Martin Persner [MCC]: „We don’t know how to make movies, so we’ll have to stick to making songs”

Something ends, something begins. Over past few months there’s been a huge shitstorm around a certain swedish band that involves some nameless ghouls and, apparently, a pope. Now, awakened after the years of slumber, ghosts of the past come back. Magna Carta Cartel are back with their newly released EP – „The Demon King”. We had a chance to talk with Martin Persner, MCC’s vocalist and guitarist about the band’s new release, emotions behind his departure from Ghost, and condition of swedish scene nowadays.

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Piotr Kleszewski: There’s been a lot of fuss over recent situation within the Ghost, but let’s not add more shit to the fan. The whole turmoil somehow overshadowed the MCC going back to the world of the living, but you were also rather vague about the details. Could you give us a summary of current state of Magna Carta Cartel, when you decided to bring MCC back and what is the line-up?

Martin Persner: Yes, indeed: MCC [Magna Carta Cartel] has been asleep because most of us were in Ghost. During all the time in Ghost we also wrote MCC music (and Tid music too for that matter) but it didn’t feel right to record it and give out records – as there was no chance that we would have the time to go and play live with MCC – we simply didn’t have time or energy for that since we toured so much with Ghost. It has been the plan for many years to go on tours and play live and record more albums with MCC – and now, all of sudden the time was right. So – with that being said – it wasn’t a ”new” idea to wake MCC up from sleep. The current line up is: Martin Persner (Vox & Guitars), Arvid Persner (Drums & Guitars) and Pär Glendor (Bass & Guitar).

Stops for a blink/ Letting the mask fall to ground” begin lyrics (changed from the demo version, if I heard correctly) for „Sway”, the first single you’ve released for the „The Demon King” EP. Also as song goes on, it’s hard not to see the irony behind the verses and retrospectiveness. Is it your way to deal with the ghastly past? After the whole situation you feel rather relief or regret?

It would be very interesting if this was the case, wouldn’t it? (laughs) But, no – this is wrong. ”Sway” was written in 2004. It took me about 20 minutes to write the whole song, and it is about a girl. I never ever wrote a full song that fast before or after that. Lyrics, music, everything in one session. The lyrics that i wrote in 2004 are the EXACT same ones as you hear today. Well, i actually changed ONE word in the song when we recorded it this time. If you can find which one it is I’ll give you a hug and a beer next time I meet you.

Sway” has been recorded three times: 2004 (demo), 2010 (demo) and in 2016 (for it’s first real release on the Demon King EP in 2017). To make things even clearer – the lyrics are about someone who is very pissed off with a girl. The choruses of the song was actually meant to have been sung by a girl, as the lyrics in the choruses are sung from the girl’s point of view. It is a very bitter and angry song, but not about who you think. We used to have our old 2010 demo of ”Sway” on Myspace and someone found it and put it up on YouTube a couple of years ago. As they did, someone less talented in English tried to write down the lyrics (still, I can’t blame them – I don’t exactly pronounce the words like the King’s Spokesman and also, the recording isn’t Top Class). So all in all – someone made a mistake and misheard the lyrics (you know, like ”Aids in Space”or ”Pink Freud”, etc.) and now the wrong lyrics are out there and people go ape-shit and think we re-wrote the lyrics. Well, they are wrong. Lets just hope it felt good as long as it tickled.

Also I’d like to add that for ”Turn” I have actually altered the lyrics because I discovered that the old ones from 2010 were more or less just a quick something for the demo, and didn’t really say anything about anything. MCC nd myself understand that people think it’s about Ghost and the shitstorm, but it’s actually not. Then again (laughs), I think people hear messages about the Ghost even in our instrumental songs – wherever they want. People like drama. And no one is happier than us – we create art and feelings so business is where it should be. I feel neither relief nor regret.

Presumably, for some time, who knows how long, you’ll be struggling a lot with „that-guy-who-played-in-ghost” tag. Do you think it’s rather curse or a blessing that you can work with?

That is not and must not be a problem. It’s the truth. It is a good thing. If we had a band that sounded, looked and tried to be Ghost it would be very sad and a bad thing to be compared and always be called ”that guy from Ghost”. But we don’t – so it’s a blessing. Or rather – these are the scars and medals. It’s good.

What strikes me the most in your art is the contrast between the aesthetically smooth, soothing and beautiful music and the lyrical themes. For instance, „The Demon King” is a metaphorical story of a person struggling with OCD and anxiety. Why did you decide to pair such relaxing music with themes so uneasy and difficult?

