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Clawfinger – more power to Rob Halford & honesty to the music business

Zak Tell, singer and mastermind of Clawfinger was going trough a real interview marathon since a couple of weeks, which he obviously really enjoys after being kind of forgotten trough the years under his old label. A lot has happened since they had their breakthrough and the five albums since their debut are the evidence of it. Three were out without too many words about it and somehow there was the impression that they faced their best times already, but with a line up change, a new label, recharged batteries and a new album, they are back!

I have to admit, that he forgot the first interview, so the start of our interview had to explain that a little bit.

Good, that we catched each other this time.
Iīm very sorry for last week. It was Tuesday right?

I guess so, yes.
Well, the day before was our release party and the party was very very late and I was very slow in my brain.

Seems like the party was a success then.
Yes. Itīs always a little bit strange. We played the whole new album and itīs a pretty tough audience, because it is a mixture of very close friends, family and a few sorts of business related people and a few journalists. There is a lot to think about and a lot of reasons to be stressed. But it was quite good. We were all happy about it, especially because we put the party together by ourselves with the help of our crew. It was in our hometown in a big party hall, which we managed to borough for free thank to some contacts. It was really good fun. I mean just that you have release parties is awesome in these days. Itīs become a luxury thing that not so many bands do anymore like they did in the early 90s anyway. Back when we started everyone always had release parties for their new albums and these days itīs much less. Of course the major bands are doing it, because the record company is paying for it.

How was your first release party?
It was in a basement of a very shady party place in Stockholm which was called H62, which was actually a place where they had a lot of parties for people who like this super8, super high films, alternative music and alternative films and stuff like this… so it wasnīt a real party place. It was more of an underground trendy place. I remember there were a lot of local celebrities like the Teddy bears guys back then when the Teddybears STHLM were a hardcore band. I remember Dr. Alban was there as well. Of course my parents were there and ah… the whole Stockholm hardcore party scene with all their local party rock celebrities and stuff. We had great fun and of course it was our first album and this was a special feeling. It was a bunch of different feelings. The strongest feeling was being proud of ourselves. I mean you released an album with music you and your friends have made just for the hell of it. Just for fun, for making music. Of course itīs overwhelming. It was a very special feeling to be on our first release party. Compared to the one some days ago, I have to say that we have more routine now, which I guess makes it easier in some ways to handle the situation, although Iīm lying at the same time, because I never get used to getting so much attention from people. Iīm so bad with going on stage and all sorts of stuff. I mean I enjoy it when I get up there, but I still have these dreadful thoughts about not being good enough and wondering what the fuck it is Iīm doing for living and stuff. It has all to do with the nature of my brain and my heart… that is the way I work. This last party is the one which felt most like the first one. I mean, for another reason it feels like a new start or a new fate for us. Itīs really hard to find words or explanations for the fact that it feels like this for us. For some reason we feel enthusiastic, we feel spontaneous and childish again in a more natural way. We always been fairly free with what we do and we always been in charge. This time it feels like we let go of a lot of the prestige and a lot of the expectations from the outside world and we sort of said “Fuck it all! Letīs just do what we wanna do”. And of course there are a number of different reasons for that. Of course it had to do with our old guitarist finally quitting the band after staying on for a few years even though he wasnīt enjoying himself. That really brought down the overall atmosphere in the band. If you have one guy with you who doesnīt wanna do it anymore that destroys the fun for the others.

I heard your drummer left the band as well?
No. I mean, we have had three different drummers. The last one is with us since ī97 and as far as I know he hasnīt left the band. Where did you hear that one? Is it a recent rumour?

Yes, itīs a rumour, but there are so many…
The problem is that our bass player and our drummer have never been a part of the band 100%. They always have been hired on. Our bass player is with us since day one, but he has always been hired. These circumstances create a lot of rumours. I always get the question: “How many people are you in this fucking line up anyway?!” I mean on the press photos itīs three and on the cd itīs five. I guess we sort of make it difficult with that for ourselves.

