Interview with The Halo Effect — “We could have started this band in ’92.”

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In November 2021, the metal world was surprised by a rumble in the Gothenburg metal scene… THE HALO EFFECT, featuring old members of the iconic melodic death metal band IN FLAMES, released their first single, “Shadowminds,” followed by the announcement of a debut album, “Days of the Lost,” out in August 2022. We had the opportunity to talk to singer Mikael Stanne about the release of the upcoming record. Watch the interview here or read the transcript below…

First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview. How are you doing and how have you been doing these crazy several years?

Good now and then and it’s been good. It’s been, of course, crazy but at the same time, very productive. Creatively has been very exciting, you know, a lot of time to do weird projects like the one we’re talking about today and things like that. So that expected, it’s been great but frustrating and weird to be home for such an extended period of time, which has been great but took some getting used to, that’s for sure.

Was creating THE HALO EFFECT a silver lining during this whole pandemic period?

It was, because, we started it or began it in late ’19. [We] started doing some demos and just had some fun because I was in writing and recording mode anyway, we were just finishing the writing for the DARK TRANQUILLITY album, and I was like, okay, well, I might as well do some demos, I’m writing anyway. And then we figured, okay, this is cool, but who knows when we’re ever going to have time. But, of course, as soon as I finished the latest DARK TRANQUILLITY album, which was in April of 2020, the pandemic was in full effect and all of a sudden, there was nothing we could do. There were no plans, there was nothing in the calendar so to speak. Then that meant we just had more time to actually do this [THE HALO EFFECT] and do this for real, and it was awesome. Just being able to take the time we needed, there were no time constraints. There were no deadlines. It was just like, hey, let’s do this for as long as it takes and that was very refreshing. I think starting out a new band like this definitely needed that time. So [it’s been] a blessing, for sure. It was such a great thing that came out of this kind of misery, overall. I was in a COVID bubble here and with my family, and then in the DARK TRANQUILLITY studio and THE HALO EFFECT studio, and then also the GRAND CADAVER studio, we did an album as well. So that’s where I spent 2 years.

Well, that’s more productive than most bands, I would say. But anyway, speaking of starting a new band, one of your bandmates said that it was fun for him to have this “first band” feeling again, where you could start something from scratch. How was that for you?

It’s the same. I started DARK TRANQUILLITY 30+ years ago. And of course, it’s great now, where you are constantly trying to evolve and you’re trying to reinvent yourself, where you try to come up with something new that is kind of based on what you did back when you started but also something that is current and different and exciting, and all that stuff. So you try so hard to make it different. I love that, I love that challenge, but here it was like we start something new, no one has any expectations, nobody knows about this. This is just us in the weirdest time period of our lives in the studio together for the first time in forever. And first and foremost, we’re just [having] fun hanging out, just being together again and just hanging out and talking. We rarely get to see each other. We all live in the city, it’s rare that we see each other even though we’ve known each other since we were teenagers. So that was one of the highlights for me just being in the studio and see Niclas and Jesper write together. It felt like – and we laughed about this – we could have started this band in ’92… [laughs] we just waited 30 years to have the experience to do it properly. But it is fun when you’re totally unconstrained. When we eventually got the deal with Nuclear Blast, they just said like, go for it. Here’s money so you can record as long as you like… go for it. We trust you. And that is something that’s amazing to have, that level of confidence and also the trust that was given to us, and then being the studio together with people I trusted and they trusted me. It was so easy, so easy, and straightforward, something that I really, really appreciated and loved.

Now, you mentioned here and in some other interviews too that it’s all about friendship. It made me wonder how important it is as a musician and a public figure to have friends who kind of went through the same process in life?

