Interviews

Interview: Nico Elgstrand of ENTOMBED A.D.

The new album, Bowels of Earth, from Entombed A.D. is absolutely crushing. It is seriously one of those albums that upon first hearing it, begs to be listened to again and immediately so. The band have managed to take that classic sound and sharpen it resulting in a much more alive and focused album, one that is bound to be on best-of lists throughout the media. It was very much a pleasure to speak with the band’s guitarist, Nico Elgstrand, who providing essential insight into the creation of the new album, how they dial in their tone, and some history into his own personal musical background. Enjoy and be sure to pick up Bowels of Earth, out now on Century Media Records!


ANTIHERO: So, to start things off, I wanted to mention that the first interview I ever did was with L.G. when I saw Entombed on the To Ride, Shoot Straight, and Speak the Truth tour twenty years ago now.

Nico Elgstrand: All right, cool! Time flies, huh?

ANTIHERO: It sure does (laughs).

Nico Elgstrand: (laughs) Oh man, that’s just like yesterday.  You said that’s twenty years ago when that album was released?

ANTIHERO: Yeah.

Nico Elgstrand: Fuck, it feels like four or five or something like that (laughs).

ANTIHERO: It’s crazy. We’re getting old! (laughs)

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, I mean, I don’t mind it, but it’s just like when you look at it and you talk about something from twenty years ago. Twenty years is like an incomprehensible amount of time. It’s just mind blowing.

ANTIHERO: I know. Congratulations, man. The new album is killer!

Nico Elgstrand: Thank you very much. I appreciate it. We’re really happy with it. It took us quite some time to get it done. We had to go through a lot of soul-searching songwriting wise. We’re happy, we’re stoked, and they’re awesome to play live.

ANTIHERO: It seems like the logical progression for the classic Entombed sound. Was that what you guys were going for?

Nico Elgstrand: It’s not like we consciously go for like a classic sound. I think it’s more like we have very little ambitions when it comes to changing the recipe, but I don’t think we try to recreate anything. There are so many elements involved in the sound of a band time wise and your own place in history. If you were to think about it consciously it would just limit you so basically it’s like we aim for that good old pizza that was done twenty years ago. We want the crucial ingredients on the pizza so if there’s a little jalapeno then good, but you can’t just have the same sausage and extra cheese. I guess you can. Some people do. They just get that one first album and they stick with it. For us as a band, we don’t want to evolve or experiment. For us, the experiment is not to experiment if that makes any sense.

ANTIHERO: Actually, it does. That’s very well put. The opening track, “Torment Remains,” that is absolutely pulverizing. Did you know right away that that would be the perfect song to open the album with?

Nico Elgstrand: No, not at all. Guilherme (Miranda), the new Brazilian super force that joined on guitar, it was a song that he came with quite a while ago. It was really different. We were like, “yeah, it’s pretty good,” but we didn’t see it then so to speak. Then we picked it up like “hold on…” because you come up with the best riff you’ve ever made but you don’t realize that at the time. We pretty much put that in the bin for a couple of months and then when we did it again and recorded it, I kind of fucked with it a little bit, like changed really small things, and then it fell into place. Then also, I would say mainly the vocal when that came into place, it was like “hold on, that’s really good”. It wasn’t immediate, but then once we had it, we thought maybe we should start with it. Then the record company said the same thing. Usually, you want to go against what the record company says but if they have the same idea, chances are it’s just a good idea. So, then we just went with it. Maybe we’re just getting old so we’re having the same ideas as the record company. It felt uplifting but at the same time, short and sweet, and as you say, pulverizing is a very good way of putting it. Thank you.

ANTIHERO: I really like the title track. In the later section, there’s a really cool melodic part. It gave me an impression of Thin Lizzy meets old Metallica. Were you trying to do something different there?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, man! Yeah, that’s super cool that you say that because that’s exactly the vibe I get.

ANTIHERO: Really?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, it’s some old school. We were like “where did this come from in this song?” We were just jamming on parts and that part was just there. We evolved it and put melody and then some producer guy was like “that part is too long”. The Metal-head in me just goes back in time to drinking shitty beers…the Thin Lizzy/Metallica thing, that’s just a vibe. Since it’s the title track, it’s like an epic song so obviously, you have to have a super epic middle part. So, there you go.

ANTIHERO: It’s definitely epic.

