MESHUGGAH Guitarist: 'If People Have A Hard Time Explaining What We Do, That's A Good Thing'

June 9, 2008 recently conducted an interview with MESHUGGAH rhythm guitarist Mrten Hagstrm. Several excerpts from the chat follow.

BigMusicGeek: What was the main inspiration behind the title "ObZen"?

Mrten Hagstrm: "Basically Tomas (Haake),our drummer, and I were sittin' around one night having a beer talkin' about what we were going to do lyrically on this album because most of the time, he's the one writing the lyrics. He was sayin' that he had a bunch of lyrics lined up that he had been writing for regular songs, but we hadn't had any chance to use them because the last few albums have had these monumentally long songs. He was sayin' that he liked some of them very much and that he wanted to re-write them a little bit to make them more or less the usual MESHUGGAH style, but a little bit more to the pointa little bit uglier, basically. That, we felt, was fitting to how we thought the album was going to be likea little bit more aggressive and to the point. That made him think about what would be a good way to sum up the lyrical aspect of this album. 'ObZen' basically just connects the obscene with Zen Buddhism, kinda suggesting that maybe society is finding its moment of inner peace or Zen through the obscene, through bloodshed and obscenity in general, ya know? That aspect of the animal in us humans, ya know?'

BigMusicGeek: Were there major differences in the way you approached the recording of "ObZen" in comparison to previous releases?

Mrten: "Well, the similarities (to 'Catch Thirtythree') were that we all worked together in the studio basically at the same time. We have our own studio that we work out of which makes it so that were never on the clock. We don't have to worry money-wise how long it takes us in our own studio since we do everything ourselves now, ya know? What we did with 'Catch Thirtythree' was that everyone was listening to the newly updated song every day and whoever felt inspired at that time just sat down and tried it out. We all work that wayjust sorta brainstorming together. Whoever came up with the perfect fit for what needed to be added next...we used that part. This time, we were all in the studio together, but everyone was sitting in their own room. So I was sitting in my room, writing and trying to come up with what I thought was cooland Fredrik (Thordendal) was sitting in his room basically doing the same thing. So it was kinda cool that way. You might come up with something one day after sitting in the studio recording for eight hours straight trying to get new shit together and then another day, I might wake up and not feel inspired, so I'll just walk around and listen to what the other guys are playing (laughs). We had a kind cross feedback there, which was kinda cool."

BigMusicGeek: What prompted the group to begin incorporating polymetric passages into the arrangements of your songs? Was this a conscious decision or simply a byproduct of the creative process?

Mrten: "I have no idea (laughs). Honestlywe've been around for a long time and we've been experimenting with what we are for such a long time that it's just second nature. We never think about applying new tools just for the sake of doing it. We're the product of what we grew up listening to. We're very inspirational-driven people. We're very lazy, but when we get the spark, we really get rolling. The common denominator between the four of us as far as what we want to put out on an album is that we want to keep it interesting. Somehow, for whatever reason, what comes out on an album by MESHUGGAH is what intrigues us at that time. I think (lead guitarist) Fredrik put it best when he said When God comes knocking, you'd better make damn sure you're home' as far as inspiration goes. There's not a lot of preconception involved. We don't think about it a lot beforehand. We can think about what we might add or take away at a later standpoint. It's all a very spur of the moment thing, so it's very hard to say that we started using polymetric rhythms for this or that reason. That was never a factor. It just happened."

BigMusicGeek: What was the main motivation behind the group re-recording and re-releasing "Nothing"? To be honest, I've always been rather fond of the original

Mrten: "Well, that's something where we were really just indulging ourselves (laughs). When discussing the re-recording and re-release of 'Nothing', we realized that we had already put it out there and that people who listen to the album will take it at face value because no one outside of the band knows what we were aiming for. But we know what we were aiming for and we didn't mean for 'Nothing' to come out the way that it did (laughs). Even though there's nothing wrong with the original album, we wanted an opportunity to make it right because we were really pressed for time back then. We were heading out for (2002's) Ozzfest and we didn't know if we were going to make it in time. When we mixed it, we were barely standing up, ya know? We were so tired we had been up for so many days that it was just ridiculous. We didn't know what we were doing. Fredrik was saying that if one of these days we find ourselves not in songwriting mode or not on tour or something and we want something to do just to keep rolling, we should try doing this just to see if we can make it as good of an album as we wanted it to be."

BigMusicGeek: How would you describe the music MESHUGGAH creates? You have to admit, the end result generally defies description

Mrten: "Well, we play metal (laughs). But I know what you're sayin'. There's a lot of 'math metal' and other labels goin' around. I guess I understandthere's always been the need, in every music genre, for an order and classification, ya know? Where you actually try and pinpoint what someone is doing. And whenever you do something that doesn't really fit or maybe fits a little bit in one label and a little bit in another label, people try to come up with something new. We play progressive, aggressive music, ya know? That's the only way I can put it. That's not a genre or a label, but that's the only way I can put it Sometimes we're called a black metal band, but I wouldn't call it that if I had to choose a label. And I don't think we really play death metal, either. Metal is just an expression and we've always felt that it doesn't really matter what you do with it as long as you make it your own. If people have a hard time explaining what we do, then that's a good thing."

Read the entire interview at

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