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Then Comes Silence - Exploring a Gothic Heart The Swedish Gothic Rock act break into their US tour to talk to Alan Rider about sacrifice, lockdown, and the dwindling arts support in their home country

Then Comes Silence - Exploring a Gothic Heart

The Swedish Gothic Rock act break into their US tour to talk to Alan Rider about sacrifice, lockdown, and the dwindling arts support in their home country

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: May, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

"We felt that 2020 was going to be an incredible year for us. It was like you're throwing up a tennis ball to serve, and have a very good feeling about everything, then suddenly, the ball is snatched away and we are all locked down!"

Swedish Goth Rock trio ‘Then Comes Silence’ have been going since 2012 and have just released their seventh album ‘Trickery’, having slimmed down to a three piece following the unexpected departure of guitarist Mattias Ruejas Jonson ahead of a US tour in late 2022. We described that album as “kicking in all the right places, it throbs and pulses, scratches and claws, soars and swoops, pounds and rumbles, and cracks like a whip on every track”.  Having suffered the Pandemic enforced break that frustrated many a band, they are now back on a new US label, Metropolis, and embarking on a major North American tour to promote the album. When we caught up with them, they were two dates into that tour, holed up in a hotel room in Pittsburgh, where founder member and singer/bassist Alex Svenson, drummer Jonas Fransson, and relative new boy, guitarist Hugo Zombie, crowded around a laptop screen to talk to Outsideleft.

Outsideleft: The gang's all here! That is unusual, actually, as usually I only get one person to talk to, and it's almost always the lead singer. So often with bands, the lead singer is the focus and gets all of the attention. I know that you, Alex, are the longest serving member and write all the lyrics, but I often wonder what the other members of the band feel about that? Do they feel left out and that their contribution isn't as valued, because as a three piece, you've all got to do a lot of work to make this work well, so there's no passengers here. Maybe I can ask the other guys how they feel about that
Jonas:
There are pros and cons. Sometimes it's annoying as a drummer, as nobody sees you. It's often like that, because you're in the background, covered by smoke or fog, you know. It can be a positive too, as I can hide out in the back! So, I think it goes both ways.

Alex: We all have our places in the band, so it works out pretty well, and it's obvious that as the lead singer, I'm usually in the front, kind of the face of the band, but I must say, when you watch us live, I think Hugo is the focal point, because he is like a whirlwind around stage and I'm just standing there singing into my mic!

OL: Hugo, you are the most recent recruit, although you joined in 2018, so not that new, actually. Some bands don’t even last six years!
Hugo:
I still feel like the new guy though! I knew them all from before though, so its ok. It’s been a while now and I have to say, the pandemic years mixed it up a bit, because it's really hard to remember those years. It's like two years merged into a half year or something. I feel that we took advantage of the situation to work really hard on live streams and focused a lot online, on social media, and places like that instead of touring, so it was kind of a good thing, during bad times.

OL: Do you think you lost some momentum in the Pandemic? A lot of bands had tours pulled, and recordings that they had to cancel or switch to doing remotely, and keeping up momentum is very important for any band, especially when you're getting attention. You don't want to stop, because people's attention will move elsewhere. Everybody had to stop in the lockdown, I know, but some bands did better out of it than others.
Alex:
The thing is, back in 2019, we had worked really hard recording the ‘Machine’ album, which was released in 2020 on Nuclear Blast, the Metal label. We played a lot of festivals, we got a lot of new followers, and things were going really, really, well. We felt that 2020 was going to be an incredible year for us. It was like you're throwing up a tennis ball to serve, and have a very good feeling about everything, then suddenly, the ball is snatched away and we are all locked down! I know it was the same for everyone, but for us, it was a really hard blow, because it popped the bubble, and we lost some very important momentum. I must say though, that we really tried to keep it alive. We had the album, ‘Machine’, out and as Hugo said, we did a lot of live streaming of performances and tried to do it as good as we could, you know, to try to keep up with our followers and gain new followers and make more videos. Luckily, the label gave us some money to make videos. It was only supposed to be two videos, but I think we made four or five in the end. So, somehow, we managed to survive, but we had to postpone tours about six times, because we were a little bit naive. We were constantly thinking that in a half year, we can do, this and we started booking dates again. The same thing goes for the promoters. They were probably thinking the same; “yeah, let's do the tour in the fall!”, but we had to postpone every time. So, I do think we lost some momentum, but I have to say we have gained it back again, and we're right back to where we were before the lockdown.