Itīs strange if you have a musician in the band who is there from day one, but just hired…
Yes, it is strange, but typical for us. Weīre doing all things the wrong way around. I mean we rehears songs when itīs time to record them or when itīs time to go on tour. We write songs on computer and we donīt know if we are gonna be able to play them or not, until we have finished writing them. Weīre together since 12, 13, 14 years and this is the first album we ever recorded with live drums. Well, as I said, we always do things the wrong way around.
And after our guitar player quit… that re-inspired us, it made us feel like we have a new charge for our batteries. Suddenly we can charge ahead without someone trying to stop us. Also the fact that we took live drums on this album created a much more organic feel into the music and into the sound. We had some pretty shitty years with record companies dropping us; our old manager sued us…

What happened?
The label lost interest in us. I think they wanted us to sell more than we did and the manager was fired. He knew that we had money coming in, in the near future so he didnīt want to accept the fact that he was fired before that. He wanted a piece of that cake as managers always want - they are greedy by nature. In the end he took us to court. I guess this kind of business related shit, which is no fun, happens to every band that stays together longer than a lunch time, any band who believes in what they do and keep on doing it… What I want to say is, that all this stuff, in some way creates a lust for revenge. And that revenge should be proving that we wonīt let any of these fuckers put us down. We wonīt let any of these things that happened be the reason for us quitting.

How is it working with your new label, Nuclear Blast?
Iīm very satisfied. Well, after Gun / BMG the promotion couldnīt get worse. Iīve had in the last four weeks on Nuclear Blast more interviews, than on Gun in six month. If youīre not a million seller, itīs not the best thing to be on a giant like BMG. Although if we wonīt earn that much on Nuclear Blast, itīs better for us to be there, because promotion is a very important part of it.

Were you ever that far, that you were so sick of it, that you just wanted to give it up?
Oh yeah, of course we had those kind of thoughts. Of course there have been times in our career when we were really out of luck in so many different ways. Like in every other job, doesnīt matter what you do for a living, there will always be times which are shitty, which are less pleasant, experiences and situations which are frustrating and just times which are really bad. Thatīs the case also with us, but at the end of the day, we still like each other; we have a good time making music. As long as it is weighs more than the shitty times then we wanna try to keep this going. Obviously the reality is that weīre making money with it, so we can pay our bills but as soon as it goes under that level, it will be very hard to maintain the band. As long as we can manage to put some food on the table and maybe have a beer or two, then weīre fine. We donīt do cocaine, we donīt drive limos, we donīt play golf… we are not that kind of people. Weīre not doing this to be super major rock stars, although it would of course be nice to be… but itīs not the goal and the reason why we are doing this. I donīt know what keeps us going, when itīs been shitty. I guess one fact is that we know, when we sit together and brainstorm we can come up with some pretty good fucking songs that weīre pretty damn proud of. If weīre lucky it might be successful, if not, weīre not on the right wave, right trend, or whatever it is. We really canīt control those things anyhow. After the rain, there is always sunshine!

You are together since ī89, right?
We met each other in ī89 when we were working in the same hospital; it was the four of us when Alan was still in the band. Thatīs how we met each other, taking care of old people, brush their teeth, help them get out of the bed, help them eat and taking them for a walk. All rock musicians say that being in a rockīnīroll band is like a marriage and that is very true. You learn to deal with conflicts, you learn to appreciate the small things, you learn about the other persons good and bad qualities and you learn when to shout and when to keep your mouth shut.

What do you consider the worst thing about the music business?
The music business!
Of course you meet a lot of great people, but you also meet a lot of people who donīt mean a fucking word they say. In general those are the people who are in the business, who are working in the big companies, or are working in different ways in the industry. Whether itīs someone whoīs signed you or someone who wants to sign you, someone who wants to be your manager, or whatever - most of those people are using empty phrases just to benefit themselves, making their own way ahead by having for example us signed to them, or tied to them. There are always those kinds of people. To be honest, when we were really successful there was a lot of them compared to now that we have settled more down to the hardcore fans. We donīt have a hit on MTV and weīre not something like the flavour of the month at this moment. In a lot of ways itīs better to be there where we are now. Of course I would like to be much bigger; of course I would like to sell more albums. But in many ways itīs more honest at the level where we are right now. Itīs causing not so many side effects. Itīs just back to the basic, play for the hardcore motherfuckers that come to the shows and no one is there because they saw you on MTV and think itīs cool to like us. Everyone there really likes us. Itīs a weird business and there are always good and bad sides. Itīs easy to make yourself enemies, but then again, you can never make everyone happy anyway regardless the work that you do.

Would be awful to want that…
Yeah, it would be, wouldnīt it? Even when you are sort of bigger the good sides always come with the bad sides… and I wanna get back up there god damed!

