Fireworks Magazine Online 67 - Interview with Nightingale


Paul Jerome Smith explores aspects of the unexpected but quite fabulous new album ‘Retribution’ with DAN SWANŐ, vocalist and mastermind behind the band NIGHTINGALE…


Thank you for joining me, Dan. By my reckoning, this is Nightingale’s eighth album (if one includes ‘Nightfall Overture’ released in 2005, which comprised re-recordings of earlier songs). Please tell me something of the band’s journey up to this point….

Well Paul, it's been almost 20 years since I got the opportunity to make a solo album for the Black Mark label. I locked myself up in the studio and all I had was the chorus idea for the track ‘Gypsy Eyes’ and a wish to make a Gothic rock album. At the time I had just discovered Sister of Mercy, The Mission and Rosetta Stone and totally loved their memorable moments (probably the stuff that all die-hard goths hate!) I decided to tune the guitar to a weird tuning (Low to high - DADADE) that I made up on the spot, in order to not be able to rely on any “old licks and tricks” and within minutes I had written the ‘Nightfall Overture’ track.

Once I started to program the drums in a goth rock manner it just felt wrong, and I ended up playing real drums on the track, and already there I had taken one step away from making the “total goth” album I had set out to do, and “accidentally” invented a new sound that took the heaviness from tracks like ‘Night Comes Down’ from Judas Priest and ‘Belief’ from The Mission and married that with the deep singing style of...well...most goth bands! After I had completed ‘Nightfall Overture’ I just felt. “Fuck...what have I done? This is nothing like the stuff I set out to write…” and after that I banged out a few more typical goth songs with drum machine and the other clichés. At the end of the ‘The Breathing Shadow’ writing/recording session my lust for goth rock had began to fade, and the ‘Alone?’ track (based on an idea from 1979, written by my first band The Fordz) and the closing track ‘An Eye For An Eye” were not really goth tracks, but they had that dark vibe to it and an essential ingredient in the future of Nightingale.

After that first album was released I had moved on, and had no interest in making another solo album. The label insisted, however, and completely confused and very tired of goth rock, I booked another two weeks in my own studio and came up with…nothing! I panicked and called my brother Dag, who is one of the most creative songsmiths I have ever known, and asked if he could drop by and help me create the album, because working all alone didn't work out for me this time around. My brother showed up and together we arranged the material I had written and also wrote some brand new stuff. This time around I had no temporary “crush” on any new music, so I just wrote from my own musical DNA and the second album ‘The Closing Chronicles’ turned out very different from the debut. Yes there was a similar vibe in some places, thanks to the same strange guitar tuning and a deeper singing voice. On this album, the first real steps into pomp and AOR were however taken with songs like ‘Deep inside Of Nowhere’, ‘Alive Again’ and ‘Revival’. The album got some really good reviews and also some really strange ones, since some goth magazines picked it up based on the first album!

Nightingale was again put to sleep. A few years after the release of the second album, I visited my brother and he had just finished re-recording a batch of his own songs (using the stage name Tom Nouga), I was surprised how “Nightingale-ish” some of them sounded, and with me singing them, with lyrics in English, would fit perfectly on a third Nightingale album (Dan smiled in recalling this). Said and done. I took a few tracks I had written, that were too melodic for some of my other projects at the time, together with the new songs ‘Still In The Dark’, ‘Remorse & Regret’ and ‘Game Over’ and together with some interludes and an outro composed by Clive Nolan we had material for yet another Nightingale album! Black Mark released it in 2000 and it just completely disappeared off the radar like it had never happened. It was extremely frustrating, since I had invested so much time into it. We decided to “kill” Nightingale once again and create a total-prog band called Antarktis (Dan frowns). After just one rehearsal it became clear that the ten year age difference between me and my older brother also gave us completely different preferences in “what is prog?” and once again we put our collaboration on ice.

