"When people dance to our music, you get bruises....but in a fun way!" - In Conversation with Avatar
Just like the film of the same name Avatar the band sprang to life in 2009, but unlike the film, the band has been on a seam of creativity ever since. Having absorbed their influences from the theatricality of Marilyn Manson, the groove of Rob Zombie and the vocals of an on-form Corey Taylor, Avatar have created a behemoth all of their own. Music @ The Digital had a chance to complete our trilogy of interviews with lead singer Johannes having spoken at both Download 2016 and 2018 on previous album cycles.
How are things within the Avatar campe at the moment with everything going on in the world?
Well, the Avatar camp is OK at the moment, we are all healthy, our loved ones are all healthy as well. We are all coming up with things to do with now we can't tour. I'm busy doing these interviews. Last week was the week we should have been opening for Iron Maiden, it's OK though, I'm good at accepting things for what they are.
Those dates have been rearranged for next year though, haven't they?
They are supposed to happen next year, all things considered.
The new album Hunter Gatherer is out on August 7th, this number of albums into your career, how do you feel?
It's weird, I would say overall there's no nervousness. It's a big day, the sun still rises in the same place and sets where it does. Mentally though, just the release you feel, its a different meaning of 'release day'. It's the same when you have the master in your hands, there is no going back. I now operate in a reality where the art is out there. It's also good as an artist not to jump on social media for good or bad when it's released, its a good day as any to go for a long walk.
I make a special kind of piece whenever we release something. I also work from the worst possible scenario, something along the lines of "This is the second coming of Chinese Democracy" and I'm able to say so be it. I feel we made the album we want to make and that's the most important thing. If it's not taken well, well then we can forget about it just like Chinese Democracy and move on.
Let's talk about the creative process. You release albums pretty consistently, so when do you feel one album cycle finishes and the new one begins?
Within the band, there are three of us who come up with the majority of the material. We then work it together as a group, we all write separately in spurts. It's a constant thing until someone says "I feel like recording something". We then kind of swap each other's material around and see what everyone can dig into.
I think in terms of cycles, there are two going on at the same time. One that is public and the other behind the scenes and they don't run in sync. Like we had mentally entered Hunter Gatherer whole we were still touring on Avatar Country. We were thinking about album covers, but we wanted to immerse our fans into the new record as much as possible this time especially since Avatar Country was such a dedicated project. We needed the fans to be immersed in that and go along with the story.
We entered Avatar Country quite abruptly, we kind of kicked the door in and went "here we fucking go!" So it felt that everyone was so nice to us during that period we felt we had to lead everyone out of that beautiful psychosis and take them onto the next thing which is Hunter Gatherer.
I've interviewed you twice before for the Digital Fix, and this is the first time I've interviewed without the makeup on! I interviewed you first at Download 2016 and then Download 2018 where you were in character, that must have been challenging?
Yeah, we always do our interviews at festivals after the set and on Avatar Country I indeed stayed in character which was super challenging. Every interview was like that. As I am responsible for the written word, it led to SO much more work that I didn't anticipate (laughs). I even put together a booklet for the teams who support us about how to run our social media campaigns so we could get the narrative of what we were doing correctly. The language and style were hard to get across. No one really nailed it except once guy called David who was also our Newsreader character on some of our social media stuff. He seemed to get it more than most. I'm not complaining it was fun though!
You recorded the album together in the same space for the first time in a while, what was the thinking behind that this time?
Well we have always since Black Waltz been together for the drums but since Hail The Apocalypse and this new one. There was a purpose to do it live and all together. It helped us stay creative and in the moment. With i, recording apart was a thing because it all came together so quickly and that worked out for the better. We didn't have time to rehearse, and on Feathers and Flesh, we wanted to do it in a different way, that was meant to be very studio-based. Lesson learned though, live is always best.
I've read in other interviews and features on Avatar that you have been noted about your diverse vocals. Going from the vaudevillian style ringmaster vocals to death metal growls. How do you keep your voice in check?
I went to a voice coach in Gothenberg years ago to make sure that if I'm doing those styles of vocals I needed to make sure I kept it in good shape. She essentially split it into two sections, the music you sing to acoustically and the other electronically because of its two different skill sets. We completely disregarded genre and worked from there. We also looked at it from the point of view of music that you sit down to like the opera or a broadway show and one that makes you stand up to and dance. When people dance to our music though, we all get bruises!
The Collusus video is quite interesting visually, how do you match the visual to the music?
Well, music comes first and that might seem a silly thing to say because of course it does (laughs) but we are a very visual band and a band that is working hard to achieve success. It's important that it's on our terms. We don't someone else to come in and suck the fun out of doing this for us so it's always us who has the pressure to mix the music with the visual. Having someone come in and alter that is not a price we are willing to pay. Saying that the videos are very important to us and we strive to make sure the video stands up to the music we have worked so hard on, Sometimes its a more direct approach like on 'All Hail The Apocalypse' or 'Blood Angel', especially 'Blood Angel'. Sometimes its a reinterpretation like in 'Colossus' we based that on something I read. I think it was called 'The Gilgamesh Project' but 'Colossus' sounded better as a word, Gilgamesh was a bit too wordy (laughs) but yeah it was all to do with recreating a human brain instead of a computer which is very much what computers are becoming these days. I'm a bit of a science groupie when it comes to stuff like this!
What are the plans for the rest of the year within the band?
All tours cancelled this year, fingers crossed for next year. We will continue to be a band, we will continue to be a band and we need to think about different ways to get our music across if and when a band cannot tour.