Avatar’s Johannes Eckerstrom Looking for Reinvention on ‘Avatar Country’ Follow-Up
Eckerstrom spoke extensively about creating the live experience for one of metal's more theatric bands, provided a look ahead a their forthcoming dates with Devin Townsend and even teased the idea of what the band wants to do with the follow-up to their Avatar Country album. Check out the chat below.
Avatar's got a new live album out called The King Live in Paris. It documents your performance at the Download Festival, staged in France last year. What made that performance so suitable for a live album?
Well there were some practical things to it. Whether it be I think our largest festival show last year, simple as that, which means it was long enough and had a big crowd enough to make sense to record to make an album out of it again. On top of that, it carried a lot of significance for just how amazingly well France treated us in the last few years and so it was something worthy of documenting for. For that reason and as well then, of course, Download Festival being the London or Madrid or Paris or Donnington or wherever it is wherever else in the world, it is also a very international affair something that people travel to. So we got as many cases all over the country as possible in front of us.
The band is out doing the "Avatar Country" world tour 2019, and Avatar live onstage is more than music, it's an experience. What's more challenging about trying to convey the overall experience of being at an Avatar show through a recording?
Oh well that's a good question. I don't really know. It's just treated as any other show because I think it's a guilty treat, a show that you record for a live album isn't any more special than any of your other shows and hopefully the performance speaks for itself. Then, of course, we are a visual band. Like you say we visualize our music to the best of our ability. However we also always say that it has whatever we do artistically, whatever paint we put in our faces and whatever bells and whistles we bring onstage at the beginning of the day and at the end of the day, it has to be about the music first and it should be able to stand on its own two legs without being carried by any other aspects of what we're doing. In my opinion, our music does that and therefore the live album does what it should do because otherwise what do you do.
Like do you put in a little narrative that speaker voice a little voice over? OK. 'The singer is now approaching the microphone and lo and behold there's an elevator riding up on it. Oh, there is a line with some fire underneath.' This is incredible. I would love a commentary track. 'Lay low. So you're going to the left now otherwise noting that point. It keeps pointing. It doesn't play in this part.' Yeah, but actually that could be something.
You toured extensively to support Avatar Country. Throughout the tour what would make any particular show immediately stand out as memorable?
One city comes to mind, my own home and I think the best show I can do for us on this one at least for me is when I reconnect with what the song was all about to begin with. We've gotten back to us being theatrical group. I guess this is true for any band that what you do us is that you try to pitch what the song is about. After you do it for all the hundreds and hundreds of times, of course, this content transforms over and over and you maybe get a more practical relationship to the lyrics in the performance. But then here and there, randomly spread across multiple shows multiple tours, you kind of reconnect with the song, the meaning and it just feels way more serious. That's one way.
Another way I guess as the song and shows become memorable because we try to balance what we do onstage to be. There are certain things that happen that are pre-planned and you know and kind of choreographed if you will but then there's the other half that it's always changing and there's always improvisation that pushes out pre-planned parts and take their place. Sometimes that improv side of the show just gets much wilder. I mean there are certain shows where I just lose my mind.
There is a certain sense of a sort of mindfulness to it when you truly only exist onstage. I believe what happened before the show when you realize just at that moment, that makes it very powerful. But it's also hard to describe that stand up moment, like that one that comes to mind was playing Luxembourg for the first time ever or like the one we did in Europe and it was just one of those shows where we were all kind of exhausted. So there were a lot of pranks and messing with each other, and I kind of sabotaged things all in good fun. But I kind of sabotaged for the stage crew throughout the whole show. I wanted to create a nightmare overnight, but we were laughing ass up at the same time. I don't know when you hit that level of insanity, you do more memorable things I guess.
Avatar are coming back here to the States this year with Devin Townsend. What are you looking forward to the most about touring with him and being back in America?
Well I am a fan of his since my mid-teens. I'm a very very big Devin Townsend fan so the fact that this is happening at all makes me need only to pinch my arm here and there. On top of that, the fact that we are headlining, that's just silly. The only reason that works is that he has chosen for himself to do this acoustic run. But you know, he's a modest kind of guy. I don't know if it's a simplistic or straight down approach to what he would do onstage, and I think therefore it fits him right now at this moment to move over for someone else.
That's the reason why I guess why it works at all, because otherwise, it is strange to me. At least it would have been very strange otherwise but I'm incredibly honored and thrilled that he found us to be a viable option to go out and tour with under these circumstances, and I'm very excited about it, so I look forward to it a whole lot. Just for the reason that I get to hopefully see a whole bunch of them Devin Townsend shows throughout this tour and you know we get to spend some time.
We have already met a couple of times in the last few years. So I've been able to kind of polish away most of my fanboy behavior so I'm sure I'm sure we can also make it a nice experience for him. I don't want to be that guy actually. I remember I went to a barbecue to a party a few years ago where I knew someone there but not many and I knew that there were people there were fans of my music. But when I enter their house someone puts on "Let It Burn" and you have that grin from someone looking at you from that another room that's all. That thing, I'm kind of, 'Yes this is the song I wrote probably years ago. Can we listen to some Finnish polka, please?' Is that weird saying hey this is you? You recorded this song and I heard it and I liked it. So let's listen to nothing while I stare at you. I will not do that so it should be fine for him as well.
Avatar Country was a significant album for the band. Creatively, what do you want to do with the next album?
Well the whole M.O. for what we are from what we are all about as Avatar Country also was a complete change in reimagining what we can do, what we can be, and well what Avatar are all about.
There is a core in there that we are doing some sort of metal and I'm sure I've talked on your show also about this before but you know, it's not very easy but a simple idea or the definition of metal to me is that the riffest thing and the riffest groove, you create that and then you just follow the song to be free-spirited and go wherever the music takes you and the emotion that the music creates for you.
With Avatar Country having been I think our most joyous version of Avatar you will ever hear, it was very much a love letter to metal, especially that Manowar-esque form of metal and very much a love letter to fans, our audience. I guess as we did all these love letters with Avatar Country, with something very mythological, rich in fantasy I guess, logically the next album will be more about hate mail than love letters and also something more reality based on even something more horrifying. That's where I'm at today, at least. But it's all about reinvention and finding the next great challenge. You always want to make it hard on yourself to create. I always want to feel like a beginner and I always want to treat every album as if it is were to be our last, our last statement we would be able to put out. So, that sense of urgency and of importance, that is extremely important to us.
Thanks to Johannes Eckerstrom for the interview. Grab your copy of Avatar's 'The King Live in Paris' here and follow the band on Facebook to stay up to date on tours and other info. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie’s weekend show here.
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