Interview Violent Silence (Johan Hedman):
"I doubt that Violent Silence music will fit in anywhere, it's simply too unique"
(February 2021, text Henri Strik, edited by Peter Willemsen)
Swedish act Violent Silence was formed back in 1999 in Uppsala. In a way you could say that the band is the creative vehicle of composer, multi-instrumentalist and producer Johan Hedman. They have made four albums to date, the eponymous debut album from 2003, Kinetic (2005), A Broken Truce (2013, see review), and last but not least Twilight Furies (2020, see review). Of course, Background Magazine wanted to know why it took seven years to release a new album and what happened during the time between their debut and their latest release. Therefore, it was obvious to let Johan Hedman give all the answers to our questions.
First, let's go back in time. I still remember I discovered your debut album back in 2003. An independent release as far as I can remember. The way you touched the black and white keys was very different compared to most progressive rock acts. You played the keyboards as if they were percussion instruments. The sound of
The rhythmic aspect from the sound of Violent Silence is actually derived from the fact that both me and Hannes Ljunghall, who was a crucial band member in the beginning, gradually started to write music on keyboards. But back then neither of us had keyboards as our main instrument then - my main instrument was drums; his was guitar - and both of us were self-taught. So, the techniques that both of us used were considered to be a bit unorthodox by skilled keyboardists. Hannes deserves to be singled out on the debut album, being the main keyboardist in the beginning, while I occasionally contributed with riffs and melodies on the keyboards. I contributed quite a lot more in other areas instead. My style of drumming has a lot to do with it as well. We tried to find keyboard sounds, of which many are delicate in nature, that fitted in with my busy and loud playing style. That, and the fact that I've always been very interested in extreme metal and other musical styles with a strong sense of rhythm. We both played thrash metal before Violent Silence came into being, and I was adamant that we kept something of that aggressive, rhythmic element in the sound when we started to use less and less of the guitar. That was an organic process, by the way. Both of us continued writing guitar riffs though, but they were made to be played on the bass instead. Something that also added to the atmosphere with that thick, massive bass sound. It slowly became that heavy percussive swing-thing that you can hear on Squeal Point for example, that opens our debut album. There are of course other reasons, such as direct musical influences and such, but those are probably the main ones. The first album was actually released by Record Heaven, now Transubstans Records.”
On your debut you only played the drums and strangely enough no keyboards. What was the reason?
”There are many reasons for that as well. The main reason was that I wasn't good enough when it came to playing in the studio. I wrote music on both keyboards, bass, guitar and drums, but it's an entirely different thing to lay down tracks in a studio. And besides: back then I wasn't the band's keyboardist! That was Hannes' position, and he was much more accomplished than me when it came to just playing. When we'll start playing live again I will probably just concentrate on the drums. There's where I'm in my full element, but we'll see.”
How did you come up with the contradiction in the band name?
“The name Violent Silence was taught of ages ago when I was still at school, during an Easter break, if I remember correctly. I searched for something with duality, as my vision for this band has always been duality and diversity.”
After your eponymous debut you were discovered by the late Hansi Cross and you released Kinetic in 2005 on Progress Records. How did this happen?
”If I remember correctly we sent Kinetic to Progress Records on a whim and Hansi loved it and offered us a deal on the spot.”
Why did it take until 2013 to release A Broken Truce again on Progress Records?
”Again, there were many reasons. Since the line-up after the first two albums slowly dissolved in 2008, I had to do it entirely on my own. The way the others left wasn't very pleasant, although everything is okay now, but I wasn't certain that I even could do it all on my own. After a time of self-searching, practicing and contemplation, I decided that I couldn't waste the music we had co-written. Therefore, the music was too good. However, it was a difficult learning curve since I had to fix everything myself now. Not only the musical aspects, but also the practical. All of this and at the same time keeping up a regular job and all other aspects of life as well. My self-esteem was quite low for a while, which didn't help things either. It was a weird time, but as a result I've really grown as a musician and person out of sheer necessity! I really needed to step up, and the two albums that I've done like - A Broken Truce and Twilight Furies - are an extreme source of pride for me although I'm equally proud of the first two albums but for other reasons. Anyway, another problem was that the music I had co-written with Hannes was unfinished. I just had parts of songs, although the total amount of music was quite big. So, I needed to piece everything together, discard some stuff, re-write a lot of it, give it a clear direction and add a lot of brand-new music as well. But thankfully, everything started to pour out of me like water after a very gruelling and intimidating start. In the end, I'm kind of thankful that it went the way it did. Although I wouldn't have said it at the time, that's for certain.”
On A Broken Truce you can be heard as the drummer but you also played the keyboards for the very first time. What was the reason?
