For the better part of his (known) career, Tribulation guitarist Jonathan Hultén (also ex-Stench) has floored audiences with his songwriting and expressive stage presence. Now, as Tribulation are in the midst of recording the follow-up to 2015’s acclaimed “Children of the Night”, Hultén and Reflections Records are readying for the release of “The Dark Night of the Soul”, an EP of the guitarist’s songs as a singer-songwriter.
Thematically, Hultén might be parallel to his work in Tribulation and Stench–he’s into things that go bump in the night–but musically, “The Dark Night of the Soul” offers an alternate side to the musician. Songs like ‘Anguished Are the Young’, ‘…And the Pillars Tremble’, and video single ‘Nightly Sun’ portray a talent eager to explore similar (acoustic) worlds as Anna Ternheim, José González, and, of course, Nick Drake.
Decibel ventures into Hultén’s exposed darkness and comes out the other side changed. Read on as we learn more about “The Dark Night of the Soul” and how it, along with Tribulation, are feeding into the songwriter’s ever-strong curiosity.
How long has the idea of a solo record been with you?
Jonathan Hultén: It feels like forever, but I was 16-years old when I got an assignment in school to play a song of Cornelis Vreeswijk, and I realized how amazing it feels to express yourself with your own voice as an instrument. Since then singing actually felt like a possible reality and something I actually would like to do, and the dream of playing in a band widened to also include performing as a singer-songwriter.
You retired Stench in 2015. In some respects, is the solo effort a continuation of Stench, insofar as certain things are concerned? Like the use of centered, simple images, color palettes, and so forth?
Jonathan Hultén: Just generally I write a lot of acoustic songs that eventually turn out to work as metal songs as well due to their lyrical themes. ‘Strange Gateways Beckon’ and ‘Winds’ from Tribulation’s “The Children of the Night” were for example written like that, and that also goes for many Stench songs. One could actually say that the acoustic project has been the backbone of everything else I have been doing musically all this time. So, as for it being a straight up continuation of Stench would be stretching it a little, but they definitely have a lot to do with each other! This is a venture of its own though, and I’ve always known I would go ahead with this some day. When I was 21, I had four things that I vowed to do as soon as possible, and those were to finish designing the 30 beer labels of Macken (check them out at mackenbryggeri.se), record the second Tribulation album and the second Stench album, and then debut as a solo artist. It took longer than expected, but all those things have come to pass, finally.
Who was your greatest inspiration with respects to this project?
Jonathan Hultén: As mentioned, this ambition originally stems from adolescent dreams and the artists that inspired me to write music back then. But now, launching this project 10 years later I find myself standing without any type of obvious role model. From being your typical singer-songwriter aspiration it has grown throughout the years in silent darkness, alongside with Tribulation and Stench, into something weirder and more extravagant. Despite how the simplicity of the music is still intact, the forms it now takes is aesthetically way beyond what I could have imagined 10 years ago. More than anything I want it to be a platform for art where I can be completely free and explore new uncharted territory as well as collaborate with other artists, dancers, performers or whatever it might be in the future. It is as much about the artistic vision as it is about the actual music.
What has Tribulation taught you about putting yourself out there?
Jonathan Hultén: Really everything I know about the music business comes from the experience of having a band. Songwriting and lyrics are one thing, but there are some things that are hard to get into unless it has been ingrained in your very being somehow–stage presence is such a thing for example. Of course, I still get nervous when going on stage, but the stage fright is completely nonexistent and I certainly have Tribulation to thank for that. Also, being acquainted with all the practical and organizing issues that comes with traveling and touring, handling the economic part, etc. really helps! Then there’s the creative side of artwork, making videos (creating the ‘Melancholia’ video was the learning experience I needed to be able to create the video for ‘Nightly Sun’), creating websites and whatnot. Playing music entails so much more than just performing live, especially if you are doing everything yourself. But Tribulation has really taught me everything I know.
