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WOLVERINE: Ups and Downs preceded this Masterpiece

Interview with vocalist Stefan Zell of Wolverine by Vera in May 2011

The Swedish progressive rock band Wolverine is one of the bands you can be sure of high quality music. Their newest album ‘Communication Lost’ is once again a real gem. We had to be patient for five years this time before we could finally enjoy that amazing piece of art. A lot of things can happen in a man’s life in five years and vocalist Stefan Zell wears his heart upon his sleeve.

Welcome back after several years of silence with the excellent fourth studio album ‘Communication Lost’! How do you feel now that album will finally come out?
Thank you very much! It's certainly great to be back. It's been far too long since our last album, ‘Still’, was released but it was impossible for us to get ‘Communication Lost’ out any sooner than now because so much have happened to us, as a band and as individuals, during this period. In a way it feels like starting all over again and it's a challenge I embrace.

Since we did an interview in 2006 when ‘Still’ came out, let us pick up the thread around that time. I remember you never did a real tour before, but I found out that you toured with Anathema in September 2006. I like to hear more about this first tour experience…
It was a great experience. It wasn't a long tour at all, only four or five gigs and only in the UK, but we had a blast and the guys in Anathema were great to us. We have some common grounds, Wolverine and Anathema, while still not being too similar, so I think it was a very good match. I would love to do something similar again once ‘Communication Lost’ is out. It would of course be great to be able to do a longer tour as well but we'll have to see if any offers are presented to us.

’Still’ proved to be a great success, so that’s a positive fact. What were the signs of more success you could experience?
‘Still’ was received very well by the media. I remember we scored 5/5 in Kerrang which was a big thing for us. It was also an album where I really felt 100 % satisfied with the outcome. The album was a labour of love and I think it was the album where we fully “found ourselves” as a band. I don't have any exact numbers but I think the album sold better than any of our previous releases as well. Unfortunately it didn't show in our wallets. Ha, ha!

But… dark clouds gathered above your heads, so it seems. I read that the band in the period 2007/2008 almost came to an end. What happened with everybody in the band?
The older we get, the harder it is to find the time to keep the band going. During this period I quit my old job simply because I wasn't happy anymore. I needed a change. I quit my job and started studies for two and a half years. In March 2008 me and my wife got our first child. Unfortunately she (Freya) was born with a heart condition that required surgery. That whole year was, simply put, a living hell. We focused all our energy into getting Freya to eat properly and lead a somewhat normal life. It was hard though and I didn't have any energy left to focus on the band. Luckily Freya had her surgery in December 2008 and since then she's been just fine and that's when things turned around for me.
On top of this, we are a band with five very different and strong-willed individuals. Writing an album is for us a pretty painful and straining experience. We argue about pretty much every detail there is to argue about. I think the final product benefits from this, since every song is viewed from pretty much every thinkable angle before it's considered done. In the midst of my ongoing battle at home to make ends meet I got tired of all the struggling within the band and I decided to quit. Mikael was also pretty much out of the band for a while. Then came ProgPower 2008...

Indeed, I saw you playing two gigs at ProgPower Europe 2008 during these strenuous days. How do you look back at this ProgPower happening in the Netherlands where you played songs from the beginning one day (too short!) and the next day (a better performance if I can speak frankly) a common set?
ProgPower 2008 was actually the starting point of my way back towards feeling inspired and feeling the need to be in Wolverine. As I recall we pretty much felt this would be our final gig. In a way it would tie everything together in a good way since we were the first band to play at ProgPower (back in 1999). This gig would also present us with the opportunity to play our first EP, ‘Fervent Dream’, from start to finish so the two gigs would really span our entire “career”. However, once on stage, we all felt the love we share of playing our material live on stage. Playing our early material also got me thinking about why we even started the band in the first place. I agree that our second performance was better than the first, but they were both equally important to us as a band. The first brought all the memories from our early years back and the second performance turned out to be one of our best gigs ever. As a whole, that weekend kind of saved Wolverine as a band. Of course, two months later, Freya had her surgery which also made life a lot easier for me.

The positive thing of your troubles is that we have a magnificent, emotional album now with all the reflections of these hard times. Is it a kind of “what does not kill you makes you stronger”?
Definitely! These five years have certainly made me stronger and more aware of who I am as a person. Family will always be my main priority but I need Wolverine to be whole and complete as an individual. I've been in the band for sixteen years now, which is nearly half my life, so it's only natural that part of my identity lies within the band. I have the same feeling for ‘Communication Lost’ as I had with ‘Still’. I love every song on the album and I wouldn't want to change anything about it. Even though I'd love some commercial success that feeling of being totally satisfied with ones work is the only feeling I need to feel fully satisfied. I'm already planning for the next album.

