Interview mit Niklas Sundin von Mitochondrial Sun

Deutsche Version lesen

With „Mitochondrial Sun“, Niklas Sundin, founding member and guitarist of Dark Tranquillity, has released the debut of his electronic solo project of the same name – a piece of art as versatile as it is coherent, which also has a significant visual component. Why Sundin put aside his main instrument for MITOCHONDRIAL SUN, to what extent the project was connected with a learning process for him, which might even affect Dark Tranquillity, and why he did not want to release the album under his own name can be read in the following interview.



Your electronic solo project, with which you recently released your first album, is called MITOCHONDRIAL SUN. What is the idea behind this rather cryptic name?
It reflects the main theme of the album – the exploration of contrasts and making a connection between the small and the large. Both stars and mitochondria are powerhouses, but on a very different scale, and the „sun“ part also hints at the somewhat space related part of the music. However, it’s not meant to be over-analyzed or to be some grand mission statement. Above all, it’s a decent band name that hasn’t been used by someone else. Even if the „band“ is just me, it’d feel too egocentric to release an album under my own name, and it’d also give the impression that this somehow is a more authentic representation of myself that what I’ve done in the past, which isn’t the case – it’s just a different side being expressed.

You founded MITOCHONDRIAL SUN during a break from Dark Tranquillity, right? How did you get the idea to do electronic music in particular?
The idea of trying to create electronic music had been around for a very long time, but I was always too busy with other projects and life in general. When I had a kid and therefore decided to sit out on the „Atoma“ touring cycle, there suddenly was a bit more time available. Not a lot by any means, but enough to sit down in my home studio on occasional evenings and just toy around with ideas. I don’t have a good answer to why it became electronic music and not something else, but in general I think that side projects in a too similar style as one’s main band is a bit pointless. I also needed something where I easily could work on my own whenever I wanted to as opposed to having to go to a rehearsal room or coordinate schedules between several people in order to make things happen.

Up until now many people knew you mainly for your guitar playing. Was there a reason for you to distance yourself from your primary instrument on your solo album?
It seemed like a nice challenge. I approached this as a big learning experience, and from that perspective it probably would have been a bit too easy to just plug the guitar in and let that dictate the direction of the music. In fact, the parts on the album (on „Nyaga“ for example) that sound like distorted guitars are actually synthesizers as well. All in all, I think that this project also made me a bit more passionate about my main instrument again. I barely touched a guitar for 2-3 years, but now it feels inspiring almost every time when I pick one up.

Keyboards and electronic sounds aren’t taboo in Dark Tranquillity either, at least not since „Projector“. Did you even get some inspiration for your solo project from your main band?
I was definitely inspired by seeing Martin Brändström (Dark Tranquillity’s keyboardist, who also helped me out on some parts of the album) work on the Dark Tranquillity albums and building his arrangements by adding various layers and textures of sound. There’s something appealing about composing music as opposed to being limited by what you’re able to play yourself on a particular instrument, and this is what I wanted to explore. One can start out with a chord sequence or a melody and it can take on almost any sonic form imaginable, which is very different from working within the usual band paradigm where you always write within the boundaries of drums, bass and two distorted guitars. There are great things about having those boundaries for sure, but it was fun to do something different this time.

Do you think that your experiences with MITOCHONDRIAL SUN could conversely have an effect on your work in Dark Tranquillity?
I do think that I’ve become a better musician by „forcing“ myself not to be depending on the guitar for my writing. In a way, it’s easier for me now to come up with ideas and arrangements in my head rather than only when having a guitar in my hands, but it’s also very abstract and hard to know to what extent this will influence my metal riff-/songwriting.

Which electronic music artists do you personally enjoy listening to?
A lot of my fave artists in the field are those that have been around for a very long time (Depeche Mode, Mike Oldfield, Kraftwerk, Lamb etc), and of course the term „electronic music“ can mean a lot of things and include artists that sound very different from each other. I guess that Ulver’s „Perdition City“ always has been a favourite (and maybe one can hear that on the MITOCHONDRIAL SUN album even though most songs aren’t very urban in feel). As for more contemporary artists, I can name Kite, Max Cooper and Nils Frahm – but on the whole I’m not very updated.

Electronic music is known to be a broad field. Was it difficult for you to acquire an overview of your possibilities and the necessary technical knowledge?
Yes and no. The goal was just to make something that I can be proud of myself, and then it doesn’t matter wether some seasoned electronic music veteran thinks that it sounds like a beginner’s attempt or isn’t technically „correct“ according to genre standards. We were pretty early in Dark Tranquillity with using DAWs such as Cubase as working tools, so I was already familiar with how to go about things technically. The learning process was more about figuring out how to arrange the music and tweak the individual sounds and instruments to get as close to my vision as possible. And without the help of the session musicians and the great mixing skills of Anders Lagerfors, things certainly would have sounded less impressive.

Synthesizers and the like are not always popular among metalheads. Did you therefor have to take some criticism regarding MITOCHONDRIAL SUN?
I’m sure that a lot of people roll their eyes at an „experimental electronic project“ by a metal guitarist, but that’s completely fine. I also think that this is an album where you really need to focus on the listening in order for the songs to „reveal“ themselves, so from that perspective I can understand if someone finds it a bit boring if they’re just playing it as background music while doing other things. However, I do think that a lot of metalheads are pretty open to synthesizer music (even Fenriz had his Neptune Towers back in the day) as long as it’s – for the lack of a better term – dark and atmospheric, and Dark Tranquillity fans certainly are no strangers to it.

