Candlemass is one of my favorite bands; they’re up there with Black Sabbath and Judas Priest for me. They rarely come to the States, but I had the privilege of seeing them at Psycho Las Vegas among many other awesome bands. During my time at the “Mecca for doom metal”, I was able to sit down with Candlemass singer Mats Levén to talk about the current state of the band, the possibility of a new album, and future plans.
Spencer: So we’re at Psycho Las Vegas – huge festival, got all kinds of great bands. How do you feel about playing at this particular festival?
Mats: Ah, it’s just great. The thing is we played Maryland Deathfest a couple years ago as you know. We just felt so good after that. We had such a good reception from the crowd and we really felt we’ve got to go back to the States whenever possible. We couldn’t really get a tour going, but when we got this offer and we saw the other bands playing as well, it was obvious: let’s do this [laughs]… Sometimes I just want to go down to a stage and be surprised. Sometimes you see a band you’ve never heard of and it’s fucking killer.
Spencer: Yeah it happens, definitely. Obviously Leif [Edling, founder and bassist] hasn’t been playing with the band live unfortunately, so what’s his situation looking like?
Mats: Well he hasn’t played live with us since August of 2014. He’s recovering, he’s getting better. But he’s taking it really slow because that’s what his doctor is telling him. He has this fatigue syndrome where he gets really, really tired. We hope to do some shows next year with him because we are doing some Nightfall shows next year for the 30th anniversary and we hope to do maybe four to five shows with Leif if it’s okay with him. He’s very positive to the whole thing so that’s as far as we want to go right now and we’ll see how it works.
Spencer: Cool. And the name Candlemass. I know it’s also a holiday, but what’s the significance of the name, maybe in relation to that?
Mats: I don’t know more than you when it comes to that. I wasn’t in the band from the start and it’s probably Leif who should answer that. For me as a fan from the start, it’s like all those bands. Bands are called something like Deep Purple and you don’t even think about what it means [laughs]. It’s like that kind of situation for me. Apart from the holiday, I don’t know where Leif got the inspiration from.
Spencer: Well it’s a great name so it works.
Spencer: And this year is the 30th anniversary of Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. I know you weren’t in the band at the time, but how does it feel looking back?
Mats: What’s interesting is since I have not been in the band the whole time, I can kind of look back and I can actually see the reaction from the people when we play the old songs compared to some other songs. I’ve told the other guys who’ve played those songs for 3o years, “You understand that it’s something really special with those first albums that we really should cherish and be happy about.” It’s so obvious to them because they’ve played them so many times, but I can really tell the difference. And the difference in songwriting on those first few albums. In a sense, everything was much more naive because they were young guys who did whatever they wanted to do, but that was part of the unique thing as well when those songs were written and they recorded those albums, which is so cool. Which is really hard to find again when you’re 2o or 3o years older. How can you get back to that innocent vibe you had? But there’s something really beautiful about that. Like I told you before, we’re doing “Demons Gate,” [which] we haven’t done before with me on vocals. I wasn’t really sure, “Ok, will it fit here in the set? Well fuck we don’t know, it’s pretty long,” but it’s worked out great. It doesn’t matter what we play from those albums, it just seems to work out really well.
Spencer: Are you guys going to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Epicus in any way this year?
Mats: We are not actually celebrating Epicus, we are more celebrating 3o years of Candlemass and we try to do some songs from some albums that haven’t been done that much before. Of course my initial idea was let’s do something from all the albums [but] need two hours of set time to be able to do that. Then we would need to book our own tour. Which, the next question is “why don’t you tour more?” Well it’s really hard, we can’t really tour because of the situation of the band. Some guys can’t do it logistically, some guys have kids. So we are trying to do those small tours again like we did in Latin America. We were away for eight, nine, ten days. That’s cool, we can do that. I hope we can do something like that in Europe as well and maybe in The States next year. Maybe do just the East Coast or just the West Coast for ten days or whatever, aim for some big cities. And then of course we could play for two hours instead of 60 minutes like we do now.
Spencer: That would be cool. I’m curious, I can’t really tell this exactly but, how big are you guys in Sweden?
