After 2 years of the pandemic, the Swedish groove/progressive goons of AVATAR released their full-length album, “Dance Devil Dance,” and are heading on their promotional European tour and then are going to visit the US. We sat down with the band’s founder and drummer, John Alfredsson, to talk about the new album, the struggles of the creative process, and about the German crowd. Read the complete interview here…
Thank you so much for your time! I know you’re very busy, so I’ll try to be swift. You have just released your new album, “Dance Devil Dance.” How do you feel about the release?
John: Very, very good. Extremely good right now. Because, you know, the world is somewhat normal, at least our part of the world. Last time was a pandemic. So it’s so fun to release an album and be able to come out and tour. That is something we took for granted before the pandemic hit and we’re not taking for granted whatsoever now. So it’s such a relief that our part of the world is – our corner, at least – somewhat normal right now. Not saying that the entire world is not because it’s not. It’s very, very good.
Are you happy touring again?
John: Extremely, extremely happy. It’s been a long 2 years of waiting [to be] able to be back. Very happy.
After the pandemic, the first show I saw with you was with SABATON in Krakow, and it was grand!
John: Yeah, that was a very good show. We’re coming back to Poland now, are you from that area? I guess we’re pretty close from here. We’re coming to Warsaw on Saturday, which we look forward to a lot. I’m not saying that we’re not looking forward to tonight, but the stage is very, very small.
I know right? But Germany loves AVATAR.
John: They do! This is so funny because Germany has always been tough for us. If we had France, Netherlands, Belgium, the United States, the UK, and the Czech Republic… those countries really loved AVATAR a lot, you know, for a long time. But Germany has always been a little bit of an uphill for us. We see from the stage, obviously, yesterday it was 2000 and then we come to Germany and it’s 200. Doesn’t matter you know, we do the same show no matter what, but on this tour, we’re starting to see a massive shift, Germany is starting to catch up. On the last tour in Munich, but now we see Köln, we see Hamburg, today it’s here. We also play Stockholm from time to time, so I know how it’s tough in the capital cities. It’s always harder to be in a capital. Yeah, like everybody seems to be doing everything, a lot of hipsters [laughs]. But yeah, Germany’s started to catch up big time on this tour. So that is very, very fun to see because we always want to have a good crowd in Germany. After all, it’s such a nice country. And our singer is half-German.
That’s why he knows German! Now the mystery is disclosed why Germany loves you.
John: Yeah, he flirts with the Germans, by drinking some schnapps from the stage or singing some German songs the crowd likes, I guess that’s part of it. So yeah, we can say we’re a half-German band. No, we’re not, we’re a 1/10 German band [laughs].
That’s very cool! What was your favorite song to write on this album?
John: I’m not the songwriter per se…
But you’re still the core of the band. Okay, what was the most fun for you?
John: I think… it’s such a hard question to answer because every song has its history. And like, it’s very hard to just pinpoint one song in particular that was more fun than any other song. But there were a couple of these moments where we felt like “Whoa, this is pretty cool.” For me, “Train” was one of those very weird David Lynch/Edward Scissorhands styles. It’s when that song first started to come to life. And also “Hazmat Suit” is one of those that we had very early on in the process. But we never really nailed it. We just figured out that, let’s put this part here and let’s just shift it around this way. And try it out and [it] just clicked and that was a very fun experience.
You said it was an interesting process, but what has been the biggest challenge for you as a band and how did you overcome it?
John: I think the biggest challenge for us as a band goes along for every other band in the business and that was 2 years of a pandemic, which was when we coped with the pandemic by writing music, and so we wrote this album during the pandemic. So, that came with many new challenges that we weren’t used to, like our singer lives in Helsinki and we live in Gothenburg and stuff like that. So like, this album is written over Zoom calls, like having a Zoom meeting now and then and just showing ideas in Zoom instead of meeting up in person because we couldn’t. So, many of these challenges got us into new methods of working and writing together, it’s not necessarily bad, but it was challenging. That was the biggest challenge.
If you could describe the album in one word, what it would be?
John: One word is hard. Maybe I could add three words. That would probably be “dance devil dance” and you can add an exclamation mark to it.
We can add three exclamation marks to it!
John: Yeah! I think the album title pretty much says what it’s about – it’s metal. Metal – new age metal – sort of forgot what metal should be about. You know, metal should be about moving and dancing and lifting heavy things, taking mirror selfies, and getting pregnant. That is the stuff you should do to metal, and much of the modern metal scene today sort of lost that perspective. It’s very perfect, it’s very lacking feelings and emotion and spirit. Yeah, exactly. So this is metal that is based around the groove and music that you want to dance or move your body to one way or another. So the “dance devil dance” would be the three words to describe it.
There is a documentary made by German Deutsche Welle about how metalheads are the happiest people. Official studies.
John: Yeah, yeah, those studies are interesting and I’m not surprised at all. Because much of metal music… maybe our metal music is not the darkest, but there’s a lot of dark metal, like metal music touches heavy subjects like violence or death. Yeah, black metal for instance, but also like doom metal or we have the violent death metal and stuff like that. I mean, every person is carrying these things inside of them. And also, I think it’s a pretty constructive way of dealing with those feelings, to go to a fucking mosh pit, rather than go out in a bar fight.
This is when you have a catharsis. You feel a lot easier, a lot happier. I hope there is going to be a lot of dancing tonight.
John: Let’s see how the capital people of Berlin can behave [laughs].
We spoke about music, but let’s talk about you a little, can you tell me an interesting fact about yourself?
John: An interesting fact about myself, hmm. I guess you have to ask a question, I can’t just say it right away.
Okay, what inspired you to be a drummer?
John: What inspired me to be a drummer, hmm, it was so long ago. I’ve sort of always been sure that I wanted to play drums and that I wanted to do it in a band. That was METALLICA, and it was the symphony METALLICA show because, in Sweden, we only had three TV channels when I grew up. So one or two of those were state-owned. And there was this music show every Wednesday at 10 PM or something. They showed an entire METALLICA concert once, and I recorded it on a VHS tape and then I just sat and watched it over and over again, because we didn’t have YouTube or stuff like that in the day.
Yeah, I used to do the same, I once recorded a RAMMSTEIN concert and everything I came across on TV.
John: Exactly. And so I was watching that tape over and over and watching Lars Ulrich play, that was really, like “I’m gonna be a drummer,” and I decided I’m going to be one, so that’s when I just started to work for that. I had no idea how that would work, I just made up my mind that I am going to be a drummer and I’m going to play in a band.
That is so cool when you fulfill those dreams, especially when you’re a kid. Because, when I was a teenager, I always wanted to be in a band, but the thing is, I’m not a musician, I’m talentless in that area. And that is fascinating that you’re now here and you have a new album and you perform in front of thousands of fans.
John: Obviously, this is survivor’s bias, you know, because you only hear about those who said that “I’m gonna make it” and made it. Because you never hear interviews of the people who said “I’m going to make it” and didn’t.
It depends, I had an interview recently with a band, and one member dreamed of being a drummer, but he had an accident involving a wrist trauma, so he couldn’t drum, but ended up playing the guitar instead. So it can go in a different direction.
John: When life gives you lemons, make a lemonade, yeah, exactly. It seems he did a pretty good job at it.
Would you like to share with our readers and fans some last thoughts or shoutouts?
John: If you haven’t listened to AVATAR, go and listen to AVATAR [laughs]. We need more Germans fans. I don’t have any additional thoughts. Buy all our merch and make us rich [laughs].
That was a very good shoutout! Thank you!
Interview by Alexandra Aim