The message is always a very important aspect in your lyrics. Let us talk about the lyrics on your new album. There is one song called “Right To Rape”. Is this song against the legal system in general, or is it about how the public deals with cases of raping?
Most of the laws in society, regardless if it is a law about rape, are written and made by men and are executed by men and society is run by men. For simple reasons women donīt get get fair chance in a rape case. That is the sad reality. That is one of the thing that Iīm very concerned about and thatīs one of the things Iīm trying to say. Basically Iīm just asking questions. Is a woman getting a fair chance? If a woman could be proven guilty of having raped a man, I really wonder what the outcome would be if the people were to judge that then. A woman would not come away with it. My final trigger to take this big topic was a case that happened here in Sweden a few years ago. There were these three Swedish hockey guys, who made it to the evening papers because they brought after a training match in Stockholm a girl with them to the hotel room. It was three big hockey guys and one girl. They got fired from their team and are not allowed to play in the Swedish hockey league again…

That was all?
Yes, except for sad families, they were basically freed from the charges. This case was my trigger for writing these lyrics. In cases of women getting raped there is always the big chance that the guy who raped her can go free for some stupid meaningless reason, like for example that the girl was drunk… what kind of argument is that?!

Do you believe that the message in your music can move something?
Well, I definitely believe that you can make a difference, yes. I do not have this as a goal when I do the lyrics.

Do you then also believe that idolizing violence or other negative topics can move something as well?
Honestly I do not believe that someone can blame a song or some lyrics for what he may do.
What I believe is that if some of those people who have less self-confidence, low self- esteem for several reasons and had a shitty life obviously often listen to Norwegian Black Metal, then it helps them to let go of all their fears and twisted versions of reality…the music is gonna help all these feelings surface. I definitely donīt think it could be the reason for someone to burn down a church or kill someone or whatever, but it can be the trigger for it. Just as all music that contains a message can trigger people to reconsider and think things over. But I donīt think you can ever blame the artist for it. Well, what I tried to say before you made the question even harder is that I loved to listen to stuff like Dead Kennedys, early Public Enemy and even Sex Pistols… a lot of these bands. There was this band called “Crass” an English Alkopunk band in the late 70īs early 80īs. They were very, very political and they were very idealistic. When they started the band they said that they are gonna split up a certain year and they always sold their albums for self cost prices, so they never made it to earn money, or to get money out of it. This kind of an attitude with a sort of sticking the chin out and just saying what is on your mind, thatīs always been a big inspiration for me. So that is the simple reason why my lyrics turn out that way also. I love the sort of directness, the punk political attitude, which is much easier than for example Machine Head. There is almost like a pamphlet in a sort of political party stands in the way they did things. For us itīs always been more personal and more a sort of naïve, if you want, basic naïve, a sort of spitting the thoughts out. Not trying to refine, or make yourself look more intelligent than you really are. I know there are a lot of people thinking that I am pretentious, a lot of people think I am naïve and a lot of people think that I am a mixture of both. I really have no problem with any of that, because I am a mixture of both. I do wanna try to say something at the time that I canīt back up all my arguments, because I donīt have enough facts, but I donīt care. As long as my heart is telling me that I have something I need to say.

Well in most cases where you are not personally involved, you never have enough facts.
Right, and thatīs something Iīm dealing with on our opening track. I guess I will be confronted with that for the rest of my life, but itīs okay because itīs based on the idea that judging someone based on a sexual preference is really stupid. Itīs really basic. That doesnīt mean that all homosexual people are great people, but you canīt judge somebody for who they choose to love. Thereīs definitely a need for opening the minds in the Heavy Metal world. Itīs very old fashioned. I mean after Rob Halford, to no ones big surprise… If you have a look at his career, the way he is dressed… itīs so funny how close the leather, bondage and sm-world is to the Heavy Metal World. The same kind of dress code… Well, more power to Rob Halford. I mean not even he was able to end it, not even the most mighty Metal vocal God in the world could do that.

“Hate Yourself With Style” is the name of your new album. What is the background here?
Itīs a mixture of everything. Obviously itīs a kind of a piss take, but on the same time itīs very serious as well. Hate yourself added with style to it; itīs giving a weird twist. My basic idea behind the title is that we as human beings have a tendency to live our lives up trying to reach other peoples expectations. Try to live up to what we think other people want us to be. If you try to reach the goals other people set for you and try to hide in someone elseīs expectations, you loose yourself in the end. Your self-esteem should be based on what you are. The problem is, when we do this a lot of times we never show to anyone how bad we feel, or how much weīre just hating it – we just keep this mask on and pretend that everything is fine. My definition of hating yourself with style is to pretend everything is okay while we have a really miserable time. Whatever group you belong to… Gothics, Metal Heads… there is always a code too. A dress code, a talk code and all kinds of different codes for what to say or do. A lot of times this group ,where you belong to, is supposed to free you from society and all the things you rebellion against, but in fact they are based also on rules… just different ones. I mean we were basically all into that, but the important thing is to realise at some point, that you donīt have to dress, look like or listen to a small selected kind of music, or whatever.

