Interview with Meshuggah: Challenges Collapse

The band in general is heralded as being technically fantastic, but you tend to regularly get ‘Best Metal Drummer’ here, ‘Top Five Metal Drummers’ over there. Do you get a trophy or anything? Do they send you a medal?

No. (laughs) No, they don’t. It, of course, is flattering and all that, to get accolades in reader’s polls, to be mentioned among the top drummers of the world, but at the same time, I have a hard time dealing with that too, because for long periods of each year, I stay off the kit, and I’m usually never really in the shape I want to be as a drummer. With Meshuggah being a company now, there’s so much office work, I feel more like an office rat (laughs), you know.

The praise doesn’t seem natural, then.

No, a lot of times I feel like I wish that I had a steady routine, a practice routine, that I would go through and just really try to focus on bettering myself as a drummer, but I just never get around to it. So I don’t really have a routine like that. Sometimes I stay off the kit for months on end, and it gets kind of weird.

Some of the drummers that are mentioned in the same kind of circumstances that are in reader’s polls and ‘best this’ or whatever, some of those drummers really are guys that I myself see as people who are really in tune with their own instrument, and they’re really really good drummers, and sometimes I don’t necessarily feel I belong there, but still. It’s all good.

If I were to say, your approach has never seemed to be particularly athletic, much more mental.

Yeah, I wish it wasn’t so, though. I wish I both practiced and worked out a lot more. For me to tour and to play live is always 50 percent joy and the other 50 is just fucking pain. (laughs) There’s a lot of that, for us to play live, I think. All of us. But it’s a good combination, still, and it’s what we like doing. But it’s a lot of pain involved as well.

Like most of Meshuggah’s material, you’re responsible for the lyrics. As far as bands go, you have a unique standpoint—rather than singing your lyrics, you’re going to be supporting them rhythmically. Does that influence the way that you write?

I don’t think so. When I write lyrics, it’s something that I do a week or a couple weeks each year when I have the inspiration. I never write lyrics to a set track or to a finished track. As far as writing the lyrics, I do always have some kind of rhythmical sense so that one line is not just two syllables and the next line is 27 syllables, of course there is a certain amount of rhythm involved as far as just being able to speak the lyrics in somewhat of a rhythmical way, or straight 4/4 or whatever. But I don’t think it really controls so much of what I’m actually writing so much, as far as the lyrical content.

Conceptually, the album goes into a lot of general themes that you’ve worked with before, human as sort of anatomical construction, things like that, but also the idea of obscenity.

It’s not really a conceptual album, but there is at least somewhat of a thematic red thread that runs through the lyrics that kind of ties in with obZen, the title and the artwork and so on. I would say that lyrically it’s fairly close to the material on the Nothing album, for example. Basically, the whole idea with the artwork, is basically human evil, suggesting that the human species as such has found its balance and its zen, if you will, in bloodshed and violence and death. That kind of ties in with the lyrics as well, to the better part at least.

In general, it seems that there’s a time period for you with a lot of experimental work. Do you think that you’re going start doing full-lengths that are song-oriented again regularly, or do you foresee yourselves going back and doing 40 minute songs again?

It might happen again, but at the same time we know now, we put some time into recording the I EP as well, spent maybe six months in total on that one. And now we’ve spent over a year writing and recording for this one, and financially it puts us in kind of a weird spot, and we don’t have the type of finances to back that kind of action up. We really need to make a few albums more like this that are more live related that we can tour for. I’m guessing that at least the next one will also be more like this one, as far as more typical song lengths and structures and so on, more live related stuff.

Did you guys ever do I live?

No, no. That whole track was written and recorded just on random. Me and Fredrik would just jam on something, and when we found something that was kind of cool, he would walk into the control room. I would just record drums and it wasn’t a set pattern, I would just kind of stray away from the pattern, but just keep going in that vibe. Then we had to chart everything and go bar by bar to record the guitars afterwards, because it’s all just random.

In doing it that way it’s also really, really hard to learn it. Even for us. I know parts of it, just because I’ve listened to it a lot, but it would be an awesome challenge to try to pull that off live, and it would take a shitload of rehearsing to get it down.

The beginning section, just the guitars chugging along in there, follows almost no pattern.

Yeah, the very beginning of that track, that whole drum fill, if you will, between the kicks and the toms, I don’t know if I could ever learn that one in the exact same way. I think a lot people don’t really know that it is random, and we never learned it ourselves. I just recorded drums and as I said, we just recorded guitars and bass on a bar by bar basis. We never really learned it as big chunks of music. It is written and recorded in a weird way.

As far as a general sense of how well that EP did—I don’t know how well it did in sales—but everybody I knew that liked Meshuggah, loved that EP.

Yeah, actually, that whole idea started off, we wanted to help Jason out, he was starting the Fractured Transmitter record company, and this would be the first release, and he suggested that we just record one track that we could put on a compilation or something, and then we started writing that track and it ended up being 21 minutes, a full EP length. And he just released it as that. And it actually has sold very well, and it’s still selling pretty well here.

Even being able to do that live, as impossible as that sounds, would be mindblowing.

Oh yeah, totally, we would love to do it if we could (laughs), but I’m afraid we can’t, probably.

So you foresee yourselves getting back into a full-length, song-related phase again?

Yeah, I’d say so. Then again, you never know. (laughs)

obZen is available now. Meshuggah will be playing Irving Plaza in NYC on May 1 and May 2 with Ministry. For more, visit

Photo Credit: Micke Sandstrom