Nico Elgstrand: I think you have it very well defined. I’m sure other people will hear it and go “there’s no Thin Lizzy or Metallica part on that whatsoever,” but at least you and I have a similar vision when we hear that. As long as there’s like one other person that gets it, I’m good.

ANTIHERO: Awesome! I was a little hesitant to make the comparison.

Nico Elgstrand: It’s a bold one, but I really get what you’re saying. Obviously, those two bands are like huge. If I would have said it, that would have been different. It would be like, “fuck you, man,” but I really do get what you’re saying. It’s a vibe. If you can make something feel like back in the day, at the end of the day, there’s no one in the world that is as nostalgic as a Metal-head. If you can bring it back to when you were fifteen, then you’ve done a good job.

ANTIHERO: It’s one of those parts that just lodges itself into your head and you find yourself humming the tune the rest of the day.

Nico Elgstrand: Right on. Sweet. That’s awesome. I really, really like to hear that.

ANTIHERO: Another track I thought was interesting was “To Eternal Night” …

Nico Elgstrand: Right…

ANTIHERO: It kind of had a Doomy thing going on. Maybe a little Candlemass influence in there?

Nico Elgstrand: Definitely. It’s definitely an odd bird and the stompy, Doomy vibe…like when it’s not grooving, it’s just (makes a sound like a huge, super distorted guitar chord) dumb heavy, which is great. Candlemass are the undisputed masters of dumb heavy, how you can hit the one note. It’s just like hammering this one note until you get it. I like that kind of Metal where you just switch off your brain and nod your head slowly. I think it came out really cool, the whole song. It’s definitely a different one, but also, we aim for short and sweet with the album, not even forty-five minutes long, so it was cool to end off with something different. I think it served its purpose well.

ANTIHERO: Definitely. I really thought it was cool you guys did a Hank Williams cover. How did that come about?

Nico Elgstrand: The record company asked us to record a bunch of covers just for the fuck of it because you never know what happens…for like bonus tracks or whatever. We started recording all kinds of songs, a bunch of Metal songs, but then we realized it was just way too close. We did a Motorhead song, but we didn’t change it that much. I don’t know. It felt cool. All the other Metal songs we did, they just sounded too close so then we started to fuck with really old ones. I just really got into Hank Williams and that lyric just blew my mind. In my head, from the song when it’s like “my uncle passed away and left me quite a batch. And I was livin’ high until the fatal day a lawyer proved I wasn’t born. I was only hatched”. That line, I was like, “I’ve got to hear L.G. sing that!” When he did it was like, “hell yeah, man! This is fucking cool!” At the end of the day, Hank Williams was more Death Metal than all Metal bands combined.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, he’s a legend for sure.

Nico Elgstrand: He put the cunt in country, man (laughs). That vibe…at the same time, really raping that song, but really making it our own. It doesn’t have anything to do with Country, but it’s a really cool thumbs up to Hank.

ANTIHERO: Do you listen to any other Country?

Nico Elgstrand: Oh yeah. Townes Van Zandt is another one that just got on my radar…Merle Haggard, all kinds of stuff. I’m just like a recent fan, but I really like it. I don’t know what it is, but there’s a Country vibe that’s really dark. It’s ridiculous. It’s really funny how it doesn’t match that kind of pretty sound around it. That connection of really dark lyrics and a really sweet, smooth major key sound is a really cool combo.

ANTIHERO: I’ve always liked songs like that.

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, it’s like, oh, what’s the word? Where it’s like sweet and sour at the same time?

ANTIHERO: A dichotomy?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, exactly. There you go. That’s the ten-dollar word right there. I love it.

ANTIHERO: What Motorhead song did you guys do?

Nico Elgstrand: We did “Back at the Funny Farm”. I think that’s the bonus track. If you buy the vinyl, you get that on CD as a bonus track. We also did Jethro Tull “Cross Eyed Mary,” and then we did a Tom Waits song, “Misery is the River of the World”. We really fucked that one in the ass, excuse my French. We also did a Swedish Reggae song that nobody has heard that was big in Sweden in 1971 that we also completely changed. I think there was one more.

ANTIHERO: A Swedish Reggae song?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, I know. He covered Bob Marley but he translated the lyrics. He really was huge in Sweden and I grew up with that shit. I was a huge fan of him because his lyrics were super cool not really because of the Reggae. We beefed up the song and added some Gypsy weirdness to it. Again, we just raped the song, but with L.G.’s voice, he’s got such an interesting timbre, so to say. Also, he’s got the voice where you can hear what he’s saying. There’s a certain Death Metal voice where it’s impossible to hear what is being said. I don’t mind it, but focusing on the lyric is futile. I’m missing one song that I can’t remember. We realized that going to find songs outside the realm where we operate makes everyone happy. I mean, if we get one Death Metal dude to check out Hank Williams, that’s not a bad day’s work, is it?