None of you is having a side project as far as I know. Are you planning to start one some day?
Well, basically Iīm just too lazy for stuff like that. I have had the idea through the years and experimented some. When I got my first musical equipment on my computer, I even did a few songs. It is just, when you get home from Clawfinger, from doing a tour, or being in the studio itīs just a question of time and finding the energy and focus to sit down and do it. Iīm sure Iīm gonna do it some day again and maybe then do it more seriously in the not too far future and trying to get some songs together on my own, but in the end Clawfinger is our main focus. That is our band. Weīve never tried to be something weīre not, we never tried to jump on a band wagon, we never tried to be anything else than what we were. I think we never felt so much of a need, as probably some other people would feel, to do side projects. The only reason for doing it, that I can think of, would be to take another part of me across. In the end of the day, we are a metal band and what we do is guitar based metal. Iīm sure we could fit more into a thing for the masses if we concept Clawfinger, but the thing is, do we want Clawfinger to turn into a sort of a Hip Hop – Rīn B – Mr. Bungle – band? I think itīs probably better for me, to mix those things into a side project. I love all of those things and I would love to try more of those different things but I donīt think there is room for it in Clawfinger. One of the reasons I wasnīt doing anything like this, was also for sure, that I have a family.

How much did the birth of your son change your life?
Iīm not gonna write new types of songs… to put it that way. It changed a lot of things, but as for Clawfinger… I donīt think it changed anything much in Clawfinger, except that I have to focus better and to plan things more, when we are in the studio. Itīs not like Iīm born again or became Christian. Itīs not on that level. Itīs not really related to Clawfinger, except that I have to be more focused with the Clawfinger time.

You mentioned Christianity… what does religion mean to you?
It just means that someone who blindly believes in something is refusing to realize that there could be another option. For me that is pretty fucking dangerous, whatever people choosing to believe in… if itīs a God, or a person, or a politician.

And believing in something? Do you believe that when you die some day it is final?
Oh that I donīt know about. I think you mostly live on in peopleīs memories and in having achieved something and a part of me lives on in my son and through his children. I think in that sense you do live on. And of course Clawfinger will live on in musical history, big or small, remembered or not remembered… I have no idea. In reality that is probably how we live on and how weīre remembered and how we sort of become ghosts or whatever you wanna call it. I donīt believe in spirits in the sky, I donīt believe in coming back in someone elseīs body. Well, okay who knows… but I believe that when we die, we become ash, or whatever youīll let people do with your dead body and I think to live on is just possible in peoples memories. At least that is a cool thing, even though itīs not taking the scares away from it. Iīm now 35 and think sometimes about it, but I guess everyone thinks about that from time to time and of course the older you get, the closer you come to a point where you realize that you are closer to your death than to your birth probably. At that point most people re-think their priorities… not that you have to come to this point to think about that, but that is what pretty much happens to everyone then.

Have you changed your priorities often?
Of course you make of lot of changes. Someday you realize that you are mistreating your friends, or not giving your girlfriend enough time, or whatever it is that makes you change your priorities. Usually itīs more small changes, which are surely easier than the big ones that change your whole live completely. At the same time those small changes can be very hard too, because human beings by nature are slaves of habit. When it comes to Clawfinger and also pretty much in my private life too, Iīm very stubborn. I want to make things work. I donīt believe in giving up, because youīre going through a rough period. I also donīt believe that giving something up and starting something new instead is really easier. If itīs connected to a number of other reasons, which are making this decision logical – then itīs of course one different. But if itīs just changing horses because itīs a little rough, that is for me to run away.

What is your opinion about the current music trend situation?
I might have to give it another five, or six years, because the trend seems to bring back the late 80īs early 90īs metal. Maybe give us another five years and we are big again. I really have no idea about future trends, because itīs totally speculation anyhow. Itīs so unpredictable in this business. Thatīs what is totally fascinating about it, but whatīs also totally frustrating about it. I mean, you work your ass off and think you do everything right and correct, but that doesnīt have to mean a shit. The best is to have a conviction about you and believing what you are doing is unique. I think that is what makes us different from most of the other bands which are not around anymore. When you are talking about Crazy Town or bands like this, they had one hit and they had their short time of fame and after that they just disappeared. They had it coming right from the start in a way. I mean, the image, the whole package… They werenīt in it because they believed that what they were doing was so unique or fantastic, or that they tried so hard. It was simply based on a mixture of a guy who wanted to be in a rockīnīroll band and a record company. So that was some 50/50 and then just making something out of it. Itīs the same problem with the Idol Search. Itīs based on people wanting to be stars, but they are not willing to work for it and they canīt even write their own songs. Iīm sure there are sweet people there, but it has to be more heart felt… The idol people are not looking for people with own ideas, own thoughts and character, they just want to pack a package nicely and sell it to a big market. Well even if youīre not into the idol stuff and your main goal is to have a nice package and sell as many units as possible, then you will miss the most important point, which is being in a band, with friends and making music you can be proud of. If you donīt have this basic concept as number one, then nothing else is gonna work. And even if it does work, itīs gonna break down before you got the chance to work longer than a lunch time. Okay, there are plenty of people who do it that way and succeed and are happy with that and I donīt want to take away the joy those people have with it – I just personally donīt understand it. I like the idea that music means something.

