A new Covenant – interviewed
Oct 2013 18

Covenant has been around for a long while and has also been through a couple of member changes. After the last album “Modern Ruin” the recent member Daniel Myer jumped ship to focus on his own projects such as Haujobb and Architect among others. For the new album “Leaving Babylon” founding member Joakim Montelius decided to only be involved in the studio, not on tour, and 2 new members joined, in the form of Daniel Jonasson and Andreas Catjar. We interviewed Joakim to find out who the new members are, what’s on the horizon, and we also got a very personal response as to why he’s not playing live anymore.

Joakim, Eskil and Daniel J also gave us extensive and interesting track-by-track comments on “Leaving Babylon” – click here for that text.


Entering Babylon

Are you satisfied with the new album, and how would you compare it to the older albums?

- We don’t compare albums. Every new effort is its own new chapter. And we’re never satisfied. “Leaving Babylon” turned out much better than we thought it would, though. Much thanks to the prodigous talents of Marcus Dimbodius who wrote the magnificent “Not to Be Here” and let us have a go at it. And of course all the other members of the ever growing Covenant family. Daniel Myer, Daniel Jonasson, Andreas Catjar were all instrumental to get this album done so well in such a short time.

Covenant is on Dependent in Europe and Metropolis in North America. The initial plan was for the band to create a small microlabel and release the album themselves in the Nordics, but those plans were scrapped and Dependent were asked to take over at the very last minute. Joakim explains that Covenant were simply too busy.

- The demand for touring and the huge interest in the album world-wide took all our attention, so we had to postpone the idea of creating our own microlabel.

Eskil Simonsson

Populating Babylon

Even though Daniel Myer has left the band, there are still some of his compositions on “Leaving Babylon”. Daniel Myer is a notoriously prolific writer, so I had to ask if they were remnants from the last album or new ones.

- Daniel is (sorry Daniel, I love you!) a maniac. He just radiates music. Considering all his projects he probably makes a thousand song ideas in a year. At least. So one of the biggest efforts we had for “Leaving Babylon”, and “Modern Ruin” as well, was to dig into the hundreds of song ideas that our prodiguous Mr. Myer sent us. The intro, “Leaving Babylon”, was a given choice. You just can’t beat that groove and I’m totally in love with the mood it sets already from the very first sound of the album. The second track he contributed was “For Our Time”. That song was written after “Modern Ruin”. But I’m not sure if it was actually meant for Covenant. With Daniel you never know.

Daniel Jonasson (Dupont member and co-organizer of the Tinitus festival) has been involved with the band for a while, mostly as a live member. This time around he’s been working in the studio as well, both writing lyrics for “Leaving Babylon” and handling electronics for “Auto (Circulation)”.

What’s Andreas Catjar’s role in the band?

- At first we just asked Andreas to replace Daniel Myer as a live member, but it was very quickly obvious that he has a lot more to contribute than simply playing keyboards. First, he completely changed the live performance to include his singular way of using the guitar as an intriguing new sound source in our sonic universe. Then he played us some of the stuff he’d been doing for his theatre projects, one of which turned into “I Walk Slow”. So we promptly invited him to be a full member of the band and we’re very happy and we are proud that he accepted. I know that it’s not always easy to join an established band, especially not one with such a long history as Covenant’s, but we already knew each other since a long time and we do share a lot of common ground. So I think he fit right in.

Andreas Catjar

Creating Babylon
Do you all work together in the studio?

- It’s a bit of both. Most of the purely creative work we do separately, I would say that we’re at our best when left to our own devices when writing. But we always meet up in the studio and try things out together when transforming our ideas into actual songs. Sometimes things spin off on new tangents during that phase or we decide that perhaps this or that track will be best if this or that person takes care of it alone. So it’s a floating process. It all depends on what each individual idea needs.

Almost all members live in different cities, and have different lives aside from the music scene. Joakim expands.

- Eskil and Andreas live in Malmö and they are both fully professional musicians. Daniel Jonasson lives in Stockholm, working as a promoter, DJ, musician and occasionally as a bus driver. I live in Helsingborg and apart from music, I work as a journalist, author and translator.

How come you’re no longer part of the live setup?

- Well, I never felt comfortable on stage and over the years all the touring made me feel ever more uneasy. I started drinking way too much as a way to cope with my nerves and my anxiety and finally I found that I couldn’t stop when I was at home. After some time of denial I had to face the fact that I had a very serious drinking problem. At this time I also became a father, so I had to make a choice. If I continued touring, I knew that the risk was high that I’d fall back into drinking and that’s a risk I’m not willing to take. Not for myself and certainly not for my daughter. So, all things considered, it was a rather easy choice. And as it turns out, probably the best one I ever made.

