“MUSIC IS everything to me. I’ve been through two divorces and a whole world of shit because of music but still it is the most important thing in the world to me. I’d rather have music than anything else.”
So speaks 36-year-old Peter Tägtgren, musician, producer and creative brain behind Pain. His has been a life immersed in music, in pushing boundaries, and taking ideas to both their logical and illogical extremes. It’s been a career that has involved fronting bands – notably Hypocrisy, and now Pain – or shaping their sounds – as he has done with Celtic Frost, Children Of Bodom, Dimmu Borgir and Immortal, among others. It’s a calling that has made him one of Sweden’s most respected musicians and producers. But, with Pain’s new album ‘Psalms Of Extinction’, he now wants to take things one step further. Now, in his own words, he’s ready to make his band Pain, “the biggest fucking band in the genre. I want this to be huge on a worldwide scale.”
TÄGTGREN’S CAREER began in Hypocrisy, the atmospheric death metal band that he created, fronted and led. “But, in 1996,” Tägtgren says, “I realised I wanted to write some more heavy metal based music. I didn’t want to change Hypocrisy because I didn’t think that band had finished developing in its own genre. I really wanted to allow that to happen but I also wanted to experiment with other sounds. That’s why I set up Pain.”
A solo-project in which Tägtgren played every instrument, it was originally something he thought of as a heavy metal band. One day though, he did something that would change the project forever. “I got a PC and started to fuck around with some more beat-based stuff and one thing lead to another,” he says. All of a sudden I was playing this kind of music – whatever you want to call it! It was just an experimental thing, something I did to see where it went and also in order to produce something different. The only music I had been producing until then had been either death or black metal and I really wanted to develop, so I thought I’d try some different things and move into some electronic stuff.”
It was, it turned out, something that was in his blood. “My dad used to build synthesisers and Moogs,” he says. “He was one of those guys who could tear apart a VCR and put it back together again; he could make motherboards for computers and stuff like that.” With a new electronic world open for him, Tägtgren realised that he had an opportunity to take his music as far as it would possibly go, extending the boundaries of what people thought possible.
“I want to make my music different,” he says. “I think that makes it more interesting for me creatively and for people listening to it. I think it’s important not to take the easy way out and not do the same shit as everyone else does.”
It’s something that Tägtgren sees as a personal motto, constantly striving for an edge, a different way of doing things.
“On this new Pain album, ‘Psalms Of Extinction’, I tried to do something original with the drum loops. One of them, for example, was created by unplugging a guitar and then looping that noise. There are all kinds of things like that on there. Once I’ve done one thing, my minds starts thinking, ‘Okay, how do I make the next thing more interesting?’” In fact it’s this urge to never settle for second best, to always push things further and further, that has driven him all his life.“I like to try and find the limit of an idea,” he agrees. “For example, I remember the first time I bought a Mesa Boogie amp in the mid-’90s. I was constantly fucking with that thing until one day I got the perfect sound from it. I went out and sold it the next day and bought another one so I could start again. That’s the way I work. It’s why all my albums have always been a little different from each other because, once I have done one album, it feels like I have completed what I set out to do, so I move on to something else. Sometimes you make mistakes and go the wrong way, sometimes you don’t. Either way, it’s interesting.”
OVER THE course of Pain’s five album career, one thing has remained constant: Peter Tägtgren. While the sound of the band has developed from a more traditional rock beginning to the industrial, ethereal and melodic territory it now occupies, Tägtgren has remained at the helm alone as he drives his project on – taking on live musicians when he hits the stage.“I thought about working with some other people on this new album,” he says. “I was thinking about maybe getting another producer in. My friends said, ‘Dude, you would kill each other in seconds’. They knew that, as soon as we wanted to go in different direction on an idea, then we would fall out.”
Still, a stellar cast of musicians have helped on ‘Psalms Of Extinction’. In Flames bassist Peter Iwers played on two tracks, while Children Of Bodom’s Alexei Laiho laid down a guitar solo and Motörhead drummer Mikkey Dee played drums on another. Yet Tägtgren prefers to be in control alone, saying: “I’ve always been that kind of person. I have a goal that I’m focussed on that I have to attain. I like to be trying to improve things constantly. I can’t sit on my ass and let other people do things, especially if I know they’re not going to do them right. I’m a guy who wants to get shit done. I think that’s why I have been involved in so much music.” It means that the writing process is an intense affair, one that starts with an idea on a guitar and builds and builds.
“Very quickly it gets crazy,” says Tägtgren. “I’ll add keyboard layers, then a melody will emerge on top of that. Then I’ll put a very simple AC/DC drum beat over it all before I start to build loops. It gets crazier and crazier and then, suddenly, I realise that I’ve put 100 tracks down. I’ll go, ‘Holy shit, what happened?’ That’s when it starts sounding good…”
He says there are influences at work – in the past, the likes of Rammstein and Depeche Mode were important touchstones – but now he prefers to be standing alone, creating a new kind of music. But, Tägtgren says, there are still some very important things to keep in mind.“I always said that I wanted to create music with the drive of AC/DC and the spirit of Pantera,” he says. “But you’ve got to feel the beat all the way, you’ve got to feel the rhythm in your body. That’s what gets people. If you put good melodies and some heavy chugging riffs over the top, then you’re really getting somewhere. I think that’s why my music can straddle genres and it’s why I see 6-year-olds and 60-year-olds, rock ‘n’ rollers and bikers, death metallers and metallers at my gigs.”
AND YOU can rest assured that Peter Tägtgren will not stop in his pursuit to take Pain to the heights he believes they deserve. Problems with previous labels, bad luck and setbacks have all failed to deter him so far, serving only to make him more determined. “It’s definitely been a constant battle,” he says. “There is never any luck in Pain-world, I have to work for everything. I like it that way. It means I can never get comfortable, or put the cruise control on. I’m always on the edge – and that’s the best place to be.”