09 Février 2024


Blaster of Muppets

Interview René Pedersen + Jakob Mølbjerg

At last, MERCENARY is back ! I’m sure you’ve been asked that a lot… but what took you so long ? Why ten years between Through Our Darkest Days and Soundtrack For The End Times ?

Jakob : There were lots of reasons. I wasn’t super motivated when did some touring for the previous album and wanted to take some time off and spend time with my family. I had two children, the first one in 2014 and the second one in 2017. And after a break from touring, we took time to take care of other projects we had neglected… I know you did a lot of stuff (looking at René)…René : Yeah yeah… I took an education. You know, when you’re in a band, there are things you push aside so we had a lot of things to do, with our families of course – I had a child in 2009 and another one in 2019 – but also other stuff with our jobw, our projects that have nothing to do with music. And we had some line-up change, you know, with our drummer. We were still writing some music but it took some time because there were so many other things that we had to take care of.

Becoming a father does change a man, you know that now and everybody else in the band as well… can you perceive changes in the way you write music or lyrics related to that ?

Jakob : Some people tend to go soft or sentimental, musically speaking, when they have kids… But for me, it was the opposite. When I was away from my family to write some music, I focused on it, we had done quite a lot of experimenting on the previous records and this time, I wanted the music to be slower, darker, more melancholic… and I think that’s how a majority of people perceive the new record.René : yeah, the same with me. I really wanted to dig into what really turned me on in the music Mercenary played when or even before I joined the band. There are some things I wanted to try with the vocals, with the dynamics, the deep growls, the evil vocals, the clean melodic parts… Being so long apart, and away from touring, allowed us to really find the very essence of what we wanted to do, of what drives us. You know, there’s this song Where Darkened Souls Belong, man, I love it, you go from dark parts to beautiful ones, it’s diverse and so exciting to play and sing. Yesterday, I was tired when it was time to gon on stage but when we started playing the music, I was on fire because I love what we’ve come up with so much. I feel we truly combined the best from all of us. But it took time to get there, with our personal lives and everything. But it has worked, we have supportive families. I have this incredible girlfriend who makes that possible for me, so I’m grateful and I’m incredibly thankful for the reception this album has had since it was released. It’s been a great experience, really.

These days, you’re also back on the road with Hatesphere… How’s this tour going so far ?

Jakob : It’s been great ! We were a little bit anxious because the pre-sales were really low but we heard from everybody in the business that pre-sales are low for everything now. Maybe after the lockdown period, people don’t feel like committing to buying tickets so much… there are lots of tours as well, so a lot of competition. It’s a bit of new landscape we’re back into. But, it has turned out much better than what we had hoped for. Some people showed up, old fans we hadn’t seen for a long time, ten or fifteen years, we sold some merch on our different dates and all shows have been killer so far.René : I actually got emotional a couple of times on stage because people are really singing along, they are really engaging in the songs… even the new songs that haven’t been around for a long time, they already know the words…. You can really feel that they enjoy themselves. And some fans shared stories with us on how our music helped them through difficult times. And I’m glad we could help, you know… it’s overwhelming when people come to you and tell you how important your music has been to them. I’m so thankful we could go on tour after all this time and that people showed up and we were able to share all this… That’s what it’s all about !

How is it to get back on tour after such a long time not touring ? I mean, I think you’d never spent such a long time without live shows in your career… Was there some apprehension ?

Jakob : In a way, it came quite naturally because we didn’t really have a complete ten year hiatus… In 2015 we went to Japan and played some shows there. We also did some things, some festivals here and there. Just before the lockdown, we had finally found our new perfect drummer, Martin, who was living in the same town as us. That gave the band some great momentum, we played killer shows, recorded a music video for the first single From The Ashes of the Fallen… and that was a week before the lockdown ! So we were really hungry to get back out… but we didn’t really know how it would work out doing this tour…René : Yes, for me as a vocalist, the lack of sleep, no time off, the driving… We do a lot of the work ourselves because the budget is better when we don’t bring out a lot of crew. At this point, it makes sense for us to do a lot of stuff ourselves and it has worked really well but it does take some time away from your ability to sit down, drink a cup of tea and take care of yourself. The voice is affected when you do a lot of shows, sing every night, doing harsh vocals, screams, high pitch, low pitch, then you go off stage, you talk to the fans… So I totally stay away from alcohol for example. I’m aware that if I want to do this right, I really need to take good care of myself. Because the fans, you know, they all deserve the same amount of efforts. I shouldn’t play a bad show here and a killer show in Hamburg !Jakob : Yes, it’s pretty much a do it yourself tour but it’s really rewarding. We sell our own merch, we do everything ourselves but that way, it allows us to save money and be able to tour really… René : The reward for me is really to be able to meet people, talk to the fans. It’s really 50% wanting to do the shows and 50% wanting to meet the people who really care about the music. It’s a great feeling you know, being able to really connect with someone you don’t really know but feels strongly about the music, just as you do… It’s not the same when you’re at home and watch on your computer the number of streams you have and say « Oh, cool, there’s a lot of streams for that song »… you know, it doesn’t really feed anything and it doesn’t give you the feeling to want to create more music but when you meet people, it’s the best feeling in the world, it can’t be described !

