Avatar Singer: Politics Interfering With Optimal Pandemic Plan

Avatar‘s Johannes Eckerström was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio program. The singer discussed the band’s new album, Hunter Gatherer (out Aug. 7 on eOne), and the reasons behind the group’s departure from conceptual albums.

The singer spoke about the connection back to humanity’s more primitive days and how, while the record does not embrace a unified concept, there are many related themes running throughout the 10 tracks. There’s also a brand new look that comes with the album as the Swedes swap regal attire from the last album cycle for fetishist farmers.

Also, as the coronavirus pandemic grips the world, Eckerström stressed that this has happened before in human history and that we are now better equipped than ever to deal with a pandemic, although political issues are interfering with an optimized response to combat the virus.

Hunter Gatherer addresses humanity hurtling toward an unknown future. How does the album now have greater meaning in a coronavirus world?

I wonder if it does. The hopes and aspirations are one big idea that I am presenting. There is some stuff I read while we were working on this album — the idea that things in the world are turning bad right now environmentally — there’s a big chunk of people who seemed to hope for or want us to go back to something the way it was before — preindustrial and to have us scaled back. Sadly, I don’t believe in the solution being there. I don’t believe we can ever, ever go back to a better way than what lies ahead of us, if that makes sense.

I’m all for some kind of Star Trek acceleration into the future and finding our saving grace beyond that horizon somewhere. The problem is acceleration, whether good or bad, it’s just going faster and faster.

Viruses come and go and pandemics come and go in humanity’s history. In a way, we’re probably better suited than ever to tackle it in terms of what scientific backbone this is all resting on and communication-wise and resource-wise. It’s good. It’s not medieval times, but I don’t know, there seems to be a lot of politics getting in the way for us to really deal with this in an optimized manner, and so maybe it reflects that.

I find us in this very intense crossroads, the fork in the road right now, if you will, and the pandemic and the handling of the pandemic more specifically seems to be just another example of that.

Avatar, Hunter Gatherer Album Cover

Presentation is integral to Avatar. What does the new stage attire convey about the statement you’re making with Hunter Gatherer?

To answer that, I have to start talking about the music because whatever we do visually, whatever we end up doing in any form a medium or form of expression, at the end of the day and the beginning of the day as well, it’s always about the music.

We went really off on the deep end — very much on purpose with the humor and the championing and just fully embraced this strange, comedic love letter to heavy metal where we were messing around in la-la land for a prolonged time.

That meant that we had to bottle some very dark, complicated emotions and thoughts and just keep whatever state of mind we were going through. In our artistic endeavors, we had to kind of push them to the side for the time being and all that bottled up rage and need to do something more bare bones — aggressive and deal with the darkness — all of that came out now with Hunter Gatherer. Since that is happening, everything visual, from videos to outfits, are meant to reflect that.

It’s a darker outfit and it’s something work clothing has inspired heavily. We take a step away from the uniform to organize to something more from a grassroots level that is brought into this dark, heavy metal universe of Avatar.

It’s a theatrical version of that. It’s an outfit that, on one end, could maybe be found on a factory worker or a farmer as well as something you could wear and be appreciated for wearing at a fetish club somewhere in Berlin.

Avatar, “Silence in the Age of Apes” Music Video

Most aspects of Avatar Country were very celebratory. Directly and indirectly, how is Hunter Gatherer reactionary to what you did last?

I guess it’s the opposite in every possible way. Avatar Country was truly about having these awesome moments of make-believe together with our fans and it became this crazy cool journey because the fans were on board. It became something much bigger than just and the band playing those songs. There are some things in global politics that happened that made certain angles on how we wanted to make the Avatar Country work.

It started to resemble reality too much. We wanted to stay away from that and lighten the mood even more, but we did not want to separate from reality. We wanted to paint a totalitarian regime of this super awesome thing, ironically and without satire. It was never meant to be satire in that sense or at least that was not the main mission.

That said, it was not a very critical place to be — that wasn’t the point of it. All the things we have been thinking about and feeling strongly about for the past years now has the outlet on Hunter Gatherer and that’s why it gets this big title. Hunter Gatherer is what we are.