While it is exciting to experiment with other styles, there is often the danger of losing the thread. Did you sometimes have to pull yourself together consciously in order not to drift off too much in the songs?
All the time! (laughs) Having your own project as opposed to writing music with other people can be both a blessing and a curse. The songs were re-arranged and changed so many times that I was completely fed up more than once, and it often happened that I was on version seven or so before realizing that one of the earlier versions was much better. But it’s all part of the process and probably would happen regardless of the music style. It’s more a product of being the sole writer as opposed to collaborating with others.

In fact, the songs on your self-titled debut album are very different from each other. What is in your opinion the link between the tracks?
Yes, the idea was for each song to have its own style and its own set of sounds. I thought of the album like a movie soundtrack, where there often can be a very big range of different moods but there’s a shared general vibe. I think that the production really succeeded in making the songs gel with each other. The mixing studio has a lot of old vintage equipment and strange devices that made everything sound great as a coherent unit even though some of the songs don’t have much in common with each other on a purely musical level.

The songs on the album are mostly instrumental. Did you also think about including singing in the songs or was it clear from the beginning until the end that this wouldn’t be necessary?
Many of my favourite musicians (Nick Cave for example) are great storytellers that really can capture something genuine in their lyrics and transmit it to the listener, but for this particular album I wanted to keep things instrumental in order to have it as open and free for interpretation as possible. Instrumental music is able to trigger the listener’s imagination in a way that’s not possible when decorating the music with words. At the same time, there’s a „theme“ on the album – though not overly expressed – revolving around time and evolution, and I thought that it’d be interesting to just have a few lines of spoken word that would sum up the essence, so to speak.

After „The Void Begets“ and „Entropy’s Gift“ which have a sense of wonder to them, „The Great Filter“ closes the record in a rather oppressive way. Why is it that a „happy ending“ would have been inappropriate here in your eyes?
Well… If we see the album as a reflection of our evolutionary timeline – starting off with „Ur Tehom“ being the birth of simple organisms and the later parts of the album being more future-focused, I don’t think that we’re necessarily up for a happy ending as a species. However, I wanted the song to be ambiguous and to give the impression that things could go either way, which also is why the final part of the song is an ambient drone where there’s also some „life“ and hopeful sounds sparkling around among the noise. But this is just my own interpretation and also part of the reason why I think that the album works best being instrumental. The song titles give a clue about the general direction, but if I would have tried writing lyrics and provide an explanation to everything in the booklet and interviews, a lot of the appeal and „magic“ would have been gone. In my view, albums that try too hard to be conceptual usually fail (the exception being Sabbat’s „Dreamweaver“, which is completely perfect in every aspect).

On „Mitochondrial Sun“ there’s also some guest musicians to be heard. Was the work on the album therefore more effort than you originally planned?
No, it went pretty smooth. There were some instruments that I wanted for the songs (cello, vibraphone etc) but that I can’t play myself, and I was fortunate enough to find really good session musicians for those parts. 20 years ago, it probably would have been a logistical nightmare, but these days it’s so easy to just send recordings over the web.

How did the collaboration with the guest musicians work out – did you approach them with a concrete idea or did you just let them do their thing and see what happens?
A bit of both. In some cases, I had a very specific idea of what I wanted and in others it was more open – and I’d be crazy not to use the input and expertise of these people when it comes to their own instrument.

Animated music videos have already been released for many of the tracks. Why did you also put so much work into the visualization instead of just releasing the music for yourself?
Good question! (laughs) I’m actually still working on some of the videos and definitely underestimated the amount of time required. The main idea was that this kind of music can be a bit „empty“ without a broader context, and since I also work as a graphic designer and enjoy making videos, it was easy to connect the dots and start planning. Hopefully the next real video can be released pretty soon, but I also think that it’s not necessarily a big problem if it takes longer than expected. I’d rather release a really well-made clip in three months from now than to rush it out tomorrow.

I guess you are probably already well occupied again with Dark Tranquillity. Do you think that you will still be able to spare time for MITOCHONDRIAL SUN in the future?
Absolutely. The debut album was completely finished over a year ago, and most of the songs were written already back in 2016 and 2017, so I’ve had time to make more music. I actually hope that there will be two new MITOCHONDRIAL SUN releases this year – one that’s relatively similar to the debut album in style and one that’s very different.

I would like to end the interview at this point with our traditional brainstorming. What do you think about the following terms?
Climate crisis: Maybe it’s time to bring in the „Climate controller“ that Nocturnus were singing about…
Dubstep: I know that it’s a music genre, but that’s about it.
Biology class: Always interesting.
The future of music: Exciting! It’s easy to say that things were better in the past, but I see a lot of potential in how things are now.
Movie soundtrack: Would love to work on one. Very hard field to get into though…
Outer space: Certainly worth exploring. Inner space too.

Thanks again for your answers. Is there anything else you would like to say to the readers at this point?
Thanks for the interview! I don’t have anything to add, but would of course invite your readers to check the album out if they think that it might be something for them.

Publiziert am von

Dieses Interview wurde per E-Mail geführt.
Zur besseren Lesbarkeit wurden Smilies ersetzt.

Schreibe einen Kommentar

Deine E-Mail-Adresse wird nicht veröffentlicht. Erforderliche Felder sind mit * markiert