OL: This is your seventh album, you've done a lot of touring, and other stuff before as well, and now you're back in the States on another North American tour, playing lots of dates. I just wonder, how do you keep finding the energy to keep going? That must be quite tiring, because you must feel that you've been repeating yourself at times, and yet you need to keep doing something a bit different each time in order to keep moving forward?
Jonas:
When Then Comes Silence started out, it wasn't meant to be a Goth band or fit an industry specific genre, it was more like a horror movie theme.

Alex: We discovered that by the third album, ‘Nyctophillian’, that we were attracting a Goth crowd, and, you know, I have a gothic heart, so to me, it was like, “Oh, that's great”, because we were just doing rock in our own way, but it suddenly became quite obvious that we were slipping into that Goth/ Post-punk community more and more, and gaining more followers there. 

Jonas: I joined in 2015 and always saw, and see, myself as a Goth, so I also take that direction. We are different, sound-wise, than Sisters of Mercy, or Darkwave, because we’ve found our own sound.

OL: To be honest, Goth is such an imprecise term, I don’t really know what Goth is. According to a few recent books that have come out, it includes almost everything! I would describe you simply as a rock band, that might appeal to a lot of different audiences. Some of the tracks on the new album have been described as sounding more like pre-Joy Division Warsaw than Goth, and I’d agree with that. You don't want to be boxed into a definition, you want to keep outside of that, surely? 
Alex:
I think this is why it's easier for us to find a new direction every tour, every album, because I think we are a rock band. We mostly focus on standard songs with a chorus, with a nice verse, bridge, and you know, melodies. You can't really compare Then Come Silence to other Darkwave bands, because Darkwave is a very specific sound. We don't really belong there, but we, for some reason, share the same crowd and we have a lot of Darkwave and post-punk friends and musicians that we hang out with, both in America, and the UK and Europe. So, I think it's easier for us to try a different thing on the next album. On the new album, we are using more electronic elements. We haven't really done that before. We always had some kind of synthesisers on every album, but this album is very much focused on the on the electronic element. More arpeggios, more synth pads, and more melodies, because I love working with synthesisers and it was time to go full electronic, almost.

Jonas: It was also a very natural progression, because we were previously a four piece with two guitarists, and now we are a three piece, with only one guitar, so the focus on the guitars went in another direction, and we allowed the synthesisers to become the main melody of a song, which we didn't do before.

Then Comes Slience panelsOL: That’s great, because that's the evolution of the band, isn't it? Talking of evolution, there was a split just before your 2022 US tour, when Mattias Ruejas Jonson suddenly left. For some bands, that would have been the end, it could it could have destroyed the band, or meant that you finished Then Comes Silence and formed a different band.
Alex:
We don't want to go into personal stuff, but you know, it just happened and we became a three piece right before our first US tour two years ago. There's a lot of investment in preparing for a US tour. We have to get Visas, pay for the flights way ahead, and there's a lot of investment mentally and timewise. You have to put a lot of effort and time into it. We had a new album recently released, it was all set up, so we decided to go to the US and complete the tour, because we wanted to, and we felt this shouldn't be something that stopped us. We've been through hardship before, and I think our passion for music made us solve the problem very quickly. We had a little over a week to reconstruct the whole thing on stage around a three piece. It was a good test going into the US tour to see if it worked, because it would have been much harder doing a tour in Germany, or in Benelux or in the UK, or Spain. We already had fans there, and they would have said “what's going on? There’s only three of you on stage!”, but first time in the US, no one had ever seen us before, so they were like, “Oh, this is cool. Sounds good”. So, it was much easier to test it, and it worked out really, really, well. We felt let’s just keep going as three piece.