”Ha, ha! Well, like I said it took more than a little bit of practicing to get to that point, and to get into the right mindset. At this time, I was the only keyboardist available, besides Hannes' pre-recorded contribution on parts of some of the tracks, and some other brief guest slots by the great Andreas Hellkvist for instance. And besides, I was a lot more involved with the production and other things this time. I basically mixed the whole album myself first, although for the final mix I got help from the record company.”
Fast forward to 2020 with the release of Twilight Furies on Open Mind Records. Again, it took a long time to come up with a new album. Was the sudden death of Hansi the reason to find a new record label?
”Most of the tracks were actually written at the time of A Broken Truce, but a series of unfortunate events led to its delay. Again, in many ways it wasn't an easy time for Violent Silence. This time I also produced and mixed the whole thing myself, with some invaluable help from my cousin Erik Rothman. That took a lot of work. But there's actually even more Violent Silence music in the can that is already partially recorded. It will see the light of day pretty soon if everything goes according to plan.”
Did you contact other record companies to release the album?
”Yes, I did. But the bigger companies are not particularly fond of artists who are musically regarded to be swimming against the current. I doubt that Violent Silence music will ever comfortably fit in anywhere, it's simply too unique. But one can always hope.”
After listening to Twilight Furies, it's easy to say that Violent Silence has become a one- man project of Johan Hedman since you can be heard on keyboards, percussion, backing vocals and some bass guitar. Moreover, you composed the music and the lyrics, and you did the production and mixing. Only singer Erik Forsberg, bassist Simon M. Svensson and former member and keyboardist Hannes Ljunghall helped you out to record the album. Am I right?
”Yes, although it's not really by design. It's hard to find people who want to play this kind of intricate music and give it the time it demands from a performer's standpoint. I'm certainly not swimming in the money because of this, so I do it basically for the love of the music, although it's not easy to perform. On the contrary. I'm always looking for good musicians who want to be part of this though, and the goal is to play live in the future.”
How come that only Hannes Ljunghall is from the original line-up and how did you find the above-mentioned musicians to complete the new line up?
”Hannes' parts were recorded ages ago, even before these tracks were fleshed out into the pieces you hear on the album. So, although he has made significant contributions to this album, he'll only be familiar with parts of the tracks he contributes to and not with all the other pieces. Simon and Erik I found through different channels. Simon may actually be contributing to the next album as well, although he now resides in Norway.”
”Like I mentioned earlier, many of the newly released tracks were already present before the release of A Broken Truce.”
You maintained to keep the original percussive keyboard sound alive on this new release. It sometimes seems time didn't have any effect on the band sound. It's like listening to your debut back in 2003. Do you agree and can you explain this?
”Well, I partly disagree with you actually. I do agree with the fact that the core sound is still intact- and that will remain so - but all the individual albums show a different aspect of that sound. Violent Silence is more to the point and firmer than the rest. Most of the tracks, except for Grey Fluid Earth, are quite short but still contain quite a lot of crazy rhythms and weird chord progressions. Kinetic is more atmospheric and diverse, and broadens the keyboard palette. It also hints at the more epic side of things that was to come into full bloom on the following albums. A Broken Truce is the most melodic album and it really shows the more epic side of Violent Silence. The latest album Twilight Furies is the most aggressive, complex and detailed album. It probably takes a few more listens than usual to grasp it fully. I could have put some stuff that is easier to grasp on there, but I wanted to do the album this way this time. The next album will show some real surprises. Especially regarding the vocals. I have an incredible amount of new, unreleased music to choose from, so it will be interesting to see where it ends up! I'm actually toying with the idea to make an extended album next time, the Violent Silence version of The White Album for instance, or The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, ...And Justice For All or Out Of The Blue. But we'll see.”
What does the album title mean and is it a kind of concept album or are the songs not connected with each other?
”I'm glad you asked. Lyrically the tracks are concerned with conflict, meaningless destruction and loss this time. Those are the overarching themes. It's a pretty dark album, especially compared to A Broken Truce. So, yes you might call it a loosely-based concept album. Although it's more Dark Side Of The Moon than Operation: Mindcrime. There isn't a particular story to follow.”
Would you please tell our readers globally about the individual songs both lyrically and musically?
”Well, Fair Warning is just a short intro I played around with, I wanted something inhuman, strange and unsettling to set the tone for the album. It was written in about the same amount of time it took to record.
