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Interview: Meshuggah's Mårten Hagström on "Koloss"

Interview: Meshuggah's Mårten Hagström on "Koloss"

Can you quickly summarize your mathematical approach for our readers?

There is no mathematical approach. I dislike that term. I hate speaking about it in these terms, but it’s a valid question. It’s just that analyzing something that we have been doing as a natural process doesn’t feel right to me. It’s getting the focus away from the fact that we are trying to deal with an emotional expression that also happens to fuck with your mind. That’s it.

And to really mess things up for you and get even more vague, and this applies especially to Koloss, there is no one formula that everything we do follows. The logic that might be underlying most of our stuff is sometimes thrown out of the window completely (laughs). The new album is full of that type of illusion.

But there has to be some kind of analytical process to get riffs to ultimately align in time, no?

I’ll put it this way: When I get an idea, it’s never a thing where I sit and count or figure out the theoretical aspect first. When the first idea/ideas are crafted and arranged with other ideas into a song, that’s the first time that the theoretical part comes into play. But initially, it’s just going with whatever your imagination feeds you. From a theoretical aspect, we could go into odd groupings and for memorizing certain things, it is maybe a useful term. But it really takes more away from the music than it clarifies.

To put it in a general term—which in my mind, makes a lot more sense—it’s like taking a rhythmical figure (or any number of rhythmical figures) and “super-imposing” them over a 4/4 frame. It almost resembles a puzzle. The rhythmical figures in our music don’t “land” and repeat themselves with every bar.

What’s cool is that even though all of these superimposed rhythms are really complex, it’s all typically done over 4/4. I guess the trick is that unlike most 4/4-based music, where the phrases are clearly delineated, your phrases start over in different places in the measures.

Where a standard blues riff finds its way back to “one” and re-starts when the next bar starts, our riffs rarely do. If they ever even out—and a lot of times they don’t, they might find their way back after 16 measures, for instance. It really isn't all that special from a theoretical standpoint. This concept is present in so much music and so many genres.

But you’ve taken this simple concept to heights previously never reached.

We tend to work with really odd rhythmical patterns, however, and mess around a lot with how the notes in the riff might point to the riff working toward a natural conclusion that the rhythm pattern doesn't really support.

For most guitarists, playing a riff while hearing the drums simultaneously imply a different meter can be extremely hard to do without some serious practicing. How do you individually practice parts that might feel rhythmically uncomfortable at first, and also require precision—with a metronome, sequence, or drum machine?

For me personally, it’s just sitting with the guitar tapping the beat with my foot. Sometimes it might require a metronome, but that’s rare—even though it’s a great tool for getting the “sense” of what your problem is. 

Everyone talks about your band’s rhythmic approach but what about your harmonic approach. Where does that come from?

I guess it’s very natural considering the topic here, but we move between using tritones and minor and diminished scales. I'd say that we stay away from major keys and then pretty much everything else is used. Dick Lövgren [bassist] who is very well versed in musical theory—which I am not—always points out that I tend to use a lot of counterpoint when I’m composing as well.

Tell us about your new signature guitar.

Our signature M8Ms are made by Ibanez. We just got them a while ago and they are modeled after the 8-string that we built with Ibanez. We didn't expect them to be quite as good as our originals, but man, they exceeded our expectations. They are actually a little bit better.

The M8M has an ultra-long 29.4" scale length. Do you have to do anything to accommodate this extended range?

Yeah, we have a custom string set made for us by Dunlop to accommodate for the extended scale of our guitars—.009, .011, .016, .026, .036, .046, .052, and .070. We also tune down a half-step from standard tuning.

Mårten Hagström Gear

Signature Ibanez M8Ms

Fractal Audio Axe-Fx (no cabinets)

Dunlop .009, .011, .016, .026, .036, .046, .052, and .070


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