Mattias Ziessow on 15 years of body work and the rise of Spark!: Interview

Eleven years ago at Bodyfest in Stockholm with major headliner Front 242 and an exciting comeback by Swedish EBM giants Pouppée Fabrikk, Falkenberg’s pride and glory in the scene, Spark! played yet another minor support slot. But hard work and frequently playing across Europe would change that. Fast forward eleven years and Spark! has skyrocketed and become one of the “super bands” in the Swedish EBM scene while at the same have made a huge imprint in the international scene, especially in Germany where they are regular guests at major festivals like Amphi, M’era Luna and Wave Gotik Treffen.

In 2014 the band went through their biggest change to date. Frontman and co-founding member Stefan Brorsson left the band and Mattias Ziessow continued alone and released the Spektrum album as a collaborative project with several guest vocalists but didn’t know how to continue the project. However, not long after the album was released Christer Hermodsson – one of the guest vocalists on Spektrum – joined the band as the new frontman.

Since the arrival of Hermodsson, Spark!’s popularity grew quickly and after touring Germany frequently the band reached the high-ranked slots at the bigger German festivals in the scene.

Next year Spark! celebrates 15 years as a band and we met up with Mattias at a café in his hometown Falkenberg and chat about working their way up the scene to bigger shows and festival slots, the band’s transformation when Stefan left, and being a band that doesn’t rehearse at all.

15 years of throwing a good EBM party

On the way here I realized that SPARK! is about to celebrate 15 years as a band soon. It’s almost 15 years since you released your debut album 65 Ton Stål. Have you planned for any sort of celebration?
What? Fifteen years? Has it already been fifteen years since we started!? It felt like it was yesterday! Of course we have to do some sort of celebration.

It’s a bit boring though, with the whole live scene being on pause at the moment. Corona made it impossible to tour anywhere in Europe. We had a full schedule when it arrived last spring and had shows booked in the UK, Belgium and Germany but we had to cancel all of it. Lucky for me, I can work with remixes and help other bands out on their projects.

But how do we celebrate? It would be nice to release a compilation album sometime with bonus tracks we haven’t released before – call it EBM candy (laugh) – but I haven’t given it a thought yet. There’s some magic in the EBM stew (laugh).

I guess you didn’t tour the CHAOS record at all? It was released in December 2019 and the pandemic arrived just a few weeks later.
Absolutely nothing! I also broke my shoulder almost at the same time and couldn’t do anything at all. It wasn’t the best moment to release a new album, kind of a bizarre situation, but it’s the same for all bands. But maybe we would have done a few gigs before the pandemic arrived if it wasn’t for my shoulder accident.

At the moment I feel a bit stressed when the live scene is slowly opening up again and you start to feel like “Fuck, we just need to come out and play”. I don’t know how it feels to be on stage anymore because I haven’t played live since 2019. Spark! used to play gigs across Europe several times a month before the pandemic. It’s going to be a lot of stress the first time we do it again (laugh).

Many bands have told us similar stories, that they’ve lost the live feeling. For some bands it’s even a bigger problem because they haven’t been able to meet up for rehearsals.
Here’s a big revelation about Spark!: we never rehearse. In fact, we haven’t rehearsed as a band at any time since we started, and usually we try out new songs during the soundcheck (laugh). I just say to Christer “Sounds ok, doesn’t it”, and he replies “Let’s go!” (laugh). I have never rehearsed a song at home or practiced drums ahead of live shows because I know the songs so well already, it’s all in the back of my head. I guess it’s not many bands doing it like that. (laugh)

But don’t get me wrong, we care a lot about how it sounds and don’t want to look unprofessional, it’s just how it works out for us. We’ve never made any big mistakes or had any major failures because of too little practice. I just guess you get experience when you work with something 24/7 and know the music down pat. It may be harder for Christer, he needs to memorize texts from six albums but he usually has crib notes on stage or brings an iPad, and maybe he rehearses more than me (laugh).

Actually, there’s a fun story when he just had started as the new vocalist after Stefan left the band and we played at Familientreffen [festival in Germany]; we were co-headlining the festival with Dive. It was a big thing because Spark! was back after a break to present the new frontman. Christer didn’t know all the lyrics and we had an hour-long setlist with songs he hadn’t played live yet, a horrible situation for anyone (laugh). Of course he needed some sort of help with the lyrics and we asked the organizer if they had a monitor we could borrow and they said “Not sure, but let’s see what we can find”. In the middle of soundcheck they turned up with this massive 40 inch TV they had borrowed from someone’s grandmother down the street and just said “It’s cool, it’s my granny and she’s fine with it” (laugh).

After that he started with iPad’s and crib notes.

Rising up the ranks

Working hard and never turning down a gig opportunity in Europe finally paid off. Today, Spark! is booked for major festivals and gets bigger slots in Germany. Above all, they’ve cultivated a loyal and committed German fanbase, fans that love the band for their energy on stage. In an attempt to appeal to a broader international fanbase they even tried out lyrics in English and German on latest album CHAOS but the fan reactions weren’t what they’d expected – they were furious.

Although there’s no tour in the works at the moment, Mattias points out that there’s a dream to meet their fans in South America sometime in the future – and while at it, why not try out the US.

