Swedish metal band, Avatar will be heading to Australia for their first ever tour in August. We spoke to Johannes Eckström (who says he hopes to see a kangaroo while here) ahead of the tour.
Eckström told us that Avatar is gearing up to “make history” with the shows that they plan to deliver in Australia. Avatar have amassed over 100 million plays on Spotify and an incredible 163 million views on their You Tube channel but it has taken multiple fan petitions and even a support group for Australian fans upset at not having a tour, to finally get the band downunder.
According to Eckström, Avatar’s success is due to the fact that they have kept going and that the band members have a deep affinity for one another. Band members always put what’s best for the band above everything else, this has meant that the band has kept “showing up” no matter what. Eckström also believes that the band’s music combined with the visuals that characterise their live shows are unique and at the core of Avatar’s success.
John Alfredsson came up with the name ‘Avatar’ when he was still at school. The name is a Hindu concept in which a deity manifests itself on earth in human or animal form. Asked about James Cameron’s movie ‘Avatar’, Eckström tells us that he preferred Cameron’s other movies such as Terminator and Aliens.
Eckström’s famous Clown make-up that he dons for concerts comes from an experimental shoot in which he was put in a “lake of fire” this footage was ultimately used for the music video for ‘Black Waltz’. Eckström says that the look “clicked immediately” and he has used the scary clown make-up ever since.
Major musical influences for the band have been the Haunted – their style of riffing was studied by Avatar when they were starting out. Iron Maiden was the first band that Eckström and the others travelled to see perform live. They often used to cover ‘Halloween’ and ‘Cannibal Corpse’ during the same rehearsal. Cryptopsy have also been very important for Avatar, as well as more old school bands such as Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. In particular, Judas Priest is hugely influential especially when Eckström is composing new music. He says that Judas Priest is that rare bird – a heavy metal band that makes music that one “can shake your hips too.” He also cites the Beatles and van Halen as influences demonstrating Avatar’s eclectic taste in music.
The current crop of metal bands that Eckström rates include Crypta, a death metal band from Brazil. Another group that he has been watching is Nakkeknaekker who are from Denmark (their name means “neck breaker”, in case you were wondering.) According to Eckström, they are an extremely old school sounding band, despite being very young. Orbit Culture are another band that he “absolutely loves.”
Eckström attributes Avatar’s longevity to their drive and focus and common taste in music. He adds that it was also lucky that the band found each other when they did, after emerging from other bands. He says that they fit together very well and they treasure their friendship.
According to Eckström the mosh pits these days are wilder than when the band first started. He notes that whilst people still film clips during the shows, this has become less of an obsession recently and that the crowd surfing and moshing is much more extreme these days.
Avatar have been working with the same director, Johan Carlén since the video for ‘Black Waltz’. There is a creative core consisting of Eckström, Alfredsson and Carlén who work on ideas for the band’s videos. For the ‘The Dirt I’m Buried In’ video, the three spoke about the song and its rare “night time driving energy” made them brainstorm about what would happen if the band would be driving to a show, the places they would pass and people they would meet.
When asked why so many metal bands emerge from the Nordic countries, Eckström feels that the welfare state has something to do with this – “the grownups made it so that there was somewhere for the kids to play” he explains. He believes that the success that Europe and Bathory had during the 80s made Swedish kids believe that they could also form bands that would be successful. He names checks the band In Flames who came from around where he grew up and who made local kids aspire to play metal music.
Australian audiences are in for a treat, Eckström says that Avatar are at their best right now and he promises that the shows will be “historical and hysterical”.
Eckström comes across as self-deprecating and down to earth during the interview. Somewhat surprisingly, all the members of Avatar are vegan. There will be no munching on bat heads for Avatar.
Don’t miss Avatar in August, tickets available HERE.
Friday, August 25: 170 Russell, Melbourne
Saturday, August 26: The Metro, Sydney
Sunday, August 27: The Triffid, Brisbane