As far as depressive blackened textures are concerned there are few more adept at painting them musically than the Swedish band Shining. Perhaps for some the thought of approaching the music is too off putting as dwelling on the dark side is not to everyone’s tastes. Others may well be put off by the well documented exploits of front man Niklas Kvarforth and this would be a great shame as musically Shining are in a unique place and have amongst the violence, moments of breathtaking beauty all wrapped up in some world class musicianship. Ave Noctum sat down with Niklas just after hearing half the tracks on the yet to be named eighth album from the group. What we found was a genuine, honest, thoughtful person who was more than willing to not only share the background behind the music with us but also his more intimate thoughts and demons.
AN: Niklas was chatting away before we were even recording and was saying that this was going to be one of the last interviews he was doing for a while. Record was pressed and I asked him to recap.
NK: I am going to do special interviews in the future maybe for like Bizarre and stuff like that but I have decided that in general I want the others in the band to speak, more like a family.
AN: So more of a democracy?
NK: NO absolutely not! As in the end you always have to have a leader, otherwise it doesn’t work. But I don’t just want it to be Niklas Kvarfoth’s Shining. It’s impossible to get away from that but I will try and put them more in the spotlight.
AN: On the trip over here have you been caught up in our Olympic snarl up? What is your view on it all?
NK: Well when I came here and I have been in London many times, I thought I haven’t really thought about the structure of the city, which I did when I heard the Olympics were going to be here. It’s crazy I cannot understand how they are going to be able to move in the city with it going on. If they had put it over the whole of the UK rather than concentrate it in London perhaps it could work?
AN: Did you have any problems at the airport?
NK: For the first time I have come to England, no! You know, I always have problems here, they just look at me and that’s it.
AN: You have been really getting into your cover versions lately with Prince Of Darkness by Alice Cooper, Landberk cover on VII and the Lots Of Girls EP. What is it that drew you in this direction and what is it you look for in a song when deciding which ones to do?
NK: We have always recorded covers, in the past as well like Depeche Mode and stuff like that. First of all and I am always saying this, I am not that much into metal. I listen to a lot of pop, rock, EBM and hip-hop and I find all my inspiration as a musician from other types of genres. I am a big music fan in general and I used to have a shop in Halmsted and we became the biggest distributor of underground black metal inSweden. The problem was that I tried to listen to the CD’s that we got and everything was crap! Everything! Absolutely everything! That saddened me you know, not for the fact that it was crap but that these products actually exist. When I hear things I can figure, OK they are kind of inspired by Burzum or Mayhem but they were a great thing and you can’t redo that, especially not now. I think now having these covers and stuff is a bold move in a way as people either laugh or think it’s a stupid idea to cover bands, like, well maybe not Katatonia but Poets Of The Fall.
AN: Yes the Some Girls EP was an odd one as far as people outside Sweden were concerned, your traditional fans will obviously be well versed as far as Katatonia are concerned but the others Kent and Imperiet are far more obscure. Were you hoping to turn people on to these bands and get them interested in stuff they had not heard before and in the case of Kent did you have any concerns that it could be far removed from their normal listening comfort zones?
NK: Yes it would be ideal to turn people onto other stuff but to be more realistic; well I said to the other members that it would be commercial suicide to do it. Either we do this or we sit here and do what we did for the other albums. Of course I care what people think about my music but at the same time… What I tried to explain in the previous question as well is that when I write an album I always have a fifth song that differs from the rest of the album and now I found that with like the Landberk cover for example, instead of writing our own piano tune I listened to the whole concept of the album and it fits! I know that people have complained that the cover songs stick so closely to the original but why destroy a classic? Covers are good it’s a way for me to learn to sing as well.
AN: Is the end of the cycle for the moment, will there be more covers in the future, possibly on the new album and are there any bands you have always wanted to do stuff by but not yet got around to?