ANTIHERO: What was the name of the Reggae artist that you covered?

Nico Elgstrand: Peps Persson. His band was called Blodsband. That’s the artist. The song was “High Standards”. That’s the artist. In Swedish, it’s “Hög Standard” so I don’t know if it’s going to be released. It was super cool to dive into the realm of songs that you would never on paper be able to put into a Death Metal context.

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ANTIHERO: One thing about the new record that I wanted to mention is that the guitar tone is absolutely punishing. How do you get your tone?

Nico Elgstrand: Thank you, first of all. We did a combination of Laboga amplifiers which is a Polish guitar amplifier maker so my guitar tone is basically straight into a Hector model and then obviously there a few different types of HM-2 pedals we used. We actually used the Eyemaster pedal from T.C. Electronics.

ANTIHERO: I was actually thinking about checking that pedal out.

Nico Elgstrand: It blew my fucking mind. We A/B-d it with what we all thought was the best Japanese original HM-2 and there is a difference, but man, it’s just the chaos factor of the HM-2. In the lower mids, the rumble effect you get from the original HM-2 you don’t get with the Eyemaster. That’s usually like a huge problem come mix time. The actual buzzsaw frequencies for lack of a better word, up in the higher mids, it was as close. I have to hand it to T.C. Electronics. That’s a very, very good replica. We had a JMP that we put the Eyemaster into and that was just brilliant. Generally, the tone on the record is any one of several different HM-2 pedals into several different Marshalls and the Laboga. We also used some Rectifiers. That was all straight in. Maybe some EQ before. What’s the company that made the EQ for Kerry King?

ANTIHERO: MXR?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, that’s the one, but we didn’t use the Kerry King one. Obviously, we had Jacob Helner (producer). The way he mics shit and the way he hears stuff…at the end of the day, getting a good guitar tone is never a lot of stuff. You just have to have the two or three main components but then the problem is micing it properly so you actually get that tone transferred to tape. I have to give him a lot of credit because I just plugged in and played and it sounded great. I have to give him a lot of credit. I will say that he is a big factor in capturing that pretty simple one guitar straight in and then one with an HM-2. Also, Adam who mixed it, I think he brought something that took care of the correct nastiness. Pulverizing is a great word, man. I’m going to use it a lot. (laughs)

ANTIHERO: What do you guys tune to?

Nico Elgstrand: We’re in C. That would four semi-tones below standard. Sometimes we use drop tuning so that would be A#. It’s drop A#, I guess and it’s super wobbly tuning but it’s also really, really cool down there, I think.

ANTIHERO: Definitely raw.

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, man, we like raw!

ANTIHERO: So, the new album sounds more focused. Did you guys approach the songwriting differently?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, we sure did. Not majorly, I mean we made songs and when we thought we had something we played it together. We recorded it together and then worked it from that one. Then we would work out the arrangements and such. We never had that red light where it’s like “OK, guys, this is it. This better be done with a super groove and finished in forty-five minutes”. The major paradox in this is we sounded more focused because we were also more relaxed, but we were also more effective when we worked. There was none of that hanging out in the lobby of the studio watching porn. We recorded with Jacob who is a super cool guy and relaxed, you know, just a couple of takes in a song.  If you go for the vibe of the song, it gets much easier. If you are making Kraftwerk, obviously that’s a bad approach. We came to the conclusion that we’re not that bad of players so let’s not follow a click and the computer. Now you can have the computer follow you. It can actually help you enhance the human faults that are minimal, milliseconds here and there, but they are the difference between machines and us. We found a really cool live way of doing it. We’re going to continue that definitely.

ANTIHERO: Do you guys ever just jam?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, reluctantly (laughs). When we get together and rehearse, then we jam a lot. Obviously sound checks and stuff that’s nothing but jamming. We don’t’ as much as we used to. We would stay in the rehearsal space and just jam for hours and getting out of there with maybe one riff at best. I love it, you know, smoke a doobie and just play whatever. The reason we don’t jam that much is because if you come up with something good, you have to save it. You have to catalog it and keep it to make a song out of it. I think the older you get, the more focused you are, picking out a riff and deciding to make something out of it. Your approach to good riffs, you just grab them. It’s kind of like with chicks. When you’re younger, you’re just like, “oh, I’ll just get another chick”. Now, it’s like if they look at you without disgust, you’ve got to work that really hard to make it become something (laughs).