Can we see ‘Communication Lost’ as a concept album? Anyway, it feels so, since there is an evolution noticeable between intro ‘Downfall’ and soaring outro ‘A Beginning’ and in between you get the story… or am I wrong?
It certainly has a concept to it. It's not a story in any way but you could say it's five years turned into seventy minutes of music. Every song deals with stuff we've experienced or felt during the time that has passed since ‘Still’ was released. The title holds many meanings but one is certainly the fact that we all lost sight of each other during this time. Even though the album is pretty dark and gloomy I feel it's a celebration of the fact that we are still around as band so to me it's a very positive album in many ways.

It is like a diary of four/five years go by?

It must have been rather difficult to catch all your emotions on a record, since I read it was a slow and difficult process of song-writing. Can you tell a bit more about that? Is someone the main composer? Did the band end up in positive communication at last?
It's not that all five of us suddenly get along like best friends but we're a functional unit again. As I mentioned before, we've always fought and argued about most stuff related to our music and I don't see that changing any time soon. It's a lot easier for us to just hang out as friends and not talk about music. Since we all lead very different lives I think we'll always have to struggle a bit to get somewhere but that's fine by me as long as the outcome continuous to be creatively rewarding. As for the process of writing this album, we started writing right around the release of ‘Still’. I think the oldest song on the album is ‘In The Quiet Of Dawn’ which we even played live back in the summer of 2007. After that bits and pieces came together but we didn't really pick up the pace until the beginning or middle of 2009 or something like that. After that it all came together pretty fast and we recorded it last summer. I'd say Marcus and Per has done most of the music while I've written most of the lyrics and vocal melodies. Thomas and Mikael have however been very involved in arranging and re-working the material. Thomas also, for the first time ever with this band, wrote the lyrics for one of the songs, ‘What remains’.

For years you were satisfied with going to Germany and record at Spacelab Studio with Oliver and Moschus. That tradition seems to be ended as well. Why did you decide to go for a change?
The budget for this album was a joke, that's the reason we didn't record this album at Spacelab. We decided to record it near home so we didn't have to spend a lot of money on travelling. The only reason this album sounds as good as it does is the fact that we are blessed with wonderful friends that have helped us put together the album for very little payment. We borrowed a studio for free (!!) from a friend here in Söderhamn and had Oliver come here to help us out with the vocals since I can't imagine recording vocals with anyone else. He has become my “mentor” in terms of vocals and he's also responsible for arranging all the backing vocals. Jacob Hansen then did an amazing job with the mixing of the album and Eroc later mastered it to perfection.

How did the band experience this change?
It was really great to record the album at home and hopefully we'll do the same next time around. Me and my family had a great time with Oliver while he was here. He lived at my place so we spent a lot of time together and he kind of became an extra member of the family. It was all very relaxing and that made it easier to focus on the album as well.

The mastering is done by Eroc, that’s a guy of an ancient kraut rock band! (Jane) How was it to work with him?
He's mastered all our albums, so Eroc has been involved with Wolverine for about ten years now. He's an amazing mastering engineer and he's a perfectionist which I like. This time around, we experienced some troubles getting the sound we were after so I think he had to work a little harder compared to our previous releases. However, he went that extra mile for us and in the end it turned out perfect. I'll be forever grateful for his efforts.

After all delays and slow motion process, also the mastering was delayed a couple of months. Why and did you feel frustration about that or not?
Like I said, we just didn't get the sound we were after. Eroc was also away for vacation some time which delayed the production a bit. It was of course very frustrating since we wanted to finish the album but at the same time we were hell bent on getting the album to sound exactly the way we wanted it to.

Jacob Hansen did the mix in Denmark; this is also a new experience for you. Any thoughts about that?
The first time I heard the mix I my jaw dropped to the floor. I just couldn't believe how good it sounded. After having recorded and mixed three albums at Spacelab it was fresh to hear Wolverine through someone else's perspective so to speak. I love our previous productions but sometimes it's just nice with a bit of change. Jacob was extremely professional and I really hope we'll get the chance to work with him again.

Cello (or strings) have an important function in the slower songs. Who plays it? Are there any guest musicians on the album and if so, please tell about their contribution and your motives to incorporate them…
We had some friends come in and play on the album. The cello is played by Stefan Moberg, who is a friend of Per. We felt that the songs he plays on would greatly benefit from having a real cello instead of a cello-sound from a keyboard so that's why we brought him in. I think the result is marvellous. It's always nice to have people in your surrounding play on your material since it adds an extra dimension to the songs. On the song ‘Pulse’ we actually asked Per Broddesson, our former guitar player, to do the solo. He recorded it at his brother's studio and it turned out great. It was cool to bring Per back into the mix since he's a brilliant guitar player. Marcus former drum teacher plays a lot of percussion on the album. We try to incorporate percussion as well as some electronic elements like loops and stuff into our songs since it adds certain richness to the sound. I like it when you can listen to a song dozens of times and for every listen discover new details in the music which you didn't notice before.