The kind of lifestyle evolution — before our inventiveness — led us toward being more rooted in one area and make us turn us into farmers and everything else that follows that. The hunter-gatherer is the very nature of who we are and then the clash between our stone age strengths and now our science fiction world that we try to operate in and it all encompasses. There’s so many subjects and feelings in the space between those two colliding forces.

So, again, it has become very dark — it’s real is the more important thing here. Every album is also about trying to peel away another layer of the onion and be more honest about things. A lot of things [on this album] are about things that I wouldn’t have found the words for in the past or may have not been comfortable finding a way to say on prior albums but found its place now. That is an ongoing revolution from album to album.

The record is not a concept album. In what ways did eliminating a conceptual framework enable you creatively?

Feathers & Flesh being our first concept album was meant to be a challenge and that became the big challenge for that album. Can we write in this way? We don’t even know what it means to write in that way. So that was that trip.

Then with Avatar Country we became so very much compelled to do that and it became an asset — a way to sort out what we needed to write to make this big concept work. As far as a challenge goes, by now a concept album wouldn’t become a hindrance — it would have become a formula if we did it again. We just knew we wanted to make something that feels more real that is musically heavier and that speaks about the darkness in an honest way.

Avatar, “God of Sick Dreams”

I am not trying to be edgy about anything. It’s not a concept album but there are a bunch of threads we wrote that go through the whole thing and that journey with concept albums still helped us be able to think of the album as a whole much earlier into the process than we usually had. The vision for this album was always in front of me as a painting but the picture was slightly out of focus for the longest time and while writing and trying things out and having a general feel for where we were heading, the image became sharper and sharper. So, thanks to the concept albums, we probably had a better sense of direction with this one.

You perform on a track on the new Imonolith album. How much does contributing to something unrelated to Avatar empower you in terms of not being restricted by expectations?

I don’t think I felt that there were fewer expectations on that. From a fan perspective, people didn’t know I was doing it, but with Avatar we are very good at stripping away outside pressure. We write for an audience of five, meaning ourselves.

Doing this thing with Imonolith, we got in touch because I am such a huge fan of what they have done in the past [as part of Devin Townsend’s band]. And it was through my fandom that we became friends and then they asked me to be a part of it. It became this big honor and you want to do well and you want to do well within the framework of what they are doing and what they are about and what their song is about and all that.

Imonolith, “Becoming the Enemy” Feat. Avatar’s Johannes Eckerström

So I probably I had higher expectations of myself for that in a way because Avatar is our baby and we want to make it the best possible thing every time, but we are the judges for that first and foremost. At some points, toward the end of every album process I have always been overcome with a sense of peace and satisfaction with what we’ve done, meaning it is okay if everyone hates this — we can go home and I will continue listening to it. I know why we did this and we’re fine. So there’s always that thing when it comes to our own stuff. It’s mine.

I didn’t have that with Imonolith. Instead, I had, “Oh shit, that is so cool ,that’s so much fun and such an honor and la da da… I really hope they’ll like this…” With Avatar I never say, “I hope they’ll like this” and I said that to myself with Imonolith because I was doing such a favor to friends that I’m also a fan of.

Thanks to Johannes Eckerström for the interview. Pre-order your copy of ‘Hunter Gatherer’ here and follow Avatar on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend radio show here.

2020’s Best Metal Songs (So Far)

Powered by ProGo Productions

Avatar Drop New Song ‘God of Sick Dreams’ + Discuss New Album

Avatar have returned with the second taste of new music from their forthcoming Hunter Gatherer album. They’ve issued the new song “God of Sick Dreams” complete with a visualizer video that can be viewed further down in this story.

The song opens with a shuffle sounding like an oncoming train before forceful guitars enter the fray. Amped up distortion and pulse-pounding beats give way to full belting from Johannes Eckerstrom, letting the screams dominate the verses before scaling back to a more melodic but still prominent chorus.

The band has also provided a visualizer featuring the artwork for the album and as we discover in our chat with singer Johannes Eckerstrom, there’s more than just album promotion tied to the visual selected for the “God of Sick Dreams” clip. Check out the video and get more insight on the Hunter Gatherer album (due Aug. 7 via eOne) in our interview below:

“God of Sick Dreams” feels like it’s embracing the darkness. I know this record takes a darker turn overall. Can you speak a bit to where this one comes from?

