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covenant2011_joakimInterview with

Joakim Montelius of Covenant

When or if the new album 'Modern Ruin' would be finally seeing the light of day at all was a big question with all the delays happening. But the day came with the beginning of a new year, particularly in January 2011 and with the release we took the chance to ask the band a few questions…. Or got them asked, as you’ll read below…

‘Modern Ruin’ is a sort of debut album for Covenant v.2!

Reflections of Darkness (RoD): Some of the unreleased songs which have been performed at COVENANT shows since 2008 - like 'Come', 'I Close My Eyes', or 'If I Would Give My Soul' - are surprisingly not on the album! Why is that?
Joakim Montelius (JM): Those songs were not ready to be released at the time of deadline. We did try but music sometimes resists force. It just has to go its own way. They did not fit the album this time, but that does not mean that they are forgotten. I don’t really understand the fuss. If you had any idea of how many other brilliant ideas that got shelved… Experiencing music live is quite different from playing a CD in your living room on a relaxed Saturday afternoon or at the pre-party before going out or running a playlist in your iPhone while going to work. A good album should fill all those functions.

RoD: Any chances that above mentioned tracks will make it onto a future COVENANT release?
JM: Yes. We’re simply trying to figure out how to present them, contemplating various scenarios. But they will appear, sooner or later. Preferably sooner...

covenant2011_05RoD: In 2009, you released some snippets of demo version via your band website. Some of the demos didn't change much, e.g. 'In The Night', which sounded already like the now released album version if I'm not mistaken. So it seems that some of the new songs were finished at a very early stage - almost two years ago - while other 'Modern Ruin' songs are literally very new. Is this correct?
JM: It’s mostly a matter of feeling. Some tracks are just right the way they are, some need only a slight adjustment and some must be elaborated upon for a very long time. I can’t exactly describe that process. A parable perhaps:

You find yourself wanting to cross the Autobahn. Six lanes of unlimited speed going two ways. You can choose to go all Luke Skywalker; trust the Force, close your eyes and start running. Or you can try to measure the relative likelihood to get to the other side and make notes until you die from thirst. You can also decide walk along the road until you find a tunnel or a bridge. Or go to sleep and dream about places where there is no Autobahn to cross at all. Or why not just hitchhike to the nearest train station?

That’s pretty much how it is to record an album. To every piece of music there are endless possibilities and options and it’s often impossible to know beforehand which approach is the best. So in order not to get completely lost you need to develop some sort of gut feeling and trust it. When it feels right, then it probably is right. So the recording of ‘Modern Ruin’ was not a linear process. Some songs were there almost immediately, others were harder nuts to crack. ‘Kairos’ took perhaps 90 minutes from idea to finished recording, a tiny little snapshot of a special moment. ‘Judge of My Domain’ took more than a week of full time work just to get the bass lines right. It’s 3 different synthesizers, unreliable old analogue artefacts, doing almost the same thing and you wouldn’t believe how tricky it is to make them play in a way that doesn’t seem forced.

I mean, to every problem there is a multitude of possible solutions. If you had infinite time you could try them all. If you’re pressed to make a choice, you will make the one that seems to make the most sense at the time. But then again, music is a strange combination of logic and emotion and the sensible is not always better than the irrational. Just like life.
RoD: On the other hand there's stuff like 'Right Here Right Now' which apparently didn't make it beyond the demo stage. Do such tracks simply vanish in your vaults at an early stage, or do you use such fragments also as some sort of testing ground for new sounds and ideas?
JM: We recycle a lot. If an idea for one reason or another doesn’t work out we don’t throw it away. One day the solution just might decide to present itself. A good example is ‘Monochrome’ from ‘Northern Light’. It started out as an idea around the time of the recordings of ‘Sequencer’ but we didn’t quite know what to do with it. So it sat in the Vault of Semi-forgotten Ideas for 5 years. And when we had a look in there it just jumped out, almost by itself. It may sound a bit odd, but that’s how it feels. Music seems to have a life of its own and its own agenda. All we can really do is to stand by and be ready to catch it at the right moment.