You started a new study right after our former interview. What came out of this?
That's correct. As I mentioned earlier I quit my old job and started studying. I actually work for the Swedish police today and life has never been better. The job may not be very “rock 'n roll” and at first I had my doubts of how to combine the two worlds. I work strange hours, so I was afraid that would keep me from being able to rehearse properly but it's proven to be a lot easier than expected. Some people have also wondered how it's possible to work as a police while being in the music business meaning drugs are common. I can honestly say that I've never been offered drugs by anyone nor have I seen any drugs in our surroundings. All five of us reject any use of drugs so that's at least one subject we've never had any arguments about.

I read on your website on personal opinions somewhere: “music is art and should remain so”. I agree on that, free from censorship or even concerns about your day time job. Is that one of the reasons why you choose to have a day time job, or is it a necessary evil for all of you?
I think it depends on who in the band you ask. I'm a very happy man these days. Sure, I'd love to do longer tours than we've previously been able to do but apart from that I find it nice to have music only as an interest. In a way it keeps the music honest. We don't make any money from the band and we have no grand illusions about ever being able to live from it in any way either. We're only in it because of our love of creating music and to me that's the best reason there is to be in a band. We're 100% free to create the music we want to create without any corporate guys interfering. If we'd sell hundreds of thousands of albums the stakes would be higher and greater powers would get into the mix. To me, that's not an appealing scenario. I love my work and I don't want to quit. I want the band and my daily job to go hand in hand and I'm lucky enough, at least for now, to enjoy the benefits of both.

Everybody knows you have to tour as a band these days to make a living of it. Are there any tour plans? Or shall I put it this way: is Wolverine eager to tour or will prefer occasional gigs you will always remember?
As I mentioned, I definitely want to tour. We have nothing planned as of now and I'm sure we'd benefit from a booking agent. We've tried to hook up with booking agents in the past but it has never worked out for us. We'll see if we're in luck this time around since I'm looking into the matter. In general you can say that we're up for any offers that come our way, but of course we need to make it work in relation to the lives we lead at home in terms of work, family and so on.

What are the next gigs?
As I said, no plans are made as for touring. We will do a gig on May 28th in Söderhamn which is our home town in Sweden. We'll play the new album from start to finish and throw in a couple of older tracks in the mix as well. My wife Jamina (who sang with me on ‘Leaving Yesterday’, a song from 2001) and a friend of ours will handle the backing vocals so it will be them and us on stage as well as a guest singer who will do some growling on some older material. Swedish Radio will probably be there to record the show so I'm really looking forward to that.

Drummer Marcus Losbjer will be on tour with Thomas Di Leva as drummer. Who is Thomas and how did he get involved in this cooperation?
Thoams DiLeva is one of Sweden's biggest pop artists. He's a very original but talented character. Marcus got the gig because we have mutual friends that are close to Thomas. They just finished a two month long tour of Sweden. This summer they'll do some festivals and then later in the fall they'll embark on a shorter tour of Sweden once again. It's been a great experience for Marcus. Marcus is probably the first of us who'd want to make a living off the music. He's a true musician and so much more than only a drummer. He eats and breathes music. I was very happy to hear he got the gig with DiLeva. Marcus is damn talented and it's good to see his talent finally pays off financially speaking as well.

Marcus is also your main man to serve you with artwork. What can you tell about it this time?
Marcus has an “ordinary job” as graphical designer for a company. He's always been very talented when it comes to graphical designs. Ever since he was a kid he's been drawing and painting a lot and he's always been extremely good at it. This time around he and Thomas created the artwork. Not only can't we afford an external designer, but since they are so talented at what they do it would be a shame to throw that to waste. Thomas has taken all the photos and they all represent various elements of each individual song on the album. I haven't received the actual album yet so I haven't had the chance to check out the booklet yet but I'm sure it will look amazing. I'm also sure they'll do the artwork for any future albums of ours as well.

To occlude: Söderhamn is a pivotal place in your life. Can you tell our readers about this place where you reside?
Söderhamn is a small town on Sweden's east coast with around 20.000 inhabitants. Me, Mikael and Marcus moved here in the mid nineties right after forming Wolverine. Söderhamn is close to the Baltic Sea and has a beautiful archipelago. Unfortunately it's been struck hard by downsized companies so the unemployment is pretty high, as with many places these days. Even though there are times I'm thinking of moving to a bigger place I really like it here, especially in summer. The town definitely shows itself from its best side during summertime.

As you do not perform live that often, are there plans for a video clip or even a first DVD in the existence of Wolverine?
We were actually thinking of doing a DVD from the release party but it proved to be a bit more work than we could handle right now. I'm however very open to the idea so I wouldn't rule it out. We'll of course have to talk things through with the label first but I'm very positive about the prospect of doing a DVD. We've talked about doing video clips for a couple of songs from the album so I'm hoping we can record something this summer.

Well Stefan, that’s it for now I think. If I forgot anything which is important to mention, feel free to add it here…
Thank you for a great and lengthy interview. I had a great time answering your questions. I'm looking forward to reading the review of ‘Communication Lost’. Take care!

Geplaatst door Vera op zaterdag 09 juli 2011 - 13:13:10
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