We Sell The Dead have a new album out through earMUSIC, “Black Sleep”. Last week I sat down with Niclas Engelin, guitarist and one of the founding members, to discuss the new album and talk about other projects he’s working on.
You have a new album coming out on February 21st called Black Sleep, fantastic new album. What was different with the writing process this album versus the first album?
-Thank you. Yeah, it was a little bit different. On the first album, it was more like a project because I was asked to do music score, or a movie score, for this animated movie which Dan Linde had done together with Jonas Slättung, the bass player in the band. Jonas and him did the whole script, and Dan did the whole movie.
So I kind of wrote the music to the animated movie and that means moving pictures. That was a little bit of a challenge to me, to do that because I’ve never done that before. The whole theme around the first album is like Jack The Ripper got moved into a Gothenburg scenario during the same period of time, which was really interesting to do. But it was more like a project. It wasn’t that bad at all. So it wasn’t just me, alone writing the music of this animated movie that made it a little bit more doom and gloomy, of course with the story line and all.
As soon as we released that… Apollo put some vocals on it and Gas did the drums, and we recorded at Oscar’s studio. Then we used Peter for keyboards and such. We felt that because we did some acoustic radio shows, they’ll just do it right there because both Jonas and Apollo is just a good musician. They sing this harmony so well and do acoustics really well. I’m a riff meister and a shredder, and I don’t understand playing chords or playing songs like Kiss or Beatles. I don’t do that. I do riffage… that turned into “Let’s write some more, but let’s write music as a unit.”
So I started to write music as soon as the first album was released with a mindset of, “Whoa let’s be a rock band. Let’s do some classic hard rock that we love.” Bands like Black Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow of course, and even some Tom Petty into it. A lot of stuff that we wanted to hear ourselves. We just didn’t go for it. I started to write the music as soon as the first album was released, and I wrote for four months or so. Then I went through vacation and I got back. I went like, “This is kind of lame, I want to redo it.” So I tore it apart, most of the songs.
Then I started collaborating a little bit with, Morgan Le Fay who used to play guitar with us, Swedish old ’80s band called Swedish Erotica. We wrote the song “Caravan” together, which was really inspiring. We kind of morphed from there. Jonas came up with the theme Black Sleep, which was really interesting. It all gelled together pretty easy, and I had a lot of fun doing it. So this recording has been really, really fun to do.
I love how you say that the influence of Black Sabbath and Rainbow, all of those kinds of bands because as I was listening to the album, you can clearly hear that, especially on tracks like “Carved in Stone” and “Hour of the Wolf”. You’ve got these meaty distortions that are from those old school sounds that I and a lot of people grew up with from that era. Then you get “Black Sleep” and it’s got the keyboards. It’s almost like the Hammond organ sound. It’s a throwback, but it’s got this really cool crisp new sound to it.
-Yeah. We did a little bit of a twist. I mean, I can’t play like the gods, like Richard Blackmore, but I do it in my own type of Niclas way. But I think the whole recording, everyone… The cool thing with We Sell The Dead is, we work as a unit. I bring some skeletons of songs, and then we have a conversation where a lot of laughs and of course guitars and then we’ll talk about the topic. Then Jonas adds the lyrics and what he thinks we feel and we either say yes or no to that. Then Jonas sends all the lyrics down to Apollo. Apollo adds his magic vocals on top of this and then we’ll just go for it. Nothing is very easy. We try everything.
If we feel that we’re going to have a harmonica in this one, all right, let’s do it. Let’s try it. If it doesn’t fit, it doesn’t. I mean for some solos, I sat for one day just to get it right. Then when the others came in at night they were like, “Oh Niclas it doesn’t fit the song. It doesn’t fit the overall feeling of the album because it’s too fast. It’s too heavy metal. We’ve got to take that away.” “Hey, but I wasted eight hours on that one!” and now they’re going, “Yeah, sorry.”
