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This act almost managed to recieve the maximum rating in our STALKER evaluation, as I found their recent album "Solitude 24/7" extremely remarkable. Moreover, the Norwegians STIGMA do not sound like music you would expect from this corner of Scnadinavia. Band-Mastermind Stig Rune Robertson explains to us why.
Please introduce yourself & the band!
Well… We´re a Norwegian band, based in Trondheim. We play dark melodic, slightly progressive rock/metal and we have a new album out now, titled “Solitude 24/7”. This is our fifth album or so. We´ve had several lineup changes, but myself, Stig Rune Robertsen and Endre Hindhammer have always been the core of the band. We have known each other since we were kids. We spent most of our time discussing music. He was a huge Metallica-fan and I was obsessed with Ozzy Osbourne and Randy Rhoads. I still am. He briefly joined my band PARANOIA in 1995, but for some reason he quit. I think he wanted to focus on his career as an athlete! STIGMA first came together as a project in 1999. I recorded something that was meant to be a Christmas album. It even includes an embarrassing version of “Pie Jesu”. I captured the whole STIGMA sound by mistake, really. Before this album I was mainly playing progressive death metal very influenced by King Diamond and the Swedish death metal scene at the time. I wanted to reach a wider audience and make an album everybody could like. And they did, actually. The response was great and the wheels just started rolling.
The next album, “Solitude” was written and recorded in 5 months or so, as we became really hungry for more. Endre heard the first album and contacted me. Why we didn´t include a drummer as well is still a mystery, but we were comfortable being a duo, I guess. When re-located to Trondheim in 2001 we recruited an additional guitarist and a drummer. At this time we really didn´t really know where we were going musically, as I wanted to include the rest of the band in the songwriting-process. However the band split up and we didn´t reform until 2004. With the next line-up we had some musical differences, which I can totally understand. I can imagine being a drummer in this band is really boring! The drummer and guitarist later forming a punk/rock-band being proofed by that… We recorded the EP “Losses” in 2004 and we were now mainly just a metal-band. “The Failure Of Me” was written and recorded in 2005 and was kind of the return of STIGMA as a duo, although drummer Marius Skaugen played on the album. We´ve always produced our own albums and this album really suffers from it. There are however a lot of great songs on the album. For our new album, “Solitude 24/7” I have invested a lot of money in equipment to improve our sound and it has been a long, but learning full process.
If you were an animal, what would it be and why?
I would be a cat. They are so graceful and proud animals. I have two cats myself and they are a bit spoiled, I´m afraid. I grew up on a farm, so naturally I love animals.
Is Stigma a "real" band or "just" a project?
Well… STIGMA has always been about me, really. I write and arrange every tune we play and although it doesn´t make me Jon Schaffer or Yngwie Malmsteen I naturally become the leader of the band. You can also say that we´re a band that never rehearses! Our last rehearsal was back in 2005, I believe, so it will be interesting to see us perform live in the future…
You mentioned that this solitude CD took a while to be realized - why, what happened?
Well, as mentioned earlier I spent a lot of time learning new equipment and programs. Before this I´ve only worked with an old version of Cubase Vst. Cubase SX is a bit different and I´ve also learned to use a lot of plug-in instruments. Keys and orchestral arrangements has become an important part of the album. The first demo of the album was actually made in late 2006. When you listen to the demo and the album you will hear a huge difference. The album developed constantly during the process and additional songs was also included. I also produced an album with Norwegian death metal band Blind Tharm, being a difficult and challenging job as well.
How were the reactions to this album so far?
A lot better than we´re used to! I feel both media and the listeners take us a bit more serious now than before. We have always been a bit too much a local band. We are privileged to have loyal fans, but I feel we reach out to a wider audience now. Reviewers also seem to like the album. The only criticism we´ve got so far is that we might be repeating ourselves with releasing three albums titled “Solitude”! That´s just an unfortunate coincident, as we didn´t know we were going to write a follow up to the first album when we released “Live In Solitude” in 2005. It´s like when Queensrÿche released the first “Operation Livecrime”-dvd. If we knew that back then we would of course have chosen a different title for our live-album.
Please explain the concept behind the CD a bit.
The concept is really simple. It deals with everyday emotions, moods etc and takes us through a week in the life of an average lower working class hero. Each day contains of two tracks, the first titled the weekday. The album opens with the line “Forgive, forget. Relive, regret”. This is from a song titled “Perfect Dreams”, naturally symbolizing that your dreaming. Off goes the alarm clock and it´s Monday. I also believe the second song; “Live As I Die” really describes a Monday for many people after a rough weekend. You´re alive and that´s it!
Tuesday starts with a rather difficult guitar piece I wrote many years ago. It was supposed to describe Tuesday as rehearsal day, but it´s a bit vague. “Upper Class” is about people who live and breath for their job and will do anything to get to the top. As a line says: “As you reach the upper class you get results from wiping ass”… “Inside Of Me” is about having low self esteem, but don´t really know why you have it. It´s also about not fitting in. “The End (Of The Road)” is about growing older and finding it hard to make changes in your life. The outro, “Friday” is actually based on the song “The End”, from “Solitude”. Saying that I´m not afraid of making changes after all – if I have to… Then it´s time for Friday night and “Remember” is all about getting drunk and wasted, really… We had to re-record the song actually. The song was also included on our “Losses” EP. We wanted to keep the original drum track, but after editing and mixing it was just to different from the rest of the album. The drumming wasn´t that good either. However we managed to keep the original guitar solo, played by former member Erling Solbu.
