Swedish adventure rock unit Hällas returned with their sophomore album entitled ‘Conundrum‘, out now via Napalm Records. Drummer Kasper Eriksson talks about his musical upbringing, the new album, the band’s writing approach, and more.
Let’s start from your early music beginnings. How did your musical career begin? When did you start playing? Which groups have been your favorites? Please tell us something more about your early life.
I first started playing music when I was about 10. A couple of friends formed a band, before anyone even owned any instruments, and the only vacant position was the bass. I initially thought bass was played using keyboards and when we went to the store to check out instruments I was very surprised that the bass was actually some kind of weird guitar! After a while, everybody actually managed to get their hands on their instruments and we started to rehearse. As it turned out, my friends had also promised another friend to be a part of the band and apparently he was also supposed to play the bass. In the end we had one drummer, one guitarist, two bassists and one guy who was very inspired by Slipknot that played “samples” using CD-Rs from his stereo. It was a mess.
On beforehand I was not particularly interested in music but with this band I discovered more music that wasn’t on the radio like Metallica, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, Judas Priest and even some Slayer. I kept on playing the bass and discovered W.A.S.P. who was huge for me at that point. As I grew slightly older I also stumbled upon black metal and until I was around 18-19 I predominantly listened to bands like Bathory, Darkthrone, Immortal and all the obscure bands that you could find on MySpace and that I don’t even remember the names of. This is also the period where I found the album “Bergtatt” by Ulver that, I think, made me want to create music of my own and also made me buy a guitar to be able to record my music using programmed drums, bass and electric guitar.
As I got even more into music I started to play more guitar and less bass but also learned more about music and the influences of the bands I liked and discovered bands like Hellhammer/Celtic Frost, Mercyful Fate, Manilla Road, Cirith Ungol and Pagan Altar. That was the spiral that eventually led me to my current biggest influences like Genesis, Rush, Yes, Thin Lizzy, etc.
How did you go about starting Hällas? Who was the most influential when the band started its musical journey?
Hällas was started by Kasper and Tommy in Jönköping. They were always the driving force and when Kasper moved from Jönköping to Linköping he met me and Alex who also joined the band after the first guitarist left.
In the beginning, did you have some “fixed” tempo in composing songs or everything was a product of jamming, improvising?
Just like now, even in the beginning there was a very low frequency of jamming within the band. The songs are composed by individual ideas made at home and tweaked or adapted to our style in the rehearsal room. On rare occasions some riffs are made up on the spot but very rarely through jamming or improvising. What does happen, however, is that someone plays something wrong or improvises over an already set foundation that adds another layer to an idea or sometimes even creates entirely new passages.
How would you describe Hällas’ music on your own?
I think the description “adventure rock” is spot on. The music is not heavy enough to be heavy metal and not progressive enough to be progressive rock. It does have the foundation of heavy metal but is heavily inspired by progressive rock in the non-linear progression of the songs and the albums. The music is often uplifting but at the same time brings you down and evokes different feelings through various musical landscapes. Just like my idea of what an adventure would bring.
Tell me about the writing and recording sessions for the new album Conundrum.
Conundrum started out as a meeting where we decided to continue on the story that was indicated on the first EP, realized on Excerpts from a Future Past and finalized on the new album. We discussed and decided on the most important parts of the story and Kasper and Tommy wrote the plot. A bit like when writing a soundtrack (I guess) we then started gathering ideas and riffs at home which we later composed into songs in our rehearsal room in Jönköping in order to fit the story right. Every member of the band is very much part of the songwriting and with five different visions and musical influences a lot of compromising and tweaking is often what almost every piece of our music has to go through. It’s a lot of work to make it at least feel okay for everyone but that’s how we know the end result will be good. After little less than a year of songwriting we entered the studio in Stockholm for 10 days and the album was later mixed by Nicklas at his studio in Jönköping.
What ideas did inform Conundrum in particular?
The ideas mostly came from the story we had written for Excerpts… and continued on for Conundrum, which in turn is some kind of mash-up from all the collective interests of the band like music (of course), books, movies, video games, art, you name it. I think the idea is essentially grounded in an underlying escapism – a yearning for what lays between the future and the past; a parallel universe where everyday life no longer matters.
What evolution do you feel Conundrum represents comparing with your previous works?
To me Conundrum is musically more refined than our previous works. It is bigger, more adult and more complex. Both the drums and the keyboards and synthesizers are taking a greater part of the soundscape that adds a lot to the dynamics. I think the foundation is the same but taken to another level adding layers for additional complexity. We also worked a lot with the dynamics, having the guitars, for instance, take a step back at times when needed. This was rarely the case on previous works where we wanted every instrument to be heard simultaneously at pretty much all time. I also think we approved a lot with the vocal melodies and harmonies doing what we probably wanted to do, but did not really have the skills to do, on previous albums.
What is the most important thing for the structure of your songs? Is it a riff, a melody line, vocal arrangement? Provide some insight into your own creative process.
I think the most important thing for Hällas is the lack of structure. We often let the riffs and the melody lines dictate what comes next and we all are kind of reluctant to have just one or two ideas in one single song. There must be more happening and you should not be able to predict what is coming next. With that said, songs are often the product of many riffs by different people composed together into a foundation with melody lines added to them. The vocal arrangements are often what come last in the process. However, I think the best parts we have written have been parts where the vocal arrangement was written early or even in conjunction with the actual riff. Like I mentioned before, compromise is also a big part of it. If I come up with an idea at home it is usually tweaked or something is added to it by the others in the rehearsal room. Hällas is never a one man show and that is very important, not least for the sake of complexity and the unexpectedness.
How has your perspective on the possibilities of songs arrangement expanded over the years?
My first thought is that we have become more independent in a way. There is a greater extent of self-reliance in terms of boundaries and what kind of arrangements that is possible. In earlier days we often had ideas for arrangements where we asked ourselves “can we really do this?”, perhaps with a fear of non-acceptance. Nowadays I feel that the only important thing is that we all think that the songs are interesting and challenging enough for us and that the music evoke the feelings we want them to evoke. Maybe we have become braver!
How much does the challenge mean to you in terms of creativity or performing live?
The challenge is a huge incitement for me playing music. We always make music that challenges us both technically and in terms of musical boundaries. To see the progression and development of myself and the other guys in the band’s songwriting is a big part of it. To me it also seems like the greatest bits of music or ideas come at random. At least I haven’t figured out any pattern yet and the randomness is a challenge in itself meaning that you have to plow through a lot of ideas before you can harvest only the best of crops. Regarding live shows it is also a different challenge with so many more variables at hand. Making the best of every situation and often to adapt to new circumstances is what keeps it interesting. All those miles on the road is worth it for the moments when you feel that everything clicks and the audience is with you!
What does the future hold?
For obvious reasons with the whole virus situation, the near future is quite uncertain. We have some festivals in Europe confirmed for the summer that hopefully won’t be cancelled. We have postponed our European release tour for Conundrum to September. We are also looking into the possibilities of playing in previously uncharted territories and I am very much looking forward to that.
Cover photo by K. Bengtsson