Interview: Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates)
|Photo by Mark Coatsworth
Interview by Cosmo Lee
Tomas Lindberg needs little introduction. Former vocalist for At the Gates, current vocalist for Disfear, with a slew of bands and projects in between, he has branded his gritty growl on some of metal’s finest moments. In 2008, At the Gates undertook a triumphant, one-time reunion tour. On February 22 in Europe and April 6 in the US, Earache will release The Flames of the End, a 3-disc At the Gates DVD box set. The first disc is a documentary of the band’s career, the second is the band’s set at Wacken, and the third contains rare and archival live footage. I talked with Lindberg about At the Gates, his new career as a school teacher, and Fred Estby’s upcoming solo record (!).
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At the Gates got a tremendous welcome from fans on the reunion tour. Do you wish that this recognition had come earlier?
No. We’ve always been very down-to-earth people. We don’t think like that. We did what’s best for the band then, and we do what’s best for the band now. All the good stuff that happened between the band’s breakup and the band’s reunion — maybe that wouldn’t have happened if the band was still together. Then we would have become a washed-up copy of ourselves.
Could At the Gates have avoided breaking up?
I think so. If we were just a few years older, maybe we could have made some mature decisions and had more respect for each other as persons. We were not the best diplomats (laughs). You’re not [so] in your early twenties.
Many bands who reunite often say that they’ve mellowed out and moved past their conflicts from when they were younger. Did you experience that with At the Gates?
Yeah, of course. Not only that we could avoid the conflicts, it’s, like, “What were the conflicts?” (Laughs) That’s the feeling. There were really no big conflicts back then, either. It was more a sense of pressure and tiredness.
You guys have said you won’t record again as At the Gates. But some of you have said you might record together under a different name. How likely is that?
You never know what can happen. I don’t want to say something that I’ll have to take back. We enjoyed this [reunion tour] summer, and we really felt that we were a band again, and we became really good friends and started to hang out normally again. I realized that these are childhood friends that are meant to hang out. Because we all are musicians, we want to keep the door open. Who knows? One day we could do a punk band or a 7″, maybe. I’m not talking about the whole five of the band doing a complete record. It’s just more like if any of us play together in different lineups. I could see that happening, some project here and there. We’d like to do music together. It would get rid of that expectation of being At the Gates.
When the twins (Anders and Jonas Björler) went off and did The Haunted, were you pissed?
No. I was really tired of the whole death metal thing. Anders made the wisest decision, and that left me to not make the decision. The couple years after that was a lot of confusion with different directions musically, but it was good for me to discover all that.
Can you go more into that?
It was just an opportunity to try out [different] things. At the Gates was one of those bands that were really limitless when it comes to death metal. There were no restrictions. But there are still other areas of music you want to try out. Some projects — it was probably good that they never got official (laughs). But it’s good to try your wings in different settings. It develops you as a person and as a musician as well.
So you have a rap album no one’s heard.
No (laughs). It was more like the same type of context — hardcore, punk, post-rock, whatever. You don’t have to master everything, but you want to try to do different kinds of stuff.
Your career is split between more melodic bands like At the Gates and Nightrage, and crustier, more punky bands like Skitsystem and Disfear. Is one side closer to your heart?
You have to remember that most of those bands on the melodic side were bands I didn’t form. The bands I formed were Skitsystem and The Great Deceiver, who were more on the hardcore, noisier side. I was more active in the punk/hardcore ideas, not only musically but also lyrically and politically. That’s a big part of me. But the metal side, I grew up on that, too. I love doing a death metal album. It’s more on an enjoyment kind of level. I enjoy it, but it’s not what I was meant to do, I think. It’s more important with the punk/hardcore thing. I portray something I really want to get across.
What do you want to get across?
It’s hard to sum up in one sentence. The whole concept of writing lyrics for me has always been to work myself through different subjects and to try to find my own standpoint, to not be guided by already fixed ideas. That was the same when I was writing more occult, mystical lyrics with my old band Grotesque. I always tried to find different paths and experiment with different ideas to see what I could come across. But I can say definitely that [my approach is] more left-wing. I am a strong believer in historic materialism.
What do you mean by that?
Everything has an economic meaning behind it. Everything happens for someone gaining something from the situation. It drives history forward.
Are you educated in economics?
A little bit. I’m one year away from being a teacher in social studies, which includes economics — not on the big mathematical scale, but social economics.
What level of school will you be teaching?
High school. Geography, social studies, politics, history, and religion.
When did you decide to become a high school teacher?