I hear lots of Nick Drake. Are there specific Drake songs that appeal to you? I’ve always found ‘River Man’, ‘Day is Done’, and ‘Things Behind the Sun’ to be great.
Jonathan Hultén: ‘Three Hours’ is the best one, all categories. ‘Know’ is incredible, the repetitiveness and simple lyrics has been very inspiring for me. And yes, ‘Day is Done’ is excellent. In a sense I sort of see the whole album “Pink Moon” as one long song. The tracks all have that same special vibe, floating into each other. It is such a great album.
Do you follow some of the Swedish singer-songwriters like Promise and the Monster, José González, and Alice Boman? And have they or others played a part in informing your music?
Jonathan Hultén: José González, absolutely, I listened a lot to his first two records when I was in school and they have had a lasting impact on me. That absolute calm, yet with some sort of driving, restrained aggression that I thought I could sense behind the soft tones really appealed to me. There is a lot of tension and nerve in his music. Another big inspiration from the early days is Anna Ternheim–I was totally floored by her works. I discovered her music right after I had done that school assignment I mentioned earlier, and I was thinking to myself that, “one day I am going to become an artist like her”. Then, I ended up putting all my time and energy into other stuff before pursuing that path, so I guess I am still carrying all those dreams from back then with me.
How did you record “The Dark Night of the Soul”? Sounds very stripped down.
Jonathan Hultén: Except for the piano, it is all recorded by me in my bedroom with a microphone. Conveniently enough, the stripped down sound is pretty easy to achieve, so having simple ideals works in your favor when you don’t have a real studio. There are still so many songs in the bank that have the same minimalistic character, so the next piece will probably go in a similar direction. But as for the future further ahead I already feel an urge to go outside of that comfort zone. In the long run it needs to be a musical journey of exploration and discovery, everything else would be boring.
Lyrically, it sounds like you’re still exploring the dark side of life. Is that a reflection of your outer or inner self?
Jonathan Hultén: The affinity for dark themes is probably what drew me to rock and metal in the first place. The fascination for the obscure, the mysterious and frightful aspects of life has always been there. When something scares you, you can be sure there is something interesting hiding at its core, something that most likely will enrich your world and perspective if you can accept or befriend it, or at least understand it. In the confrontations in this realm of your mind ugly can turn into beautiful, sorrow into joy and foe into friend. In the end, it’s curiosity and thirst for knowledge and transformation that drives me towards these subjects, and it’s an adventure to pursue them. And artistically it’s so much more interesting, the aesthetic and romantic side of the dark and decadent is not to be forgotten!
Thematically and lyrically the EP is built as a reference to the alchemical process with extra emphasis on the first stage of blackness, hence the name “The Dark Night of the Soul”. The first song ‘Anguished Are the Young’ is really a condensation of that disorientation and despair (and I wrote it as a 17-year old, the most confusing times of all), while the last song ‘Nightly Sun’ represents the first step toward renewal and rebirth.
The video to ‘Nightly Sun’ was positively received. Did the warm reception surprise you at all?
Jonathan Hultén: I had maybe expected a little more Internet hate, especially from people previously acquainted with Tribulation as this is quite a different approach. But obviously I’m happy to hear that it is appreciated, I love making these videos. It is the most effective and fulfilling means to convey feelings, music reaches deeper into your heart when you have something visual to connect it to. Just think of movie soundtracks for example, where the music’s task is to enhance the scene in the movie. It’s just like that when you create music videos too, only the other way around; you create a scene to enhance the music.
What’s next for you as a solo artist? A full-length soon?
Jonathan Hultén: Yes, full-length will definitely come! I will also go on a short European tour in November to support the EP. A new video is also coming out the 28th of August when the EP is released!
** Jonathan Hultén’s debut EP, The Dark Night of the Soul, is out August 28th on Reflections Records. Pre-order the EP HERE by clicking the link.