NK: Not on the new album no. I have always wanted to cover Michael Jackson but that would be impossible, I can’t sing those lines. Alien Ant Farm did a cover and that came out pretty good actually. Also maybe Prince, Madonna and I’m a huge fan of Rihanna now. I listen to so much music. For example now, my landlord, she hacked the TV for me and I now have 400 channels, there’s nothing to watch on any one of them of course, but there is a Baltic music channel there. They play a lot of Russian hits of the 80s, those songs are so good, I mean they are so fucking depressing it’s not even funny, but it’s quality!
AN: Moving on to the new album VIII, as yet we have no title. Can you tell us what it is going to be called?
NK: Not yet no, the whole artwork and title are kept under wraps at the moment.
AN: As far as VII was concerned it was finished a long time before it was released due to various different factors, with this in mind it wouldn’t be at all surprising if you were not actually far enough in front to be working on your tenth album. Where does XIII stand in the grand scheme of things, when exactly was the recording fully wrapped up?
NK: Well I make music in my head, I don’t sit there with a guitar, so when I construct a song I do everything, the melodies, the bass lines, the drum beats and other rhythms and the vocals. Then I let a year pass and if I don’t remember what I did in my head then it wasn’t good enough. So that has been the procedure before. This time I just threw away everything that I had and I asked the bassist who is like 19 years old and has come into the band and said hey let’s rent an apartment and do a lot of drugs and drink a lot of drinks, fuck a lot of prostitutes and write an album! And we did. This guy came up with loads of material. I have never met people who interfere with my music but I was so impressed with this guy. I’m not old but I’m getting older and I now finally understand what these old rockers are saying about needing some young blood and enthusiasm.
AN: Who exactly is involved in Shining now, you Peter Huss (guitar) Christian Larrson (bass) are credited, are you using a session and live drummer if so who?
NK: Yes right now the three full members. I don’t know the name of him but the drummer is really good he did Hellfest with us and we have an amazing second guitarist, the good thing about him is that he doesn’t listen to extreme metal, neither does Peter and that’s why we get the sound I guess. There is more like an old rock feel, they are both more like guitar heroes in their own countries.
AN: So we have been lucky enough to be given a preview of three tracks from the new album. How many will the finished disc have on it?
NK: Six tracks, six on every album.
AN: I believe it is scheduled for an October release?
NK: I heard that yesterday so yes.
AN: Moving onto the three tracks we have been given a preview of. First up Han Som Hatar Manniskan if my translation is correct this means He Who Hates People a misanthropic title and a perfect one. It also is the heaviest of the tracks and the most hateful we have heard, more in the essence of a blackened direction. It is an incredibly strong track and I can see it being the opening backbone of the album. Is this correct; is it one of the tracks that you consider will have an immediacy with your listeners?
NK: Yes! We have discussed this several times when we recorded the album and said that yes, this is a Shining track bit more blacker maybe. Actually most of this track was written by Christian. He kind of understood, of course I had to kind of direct him as Shining riffs are played in a very strange way with my fingers. You may use five strings and I had to show him how to do this. You go this way with this riff and he understood this and how I write music. That song in particular is extremely hateful and the lyrics are the most evil ones I have ever written. The problem is it’s a Swedish song. That saddens me in a way. Also it was very cool to get Rob [Caggiano] from Anthrax on the first solo.
AN: Yes we had heard about some special guests on the album.
NK: Yes there is Andy [LaRocque] from King Diamond and Hoest from Taake and Peter [Bjärgö] from Arcana. He was actually the vocal coach for the whole recording. You know I don’t have that much confidence when it comes to clean vocals and he told me how to do things.
AN: As ever it also has some gorgeous acoustic moments is it important you to counter-balance moods and emotions within your songs in this way, violence and fragility perhaps?
NK: Not really it just turns out that way. I don’t think when you create something whether it’s a song or a poem, I don’t think you should think so much. You should just let your heart speak. That is maybe why many of the Shining songs have the same structure. It’s not just our trademark it’s a coincidence. But I like that when you can have a really heavy, and then the acoustic part sounds more evil in a way, more eerie atmosphere and I like to experiment.