The album actually does a really good job with the layout of the tracklist. It’s got this great push and pull where you get a few tracks that are really uptempo, and then you’ve got some that are a little darker and slower. In the writing process of that, did you guys really think that through or is it just kind of the emotion that you felt that was coming, that kind of changed how the feel of each song was?
-I feel that we have distribution, we talked about it. We want it to be, “Okay, this is a mix tape of all the greatest song we know from the ’70s and ‘80s” There’s songs I grew up to where they’re having an album Heaven and Hell (Mob Rules) or Rainbow Rising or Nazareth. So yeah, stuff like that. We wanted to do it on our own terms, and in our own way. This is how we do it because… It’s also a celebration to that era of music because it’s so amazing.
It’s really great to see that the influences you grew up with transcend into today’s groups of kids that have not been exposed to it. Things for me that got me into music were bands back in the late ’80s that were talking about other bands like Thin Lizzy and Rainbow, and people that I had never been exposed to. When bands today… You’ve come from In Flames and you’ve got Engel and everything else that you’ve worked with. So you get fans that are into your music and now because of what you’ve done with this, it’s going to open doors for older artists to have this new audience, but where you can kind of fill in those same spaces where you feel like you are a part of that older genre.
So as far as the band itself for this year, what do you guys got planned? Are you guys going to go out on tour? What’s 2020 look like for you?
-We will start with some shows here in Gothenburg, Stockholm, and some other cities around here in Sweden. Then we have some plans, we have some festivals appearance coming up but not being set in stone because we want to tour with We Sell The Dead. We did a show, a small tour in Germany during the Christmas holiday, which went really, really good. So we’re going to continue from there on. We have some stuff coming up, I just can’t tell you right now. Sorry.
That’s how it goes. Are you guys planning on doing any more videos for the album?
-We have done three videos as we speak. We will record videos on Sunday, acoustic set.
Outside of “We Sell The Dead”, what else do you have going on? What about Engel. Is that still a project you’re working on or is it kind of on hiatus?
-I’m working on it. We have some tricks coming up this year. We have something and also that I just can’t speak of at the moment. I have some other stuff coming up which will surprise people, I think. I mean the whole recording of this “Black Sleep” album has been new to me because this kind of music is something that I always loved, always care about, close to my heart, but I never really played it myself or recorded myself. I’ve always been full-on riffage, full-on energy all the time. Thrash metal or death metal, I love death metal.
So it was a little bit of a challenge to record this actually and come up with these kind of songs and to write these songs because, I can’t go full-on with the guitars all the time. I have to pull back because this kind of music is really up to the singer as well, and we have our amazing singer, we have Apollo Papathanasio here and we have to rely on his vocals a little bit.
He’s a great vocalist who is very versatile. It’s always great to hear such great music paired with amazing vocals. Do you feel like writing on this album, being it’s such a different style for you, made you gain different skills in you’re playing or improve you in any aspect? Or did you find that maybe there were some things that you really excelled at and other things you really had to work hard at?
-I grew a lot as a songwriter on this album and also as a guitar player because it may sound really, really easy. All you do is take the acoustic nylon string guitar and you play the intro to “Caravan”, flawless. You don’t do that. You’re going to record this acoustic little theme of two and a half minutes with just a nylon acoustic guitar. It’s impossible to get that clearance in the tone. I really had to work hard on that through the whole intro to “Caravan”. It’s a challenge to do that. It may sound really, really easy. But to get all the tones out of a nylon string guitar when it’s in a recording process, it can be awkward.
Let me ask you then, for this album, aside from the nylon strings and acoustic, what gear did you use for your guitar parts?
-Well, I did use different guitars. I did use a Fender baritone guitar for all the clinging guitar parts or the intro to the song “Carved in Stone”. That kind of stuff.
When it comes to more… this was really funny. The distorted guitar on “Across the Water” is on a Charvel guitar, with active mic. I used my Ibanez Destroyer for parts like on the “Hour of the Wolf”, it has this little bit of a death set vibe to it. So we kind of used different guitars for what the song needed. I couldn’t just go on like we do with In Flames or in Engel, here’s a guitar, just put the distortion on and just go for it. I can’t do this in We Sell The Dead because it’s so sensitive.