ANTIHERO: If it works, man (laughs)! Is there a certain mind frame you have to be in to write for Entombed A.D.?

Nico Elgstrand:  Yeah, but it differs month to month. I figure if you just write everyday…something, and then if I’m saying to myself, “OK, you are now writing an Entombed song and it has to be the most bad-ass song ever” or the record company says that, I can’t just do that. I write acoustic guitar stuff or piano or whatever for a week and then boom, all of a sudden, you hit that mode where you actually, it’s not a conscious thing. I figured out where if I don’t just go directly at it then automatically, you enter that mode. As soon as you’re like, “I’m in the zone,” then you’ve lost it. I try to just be in front of an instrument and be as unaware of what I’m doing as possible so when it happens, it can happen without my consciousness coming in and saying, “hold on”. I think that’s the enemy of every artist is your mind so that’s why everyone gets so insanely high because it makes you not think about how things should be done and you just do it.

ANTIHERO: There’s an element of fun that I’ve always found in Entombed like Death Metal to be played live, to pound beers to.

Nico Elgstrand: I think we’ve always been separating ourselves from the evil villains of Norway where they kill each other over some fucking Metal music. It’s hail Satan. We’re having more fun mocking the other side than actively working for the Satan side. That’s the thing. If you have a great time and pound beers, then that’s in Satan’s service so you could say we’re the most Satanic of them all. If you get all serious about it like at a Black Metal concert, that’s like in church. They’re all serious. If you want to go Satan’s way, you need to copulate, drink beer, and make noise like a complete fucking idiot so yeah, that’s what we do (laughs).

ANTIHERO: Well, you already answered my next question which was going to be if you thought that Death Metal sometimes takes itself too seriously.

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, I would say definitely. I find it hilarious but at the same time, I’m like “wow, the whole fucking serious part of it is parents’ stuff, right?”  That’s the whole reason why we’re making all this noise is because it’s not fucking serious. I think it’s really funny when people are starting to dress like fucking priests and acting…I don’t know. Whatever floats your boat. I don’t think they aim to entertain me the way that I’m entertained. As long as they buy the t-shirts, right (laughs)?

ANTIHERO: (laughs) Do you think it would be fair to call Entombed the Motorhead of Death Metal?

Nico Elgstrand:  Well, I would never compare myself, but if you say that, I would take it as a very nice compliment. None of us is/was a hair on Lemmy’s ass, obviously. If we can carry on with just some of his spirit, then thank you, mission accomplished.

ANTIHERO: You came into the Entombed fold back in ‘04. How did you hook up with them?

Nico Elgstrand: We knew each other from back in the day, actually. When we met, we were not friends, but we were acquaintances. They were in the studio to record a demo and I was engineering. They were like, “we’ll just record it with you”. It went so well. I recorded Morningstar. They needed a bass player so I played the bass. Then they needed two guitar players so I figured I’d played along with Alex (Hellid) for so long we had a good thing going. I switched to guitar after obviously everything that happened with Alex. I figure now I just need some time to play the drums and I will be a fully educated Entombed member.

ANTIHERO: Guitar is your main instrument, right?

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, it’s always been. I just played bass because that’s what was needed and I loved the band. I was like “I’ll play fucking marimba if you want,” and then also, I was playing bass in a few bands. I really enjoy playing bass because you know that guitar ego that can be really cool but is also exhausting, there’s no room for that on bass. You listen much more to the other guys in the band when you play bass. I am a guitar player, though, and now it’s all guitar again.

ANTIHERO: I’m a bass player that wound up learning guitar because of not being able to find anyone to jam with, but I feel more comfortable on bass.

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, to me it’s the opposite. On the guitar, if I fuck it up, I can always noodle away some shit. On the bass, you just have to hit those two notes that you have. I guess it depends on the situation…also, I’m a guitar player in my mind so when I play bass, I tend to play it like a guitar player.

ANTIHERO: When did you start playing guitar?