Well, the music is a landscape in which the lyrics shall travel – and sometimes the other way around. It would be hard to have a raging black metal song and sing about how heavy the Shadow of The Demon King is. That would sound silly, as this is not exactly a song about how fulfilling it feels to be lead by the darkness and fear. Nah, this is more of a sad and heavy story that deals with emotions. The lyrics get more powerful when you add them to music like this, at least in this case. It’s not an angry song – it is an open letter of how tired you are of it. Too tired to scream about it. Personally, I like it when lyrics are very dark or sad and the music is a bit happy. It creates an interesting contrast. I would hardly say that ”The Demon King” is a party song, neither it is super dark – at least not to us and what we are used to call sad music. But one thing that people have to understand – if you ONLY listen to metal all the time and then sit down and listen to MCC, of course it’s gonna sound relaxing and soft, etc. But hey, there is A LOT of music out there that this before MCC did it, so I get a little confused when people think what we do feels strange or different – or new. To us, the music isn’t that relaxing, but we more and more start to understand that people think it is. Friends are falling asleep when we show them new songs, etc.

But, to actually try and answer your question: the idea for the lyrics was there before the song in this case, which is rather unusual when it comes to MCC’s writing process. I guess we tried to find a good feeling for those lyrics. The lyrics are sad and the song is, I guess, a little bit sad too, but then again it has that vibe of ”let’s just say this shit and get on with it”. Again, we could have done it way way darker and more sad, but there is something interesting in having a song sounding kind of ”pop/rock” and then the lyrics are about something horrible. It gives a good balance. And, maybe most of all, who the fuck wants to listen to bullshit lyrics anyway? Aren’t there enough of these already?

Even though you’re mainly focused on music, you pay a lot attention to the visual aspect of your art. Your EP was illustrated by the fairytale-like artwork by David M. Brinley. Was it’s entirely his creation or you’ve delivered him some directions?

We asked him to do it – him specifically as we know him and love his work. We told him what we wanted – a little boy that in his dream or in a visions meets his fears – and all his future fears in the hall of the Demon King. We sent David Brinley lots of color references and ideas, and me, Martin, even sat down and did a guiding painting to show him what the idea was. It is very influenced by Swedish artist John Bauer. We all grew up with his art and it has got something very, very home-feeling yet scary, that all of us can relate to. Let’s just say – my guiding painting wasn’t exactly good enough for the cover. Then Brinley made a big painting. The hard thing is of course to try and get the actual artist to make HIS vision of what you asked for, also because it’s easy to make them try and do exactly as you wanted it. It’s hard to let other ideas in, but for the sake of learning things one have to let go (a little bit. We had a very fixed idea on what we wanted – Brinley then interpreted that and made it his dream too – and then painted it. It does not look exactly as we had imagined it – but it looks like Brinley imagined we imagined it, and that is a very interesting thing. And turned out brilliant!

You describe your own art as „radio-edited movie themes, for daily life and death”. Is it just a clever motto to roll with or are you heavily inspired by the visual art and movies? You’ve definitely shown some love for Ingmar Bergman.

It is a clever motto. But also it kind of explains a little bit how we sound. The melodies of MCC tend to be very dramatic and like its a matter of life and death – and it’s hard to make regular pop/rock music when that is what comes out of you. It would probably suit better for a movie – but we don’t know how to make movies so we will have to stick to what we do know – make songs. So it gets to be a strange thing – rock songs with dramatic melodies. Almost like music for a soundtrack that someone made into rock songs.

Like most other people our age, we grew up with TV, movies and music. All of these things are such a big and important part of our life, what we talk about, how we know the world, how we understand people, how we do not understand people and so forth. That being said, all of that influences us. Maybe you see a film and see just one little scene in it and that makes you create an idea for a whole song or an album or whatever. They are all connected – films, TV, music, art, culture. All of them have a little bit of each other in themselves all the time. They are dreamworld mirrors, all of them.

Three of five songs featured on the EP were released before as demo versions. Why did you choose precisely these songs? You’ve certainly had also some other older material you could work on.

No, two of the songs we recorded as demos in 2010 (“Sway” and “Turn”) and they later leaked to Youtube. The Demon King is brand new, Mayfire is older then all of the other songs and Jennifer is obviously a cover. I think we have around 20-25 songs that we are working on. Some of them are 10 years old: songs that we never finished or never had time or the opportunity to record or release. So, when we woke MCC up again, we thought it was better to use the songs that we really liked and record them once and for all like we always wanted them to sound -because now we were finally able to do that. To some people that have been listening to MCC for a longer time, we understand that The Demon King EP must feel strange, as they have already heard some songs before. However, for us it was natural, as we really wanted to record and release “Turn” and “Sway” and it would feel even more weird if we made an EP with all new songs and then LATER released Sway and Turn on the next full-length album. That would certainly be more weird. So that’s why we chose to ”use” them now right at the start. And also because they are good songs and we could finally do them justice. It was never talk about NOT recording them again. We kind of wanted to just record the oldest ones first. Maybe it’s a good thing, serving as a bridge to the next full-length album, which will naturally sound different from “Goodmorning Restrained”. Maybe it’s good to not scare people TOO much when you come back from out of nowhere – as people tend to be a little bit willing to have the same old record over and over again from the band they like.