Yeah, of course, that’s how everything starts in the beginning. You know, when you start a band you started with your closest friends, whatever, you know, and when we started DARK TRANQUILLITY, we lived on the same street and we were best friends. So we always have hung out anyway, so we might as well start playing. In the late ’80s, that’s when I met Daniel, Peter, Jesper, and Niclas. Daniel was my brother’s buddy in school, but he was also kind of into metal. So that’s how we started hanging out. And Peter was my buddy Anders‘ little brother, so I always met him whenever I and Anders just hung out. Jesper, I met outside of one of the earliest metal shows I went to, when he was sitting there, like, totally geeking out and trading demos with people and that’s how we met. Niclas was in a cool thrash band that I really liked, and before we were DARK TRANQUILLITY, we opened up for SARCAZM, which was his first real band in ’90. So that’s when it all kind of began. And then, of course, they played together, but we have never really and it was millions of years since me and Jesper played together. So this was kind of like a way to do it again. But also Daniel hadn’t played drums in like 5 years when we started. And Peter hadn’t played that much either. So it was kind of, for me, a unique opportunity to just hang out but also see them play together again. I want to be in the same room with them playing music, so that was the highlight, but then yeah, just hanging out again and talking about the good old days when we started this whole thing and when we met and all the shows that we went to and the stupid stuff that we’ve been through ever since… it’s been great. So yeah, the conversations have always been very much ’90s. And then we were writing music that we felt like, oh this has to be current or modern or whatever, but it was still kind of very much rooted in the feeling and the kind of atmosphere of the metal scene here in Gothenburg in the ’90s.

That’s actually one observation I made while listening to the record. There’s no denying that there’s a strong Gothenburg death metal sound on the record, since that’s who you are. What I found interesting is that you sort of made a choice to have the production more modern and crisp, not as raw as was the custom in the ’90s?

No, of course, we talked about it briefly, should we record it in the studio where we recorded our early albums and that kind of stuff. But no, that’s not really what it should be. We’re not really a retro band in that aspect. It’s not like we trying to sound as it sounded back then, it’s more like capturing that atmosphere or trying to remember what it felt like when we started. But at the same time, making something that… I don’t know modern sounds weird, but maybe timeless, or something that feels good and sounds good, and that will sound good for a long time. I mean, the old albums never sounded that good. I mean, they sound cool, just because that was what you could do at the time. But it’s hard to listen to now you go like “ooph man.” We definitely wanted it to sound fresh and cool, and something that… the way that I want to listen to music and Jens Bogren [producer] is such a fantastic creative engineer and technician, and fucking mixing master, so we knew we were in good hands.

So you didn’t do any analog things I presume either? Things have changed quite a lot since the early days…

It is a hassle but we love that kind of stuff, but no, we didn’t have to… I think because the writing process was in the studio as well. So it was kind of this natural step where we went like okay, now we recorded all the songs demo-wise. We had everything and Oscar, who’s the producer, was with us every step of the way, he was like, “alright, but now we just do it again, but good” [laughs] and it was like, “oh, fuck, okay, let’s do that.” But since we had all the time in the world, we could do it, you know? It was just a matter of like finding that organic feel. We wanted it to sound like we were all in the same room playing together. That’s how we kind of worked on the songs a lot just to find that organic feeling of being a room playing together. Of course, they have so much experience playing together, even though it’s been years, that came back immediately. That was something that I was really looking forward to and it really came through, I think, on the album.

I noticed a lot of fans commented that there is a nostalgic quality about this record you’ve released. You already mentioned reminiscing about the past, but how nostalgic was the whole process for you?

Yeah, that’s what we do, of course. Especially me and Jesper, we haven’t seen each other that much in the last couple of years. So it was a lot of fun just to kind of reconnect and in a way, we are kind of nostalgic. We talk about what was fun and what was interesting and what was cool and challenging as we started out, and what kind of became us and what became the music we were playing and all that stuff. So some of the earliest shows that we did, so there’s definitely that vibe and I think we would like to capture that, but at the same time do something new. So, I mean, even though Niclas used some of the music that he wrote in the ’90s in here and then, of course, Jesper put his touch on it too. It sounds super fresh and cool, but that’s what we did. We tried to aim or take charge ourselves with the feeling we had in the ’90s, but also make something that is somewhat current at least… Yeah, we are nostalgic sometimes, we can’t help it.