Mats: I was kind of surprised. They had this, 3 years ago: the biggest magazine in Sweden called the Swedish Rock Magazine. They had a big survey among all the journalists that work for them like 50 or 55, so everyone had to pick their ten top favorite Swedish bands through all time. Candlemass was number one of all the Swedish hard rock bands. Obviously there are a lot of people in Sweden that really respect Candlemass, even though Candlemass never got as big as Europe for instance or Opeth nowadays or those bands that are selling pretty good and touring a lot. If we talk within the hard rock genre, I guess Candlemass are kind of big. But of course Candlemass had all those years where they didn’t play that much, lineup problems, blah blah blah. After the Messiah album [the White Album], they did those tours and shows with Robert [Lowe, of Solitude Aeturnus] where they lost some audience because the live shows were not always that great. But the albums were great. Robert did a great job on the albums. Fucking killer I think. I did all the demos, I’ve been in the background. So I kind of knew what was happening at the time. Live, Robert couldn’t learn the lyrics. If have four years and you can’t even learn the classic songs, it’s not really cool because the audience can tell and the rest of the band gets annoyed at that. Once I got in and started to help them out, I noticed that the guys were a bit like, they didn’t know if they wanted to continue because they lost so much energy the last few years. But after a few shows, they were like, “Oh, well fuck, we can relax, it’s all going to be good.” So now everyone is more happy than ever. The live band you’re going to see tomorrow… I don’t think Candlemass have ever been happier on stage and sounded better.
Spencer: I’m curious, obviously Black Sabbath was a big influence on Candlemass. I’m not sure if you can speak to this because you weren’t there early on…
Mats: I kind of know about the influences. I know that Leif was really influenced by probably bands like Trouble and Pentagram, Manilla Road, and Angel Witch.
Spencer: How did you find out about them back then because they were pretty obscure in the ’80s and you were in Sweden?
Mats: I can only assume he was pretty much into the whole scene. He knew everything about those bands. The whole tape trading thing back in the old days. I think he was very involved in that. He was a total fan I would guess within the whole genre. He was collecting Sabbath’s albums and stuff. He knew as much about metal as anyone would know I would guess. So that’s probably how he knew about all those bands. He was probably like me. I remember when the New Wave of British Heavy Metal came in ’79, ’80, ’81 and whatever came, you bought, you bought everything. That’s the first time I heard Angel Witch and maybe for him as well. Me personally, I didn’t hear Trouble at the time. I didn’t heard Manilla Road at the time either. But he did and that was a big influence on him. But of course I also heard Mercyful Fate all that stuff that also was an influence to him.
Spencer: Do you know of any influences that wouldn’t be obvious maybe something obscure?
Mats: I just know that him and Mappe [Bjorkman, guitar] used to listen to this band… what’s it called Cirgith Orgol or something.
Spencer: Oh, ok, yeah. Cirith Ungol.
Mats: I know they listened to those guys. Apart from that, I’m not sure. Should be Leif answering that I guess. I know further on as well, I’ve done a couple albums with Leif, both Abstrakt Algebra and Krux, three albums so I know that he was also pretty influenced by the Heaven and Hell and Mob Rules albums with Sabbath as well, the Dio years as well. That was kind of later on. So I think those albums have been important to him as well.
Spencer: You mentioned this earlier, but you did some demos with Candlemass ten years ago. You’ve kind of been associated with them. What’s the difference back then vs. now because you weren’t really an official member then, but now you are?
Mats: It’s been in different steps. I got to know Leif in ’94, when he wanted me to sing on Abstrakt Algebra. We did that in ’95. That album lead me to get the Yngvie Malmsteen gig that I did in ’97 and ’98. Then 2002 Leif starting writing for Krux and that was about the time when they started to do shows again with Candlemass. Since I helped him do the demos for Krux as well, he started asking me if I could do some Candlemass demos as well because they were thinking about writing a new album with Messiah. Since then I’ve always been helping him out with demos for both Krux and Candlemass albums. In those days, I just loved Krux. I thought that was fucking great. I was happy that [Candlemass] got Messiah back then… even though I didn’t know the situation, why they broke up the first time. I didn’t really know Messiah either. I was a fan. They did the album, that was great and everything. Then of course things started happening again. They were thinking “who should we have as a singer now?”
