The Great Discord from Linköping in Sweden are newcomers on the world progressive metal scene with their debut full-length titled “Duende,” which is released today in Germany, Switzerland and Austria, and scheduled for the release on June 1st in UK / rest of Europe, and June 2nd in North America via Metal Blade Records.
We recently talked with singer Fia Kempe and drummer Aksel Holmgren about the album, their creative process, technology and more.
Define the mission of The Great Discord.
Our mission is best described as an attempt to conceptualize the human condition, as viewed by ourselves, in the context of our music and our own interpretations. Life is in effect The Great Discord, full of dissonance, dichotomies and duality, but also symmetry, beauty and vibrancy. It’s never black or white, always changing and always challenging.
Tell me about the creative process that informed “Duende.”
The idea was born out of a musical meeting between us (Fia and Aksel), in the summer of 2013. We isolated ourselves in a cottage, way out in the woods, with a bare bone recording set-up and just us two. Within a few hours we had the basic outline of “Deus Ex Homine“, and the idea sprung into life. Quite soon we realized we were on to something and that we needed to make this into a band. When we listened back to the first few songs the music sort of cried out for a cohesive concept, and the basic outlines for the visuals began to take shape. We discussed back and fourth while listening and the idea of Fia’s persona started to materialize. We also realized that for music this spastic and somewhat outlandish, you’d need a strong focus point, not only through the vocals but also visually on stage. Something that elevates and encompasses the themes. Besides being the natural focus point of the music Fia also became the main mouthpeice for everything else.
The music always came first, and listening back, it usually “told” us what the theme was going to be. Learning to better understand your creative expression has been a big part of the process.
Through our laptop, piecing things together and making things flow, along with a note pad, a white board and a voice recorder or something like that. Jamming on a piano and an acoustic guitar, making sure the song works, and taking notes.
Is the dynamic flow of the pieces carefully architected or is it an organic outgrowth of performing them together?
For the most part things are very structured when we write, but it always comes from ideas formulated in the moment through an instrument, or just humming a melody. Everyone in the band has their own approach, but everything gets the same trial of fire, meaning we put it into context in a DAW, and listen back, mutually making the decision if it stays or goes.
Since the band didn’t exist at first, most of the material was written in a typical demoing fashion, where we recorded ideas as soon as they came, and working from there. When the band was completed, we started rehearsing alongside this and took the music through it’s paces, making alterations and adding things along the way.
Describe the approach to recording the album.
We had to plan it carefully as no one in the band had the luxury to just sit around in the studio, doing things here and there, as we all have other commitments along side this. There was basically a day-to-day schedule and we managed to keep it that way for the most part, which was amazing. Always knowing what to do next and always having detailed and fleshed-out demos for the majority of the material really helped out in that sense.
As for the recorded music we always strived towards getting the takes with the biggest amount of emotion and feel, as opposed to getting the perfect takes technically. This approach goes for all the instruments and for all of the vocals. A vocal take containing a lot of emotion is always better than a clinical and technically perfect one. Since we’ve been around the music, lived and breathed it for so long before the actual recording we really knew what we were going for in that sense.
How long was “Duende” in the making?
The demoing took the better part of a year and a half, working in very intense pockets of time here and there, whenever we had the opportunity. We always had an abundance of ideas and material so it was more a matter of deciding what fit into this album and what didn’t. We have a lot of ideas and songs that we put to the side, not because they were inadequate in any way, but rather because they didn’t fit the feel of this album. The recording took about four months, working very much in the same way, only with shorter breaks in between. The mix and the master was completed early february of this year (2015).
Tell me about the themes the album captures.
The main theme is the human condition, and different forms of discordance people can live through. We emphasize the darker elements but there is also a source light in the darkness. The darkness cannot exist without light. The idea is to tell a story, to create an enviroment that emphasizes that story. There are some more common expressions of being human there, things like sorrow, regret, existential anxiety, addiction, hate and love. But there are also the extreme embodiments that comes with humanity, like the cannibal (Selfæta), or the narcissitic necrophile (L’homme Mauvais). These are necessary because they, albeit extreme utternaces, are very much a part of humanity, and therefore important to acknowledge to be able to paint the bigger picture. It’s fascinating, we all carry around a morbid sense of curiosity for these things.
Provide some insight into the group’s chemistry that allows this music to emerge.
It began with Aksel and Fia, not really knowing what would come out, and by leaving the musical door wide open, it really allowed for a sort of ”anything goes” mentality. It really helped the creative process initially to never leave any ideas out because they intially felt too wierd or out of place. When everyone else came into the picture we had the basic idea finished and a ”sound” to work from. We have always left the creative door open for any influence really, but at that point we had something to reference at least. Fortunately for us, we found proficient and likeminded people with an extremely wide scope of music to draw from, so we have a hard time imagining us losing that specific creative spark.
[youtube id=”UEKcl8MzWLQ” width=”620″ height=”360″]
How do you know when a piece is complete?
This can be difficult, but there is usually a feeling that settles on you when you finally hear that the song makes sense, when there are no longer any passages or parts that feel wrong. It usually comes (or not, hehe) the day after you’ve finished a session, when you listen back to it with fresh ears. It’s a very rewarding feeling and we’re usually good at identifying the specific feeling when it happens. We’ve also become increasingly proficient at identifying doubt in each other, as sometimes you want the song to be completed so badly you might fool yourself into thinking it’s done. In those cases we just pick each other up and remind ourselves why we’re doing this and what we always want the songs to feel like. In that sense we are lucky that we’re not only relying on one person to push this forward and to keep our standard up, as we are very much in this together. We are all very adamant on not compromising on anything regarding our material, but everyone needs a helping hand every now and then.