Tectonic Plates is the craziest and most intense piece of music on a Violent Silence album ever, and if I have to pick my top five of favourite tracks this would be one of them. I love the flow of it, and the twists and turns. It came out great I think. It's a complete nightmare to play on all fronts, though. A real marathon, especially for the drums. On some of the earlier records I actually tried to shy away from the really technical, showy stuff, but here it serves the song so I really let loose quite a bit which was fun. There's a logic to the
For Scorched Earth Pass I wanted the music to be a little less schizoid than on Tectonic Plates. It's still an epic but more hypnotic in nature. The chorus is almost pop-like, which adds a cool twist to a sweeping song arrangement like this. When writing this I used Pigs (Three Different Ones) by Pink Floyd as a point of reference. I wanted the same mesmerizing, introspective feel to it, but with a really catchy chorus. The lyrics are about longing and potential loss, but also shows a glimpse of hope in the end and in the redemptive chorus. The Chinese poem recital in the middle by Tina Yuan over the heavy and pulsating percussive section is one of my favourite moments on the album.
Dance Of The Shuriken was written both to calm down a bit after two really heavy epics, but also to provide a little intro to Lunar Sunrise. The rippling, wordless chorus is designed in order to relax and sooth. The main piano riff already exists for a long time, but it hasn't found a place in the music, until now.
Lunar Sunrise is possibly the strangest song arrangement I've ever constructed. I love how it turned out, although it took ages to put it together. Apart from the three warm, melodic choruses that connect everything and make the whole thing somewhat coherent, the music is in constant motion with hardly any repeats. I have always referred to this as the album's soft 'ballad', but those that expect something along the lines of Ripples by Genesis or Lavender by Marillion are in for a surprise! There are a lot of different moods in there, and it probably needs a few spins to sink in. The lyrics are concerned with death and loss with a lot of space imagery, which fits the desolate, alien atmosphere that is prevalent especially in the beginning of the song.”
Beyond The Pass was the last piece to be written for the album. It's an a capella reprise of the chorus of Scorched Earth Pass with some additional marimba meanderings thrown in. I'm very happy with this brief excursion because it adds something to the conceptual atmosphere of the album and it also provides a lyrical answer to Lunar Sunrise which deepens the lyrical content.
The title track Twilight Furies was initially called The Perfect Virus. I was never happy with the title, but it's still in the song just right after my keyboard solo. Once again this is a real scorcher, and one of the heavier moments on the album. Erik Forsberg's contribution wins my personal achievement award on this one. I love his presence and feeling here. The lyrics once again concern conflict and loss of trust. The keyboard solo is my second ever on a Violent Silence record after the first one on The Kingdom Below from A Broken Truce. It was quite a lot of hard work this one! Although it came out well, I think. A really fun song to play on the drums as well.
Perilous Borders is actually made from reversing a keyboard part from Dance Of The Shuriken, mixed with me drumming on a table drowned in effects and some Mellotron chords! I wanted to end the album on a weird note. I think I accomplished that.”
It's nice to hear the fine mix between up-tempo tunes with vocal parts and the slow instrumentals. Did you do that for a special reason?
”All the Violent Silence albums were conceived as a whole; a complete statement. We thought a lot about every single aspect of the music, including the sequence of the tracks and the individual feel of the different compositions on the albums: what goes well together and what doesn't to my ears. I'm just trying to write albums that I want to listen to myself, and that also applies for my former writing partners, I think.”
Are you satisfied with the final result of the album or did you think afterwards that some things could have done better?
All our albums contain stuff that I'm very happy with and extremely proud of. I love all the albums for different reasons, but of course some things worked out better than others when I look back on it afterwards. Subtle things
Who made the fantastic cover of the album and what does the image mean?
”The artwork is made by Heval Bozarslan from a picture taken by Jessica Carlberg. Both are immensely talented individuals I've known for ages. The picture wasn't taken with the intention of having it as a cover on a rock album, but it really conveyed the eruptions and agitation in the music. It almost conjures a Lovecraftian element which I really liked. I suggested to Heval that I wanted something surreal and in no time he came back with that cover with the faces in the middle.”
Do you have any plans to take the band on the road again when the whole Covid-19 pandemic is over?
”I would love to, yes, and hopefully I can find a complete set of musicians who want to play this music in a live setting.”
My final question. As far as I know you never used any electric guitars on any of the albums released by Violent Silence. Why not?
”Well, actually there were some guitars included in the arrangements on a handful of the tracks on the first two albums, but we decided to not use them any longer. Mainly because they didn't add anything to the sound of the tracks, and the guitar didn't fit in the overall sound. It's perhaps a bit strange since I love guitar-based music, and I play guitar myself.”
Johan, thanks for allowing me this interview!
”You're more than welcome, Henri. Many thanks for listening and for the exposure on your website!”
review album 'Twilight Furies' (2020)
review album 'A Broken Truce' (2013)
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