Avatar’s Johannes Eckerström: Politics Interfering With Optimal Pandemic Response
Avatar's Johannes Eckerström was the latest guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program. The singer discussed the band's new album, Hunter Gatherer (out Aug. 7 on eOne), and the reasons behind the group's departure from conceptual albums.
The singer spoke about the connection back to humanity's more primitive days and how, while the record does not embrace a unified concept, there are many related themes running throughout the 10 tracks. There's also a brand new look that comes with the album as the Swedes swap regal attire from the last album cycle for fetishist farmers.
Also, as the coronavirus pandemic grips the world, Eckerström stressed that this has happened before in human history and that we are now better equipped than ever to deal with a pandemic, although political issues are interfering with an optimized response to combat the virus.
Hunter Gatherer addresses humanity hurtling toward an unknown future. How does the album now have greater meaning in a coronavirus world?
I wonder if it does. The hopes and aspirations are one big idea that I am presenting. There is some stuff I read while we were working on this album — the idea that things in the world are turning bad right now environmentally — there's a big chunk of people who seemed to hope for or want us to go back to something the way it was before — preindustrial and to have us scaled back. Sadly, I don't believe in the solution being there. I don't believe we can ever, ever go back to a better way than what lies ahead of us, if that makes sense.
I'm all for some kind of Star Trek acceleration into the future and finding our saving grace beyond that horizon somewhere. The problem is acceleration, whether good or bad, it's just going faster and faster.
Viruses come and go and pandemics come and go in humanity's history. In a way, we're probably better suited than ever to tackle it in terms of what scientific backbone this is all resting on and communication-wise and resource-wise. It's good. It's not medieval times, but I don't know, there seems to be a lot of politics getting in the way for us to really deal with this in an optimized manner, and so maybe it reflects that.
I find us in this very intense crossroads, the fork in the road right now, if you will, and the pandemic and the handling of the pandemic more specifically seems to be just another example of that.
Avatar, Hunter Gatherer Album Cover
Presentation is integral to Avatar. What does the new stage attire convey about the statement you're making with Hunter Gatherer?
To answer that, I have to start talking about the music because whatever we do visually, whatever we end up doing in any form a medium or form of expression, at the end of the day and the beginning of the day as well, it's always about the music.
We went really off on the deep end — very much on purpose with the humor and the championing and just fully embraced this strange, comedic love letter to heavy metal where we were messing around in la-la land for a prolonged time.
That meant that we had to bottle some very dark, complicated emotions and thoughts and just keep whatever state of mind we were going through. In our artistic endeavors, we had to kind of push them to the side for the time being and all that bottled up rage and need to do something more bare bones — aggressive and deal with the darkness — all of that came out now with Hunter Gatherer. Since that is happening, everything visual, from videos to outfits, are meant to reflect that.
It's a darker outfit and it's something work clothing has inspired heavily. We take a step away from the uniform to organize to something more from a grassroots level that is brought into this dark, heavy metal universe of Avatar.
It's a theatrical version of that. It's an outfit that, on one end, could maybe be found on a factory worker or a farmer as well as something you could wear and be appreciated for wearing at a fetish club somewhere in Berlin.
Avatar, "Silence in the Age of Apes" Music Video
Most aspects of Avatar Country were very celebratory. Directly and indirectly, how is Hunter Gatherer reactionary to what you did last?
I guess it's the opposite in every possible way. Avatar Country was truly about having these awesome moments of make-believe together with our fans and it became this crazy cool journey because the fans were on board. It became something much bigger than just and the band playing those songs. There are some things in global politics that happened that made certain angles on how we wanted to make the Avatar Country work.
It started to resemble reality too much. We wanted to stay away from that and lighten the mood even more, but we did not want to separate from reality. We wanted to paint a totalitarian regime of this super awesome thing, ironically and without satire. It was never meant to be satire in that sense or at least that was not the main mission.
That said, it was not a very critical place to be — that wasn't the point of it. All the things we have been thinking about and feeling strongly about for the past years now has the outlet on Hunter Gatherer and that's why it gets this big title. Hunter Gatherer is what we are.
The kind of lifestyle evolution — before our inventiveness — led us toward being more rooted in one area and make us turn us into farmers and everything else that follows that. The hunter-gatherer is the very nature of who we are and then the clash between our stone age strengths and now our science fiction world that we try to operate in and it all encompasses. There's so many subjects and feelings in the space between those two colliding forces.
So, again, it has become very dark — it's real is the more important thing here. Every album is also about trying to peel away another layer of the onion and be more honest about things. A lot of things [on this album] are about things that I wouldn't have found the words for in the past or may have not been comfortable finding a way to say on prior albums but found its place now. That is an ongoing revolution from album to album.
The record is not a concept album. In what ways did eliminating a conceptual framework enable you creatively?
Feathers & Flesh being our first concept album was meant to be a challenge and that became the big challenge for that album. Can we write in this way? We don't even know what it means to write in that way. So that was that trip.
Then with Avatar Country we became so very much compelled to do that and it became an asset — a way to sort out what we needed to write to make this big concept work. As far as a challenge goes, by now a concept album wouldn't become a hindrance — it would have become a formula if we did it again. We just knew we wanted to make something that feels more real that is musically heavier and that speaks about the darkness in an honest way.
Avatar, "God of Sick Dreams"
I am not trying to be edgy about anything. It's not a concept album but there are a bunch of threads we wrote that go through the whole thing and that journey with concept albums still helped us be able to think of the album as a whole much earlier into the process than we usually had. The vision for this album was always in front of me as a painting but the picture was slightly out of focus for the longest time and while writing and trying things out and having a general feel for where we were heading, the image became sharper and sharper. So, thanks to the concept albums, we probably had a better sense of direction with this one.
You perform on a track on the new Imonolith album. How much does contributing to something unrelated to Avatar empower you in terms of not being restricted by expectations?
I don't think I felt that there were fewer expectations on that. From a fan perspective, people didn't know I was doing it, but with Avatar we are very good at stripping away outside pressure. We write for an audience of five, meaning ourselves.
Doing this thing with Imonolith, we got in touch because I am such a huge fan of what they have done in the past [as part of Devin Townsend's band]. And it was through my fandom that we became friends and then they asked me to be a part of it. It became this big honor and you want to do well and you want to do well within the framework of what they are doing and what they are about and what their song is about and all that.
Imonolith, "Becoming the Enemy" Feat. Avatar's Johannes Eckerström
So I probably I had higher expectations of myself for that in a way because Avatar is our baby and we want to make it the best possible thing every time, but we are the judges for that first and foremost. At some points, toward the end of every album process I have always been overcome with a sense of peace and satisfaction with what we've done, meaning it is okay if everyone hates this — we can go home and I will continue listening to it. I know why we did this and we're fine. So there's always that thing when it comes to our own stuff. It's mine.
I didn't have that with Imonolith. Instead, I had, "Oh shit, that is so cool ,that's so much fun and such an honor and la da da... I really hope they'll like this..." With Avatar I never say, "I hope they'll like this" and I said that to myself with Imonolith because I was doing such a favor to friends that I'm also a fan of.
Thanks to Johannes Eckerström for the interview. Pre-order your copy of 'Hunter Gatherer' here and follow Avatar on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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