Five years ago. I had been teaching without a diploma for a while. It was quite a big step, because even if school is free here, you don’t really earn money [in school]. So if you have kids and everything, you have to take a step to go into education, because it’s close to five years. But I really felt that it was something that brought me forward as a person and [was] the next natural step. I’m able to combine it really good with my musical [endeavors].
In the town where you’ll teach, will people know who you are?
It has happened. I try to downplay the role. I noticed that [with] the “cool” teacher, the kids think they can slide their way through that course (laughs). There’s no secret that I’m a singer in a punk or metal band, but it doesn’t have to be the first thing at their ear.
One thing I got from the Swedish Death Metal book (by Daniel Ekeroth, reviewed here) was that much of the ’90s scene was due to Sweden having a good social support system. Is that still true?
It’s eroded due to socialism on a big scale being brought down. It’s on the way down in Europe, the whole welfare idea. Everything is [being] privatized. But it’s still better than in most countries. You can still get money to rent a rehearsal room, which is great. My son is starting to play guitar, and it would cost me 20 quid for a year.
After having toured America, what do you think of our country?
Sweden is starting to look more and more like America every day. The poverty [in America] is really striking. What I feel is kind of sad is the idea of the new continent when it was taken over [by Europeans] — which was kind of brutal — it was one of the most socialistic countries in the world. It had a lot of big dreams for the common man to have a place and all that. But all the welfare structures were torn down before they got started. It’s a really brutal country. It’s harsh. I’m not living there; I can’t really comment that hard on it. But from a more historical or social studies kind of perspective, I really hope that you get some communal health care system or try to get some welfare situation going, at least.
In what ways is Sweden starting to look like America?
They’re selling the previously state-owned companies, like the post, the national railway line, and stuff like that. Some of these companies are being sold to private interests, and schools as well. Things that weren’t about money before have started to be about money. With globalization, you have good things, of course. We are a good multicultural country. We have a good infrastructure for that. But at the same time, with the Internet, it’s harder…before, it was more isolated. We weren’t allowed to have commercials on TV before. But now they broadcast from Denmark, and there’s commercials for kids. Five year-old kids can watch commercials on morning TV. That could never have happened before. It’s more about money, and who can buy stuff, basically. I have a teenage daughter — she gets all excited with advertising and billboards thrown at her every day. It’s getting more brutal.
What musical projects are you working on?
Right now it’s mostly Disfear. We are writing material for a new album. We are taking it slowly, to choose what shows we want to play. We’re getting [to be] old men now; we want to keep the focus and happy about it all the time. So we try to make it as enjoyable as possible for ourselves, therefore being more honest to the people as well.
There’s more musical projects here and there. Some should be secret for now; we’ll see what happens. I’m going up to Stockholm in two weeks to sing on Fred Estby’s solo record, for instance. That could be interesting.
Fred Estby from Dismember!
Yeah, he’s doing a solo record with, like, 10 different singers, and I’m one of the lucky [ones].
I think it [has] the singer from Grand Magus. I know Martin van Drunen is on one track. I think Chris Reifert should be on one track, too, I’m not really sure. It’s an all-star singer lineup.
Speaking of old men, you go way back with Fenriz, since you did the Darkthrone logo. He’s also another guy who has both a metal and a punk side. Do you still talk to him?
Not really on that basis. We are in contact through Fredrik [Wallenberg] from Skitsystem. I’m really a social person. I like to talk to people. Fenriz does not. When we meet, we click. We have a lot of fun, and we talk a lot. But that rarely happens.
What are you listening to these days?
A lot of stuff, actually. I listen constantly to new music and to old stuff, too. I really like those new bands from America, like Liturgy and Krallice, the new kind of avant-garde black metal bands. Some of the new old-school death metal, like Funebrarum. A lot of old stuff like Axegrinder, Hellhammer, stuff like that always gets played. Black Heart Procession — I really like the new one. The important [thing] is to keep it interesting, not to lose interest in music. That’s why I got into Liturgy, Krallice, and those bands. That took some effort to get into, because it was really harsh and really weird. Therefore, they stuck harder when I got through it.
Do you educate your kids in metal and punk?
Not really. They know where all the stuff is if they want to find it, because I’ve got this large collection. If I should force it, they’d probably rebel the other way. They don’t really listen to any brutal music at all (laughs). I let them have their own idea. [But] of course, I comment on stuff. I’m being the boring dad: “This stuff’s crap. You should listen to this, and not this one.” But I try my best to behave. I know it always tracks back the other way if you try to “educate” them too much.
Right, they’re going to rebel and listen to soft rock.
Yeah, exactly. That would be horrible, wouldn’t it? Like Nickelback or something.