Monday, 24 May 2010

Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry

First off, tell us a little bit about your musical history...

I started playing the flute when I was 9, and after half a year I switched to playing violin, and at the age of 10—after getting a copy of Kiss Alive II I started playing the guitar, and I stuck with it since. One of my first bands was called Weed, we played a lot of Beatles songs and some original songs as well.

Who were your earliest influences in terms of guitar playing?

I listened a lot to Iron Maiden, Yngwie Malmsteen, Metallica, Accept, Dio, and Europe when I was a kid. In my mid-teens I discovered the shred gods from Shrapnel Records' roster—Friedman, Becker, Howe, Gilbert, all those incredible guitar players, which inspired me to start practicing 6-12 hours a day.

What guitars are you currently employing in Scar Symmetry?

I've been playing Ibanez guitars since the early nineties and today I'm endorsed by them. We play seven strings in Scar Sym, I play a Xiphos, an Universe, and a couple of RGs. I also have an 8 string RG that we've used for a couple of songs. When recording I usually use a six string flower-pattern JEM for leads, it's the most incredible sounding guitar ever.

How about amps and effects?

We're on tour right now where we use the POD X3 floorboards, it actually sounds really awesome. It's a super practical solution for the live setting, doesn't really weigh anything, consistent sound night after night. In the studio we use real amps. For the latest album we used modified JCM900s for rhythm guitars, basically the preamp's ripped out and replaced, and it sounds incredible. We used a Rocktron Egnater amp for leads. We usually have a little bit of stereo delay and reverb on the leads, that's pretty much it.

Do you employ any altered tunings?

We use standard seven string tuning and drop-B tuning.

One of the main things people seem to comment on upon seeing videos of your playing is the apparent effortlessness and smoothness of your technique. Is this something you've deliberately cultivated over the years?

Well I would hate it if my playing sounded strained! I like players who have a smooth sound, like Eric Johnson and Yngwie Malmsteen, even when they're picking every note it's so smooth it almost sounds like legato. So I guess that's the sound I've been aiming for.

What does a typical day of practice consist of for you these days?
I rarely practice anymore, I just pick up the guitar and play every now and then. Sometimes I practice improvising over chord changes, but I never do technique exercises to a metronome, I've done that enough for a lifetime.

Are there any new techniques or approaches you're developing at the moment?
Not really... Well I just ordered myself a Ztar—a kind of guitar-shaped keyboard, a really amazing instrument.

Do you generally improvise or compose your solos?

With Scar Symmetry it's a mix between the two, but perhaps a little bit more composed than improvised. Most of the solos aren't that long so I wanna make sure I make the best use of the time, and make something memorable. I like improvising a lot, and when I get my shit together to do a solo album I will have a lot of looooong improvised solos.

How has Scar Symmetry's new dual-vocalist line-up affected the band?

We were in a pretty miserable state before kicking Christian out of the band. Basically, we couldn't agree upon anything with him, and especially the last album we did with that lineup was a real nightmare. I actually almost quit the band at that point. Having Roberth and Lars join the band has been amazing on many levels. They are incredible singers, and the easiest-going people you could ever think of. No diva bullshit there! We've had a kind of dual-vocals style since day one so when we searched for a replacement for Christian it made so much sense to get two guys instead of one. When we write songs now, we don't have to think so much about if we can pull things off vocally live, and live it sounds so much better having two guys sharing the singing duties.

How does the band's song-writing process generally work?
Jonas and I write all the music. Most often, either Jonas or I come up with a complete song—riffs, the basic drum patterns, the song structure—and then we write the vocals melodies and arrangements together. Then we have Henrik writing all the lyrics.

Any chance of a solo album in the future?
Yes. I would love to do a solo album, I just need time and a budget for it. There's a lot of things I'd like to do that don't fit the style of Scar Symmetry, and it would be nice to have an outlet for that.

Do you generally prefer recording or touring?
I prefer writing and recording! It's just such a fun, creative process. Touring is a completely different beast, I mean I love performing on stage, meeting fans, having a few drinks with my boys, but there's so many backsides to it... Airports, dirty buses, waiting, no showers, bad food, waiting, crappy backline (sometimes), bad sound on stage, waiting, being away from home...
What's next for the band?
We've started writing for the next album, though we haven't decided when we're going to start recording it. We'll be having time off most of the summer, and in November-December we will tour North America again, in support for our Nuclear Blast labelmates Epica.

Thanks very much to Per for taking part in this interview, and a two-horned salute to Scar Symmetry!