- I miss the travels and the camaraderie of being on the road with my best friends. And I miss all the friends I’ve made in the community of musicians as well as members of our audience. But I don’t miss the sleepless nights, panic attacks, the bottomless depressions and the sheer exhaustion that long tours meant for me. I’m just not cut out for that life and I’m glad I realized that before it was too late.

That’s a very eye opening answer to a seemingly innocent question. It’s a brave decision to make, and also brave to go public with it. It’s obviously the right choice for Joakim, and I sincerely wish him all the best.

Poetic Babylon

On the special edition version of “Leaving Babylon”, there’s a long, ambient spoken word piece that Eskil Simonsson made together with Swedish poet Helena Österlund. I wanted to know how that collaboration came about, so I got in contact with her too.

- It started with Eskil asking me if I wanted to collaborate with him. I said yes without thinking. I was happy and inspired, the thought of making something in a musical context made me very excited. I got an idea that same day. Around that time (February 2011) I was enormously stressed out, and I had got a relaxation album that I was using. I was so fascinated by the fact that I could lie on the floor, close my eyes and listen to someone else’s repeated sentences, do what the voice told me all the while music was playing in the background, and things happened in my body. I wondered what would happen if I used a similar approach as a starting point, but with different sentences. What would it do to your body?

The song now makes more sense to me, as I was admittedly pretty confused when listening to it for the first time. I didn’t quite know what to do with it, as it was so long – over an hour. In this context it clearly works a lot better. Helena continues:

- I also wanted to discard the thought of writing a text that would only be written, instead I wanted something that would only work in its context, as a voice. So the text doesn’t work by itself, it’s a pretty bad poem. There are too many repetitions of the same sentences after each other. But in a musical context it’s possible to do just that, repeat the same words time after time without losing their meaning. Instead the person singing or speaking can give it as much or even increased intensity.

- So, I wrote a text. Recorded it in a studio. Sent it to Eskil. And then I got something back I couldn’t even imagine, it was a very cool experience. My reading is pretty much as is, and Eskil has added music and sounds from an apartment in Helsingborg. Suddenly my words had a context, and became something more. And it did something to my body.

Daniel Jonasson

Explaining Babylon

Can you expand a little on the Babylon theme on the album and lyrics?

- The title is not so much a concept or a theme as it is a “trigger phrase”. It’s evocative and it’s a little enigmatic, so it’s there to set a tone. It’s not about actually going to Babylon and then leave it. It’s a metaphor for many different aspects of the modern world, our history, for us as musicians but also for all of us as world citizens and emotionally driven, intellectual beings. The lyrics are not specifically about anything that has to do with leaving Babylon, they are their own stories or observations or dreams. The songs are like a bunch of different people roaming the same place, looking at it from different angles and searching a way out or forward or a place to stay.

How did you manage to keep the sound together, considering all the different people involved, and the fact that some songs are based on old demos?

- By working with the same ancient equipment that we’ve used for the last 3 albums, haha. Well, not only, but we have our pet tricks and our production method hasn’t changed very radically, so it wasn’t that hard to make it sound coherent.

Covenant - looking very dapper

Leaving Babylon

How has your audience changed during the years?

- Ever since the very beginning, we’ve had a much bigger audience abroad than we had in Sweden, and we’re still visiting new countries. I think we’ve toured in at least 40 countries by now. And of course there’s a difference between the audience in Chile or in Japan compared to Germany or Great Britain. But since we got pigeon-holed in the “dark” scene from the very start we’re sort of part of that. And the basic scene attributes are very similar all over the world. Certain trends come and go, but it hasn’t changed very radically over the last 15 years or so. We have noticed a big increase in interest in places like Latin America and the former Eastern Europe after those regions came online. Piracy and international web forums definitely played a significant role in getting us promoters and venues to play at. We were the first “scene” band to make a nation-wide tour of Russia, and that helped build a solid fan base there. So our willingness to go to odd places combined with the virtual infrastructure of the scene has opened up the world for us, in a way that we could never have imagined.

What are your future release plans?

- We’re planning a second single from “Leaving Babylon”, most probably “Ignorance & Bliss” and we want to create remix kits to upload for anyone to do whatever they like with. There are so many creative and talented people in our audience that I’m sure plenty of great ideas will emerge from such a project. We haven’t discussed a live album yet, but with an almost entirely different live band and 2 albums since “In Transit”, it seems to me that it’s about time.

As a final question, I ask Joakim about their plans musicwise, outside Covenant.

- Eskil continues to work on his noise project Cement and I suspect there may be some interesting collaborations as well. Daniel Jonasson keeps working with Dupont and Andreas is constantly involved in at least half a dozen projects. I have recently started a new band called Amusik with a few very talented friends and we’re currently working on what might become an EP or even an album.


A closer look at “Leaving Babylon”

Click here for track-by-track comments on “Leaving Babylon” by Joakim, Eskil and Daniel J.