Interview with bassist Martin Forsman
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: October 7, 2014
Photos by Sofia Hellberg
Altair may be relatively new to the international world of Thrash Metal but they have been making a name for themselves by performing at big-time festivals in both Sweden and Finland, such as Jalometalli, in 2013, and Tuska in 2014.
At the beginning of August 2014, Altair released a self-titled 12-inch EP on their own Moshman Records (limited to 150 vinyl-only copies), containing four songs of aggressive, merciless old school Thrash Metal. Undoubtedly this is just the start of better things around the corner.
The Metal Crypt was also keen to know what's around that corner and the band's bassist, Martin Forsman, took up the challenge of revealing more about this intense Swedish Thrash combo.
Luxi: What's new in Stockholm? Feeling relaxed and creative or totally exhausted thinking about the scary amount of interview questions?
Martin: Hi Luxi! I'm actually in Malmö. The band is based in Stockholm, but I have been living in Skåne for almost nine years. Yes, it looks like you've got a shitload of questions lined up...
Luxi: Given that Altair has been around since 1997, it seems kind of odd that you really haven't had many releases yet. Why have things been somewhat slow for you guys, on that front?
Martin: Well, Daniel, the drummer, and I started playing together in 1997 and then we got Kalle in on guitar and started calling ourselves Altair in 1998. But when we started out, we couldn't really play our instruments so we were pretty clueless about what we were doing. It took us a long time to get to a level where we could start playing gigs. Other reasons are that we live in different cities and work a lot, so we don't get together to write and rehearse that often. And when we do rehearse, it is usually for a show so we don't have time to write new stuff. Also, the band was completely inactive for about four years until we got the offer to play Jalometalli last year. But now we're back, baby!
Luxi: When Altair was formed, you had a more Speed Metal approach to your sound, with some occasional Thrash Metal influences. What made you decide to move Altair to a heavier, more Thrash-tinged sound over the years?
Martin: We always loved playing fast and I think our songs have always had a certain drive. But I think the turning point was when we did a cover of the Exodus song "Piranha" in our rehearsal room. Henka, our vocalist, started screaming/growling the vocals instead of using his clean voice. It just sounded a lot better so then we started writing our own music with those kinds of vocals in mind.
Luxi: What bands were the main influences for you guys in the beginning and, as the years passed by, which ones started playing a more important role for the sound of Altair?
Martin: We never looked at other bands and said "hey, let's sound a bit more like them." All of us listen to most kinds of Hard Rock and Metal and I don't think any of us have really stopped listening to anything we used to be into, but I think we were probably a bit more into bands like Overkill and Anthrax, as well as more melodic bands like Blind Guardian and Iced Earth, in the early days. Bands like Kreator and Merciless were added to our playlists (or mix tapes, ha ha!) later on.
Luxi: What were some of those most important albums for you, personally, that exposed you to the Thrash Metal explosion?
Martin: One album that has been important for all of us is the Powermad album Absolute Power. We all still love that one! The riffing is just phenomenal. For me personally, I have to mention Anthrax's Among the Living, Overkill's Under the Influence and all the early Metallica, Slayer and Megadeth albums.
Luxi: You guys come mostly from Stockholm and, as everyone already knows, that city became well known for its Death Metal scene in the beginning of 90's. Wouldn't it have been easier for you to jump on the "Stockholm Death Metal" bandwagon and start playing that style in 1997 instead of Thrash Metal?
Martin: We weren't that into Death Metal when we started and, more importantly, we never thought of our band as something that would reach any kind of success; it was just a really fun hobby. The thought of what might "work" or "be popular" never really crossed our minds.
Luxi: When you started Altair in 1997 was there any kind of Thrash Metal scene? Did you feel it was a "risky business" to take your own road when so many Death Metal bands seemed to be enjoying the limelight and selling records like hot cakes, so to speak?
Martin: There was no Thrash scene whatsoever. There was a cool band called Cranium around back then, but we found out about them years later. Other than that, I think it was basically Death Metal and "Aggro"/Nu-Metal all the way. We didn't care. Recording an album seemed like something "real" bands did. We were just trying to play as fast as we could in our rehearsal room back then.