They tried out Tony Martin [ex-Black Sabbath] for a while, they did a couple of songs. That was actually before the White Album. They already had problems then because I recorded them demos for a couple of songs like “Black Dwarf” in my home studio and they sent that to Tony I think. Tony got back with a couple of versions of that, but they decided not to work with him. Then they worked it out with Messiah. It goes up and down all the time [laughs]. In those days, I was kind of involved in the background just hoping they would work it out with Messiah. After that, they kind of asked me to join Candlemass in 2008 I think after they’d done the first album with Robert and the first tour. They called me from The States and said, “Fuck, this doesn’t work live.” But then I think when they got home, I said “Hey you gotta give Robert another chance. You can’t really change singers all the time. He sounds great, he’s got a great voice. Maybe you should try to work it out, give the guy a break. Explain: ‘this is what we want’.” I was kind of “that guy”. But then in 2012, that’s when Leif went out and said “I never want to do another album with Candlemass. This is the last album with Candlemass”. He didn’t want to drop the band, [but] he was fed up with the problems with [Robert]. But then they released the album, of course they had to do a release show, then they asked me “Hey, could you help us out with that release show?” So that’s what I did that Summer. Of course, some more festivals came in and they were feeling really happy with the shows.
So that’s kind of how it started evolving, but I didn’t want to be an official member because they had so many different singers and I felt it was just going to sound like Krux. I wasn’t sure I wanted that to happen because they had keyboards at the time. When they did Psalms for the Dead, they had Per [Winberg] on keyboards. So we kind of had the same lineup, same instruments as Krux. A year ago, I finally said, “Ok, if we’re going to do this EP and the 30th anniversary, maybe it’s the time to say I’m the official singer.” Because it fits really good, I got the approval from the fans, the journalists, everyone. Everybody seemed to embrace the whole thing and we felt the live shows were really good. Which was important to me because I didn’t want to just join to be able to say “Yeah, I sing in Candlemass.” I’d rather see them not play anymore than just have a nice history, instead of just going on and on and on. But it felt so good and everyone’s really happy. It kind of evolved slowly [with] different stages to how it got to this point. And of course the sad thing is once I became the official singer, Leif couldn’t do shows anymore. We’ve been doing so many good shows without him as well because that’s when we decided not to use keyboards anymore because I said, “Why should we have keyboards live because Candlemass isn’t about keyboards? We should go back to the lineup you guys had in ’87.” Because that’s Candlemass to me. It was perfect because Per is both a bass player and a keyboard player, so we could keep [him] in the family.
Spencer: I noticed that you work on so many different projects. I’m wondering how you balance it all.
Mats: I don’t work on that many projects actually. I say no to practically everything that I got offered. What I’ve been doing that last few years is Candlemass and Gus G., the guitar player of Ozzy Osbourne. Me and Gus are old friends, so I’ve been doing two albums with him and done shows with him and I’ve done Candlemass shows. That’s practically what I’ve done live over the last few years. Then I’ve done some albums where I’ve done guest vocals on that I’ve done at my home studio. It makes it easy for me to do whenever I have the time. Now I’m doing Trans-Siberian Orchestra this winter, which is only a tour for two months, which will be fantastic of course because it’s such a big thing and it’s a great opportunity for me. Which is totally cool with the other guys in the band because November-December we don’t get that many offers to play anyway.
Spencer: Well I asked that because when I look up your discography, you just have so many different projects from so many different artists.
