we wish so hard to be seen
and pray at night to be heard
and yet we have nothing to show…
[ figurehead ]
Well, Covenant need not wish hard to be seen, …to be heard anymore.
And they certainly have many things to show; and above all their talent and the quality of their music! The music that has placed them at the top of the underground electronic music scene.
LE : Hello Joakim. How did you get the band started?
Joakim : Covenant was founded from the remains of several different projects that we were involved in between 1986-1991. When Clas, Eskil and myself started studying at the university we decided to become a trio and start making music in a more serious way. We took the name Covenant and got going around 1991-92. Our first album “Dreams Of A Cryotank” was released in 1994.
LE : Where are you based? Does living in different places make it difficult to work as a band on the completion of an album
Joakim : We have our studio and headquarters in Helsingborg, Sweden where we have recorded all our albums except “Northern Light” that was pre-produced there. Living in different countries is not a problem. Most of the time all we need is a telephone and a reasonably fast internet connection to do our jobs. And I really believe it’s a good thing that we live in different places. We get more inspiration and experience as a band that way, and we play live so often that we meet several times every month anyway. After all, Europe is a small place. I can go from Barcelona to Berlin in 2 hours if I have to and when we record music we always do it in the studio anyway and then we are at the same place for months.
LE : Is making music your full-time profession or do you have any other means of living?
Joakim : Eskil and I are full time musicians. Clas really likes his job, so he wants to keep it and make music as a hobby.
LE : Have you ever –at times of difficulty- thought of breaking up the band?
Joakim : Of course, that’s natural when you work closely with other people for a long time. But we are too close friends to actually do it, and after so many years it would be like leaving your family – we are more like brothers than colleagues. Covenant is a project based on friendship and brotherhood, that’s the whole point of it. We want it to be like the 3 musketeers: one for all and all for one. Even musketeers fight every now and then and the going can get rough, but in the end we always find a way to solve the problem.
LE : Has any concert in particular left a mark on you? Which are the best and worst concerts you have ever played and why
Joakim : We try to make every concert the best ever. I don’t see the point of going on stage without the goal of making the best possible show. But of course some shows become extra memorable for different reasons. It may be an exotic place (like Athens for example) or it may be together with really great bands. Or perhaps the audience is particularly wild. I don’t think we have made so many terrible shows, but sometimes little disasters just keep happening. The worst shows are usually the ones where there are technical malfunctions or when the staff is incompetent. Both factors together are catastrophic and it has happened a couple of times. But we are fortunate to work with an extremely professional crew for many years and it’s very rare to have terrible shows these days. I know this is a boring answer, but it’s almost impossible to pick just a few out of the many hundreds of shows we have made.
LE : Do you have any ‘theoretical’ background in music? Have you studied music or something similar or are you self-taught?
Joakim : Eskil – who writes almost all our music – played the violin for seven years as well as the piano and church organ. He also has a degree in music theory from University. I have always refused to take lessons because I think it’s part of the fascination with making electronic music that you don’t need to be able to play in order to realise the sounds in your head. I think electronic music is supposed to be performed by computers, not human hands or feet. Clas used to be the guitar player in a punk band before we met him, but I don’t think he ever had any lessons.
LE : What kind of instruments do you use in the studio? Do you prefer PCs or MACs? What kind of software do you use? And which is your favourite piece of equipment?
Joakim: I can’t say that we really have any preferences. When we started MACs and PCs didn’t even exist, at least not in any musically useful way. Our first sequencer was a drum machine that could send MIDI note numbers. Then we bought an 8-track hardware sequencer, then an Atari computer. I don’t believe that there is any machine that’s better than the other. Of course you can have personal preferences but it’s how you use it that matters. We happen to use Steinberg Cubase for the PC. Not because it’s the best, but because we have used it for years and know how to make the program do everything we want and we know how PCs and Windows work. If something goes wrong we can fix it. The PC also has a slightly wider selection of software – especially the really strange home-made little programs that make weird noises. In our studio we have a combination of hardware and software synthesizers, drum machines and samplers. We have vintage analogue synths, digital synths and virtual analogues, ancient 8-bit samplers and state-of-the-art 24-bit soundcards. Again one isn’t better than the other, just different and it’s a matter of taste and what you want to do. Software is cheaper and more flexible but hardware still sounds better. So we’ll probably continue using both to have the maximum number of options available.
LE : What is your favourite track from each album you have released and why?
Joakim : Another boring answer: we don’t have all-time favourites. To me personally, it changes with my mood. Some days ‘Figurehead’ is my favourite and other days perhaps it’s ‘Still Life’. I think it’s obvious that we have very widespread musical preferences. If you listen to all our records you’ll notice that there are many styles and many moods represented. The reason is of course that we are developing all the time and our vision of what music is and how it should sound keeps changing with us. Covenant’s only constant is change. I think it would be very sad if we had favourites from the past that were absolute. Then all development would be for nothing, a negative thing instead of something good and interesting. We have always believed that our best song ever will be the next one.
LE : Which bands and/or artists have influenced you most and were seminal in the way your sound has formed and evolved?