How much of an inspiration was that for you while writing the lyrics, for instance?

It really was actually, because we’d just written like fifteen songs for the latest DARK TRANQUILLITY album, so I was kind of like, okay, that was tough. You’re trying to really dig deep and it was pretty heavy and dark. So I was like, “what should I do here?” but immediately, I thought about like, okay, how did we met meet, how come we have been friends for 35 years, what is it that drew us in and made us who we are today, and how strong that attraction of music was back in the day and where we were before. We were lost idiots in school, trying to figure out what to do and try to figure out who we wanted to be. And then extreme underground metal came along and all of a sudden, we were sucked into it, and it became the most important thing in the whole world. And everything else kind of fell by the wayside. And also what’s the essence of that? I thought that was interesting. And we talked a lot about that, and of course, like I’ve known Peter for such a long time. We always talked about how difficult it was growing up because we were always different and we went to different schools where no one was into metal, so all I wanted to do was go home from school, quit everything, and meet up with my friends so we can trade demos and cassettes, and albums. Then – of course – what has happened to us since, all of our paths have been very different, even though we are still kind of united to this kind of music form. So that has been interesting as well, trying to kind of listen to their stories, the ups and downs, and how everybody has struggled in different ways. So that was the inspiration for the lyrics, to just to kind of draw from the other guys more than from myself. And then of course, make something out of it that that is angry and frustrated enough to fit the music. So it was… I wouldn’t say easy, but it was easy to get started, to figure out what this should be, and find a tone for it, that came very naturally.

What I thought as well is that even though there are some dark themes, it doesn’t sound too dark… at times [it’s] even hopeful.

It’s definitely like [that]… we all have kind of gotten through all this stuff, through different means, but mostly it’s been through friendship, companionship, and community, and being close to each other, being understanding of each other, and being understanding, respecting each other’s boundaries throughout the years. There’s a positive vibe to it, I think. At least that’s what I felt when we did it.

Yeah, that’s how the music felt to me. Do you remember what the first song was that you wrote together or that you finished together?

Kind of yeah. Because Niclas sent me like two songs I think at first, and that was “Gateways” and “Shadowminds” or “Feel What I Believe,” I’m not sure. I was like, hey, this sounds cool, this is heavy. We had talked about maybe forming like a stoner rock band at one point or playing some doom metal. So parts of what he wrote – with that in mind – became “Gateways.” I was sitting here listening to it, I thought this is groovy, this is cool, and I just wrote some bullshit lyrics and recorded some stuff and just sent it to Niclas and he was like alright, cool, this is awesome. That’s when Peter, Daniel, and Jesper came in… because all of a sudden I get a phone call from Peter going like have you started a band with Niclas? No, I recorded vocals for one song. He said he wanted to be a part of it. Okay. And I think Daniel is in too. Alright, that is awesome. Then, okay, it’s even more interesting? And then how can we get Jesper? And then it was like okay, this is a no-brainer, I have to be a part of this, this is awesome. Then we recorded those three songs, “Shadowminds,” “Feel What I Believe,” and “Gateways” as the first demo. And, and it just felt good. Whoa, this is it sounds awesome, it feels really good, we had a blast recording it. I remember I was in Stockholm recording vocals for a video game and had a blast there. And all of a sudden, I get an email that we have the final mixes for this demo. And I was so excited and I was like, I wanted to play it to everyone, but we decided to kind of keep it on the down-low and not tell anyone about this because we didn’t know what it was yet. But I just played it to some of the guys and they were big death metal fans. And I said I’m not going to tell you what this is, just try to figure it out. And of course, immediately after one song they were like, it sounds like Jesper, it sounds like Daniel, it sounds Peter, sounds like Niclas, and it sounds like you. I was like fuck okay, this is gonna be good. That’s when we realized we were on to something and it feels fantastic. Let’s keep this going.