Luxi: When you are in the middle of the songwriting process, what kinds of things do you do to make sure the material is "Altair?" Obviously, things get filtered, as you probably want Altair to sound like Altair (Thrash Metal), right?
Martin: To some extent, I think our limitations as musicians make us sound like us. We are not Dream Theater and we don't try to be. We are pretty open to using stuff that is not strictly Thrash Metal, but I also think that we have a fairly good idea about what sounds like Altair and what doesn't. We have some very fast and aggressive stuff, and some that is more mid-tempo and almost melodic in places. I think the riffs and the choruses are the most important. If you have a good riff and a good chorus, you are very close to completing a great song. But every riff has to be good, not just one or two riffs per song.
Luxi: How easy is it to draw the line between the stuff that can be part of Altair's repertoire and the stuff that isn't? I assume that, with more true songwriters in the band, with different views about things, the harder it may be to agree...
Martin: There are always discussions and sometimes we need to take a vote. Most of the time we see things the same way, at least after a while.
Luxi: You recently released your new 12" self-titled EP on your own Moshman label. Having heard it a few times in a row, there's no question about Altair's ability to thrash people's hearts out and kick their fancy butts. Both Teutonic and Bay Area elements shine through, but that's hardly any surprising, knowing the impact those genres have had on the worldwide Metal community for the last three decades. Do you feel that you accomplished everything with this EP that you set out to accomplish, without compromising or sacrificing anything?
Martin: Well, thanks! I'm looking forward to reading the review! What we wanted to accomplish with this EP was just to get some of our songs on vinyl because we though it would be a cool thing to have at home. Also, we thought it might make it easier to get gigs. I think it turned out really cool, and I also think that we learned a lot from making it and that our next recording will be even better.
Luxi: I would guess none of you in Altair would deny an undying love for one of the kings of Thrash, Slayer. When it comes to the riff department on this EP, more than once or twice Slayer's name tends to crawl to the surface...
Martin: Well, I guess all Thrash Metal bands owe Slayer and early Metallica something. If you think some of our riffs sound like Slayer, then that's cool. We love Slayer so I take it as a compliment. But we never tried to sound like Slayer or any other band.
Luxi: The opening song from the new EP, "The Ice Cream Man," doesn't really have a "typical" Thrash Metal title. Could you enlighten us as to what this song is about, what inspired you to write it and why you chose such an unusual title?
Martin: For the intro, we used a recording of the melody that the ice cream trucks in Sweden and Finland use when they drive around the neighborhood trying to sell ice cream to kids so, if you don't listen to the lyrics, it may come across as some kind of joke. When we play it live we usually throw ice creams into the audience. The lyrics are about an ice cream man driving around looking for children to kidnap and kill, so it is not very nice at all, ha ha!
Luxi: Overall, Altair represents the more extreme and brutal end of the Thrash spectrum, with a focus clearly on aggressiveness and straightforwardness. When you perform live, you want to make sure the audience will enjoy witnessing five crazy Swedes going nuts onstage in the name of uncompromising Thrash Metal, right?
Martin: We think that the visual aspect of a live show is very important. I hate watching bands that play correctly but just stand around looking at their instruments. I definitely prefer seeing a band that plays a few bum notes but moves around on stage and looks the audience in the eyes. We play aggressive music so we want to be aggressive on stage, too.
Luxi: While we are talking about playing live, how important is the interaction between the band and the crowd? How do you try to reach the fans when performing in front of your audience?
Martin: Well, it certainly is a lot more fun to play when you get a moshpit going, ha ha! We have to be realistic though; Altair is a rather unknown band and most of the people who come to see us have heard our music before. Unless they are completely drunk, very young and/or very much into this particular kind of music, it is not likely that they will start a riot during the first song. If we get some raised fists, applause and cheers I think we should be happy. Hopefully people won't leave during our set, ha ha!
