Tuesday, July 4, 2023

Interview with vocalist and poet Natasa Nikolic by Dave Wolff (second interview)

Photo by Christian Persson
Interview with Natasa Nikolic by Dave Wolff

From 2009 to 2019 you were the keyboardist and soprano vocalist of the Swedish symphonic death metal band Tragederia. What impact do you believe they had on underground metal while they were together? Have you been doing anything musically since they disbanded?
Hm, I wish I knew if we had an impact; that would be interesting. During that period I think we managed to contribute and give something new to the scene and also managed to reach out to an audience in other places thanks to Deviants Underground Radio and Asphyxium zine who helped spread the word about us. Since then many things have happened and I feel like the world is a very different place. For some time I was experimenting with a band, but the timing was wrong, and musically it was something completely different. It was very cool to have been able to try something new and be forced out of your comfort zone, but I didn’t continue with that project. I got an update from them a while ago so I will try to keep in touch.

How far do you believe your work with Tragederia transcended boundaries?
Lyrically, we started with these epic style texts which focused a lot on history and strife and later we transcended into something that is more the way I imagine many death bands were focusing in when I started coming into the local scene, a more straightforward approach to lyric-writing. As a band we strove to be progressive and it was important to keep track of our own development, but if would be strange to try to define exactly how much and if we managed to transcend boundaries. In the overall approach we had many ideas.

What historical topics did you and Tragederia study, and how did they relate to your lyrics?
We had themes such as the crusades, witch hunts, human greed and suffering, war... Later more personal themes. Our old lyricist devoured everything that had to do with history so I think it was easy to write lyrics. We had, in the end, maybe over a hundred texts that were never made into songs. It was useful to be able to draw one's own interpretation into the sound. It's the trickiest part and as musicians and humans we simply have a hard time when our own approach isn't deemed a good fit. Like, what do you mean I shouldn't sing like this? Classical musicians don't have that luxury of freely interpreting but they cannot mask if they lack the technical skills so they have to force themselves to master their instrument.

Deviants Underground Radio is a name I haven’t heard in the longest time. This net radio show played a significant role in assisting unsigned underground bands, but unfortunately it imploded due to a number of factors. Can you recall how often the band was broadcast?
I think we got a good amount of airtime. Some moments I still remember very vividly; it was a time to chill and enjoy new and old music, joke and just live for the nighttime. I would log on late in the evening and stick around for an hour. I'm still a night person but because of a different schedule nowadays I usually get up at the crack of dawn.

What is your opinion of Deviants Underground Radio's dedication to supporting unsigned bands who didn't have as many opportunities to be heard?
They were always dedicated to the musicians and the fans, giving their time to listen, hang out online and showcase anything new that came their way. I don't know when they started the station but my feeling was always that it was a welcoming environment and thanks to them, we reached out to many new people in the Tennessee area and beyond. I also have to mention the people around Deviants who made everything into a whole experience, I still follow them and try to keep up to date. It would be fun to visit them one day.

When you and Tragederia stopped working together, what band were you experimenting with? What were some of the differences between their music and that of your previous band? What did you mean by being forced out of your comfort zone? Did you decide to part ways with them due to those timing concerns?
The band I sang with is Dagothar. They play traditional doom which is not a genre I'm familiar with, so to even rehearse I had to change the way I sing, from basic technique to accentuating the lyrics with grunts and things like that. It was extremely insightful and a great learning experience. Since it was not an option to plan my work around a band, I thought it was best to continue to put my energy elsewhere.

When you hooked up with Dagothar, what was the task of tailoring your vocal style to their music? Were you able to record anything with the band or did you part company before you had the opportunity to record? Is this band still active today?
Since they had such a specific idea of what they wanted to achieve, it was like trying to fit my voice into a specific genre mold. They were working with tributes for a couple of bands and the first part was listening to new music and getting to know the style. Technique-wise it was about expanding and perfecting the chest voice sound which has mostly been something of an impossible task for me, it’s not nearly as intuitive as the classical technique. I could sound nasal, wailing, let out grunts and I would say there was mostly a clear picture of what was accepted to make their sound. On the whole it’s a fun genre in a way, it just doesn’t sound fun and a common theme is death. I never got around to recording anything with them, it was more trying to learn the genre to be able to sing at rehearsals. As far as I know, they are active and they have recorded some demos.

What are some of the ways you perceive the world around you to be a completely different place? Since you have been writing lyrics and poems for some time, will any future writing reflect your views on all the changes you have seen?
Since the pandemic my feeling is that more things in society are uncertain. Not only in regards to health, but will we be able to retire, will politicians stop playing with our lives and being irresponsible? Despite that, I would like my future poems to reflect something hopeful.

How much did the Covid pandemic affect your sense of uncertainty about society? Many people seem to believe that nothing changes when it comes to politics, while others believe that some things have improved. What are the points where your poems fall between these two mindsets?
Well, I think it has showed politicians can make those quick changes while at the same time proving that – no, we obviously can’t do two things at the same time, since that is a general criticism of many policy-related issues today. Maybe let’s try to keep and go back to a standard of living which seems lost instead of thinking big because it doesn’t seem to work. We never had any restrictions here and it makes me annoyed at the people who showed a more selfish side, like travelling abroad to places like Thailand which is super popular here. Who really needs to travel to the other side of the world for vacation? This even though for many people in Sweden, the idea of a really nice holiday is a small house or cottage without running water. What is needed are just the essentials and surrounded by nature of course. I can see the charm, there’s something truly romantic in that.

