ProgPower Interview: Wolverine Talks About New Material, The Festival, and Their Choice of Queensryche
It’s one thing to hear about a foreign country. It’s another thing entirely to visit it in person. Moreover, it’s a completely different ballgame to actually be playing a show in a foreign country an entire ocean away within a day of arriving. Several bands at ProgPower USA XIV would be doing just that, summoning reserves of energy they might not have known they had for the roar of the crowd. It’s yet another thing to meet with press ahead of even performing, but the Swedes of Wolverine did more than put up with me -- they were actually excited to talk!
Before they got to even put their merchandise down, the bandmates met me in the lobby of Center Stage while other bands were soundchecking inside the main hall. Vocalist Stefan Zäll was a warm presence, exuding calm, and drummer Marcus Losbjer had the look of eager anticipation all over him. They wore the kind of excitement you’d expect from a younger band on their sleeves that afternoon, so that you could hardly tell that they had been around since 1995.
That spirit, coupled with their passionate blend of progressive metal, was exactly why their band was a perfect choice for the festival, and made me very happy to be sitting with them. It’s that sort of passion a record label would love to see, and it just so happened that I was just about to find out: Wolverine is looking for a record label. Right now. (Inside Out, Nightmare, Laser’s Edge, Frontiers, Nuclear Blast, Century Media -- heads up!)
Frank Serafine (Progressivity_In_All): Is this your first time actually playing in the USA?
Stefan Zäll: It is.
Marcus Losbjer: This is the first time I’m here.
Stefan: Never even visited the states as a tourist or anything.
Frank: What kind of songs do you guys have planned for the acoustic set tomorrow?
Stefan: The plan we have is to play songs from all the albums, and do it almost like a “VH1 Storytellers” thing, where we give a back-story to each. We have picked some songs that we kind of never played live and songs that kind of fit into the acoustic setting. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s the first time we’ve done something like that.
Frank: When you ended up choosing the songs, how did you pick them?
Marcus: Usually, we pick songs that we want to play and that we feel will be good. It’s not much else, actually. It should work.
Stefan: But for the acoustic, if you look at the first EP, “Fervent Dream,” we kind of didn’t have many songs to choose from that would fit, so we chose “Echoes,” which is kind of acoustic already on the album. We’ve done some arranging. We just looked at what songs could we do really well, maybe even better than the album version, in this setting. So that was the thinking behind it.
Frank: What songs mean the most, personally, to you as a band? Which are the most personal?
Stefan: It’s very different. For me, lyrically, it’s maybe “Embrace,” (from “Communication Lost,” reviewed here) but then you have songs that you really love because you love playing them live and they go over very well… Unfortunately, some of my favorite songs are not among the ones we’re playing. For example, I wanted to play “Towards Loss,” which didn’t make it, so maybe another time. You always have to look at what songs do we play and how well they, as a set list, come together. Sometimes you have to leave stuff out, and it gets harder the more albums you release.
Marcus: There are many, in different ways. They all mean something. When they are written, you always write from yourself. In a way, every song is like a segment from an era of your life. It’s hard to pick one. Because different songs are different experiences in life.
Stefan: When we write lyrics… maybe on the first album they weren’t about self-experience, but each song that we write is an experience from an event in our lives, so they are all personal in that way. It’s not that we sing about dragons and demons and… (laughs)
Frank: Like Rhapsody last night!
Stefan: That’s all good, but it’s not our cup of tea.
Frank: Which songs are the most fun to play live?
Stefan: I like “Carousel.”
Marcus: Yep, that’s a fun song. I like to play “And She Slowly Dies” and “Your Favorite War,” I like, as well.
Frank: After the hiatus in 2008, when you guys took a break from the band, has the band become a full priority thing now? Or do you still have other jobs or is the band a full-time gig?
Marcus: No. In this genre, it’s very difficult to have a full-time band. There are very few that have them. We have full-time jobs on the side, but we try to make it work more now than ever.