AN: The other two numbers perhaps unexpectedly see you singing in English? What made you decide to do this, did you find they worked better lyrically?
NK: I’m not that good with English language. [Could have fooled me] I just felt with the three English songs on the album that I had to do something like that. It just came naturally. I wrote all the lyrics and it was very strange. I tried to get all the rhyme thing, not rhyming exactly but I listen to a lot of hip-hop and I like those kind of vocals. It’s going to be really difficult live though going from screaming to clean in English.
AN: The somewhat maudlin melody of ‘The Ghastly Silence’ kind of reminds me of the theme from 28 Days Later, is this perhaps something unconscious, planned or just in my head?
NK: Yes. Actually when we were writing for the pre-production and I was playing around with this theme and then I thought oh fuck it’s the theme from 28 Days Weeks later actually and then recently I heard they used the same theme in the, what’s that superhero movie with that little girl like 12 years old who kills everyone? [Kick Ass]. I don’t see it as stealing or anything but it inspired me and we did things with it like put saxophone on it and this eerie twist of melodies.
AN: Who provides the sax parts on the track and are you concerned it’s going to get people confused even more between you and Shining Norway?
NK: Actually I would have loved to have the guy from Norwegian Shining on the album. We met in Norway once, I like that band. I went backstage and said Hi I’m Niklas from Shining and he said Hi I’m Jørgen from Shining and it was I love your band and I love your band too. So I gave him a Shining shirt and he gave me a Shining shirt and said it would be fun to do a Shining / Shining tour. And that’s cool but then all of a sudden Indie Records signed the other Shining and it was a case of what were you thinking of? Having both Shining’s on one label, crazy!
But the saxophone was done by Peter’s younger brother who is a jazz musician. He actually did more parts but they didn’t click as I thought they were too jazz and kind of ruined the atmosphere. I like saxophone it’s a very sexy instrument. If I was a woman! do you remember the series Night Man about a guy who fights crime? Each night he plays the saxophone to a new woman watching, beautiful woman stockinged legs watching him play the saxophone. I would like to be that guy.
AN: Lyrically I get the feeling the song is about depression, something that has no doubt affected you a lot in the past. Do you find it cathartic laying your demons down in a musical fashion?
NK: Absolutely not, it’s the other way around. This is the problem with me, if I can’t find the darkness, I create the darkness. I hurt myself really badly psychologically. Many songs I have written at a time when I need another song. Like I break up with my girlfriend who I love, do something stupid like that then I have a song.. They say all great art comes from suffering but for me if I go out on stage for example and do ten songs it is like reliving ten nightmares, so it’s not cathartic at all. I have discussed with other artists and its like how the fuck can you put yourself through that. Only because I’m an idiot. It’s probably to do with my mental condition and all that, I don’t know.
The Ghastly Silence though is more about one of my fascinations and that’s ghosts. Spirits and being haunted by them. When my mother died recently I had to fix her funeral and I have always been the black sheep and it was a terrible funeral. I had to invite 200 people and I think 3% of them said hello to me as they didn’t want to speak to the person who destroyed the name Kvarforth. There are only three people now in Sweden with that name.
AN: If I can ask how has your health been mentally and physically lately?
NK: When I was in the studio I stopped with my Zyprexa. I have three conditions. I am bipolar which mean I have to take Venaflaxine, I take 300mg of that every day. Then I am schizophrenic and for that I take Zyprexa which is one of the most dangerous and extreme medicines there are. I take 20mg which is the maximum and I just stopped it because I gained so much weight and I didn’t know reality. The thing about it is although there are 500 types of schizophrenia it is the hallucinations that are the problem and now when I have started going to psychotherapy again they believe I have a split personality. I have two sides, one really, really negative one and one like I am at the moment. The negative one, when it comes up now, I tend to black out and don’t remember what I’ve done and that’s dangerous. And then of course I have sleep deprivations and there are medicines for that and panic attacks and I need things to stabilize them.