The song is rooted visually in a very vivid nightmare I had. For a very long period I was having very apocalyptic nightmares. I didn’t realize the frequency of it until my wife commented on it that, “Wow, you dream that a lot.” But it’s very vivid. I’m in some apartment that isn’t mine, and I’m looking out the window and I think it’s Gothenburg and then I saw lightning just striking all over the city. Then these weird spherical purple explosions would happen, and it would swallow whatever was inside the sphere leaving only a crater. There was a sense of dread and that the world was ending, and I was feeling about as real as those vivid nightmares can.

I was also there with my niece. She’s 10 now, but she was a bit smaller then. But I pick her up, and I carry her and start running downstairs and trying to find a safe place for her and I stop about halfway down the stairs realizing there’s nowhere safe, that the world is ending, and then I wake up.

So starting there, it kind of rolls into the idea of being the “God of Sick Dreams.” We are, in many cases, we are our own greatest fears or our own worse nightmares. We can be our own greatest hindrance and the struggle that we have dealing with that can be taken in different ways. You can take it from a perspective of mental illness if you go all the way with it. So many issues that get in your own way, hinder you. The struggle can be hard to deal with. But it doesn’t have to be mental illness. But many times it can be your own personal life where you’re up against your biggest obstacle or your biggest enemy can sometimes dwell within ourselves.

Avatar, “God of Sick Dreams”

While this is not a concept record, I feel that “God of Sick Dreams” fits in so well between “A Secret Door” and “Scream Until You Wake.” It just flows. Was there any particular tie or reason it landed in that spot on the record?

Those choices are purely musical. It is not a concept album, so there was nothing that forced us to look at the songs from that perspective. Really, we were wrestling with a track listing for so long. You have no idea how many versions of that there were and how much it mattered to us. It’s a very underappreciated art form. It’s one thing to write a song, but then to put them all in the right order…

Like take a live set list. We play the songs in the order we do live for a reason and the same goes for an album. It’s a case of ebb and flow and giving you just the right flavor at the right time. On an album of 10 tracks, it’s like trying to balance at 10-course meal. You want to start off with something that excites the taste buds, but then you have to find things after the compliment each other.

But the album opens up so metallic and fast. It’s ultra aggressive. Then you drop into the second track “Colossus” and you get that heavy groove where you can lift the weights there. It attacks you aggressively from two different angles, which makes you ripe for the picking in opening up more emotionally, which is a song like “A Secret Door.” Once that three punch combo has happened, you want to go back to something faster, more aggressive and metallic with drive, and that’s why “God of Sick Dreams” is there. Once you’re there, you want to keep rocking out and keep the tempo going, but in a different way, which is “Scream Until You Wake.” And it just keeps feeding more and more like that.

But every song can’t be the opening track, so you want to create the conflict around each song and give each idea the most justice.

The album as a whole has been titled Hunter Gatherer, which fits well. If we can talk about how that title plays out in terms of what you’ve laid out on this record…

There’s this author, Yuval Noah Harari, who wrote this book Sapiens that I read last year. I finished right as we were getting deep into the songs together. But it’s very much the history of fellow humans and in a nutshell it offers a new perception on it all. But reading something like that, you realize how evolutionary we are. We have evolved to be hunter-gatherers. Our nature, our biological makeup, has evolved to be these tribal, out in the jungle, climb the tree, eat the roots, make a trap and live like that. We did that very successfully for a very long time and we did that probably for an individual in a way our brains are wired, it was a good quality of life.

Then, however, we started to deduce our high intelligence due to our ability to cooperate, through our language, through introducing complex ideas and the ability to plan ahead. Through these complex structures we were able to evolve in a direction becoming agricultural. But as a species, you look at the prime reason, the prime drive in anything it’s to multiply and become more and we’ve been very successful from agriculture to industrial up to today’s information age where we are more than ever. But on an individual plane, most of those things made life worse for us.

