Chuck Schuldiner Project

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Interview with Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg of At the Gates (Pt.1/3)

Right before their splendid first show on Luxemburgish soil earlier this month, I’ve had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with vocalist Tomas “Tompa” Lindberg of At the Gates, one of the most influential acts in death metal history. Being one of my own personal heroes from whom I came to learn death metal vocals (much to my neighbours’ dismay),  this opportunity to interview At the Gates’ frontman came nothing short of a dream come true, hence my slight nervousness as the decisive hour approached. Just as I had heard from various sources, the man proved to be extremely friendly and strikingly humble and down-to-earth considering his stature in the world of metal music. Our following discussion deals with the bands’ newest release as well as their reemergence to the forefront of todays’ metal scene back in 2007 after nearly a decade of absence.  

- So last October you released At War With Reality, marking the first At the Gates album in 19 years. How did you come around picking up where you'd left off with Slaughter of the Soul and what was your approach when writing this new record?
Well I think at first we tried to record a "follow-up" first, but we came nowhere in that process (laugh), it ended up hindering our creative imagination I think. What we did was sit down and try to write the best At the Gates record as we were able to, and that's when things started to happen, that "normal" creativity that we had back in the day started to come back to us. I think we realized that all of the At the Gates albums have been different, so why follow a certain formula now? We can just go with what we want and start from there. Also, right after recording Slaughter of the Soul, we actually had this moment where we thought that that album was lacking a little bit what the other records had in melancholy, desperation, darkness and aggression. So we wanted to bring that in, and that's what came out. We were really inspired when we wrote this record. It was hard work but it was a lot of fun.

- Could you tell us a little more about what this album is about?
At War with Reality is a concept record inspired by this literary genre called "Magic realism" that developed from the post-colonial countries in South-America in the 40s' up until the 60s' that had a more experimental style of writing. I had read a lot of these writers before and I didn't really "connect" them together at first, but then I started to understand that there were similar concepts and a similar philosophy behind these writers. A lot of them were criticizing their national states and hid it under layers of symbolism. The writing style really inspired me; the philosophy behind it was really questioning the idea of having one single world view and finding more possible ways at looking at the world or at life in general. That came into the whole idea of the record, and also the idea that language is part of the way we create our reality. So that’s' what the main concept is about, but there are also some songs bearing other concepts, but they're written from the same point of view. That’s' way of describing it (laugh). It's kind of twisted and deep.

- I couldn't help but feel that some of the themes for this current record share some common points with the subject matter you had touched upon with Slaughter of the Soul, which included some lyrics based on Luke Rhineharts' book The Dice Man. Both albums seem to share the idea of breaking free from the boundaries of one's own limited perspective to explore and perceive different realities.
Well "The Dice Man" is more of an individual social experiment with a sort of social comment beneath it. Slaughter of the Soul and even the records before that had some social comments but it was still pretty personal, more "selfish" in a way I guess. We wanted to broaden the perspective with this one a little bit. Yeah, and it's also less self-centered. I guess that comes with age. When you're younger you only think about what's close to you.

- I read a quote in which you stated that you felt that the sense of honesty and the energy from the local DM scene had been lost as the death metal scene started to grow more "corporate" over the years. What is your outlook on the matter today?
Well it's more of a personal opinion and how I felt about it, since I had been in the scene since 1987 or something. It could be totally different for a kid that got into the scene in 1993, discovering it and perceiving it as really vibrant. It's a very personal thing to say that it's lost its soul or whatever. What we felt as a band was that it was too "easy" to create after a while, in that I really felt that some of the records became more and more generic in a way, they weren't stretching out. There were still bands doing more "experimental" stuff or whatever you can call it, but if you look at how the scene is nowadays, there's so much more stuff going on. You can hear almost everything you want to hear. There are so many subgenres, and the scene is just exploding with loads of quality music. I think it's so much better today than it was in the mid-nineties.

- It also comes with the fact that thanks to the internet it's become a lot easier to form bands I guess.
Yeah, and it’s also easier nowadays to record yourself as well. You don't have to have a big record label to convince people nor do you have to please anyone with what you do, you can just create art. Also, if you don't have any musical career perspectives you can just do that and enjoy your art and let other people enjoy it to. It's more free now I think. Like I said, it was more "boxed-in" and corporate in the nineties.

-What were some of the unique challenges related to reemerging into a new generation of metal music as At the Gates?
Well there've been a lot of different steps to it. The original reformation was just about that summer, Anders wanted us to really have this good closure to the band that we never really got to do in the nineties. That was the feeling back then, and we thought it was the end too, we really believed 100% so there were a lot of emotional things going on there. I took some time and finally Anders and I started working on the DVD release, the documentary and the live album, and it felt like At the Gates was still there. It was when we had finished the work with the DVD release that we left At the Gates again, and it felt like there a little bit of a void there. We had such good fun every time we all met up, so we all just wanted to continue. We had to swallow the ego because we had said that it was going to be the last thing we'd do. So then we did the whole global touring for quite some bit and just enjoyed being together, travelling together to different parts of the world, so that was new to us again. Then Anders felt that we really felt that he might be able to write for us again... It was all of these little steps, one after the other, and it felt natural. There was never any big decision where we'd say "Let's do THIS". We always said as well that we'd write a record, and if it doesn't come out good we won't release it (laugh). We've always had the option of pulling out if we didn't believe in it.

- So there were no real difficulties when you got back together as a band?
No, not really, it's been very smooth actually. I think it depends on how we are as people as well. We're very undramatic; we really enjoy each other’s company a lot, so there's a strong trust between the members that we can fall back on. We always talk about everything; everybody has a veto for everything. If someone doesn't want to do something, even the other 4 of us do, we don't do it because everybody needs to feel comfortable with everything. It is as easy as that actually. This is of course a fortunate situation because not many bands work this way.

- It depends on the temperament of each member and how they interact with one another I guess.
Exactly. There's also the fact that we're able to wait, to say no to a festival and come back the next year is something not all bands can do. We know that we're very fortunate to be able to choose what we do. Most other bands have to think of their career or else they simply disappear.

- To close off the interview, could you name one of your favorite album, movies and books?

Album: A band that I come back to and that I would consider my "desert-island" band due to them being so eclectic would be Swans. Right now my favorite Swans album is Soundtrack for the blind. It's a very diverse album, very abstract and fragmented. I really like that album a lot, so that's been in my head for the last couple of weeks and I come back to it almost every day now. It's a very strong album.
 Book: Book-wise it's just as hard to choose a favorite, because that's basically what I do, I read books. But for the release of your publication, if your readers enjoy the record they could go further into one of these authors like Ernesto Sabato On Heroes and Tombs or any of the Jorge Luis Borges novel compilations. Penguin classics have a few different ones. Borges is always excellent.
Movies: I'm not the big movie guy in the band, Anders is, and also my wife is a screenwriter so I always feel "small" when you talk about movies (laugh), because I don't really know that much. I know when I like a good movie though. I watch a lot of documentaries actually, but I can't remember the titles. There's this 60s' movie called Blow-up (by Michelangelo Antonioni) that's really good. It's actually based off a novel by Julio Cortázar, another Argentinian writer. You can check that out, it's pretty strange.  

Interview by Robin Ono

Be sure to check the rest of the photos of the show on our facebook page at:

PS : A huge thank you goes out toTomas Lindberg, Martin Marx for her amazing work as well as to Deborah and the rest of the Rockhal staff for their incredible hospitality, without which this interview would've been possible.

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