Then one day, out of the blue, the drummer from Memory Garden bought some drumsticks in the music shop where I worked, and he had bought the “I” album and loved it and volunteered to be our live drummer if we ever needed one. Fast-forward to Christmas Day 2000 and there we were, with Tom Björn on drums and Erik Oskarsson on bass, rehearsing for our first real gig! From that moment Nightingale was a real band and not just some project-thing. The first album we did as a four piece was ‘Alive Again’ a title celebrating the fourth rebirth of Nightingale. Tracks like ‘Shadowman’, ‘Glory Days’, ‘Eternal’ and ‘Shadowland Serenade’ is Nightingale in its purest form and they all inspired me for the writing of the ‘Retribution’ album. In 2004 we recorded the ‘Invisible’ album with Pelle Seather (Grand Design) at Studio Underground and is to date the most carefully crafted Nightingale album, containing some really melodic stuff like ‘Atlantis Rising’ and ‘The Wake’ but also more rocking stuff like ‘Still Alive’ and ‘Misery’ and my brother did his heaviest track to date with ‘A Raincheck On My Demise’ and perhaps Nightingale's finest moment so far: ‘Stalingrad’.

After the release of ‘Invisible’ we planned a small tour of Germany and Holland and to have something unique to sell on that tour, we recorded eight old songs and recorded our own version of the Edge of Sanity track ‘Losing Myself’ plus the brand new AOR-flavoured ‘Better Safe Than Sorry’, one of my own favourite Nightingale songs. Pressed in only 500 copies, the ‘Nightfall Overture’ album is a sought after collectors item and I get at least one email a month requesting for any left over copies!

After the close birth of both ‘Invisible’ and ‘Nightfall Overture’ I was beginning to feel less inspired to write songs, and more inspired to hang out with my new girlfriend and to dig deeper into the workings of mixing and mastering, that I hoped could be my future full-time profession. So while I took care of the future for my person and professional life, my brother rose to the occasion and delivered all the material for the ‘White Darkness’ album on which I still worked my ass off! After that one also disappeared without a trace, I got fed up with the whole thing and let Nightingale slip into a coma, with momentary awakenings for cool gigs!


So now it’s been some seven years since ‘White Darkness’ was released. Why now…what provided the impetus for you to wish to resuscitate the band again?

After a few attempts of writing material for an album that could have been finished around 2008, with the working title ‘Bravado’, I just felt that the material at hand, except ‘Chasing The Storm Away’, wasn't even good enough to fit as a bonus track on any of the other Nightingale records, so I just let it be. Once I started writing songs for the Witherscape album, I discovered a lot of riffs and ideas that were more suitable for Nightingale, and after I made a few demos, I felt that I had material powerful and strong and definitely good enough to be compared with our past work. My brother, however, felt that his material didn't work for him any more. I insisted that ‘Chasing The Storm Away” must be on the album, and then I wrote some more stuff and around the autumn of 2011 I had enough material to seriously considering making another Nightingale album.

You are a busy guy, Dan, and I note that your WITHERSCAPE project also has an imminent EP release. This and much of your other work could well have many of our readers running for cover! However, the music of Nightingale sits at the more mellow and totally melodic end of your musical spectrum, and in his review for this magazine, Gary Marshall has described ‘Retribution’ as “a stunning Melodic Rock album” featuring “beautifully gritty but melodic vocals of the very highest order”…

Wow! That is such an awesome thing to read from someone who reviews this style of music all the time! I know a lot of people connect me with death metal and stuff like that, but I have been performing melodic rock for a lot longer than I have been doing brutal stuff. And it wasn't easy being an AOR fan in the death metal scene and vice versa, but I did my best to stick out, and even wore a ‘Holidays in Eden’ Marillion shirt when my death metal band was interviewed on Headbangers Ball!! I released super-melodic post-prog Unicorn between 1989 and 1995 and to my surprise, a lot of death metal fans totally loved those albums, and these days I find myself trading “Sadly forgotten AOR Jewels” with bands that I mix, that play really brutal stuff!

