Interviewed by Kim Viljanen, October 19th 2011
Covenant. It’s a name that implies extraordinary commitment, a certain grandiosity, and a bond stronger than blood. As a name, Covenant—with its biblical overtones—was perhaps a bit ambitious for an upstart band of teenagers from southern Sweden armed with rudimentary electronics, but it ended up being extraordinarily fitting. Whether or not life subsequently imitated art or art subsequently imitated life is debatable, either way the band’s moniker ended up perfectly summing up the vision, grandeur, and brotherhood that is the band itself. Alternative Party interviewed Joakim Montelius about the upcoming concert at Alternative Party 2011 in Helsinki - and about the art of Covenant.
1. Joakim Montelius, your concert in Helsinki will take place at the Alternative Party festival - a digital culture & computer party. What are your first computer memories of your childhood? Which computers do you use now to make music in Covenant?
Personally, my first encounter with computers was the Commodore VIC20 around 1982, I think. Then the ZX Spectrum and then the C64. But I can’t say that I really got into the programming, except for the usual Basic stuff. I mostly played games. When the Mac arrived around 1985 I got the first Mac 512 when my dad upgraded to the mighty Mac Plus. It had no hard disk, so the OS and all software ran from a single 3.5” floppy.
Musically it took us until around 1992 or so before we got an Atari 1040 with Cubase. Before that we used hardware sequencers and before that we simply played everything manually.
2. What songs will you play in Helsinki? (Lets not spoil the surprises, but perhaps you can reveal something?)
It will be a grand tour of a bit of everything we made. Old and new, just for you.
3. How would you describe the essence of your music?
Technological spirituality. We feel that electronic instruments and computers are the most diverse and expressive musical tools there are, so we use them as our medium. But what we express and what we have to say is very human.
4. One of your influences is Front 242, whom we had playing in 2008. Could you tell us a bit more about how early EBM and industrial influenced you as people?
We grew up with the New Romantic synth pop of the early 80’s and to a certain extent the first generation of goth. But I still remember the first time I heard Front 242. In Helsingborg there was a fantastic record shop and they always took in new, unknown stuff and one day when I came in I heard the track “U-Men” from their debut album “Geography”. It was probably around 1984. It sounded like nothing I had ever heard before and I immediately felt akin to that dark but catchy sound. From there I backtracked to stuff like Nitzer Ebb (who I thought ripped off DAF a bit too much), Portion Control and that whole Belgian scene.
At about the same time I also discovered industrial stuff, at first Einstürzende Neubauten and Test Department but soon the original stuff from Throbbing Gristle and their generation. That was around the same time I met and got to know Eskil and we connected instantly thanks to our mutual interest in the darker side of electronic music. So to us the early EBM/industrial scene was instrumental: we wanted more of it so we started a long series of bands together in order to create our own version.
5. Art is continuously being redefined as that which one wishes to call art. You have been around for some time now — do you feel there are still things you can do to alter people's perception of art or music?
Of course. If we didn’t believe that we still have something to contribute we wouldn’t keep doing this.
6. Spotify (among other digital innovations) change the business models of the music industry. As an artist, what are your experiences of Spotify?
Spotify is a marvelous thing. If someone would have told me when I stood in that record shop in 1985 that in the future you can listen to anything you can imagine, anywhere, anytime in your cell phone I would hardly have believed it. Truly fantastic. Naturally this technology has changed the landscape of the music business and we, like everybody else, have to adapt. I’m not happy with the royalty system that Spotify applies and of course it was easier as a recording artist back when albums actually sold reasonable amounts. It was more secure and we had more time to work. But on the other hand I doubt that we would have been invited to all sorts of unlikely places around the world without the internet giving so many people access to our music. It’s been a fascinating journey so far and I expect it to keep being fascinating. More future to the people, now!
7. What is the most exotic place you have given a gig in? Why?
We’ve played so many odd places, it’s hard to pick the most special. I guess it depends on how you define “exotic”. The furthest place from home would be Brisbane, Australia. Or perhaps Buenos Aires, Argentina. In 2007 we toured 10 cities in Russia, travelling from Kaliningrad to Novosibirsk and back to St Petersburg by train in 13 days. That was rather exotic, to say the least. But then again, it can very well be exotic right next door as well, such as when we got booked for a punk rock festival by mistake. Another form of exotism is to play the giant German festivals with tens of thousands of Goths. That is a somewhat surreal experience.
8. Your home city Helsingborg and Helsinki (Swedish: Helsingfors) are written almost the same. What do you conclude from this?
That we all sing in Hell?
9. What are your regards to the Covenant fans in Finland?
Please brothers and sisters, do be careful with all those chainsaws.
Thank you for the interview!