Interview with Usurpress (Take My Throne If You Please)

Ah, yes, time for another interview.  Always fun, aways informative, but this one in particular is the most dense in terms of information.  In fact it's likely the most detailed answers we've ever received, which is always a good thing.  What if two hundred years from now someone wanted to know all there was about Usurpress during this particular era?  Well, here you go, it's all right here.  Ususpress is still a relatively unknown sludgy type of death from out of Sweden, which is a shame when you consider the bizarre creativity present in their latest work, Ordained, which we reviewed not so long ago.  Their approach was novel on many levels, so we figured we'd sit down and see what they had to offer and we got way more than we bargained for, and it was glorious.  Typically when we ask some of these questions we get one-sentence answers.  One time we even received a hate-mail response as the only answer from someone who shall be unnamed, and who we'll never bother to review or listen to again in the future, might we add.  Not these guys, these guys are interested in what they do, and they love it when someone else is.  We sat down with vocalist Stefan Pettersson to learn about the band, where they came from, and about their current and future work.

Deaf Sparrow - So let's start it simple, like usual.  How did you guys get started as a band? What kind of prior experience in music? Prior bands? Influences?  Mind talking about stuff like that?

Usurpress - I was attending a free outdoor festival in our hometown Uppsala on the 30:th of April 2010 and Påhl’s (Editor: guitarist) prog band Klotet were playing. I had talked with him a couple of times at gigs and we had some mutual friends and I had been toying with the idea of starting a band with him so after their gig I just asked him if he would be interested in playing some heavier stuff with me in his spare time and he was all for it.

The day after I phoned Calle (Editor: drummer) and asked him if he wanted to play drums with us, I had known about him for 15 years but we had really never hung out together and quite frankly I have no idea why I picked him as the drummer. Maybe I thought his raw and primitive playing style would balance out Påhl’s elegant and technical style. In the very beginning, Lawrence Mackrory (FKÜ, Darkane, etc) played bass with us, purely on a session basis, but after just a few months I brought my old friend Daniel Ekeroth instead, we had talked for years about playing together again but we hadn’t found the right forum for it.

We have all played in various bands in the past, Daniel has probably the most high profile CV of us since his previous bands include Dellamorte, Insision, Tyrant, etc and he currently also plays in Iron Lamb and Third Storm. Some might also know him as the author of the books Swedish Death Metal and Swedish Sensationsfilms.
My first band of any real interest was a death metal band called Embalmed back in 1990, the other members were Fredrik Wallenberg (Skitsystem, Sarcasm) and Matte Modin (Dark Funeral, Raised Fist, etc) but my main background is actually in the punk scene, if you’re familiar with crust punk you might have heard of my previous bands Diskonto and Uncurbed. Calle also mainly has a punk background musically, he's played with tons of minor Swedish crust bands, most notably Discontrol. Påhl used to play in the brilliant instrumental prog band Klotet (3 albums, check them out now) and he has also recorded a couple of albums with the more poppy, but still proggy, Villebråd, another ace band. Apart from that he has also played in some minor death, thrash and punk bands, most notably a shirt stint in Kronofogden. As you can see, we have a broad and varied musical background.
Our influences are mainly older bands in the death metal vein (and also old some old crust punk), we don’t consider ourselves a stupid “retro” band but we are concerned with real songs and real riffs and that was more common before. Some influences would be Sodom, Discharge, Hellhammer/Celtic Frost (Morbid Tales-era), Exciter, Paradise Lost (early), Anti-Cimex, Voïvod, Autopsy, Obituary, Incantation and such.

DS - Damn, well that was way more than we're used to getting.  Hahaha, didn't even need to ask any follow-ups, you've got it all covered already.  Let's keep it going like that.  Another simple one we were interested in, the band name, where did it come from?

U - I saw the word by accident and checked it up a bit and according to some linguists the word was so rarely used that it was not to be considered a “proper” word and that the masculine term “usurper” should be used on both males and females who usurp something. That made me wonder a bit; was that behavior so unfeminine that there was really no need for a certain word for it? I found that train of thought rather interesting. Is it possible to alter our perception of what men/women/mankind “should” be like by adding or take away words in our language? So there is a thought behind the name and not just a “cool” word with a female connotation like Murderess, Torturess, Goatess, etc. Apart from that I think it’s an OK band name and we are the only band with this name as far as I know.