But on a scale war has increased, illness has increased. Everything kind of got worse and it kind of reflects on the stress and mental anguish that it is for some of us to live, to be a modern human, here today. So far, it’s taxing our inner nature and there’s some conflict there between where we are at and where we have been.

I personally believe there is no chance for us to go back to anything that has been. The solution to our problems in terms of mental health or in terms of general health, physical health, environmental health, all these issues that we are currently facing, I don’t think we can find any viable solution by looking to the past. We have to bring our hunter and gatherer bodies and minds into the future and reach the next step, and that next step is always faster and faster.

It’s a double edged sword because I think within our exploration lies our salvation, but also our ultimate demise and we’re balancing right on the edge of that constantly. We’re moving forward faster than ever and when we get there it might be a brick wall or it might be Star Wars shit.

Avatar, Hunter Gatherer Album Artwork

Speaking back in December, I know where your thoughts were at about our future, but I’m curious given the last few months of the pandemic, it feels like some of these things are downright prophetic now. Given what we’ve been through of late, do you double down on your fears for our future or are you finding moments of hope in how society can move forward?

I’m always quite hopeful about things. I think there’s a lot of bad things happening all over the world and right now we are focusing a lot on the news of what’s happing where you’re at (in the United States). But there’s plenty of that to go around in other parts of the world as well. But in watching some of these protests, it’s shown me that, wow, there’s a lot of cool people doing kind and brave things and standing up for what is right. There’s a level of solidarity that is kicking in with a vast amount of people. There are all kinds of reasons to be hopeful in that sense.

But sometimes people are critical to each other, too. I think if you listen to people who measure statistics and really look at the hard numbers on how we are treating each other in the world, we are hurting each other less, all in all. There are bumps in the road and terrible things where we need to take a stand, absolutely. But in the perspective of a historian, we are probably nicer people now than we’ve been in a long, long time.

Now, in regards to the pandemic, I listened to a podcast with a person who was much, much smarter than I was who was an expert in pandemics and who had written books about it, and from what he said, and it’s scary, but from him and his peers’ perspective, we got lucky with it. This was a good practice run for the really bad one that is bound to happen eventually.

There are some things that need to change fundamentally. Every disease from measles to different kinds of flus to smallpox, everything has come through domestication of animals. They’re all from some duck or chicken or buffalo or pig because of how we are packing them together and we are packing ourselves together with them. That problem is getting worse and it’s a situation that I think is more brutal than ever and again, I’m hoping we reach a new level of consciousness and morality where we can stave off the behavior that will not only hurt living things right here right now, but really might be the end if not for all of us, a whole lot of us – way more than anyone would like to see.

With the arrival of Hunter Gatherer, there is a new look for the band. I know there is such a concentration on visuals for the group. How did you arrive at the overalls, red shirts look at what does it signify for you going into this album?

At the beginning of the day and the end of the day, it all starts with the music. What we wear should always reflect what the music looks like and feels like. This outfit, the music is more gritty and down to earth aggressive, and these outfits are some strange marriage between worker clothes, something from the farm or the factory while on the line, while the usage of them, the material is more lighter and athletic.

My coat, it’s just very very metal in a classic sense of the word. I think my coat is, without looking like Judas Priest, it’s the one thing that most looks like something that Halford would wear that I ever had in my wardrobe for the band. So you have the metal, you have the nitty gritty factory floor look, you have the athletic usage of it and there’s also something fetish-like with it. It’s almost like a weird synthetic and leathery thing, with tightness In certain parts. It’s almost sexual.

I think between those four pillars, I guess you mirror a lot of the energies that went into this album.

We talked last year about you coming to L.A. for the first time, but there were two other things I wanted to touch on from the sessions. One is recording to tape, which is not something a lot of bands do these days. The second is really spending more time recording together than breaking it down to individual parts. Can you talk about the decision to vary it up and now having done so, what were your thoughts on the process of recording this time?

