Gothenburg, Sweden, seems to breed metal bands, but it’s hard to compare to the theatrical and twisted sideshow metal act Avatar. Band members Johannes Eckerström (lead vocals), Jonas “Kungen” Jarlsby (guitars), Tim Öhrström (guitars/backing vocals), Henrik Sandelin (bass/backing vocals) and John Alfredsson (drums) provide audiences not only with an insane metal show but also a circus-themed performance complete with terrifying clown make-up and freak show stage props. These Swedes have thought of everything when it comes to their aesthetic, right down to the spring loaded microphone stands, roadies wearing matching circus performer attire and the illuminated Big Top merch booth. DIME had the pleasure of sitting down with Johannes and John for a brief chat on their new album Feathers and Flesh and their evolution as a band.
JENN DEVEREAUX: How did Avatar form?
JOHANNES ECKERSTRÖM: <Pointing at John> In 2001, he formed the band with Jonas.
JOHN ALFREDSSON: Yeah, basically we had a pizza together after we played tennis, and we had on a Metallica shirt and a Maiden shirt and we decided to do something about it.
JD: I had the pleasure of seeing you guys in concert several months ago at Brewsky’s in Hattiesburg, and I felt like it was not just any metal concert. It was a full on theatrical performance built into a live show. Did you know this is how you wanted your shows to be from the inception of the band?
JE: No, this has grown organically. We started learning how to play music all together, so this has grown over time.
JD: The band recently released the album Feathers and Flesh, which is a concept album, and is said to be a “fable about an owl who goes to war to stop the sun from rising.” What is the deeper meaning behind this fable?
JE: Well, I guess there are a couple of meanings to it, but every fable carries a moral to a story and a lesson to be learned. In this case, it’s an observation of how we, as human beings, very much fail to learn from our mistakes and turn an experience into actual applicable wisdom.
JD: The story can actually be purchased in book format along with the album. Is this more like a graphic novel?
JE: It’s a book. The story is written in the form of an epic poem, but it’s illustrated.
JD: I really like the song For the Swarm. I feel like I can put that song on as I’m getting ready to go to my mundane day job and get pumped. I feel like it’s easy to like a song when it’s relatable and most people can relate to that feeling of being just another cog in the wheel. Was that the intention behind this song?
JE: The thing about it is that the bees like being a cog in the whole machinery. That’s their role in the story. But yeah, the whole album is written in a way so that you’ve got the deeper point of it, you have the concept, you have all of the characters and the role they play in the story, but then this was also meant to be something that could be enjoyed, as you have enjoyed everything about Avatar in the past. It’s a straightforward heavy metal thing.
JD: The video for this song is also very visually stimulating, as are all of the band’s videos. Do you usually have the video concept in mind when you’re writing the lyrics?
JE: Sometimes, but it’s more like a byproduct of it. When it happens, it’s good. Everything has to fit in this same little basket of stuff, and it all has to make sense with each other, so when you can visualize something when you’re writing, you’re probably on the right track. With Hail Apocalypse on the last album, that is pretty much the vision of this song. But it kind of took a detour and was given another interpretation when it was turned into a music video, but it was still very much rooted in what the whole song was about and the doomsday prophet with the sign was always there.
JD: You guys recorded Feathers and Flesh in Germany, Finland and Sweden. Was there a specific reason you recorded in these three countries?
JE: Yeah, in Germany we went to isolate ourselves.
JA: That’s where we recorded foundations for every song, and that’s where songs grow up and become actual songs instead of just an idea.
JE: So, for that part, we need to be gathered and focused and have time to jam and change things around, so everyone is needed there. We were all there for the initial parts of each song. Then we went to Finland, and I live there now, so it was very useful for me this time around to be closer to home, and for that part the isolation is not necessary. It was also a cool, groovy place to be, and it was also needed out of time constraints because while we were doing vocals in Finland, we kept doing guitar solos in Germany. Then back in Sweden, we were in this tiny hillbilly town where I grew up, which is close to Gothenburg, the whole area where we are from. So that is where we knew a church organist to play the church organ and could gather people for a choir to do the finishing touches and things like that.
JD: What are you most proud of in terms of your career?
JE: That we are still together for this long because we are all despicable people. We should have murdered each other years ago. <laughs> No, but the fact that we have been able to stay together and stay friends and keep being able to challenge ourselves and haven’t fallen back on anything we’ve done in the past. We got a bit popular with Black Waltz, and we could have stayed in the circus and wrote some waltzes, but we moved on with the concept and do something new with it every time.
JA: That we are still very good friends and being creative is our everyday job.
JD: Coulrophobia is the fear of clowns, which seems to be thematic throughout the songs and performances. Do either of you have any phobias?
JE: I don’t think I have any phobias. That’s the funny thing though with the whole clown thing because, yeah, it’s scary, but it’s also fun. I never go out there to scare anyone, but I’m just really happy when it happens.
JD: What is the one American food you wish you could take back to Sweden?
JE: I like to mix cherry coke and vanilla coke. I discovered it from a soda machine in Alabama. Yeah, that’s the most disgustingly American thing I’ve tasted and actually enjoyed.
JD: How would you describe an Avatar show to someone who has never seen it?
JE: Good. This is where we are suppose to have a sales pitch, but I’m not a sales pitcher. Again, everything about Avatar fits into the same basket, that we look the way we sound.