Mats: Thing is, most of the albums that I’ve done in my career, I was asked to be a guest vocalist. But sometimes they didn’t write that, sometimes they made it look like I was part of the band. And then people think, “Oh, what about that band? Are you going to do tours?” And I’m like, “Sorry man, I’m not in that band. I was supposed to be a guest vocalist but the record label put a sticker on it”. That happens sometimes as well, which I can understand that. After a while when you’re a singer, It’s kind of hard because people kind of want you to be in a band and I’m like “Hey, I’d love to be in a band for 30 years.” It just didn’t happen to me. I didn’t find that band. I wasn’t at the right place at the right time. I didn’t know the Candlemass guys in ’87 or ’91, you know? If I lived in Stockholm at the time, maybe I would have started playing with them, who knows? But I still wanted to be a musician full time and now I’ve been that for 25 years. But sometimes people kind of forget that I got to pay my bills as well. I gotta make a living. People say “Oh, you’ve done all those different things. You should stick to blah blah blah.” Well that’s easy for you to say. I’d rather be a musician full time than having to work somewhere. For instance, let’s say that you’re a bass player or a drummer and you play on like 30 albums. People say, “Oh yeah, he’s a real professional. Everyone wants to play with him.” If you do that as a singer, you’re a fucking prostitute [laughs]. If you’re a singer, it’s so important for people that if you do too many jobs, you become just like, “Yeah, he just wants to make the money”. With singers, that’s some kind of attitude you often get. Which I can understand that as well in a sense. From my side, I know how hard it is to survive in this business. I am one of the few among the people that I’ve played with in Sweden for 30 years who actually still can still survive full time playing music and I’ve done that for 35 years. Of course the situation in Candlemass is the best situation I’ve been in. I just wish I had played with Candlemass for 20 more years because I just love this band so much. I love the people in the band so much. Every show we do is special. It’s not a cliche, it really is. I just wish we could play more shows every year. But slowly we are pushing the bar every year. I guess Candlemass is one of the few bands from the ’80s that still sound good live. It’s not like a reunion record going out and doing crappy shows. At least with the EP, we’re writing new stuff and actually sounding really good live. No one needs to be disappointed after seeing a show with us. We always try to fucking deliver and give everything we got. I think we are a good representative of ’80s metal. And there are many other bands as well that are doing that and are bigger than us of course like Saxon, who still sound really fucking great. Not to mention Iron Maiden, Slayer, all those bands. It’s just cool that we can still play and for me at least be relevant, you know? We do good shows and it’s not just about going up there, collect some money and go home.
Spencer: You’ve got the passion.
Mats: Yeah, I can say that the other guys in the band, they just love playing live so much because they’ve got new energy since I arrived. They feel that they want to do more and more as well. So we just take it step by step and hopefully Leif can come back slowly next year as well.
Spencer: Nice. So you guys did the EP recently. It got great reviews, a lot of people liked it. I’m curious, are you guys planning on doing an album?
Mats: Well everybody [is] asking about an album. The thing is that it’s very much up to Leif. Because Leif has always been the main songwriter. The most important thing for us right now is that he feels ok, he doesn’t feel too much pressure, that he’s enjoying stuff. He’s writing songs for his other project right now, Doomsday Kingdom, more for fun. Releasing songs for Candlemass is a totally different kind of pressure because there’s more money involved and a bigger record company. You’ve got to follow up doing shows, promotion, interviews. There is so much more pressure involved with making a new Candlemass album. He did those four songs for the EP and that was what he felt he could do at the time. Right now, we are more interested in getting him back so he can do some live shows. Once we do that, maybe we could have a discussion if we feel that we want to write something new and how that should sound. So we really really don’t know. I’m not sure that Leif has a clue either because he doesn’t want to put that pressure on himself right now. We just start by hoping to do shows next year, and then see if it’ll happen. That’s as much as I know.
Spencer: You mentioned this earlier, but I’m curious about doing a U.S. tour because you guys haven’t played much here.
Mats: We can’t do any four or six week tours. I’d just love to do like ten dates or something, two weeks or six dates in ten days, whatever. Try to do some shows that really count. Maybe the East Coast. Just to do that and see what it feels like, like we did in Latin America this year. We did seven shows in eight days in six different countries. No sleep, just flying. But it was all good, we had lots of fun. We came home and felt that it was worth it. People turned up and they loved it. We really want to go back to Latin America again and do that kind of tour again, late 2017 or something. But also not just do festivals, but maybe do a short tour in the Sates, short tour in Europe. Make those shows count, do good cities, good venues. Make those shows a bit more interesting so we can get more press coming in as well, more people coming in from smaller cities if they want to see us. And we can offer a longer show as well. We can never do that at festivals. That’s what we’re kind of aiming at.
Spencer: I saw Papa Emeritus [of Ghost] play with you guys.
Mats: We are good friends with Ghost. They’ve been asking us so many times to open up for them on their U.S. tours. It [shows] what a big fan of Candlemass he is because he’s turning down offers like that all the time. There are so many bands that want to come up and guest with him, like Slipknot. We were very grateful that he could come up because it meant a lot to us as well.
Spencer: Yeah, they just won a Grammy too.