Nico Elgstrand: When I was twelve or thirteen. I jumped on it when I was like seven and was forced to play like “Tom Dooley”. I was at home with my Bark at the Moon record like, “no, no fuck this!” The chick at the youth center I went to, she played “Iron Man” on a nylon string piece of shit and I was like “how did you do that?” Then she showed me for ten minutes how to play the “Iron Man” riff and then when I got it, that was it. I was fucking hooked immediately. Then there was this dude that we heard about who could play the “Number of the Beast” riff, and I thought there was no way he could play that riff. He came down and he played the riff and nailed it and he was like the guitar hero in our little group for like five years (laughs). Those were the days. Once I got that “Iron Man” riff down, I was hooked. Then it was eight hours a day.

ANTIHERO: Who were some of your early influences and favorite players?

Nico Elgstrand: Oh, man there’s so many. I mean, Yngwie was hugely inspirational back in the day. I can’t say I listen to him that much now. Today, I’m more into David Gilmour or Jeff Beck, players that have really nice tone. Old Blues guys, you know. Billy Gibbons always makes me happy. Sludgy, simple guitar playing, I think is what I prefer today. I’m trying to think of some new cats. Michael Hedges. I got tired of listening to all those Yngwie clones. I realized that I’ve always been more of a slow hand, so to speak. I practiced all those fast licks for such a long time, but in the last fifteen years or so I realized that what is in my mind doesn’t have that many sixteenth notes. The music I get off on is also really groovy. Jerry Reed, have you heard of that guy?

ANTIHERO: Yeah, the old Country player.

Nico Elgstrand: Yeah, his playing really knocks my socks off. There’s a lot of Country players that I don’t know their names. That’s another planet I realized. The skills of the musicians on the Country side are like Jazz guys, just super educated super soldiers.

ANTIHERO: Yeah, super soldier is a good way to put.

Nico Elgstrand: Maybe a bit too much today, but the inspiring musician in me, I’m starting to like the faults and the crappy stuff with my playing more and more. I think that’s a good sign. I’ll be listening to really loud, crappy, but it has to be crappy in the right way. Neil Young, man, fuck, when he plays a guitar solo, it’s no joke. I think I like more and more when you play for something. At this point in time when it comes to Metal and all these noodlers out there, they lost my interest completely. There’s very few Metal cats…you know, Dimebag is still the king in that game. I don’t think anyone is even near because at the end of the day it has to be tone and intonation. If it’s super-fast, that’s great, but that end note has to have that magic. He’s pretty much the last super player that I’ve heard that had that thing. David Gilmour has nothing but…

ANTIHERO: Yeah, David Gilmour is insane. What inspires you to write music?

Nico Elgstrand: I’ve got to be honest. I’ve got to say it’s nine-part desperation and then there’s one-part inspiration. I rarely sit down when I’m inspired. I just sit down every day. Some days it’s going to be inspiring to sit and some days it’s going to be just fucking horrible. I realized, though, that sometimes when it feels inspiring, it’s not necessarily the most inspiring thing to listen to. When you sit down and record something when you’re pissed off because you didn’t get laid last night or didn’t pay the bill and you think that these notes are just a joke, you listen to it a few days later and you realize that you don’t know when you cook. If you write one piece of music every day, you’re going to have 365 pieces of music a year. Many artists have survived on less. I feel calm when I play. I lose the sense of space and just disappear and that’s how you do it. It’s really therapeutic.  

ANTIHERO: What’s your take on the legions of bands out there that have modeled their entire sound on the Swedish Death Metal sound. Where’s the line drawn between flattery and pissing you off?

Nico Elgstrand: I’ve got to say it doesn’t ever piss me off. That’s the whole point of what we’re doing is to get ripped off. If no one is ripping you off, then you would have a reason to get pissed off. When someone is trying to do exactly what you’re doing, then you’re doing something right. That would be like a chef getting pissed off for someone else using their recipe. If you find someone using your recipe and it’s just really bad, you can say “well, try again, man”. Sometimes you have bands out there that are better than we ever were. People will come up and tell me to check out something because it’s ripping us off and I’m like, “yeah, give me another beer, this is great!” Again, if you’re getting pissed off by someone ripping you off then you’re taking yourself a bit too serious. It’s Death Metal, dude.

ANTIHERO: Do you guys have any plans to tour the U.S.?

Nico Elgstrand: We’re trying to get something set up for North and South America. Nothing has been set yet so it will probably be like March or April of next year. We’re ready. This whole microbrewery thing that has happened in the States makes it so much more enjoyable to tour there.

ANTIHERO: I’ll be looking forward to it.

Nicol Elgstrand: When we come over, we should have one of those super beers together!

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