Jennifer” – as you said it – written by Bert Sommer a long long time ago, way before anyone involved in MCC had felt love rip them apart.” Why did you choose this song to cover?

It’s just a song that I used to sing when i played the acoustic guitar. Probably the first song I felt comfortable singing without hating my own voice. It was the first song I could sing without feeling shy. Why? I don’t know. So, then we decided to record it as it’s also, on top of me daring to sing it, a great song. We aimed to make it very much like a soundtrack for a film in the sense of how it is recorded. Like something Clannad would have done for a film or TV series. Wood and Fire. Nature.

Swedish scene was one of the most characteristic ones. How do you find it’s condition nowadays, in the times of internet and globalization?

I actually know too little about the current Swedish scene – especially if you are talking about the metal scene. Since the early eighties, or maybe even earlier depending on what you class as ”metal”, that scene in particular has been brave and lots of bands have come out of it that has their unique sound – sometimes so unique that it started a whole ”sound” that others wanted to copy or sound like. In terms of the music in Sweden overall i am a little bit surprised that the ones that gain really large followings all over the world, like the pop-artists or DJ’s – their music is very bland and has none of that classic Swedish touch to it – they mostly seem to be thinking and writing in the modern american style of melody, which is extremely predictive and therefore extremely boring – even if the melodies are good. They don’t really suggest a world that sounds exciting or touches anything else than the will to buy a new pair of jeans. There have been so many Swedish bands that has made it big have had something that made them different from their American or English peers, but nowadays it seems to be just a copying game and that is never fun. I’m not very impressed by that. All bands copy others and get ideas from others, but when you lack the ability to create something that makes you sound like YOU, there is just no point.

Then again, the most boring bands can still make great songs, but they could or should have been written by anyone else. Internet and globalization of course have a great deal to do with this – the music industry after the internet became more cautious and couldn’t afford to take risks – so they release what they know will sell. Like with blockbuster movies nowadays – it has little or no depth to it at all. Entertainment at its worst if you ask me. There will always be independent music and movies that are great, but once around the really big artist that emerged and the really big blockbuster movies seems to actually have something interesting to them. Maybe I’m just getting old. Or maybe I just enjoy to think. I don’t know. It’s a good thing with the internet then, because it also makes it possible to listen to all sorts of music from different sources, so in a sense it doesn’t matter what the large record companies dare to release or not. As long as people have an interest in music it will all be fine. People can search, and they will find. Lets just hope that there will always be new ideas and new artists emerging, regardless of who is big or not. And I really think it will. In that sense, i think that the Swedish Scene is healthy and alive like it has been for many years. There are more bands than ever and more and more people listen to more and more different music, simply because they can. That leads to new and exciting ideas.

Of course one could argue that before the internet musicians in different countries really had their own ”language” when it comes to melodies – i.e. swedish melodrama, italian music with it’s destiny notes and so on. And you could go even further and say that it was more that way before the radio. All in all I think it’s just a matter of difference: some musicians are great at copy and learn to write music that sounds exactly and only like something they like, and nowadays of course the chance is bigger that that might be what they see and hear most of if they are not willing and interested to look for something else than what is presented to them the from the usual sources. Others add something else, something that makes it have a more of a personal touch and sometimes you can see patterns and hear that ”oh, this must be Swedish” etc., simply because people are more connected in culture and thinking that they sometimes want to admit or understand themselves. But the more different music someone listens to the more they have to get influenced by, so in that sense the internet helps, but in the same sense the internet might take away what is creating a regional or national sound in music. Or, in short: the Swedish Music Scene seems to be doing fine. Maybe people in Sweden are still a little afraid or nervous to listen to a Swedish band and say that it’s good, just because it will always sound like they are ”trying” to sound like something else. But all bands always do, in all countries – just maybe sometimes they want to sound like music you never heard nor know about. So in that sense – everything is as usual over here.

What are the plans for MCC for the nearest future?

To get ready to play live and prepare for our 2nd full-length album.

Thank you for your time!

Bardzo dziękuję!*

Interview by Piotr Kleszewski.

*”Thank you very much” in polish – Hälsningar till dig, M!

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