I’m thinking through the songs. And there were questions I had because in the opening of “Carved in Stone”, you can tell it’s something totally different that I’m not used to hearing. I was like, “What is he using for that?” because the intro is so different and then you get to “Hour of the Wolf” and again, it’s something completely different, and that’s really, really cool.
-That was a really fun part of the recording as well because finding the right guitar and the right sound for what the song needed, which was, “Maybe we should go for the Fender baritone. Wow. It’s a really huge guitar. My fingers are small. How can I…? Yeah, I reached it. All right. Let’s record.”
That’s awesome. So maybe some guitars in your collection finally got to get pulled out and really used for a while.
-Yes. Oh yes.
Is there anything that you want to let the fans know about We Sell The Dead or the new album coming up that maybe is not going to get asked to you by a lot of people, if there’s something that you’re just dying to let people know.
-We are all music lovers in the band. Most people are who play music in one way or another. I brought my portable turntable to the studio. I would play all these classic vinyls, everything from Boston, Toto, to Journey or Nazareth and stuff like that. Everyone brought some vinyls to the studio and we just played the songs and then drank some beer, and had a fun laugh. We kind of got a vibe from that just by holding an old album from let’s say Toto or Journey, you get a vibe from it. That was huge ingredients into making “Black Sleep” the album.
I know you’re a vinyl collector. What’s the most recent stuff you’ve added to your collection that’s just wowed you?
-Good question. Today I bought a new album with the Sepultura, I love Andreas Kisser and I love that band. The way he plays the guitar, he’s the Van Halen of thrash metal in my opinion. Awesome. Amazing guitar player. Bought something that I play a lot. Yes, here it is, are you ready?
-They are called Black Pumas.
Interesting. New or old band.
-It’s actually a new band. This is the first album, I think. Soul funk genre and doing it really, really good. Great vocals.
Since we touched on the topic of vinyl, you guys are releasing your album on CD digital and you’re doing an LP vinyl.
-Yes, and the vinyl turned out so good. We’re doing it in gatefold. Oh, you’re going to love this one, Diane.
Now with-it being gatefold, and you guys have 10 tracks. Are all 10 tracks making it onto the LP?
-Yes. We actually recorded 13 tracks, so we have three songs on hold.
Do you have any hidden songs on any of the releases that are coming out on the 21st?
-Nope. You get 10 songs, you get the whole “Black Sleep”. You will love the artwork. The whole package is amazing. It’s one of the best package I’ve been involved into. It’s so good. It’s so nice.
Who did your artwork?
-This is actually really fun. We used to have a photographer with us with In Flames called Vincent Laine. He was with us during our festival, since then, and some tours and I got to know him and we got to be friends, really close friends and he’s a true artist. He’s one of those photo guys who can just shoot. He shoots 10 pictures and just have it. He just has that click finger. You have other dudes who take 10,000 pictures and don’t get it right. He gets it right at once. It’s just there. “Okay guys, it’s just done and done.”
Jonas told him about the whole theme about “Black Sleep”, and how we wanted to keep it bright and keep it of course a little bit of mystic into it. So he did this writing, the whole artwork, layout, everything. So when you open up the gatefold, I can’t tell you exactly, but it’s a photograph. When I look at it right now and it feels a little bit like this is a classic photo. Can’t go wrong with this one. It’s good. It’s awesome.
One last question, who did you guys work with to record, mix and produce the album?
-We recorded the album with Oscar, our drummer, Oscar Nilsson at Crehate Studios. It’s also the headquarters for Engel. Oscar and me produced the album and it’s mixed by Oscar.
Perfect. So you guys kept it all in house.
Yes, we did.
That’s awesome. Again, thanks so much for your time, Niclas. I’m super excited for the album and I can’t wait for all the fans to get their hands on it.