times better. If you listen to the previous album and then the one I produced, mine should be better, that’s my whole philosophy on it. Plus, I want the band to be happy with it. To come back one day instead of going ‘oh, I’ll never go back to this guy, I hate him.’
M.D: You’ve toured all over, been all over. As you get ready for your next tour, where’s the place you’re looking forward to playing the most?
PT: I really love America, since I lived there for three years. That’s my second home, I have so many friends there, I definitely look forward to coming back. I actually spent my honeymoon in New York City. Could have gone anywhere in the world, but said ‘let’s go to Manhattan for a week.’ Europe and America are basically the same [for crowds], it’s just what mood people are in that day. Sometimes you play and the crowd is fucking crazy, and the next time you’re in that city, they’re not, and the next time they’re crazy again. South America and Japan are maybe a little different.
M.D: How so?
PT: Japan is just so different just by looking at it. The culture, the people, the buildings, everything is so different. While South America, the people are more intense, more in your face. I don’t know why they are like that, but I guess it’s the same for soccer games and everything. They really let loose when they go somewhere.
M.D: We’ll get you out of here on this. By legend, you own a village in Sweden, is that true?
PT: Yes, very small. Not even worth mentioning. It’s like two miles from my hometown, there used to be an insane asylum there. Big fucking building, like a hospital with some houses around it where the workers lived. That shit collapsed in the ‘80s and it became kind of a refugee camp. Then that crashed and someone took over and made apartments, apartments out of the houses as well. So I rented an apartment and also a space for my studio. The more the studio grew, the more space I needed, so at the end [the landlord] says ‘why don’t you buy this house?’ and I said okay. Then the same with the next house, he said ‘why don’t you buy this house?’ and I go okay. Then after a while he goes ‘why don’t you buy all the houses? I don’t want it anymore.’ So it sounds more insane than it was.

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