Jonas: We had talked a little bit before about changing members around, but because the songs were written for two guitars, it was too much of an effort. When we were forced to actually go with one guitar it meant we could do that. Things that happen like this can help your creativity.

OL: Like fate has taken a hand?
Alex:
Exactly. Shake things up a little bit. We’ve now got more space and less members, so there's less disagreements. Not everybody has to play everything, so we can put keyboards and synthesisers in there without anybody feeling upset that their guitar’s not on it. We have more space on stage, so we can play smaller stages if we have to. Once we played in Wichita, in a very small venue, and we couldn't have done that as a four piece. So, sometimes it's better to be three people on stage instead of four!

OL: And the triangle is a very strong shape of course. I think we should probably talk about the new album. You've said in the PR stuff they send us that it's about friendship, unity, feeling part of a community. We've already talked about the Goth scene and how you've managed to connect into that, but when I looked at some of the lyrics and the song titles, they are quite dark and full of phases like “You've got me fooled”, “Pounding love like a hammer” and so on. That doesn’t feel very much like friendship to me…
Alex:
I think when you're celebrating something, or when you're giving someone friendship, love, unity, I think it's good to give a balance when you're writing about that. You have to show what's behind, what's underneath, or what's on the ground. If you love someone, there is always something nagging. I think that's the structure of nature. So, one song can be about love, or about how much we appreciate this and that, but at the same time, we have to balance it with “If you leave me, I will destroy you”. That’s because we are only human, so it's not always perfectly fine, but if you can go through all that and still love each other and be really proud of what you're doing together, the bond gets stronger. Friendship is also about sacrifice. Love is also about sacrifice, because you have to sacrifice something to make it work, to make it last, because it's worth it. A lot of the lyrics on the album show both sides.

OL: If the songs are based on personal experience, then, to me, it's clear that there's a number of relationships involved here, some of which are finished. Because you're in a band that spends a fair bit of time on the road (and I'm assuming as you get more popular, there'll be more and more time away from home), what kind of impact does that have on your personal lives? 
Alex:
Yeah, we do have to work on it. That's what I was saying about having to make a sacrifice. Luckily, it's working out quite well for all of us. Okay, it's not super easy, because we have families back home and we have to try to find a good balance, to make everything work. So yes, it is hard work, and it's sometimes a bit stressful. I'm a Dad. I have two daughters at home. They're actually quite big now and almost grown up, but I do want to be there for them if they need to talk to me about something, and right now I'm sitting in a hotel in Pittsburgh! But we only have one life, so we have to do this, and thankfully, we have great friends, wives, and girlfriends at home that really support us.

OL: You do have a job that is not boring, so you have a lot to be grateful for. There are a lot of people working in supermarkets that would love to spend their time going around America playing gigs! One of the things I really wanted to talk about was Sweden, and about the challenges of coming from a country that is not part of the main global rock scene. You've had to go to the States, and to other parts of Europe, Germany, and the United Kingdom, in order to build up your reputation. Could you realistically build a career within Sweden?
Alex:
I think it's much easier now than 40 or 50 years ago, thanks to bands like Abba, Roxette, Europe, and we have plenty of terrific bands from the ‘70s and ‘80s that really laid the ground for the rest of the Swedish artist community and planted everything for a lot of bands. We also have some great Metal bands that have been working for 30 years. So, I think it's much easier now. I know when I have talked to older musicians back home that have been touring in the ‘80s, they say that it was really hard back then, because Sweden did have a bad reputation, but after a couple of decades, there is a good ground to work on.

OL: You still have to sing in English though.
Alex:
My English is so crappy, but I don't call it English, I call it Rock and Roll-ish. It's just the language of rock and roll.