All the music on the album is credited to you, Dan, excepting ‘Chasing…’ that you have just mentioned. To what extent did you have a clear vision of what you were trying to achieve?

I knew I wanted an album that was strong all the way through, and I wanted it to sound like a “classic” Nightingale album. Something the fans of ‘Alive Again’ would totally worship! And I was right. So far the reactions for the die hard fans have been amazing. Most of them honestly believe it is our best album, and it is so awesome to hear that, I cannot even begin to describe it!!

I understand that you have not always found writing song lyrics an easy process and on ‘Retribution’, your fellow players Tom Björn and Erik Oskarsson have provided the (and it has to be said) quite magnificent lyrical input. However, for me, the song ’27 (Curse Or Coincidence?)’ - which is entirely from your pen - is not only the pinnacle of achievement here, but is also one of my top 5 songs of 2014 (a very strong year). It’s not just musically exquisite (with contrasting heavier and lighter sections), but you have lyrically interwoven elements from the songs and/or deaths of at least three members of the “27 Club” (Morrison, Hendrix, Cobain) in an especially emotive and intricate way…

Wow! Thanks, Paul!! That’s so incredibly cool to hear!! The first one in this story is actually Robert Johnson. They're all guitar players, and two of them lefties like me (Dan smiles…) and they all left their mark in music history. They all have their own section of the lyrics, and I studied their lives really carefully and their life stories are all so sad, that it was actually pretty emotional to investigate their downfall. For the lines written for Jimi Hendrix, I tried to use as much of his song titles as possible, but put into sentences that made sense with the over all concept. Very time consuming, but worth the work once it worked out!!

‘Divided I Fall’ is written about a pair of conjoined twins that I read about somewhere on line. One of them was strong and the other one weak, with the weak one “feeding” off the life force from the strong one, and the parents had to choose between seeing them both die or separate them and let the weak one die. I wrote the lyrics from the view of the soul of the weak part. I actually shed a tear during the recording of the final part of this song, and it's the first time I ever did that.

The lyrics for ‘The Voyage Of Endurance’ is about the true story about the explorer Ernest Shackleton and his crew that survived years stranded on the ice of Antarctica, while ‘The Maze’ is a blend of fact and fiction. It's about a super brilliant mathematician that finally gets lost in his own mind. There's just too much brilliance there and he just escapes into his own world, all in his mind. Our drummer Tom has written an excellent lyric about depression in ‘Echoes Of A Dream’ and also lyrics to “Warriors Of The Dawn” inspired by the first Vikings to reach the shores of England.

Fireworks - The Ultimate Magazine for Melodic Rock Music

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Nightingale bassist Erik Oskarsson happened to be on hand to tell me about his lyrical contributions to the album…

ON STOLEN WINGS: For quite some time now, movies, TV series and books have been overcrowded with vampires, werewolves, demons and whatnot, so I thought :”why not join the trend and write something about that”. But I didn’t want to write about something fictional. The “modern vampire” character in the song is loosely based on different people I’ve met or heard about over the years - people who actually live on the work and efforts from others and by doing that they suck the lifeblood and energy from their victims. These people really exist and they are, in my opinion, a hell of a lot scarier than the ones you meet in the fictional world.

LUCIFER'S LAMENT: For some unknown reason I had an urge to get the phrase ”fallen from grace” in to one of the lyrics and it worked its way in to this song. Dan and I had a little viral brainstorming about perhaps having a religious or mythological theme in one of the songs. On the demo version of the song, in the soft part, Dan sings “I’ve been dreaming in a fire place…” which I thought was hilarious. But then I started to think about it and I realised that there is a mythological figure that sits in a hot place and has fallen from grace: the lyric more or less wrote itself from that point! There is also a broader perspective: is it possible for “good” to exist if there is no obvious “evil”? And who decides what is good or evil and on what premise? (The title is my homage to CCR: they have a song called ‘Sailors Lament’ on their album ‘Pendulum’…)

CHASING THE STORM AWAY: I first heard the demo version of the song a couple of years ago and immediately fell in love with it. It has a kind of underlying despair and frustration which I find most intriguing! The first idea for this song was about a young person living his life through computer games: a ruler of empires in the night and an absolute nobody during the day. The working title was ‘Silent King’. The second version was called ‘Inner storms’ and had a more introvert approach: trying to avoid the “inner storms” you might build up if you don’t deal with problem that you meet along the way.