“Saturday” is based on the bassline from the original “Look Through My Eyes” song from 2000. A natural intro for part two of the song. There are no musical relations to part one, but most of the original lyrics are used. It´s over eight minutes long and is the most complete piece of music we have ever recorded. It includes all former members and a lot of musical relations to our past. The whole idea is that when you get together with friends you often end up talking about the past, what you could have done different and so on. It was really fun working with former members and pretending to be Arjen Lucassen for a day! “Sunday” is the horrible day after. Waking up and wondering what the hell you did last night. We´ve all been there? “Epilog” is the perfect ending of an average week. “Just ignore the state I´m in, I´ve had my share of suffering. I see no darkness I am living again”… The album fades out to the tunes of Mondays perfect dream, ending with me smashing the alarm-clock.
Is this "working class hero" idea based on personal experience? How much is "personal history" involved in this whole concept?
It goes without saying that this story is based on my own life, but I also believe a lot of people can relate to it.
What are your major musical influences?
I grew up listening to bands like Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Judas Priest, Metallica and all of those classic bands. As a guitarist I would say Randy Rhoads is responsible for most of technical skills. I´ve spent years studying his technique. My melodic riffs can be related to King Diamond in the late eighties. I love harmonies with guitars and vocals. I also like the melancholic moods Blackie Lawless created in the nineties. “Crimson Idol” meant a lot to me. I´ve also studied classical guitar and that is also important in my music.
How do you write songs - who is involved and how?
I always have a guitar by my side. I just play and ideas just come automatically. I never know where or when. This is my strength and weakness, I suppose. I can´t compose on command.
How did you find all those guest musicians?
They are former members of the band. It was a big challenge to arrange the damn thing. You could believe musicians would want to play on the album. It was however hard to get them to play. One thing is to say that you´re going to do it, but that´s hard when you never show up. No offense, guys! But it was worth the wait.
Norway is rather well known for Black Metal, or gay drunk party R´n´R, to the "outside world", so how do you perceive the Norwegian scene?
Gay drunk party R´n´R?! I don´t suppose your thinking of Turbonegro? I´m not too fond of the Norwegian punk/rock-scene. The bands are ok, but they write crappy songs. I think they are mainly live-bands and focus a bit too much on the energy in their performance, rather than the music. I also have problems with the black metal-scene back in the nineties. The whole Satan worshipping thing was ridiculous. I am not religious and can´t see why they are that obsessed with this nonsense. I seriously doubt most of them have even read the bible. When the churches were all burned down and they started making music it got better. Dimmu Borgir opened a lot of doors. There are great bands in other genres as well. I think Audrey Horne, Madder Mortem, TNT, Animal Alpha and Pagans Mind among others are great bands.
What is the most absurd / annoying cliché you encountered about Norway?
Burning down churches?
What would you change in Norway, if you had the power to do so?
The same thing I would do everywhere; getting rid of all religions. Believe in yourselves and not in old fairytales.
"Stigma" used to be - and still is - a popular band name, googling a bit I discovered at least two other bands with the same name - aren´t you worried about that? Did that cause problems already?
We are very much aware of that. We´ve used the name since 1999 and as far as I know there wasn´t any band of importance using the name back then. We considered changing our name when we relocated to Trondheim in 2001. We wanted to start from scratch, but it was hard to ignore the fact that we had two albums worth of song material under the name. The songwriting process went kinda slow as well, so we kept the name and the songs.
What was the most difficult problem you encountered with Stigma?
The band broke up in 2001 with the new line-up. Mainly because I was in a relationship with a girl who didn´t care much for my music. I asked her if she wanted me to quit the band. She said yes and I was stupid enough to do so. It goes without saying that´s something I regret… When we reformed in 2004 we had a hard time finding back to where we wanted to be.
Which song are you most proud of, and why?
Right now I would have to say “Look Through My Eyes Part 2”, as I have never put that much time and effort into writing and recording a song before. I love the result as well. I also have to mention part one with the same title. That is for me the perfect STIGMA-track and started it all back in 1999. It includes a great bass line, great refrain, two great solos, strong vocal lines, and it was the first song we used a choir, which has become our trademark along with the church organ…
How do you define "rockstar lifestyle", and how much is this realized in your personal life?
Being a writer for Norway Rock Magazine I have met and spoken to a lot of rockstars. I don´t think they have the same wild lifestyle that we know from the eighties. Rockstars are almost too normal. That´s why it´s not always a good thing to meet your heroes. Then again you have the arrogant old rockstars. W.A.S.P. played in our town last year and seeing Blackie Lawless walking off stage because someone had a camera was just pathetic. Especially when he is playing in front of like 200 people or so. My own life is pretty much all about music. I don´t do drugs, but I drink a bit too much. That´s the closest thing you get to a rockstar lifestyle… Sorry!
What is your future plans (gigs, tour, festivals)?
We´re still promoting our album. Feel free to buy it! We are obligated to do a show in November, but have no further plans. We have to hire a session drummer. If that works out we will play a couple of shows sometime early next year. We´ll just have to wait and see.