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Meshuggah's Mårten Hagström talks Brixton, pyrotechnics and cash
Rhythm guitarist Mårten Hagström is feeling good about his band Meshuggah's one-off show with Devin Townshend Project and Periphery next month at the O2 Academy in Brixton.
"I think the energy's gonna be great," he enthuses down the phone on an afternoon littered with press for the band's current tour. "We're all fired up!" As are we, so we pressed him about their live show – from rigs and cash to set-lists and personnel – only to be left pondering the mental image of some rather questionable guitars he designed with Ibanez, apparently never to see the light of day...
Who pitched the idea for this show?
"A booking agent had been talking to us about doing something different, putting on a one-off show and bringing in some bands of a great match. We were discussing it but nothing panned out, and then we heard Devin [Townsend] was looking to do something similar because he hadn't supported his latest album [Epicloud] in a bigger venue. It made sense, being friends and having played together before. It felt like it would be a cool package and when the suggestion came to add Periphery it was like, 'Now this will be special'."
Will you be performing any songs with the other bands?
"We haven't gotten that far into discussion. We [Meshuggah] are still trying to figure out what we're gonna do for a set-list. It's probably gonna be different to the one we're playing on tour. I'm thinking we'll mix it up and have fun because the production is bigger. I haven't seen the rundown of how long each band will be getting so we may have to adjust for that, but I know us and Devin are gonna play pretty much the same set length."
Is it difficult planning a show with a co-headliner?
"This is the first time we're doing it so we're kinda stretching our legs. I think each band is focused on bringing the best they can. Devin is probably coming up with some crazy-ass shit right now to make the show special and that's all good. When you have a friendly vibe going and the bands know each other... management can work their asses off but it's our say-so that matters at the end of the day and no-one's gonna spring any surprises. For us, the important thing is nailing our stuff as good as we can. The rest will roll by itself."
There's hardly any cash around these days to spend on shows. How can a band put on a memorable gig without spending a fortune on production?
"It's not easy but it comes down to personnel. We've been rigid with our ways since Day One. If anybody suggested, 'If you do it this way you'll get more money,' we've never cared for that. We've always gone our own way and had a lot of luck to be able to pull it off for this long.
Mårten does his thing (Credit: GonÁalo Delgado/Demotix/Corbis)
It took us a while but we figured out that approach [to making music] is what we needed with our live show. Our attitude was, 'We need the right sound guy and when we find him, he's ours. We need a guy who's fired up about our music – not just a guy who's good at what he does.' That goes with our lighting guy, too. He's phenomenal because he's fired up. He comes at us with ideas and some times we go to him; we fall into this creative mode.
We've never gone round as a band and said, 'Here's what we're gonna do. Fuck you, guys, you work for us.' We're family. Everybody has a say – we're a 12-person band. Everybody on the road has their expertise and there's always gonna be a difference of opinion, but you're among friends who are passionate about making the best of it.
If we ever crawl so far up our asses that people who work for us can't critique what we're doing, I don't wanna be in the band."
How meticulous are you when it comes to pulling together your live rigs?
"We pretty much try to bring what we do on the album. When we play live, everybody's got a different monitor setting so I live in my own world and so does everyone else. But with regards to the impact we're making toward the crowd? That's an ongoing discussion between us and our sound guy."
What guitars will you be using for the Brixton show?
"I'm gonna bring the [Ibanez eight string] M8M. I'll bring two for a difference in tone. For back-up I might have an Iceman model. I think Fredrick's gonna be using the M8M and his own model called the Stone Man. It's not available yet as he's still tweaking it, but the prototype is Ibanez. We're gonna run through the Axe FX again – we'll be getting the Axe FX II in a little while."
Could you be tempted into designing a guitar?
"I've actually done a couple of really weird guitars with Ibanez that I'm never gonna use live and that are never gonna see the light of day. In some cases it's because they didn't pan out the way I wanted. They did a really fucked up version of the Gibson Explorer called the Destroyer. The first one was a law suit issue – it looked exactly like the Explorer. That's what I wanted as an eight string, but for legal issues they can't do it. They have another version that's slightly altered as far as the shape goes and wanted to make me that instead. They did and it's really ugly. It's also really heavy 'cos of the shape and it's mahogany.
It's spectacular to play but it's so heavy it kills my legs just sitting with it. There's a lot of stuff that comes into play when designing a guitar. Something could feel good but not be that great live. Take the Iceman, for instance. Those guitars are tremendous. I love playing the Iceman eight string but you can't play them live much because they're so off balance they'll die. You have to hold the guitar up all the time and that doesn't work."
Going back to the show and set-lists... Is there a tried and tested way to create a well-paced one?
"Yes and no. The formula would be to create a good dynamic; to keep in mind that you may have 15 songs you think are the bomb, but that doesn't mean they make a good set. You need to work the dynamics like you would the music. That said, it comes down to what type of emotion you want.
If we play an hour at a festival we might put in a lot more of the aggressive stuff, but if we're playing an hour forty five on a headliner show with full production we'll mix it up. Because we've been around for such a long time we also need to represent the scope of our back catalogue. There is no 'one' formula other than a good dynamic. Every song needs to make sense and earn its place in the set-list."
If you had a million pounds to plan a show, what would you do?
"I would invite all of my favourite artists and then we could kick back and not play ourselves! No, there's so much you can do with and without money. When we were out with Tool we realised you can do a lot based on one good idea. Sure you can spend a million bucks on pyro, but then you gotta go all the way and be Rammstein just to make a difference because anyone can have pyro. It's more about the idea and how you utilise the tools you have."
Mårten is a dedicated 8-string player (Credit: Corbis)
Considering how bands make most of their money on tour now, have you become extra attentive when planning a show because it's potentially your biggest earner?
"From a business stand point that would be a really good way of protecting our assets, but we need to feel as though we're still interesting to ourselves and that comes from the album. It's true that people need to be good live in order to survive because that's where the money's at, but in our case it's a not a big issue. For us it's about making things better constantly."
Finally, for anyone who hasn't bought a ticket to the show yet, why should they come?
"The selling point is the sheer mix of bands. For us, there's gonna be stuff going on onstage that won't be going on the rest of the tour. That's true for Devin as well. Obviously I don't know what he has planned but I know he's not just gonna sit back, and I'm pretty sure Periphery aren't either.
This whole thing is coming from a positive light. We're not just trying to sell something, we're trying to create something cool. What I can promise you is that if people come see the show, they're definitely gonna remember it."
Meshuggah play O2 Academy Brixton with co-headliners Devin Townsend Project and support act Periphery on Fri May 3. Tickets cost £28.50 subject to booking fee and are available from Live Nation of Ticketmaster.
Meshuggah's latest album, Koloss, is out now through Nuclear Blast.