Interview: Peter Tägtgren (Pain, Hypocrisy)
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Peter Tägtgren is one of the most active, hard-working musicians in metal. He's the mastermind behind both Hypocrisy and Pain, with which he's released a combined total of 17 studio albums. He's been involved with Bloodbath, Lock Up, and countless other projects. He also owns and operates a recording studio in Sweden known as The Abyss.
Yet despite all his involvement in music, he remains mysterious. He tends to avoid revealing any more than he has to – both in interviews and onstage. He lets his music do the talking. That mystery is what makes him fascinating to me.
I spoke with Peter on the phone during his US press day, which was apparently around 150 interviews into the promo cycle for his new Pain record, You Only Live Twice. The result was more reaffirmation of his enigmatic personality than anything else. One thing is for certain: when it comes to making music, Peter Tägtgren could care less about what anyone else thinks.
Header photo by Denis Goria
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What have you been up to these past couple weeks?
Just doing promotions. I went to Finland, I went to Germany, I'm doing Sweden from home, and interviews. The next couple weeks are going to be busy as well.
How did you do things differently with You Only Live Twice compared to 2008's Cynic Paradise?
Well, this album is much heavier and darker than Cynic Paradise, you know? Maybe that one is more commercial, and this one is heavier. It's more guitar-driven, more organic. Well, that's what I think, at least. (Laughs)
How did you envision the new record when you started out?
The only thing I really knew was that I did want to go a little bit heavier, actually. But before you even start at anything, you don't really know what's happening until the album is totally done. You write one song here, and you write one song there, and pile them up, and suddenly you have the album done and you just go, "Oh, OK, that's how it came out".
You've explained that the recording process can be kind of stressful for you. How do you deal with your mental demons when you're under pressure?
I just fight it, I guess. There's not really any formula for me to stay sane during a recording session because there's always a lot of pressure that I put on myself. I really want to push myself further and further, and sometimes I feel like I'm not doing it. That really stresses me throughout the whole process, you know? I throw away ideas, and I start all over again and just keep on building and building.
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I encounter a lot of death metal fans who reject almost all industrial music, but they'll embrace Pain, no matter what. What do you think it is about your music and your personality that attracts people?
I never set out to really please anyone, in general. You know, [Pain] was just me fucking around in the studio, and it grew into becoming a band since the demand started rising, and we started touring. I don't know, I'm just following my heart. It's the same as what we do with Hypocrisy when we make albums. We try to do what we would like to hear ourselves.
You're really good at crossing genre boundaries. That being the case, how do you feel about music scenes? Do you feel like they promote a sense of place, or are they just limiting?
People just really love to put labels on bands and music. Of course, it's easier to identify what it is, but for me, if someone says "OK, this is a death metal band", then I expect it to be death metal. (Laughs) But with Pain, there are so many different genres mixed into the music, and I just try to stay open-minded. There's a little of this and a little of that. I don't know if it's good or bad to put stamps on music. I just write it.
Do you feel like you have all the creative outlets that you need with Pain, Hypocrisy, and producing at The Abyss? Have you thought about starting a new project?
As long as I have Hypocrisy for the more brutal sounds in my mind, and Pain for the wider kind of musical styles where I never have any boundaries, then I feel pretty happy with these two bands. And also with my studio, I'm trying to do more producing now again. I'm pretty happy with all these things right now.
Which do you prefer to write about - aliens or dirty women?
Well, the world is filled with both of them. (Laughs) I don't know, I haven't been really writing a lot of science fiction stories for awhile. But "Dirty Women" is really about us men, about how sometimes the blood goes from our brains down to our penises.
Our IQ really shrinks, and the woman takes advantage of it. We become a flock of sheep, and the woman can do whatever she wants.
There's definitely some truth to that. If you could choose the ideal conditions for listening to You Only Live Twice, what would they be?
I would say a bottle of whiskey in hand, and a good mood. Maybe go into the bedroom or out to a party. Now that I've done, like, 150 interviews for this album, a lot of people say it gets you in a good mood. It's a good album to warm up before you go out somewhere.
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Was there a definitive point when you were growing up when you realized you wanted to dedicate your life to metal?
No, I think I always had that in mind since I was a little kid. For me, there were no options because I had no other interests. I just had to do it. That was all. I can't see myself doing anything else. Music is definitely the thing that I know and that I enjoy. I love to hate it, you know? It's a love-hate relationship sometimes. I constantly want to push myself, and I hate what I'm doing, but in the end, I'll go to bed with some kind of smile.
What music are you listening to right now?
Anything from Shania Twain to Johnny Cash to old stuff - Creedence, Led Zeppelin, Beatles, Deicide, Morbid. All kinds of music. I'm pretty wide open.
That seems to carry over into what you write. When you started producing your own albums for Hypocrisy, your sound started progressing, and you started tweaking with the typical death metal sound. There were a lot more electronic layers. I think that's what makes Hypocrisy’s modern sound pretty unique, and obviously that carries over into Pain as well.
Yeah, I guess it's just a development. It’s very boring to stand and do the same thing all over again. For me, it's important to make myself happy and add new things into the stuff that I create, writing-wise, and so on. I'm sure there is always going to be something new. And with Hypocrisy I really want to keep it in the frames of what we're doing, maybe just develop the songs a little bit better. With Pain, though, it can go anywhere.
A lot of Hypocrisy lyrics are about apocalyptic visions. How do you feel about all this recent talk about an impending apocalypse?
One thing's for sure: we're all gonna die. When and how and why, I don't know. I guess we just need to be happy that we can wake up and have a sun in our face. I don't know if there's gonna be some terrorists blowing everything up, or if it's gonna be comets or meteors - no fucking clue.
Do you have a favorite guitar riff?
I don't know. There are so many. It's hard to say which is the best. But I mean, a lot of Black Sabbath stuff with Dio. I don't know if it's Tony Iommi, or if it's Geezer Butler who wrote them, but those get me in a good mood.
How about that you've written?
I haven't written it yet. (Laughs)
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"Dirty Woman" (official video)
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