Do you have a kind of idol for yourself?
Frank Zappa is always one of my house Gods. I have his entire collection on cd. I donīt know if that makes me fanatic. I canīt say I like it all, but heīs definitely up there when it comes to being an inspiration in terms of not compromising and always doing what he believes in himself by going against a sort of conform way of doing it, if itīs going against the record company, or against standards, or whatever. Well, heīs also one of my favourites, because he is a great song writer, a great guitarist, a great composer, a great lyricist as well for that matter. He is a big inspiration lyrically as well. Although most people know him for Titties And Beer, or Bobby Brown and stuff like that, but also those lyrics are actually more critical than people realize. The Dead Kennedys, as mentioned before, were also one of my inspirations when I was 16-20. They are still one of my heroes. Well Iīm talking now about my private all times – most are not related to Clawfinger like for example Tom Waits. Iīve always liked his approach, which is always kind of on the edge and rough. Even in the 70īs when he did most of his Whiskey – Blues approach, it was still with an edge. It was sort of broken and quiet, not straight. I spend a lot of time listening to music. Buying stuff, downloading stuff… it has always been my hobby, therefore I consider myself more as a music consumer than as music maker. I wouldnīt call myself musician, which is really strange, because most people who have been in a band for more than a few years call themselves musicians. I donīt feel very traditionally musical. Iīm more the lyric writer and the educator… all the sort of the screamer, the rapper, the vocalist… Iīm more of the yes-no-sayer when it comes to music which is made in the studio. I wonīt be the one picking up the guitar, trying out some different riffs than the ones somebody is playing. Instead of this Iīm more the one who says “try to make it that way instead” or “try to make it more heavy” or “more Slayer” or “try to make this beat more like Public Enemy”. I use references more as a tool, because I donīt have this traditional musician knowledge. I guess thatīs why I would not call myself a musician.

You mentioned that you download music as well…
Just from legal sites! No, just kidding. I download from all sites. Why should I pay for it if I can get it for free?

Do you read the stuff people write about you in the internet?
Oh yes! I read everything I can get my eyes and hands on. I just pretend I donīt give a fuck. In reality Iīm very curious and very scared that people are gonna slag us off. So the answer is a very straight and honest “yes”! So far I found something like 60 or 70 links that I have copy-paisted on my desktop. The only thing which annoys me are people who are not taking their job seriously. I mean I donīt mind if I get a 1 or 5, but what I really donīt like is when people donīt put effort in it and a review is three lines long and sounds like “The new album…blablabla…canīt hear any guitar riffs that are as good as Truth or Nigger in it. Too bad.” That kind of attitude for me is really strange, because it shows that the journalist doesnīt give a shit about us and is not really interested in music. I mean since Truth and Nigger we have released five albums. That makes me mad and sad. Why do they have the jobs they have, when they are obviously not music lovers, or just not interested in their job anymore. I still think, that even if youīre gonna slag us off, or slay us, or say that you donīt like us, you still should make some explanations why. Apart from that, of course everyone is having their own opinion and that is good as it is. Some of the reviews about the new album are on sites where you can write comments of the reviews and Iīve done that a couple of times. Iīm not gonna tell you which ones it was, but if you find them, then there they are. I havenīt written anything nasty or mean, I just written what I was feeling. The fact that you always have people who donīt like your stuff is something every band has to deal with. The frustrating thing for a band is that there is one guy who maybe doesnīt like us, but he is working for a magazine which sells two million copies. Thatīs the most frustrating part of it. There are two million potential readers of that fucking magazine and then there is this one guy who doesnīt have a clue about our band and he is slugging us up. Those readers maybe believe that what he writes is true. I mean in the early 90īs I had these favourite reviewers and the albums they recommended, not automatically granted buy, but I would directly go and check them out. Well, I stopped that quite a while ago… I realized it didnīt really work. So well, I like all reviews which are based on good explanations. Then a bad review can be something really cool and I have no problem with it. You get what you get – thatīs life!

Author: Samira Alinto, Photos: hfr.
Date: 2006-01-01

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