Swedish metal band Witherscape is the studio project of Dan Swanö (Edge of Sanity, Nightingale) and Ragnar Widerberg. After releasing a debut album ‘The Inheritance’ to much acclaimed in 2013 and a EP, ‘The New Tomorrow’ in 2014, the duo are back with their sophomore album ‘The Northern Sanctuary’. The album continues the story of the previous two releases. ‘The Northern Sanctuary’ releases this week (22nd July) via Century Media Records.
Chris Dalhberg and I spoke to Dan Swanö about ‘The Northern Sanctuary’, writing and recording the album and other projects he is working on.
Transcending Obscurity (Peter): For those not familiar with the band. Could you tell us about how the collaboration between you and Ragnar Widerberg started?
Witherscape (Dan Swanö ): I used to work in a music shop, and one day Ragnar started working there too, and we started talking about music and stuff and it turned out that we had a lot in common and one day I asked him for any ideas he had laying around, and I got a whole bunch of most of them was so cool that I decided to form a project with him
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): How do you and Ragnar bounce ideas off of each other, do you meet to come up with ideas or do you each separately work on parts and then bring them together?
Witherscape: For the 1st album, we did a lot of “face to face” writing and arranging in the rehearsal room, but since then I have moved to Germany, and a 15 hour drive to rehearsals makes that method a bit harder! so for this album, I wrote most of the stuff alone. Ragnar supplied me with a lots of cool riffs, enough to make one whole track of all his ideas, and some of the best parts for the title track.
TO: Your second album ‘The Northern Sanctuary’ is a concept album. Tell us a bit about it.
Witherscape: It’s based around the same house as n the 1st album, only 50 years ahead in time. The entity that possessed the main character on the 1st album, is now possessing the new owner of the place, the man in white. He opens a sanctuary up in the north of Sweden for people that needs to get away from the stress, or have physical or psychological problems etc. and since the man in white is so pure in body and spirit, the entity take full control and make him perform a special ritual to open a dimension vortex to the a dimension from where the entity once came, at the creation of the universe, but it got trapped in our dimension, and can now go home. And once the dimensions collide, hell on earth is here!
TO: Paul Kuhr (Novembers Doom) has contributed lyrics to the album. How did he become part of the writing process?
Witherscape: I mixed the Novembers Doom stuff since 2005, and I loved his vocals, and he was up for the gruesome task of replacing the scratch lyrics of my particularly structured vocals lines with real lyrics! He always does a killer job!
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): The title track is a lengthy piece, coming in at almost fourteen minutes. Can you tell us more about the writing process for this particular song and how it compares to some of the shorter numbers on ‘The Northern Sanctuary’?
Witherscape: There were a bunch of really epic ideas that I felt always needed to be in a longer track and once I had written all tracks for the album, there were so many of these epic piece left unused, and after a series of events, I decided to get back to the album, throw a few songs out and replace them with a bombastic epic that used those epic parts as building blocks and then write bridges to make it all flow like a short track.
TO: What was the recording process for ‘The Northern Sanctuary’? What influence did you have on it as a producer?
Witherscape: I recorded Ragnars guitars and bass in Sweden at Ragnars own place, Studio Finesse..the rest was done by me all alone at Unisound in Oedt/Germany. I had more influence than any one ever had on this album as producer.
TO: How did you manage writing and recording the album along with your production work?
Witherscape: Well, I don’t produce bands since almost 20 years, so that is not a problem. But to find time to write in my busy schedule was hard. Luckily there was a few down periods over the last few years where I could sit at home and play my acoustic guitars for a few hours in front of the TV without feeling that I got behind schedule. These days, I have no idea how I will manage to come up with good stuff, because I am booked beyond believe as a mix and mastering engineer, and I love that, that is my true passion…so I am not complaining, but It will be tough to find the time to write anything new…but I will make sure it happens. I still have a few more albums in me.
Transcending Obscurity (Chris Dahlberg): You’ve worked with a wide range of record labels over the years. What’s made Century Media the right choice for Witherscape?
Witherscape: I am signed to CM, not Witherscape. Any project I come up with will be with CM or InsideOut. I have always been a fan of the CM label, and I know some key figures from way back in time (My wife knows them for even longer) and that makes it more of a family vibe. Now they are with Sony, so technically I release my first album on a major label. How awesome isn’t that!!
TO: The cover artwork by Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák (Nightingale, Destruction, Tyr, etc.) looks awesome. Can you tell us about the theme behind it?
Witherscape: It’s the end scene of the whole album. I have had in my head since I came up with the concept and I wanted some modern take on a biblical H. Bosch kind of painting-thing. And Gyula delivered like always!
TO: The band is currently a studio project, do you foresee a possibility of play live in the future?
Witherscape: Nope. Strictly studio
TO: What are the other projects that you are currently working on?
Witherscape: As a writer, I am soon to start working on a death metal style album. The plan is to write and record, and play etc. everything totally alone, like with Moontower in 1998. As a mixer I am alternating between the power-pop of The Sigourney Weavers and the epic hard rock death of Ancient Ascendant. And a bunch of mastering projects!
TO: What are your plans for the rest of the year?
Witherscape: Get our house in order, move my mix-room and my write/recording room there and get that in shape too, then have a nice holiday in Sicily with my family.
TO: Thanks for answering all the questions. Do you have anything else to add?
Witherscape: Thanks for the interview. Support the war against the loudness war!!!