By David E. Gehlke
There was a stretch from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s when Peter Tägtgren was ubiquitous — and it nearly killed him. The Swedish musician and producer juggled his primary band, HYPOCRISY, while running Abyss Studios, twiddling the knobs for the likes of BORKNAGAR, CHILDREN OF BODOM, DIMMU BORGIR and IMMORTAL when each was on the upswing. Tägtgren‘s production jobs brought a degree of clarity and even professionalism to European extreme metal. It made these bands palatable to larger audiences but also earned him the scorn of the metal underground. Before Tägtgren knew it, everyone wanted to come to Abyss. Wisely sensing he was burnt out, in 2002, Tägtgren started turning bands away and became increasingly selective with whom he records. Twenty years later, he currently has zero clients booked at his studio.
HYPOCRISY re-emerged last year with “Worship”, their first studio album in eight years and have since embarked on a North American headlining tour. Weeks before the trek, though, longtime drummer Horgh (real name: Reidar Horghagen) quit HYPOCRISY, prompting the band to tap THE CROWN‘s Henrik Axelsson as a live replacement. Tägtgren didn’t sound too concerned about losing Horgh when speaking to BLABBERMOUTH. Instead, Tägtgren appears to be embracing what could be one of HYPOCRISY‘s last full tours in North America while looking forward to a more relaxed schedule writing music for his industrial offshoot PAIN and working with former RAINBOW vocalist Joe Lynn Turner.
Blabbermouth: Did getting a fill-in for Horgh make you re-think the set for your North American tour?
Peter: “No, we’re not changing anything. If we bring in someone who can’t do things, we’re not in a good position. We turned everything upside down for the set. There’s nothing much left. [Laughs] We’re doing a lot of old songs that we either never played before or that we played maybe on one tour in the mid-1990s. There are a lot of changes. Of course, we have to do the ‘hits’ and things like that, no doubt about it. That’s our obligation as a band. You want to play what people want to hear. I’m not paying for a ticket to go there, so I am responsible for making people buy a ticket and be happy. Who knows how many tours we will do. I have no clue. Maybe this is the last American tour. Maybe we do one or two more. I don’t know how much there is in our system, so to speak.”
Blabbermouth: Where, then, does HYPOCRISY sit in terms of your priorities when factoring in PAIN and other projects?
Peter: “Right now, it’s a high priority. It’s been since we released the album in September when the first single came out. Before that, it was to make the album and finish it. We weren’t working 24/7 on the album; we were going a little on and off when we had the inspiration. Because if we just do it to release an album, I’m afraid it will be a shitty album because we don’t put our heart into it. Your heart always has to be in it when you do things. That’s the most important thing. Right now, PAIN is not a priority. HYPOCRISY is. That’s what we’re going to show people. While we’re waiting to go out on tour, I’ll write some PAIN songs for the next album. All the focus is on HYPOCRISY. To get all these old songs, you have to scratch your head to remember lyrics and things like that. [Laughs] Over 30 years and 12 or 13 albums — I lost count. It’s really hard to make a setlist and make everyone happy. It’s impossible. We know that we’ve been lazy for the last ten years to come up with some new stuff in the setlist. We turned everything inside out this time and updated the whole thing.”
Blabbermouth: Are you much of a guy to listen to your back catalog?
Peter: “Not really. I look back to the catalog when it’s time to write music and when doing the setlist. You want to keep your foot in the old things, especially when it comes to vocal styles. For the new album, I was listening to the old albums how I was singing — obviously not on the first two albums. I was trying not to lose it. As a fan of other bands, I get really disappointed when vocalists start changing their way of singing and start to lose their grip. I want to have one foot in the past. I worked really hard on the vocals on the new album. I wanted people to hear what I was singing. It’s hard to get anything out of your mouth when you growl, so it took me a while to figure it out. I hope I can pull it off live.”
Blabbermouth: “The Fourth Dimension” album was a big leap for HYPOCRISY. You went from a Tampa and Stockholm-inspired death metal band to incorporating atmospheric elements, which few bands were doing in 1994.
Peter: “You saw TIAMAT was changing to more Gothic. You saw a lot of bands changing at the time. For me, it was a coincidence because I found a keyboard in the studio that we borrowed. I started to play on it, which influenced me on ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘The Fourth Dimension’. I’ve always been interested in where your soul goes when you die, different dimensions and things people are talking about now, like UFOs that come and go through different dimensions. Since I started to sing, I wanted to approach it differently, the lyrics. It became what I was always interested in during the ’70s, like UFOs and weird stuff. I started to put those things in. I’m not the first. MEGADETH did it on ‘Hangar 18’. A lot of bands also did it that didn’t get famous, but I stuck to my theme. I felt honest to sing about it.”
Blabbermouth: Do you think that lyrical approach helped HYPOCRISY throughout the ’90s? A lot of death metal bands were still hung up on gore and horror topics.
Peter: “In those days, people maybe thought we were silly. [Laughs] Not everybody agreed on what we were singing. I didn’t think or care about that. I was just doing my thing. My vocals were more like an instrument. I didn’t want to push lyrics and things like that. I just saw it as a guitar melody that was going in there. It wasn’t important for people to understand it or get into it that much. It was mainly, ‘Okay, I have to sing now. Fuck it. I’ll give it a shot.’ [Laughs] I was never proud of my vocals. I don’t count myself as a singer, but it’s something I have to deal with.”
Blabbermouth: But a song like “Roswell 47” has good lyrics and a chorus people can remember. That was a step in the right direction in 1996.