OL: This is possibly a difficult question you might not want to answer. The Swedish government has made some worrying noises about all citizens having to be ready to fight, and being on a war footing. That’s also being discussed across Europe right now. I know bands don't often like to talk about those kinds of things, because they see it as not their area of expertise, but it affects everybody. Sweden is one of those countries that's actually on the front line of this, bordering Russia, and it's got a government which is not great, much like our government. It’s not a good situation for creative people like yourself, who might feel forced into doing things that you wouldn't really want to do and never would want to do.
Alex:
We don't really talk much about politics on tour, and never on stage. I never do any statements on stage as I don't think it will actually help us, or help the crowd. I do think it's tougher now if you're working in Culture, especially in Sweden, because they are cutting down on everything. It used to be easier to start a band, or if you wanted to be an artist, or a painter or a writer, as there was a lot of government funding, helping you to develop. It’s much harder now. In our community, we can't really live on the fees we get, but we sell pretty diverse merchandise, and that's helpful. By selling T shirts, vinyl and CDs, it keeps our heads above the, you know, the water level. Not all bands can do that. We haven't applied for any government funding in years, because there is no use. I already know what they're gonna say. I think it's not really fair, because they should actually help bands like us, because we are actually doing a good job out here, in the US, UK, Spain, Germany, but we'll have to manage it on our own somehow, and thanks to all those that are helping us, you know, fans, promoters, agents, stuff like that. So, we can develop and make a living.

Like a hammer stillsOL: I think that that is an interesting point. The way that the music scene is now, it's very hard to make a living just out of selling records, so you have to tour as well in order to keep going. Do you feel that there's a career path for you? Or do you have to keep touring until you're 100 years old in order to keep going?
Alex:
We will have to tour until we're 100 years old! There's no rest for the wicked, but we love touring. We love playing live. It's a passion. And I think we're pretty good at it, because we like doing it. We all get grow older, but as long as we can stand on our own legs, and I still have feeling in my fingers, and I still have my hearing and voice, I will just keep on until I drop. But I want to go back to this thing about the government and the culture, because I forgot to mention this very important thing, that’s actually worrying a lot of musicians our age. In Sweden, we had a lot of work when we were young, you know, there were a lot of places for kids to rehearse. You had practice studios, you could start a 'Study Circle’, it's called in Swedish, where you collect a group of friends and you can start a band, or you can start some kind of movement or a club, or anything, and you get some money from the government to keep it going. It's not much, but it's helpful, you know. If you're a kid, it's wonderful. I remember when I was 14, and I got some money from the government to pay the rent for the band practice studio. It was so helpful, because if you're 14, you don't have your own money for that. I remember when I went to school, it was quite easy if you wanted to start learning to play an instrument. It was super easy, and everything was free, you could just pick any instrument and some people became really good at it, and are really famous today for singing and performing. But we're losing all that, and that’s a big shame.

OL: In the UK as well, funding for the Arts is being cut all the time. Sometimes 100% cuts for orchestras, music, theatre, painting. All the arts are suffering because the Government doesn’t value it, they don't see it as a valuable thing.
Alex:
That’s so weird, because I think music, art, literature, film, everything, should be as important as food. You need food to survive, you also need culture to survive, because suddenly something happens in your life, you lose someone, a parent, or a child or, or a relationship is breaking up and then suddenly, it's so important. You're depending on art, music, literature, because that's helping you to get over it, like a therapy. It is an essential tool for everyone, so it's so weird that politicians aren't really putting any value into it. I think they used to way back. Wasn’t it Churchill who said, when someone was questioning if it was worth saving art during World War Two, “that’s what we are fighting for”. Of course, when war is knocking on your door, suddenly, music doesn't seem that important anymore, but is important. It is like the core, the soul, of every human. It is what makes us human.”

Then Comes Silence singer

At that point they were called away and we had to cut the conversation short. Shame, as it was getting really interesting. But it was a good point to end on. You can find out more about Then Comes Silence on their website, and order the album here→

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.


about Alan Rider »»

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