DS -  Interesting.  Well it's really a unique name regardless of origin.  So you guys have been around for only a few years, but you've already got some awesome splits under your belt and now two full-lengths. Some bands can't even claim that after 20 years. To what do you owe your success so far?

U - Success? We are a very unknown and obscure band as far as popularity goes so I wouldn’t use that word anywhere near us but, yeah we have been able to write and record quite a lot of material. We are fortunate to write quite fast and arrangements often come to us instantly when we’re jamming new ideas. Since we started this band more as a side project to our regular bands we then felt that the need for spontaneity was crucial, Usurpress should be about having fun with music, not to overwork it. I think that was especially important for Påhl back when we started as Klotet often was haunted with endless rehearsals where songs where rearranged over and over again only to be scrapped on a whim later on.

Having said that, we do take our song writing seriously and we work with preproduction demos on a regular basis to make sure the songs turn out good enough, we’re not at all interested in flooding the market with endless rows of split-7” and such. If you look at our discography we have released one mini-LP in 2011 (recorded in 2010), one LP in 2012 and one in 2014, I would say that is quite a normal pace for any band of our statue, especially since we don’t play live that often and can concentrate on song writing.

Our mini-LP, In Permanent Twilight, was originally planned to be a split-LP but we had immense problems with the record label (not Plague Island) and we thought that it would never be out so when we had the opportunity to release 2 different split-7” we jumped at the chance of actually getting something out. They are both recorded at the same time and that session was only 4 songs (and a cover tune) of which we later re-recorded one of them for Trenches of the Netherworld. The split-10” with Bent Sea was mainly a vehicle for us to try to expend and progress our style a bit, an experiment that we wanted to do outside of the album formula. I’m talking about the song “A Tidal Wave of Fire” now.

DS - Interesting to hear some of that background, for sure.  You guys have a death metal foundation, sure, but it's much different than most modern blah that we receive at Sparrow. How do you feel your sound has developed since your Bombs of Hades split? If you listen to it, the production quality is a clear different, yet you guys seem to have that same sound that makes Ordained so damn interesting. Just curious how you view your own development as a band.

U - Whoa, thanks a lot! Well, I don’t know if we have developed at all actually… We have always had a very clear, some might say “rigid”, vision of how Usurpress should sound. Our main interest is the song, we want to make short[ish] songs with defined parts, just like a traditional rock song. We have never been interested in some of extreme metal’s corner stones. When it comes to the drums we rely heavy on the punky d-beat and we don’t use fast double bass and blast beats at all what so ever. We also very rarely have guitar solos and if we do, they are very short. We have the mantra “No thrash, no rock, no grind, no groove” that we use as a blue print for song writing and that will never change. These elements are what make us Usurpress and we stick by them.

However, anything that does not violate these rules are totally acceptable for us, we have started to incorporate slower tempos and evolve our interest for dissonance to make the songs more powerful and intense for example. I also believe that our fondness for progressive music of the 70-ties have started to show in our song writing as well, it’s not strange at all since both Påhl and Daniel have played that kind of music in the past and I think they feel comfortable with it. It might come as a bit of surprise for some people that Daniel has a history of playing progrock but he was actually doing guitar/vocals for a progband called Turabus for many many years.

DS - Talk to us about the process in creating Ordained. Where did it start, what was your direction, anything that comes to mind.

U - The first song we wrote for Ordained was “The Eyeless Spectator”, that was in June 2013 and in June 2014 the recording, not the mixing, was completely done, so it took about a year to create the album. Quite early on in the song writing process we decided that we would record the album in two sessions. We did 6 songs in the first session and on the basis of these songs we figured out what kinds of songs that were “missing” on the album. The two acoustic songs were recorded in a separate session between the two main ones. It was a working schedule that worked very well for Ordained and I think the album benefitted from that. There is still one song from the session that are unreleased, a short fast one called “The Insatiable Sky” we decided to scrap that one and replace it with the Bo Hansson song instead.  We recorded the album together with Påhl’s brother Erik in our rehearsal space. We had recorded the Bent Sea-split that way and it turned out good so we decided to try that again. Then Lawrence mixed and mastered it in his studio called Maskinrummet. I believe we spent around 8 days recording and 5 days mixing.