Stefan: Right now, we’re not even signed to a label. Since we split with Candlelight, we’ve tried to look for a label more oriented towards our kind of music. We were on Candlelight and Earache, which are mainly death metal and black metal. We want something like Laser’s Edge, Inside Out, or something like that. We’re still feeling our way around.
We have been focusing so much on this gig, getting rehearsals together because we don’t live in the same part of Sweden, so it’s kind of hard to get everyone together. That’s been taking all our time. On top of that, we have our daily jobs, families, and kids.
Marcus: And also, we’ve started writing new stuff! We don’t have a panic over finding labels, and such, because I think it will solve itself in one way or another.
Stefan: And in a way, it’s better to have the new material written and ready.
Frank: Because it sweetens the deal.
Frank: Excellent. You said that new material is being worked on. If you had to say, what is the direction that the material is taking?
Marcus: It’s very difficult to say in this early stage. We have some ‘skeletons’...
Stefan: In Swenglish! (laughs)
Marcus: Yeah! Like, basic drafts of songs at the moment. You never know how they will sound in the end, because they might change during the recording process and rehearsals. You’ll withdraw and add stuff. Every time someone asks that question, it’s always a progression from the last one!
Frank: A NATURAL progression!
Marcus: It’s always a progression! Always heavier and always BETTER!
Stefan: So far, it’s even darker…
Marcus: (laughs) Maybe! It tends to be that way. I don’t know why.
Frank: The keyboard intro to “Communication Lost” shocked a few people, coming from the last album. It was a REALLY dark sound.
Stefan: It’s like Glenn (Harveston, festival organizer) says, it’s “slit your wrist metal.” (laughs) The ironic thing is that we are pretty happy guys. It’s not that we sit alone in a dark room and cut our wrists! It’s what comes naturally.
Marcus: I think it’s a way for us to deal with stuff that you normally don’t talk about or discuss. You have to work on it and get it out in the form of music.
Stefan: It allows us to feel better as people in our daily lives.
Marcus: You have to get the darkness out somewhere! (laughs)
Frank: (laughs) Right.
Stefan: Because we all have it. (laughs)
Frank: So it’s still in the skeleton stage.
Stefan: In this early stage, that’s always been the case where Marcus is writing most of the music right now.
Marcus: And Per (Henriksson, keyboardist), as well.
Stefan: Per and Marcus. There are drum loops and stuff because, when you write, you don’t go to the rehearsal room and record real drums. It gives it a more electronic feel, but that always changes somewhat.
Marcus: We still incorporate many of the electronic things in the songs. More and more, actually. It’s fun to experiment with different textures.
Stefan: At the same time, I feel like I want more riff-based songs as well, to mix everything up.
Marcus: The last album, there was not many riffs, because it was mainly written by me and Per. The drummer and keyboard player! We are not guitar players, so it just became that way, but I think it went alright anyway.
Stefan: So now, it’s up to Jonas to step up to the plate, the new guitar player, because my brother left the band after the recording of “Communication Lost.” So now, he’s on board, but he hasn’t gotten around to writing anything yet. I’m hoping that he will bring…
Marcus: That he will bring his ideas to the drafts.
Frank: How does ProgPower USA differ from ProgPower Europe, from your experience?
Stefan: This feels bigger right now, because the venue is a lot bigger, but it’s hard to say. This is the first time we’re here.
Marcus: We haven’t been in this venue until just now.
Stefan: We came from the doors to here now! So we haven’t seen anything yet. It all looks bigger.
Frank: We have a good amount of people here. At ProgPower Europe…
Marcus: It’s like 800-900 people.
Stefan: Something like that. But isn’t that the American way? The bigger, the better?
Frank: Sort of. Sort of.
Stefan: We’ve enjoyed it so far. Yesterday, we went to Atlantic Station and just found it amazing.
Marcus: We haven’t been eating since the plane ride over… Airplane food, which isn’t the best in the world.