RoD: I love the combination of the short and odd but beautiful 'Kairos' and the epic 'The Beauty And The Grace'! Is 'Kairos' some sort of prelude to 'The Beauty And The Grace'? And why the heck is 'Kairos' so short?
JM: ‘Kairos’ was recorded very early one morning in Eskil’s living room in Berlin. All the sounds you hear: the ticking clock, the motorbike outside are from the actual recording, picked up by the vocal microphone. So it was just a way to remember the idea, but the recording had something special to it, that immediate feeling of being in the moment, so we simply kept it as it was. It’s not meant to be a ”real” song, it’s a Polaroid of time and presented just as it is, no more and no less. It’s not an interlude per se, but it does serve that purpose in the tracklist of the album.

RoD: What were your musical inspirations for 'Get On'? Am I wrong if I hear a soft spot for 1970s Electronica (the likes of Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, etc) in this particular song?
JM: I don’t think that was a conscious influence, but I can hear that too. We have of course listened a lot to 70’s Electronica in the past and quite a lot to Krautrock as well. So it probably sneaked up on us somehow. It’s not as if we try to emulate things on purpose though. On second thought, I suddenly came to think of Daft Punk and Justice. There is definitely a link from the French take on Electronica and the 70’s experimentalism that we picked up. Berlin School goes to Paris via Helsingborg and Glasgow. Sort of...

RoD: So far, many commenters claimed “You can hear Myer's influence in Modern Ruin”. Would you agree? How does the band's group dynamic work these days, anyway?
JM: Daniel is a force of nature. How could he possibly be part of anything without leaving his signature? He is all over ‘Modern Ruin’ and that’s exactly why Eskil and I asked him to join the band. I don’t think I can properly convey how cool it is to be able to say that my band mate is Daniel Myer. But I think Daniel wouldn’t have joined Covenant if it didn’t have something that appealed to him. So I guess it goes both ways. The band dynamics? Hmmm. Let’s just say it didn’t get easier. But it definitely got better. I see ‘Modern Ruin’ as a sort of debut album for Covenant v.2. I love the album but I also know that the next one will blow everybody’s mind, including my own.

covenant2011_02RoD: Your headlining tours always offered a special audio-visual experience with video screens, special light effects (thinking of the LED screen of the ‘Skyshaper’ tour in particular here) and the likes. Do you have already some plans for the visual side of the 'Modern Ruin' tour?
JM: Yep. We do. ;-)

RoD: I can see 'Beat The Noise' as an ecstatic, euphoria-inducing closer of your forthcoming shows. Well...that was actually not a question but a suggestion! Comment!
JM: Duly noted. I will pass it on. But you know, noise can never be beaten. No matter how hard you try, noise is always there. Endless. Infinite. So is this a sneaky way of yours to keep the poor boys on stage forever?

RoD: I'm curious? Which records are in heavy rotation at Mr. Montelius' household recently?
JM: SPV gave us their fantastic box of Popol Vuh’s soundtracks for Werner Herzog’s films as a present and I’ve listened to it a lot lately. It’s incredibly good. Almost equally ancient are the early Simple Minds albums from around 1980-81. I was a huge admirer 25 years ago, but I didn’t listen to it for a long time. I found the vinyl in a box (I had a period when I put all music that was more than 2 years old in the attic in order to avoid becoming nostalgic) when I moved recently and I realise now how much those records have formed me as a musician. It’s completely unique and surprisingly fresh, even today.

Semi-new stuff: I rediscovered my friend Ulrika Mild who is recording wonderful Synth-Pop under the name Compute. She deserves to be a superstar! And I recently spent an angst ridden hour with CircleSquare. Unfortunately the move to Berlin didn’t do him a lot of good, but the early EP’s were amazing. Especially ‘Fight Sounds’. Totally new stuff, almost: LCD Soundsystem, Zola Jesus, The National, Ghost & Writer, Oneohtrix Point Never. Oh! And Peter Fox. There is something special about odd people wearing suits, right? ‘Alles Neu’ is utterly brilliant. The acid commentary, the sarcasm and the naïve belief in music. I love it!

RoD: You recently decided to stop touring for a while and haven't been part of the last few shows. The rumour mill was in full spin because of this, so it's about time to shed some light. Now it's time admit: You were kidnapped by aliens, right?
JM: As a matter of fact it was the other way around. I spent years in alien captivity and when I finally managed to escape I decided to make some rather radical changes to my life. Unfortunately it means that I won’t be touring for the foreseeable future. I miss you guys, I really do. But we’re all better off as it is.