It’s interesting that you mentioned that you originally wanted to start a stoner rock band. I would have wanted to hear that as well.

But it was just like one of those ideas we were throwing around, yeah, that would be fun, and Niclas is always writing anyway, so he just figured that was part of it.

Well, who knows, maybe in the future!

Fuck yeah, that would be cool!

What is also interesting is that “Shadowminds” eventually became the first single. Was that a unanimous decision or did you need a lot of help with finding out which songwould represent [the album] the most?

We did call in some consultants, because we figured like, okay, what’s going to be the first thing, but also… that was way before that, what do we present to a record label? If we want to get a deal, what song or what songs should they play? So we brought in some friends who work at magazines and music geeks, basically. Then we sat them down and they listened to six songs. And eventually, they chose “Shadowminds” as this was the one that people were going to like and so we sent that to Nuclear Blast. The head of Nuclear Blast listened to it while he was on a Zoom call with our manager and after half the song he was like, “yes, yes, yes, I want this. You’re signed,” basically. That’s how that happened. Very, very cool, so easy and so simple.

That sounds like an easy deal. Was it also the first label you approached?

Yeah, it was the only one, strangely enough, but yeah, that’s what we did. We thought we’d talk to them first, just to see what it’s like because the head of Nuclear Blast is an old old friend of mine who used to work for Century Media. So I was like, “he probably will get it.” I know he’s into it and it was so very easy. And then they didn’t hear anything after that initial demo until the album was done a year or more later. That’s cool. [That’s a] level of trust that I appreciate.

Wow. Now, when I was checking online comments, fans seemed to be really excited about “In Broken Trust,” since you played a live version of it.

We played this 4-track live show on the rooftop of a building here downtown [in] the city in January and we played. That’s the only time we played it and then we played it live at Sweden Rock 2 weeks ago, but that’s it.

Sounds great! Is there anything special about that song you can tell fans?

It has this big vibe to it. There’s this big chorus, so we figured we wanted to end this short little concert that we did. We had fireworks and shit coming off of the harbor of Gothenburg. It was gorgeous. So we figured like okay, but at the end of that song, it’s going to be cool and very impactful. So we thought we were going to have that as one of the singles but then we decided not to. It’s a really cool song. I’m really happy with it and the way that it came out. It was cool to do this rooftop concert as we call it. And it’s going to be available, we just streamed it on our private page, but it’s coming out eventually somewhere.

Very cool! I guess that was also the first time you played live as a band as well as at Sweden Rock. How has it been to play live with this band?

It’s been awesome. Sweden Rock was… we were kind of nervous. I’ve been on tour with DARK TRANQUILLITY for this whole year up to that point. So I didn’t have any time to prepare and go home and rehearse and do any of that stuff. But the other guys have. So when I got home, I was like, okay, cool… okay, one more week and then we go to Sweden Rock and it’s the biggest festival here, it’s huge… and it was the mainstage and no one knew no our songs except for some singles, and that’s it. So it was very strange. We played the entire album, but everybody was there, the entire festival was there. It was gorgeous and people seem to really dig it. So it could not have been a better first show, that’s what I’m trying to say. But it was also very strange. Who does a show on the main stage of a huge festival without an album out? But that’s what we did. [laughter] So it was cool and we have some more shows this summer and then once the album is out, we start touring for real and we’re doing this tour together with AMON AMARTH and MACHINE HEAD in September-October. That’s gonna be super cool.

Now you mentioned the show was a little bit weird because of those reasons, but you’ve been playing with DARK TRANQUILLITY for so long… is it sometimes weird to check your left and right side and then see another musician?