Peter: “Yeah, well, maybe. At the time, I was always trading VHS tapes with people from America and everywhere to get [information about UFOs]. In Sweden, we didn’t have documentaries about UFOs. I started to trade these tapes and Roswell was always in there. It was such an important thing. It influenced me to write about it.”
Blabbermouth: I’m surprised you said that about your vocals, though. You’ve proven you can sing on a song like “Until The End”.
Peter: “It’s hard. I didn’t want to go all the way, like pulling my pants down. [Laughs] I tried to scream and growl in tune. It was tricky back then. You didn’t have computers that could finesse it. You had to go on the fly. It took me a few takes. Not a few, but many takes until I felt comfortable listening to myself and dared to let other people listen to it.”
Blabbermouth: You were one of the first to make extreme metal sound professional and clear. What do you make of today’s production jobs?
Peter: “It’s a matter of taste. You hear something that really blows your mind once in a while, like, ‘Wow, this is really good!’ Sometimes you hear, ‘That snare. Oh, I have that snare kick as well. That kick? I have it too.’ It’s a little bit, I’m not saying everything because that’s totally wrong, but you hear some things that are like a fast-food drive-thru, laptop productions. It’s also about budgets for bands when they get signed or if they do it themselves. It’s not cheap to go into a big studio, although a lot of bands are doing their guitars, vocals and bass at home, which I think is really good. Then you can come to the studio and re-amp and rent the studio for a week to record the drums, get them properly and program them. It’s all up to your own budget or what you feel most comfortable with. When it comes to mixing, yeah, it all depends on how talented you are with the tools you have or if you leave it to someone else who will do it for you and cost you ten, twenty thousand dollars. It all depends. Today’s technology is really good.”
Blabbermouth: Do you recall when you realized you could get extreme metal to sound good? Was it (DIMMU BORGIR‘s) “Enthrone Darkness Triumphant” or even (HYPOCRISY‘s) “Abducted”?
Peter: “I got a lot of shit for cleaning up black metal.”
Blabbermouth: That helped, though.
Peter: “Yeah, if I didn’t do it, someone else would have done it. I’m not the only one. Like if you listen to MAYHEM‘s ‘De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas’, that is the ultimate black metal production in my book. It’s so freaking good. It’s insane. Everything is perfect for my taste.”
Blabbermouth: But they didn’t use keyboards.
Peter: “True, but who needs keyboards when you have that? When I started this, I was always missing bass in all the death metal productions, like at the end of the ’80s. I wanted more sub in the whole production. I was trying and trying to get what I wanted. I didn’t follow any rules. You just turned the knobs. You didn’t know what you did. You had a bass or treble knob and you were twisting everything until you thought, ‘Okay, now it sounds good!'”
Blabbermouth: Did you look at what other producers like Scott Burns and Colin Richardson were doing?
Peter: “Yeah, definitely. I really loved their productions on most stuff that came out of Morrisound [Recording]. It was really good, but I missed the bottom in the bass. You could fill the gap between the kicks and the guitars, but it’s a question of tastes. Scott‘s guitar sound was amazing. It was really in your face.”
Blabbermouth: You were very vocal about getting burnt out from the studio after the 1990s. Has your perspective changed over time?
Peter: “In the beginning, in the mid-’90s, I was flattered that bands were calling and asking me if I could do some work with them. At the beginning of 2000, I really started getting burnt out. I didn’t know how to bake this bread with the same ingredients to make the bread taste different. In the end, it was like, ‘If I use this sound, I know it will work in the mix.’ I started not to experiment so much. The most shit I experienced was for HYPOCRISY and PAIN. That was my own money. That’s not the band’s future I was fucking up if I would have fucked it up. I took fewer risks on bands than I took on my own. I really didn’t want to sit there with a shitty-sounding album with a band that paid for it. I’d rather fuck it up myself, so that’s where I took all the chances.”
Blabbermouth: How selective are you for someone to record at Abyss?
Peter: “I don’t have any bands here. I’m pretty busy with my own two bands. Before I had three bands and all three were going on tour. I just wanted to get a shotgun and do a Kurt Cobain. It was way too much stuff. I’m really comfortable today having two bands, PAIN and HYPOCRISY. I take my time. I know it’s been a long time since the last PAIN came out. It was a long time before HYPOCRISY‘s new one came out. Do remember that we tour a lot more today than I ever did. That takes time. I’m getting older and less inspired. Not inspired, but I get pickier and it’s harder to write something that makes my heart tick, like, ‘Wow, this is cool! Let’s go!’ It feels like I’ve done everything and it doesn’t matter if I did or not. I’m trying to approach things in a different way. Sometimes, I’m not in the mood and like, ‘Fuck this.’ That can be a couple of months, a half a year, a year, two years. I’m not in the mood, then I come back and I’m really on fire and that’s when things work.”
Blabbermouth: Are you running out of ideas for HYPOCRISY?
Peter: “No, not really. It’s not a problem to write HYPOCRISY or PAIN songs. It’s just that I’m not a car factory that does the same shit over and over again. That’s my main concern is not to repeat myself all the time. With HYPOCRISY, of course, I need to stay with my feet from where I come from. That’s very important. On the last album, Mikael [Hedlund, bass] and Horgh contributed a couple of riffs and that really helped. I don’t want to throw out shit left and right because I have to.”
Blabbermouth: What’s the status of your project with Joe Lynn Turner?
Peter: “Last thing I heard, I think he has a contract now. I hope it will be out soon. That’s pretty much what I can say. It has really good songs. For me, it was a little bit different to write. It’s not an ’80s album and it’s not Yngwie Malmsteen or a RAINBOW [homage]. It’s modern metal and it works because Joe adapted his voice. It feels fresh. It feels cool.”