A few words about Soundtrack For The End Times now : in your opinion, what does this record bring to the table that the previous ones didn’t have ?

René : For me, it’s very much the dynamics. It really brings out the darkness with the big harmonies, the big vocal lines… not to say that the previous album didn’t have that but I feel we did it better on the new record. Also, we kind of dived into the old Mercenary quite a bit. You know, like Everblack. I loved that album before I joined the band. Its death vocals, the screams… For me, it’s a very big part of what I feel in love with and it vanished over the years… Vocal wise, I wanted to go back to what turned me into a Mercenary fan in the first place. And I knew that I had more in me than what I had shown on other albums… I wanted to deliver a more diverse, expressing singing. And I think I did that on the new album. Jakob : Well, René wanted to explore more things but, musically, I wanted to make a more coherent album. Sometimes, in the past, we went in a lot of different directions and it would make an album where songs complemented each other… there’s a bit of that on the new one as well but I feel that, on the whole, it’s a bit more coherent.

You got Matt Heafy from Trivium as a guest on one of your new songs ? How did this collaboration come to life ? What can you tell us about it ?

Jakob : Well, it’s almost a twenty-year story ! We met Trivium backstage at the Dynamo Open Air Festival back in 2005. We wanted to say hello and Matt Heafy came and said « Hey Mercenary, I know your albums, they’re amazing… », we were really surprised ! Later, when we did our big line-up change, in 2011, I read in the press that Matt mentioned Mercenary among the bands he really liked, so I thought as maybe some people were a bit sceptical about our band with the changes and everything, I thought that maybe I should reach out… So I saw that Matt was on Twitter. I sent a direct message and he replied and said he would love to hear the new album. So he listened to it and did a sort of review of the album that he shared on his social media. I think he gave us a lot of new fans by doing that. That was super cool. So we kept in touch. When we were working on our last album, I asked if he would be interested in doing something with us, as a guest on a song… it was in 2022 but then he didn’t have time because Trivium was about to be the main support for Iron Maiden on their tour. So he said « I can’t do it guys, I’m sorry, I’m too busy preparing for this tour and doing all sorts of stuff ». The thing is that we finished our album a bit too late, it was the first time our guitarist Martin produced an album of ours… he did a stellar job but it took a long time because he’s a perfectionist. If we had finished earlier, we could have done something with Matt but it seemed liked we had missed a window. But months later, Matt sent us an email asking if we could still do something, he said « This Monday, I have a day-off and I’m streaming on Twitch so I can record some vocals ». We were so late and about to mix the album in two weeks… so it happened like that.René : I had already recorded all the vocals for the song because we thought it wouldn’t happen. But Matt’s such a good guy… We sent him the song, he hadn’t really had time to listen to it before so during the Twitch stream he was listening to the song, trying to figure out notes, which way it was gonna go with the vocals… and he just recorded it live in front of his audience ! Jakob : I think you can still find that Twitch stream if you search…René : Yeah, it’s a testament to how professional he really is. He can just go in, do it and do a really great job. His vocals are different from mine and really bring something else to the song. We’re really thankful for that, for Matt’s friendship and his support of the band. He’s a really good guy !René : I have to go man, I have to do things before the show but I leave you in capable hands (laughs). See you at the show !

The artwork struck me as very original, singular… Can you tell us about it ?

Jakob : Well, we’ve never approached an album saying, you know « we need a guy on a horse, with a machine gun », we approach artists with some song titles, vague concepts and see what they can come up with. It’s always been quite intuitive. I think it might be related to the fact that our music, I mean, the way I see it, is not really about specific messages, stories… it’s more about landscapes, associations, atmosphere… something you can project yourself into. The other thing is that we’re not personally great with visual concepts or aesthetics ourselves so we leave some of the conceptual work to others, ha ha ! This time, Niklas Sundin took care of the artwork. He had also done the artwork for 11 Dreams and Architect of Lies. We gave him the album title and asked if he had any suggestions on that… He gave us five different sketches, I think. One of them had this face. It was very cool and dreamy in a way… So we spend a lot of time with him, writing back and forth, developing the artwork. Rotating it, adjusting some stuff, adding some elements, some perspectives, changing background, colors and so on… At the end, there was this red background and we thought « It’s there ! The balance is there. It’s just perfect. ». In a way, I think you can see the face as the listener, you know, listening to the soundtrack for the end times. But it can also represent listeners, enjoying music, it might be our music our any music, those who are connected by music, connecting with humanity in times when the world is changing rapidly, unpredictably… and not necessarily in a good way. So the album title is not really about Judgement Day, the Apocalypse or the end of the world as such.

