Candlemass are celebrating a remarkable thirty years since the mighty ‘Epicus Doomicus Metallicus’ set the scene ablaze in 1986. Since then the band have gone through numerous line-up changes, not least in the vocal department, with no fewer than five singers gracing the band’s ranks over the years prior to the recruitment, in 2012, of Mats Leven.
Bought in to replace Rob Lowe, Mats was hardly new to the world of Candlemass, having already guested with the band at their star-studded twentieth anniversary show and worked with main songwriter / guitarist Leif Edling on various demos. Nonetheless, his appointment to full-time front man for the band was an announcement greeted with great joy by those who had witnessed Mats with Therion or any one of a number of other projects with which the talented singer has been involved. A powerful singer and a theatrical presence on stage, Mats is the perfect singer and his debut recording with the band, the stunning ‘Death thy lover’ EP showcased just how easily he could slot into place. With only a handful of shows currently booked, we were fortunate indeed to secure an interview with Mats in which we discussed his appointment to the band and the future ambitions of one of doom metal’s most revered outfits.
To start with the new EP – you have a really long history with Candlemass – you sang with them for their tenth anniversary shows and you have sung on various demos – how is it you finally came to join the band as the full-time singer?
Well, they had a problem in 2012 after the album was released with Robert and they just asked me to do three shows in 2012 to help them out because they were in a rough situation – they’d booked those three shows, but they didn’t have a singer really so they asked me if I could help them in 2012. So I did those three shows, and the situation was that new shows were coming in, but I was saying all the time that I didn’t want to be a new member at that point because they’d changes so many singers already, so I was in a situation where I wanted to wait for a while. So actually it was last year, 2015, when I felt ready and that’s when we did the EP.
As you mention, Candlemass has quite a history with vocalists – was there a point where you felt you had to tread a line in the live shows between the way that the original vocalist had sung the song and taking your own approach, or did you just incorporate your own style from the get go?
No, I mean, it’s always important to respect the old stuff and the way it used to sound because the fans want to hear it like that as well, so I try to find some mix, I guess, between the original way of singing and what I do… because I could never sound like those guys anyway… so, I think, that’s why I wanted to wait a while to see if it felt good or not, to do all those shows with Candlemass, and it came pretty naturally, pretty fast, and it seemed like people accepted me and everything. But yeah, I really respect the way the songs were supposed to be played and sung, but I’ve still got some parts of myself in there. That’s the way I look at it.
In terms of this year, obviously it’s the thirtieth anniversary of Candlemass, which is a huge milestone for any band to reach – how much input did you have into the set list choice for this tour?
Well, set list, pretty much actually… We kind of discuss this from time to time and from show to show. Actually we kind of change something because we mostly play festivals and separate shows, so sometimes we have fifty-five minutes, sometimes we have ninety minutes, so it’s mostly a question of having to change the set list every time. I have a pretty good idea of how I want the set list to work out because I’m pretty used to thinking of the whole production of a set, so to speak, to make a set work from start to finish when it comes to low tempo, high tempo, what we can do between songs and so on. So I’m pretty involved in that and also Mappe, the guitarist, is pretty interested in that as well, I guess… and Leif, as well, always had a big interest in that, but now he hasn’t played live for the last year and a half, but before that he had a big influence on the set list, sure. For this thirtieth anniversary, we’ve been talking a lot and we actually had a meeting a couple of days ago regarding what songs to play. So, yeah, I’ve got some input on that I guess.
When I think about you as a singer, maybe because the first time I encountered you was Therion, but I always think about you as taking on bands where you have a dramatic, larger than life role. What is it that attracts you to taking on a band or project and become a part of it?
Well, I don’t know. I guess I get approached by a certain kind of project or band. When I did that Therion thing, that was the first time I did something that sounded like Therion and had that dramatic, symphonic style. And after that, of course, I’ve done a couple more projects that sound like that, or is in that world. When I did music with Malmstein in 1997/1998 I got a lot of requests from different power metal bands and so on. But the stuff I’m really most happy to do on stage is actually Candlemass and Krux, which I was in before with Leif Edling, I really like that – I think it’s fucking great and I wish I could just do that the whole time, like 150 shows a year, but we can’t do that, so that’s my favourite kind of music to do in the hard rock genre.
In terms of the new EP, I think this is as vital as I’ve ever heard Candlemass sound, and the whole thing has a huge energy to it. How long did it take you to put the new tracks together?
It was pretty fast actually. First Leif had demos for them that he did himself with Marcus, the guitar player from avatarium, and Leif himself kind of half sang the songs on the demo. We got the demos, then we rehearsed a little without Leif, at first, and rearranged some stuff. In fact, we only did one rehearsal with Leif, before we went into the studio. So everything went pretty fast. I guess they are used to working like that – just go in to the studio and do it – I mean, I kind of do my vocals more or less myself, like I normally do, in my own studio, so it kinda happened really fast. No drama!
How far are you involved in the writing process? Do you develop the lyrics yourself?
No, Candlemass has always been, almost 100% Leif. I know Lars has written a couple of things on some album. But normally it’s Leif – Candlemass is really Leif’s baby, so to speak, and I’m used to that because in Krux as well, even though we had some guys in the band that came with musical ideas, it was always Leif who kind of wrote the lyrics as well. So, in that sense, I didn’t have any input at all. But I did have other input such as changing the arrangements, or maybe changing the key of a song so that it’d sound more interesting, and those kind of ideas and tempo and that sort of thing – production ideas. Because the last thing I’d want to do is to touch the writing process. I just want everything to be the way it’s always been, and that is Leif writing the song.