Stefan: I really like the little we’ve seen so far of Atlanta and the states. I’ve had a few goals set up with this band, like recording an album, playing outside Sweden… Over the years, we’ve gotten to realize some of those goals. This is one final goal for me, that isn’t fulfilled yet: To play in the states. And now we’re here. That’s great! But that doesn’t mean that this is the end.
Frank: And it only took 5 albums to do it!
Stefan: I don’t know how many years, almost 20. We started in 1995.
Frank: We’re obviously glad to have you here. If this goes well, do you see you coming back to the US anytime soon?
Stefan: Yeah, if anyone wants us, we’re here!
Marcus: Yeah. That’s how it is! (laughs)
Stefan: The situation right now is that we don’t have a label, we’re working with a small European booking agency. We don’t have any financial support to get at the opening slot of a tour. There’s always money involved and we can’t afford that. We’d need a label involved. I think we’ll focus on writing the new material, getting a new record deal, and maybe then we’ll see what happens.
Marcus: One day at a time.
Frank: Speaking of a plan, there are not many videos of Wolverine on YouTube. Do you plan to do more?
Marcus: We plan to. (laughs)
Stefan: We need to find the time. We were actually talking about it just the other day.
Marcus: Making new music videos and some live stuff. I’m actually trying to finalize… I’m cutting and editing a kind of documentary about the recording of “Cold Light of Monday,” because it’s the tenth anniversary this year. I have started to do something that I will put on YouTube. It’s a time-consuming thing, video editing, and it’s a pain sometimes.
Frank: Since we’re here at ProgPower, I figured that I’d ask the typical question: What are some of your favorite progressive bands and power metal bands?
Stefan: For me, the ones that got me into this whole genre are Queensryche and Dream Theater.
Frank: Which Queensryche?
Stefan: Now, it’s the one without Tate.
Frank: Haha, yes.
Stefan: I was kind of shocked when I thought about it. Before this last self-titled album, they hadn’t released one single album I loved since 1994, which is 19 years.
Marcus: Promised Land.
Stefan: Right, Promised Land was the last album that I really loved. The new album with Tate is… I can’t stand it! (laughs)
Stefan: He’s been my vocal hero for so long, and then I don’t know what happened. It just went away!
Frank: Some people say his wife happened.
Frank: Chris DeGarmo happened, I don’t know…
Marcus: The Yoko Ono of prog! (laughs)
(Stefan and Frank laugh)
Stefan: But then you have Fates Warning, which we are lucky to see on ProgPower Europe. I haven’t seen them live since they opened up for Dream Theater in 1995 on the “Awake” tour. More? Saviour Machine, which is a Christian American prog symphonic band.
Marcus: More symphonic.
Stefan: It’s big. Have you heard of them?
Stefan: And a Swedish band I really love, also Christian progressive doom band, Veni Domine. If you haven’t heard them, you should check out “Fall Babylon Fall” and “Material Sanctuary”, which, to my ears, are masterpieces. My power metal bands: Helloween.
Marcus: Yeah, Helloween! I grew up and listened to them a lot when I was younger.
Frank: Michael Kiske or Kai Hansen?
Marcus: Michael Kiske. AND Kai Hansen. Michael Kiske did “Keeper of the Seven Keys”, but… Nowadays, I’m not much into power metal. I don’t connect, lyrically, with it so much. But prog… I like Anathema a lot.
Stefan: Is that prog?
Frank: They’re on the Progressive Nation at Sea cruise coming up.
Stefan and Marcus: Yeah, that’s true.
Stefan: Anneke, from The Gathering. I love her!
Marcus: I’m not listening so much to prog right now, but I listen a lot to Fates Warning and Queensryche, of course.
Stefan: As for power metal, I also like just a few albums. Labyrinth, an Italian band. Have they played here?
Frank: They played here two years ago.
Stefan: Ah, okay. I’ve never seen them live, but I like “Return To Heaven Denied.”
Frank: Rob Tiranti has a crazy range! It’s four or five octaves.
Stefan: I really like the production on it, but the later albums don’t have the same quality production, so that kind of ruins some of the stuff for me.
Frank: Well, thanks a bunch, guys!
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