Well the first time we recorded live together was Hail the Apocalypse. Back then it was because we recorded in Thailand, and I think it was on the flight over where the plane just happened to have this documentary on Sound City studios where Dave Grohl bought a Neve console and brought a bunch of people in to record. But they would talk a lot about recording live, but there was something where we they talked about that like it was for the old masters of yesteryear, the ancient elves of Middle Earth (laugh). But it kind of gave us the courage to try it. We had rehearsed a lot. If they can do it, we can do it, and we welcome some mistakes here. That’s why you record live. That’s the whole point. So that gave us the courage to go for it, and we loved it.

Then we went into Feathers and Flesh and because of the nature of the beast and writing it as we did, we wanted it to be this studio monster of an album, so the whole structure of recording was very different. Then with Avatar Country, it was a matter of time constraints more than anything else.

Now with us being more conscious and wanting more time and not feeling rushed or the pressure of a tight schedule, this time we had the space to properly rehearse, to enter the studio and to record live. It was something we’d always wanted to do again. You get a lot from it. It lengthens the creative process because you’re all set up and you play together and what you end up playing ends up on tape. You can very quickly figure out new variations and ideas and just try to fit them in and really be very close to the end result right away if you’re that well rehearsed and know your material well enough. There’s room to jam in a different way and you can continue to be creative with a song way deeper into the recording process. Things can still change there organically.

That’s a big thing. Also, turning off the click track. The vast majority of the material on this album is recorded without click. Some of the master stuff still had the click track, but most of it didn’t. But you just live with the natural ebbs and flows of the tempo that comes with just how it’s played and how you feel while playing it.

It may not be quote unquote perfect, but there is a sad misunderstanding of what perfect music or perfect art would be. I think that’s a sickness that’s going on in music recording and it’s hard to rid yourself of that, especially for younger musicians because you want to make sure you play something right. But when you’re creating, there is no right or wrong. So It gives you that living, breathing thing that way too often seems to be a lost art form. But we still all of us, if you listen to older recordings, you appreciate it. People think it’s lost because studios became too digital, but that’s not true. You can do things different, but it doesn’t always mean that you should. But for me, right now, I don’t see us recording in a different way again.

With everything on hold at the moment, have you given though to how the band will present itself when we’re able to get back to doing shows again?

Well the live show is always very connected to the music writing. Everything is connected. Us figuring out what the songs are and the overall vibe, early on we can already feed into ideas for album covers, music videos, stage show and so on. So yes, we’re well on our way to creating something there.

It’s kind of put on hold now, which is giving us some more time to reflect on how we actually want to do things, but in comparison to where we were just at, we definitely will be doing something darker and heavier. The album is also more real than Avatar Country, but it’s still Avatar and that means it’s still a very theatrical form of expression and theatrical form of show we’ll be doing. But it will be based on elements that lie closer to a more real darkness.

But it’s a bit up in the air because we don’t know when we’ll be playing again, so everything is kind of open again with the deadline being pushed forward, but the fundamentals of what it will be and generally what we are looking for is already there in place.

Avatar, “God of Sick Dreams” Lyrics

Just save the child
Leave me to die

No escape and no-one cares
Purple lightning, spheric shapes
Body fears what mind creates
I swim across
I won’t wake if you don’t sleep
Fingers search for torn up seams
Lips make shapes of silent screams
I swim across

I am the god of sick dreams
A city torn by mischief
Your fantasies still buried
I am the god of sick dreams

Hideous shape
In my image

No escape and no-one cares
Purple lightning, spheric shapes
Body fears what mind creates
I swim across
I won’t wake if you don’t sleep
Fingers search for torn up seams
Lips make shapes of silent screams
I swim across

I am the god of sick dreams
A city torn by mischief
Your fantasies still buried
I am the god of sick dreams

This is how ends
Every night is the same
We awake to get sentenced
And a choice must be made
Will you succumb to excruciating pain?
Or will you try to escape?
Doesn’t matter, you’re fucked either way

I am the god of sick dreams
A city torn by mischief
Your fantasies still buried
I am the god of sick dreams

Avatar’s latest album, Hunter Gatherer, is on track for an Aug. 7 release from eOne. You can currently pre-order the album here. Avatar  The group also has Hunter Gatherer merch available via their webstore. Though things are currently on hold for the most part, you can stay up to date with the band’s touring here.

2020’s Most Anticipated Rock + Metal Albums

Powered by ProGo Productions