In this day of digital downloads I guess it’s more important than ever that bands present their physical work as interestingly as possible and the new EP definitely looks amazing – as a band, how important is it to present your music in the right way.
Yeah that’s really important and I know for Leif it is too. You don’t want anyone else in charge of the cover or the art. You’ve got a pretty good idea yourself about your creation and what it should look like, and I’m like that myself. If I have the chance I get really involved in that because I really want to release a good looking product, something that feels like it’s quality, so that’s really important.
So far it looks like you only have one date in the UK for the thirtieth anniversary tour, or are you just doing that one date in Sheffield (HRH Doom Vs Stoner)?
Well, we’ve had a couple of suggestions, but it’s… we don’t know yet. We had a couple of suggestions and maybe we could do something in November, but I don’t know if we all are available to do it.. because if we’re going to go out and do some kind of tour then we can’t do more than ten shows – that’s it – like we did in Latin America a couple of weeks ago. Then we played seven show in eight days, or something, so that’s the kind of thing we can do. That’s actually the first time we’ve gone out on a so-called tour since 2008, so, Candlemass kinda do festivals and separate shows right now, and It’s probably going to be like that for the rest of the year as well but… maybe… I hope we can do something like that in 2017 instead. But for this year it’s mostly festivals, for example we’re playing a big show in Japan and that show in England, yeah, it looks like that’ll be it. So it’s going to be very few thirtieth anniversary shows – just the ones we did in Latin America and the ones we’ve got lined up in the summer.
In many ways we’re very lucky, because it looked for a time that Candlemass had run its course, and then you returned. Is there a desire to do another album?
We don’t think too much about that. For us, when I started out in 2012 with the guys, obviously we did a lot of songs form ‘Psalms for the dead’ in 2012/13 and then… Since Leif hasn’t been playing live for a while and he had his stuff to take care of, we never thought about it too much. Just doing this EP felt like it was a cool thing to do with the new line up and to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary, but what happens after that actually, we don’t have a clue right now. If we get the vibe, and if Leif gets the vibe to do it, but right now, I don’t know.
You always seem to be so busy with other projects, do you have anything else in the pipeline that you’re involved with?
Well, I’ve been involved with Gus G, the guitar player with Ozzy Osbourne, for the last few years and we’ve done two albums where I did five songs on the first album and three songs on the second, and I have done many shows with him since 2014, so basically it’s been Candlemass and Gus G’s solo project that I’ve been involved with and that’s what I’ve been doing live for the last three years, more or less. Apart from that sometimes I do backing vocals on albums and people don’t know about it – I did backing vocals on the last Hammerfall album, for instance, so yeah, I do a lot of that sort of stuff and I do guest vocals sometimes on small projects when they just need my vocals for one song or five songs or whatever. It’s different, but I try to say no to most of it, but sometimes if I really think it’s good, I do it, but I have to have the time to do what I’m supposed to do with Candlamass and Gus G, and I also have a family and two kids… but the good thing is I have my studio at home, so I can work from home which is cool
Do you enjoy the intricacy of recording and that side of things?
Yeah sure. It’s much easier for me as a vocalist to know that every time I turn my gear on I have the same sound in my cans, and I can edit everything myself, so I have total control over what I let people use on albums when I do guest stuff or whatever. Of course I wish… the best thing I know is to be in a studio with a whole band and work for four or five weeks, but I can’t even remember when I did that the last time because you can’t do that nowadays. If we were to do an album with Candlemass, I guess it’d be like that, but mostly I do my vocals in my studio, I write songs in my studio over Skype with the people… it’s very much like that nowadays, because there’s no money to go down to a rehearsal room and to be in a studio for all those weeks. I kind of miss that because I love the whole creativity and the process of writing and developing stuff, but it’s different times nowadays.
On the positive side, I guess, there’s a lot of pressure on the vocalist to get things done well and quickly, whereas in your own studio, as you say, you have total control over what gets out.
Yeah – it’s gotta be like that. Especially when you do guest stuff with people. A lot of the stuff I guest on, I’ve never met those people, I don’t know them. I just know the music they send me. So if I send them three or four different takes and let them decide, they might do some production over it that I don’t like, so It’s always better for me to give them 100% finished product where everything’s faded in and faded out so they can just put it in the mix and I know what will come out. It’s good for me as well, because I want to have some kind of quality in terms of what is released with my voice on it, plus, when I have kids as well, suddenly I have two hours where I can work, so then I record vocals for something, then suddenly I have to look after the kids because my wife is working. It’s like now, I have to finish very soon, because I have to put my daughter to bed!
Do you have any techniques for maintaining your voice on tour or in the studio?
Well, it’s actually different when you have kids because suddenly, you don’t get to sleep as much anymore… or at all! And that’s the worst thing that can happen to a vocalist – not to sleep – so I’ve been much more… I’ve been doing much more regular exercises before I do shows and I’ve had to do that – the combination of getting older and suddenly having small kids… I really have to prepare more to feel in shape. At least if I’m out on a tour, for example in Latin America, I have a routine, like a thirty-minute routine that I do before I get up on stage just to know I’m prepared. Also my voice feels better the next day if I prepare properly. So, there are no strange tricks or anything really, it’s just getting the body started and warming up, like going to the gym or doing vocal stuff or whatever, and it’s nothing more strange than that. Then, of course, there’s some kind of technique that you learn during the years to have a certain range, or whatever, but I’ve been singing for many years, so I should know what I do I guess!
Thank you so much for your time.
‘Death Thy Lover’ is out now via Napalm Records
Candlemass play Hard Rock Hell Doom Vs Stoner on Sunday Oct 2nd