And now the other way round - you ask me! Five things Mr. Montelius wants to know from a long-time fan...

covenant2011_04JM: That, my dear friend, is a very good idea! I was about to ask “what the hell is wrong with you!?”, but that would be silly… It’s almost impossible for me to put myself in a position where I can listen to our work like someone who wasn’t involved in its making. What is it that you experience when you listen to our music?
RoD: A very tough question -probably just as tough as if I would ask you “What is it that you experience when you create your music?” The music elevates me. It takes my mind to a different place. But there's a vast richness in COVENANT's sonic universe, and the various styles and songs appeal to a lot of different states of mind. But it is never dark - not to me, at least. When your music is somewhat dark, it is rather a ”getting out of the darkness” kind of thing, if you know what I mean. I want to avoid the “light at the end of the tunnel” thing here by all means! Most of COVENANT's music has a very urban feel to me. I love the combination of the very technical and somewhat cold feel of the sounds and the concurrent human and very emotional quality of the music. It's like feeling heat and chilliness at the same time - and enjoying it! Roaming around in a silent metropolis at night is an image which describes COVENANT's music very well, at least in my book. I'm sure you won't be too satisfied with my answer but as I said, it is very hard to explain that. When I listen to COVENANT I often think “F*ck, that's exactly the kind of music I would make if I only could!” Maybe a simple yet the best explanation why you love certain music!

JM: Please explain “Stalker” to me.
RoD: Nz nz nz... :P Now seriously: It is very hard to explain this song. If you expected me to explain the lyrics I have to disappoint you - I won't. Actually I'm not the kind of music listener who would analyses song lyrics too much. In fact, I just pick up single words and phrases from the lyrics while listening to the song to make up my own ideas and images, if this makes sense. 'Stalker' was and still is a huge hit on the dance floors, of course. Especially the club mix. This particular song is somewhat timeless and yet it still feels very modern. And surely the ambiguous and somehow cryptic lyrics add to the song's appeal. For a long time, 'Stalker' was Covenant's signature song but I think this role has been passed over to 'Call The Ships To Port' now.

JM: Why is music important?
RoD: Emotions. Because can create emotions in you you otherwise simply would not feel. Because music is able to put forth emotions which were dug deep inside you, and music sets them free. Music is the only thing which can change and alter your emotional world directly, even so far that you experience physical reactions as well. And I don't mean the bruises from jumping around too much here. And when people with similar emotions listen to the same music you call it a fan base or a “scene”. Last but not least music is also about plain good ole fun - and having fun can be a very emotional thing!

covenant2011_03JM: Tell me the worst thing about COVENANT. The very worst, please!
RoD: Oh dear! I was fancying some jovial “That I'm not in the band!” as an answer but I'm too afraid that you'd pull me into the band then! Okay, let's be serious and brutally honest - the worst thing about COVENANT were those moments when the band performed on stage under the influence of too much booze. I feel guilty saying that as I love to party and I do love a drink when I'm at a show. On the other hand, at a show I'm just there to enjoy myself, not to stand on a stage and to perform. But I'm surely guilty of encouraging musicians to indulge lots of booze before a show! I guess you know what I mean... However, too much booze, or drugs for that matter, can ruin a show. People are ready to see it as trivial and a trifle when a musician is a little bit drunk while performing but there's a thin line where it quickly ruins the experience when you cross the line. When you crossed the line as a musician you are bound to act unprofessionally, forget lyrics, and so on. I wasn't at that infamous gig in Berlin when the band celebrated mid-summer “a bit too much”, which led to a much criticized and apparently very bad performance. But there have been moments like that before over the years - perhaps not as bad as that Berlin show but bad enough. I probably couldn't care less if this was about a mediocre band but this is COVENANT, a band I truly love and which is able to deliver one of the most exciting and most stirring live performances in this part of the galaxy.

JM: What is your favourite/most important memory that involves our music?
RoD: The most important memory for me was Covenant's gig at the Zillo Festival in Hildesheim in 1997 or 1998. It was your first time there, you played the main stage in the early afternoon and there was a surprisingly MASSIVE crowd to see COVENANT! This was kinda your breakthrough gig in Germany, there was some special magic in the air and being upfront I could see the sense of surprise and happiness in your faces. Band and fans alike were overwhelmed in the most wonderful meaning of the word. There have been numerous favourite moments over the years but this is probably the most important moment for me personally. The moment I turned into a die-hard fan!

At the end we want to thank COVENANT and especially Joakim Montelius for this interview.

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