Mats: Yeah, and they are doing really well in the States. They are playing for between 1500 and 3500 people.
Spencer: They’re touring like crazy too.
Mats: Yeah, they’re touring all the time and in Europe as well. They’re really professional, really good band. I love them. We would love to open up for a band like Ghost but we couldn’t go out for so many weeks, it just doesn’t work. That’s the problem because it would be a perfect fit in a way for us. They have a big crowd that [doesn’t] know about Candlemass. The good thing about the Candlemass music is that even if you haven’t heard much of it before, if you see Candlemass live, you understand it. It’s got a lot of melody. It’s easy to get. It would be perfect but they always do those long tours.
Spencer: Alright. Final question: where do you see the band going in the next few years, maybe even ten, twenty years down the road?
Mats: Personally, I would love to do a new album. I’d love to slowly get Candlemass up to a certain stage because there are going to be a number of bands that disappear in the next five, ten years. There’s going to be a lot of bands, they won’t do if five, ten years from now. I really think the way we sound now, the way we perform, we should just push it more and more every year I think and try to reach more and more people. Make the live show better and better and hopefully have some new material out as well because I think we could absolutely do still this for ten, fifteen years. That’s what I would like to happen, but of course you never know what’s going to happen. But the first thing is Leif’s gotta feel good, but the good thing is the rest of us really want to do this as much as we can. And of course if things go better and better, we might be able to do a bit longer tours as well because people can decide “hey, I really want to go for this now, I really feel that we can do this”. At then end, it’s a bit about the financials as well. Some people gotta work at home, some people have kids at home. You go out on the road, it’s really hard because it’s hard to make money. You lose money. You lose money to not sell CDs. In the old days, you lost money to sell CDs. You toured to sell more albums. Today, you tour and you won’t sell any more albums anyway. They you gotta make money on merchandise. It’s tough, you gotta find the right line, for a band like this. It would be different if we were 25 years old and no kids. Then you can just fucking go for it and tour your ass off. We can’t really do that. We just try to do it as well as we can, try to pick the really good shows, like tomorrow’s going to be fantastic playing for a lot of people. So at least we’ll reach a couple thousand people playing here tomorrow instead of ten clubs reaching the same amount of people. That’s kind of they way we have to do it. You know how it is. If we play San Antonio on a Tuesday, we play for 70 people. I’ve done those tours with Therion before. That’s the way it is, you gotta do that but it’s tough for a band like this to do that.
Spencer: Well I heard that U.S. shows… it’s better touring in Europe because people show up from what I’ve heard.
Mats: Yeah, but it’s tough in Europe as well. I remember before I joined Candlemass, we did a Krux show in Stockholm on a Tuesday. We thought, “yeah, that’s going to be a good night, no one else is playing that Tuesday”. It was like four different metal shows that night. Killswitch Engage were playing. It was four different bands competing with each other. So it’s like that in Europe as well. Hard to do club shows. Last Summer I did a couple of shows with Gus, we were doing a couple of shows opening for HellYeah, Vinnie Paul‘s band. I guess we would consider HellYeah a pretty well known band, somehow, you know? They have to stand there on a Wednesday playing for 300 people as well, or 200 people in Germany or wherever it is, which is pretty tough as well. It’s tough for everyone. There’s so many bands playing all the time. There’s a certain limit to how many concert people can [spend] money to go see. It costs a lot of money as well. I went to see Muse playing in Stockholm. You go to one of the arenas to see one of the big band, you’ve got to play 100 bucks for a ticket. I could totally understand if someone whose 20 years old can’t just go see all the concerts all the time. But I guess that’s why the festivals are doing well because you get a lot for the money. We have so many European festivals, it’s ridiculous. In the Summer, just in the metal genre, there are like 50 festivals.
Spencer: [Laughs] We don’t have that much here in America.
Mats: It’s ridiculous in Europe. Which is good of course for us. It’s really easy to say negative stuff like, yeah we don’t make any money blah blah blah, but still you’ve got to remember that the festivals in Europe [are] fucking great right now, which we’re happy about. All those [are] working out because a lot of people come to the festivals as well. So that’s great.
Spencer: Alright, that’s all I got for ya. Thank you very much.
Mats: Cool man, no problem.