Which bands or artists influenced your work on the album?
A tough one, as we didn’t have a specific sound we were aiming for when we started. There are of course artists that needs to be mentioned in terms of where we come from as musicians, and therefore have influenced us to the point where we mimic some aspects of their modus operandi.
Genesis (Peter Gabriel era) and King Crimson are huge influences, a lot of the vocal arrangements and the overall playfulness of their approach to music have rubbed off on us in a big way. The same goes for some more contemporary experimental and unconventional bands like The Dillinger Escape Plan and Meshuggah. Also contemporary prog bands like Opeth and Porcupine Tree have always been bands we hold in high regard.
How would you describe what you create to someone who didn’t hear you before?
It’s essentially prog, but with a mish-mash of many different styles, molded into something we call our own. When we’re feeling colorful we like to dub it Progressive Death Pop. Progressive for the obvious prog factors in our music. The playfulness, the storytelling, the grandiose vocal arrangements and things like that. Death because of our mutual love of the aesthetics and philosophies of death metal, both in the literal sense, as in a fascination with death, but also in the darker sides of the melodies. We use a lot of fourths in our music for example. And lastly, pop, because we always believe that a song needs a strong focal point in the form of the chorus, preferably dwarfing the rest of the song in terms of something to latch on to, and remember. Certain types of pop music has always been there in our musical vocabulary, and we do love it. The craft of making a pop song that works is not something to be shunned, it should rather be explored as you learn a lot from it in terms of songwriting.
What kind of gear do you use for recording your music?
We did the entire recording on a laptop actually, using Logic Pro 9, recording through a UA Apollo interface. The drums were tracked through a DrumTec Diabolo kit using Superior Drummer 2.0 Metal Foundry samples, and Steven Slate samples. Along with a myriad of UA plug-ins and Steven Slate plug-ins.
For guitars we used a Fender American Standard Telecaster from the 80’s for cleans and midgain along with a Fender Baritone Telecaster (we tune to drop Bb) equipped with a Seymour Duncan JB humbucker for the gainier stuff, going into the Axe-Fx Standard, sometimes paired with a Maxon OD808. A somewhat typical approach for contemporary bands in the genre. For bass we used a Warwick Katana, going into the Axe-Fx II, going through an MXR M80, or in some cases a Darkglass B7K.
As for claviature and synths, we used a lot of software, primarily the Native Instruments Kontakt series of pianos. For the synth lead sounds we used the lead section of a Nord Stage II. We also used a Moog Little Phatty for a lot of the low, wobbly, subby synths happening here and there.
For vocals, most of it was tracked through a UA Apollo interface and an SM7, which has a very neutral, versatile, workable, but slightly dull sound, since it doesn’t have that silky bump around the 12kHz region that a lot of condensers have. It does however gives you a lot of options when it comes to mixing. And for us it was optimal because you can record basically anywhere, even without a treated room since the mic is dynamic.
What is your view on technology in music?
Used correctly it’s an amazing thing really. Nowadays you can make a professional sounding recording on a surprisingly small budget, and it evens out the playing field for musicians who want to get into the whole process of making music even if they dont have a financial backer. But, in the end, it all comes down to what you know and how you use it, as with most things in music.
Of course, better gear can elevate what you produce, but it can never replace knowledge of how you use it or how you make your decisions in the process. An understanding of what elements that work and what doesn’t will always win over a multi million dollar project run by monkeys. And, as always, music is subjective. There are of course norms to be considered, but what sounds great to one person may not sound good at all to another. Just trust what you like, learn how to achieve it, and in the end, you’ll end up with a better product.
Do you see the band’s music as serving a purpose beyond music?
For us, definately, as it gives us an oppurtunity to delve deeper into ourselves through the vessel of our music. It’s a very abstract thing really, but music can work on so many levels apart from just being a pass-time or a distraction from every day life. It helps us get a better sense and perspective of ourselves, how we work and how we think. The same can be said of any type of art, as long as it has a deep connection with you and who you are. A reflection of your soul in a way, and you should pay attention to what it tells you.
What advice or philosophy might you impart to other musicians, be it in forms of creativity, technical stuff, the business side of it, or anything else?
It’s always difficult to try to give someone a guide of how you should act or how to create your art. If you have a deep connection to music or art in general then we’d like to think that you usually have a strong sense of how you would like to be as an artist. The only concrete thing that has helped us a lot in terms of following things through, even on the tougher days, is to make plans, long term and short term, and always follow through to the best of your ability, and don’t fall apart when you fail. Learn and try again. This has worked for us. Some artists though act on impulse and that can also be a great thing, but it’s not for everyone as it’s harder to control. Especially if you want to ”make it” in the business, whatever that means to you.
It’s also very easy to resort to platitudes in these types of questions, like ”be true to your art”, ”be nice to poeple”, ”believe in yourself” and ”work hard”, and it feels silly to write them, but they always stand true. As far as the business side of things, ask people for help who know more than you, and get a lawyer.
What are your plans for the future?
Our main goal right now is to tour on this album, and to get it to as many people as we possibly can. To present our show to the world and to share our love for this music.