When it was decided that the lyrical themes of the album were to be of a more general kind I thought “crap…”. But it only took some minor changes and to be honest it was for the better: I think the lyric now works both ways. (And I really struggled to get the word “aftermath” in the final version: anything for Dag! (smiles) It is a dark and not very hopeful picture but that's the way I feel sometimes when I think about the state of our planet. A lot of talking going on but nothing is done…

FOREVERMORE: On November 18 1978, over 900 people committed suicide in the tropical jungle of Guyana. The place was called Jonestown and was founded by Jim Jones, the leader of the People’s Temple. I was 11 years old when that happened and I still remember how I felt when I saw the pictures from that tragic incident. The lyrics are based upon that story. History is full of examples of extreme cults, religious or political fanatics whose followers are willing to sacrifice everything, even their own lives and those of others, for “the cause”. And it always seems to follow the same pattern: a promise of total happiness, the truth revealed to all who believe, an absolute loyalty to the leader…and it all ends up in chaos, death and despair…

Finally, Dan, I’d like to discuss the overall sound, where I notice you were also responsible for the mixing and the mastering of the album. It really has wonderful sonics from beginning to end and manages to capture a sort of retro vibe and classic rock pomposity while also having a warm feel to the production thus also giving a sort of modern feel. Please share with me what you were trying to achieve and whether you feel you accomplished this completely to your satisfaction….

Again...thank you very much indeed for your comment! I spent a lot of time getting the vibe just right for the sonics of the album and it is so amazing to read that you picked up on the “sonic flavour” I created! You see, Nightingale have never really had a perfect production to me ears. ‘Nightfall Overture’ and ‘White Darkness’ sound good and come close, but there were still things to improve. I paid attention to productions that “stood out” in my car stereo, stuff that just sounded better than the rest among my carefully chosen 1200 favourite song collection on my iPod and I made sure that my mix had the same “magic” as those tracks. And it wasn't easy… I spent a lot of time running up and down the stairs from the studio to my car only to go “nope, that's not it!” and back up again (smiles). Luckily I didn't have many other things to do in the studio around the time I mixed the album, so I let it take its time and I checked the mix in anything from €1k in-ears to original iPod in-ears to €9 PC speakers to €2k studio monitors and everything in between. I can finally say that I feel I have found the perfect balance between a modern and a vintage sound, custom made for Nightingale!

Thank you, Dan, for spending time with me and revealing your thoughts and ideas – and to Erik too for his input. If there is any justice, ‘Retribution’ should be hugely successful. Please don’t leave it so long before recording the next one.

Thanks Paul. Awesome questions and it's an honour to be a part of Fireworks magazine and the Rocktopia website. I am really quite the Melodic rock-o-phile so it's more than just a feature in a magazine for me! Hopefully the fans of melodic rock will check us out and not scared off from my involvement with more brutal stuff!

Nightingale’s Discography (source: Janne Stark)

I (2000: Black Mark BMCD135)
ALIVE AGAIN (2002: Black Mark BMCD165)
INVISIBLE (2004: Black Mark BMCD172)
NIGHTFALL OVERTURE (2005: Black Mark BMCD184)*
WHITE DARKNESS (2007: Black Mark BMDP187)
RETRIBUTION (2014: Inside Out 0506872)

(* very limited edition of 500 for sale on tour of Germany and The Netherlands)

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