Joakim : That’s thousands of bands. Or hundreds, at least. I guess the classic ebm bands (Front 242, DAF, Nitzer Ebb, Skinny Puppy etc) and the early Eighties’ new romantics (from Kraftwerk to Human League, OMD, DM etc) were the reason that we started a band in the first place. In the late eighties we were fed up with ebm and goth and discovered the underground rave scene. Techno and the various forms of electronic dance music has probably been the biggest and longest lasting inspiration to us. But there is so much more great music that has been very important to us. Classic, heavy metal, reggae, blues, jazz, gospel, folk music, ethnic, ambient, punk rock…
LE : Which was the first song that was composed by Covenant?
Joakim : The first song composed and released under the name Covenant was ‘The Replicant’ that we made circa 1992. There is a re-recorded version of it on Dreams of a Cryotank.
LE : What are your views on ‘copy protection control’? There were some protests about your last album because people could not play it on their PC. How do you feel about mp3s and sharing files?
Joakim: That’s a serious dilemma. We’re very unhappy about the ‘Northern Light incident’. We tried to stop Sony from putting that idiot system on the album, but there was nothing we could do about it. I tried to explain to them that the only effect it would have would be to piss our fans off and create problems for the honest people who bought the album instead of downloading it. But Sony policy is Sony policy and naturally a lot of people got upset and angry about it. And I fully understand that. I would be angry too. So unless someone comes up with a working, fool-proof solution for copy protection we will never use one again.On the other hand the illegal copying and downloading is a very real and serious threat to professional musicians. These days it’s difficult to generate enough money to work full time with music and it’s even harder for small, underground artists like us. We are on the edge and our margins for survival are constantly diminishing. But the technology is there and there is nothing we can do about it except trying harder.
But yet another effect of this technology is that more people than ever get to know our music. And that’s a great thing. I use P2P networks to find new music all the time and then I buy the things I like and I find things I had no idea even existed before.
LE : You did some shows in the States in 2003. How do people react to Covenant over there? Is it similar to European audiences? In your opinion, is the American market more difficult to break into for a synth-based band than for other kinds of music?
Joakim : The 2003 US tour was our fourth nation-wide North American tour. We have had a big and solid fanbase in the US ever since Sequencer came out in -96. And the scene there has been growing constantly and today the US is our second most important territory. I’d say that this scene is remarkably similar wherever we go. We have made shows in more than 20 countries all over the world now and the crowd look the same all over the place. This is a truly international subculture, which is a beautiful thing.
LE : ‘Call the ships to port’ was voted best single for 2002 in our annual poll. Could you tell us what the song is about?
Joakim : It’s a little metaphor promoting the idea that the world will be a better place if we all help each other out and realize that we have only one planet, we all live here and it’s in our best interest to cooperate instead of competing. The lyrics take place in an imaginary land I invented and an ancient ‘myth’ about the sailors that went away a long time ago. Part of this half forgotten fairytale is that when everything goes completely wrong, all the people in this land must sing a song, all together at the same time like a great choir and the sailors will hear it and return to take everybody with them to safety. But everybody must sing or the magic will not work and they are all doomed.
LE : What inspired you to write ‘Like Tears in Rain’? And what in general inspires your lyrics?
Joakim: The title is obviously inspired by Roy’s dying monologue in the movie Blade Runner. The song is a lament to the fact that all beauty must die, time gives and time takes. One day you wake up and you realize that so many good things have been wasted just because you were too busy doing something else or that you were too inexperienced to understand their value at the time.Our lyrics are generally based on personal feelings, longings, fears, dreams and wishes. But every song has its own little universe, so it’s not that simple. I can’t properly explain everything, so I usually prefer to not comment too much on the origin and purpose of our lyrics. What really matters is what you feel when you listen to them anyway, the effect they have on you and how they can be relevant to you. I believe that most people are driven by similar passions and motivations. We all need love, we all feel anger, sorrow, fear, happiness, jealousy… If I write about those things it will be from my point of view at the time I’m writing, like an emotional snapshot of sorts. And if I feel like that I’m convinced that other people does it too and that’s what I’m aiming for. Perhaps nobody will understand what I’m trying to say, but that’s less important. As long as someone reacts emotionally or find a meaning relevant to him- or herself I’m satisfied.
LE : Have you thought about your next album and its sound? Shall we anticipate something faster (some people found ‘Northern Light’ somewhat ‘slower’ than the previous albums)? Any surprises down the line?
Joakim : Surprises, yes. Plans, no. All I know is that it will be different from the other albums. Anyone who knows the history of Covenant will know that all the albums we’ve made so far are pretty different from each other. This is a major motivation for us, to keep going forwards, trying new things and never looking back. And of course Northern Light is slower than the previous albums, we did that on purpose. Maybe the next one will be an electronic punk album? Or a synth-opera without any beats what so ever? This is why the future is so fascinating; you can never predict what is going to happen 😉
LE : Are you recording at the moment? When will the new album hit the stores? And are we going to hear any new material at your concert in Greece in November?
Joakim : We haven’t started recording yet, but a few ideas have been bouncing back and forth between us and we plan to release a new album next Autumn. Unfortunately no new stuff is complete enough to be performed live yet, so I’m afraid you’ll have to wait a bit longer for that.
LE : Thank you very much for your time and we look forward to seeing you live in Greece in November!
Joakim : Thank you and we very much look forward to return to the beautiful and inspiring cradle of western civilization.
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