Your music still displays a lot of power, darkness, heaviness… but the melodies are catchier than ever. And the keyboard still plays quite an important part… Have you considered having a keyboard player on board for the future ?

Jakob : No, not really. Actually, this time around, we were very happy to do it ourselves. We had some arguments in the past with our keyboard player, then we had a guest keyboard player on two albums and that worked to some extent but sometimes I felt a bit frustrated because it made us take some directions that were interesting of course but sometimes felt like we were not totally ourselves… So we decided that Martin and I would be in charge of the keyboards for our new album. Martin had already played before and he’s quite a technician whereas I had never played and am more intuitive… so it took longer this time but it’s something that I really appreciated, it was satisfying to do that ourselves.

I know you have been a big Nevermore fan and remember seeing you with them twice before the band split. I was wondering if and how Warrel Dane’s death affected you a bit more than six years ago…

Jakob : It was incredibly sad. Of course, it was not like I got a real friendship with Warrel. He was really reserved and was often by himself on both tours we did together. But I remember one Christmas he contacted me on Facebook just to wish me and my family a merry Christmas, it was very nice, he didn’t need to do that, we hadn’t spoken for quite some time… So he obviously hadn’t forgotten who we were. That was nice. So, of course, I was upset when he died but not very surprised. He was a diabetic and he had issues with alcohol that he didn’t seem to be able to control… so it was kinda meant to not end very well, I guess. I remember on the last tour we did together, that the tensions were high and I watched the last show on that tour in the Netherlands thinking it might be the last Nevermore show ever. That was quite sad. And of course, it’s a huge loss, he was such a great artist. What he did was unique.

What are your plans for the near future ? Are we going to have more Mercenary in the months to come ?

Jakob : We want to try what works and what doesn’t work… we had this naive plan that if we took our time to put out a killer album maybe we would get the big festivals for the summer… but the sad truth is that the festival scene has changed a lot. We don’t have a lot of sales so basically we are getting very few festival offers. Some things go up, some things go down and you can’t always predict or make plans for that… Especially if you’re not a professional band in the way that you make a living out of it and we’ve never made a living out of our music. We’ve always invested the money into the band… So, right now, we’re doing this tour and we don’t have any idea if it’s going to be a success or not. So we haven’t planned a lot for after this tour, we have to wait and see how it turns out. Also, we have commitments job wise so we can’t really go out and play 40 or 50 shows a year. And I’m not sure we would do it even if we could because we all have kids and families. So not many plans… We haven’t really started writing new material, we have a few demos and stuff but we’ll have to see how we approach that, how we feel, what we want. We’ll do that step by step.

If Mercenary was to release a cover album, what would we find on it ?

Jakob : I don’t know, I’m not sure (laughs)… Covers are difficult, right ? If your cover is a copy of the original song, it’s not very interesting and if you do something that’s very different then it might not fall in the tastes of everyone in the band. But, actually, at some point, we talked about doing a Nevemore cover. René’s voice is quite different from Warrel’s, the vibe would be very different, we would use more keyboards… Maybe that would be interesting. We did a cover on the 11 Dreams album, from a Swedish band called Kent, the song was Music Non Stop. The reason I suggested that song at the time was because I found that the riffing for that song was quite similar to our riffing… but for a pop rock band. I played the riff to my brother and asked if he could find where it came from, what kind of band and he said « Maybe, In Flames ? »… so we gave it a try. I’m not sure how successful it turned out, there’s some stuff I like about it and stuff I don’t really like… but I think that’s the way to do a cover with interpretations that deviate from the original song, but it’s a hit and miss thing…

Anything you wish I asked and couldn’t think of… any important thing you’d like to say, now’s the time, this will be the conclusion to the interview :

Jakob : I’d just like to thank you for continuing to show interest in the band after all these years. The pre-sales are really good for tonight, to my mind that’s amazing, I mean, we haven’t played in France for more than ten years I think, so we’re really appreciative of that. Thank you to our fans, keep checking our website or social media to see what’s going on and check out our new album if you haven’t done it yet. If you like us or this style of music, you should definitely check it out, we’re really happy with what we’ve come up with.

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