DS - What kind of themes do you usually focus on for your music? Is there any conscious direction you take in writing music or do you simply hit a good riff and then develop around it?

U - As we have a very profound idea of how we should sound it’s quite easy for us to just come up with something and run with it, yeah.  The way we usually have written up to this point is that Påhl comes up with a very basic song structure, a couple of riffs, and then me, him and Calle jam on them and incorporate new parts as we go along. When we have an arrangement that we feel works we record it. If we haven’t found all the riffs we usually throw in a shitty riff that is an approximation of the riff we eventually will use.  Then I go through the song at home, write the lyrics and maybe alter the arrangements to suit the vocals. Next rehearsal we hopefully have the “true” riffs ready and then we start rehearsing the song again. After a rehearsal or two Daniel shows up, learn the song and often make minor changes to it again. He’s good with arrangements.  However, we have already written more than half of the material for our next album, The Regal Tribe, and this time the song writing process is totally different. This new way of writing is something we discussed together before we even had the very first chord written. We are very excited about the outcome. Very excited.

DS - Mind telling everyone a bit about this new album you just mentioned there?

U - Right after we had done two gigs with Bombs of Hades and Yuri Gagarin in October 2014 we realized that we will not be able to play live for quite some time and we were probably not even able to rehearse for a while so the only thing we could do to keep the band afloat was writing new songs. I believe that both me and Påhl felt that start writing another bunch of Usurpress songs wasn’t really that inspiring since we have already done 3 albums (if you count In Permanent Twilight) so I suggested that we should try a new angle on songwriting and start with the first riff in the first song of the album and then move ahead totally linear. We soon found out that this gave us quite some freedom in the writing process since we don’t have to cram things into songs just to give them a logical arrangement. I then started to write a synopsis of the storyline of the album so I know what will happen I each song.

So far we have written 6 of the 10 songs for the album, the entire side A and the first song of side B. We plan to start recording it this winter. We will probably record both in our own little studio with Erik and in Maskinrummet with Lawrence. Unfortunately, Ola Larsson will not be able to do the cover this time but we have already another artist lined up to do the cover. It’s one of our favourite artists and we were really happy that he decided to take the job.
We have also just recently signed a 3 album deal with a European label that most of your readers probably have heard about. We feel that this label is right for us since they have a quite diverse and eclectic roster and we feel that we can fit right in there.  Recording is going to start around September 25th.

DS - Excellent stuff from you guys, big thanks.  Let's finish it off with one more simple one about the scene where you're from in consideration of Usurpress in particular.  How do you guys do in the Swedish scene? Any touring plans for anywhere else in the world?

U - I wouldn’t say we’re a prominent part of the Swedish scene, we haven’t done any high profile gigs at all really. In fact, we have only made 12 gigs altogether in Sweden and apart from a gig in Gothenburg in December 2012 and a festival in Borlänge in August 2010 (our first gig and the only one with Lawrence on bass) we haven’t played more than around 100 km outside Uppsala. It’s a bit embarrassing almost. We have made 16 gigs outside Sweden though and the countries we have covered are Czech, Italy, Slovenia, Slovakia and Germany. Not too impressive.  Unfortunately, a lot of private issues beyond our control have forced us to stay away from the stage altogether since October so we haven’t had the opportunity to promote Ordained through touring but there are concrete plans for 2-3 gigs this coming November in Germany and the Netherlands.  One of those we're headlining the We Are Old Sküll Fest in Aachen.

DS - Well, here's to hoping you guys get the press you deserve, and the fans.  Once people understand how different you guys sound, and what you're about, it's going to happen.  Thanks again for the great responses to our questions, this is more than we're used to.  Great stuff.

U - Good questions deserve decent answers. Rule of the game.

 

Interview Conducted by Stanley Stepanic