(Mr. Swano mans the drum kit. Hey!! I have that same shirt!)
By Greg Northrup
From his lengendary work with Edge Of Sanity, to groups like Unicorn and Nightingale, to contributions to Therion, production for Opeth, plus countless other projects and albums, Dan Swano is one of the truly prodigious songwriter/producers in the metal scene. His most recent release, a solo album entitled Moontower, is arguably the crowning jewel of the Swano legend. We discussed with what made this album the progressive death metal masterpiece that it is, as well as one of the top releases of '98...
Heaven & Hell: As one of the most prolific metal artists, you've been
involved with a
variety of projects. How do you feel Moontower ranks among your various releases?
Dan Swano: I think it's the very best when it comes to metal related stuff. I have never been as satisfied with another recording. The whole album is 100% me, the sound, the riffs, the lyrics (for once) is all the way I wanted it to be. It took me a lot of time to get it all right and I don't remember all these sessions with joy, but as long as the outcome rocks I am a happy man (boy?)
HH: The mixture of prog rock and death metal is very powerful, how did you
come to the realization that this combination would work so well?
DS: This is the story! I invited Mikael from Opeth to my new projectstudio The Sanctuary to have him record a tune he wrote from his soloproject "Sörskogen". We went for this typical seventies sound with muffled drums and loads of vintage synthesizer sounds like Mellotrons and that very special minimoog lead sound with delay that can be heard literally on the whole album.
After the session was completed I kinda went down to demo some new ideas and I didn't have the time to soundcheck all the instruments again so I used the same rigging as I had done for Mike, complete with blankets on the drums! There was something about that sound that made me think "PROGRESSIVE ROCK!" goddammit! I recorded the ideas I had and instead of adding original leadguitar stuff I used that Moog sound instead and when I added the growling vocs to that I realized that I had something completely original coming up! I wrote more tracks and all of them seemed to work with the seventies treatment, less distortion on the guitar, old tubeamps, etc. The only thing I changed was the drumsound. I went for a more natural and "airy" sound.
HH: The styles of progressive rock bands can vary quite a bit, what specific
bands or styles influenced you most on Moontower?
DS: I had a crush on RUSH, ÄNGLAGÅRD, ARENA and LANDBERK. I also got the advance for the third OPETH album right before the whole thing came together and that was a huge influence on me as well. They write more demanding riffs with a pretty complex structure that made me inspired. I am not sure if you hear that, but some of the riffs are bit "un-swano".
HH: In my opinion, Moontower ranks as the best album of '98 next to Opeth's
My Arms, Your Hearse, both albums obviously have a very large progressive
influence. What other bands do you feel are doing interesting things with heavy metal
and progressive rock?
DS: Thank you!!! Not a bad thing to read this morning. I think the dudes from AMORPHIS had something cool going a few albums back but they scrapped the keyboards and changed to more normal now I guess!! To be honest, I don't know any other besides Opeth and myself that is
exploiting the heritage from the 70's! If there is any other Mellotron worshipping deathmetal alike band out there, let me know!!
HH: Seeing as how you played all the instruments on the album, have you hired backing musicians to do the songs live, or will you not be touring at all?
DS: I will not tour at all because my voice is fucked after a few minutes of growling. It's something that's been bugging me forever! It was pretty much the end of EDGE OF SANITY for me. It felt like something that stopped the live-evolution of the band since I refused to tour because I sounded really bad on stage. That's the only reason. I just can't stand have someone else singing these personal lyrics.
HH: Have you begun working on the next solo album yet? What other projects are you currently involved in?
DS: No I have not been thinking of my next album. I have one riff though!!! The UNICORN guys are coming over for a ten-day session tomorrow and you never know where that stuff will go! Hopefully it's the next album! I am only involved in UNICORN at the moment.
The rest is put aside. I will do some mixing and some re-recording of old EDGE OF SANITY material for our 10 year anniversary CD!
HH: Do you anticipate the next album to keep the same general direction of
Moontower, or will it be a major departure?
DS: I don't know. I find it very unlike for me to copy myself. I have tried to avoid the Xerox factor thruout my whole career. I might do something more metal with clean vocals, so that I can tour this time. I might just put together a whole band for the recording, I am not sure!!!
HH: Do you find yourself listening more to metal or to progressive music in
your spare time?
DS: I listen to progressive rock nowadays. There are just a few albums of metal that still attracts me. I got a huge kick out of the new TESTAMENT CD for example. I have just come down from a massive SPOCK'S BEARD period. But it will start again very soon, I feel it coming...
HH: I enjoy progressive rock but I'm very new to it, I have most Genesis,
Jethro Tull, and Rush albums. Can you recommend your five favorite
DS: Yeah. This is tough, so I do it alphabetical order!!!!
GENESIS-SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND
SPOCK'S BEARD-THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS
This is the immortal top five but not in the order of the heart, that changes from day to day. I am a huge RUSH fan but I don't consider them to be very progressive. They have some long songs with Moog in them, but they are very much a hardrock band.
HH: Thanks for the interview! Do you have any closing comments?
DS: Hi and Thanx for your interest in my stuff. I am currently listening an album I did with GODSEND a few years back. It's called "A Wayfarers Tears" check it out.
It's on HOLY records. I do all the vocals and the keyboards. The Moog worship starts here already!! Thanx for reading.
Thanks a lot to Dan for the interview. Remember to keep an eye out for that Edge of Sanity anniversary album, as well as the Godsend and Unicorn releases.