Do you observe the same level of uncertainty regarding the future outside of Sweden based on your correspondence with people in other countries?
I guess it depends on the person, but some people who are not as dependent on the outside world have been grateful to be able to live and manage thanks to the land and their own animals etc. Now with war raging in Europe again, we are seeing more of that uncertainty with the influx of people fleeing from Ukraine. I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing Ukrainians and I think about them a lot. Their world has been turned upside-down but many of them are making such an effort and I hope Sweden takes a notice of their skills and knowledge because now we get economists, interpreters, doctors and teachers coming here. For the first time I have wished to be in the position of being able to provide jobs to be able to make even more of an impact.

Are there any serious long-term collaborations that have resulted from your work with Ukrainian refugees?
The nature of the work is such that I have little possibility to keep in touch. There are so many people who need help when coming to a new country that you become quite stressed and simply restrain yourself after a while, otherwise it's hard to keep up. My goal is still to try to do right by every person that I meet and to be able to help, as little or as much as someone needs, it's a small comfort. I am always impressed with everyone I meet and on a systemic and personal level I hope for the best for them, whatever their goals and wishes are when the war ends.

Why do you believe that the simplicity of nature has appealed to bands for so many years? How does it inspire romantic feelings in people to the point that they write songs and lyrics in an attempt to capture those feelings?
Nature controls and rules us in a way that will never seize to amaze and awe us as humans. It’s bold, doesn’t apologize and can kill us all. Closeness to nature and being in nature being a goal in itself is very strong here in the Nordic countries. To accept nature and all that it does, enjoy it and being annoyed at it is and coming to a full circle seems to be a goal if not and art. My relationship with nature as mostly consisted of trying to avoid it simply because it’s flawed, it’s not the way I want it to be. I remember talking about a dead lake which had become something of a tourist attraction in the southwest of Sweden and admiring the beauty of the water when my friend exclaimed “But it’s such a pity, that colour means that nothing can survive there” which to me made it a perfect place to swim! I am the person that would jump out as soon as I feel something on me, completely horrifying. And don’t we always want to control nature and make it into something different, more to our liking?

How have you expressed these thoughts in any recent verses that you have written?
I think I have focused more on writing something different and rather these thoughts have been relinquished through conversation with different people. Maybe it’s best to not focus on more positive themes, otherwise it would just be the same old style.

How would you like your future poems to reflect a hopeful outlook? Do you have any ideas for topics you would like to write about?
I have written about love and longing before, but mostly those poems have been kept in the closet. The task now is to find a new style, language… Something to reflect new goals, goals for self-improvement (oh, the goals!) whereas the topic before was more about trying to stay alive. How about love of music, or an onomatopoetic piece trying to describe the sound of different genres? Now I feel it’s easier to balance the different sides of myself, and if you don’t like a certain part, well who cares? Life is too short to stick to the negative parts, but it may be difficult to make the transition for real.

Can you describe the style in which you wrote your older poems to convey love and longing? Is it your intention to keep these writings in the closet or will you release some of them at some point in the future?
It was very naïve and straight to the point, so maybe not very good in a way. I want to bring more diverse things to the table, so I will try to not keep those poems in the closet. I feel like other poets working with AEA zine are better at incorporating more of themselves into the poetry. It’s good to try to read lyrics separately because you don’t get the same feeling when listening to them. Music changes the text and it can make it less honest and raw. If I manage to introduce old themes and write them so that someone can see themselves and relate to a feeling I will be happy. Nowadays I can appreciate new kinds of artists as long as I can see their story in the lyrics.

How will music contribute to your development of another writing style? How will language and subject matter affect this process?
With music, it’s good to try to read lyrics separately because you don’t get the same feeling when listening to them. Music changes the text and it can make it less honest and raw so music takes the edge off. If I manage to introduce old and new themes and write them so that someone can see themselves and relate to a feeling I will be happy. At the same time I don’t want to lose the horror style. Nowadays I can appreciate new kinds of artists as long as I can see their story in the lyrics. I don’t really feel the pressure to listen to a certain kind of music anymore so I feel free to let more genres inspire me, with jazz being the exception!
Another thing that has been a goal is to write more in Swedish, I look up to Månegarm in that department. Despite the fact that this interview is in English I firmly believe we have to preserve our own languages and in an active way. Granted, language changes but we mustn’t forget that we have something very valuable in our mother tongue that is worth keeping and cherishing. I recommend the book Tingo by Adam Jacod de Boinod.

Are you seeking a band to contribute lead or backing vocals to these days? In your opinion, what kind of band would your lyrics and vocals be suitable for, whether you have been looking or not?
If I would join a band it would probably be as a lead vocalist, mostly because I wouldn't really want to share the vocal part. The most fun part was always being able to do your own thing, not so much being in the centre. I would also be careful because of the environment and the community as a whole, it can be sexist but one person can't change a whole culture. I would want to feel able to express myself and be free to tell my story. The dynamics within the group would have to be good, the right age span, good communication, I'm obviously picky. Maybe some kind of doomy goth sound would work, my scene presence is fitting for that, I don't like jumping around on stage. I'm not necessarily a fan of building the sound to the point of expanding it and more with every album and making it sound like it has 50 layers of instruments.

Have you considered or would you consider compiling a book with your written work?
I haven't, I cannot imagine compiling my own poems, it's like listening to your own voice which I still find almost embarassing, but maybe with some help. Good idea!

-Dave Wolff

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