Luxi: When I saw you guys at Tuska festival in Hell-sinki, Finland this year, you seemed to be having good and friendly violent fun there onstage but the crowd seemed kind of lame, standing there and wondering what was happening on the stage. Where was the wildly raging mosh pit? Where were all those Duracell-operated Thrash bangers with denim vests going absolutely berserk? Obviously, you have tons of fun when performing and that's all that counts, right?
Martin: I disagree. Yes, the crowd was a bit hesitant at first, but that was to be expected since we are an unknown band and we were playing in the afternoon on the second day. However, when we got to the last couple of songs people started really getting into it so I think it turned out great in the end. And when we returned to Hell-sinki to play Tavastia with Lost Society in August there was a moshpit. You are right about having fun being what counts, though, and we have had loads of it all three times we have played in Finland so we hope we can come back soon!
Luxi: From what I have heard, it's the Swedish crowds that are known for being guilty of enjoying concerts by standing in the crowd, staring at bands like they are at a funeral. Are these ugly rumors true about Swedish Metal crowds?
Martin: We never experienced that when we played, but I have seen it happen at other shows. Usually on a Tuesday evening just before payday and with too many middle-aged musicians in the audience going "I can do better than them!"
Luxi: What's ahead for Altair, gigging-wise? Have you set any certain goals that you would like to achieve? I would think a support slot on a Sodom or Forbidden tour would keep Altair alive and kicking, eh?
Martin: We have a show in Malmö in November, we are planning a show in Stockholm this autumn and we have a really good festival show happening next year that I can't tell you about yet. That's all we know right now, but I'm sure there will be more. The problem with support slots is that the support band almost always has to pay to be there. I don't want to pay thousands of euros to go on tour just for the fun of it. If we have a great full-length record out, with good distribution and some promotion activities in the markets the tour would reach, maybe it would make some kind of financial sense to do it, but since we are not really aiming for that "success" thing I think we will stick with one-offs at clubs and festivals for the time being.
Luxi: Are there some new Thrash Metal names out there that you admire? I remember you telling me that when you got the unexpected opportunity to share the stage with Lost Society at Tavastia Club in Hell-sinki, Finland, you simply could not say no to a chance to play with these young and wild Finns...
Martin: Yeah, Lost Society are awesome! They are fantastic players, energetic on stage and fun guys to hang out with. Nuclear Omnicide opened that evening and they were pretty badass, too. More very young guys who are good musicians and a lot of fun to hang around with. I also love the Swedish bands F.K.Ü. and Antichrist. Another band I have been listening to a lot is Vektor from Arizona. They have two great albums out. Kind of progressive but still very aggressive.
Luxi: Promotion is everything nowadays if you want move to a higher level with a band. What have you been doing to get Altair's name on people's lips besides playing shows?
Martin: We are in talks with a well-known Swedish company regarding both distribution and promotion so, to avoid jinxing it, we haven't done that much yet. If that deal doesn't happen, we will try to get a foot in the door ourselves as best we can. We have been talking about hiring a professional promotion company, but we will see how things play out with the distro company first.
Luxi: Last, but not least, I'd like to ask you to make a commercial about your band for those people who have yet not heard of Altair. How would you advertise that would make them want to check out Altair?
Martin: Well, if you are into old school Thrash Metal like Kreator and Overkill and don't mind screaming vocals you may like our stuff. Check us out on YouTube to find out, but don't get us mixed up with the Italian Power Metal guys that are also calling themselves Altair! And if you like our stuff, then you should come see us live, if you have the chance, because we play even faster and louder live and you get free ice cream! And if you like our live show you should give us beer!
Luxi: If you made it this far without using a bunch of Aspirin, Buranas and shit, my sincere congratz. Thank you for your time and having this chat with The Metal Crypt, Martin, and all the best for the future with Altair. If you have any smart or silly closing comments for the readers of the site to wrap up this conversation, then by all means feel free to do so
Martin: Thanks! It was hard, but I made it! Yay! If anybody wants to get in touch to order the EP, a T-shirt or to get our address to send us beer, we can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Cheers!
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