AN: For The God Below, well at times it sounds like a rage at God and organised religion no doubt very much sung from the heart. It strikes that this could be a song whose message you got through to a wider audience so chose English. Is this correct and somewhat stupid question but are you concerned about causing any offence?
NK: It’s absolutely not anti-religious, I am religious myself. It’s the second religious lyric I have had with Shining and it is a praise to the lord, the great Satan, chaos. That is actually the reason that I am single now. I have been single for 6 months. I had to throw her out and the reason in the end was, well the chorus was directed at her. You have to understand my devotion to evil, whatever evil is as it will always come before you. If you got sick and had one day to live, I would do anything for you but if my lord would command, I would just leave you in the gutter. She couldn’t handle that, which is quite understandable.
AN: When I said anti-religion I meant more anti-god.
NK: No I don’t oppose God but I worship the devil. In Sweden we have no problem with Christianity and I think that Christianity and organised religion is the tool of the Devil. Jesus for example is my absolute biggest idol. Not just suffering but the conviction that he believed in his father so much. There is one part in the apocrypha where he is on a picnic and the Devil says, it’s a classic thing, that all this could be yours and that is the one time ONLY he doubts, pious till the very end
AN: Plans for touring, who would you like to go out on the road with? You played with Devils Blood and Watain which was a great mix; do you consider that doing so again would make things too repetitive?
NK: I would love to go on tour with Watain again as they are my brothers. That was one of the least problematic tours that we had as everyone knew each other and everyone had heard all the stories about Watain and what they do and they know what I do and it was the perfect mixture really. Although I don’t want to do a tour like that again I would do it because of Watain. Right now I would like to focus on a tour with a band like, maybe King Diamond, Danzig, the biggest dream would be to do one with Alice Cooper or Alice In Chains. I think Opeth could be an option too. Say we went on tour with a band like Mayhem. It would be the same venues we always play and the same people every year. I know for example that Opeth fans could probably get interested in Shining but a lot of them won’t want to check it out because of the stories. I fuck myself in the arse every time!
AN: Side projects, guest appearances. What is on the cards have most things been shelved to concentrate on Shining?
NK: There is only Shining but I am working on a new Skitliv album with Maniac now. I did some guest vocals for Ofermod, for the new album.
AN: So Much For Nothing too.
NK: Um, oh yeah Erik. I have not heard that yet! Yes he is a very cool guy. And then I am going to do something on Taake and the new Carpathian Forest album.
AN: Well that’s about all I had to ask but I was interested about your inspiration especially films as I know you like a lot of horror movies.
NK: Yes I am thinking about starting to write reviews. I like to write and I watch at least three movies a day and I get inspired by the music. I am right now inspired by British horror but it kind of bothers me at the moment that like with shit music everyone releases stuff with DV cameras and all this found footage bullshit like Blair Witch. The first [Rec] movie is cool but after that it gets too much. I like ghost stuff a lot. There was a company called After Dark who released eight films in Sweden. I haven’t seen this Area 51 as I don’t like alien stuff but I have the first six’ ‘Scream Of The Banshee’ and ‘Husk’ and they are really good actually and independent.
AN: So it’s just movies or music too you would like to review [always on the look out here]
NK: No just movies I could not do music as I would make too many enemies and I don’t like metal that much so I should not review it.
AN: Anything you would like to add?
NK: Nothing apart from that it is going to be really interesting to see what this album will do. I think this is our De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas, this is our Filosofem, this is our Violator, it’s our Ziggy Stardust album.
AN: So your favourite Shining album so far?
NK: Yes usually when you come from the studio you think yeah but we could have done this better but this time there is just one part that bothers me and it’s the first guitar solo on For The God Below as it’s too long but apart from that it’s the perfect album.
AN: And there you have it, a strong conviction behind Shining VIII whatever it is going to be called, which I am sure we will find out soon. Apart from checking that Niklas was pleased to have this and everything he had said transcribed fully for the interview we almost left it there and turned the dictaphone off just as he said “sure but I can tell you something off the record” with a mischievous glint in his eye….. but that is not for here!
Interview and photos © Pete Woods