Few EBM bands have kept the EBM machine running for such a long time and continuously released records at the same pace as you. You’ve released six albums in 14 years, something that scene giants Nitzer Ebb and D.A.F never pulled off. Is it too cocky to claim that Spark! is high up the ranks on the EBM scene today?
I guess it is like that but I’m not the bragging type of guy who would claim anything like it, but if you look at the festival slots we’re playing it looks like it.

We have been doing this for quite some time by now and have toured Europe several times, playing the major festivals in the scene, and people seem to know who we are wherever we play. That means something, doesn’t it? We’re at least one of the bigger bands in the Swedish EBM scene. It’s us and Spetsnaz that have been around for quite a while and released lots of records.

The first time we played at Familientreffen one of the organizers from Electric Tremor said “You guys are the next Spetsnaz” (laugh). Maybe Spetsnaz is bigger than us in Germany after all (laugh).

When did things take a turn for you that got you bigger slots at festivals and club gigs in Europe? I remember you supported many bands and opened festivals in Sweden for a long time and then something happened quickly that changed it all and you were put as headliners.
Yeah, it happened very fast. I remember our first gig ever, at Sjätte Tunnan in Stockholm, a pub that had some sort of celebration with several bands playing that night. Daniel Jonasson of Covenant brought us up to Stockholm because he thought we were crazy enough to be interesting (laugh) and it turned out quite well. The next day we played at legendary Beatclub in Dessau in Germany, between Berlin and Leipzig. That’s the venue to play if you want to level up in the EBM scene.

Just imagine a completely new EBM band playing at Beatclub, singing in Swedish (laugh). The German audience was like Germans are in general when they don’t know a band, didn’t move at all and seemed to analyze everything we did on stage (laugh). We just thought “We’ll never get booked for a show in Germany again” (laugh). But from that point we slowly started to build a reputation in Germany.

But how big change was it for you when Stefan left and you brought in Christer on vocals? With Stefan as the frontman you did all the music, but Christer already had much experience from music production when he took over Stefan’s role, and I guess it may have changed how you work on the production side of Spark!.
It’s a huge difference! Stefan and I started Spark! because we were really good friends who wanted to throw a good party while playing music, it wasn’t a serious project at all in the beginning. Christer was brought in because Stefan left but we didn’t know each other back then. He had heard about Spark! and saw it as a fun challenge to try out, and then he got stuck (laugh).

I would say that Spark! was a project for fun when I did it with Stefan and when Christer arrived in the band we became professional, but we also grew big at the same time and had to become more professional to make it work out. But it was a challenge for me as well, I was used to do all music myself but now Christer wants to have a word about it as well (laugh).

It’s basically two different bands with completely different frontmen having very different personalities.

As you said, the German audience seems to love Spark! and you play quite much in Germany. But you still stick to Swedish lyrics, save for the Spektrum album when it was only you and guest vocalists. Have you started to reconsider it and write lyrics in another language to satisfy your international fans?
Already when Stefan was in the band we started on this ambitious project to translate our lyrics and put them on Facebook. People tend to think that our songs are about stuff that they’re not about, that’s why we started doing it.

But we tried it on the CHAOS album and wrote one song in English and one in German, just like a test to see how fans would respond to it. But when we released “Cause and Effect” most of our fans didn’t like it at all and were like “What the fuck?! Are they changing to English vocals now? Why!? Those stupid fucks!”. People were furious and didn’t like it (laugh).

The German audience wasn’t super impressed by us singing in German either, you can’t seduce Germans in their own language (laugh). We put down heaps of time on the lyrics and brought in one Austrian dude and two Germans to get it grammatically correct, and the German audience was like “Yeah, fun that you tried it, but why stop singing in Swedish?” (laugh). They just love to sing along in their own homemade Swedish accent and invent their own Swedish words (laugh). It sounds super weird to us but it’s fun, it’s how they want Spark! to be. And they sing along in all songs, just amazing!

Let’s say that I have mixed feelings about writing lyrics in other languages. We’ve tried it out, it didn’t pan out as well as we wanted and we probably won’t do it again, if it’s not for a special cause. At the same time, we would love to try out the American scene and then we need to sing in English, it won’t work out with Swedish at all over there.

But Germany is still where you have most fans when you consider the festivals you play there?
After we played at the E-tropolis Festival we grew a reputation down there because many other festival organizers were at E-tropolis and watched our show. That opened up a lot of doors for us and we got booked for the major festivals, like Amphi, M’era Luna and NCN.

We’ve also played at WGT once and the WGT EBM Warm Up twice, which grew to become quite a big event on its own. Last time, we co-headlined the warm up weekend with Dive and had a 4 000 audience at the venue, but we set off the fire alarm and the whole venue had to be evacuated. People still remember us for it (laugh).

I just think it’s crazy that a tiny Swedish band singing in Swedish plays these major festivals and play big slots at the festivals. It doesn’t add up. But we have earned our German fanbase because we’ve played so many times in Germany and never said no to a gig opportunity for a long time. It’s something that has changed though, we can’t do all promo gigs anymore because it’s too much for us, and we’ve also reached a position in the German scene where we don’t need to show off anymore to get gigs. And we’ve reached an age where we’re too lazy to play too many gigs as well (laugh).

In the future I hope we would get a chance to play in South America, and maybe in the US although it’s lots of work to make it happen. We already have a huge fanbase in South America and Central America, in countries like Peru and Mexico and a few more, and it would be great to make it happen sometime soon.


Photographers: Krichan Wihlborg and Richard Bloom.
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About J.N.

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.
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