Kind of, actually? A little bit, but it’s exciting. It’s really exciting. I started this other band, GRAND CADAVER, as well. So we’ve been doing some shows and short tours, so it’s been an incredibly busy year. I’m going to end up doing like 165 shows I think by the end of the year, so [that’s a new] record for me. But it’s good. You learn so much by playing with other musicians. I’ve definitely just been with the same old guys for forever. So doing this has taught me a lot really, [it’s] been really impactful and cool, but it is a bit weird and there’s a lot of lyrics to remember, but it’s been fine so far.

Does it inspire you to write new material for DARK TRANQUILLITY too?

Oh, yeah, for sure. Now that you have some things out of your system, then you can go back and focus on what you really should do. So yeah, we’re going to start somewhere this year to do some new stuff, and start working on the next album already, then we’re going to tour a lot and next year too, but somehow we’re going to make it work. There’s so much catching up to do now that after the pandemic, there are so many tours that got canceled and shows that got canceled, so we have to make up for the lost time.

Yeah, exactly. Now, going back to Sweden Rock. I noticed that you didn’t follow the tracklisting of the album for the show. Is there a specific reason for that?

There was… I think it was sometimes the way the guitars are tuned, so you have to kind of… and then also depending on the intros and outros that we have. It was something like that. We knew what song we wanted to open with and close with. So it was different, but it was just… because it felt good, playing them in the exact same order as the album would, maybe that’s something we can do in the future. But we just wanted to end with “Shadowminds,” because that was the first song that was released, then we changed it up after that.

Makes sense. You also mentioned the upcoming tour with AMON AMARTH and MACHINE HEAD. What can fans expect from those shows? Are you playing the whole album again?

Almost. Depending on what we have time for. But yeah, it’s going to be super cool. I mean, it’s going to be huge. It’s awesome. I’ve toured with AMON AMARTH before, a couple of years back, and it was fantastic. And I think it’s the perfect audience for this band. It’s a perfect way to kind of introduce ourselves to the cities of Europe, we’re just going to have a blast. It’s going to be so much fun. I’m really looking forward to it and like Daniel, he hasn’t toured or been on stage for 7 years. We just did this one show and he was like, “I couldn’t stop crying, tears of joy constantly,” and so touring and doing this again after… of course, they started to miss it, it’s good to kind of, “oh man, finally I can be home and take care of myself and do all that stuff.” But at the same time, there’s been like an itch in the back of their mind that goes, “it’d be nice to just do just one cool tour,” or two, or three, or whatever. So I look forward to that as well, even though I’m going to be touring all year, but for those guys it’s going to be this one and we’re going to make it count basically.

I guess that itch is kind of normal if you look at bands who have announced their farewell tour and then just never stopped, like SCORPIONS.

Yeah, I’m dying for that. It’s going to be fantastic.

A lot of these bands that are from different groups – in your case, IN FLAMES – also play covers. I’m guessing, however, that’s not part of the plan?

No, I realized that there’s an expectation for us to do that. But I don’t know… it’s not really in the plans. So we’re going to focus on the songs that we’ve written now. We already have tons more material, so you want to keep doing that. It would be weird to do covers or like old songs like that. I don’t see it. Maybe people think they want to want that but I don’t think in the end they do. [laughter] So I don’t think that’s going to happen. It would be too weird for me.

Are you looking forward to being able to share the bus with your buddies, basically?

Yeah, but that’s what we talk about as well. That’s going to be fun, even though we’ve done it before and the guys have done it, obviously, but it’s going to be a nice, cool, relaxed atmosphere and also there is no expectation other than people wanting to hear the songs. We can just really relax and just enjoy it. It’s not like we have a long back catalog or anything like that. We’re just going to go out there and enjoy it as much as possible.

I can imagine. I totally understand that! Anyway, I think that that’s it for my questions. Do you have any last thoughts you want to share about the record?

I’m just super excited. We’ve been waiting for such a long time to release this album. This promotional cycle has been long and frustrating for me, so finally it’s happening. A couple more weeks and it’s out and then we can relax and enjoy it. Hopefully, people dig it and it’s going to be a blast.

Interview by Laureline Tilkin