There’s more to metal! An interview with Niklas Johansson!

When you watch a video clip or listen to a song on your streaming devices, you only witness the finished product. When you visit a concert or a festival you witness the live music and the stage performance or your favourite artist! But before all that can be enjoyed, there are a lot of things taking place to make it all happen. Artists, musicians, bands, venue directors, they all have their own story to tell!
In this series I’m going to talk to several different people, to find out what the stories are behind it all! From a “big shot” artist, all the way to promotion and record companies. In this episode Niklas Johansson.
Niklas is the lead guitarist for Swedish metal outfit Tungsten, part of Swedish Harkla and many more. But Niklas is also very active ” behind the scene’s”. As owner of Harm Studios, Niklas works for other artists in creating there video clips, or for the mixing and mastering of new material! So when the opportunity arose to sit down with Niklas and learn some more about all the above, I gladly accepted!

Hi Niklas! Thanks for taking some time out of your day to have a talk! How are things in cold but beautiful Sweden?

Hi! No problem, everything is fine here. Right now it’s actually snowing like hell. That’s not as common down south in Sweden anymore as it used to be.

As being part of Swedish progressive metal band Harkla you have met with busy times lately, culminating in the release of Harkla’s third studio album The Living Mountain. Congratulations with that! What can you tell me about the album?

This new Harkla album felt very different from the other Harkla albums we’ve done.
Harkla was formed in 2013 with some of my friends at our school, but nothing serious came out of it. We did some local shows, rehearsed a lot but no one really knew what to do with it and how to take it to the next step. So the spark just slowly died.

Since I started the band and enjoyed writing that kind of music (progressive metal) I continued it as a solo project with my brother (Karl Johansson, red) on vocals and just wrote some songs every now and then when I had time, until we had enough songs to release it as a full length-album.
The previous record “Ruktur” was created in that way. It took the better part of 2 years to finish it.

On this latest album “The living mountain” it started out the same way. I wrote 3 or 4 for songs in a year and then nothing happened all the way up until April 2023.
Then the spark came back, I came up with a new touch to Harkla, as I decided to add the folky elements. It sounded fresh and new and it was interesting to see how the songs got a whole new character to them. So a new wave of energy and creativity resulted in the fact that we finished the whole record in just 5 months!
Though it seemed rushed, this album has absolutely the most effort put in to it.
And my brother Karl did a great job with the lyrics and vocals. Scandinavian folklore combined with low tuned “thall” riffs and Swedish folk instruments. A perfect match, in my opinion.

Well I can honestly say that you guys succeeded in that plan!
Perhaps best known these days, is your phenomenal guitar work and backing vocals in Swedish Tungsten. A packed year has passed for the four of you, and in later stages of 2023 news came, Tungsten has started work on their fourth studio album. Busy times for Tungsten, aint it?

In 2023 we had some really good shows and it feels like the band “Tungsten” is getting more recognition.
Right now we are in the recording and mixing stage of the new and upcoming album, it feels very promising. A definite release date isn’t yet sure, but the album will probably be released in 2024.

The music that reaches us from Harkla and Tungsten, as well as other projects and bands you are (sideways) a part of, are only the things the audiences see and hear. But not every knows (yet) that your (perhaps) biggest passion lies in what goes on in the production of music. With your own music studio, Harm Studios, you have had a hand in several albums from well-known Swedish artists and bands. In almost every conceivable way Harm Studios can be asked to take care of (pre) production, editing, mastering and so on. Even the production of (state of the art) video clips is something you have taking a successful shot at. How did Harm Studios came to be?

Harm Studios does a lot of stuff, but mainly mixing and mastering of new music. But I can provide so much more such as editing, re-amping, tracking etc. I am the proud owner of a nice, complete and state of the art workplace so all the ingredients are there to make magic happen. And to top it all off, I recently started to produce and create music videos as well for other bands, so that’s something I really enjoy doing and I’m anxious to see how it will evolve in the future.

Harm Studios was formed in 2017. I started to do studio works for Hulkoff on the album “Kven”. I did not mix the album, but i tracked bass on it and was studio technician for the drummer and edited some things before sending to the mixing engineer Jonas Kjellgren (one of the best out there I might add!). As I needed a way to send invoices, Harm Studios saw the light of live. Initially  that was the only plan. But then I got more interested in the mixing part of music and started to learn more about it. I’ve mixed my own stuff prior to 2017 with Harkla, but that sounds like crap to me now haha!

As I got more experienced it grew my confidence to take up new jobs which eventually evolved in a natural way to the point where I am right now. I still learn and improve every day. Perhaps that “growth” is best shown when I listen to my previous work and in my opinion it always sounds like I could have done better, so I probably will never stop trying to improve myself haha.

Well, that’s a good thing as it clearly shows you are willing to improve yourself, and are open to critics! Quickly becoming a rarity now-a-days!

As mentioned before, you are the lead guitarist for Tungsten as well as responsible for some of the backing vocals. How much is the work you do for Harm Studios intertwined with your position in Tungsten?

All Tungsten’s music has been mixed and mastered by Harm studios. And since Tungsten does not record with a producer I have taken that part as well.
Everybody has their say of course, but I usually have the last word, when it comes to things like: “Should that keyboard really be there?” “Do we need more harmonies here” etc. In short, it’s a healthy cross-over between the creating part (Tungsten)and the producing part (Harm Studios) where I am the lucky one to be in the centre of it all !

The same goes for Harkla. As this is a “2 man show” of you and your brother Karl, this must make things easier in some ways, to have a final say in (almost) every aspect of new material.

Haha, yea. With Harkla it’s very easy to agree on stuff. Since I do everything except vocals, there’s nothing that can stop me from doing whatever I want to do. We release our music ourselves as well, so I can make a song today and it will be out in a couple of days, and no one can say anything.
Karl has a lot of input on Harkla for sure, but as I am the leader of the band I have the final say in just about everything. Luckily we both find this the best way to work so Karl is usually totally fine with whatever I want. And as we are brothers, things go easy enough between us!

With Harm Studios you have worked on several albums, single’s, E.P.’s and even videoclips. A video you have produced and directed, is a video for Swedish Vanguisher. What can you tell me of the process that takes place before we see a finished product?

I’ve made a couple of videos for Tungsten before, but when I did the video for Vanquisher I asked the guys what they wanted and how they envisioned there maiden video clip. Once the idea is pitched I have to start calculating if it’s realistic and achievable, if there is alot of costs etc.
So to make it as smooth and financially realistic for everybody we plan it together. If the video needs a certain environment or prop, like an anvil that was used in the “Vanquisher” video, everybody involved will have to check if they have one themselves, or know someone who can provide one for the duration of the video shooting. By acting like this, I can provide new and upcoming artists a chance to create a nice and professional videoclip without breaking the bank.
O, and thankfully, one of neighbours of a Vanguisher band-member had an anvil we could borrow.

A well-received recent album release where Harm Studios worked on, is the recent release of Swedish Nordic Folk Metal band Hulkoff, Hersir. Knowing Pär Hulkoff I’m absolutely sure he demands the highest of standards when it comes to mixing and mastering his music. What can you tell me about your role in this remarkable Hulkoff album?

Working with Hulkoff is always a pleasure. Hulkoff is a one man show and therefor he has the right to make all decisions. I usually send one song at a time, then he calls me and we discuss what needs to be fixed, edited, altered etc and how to do it. Usually every song has stuff taken away or added to them, and Mr Hulkoff asks me for my opinion and input.
Though it is he who makes the call, I feel like he trusts me in many of the choices I present to him.
I know what he wants, he knows I understand him, he understand what I’m saying. It can be a rocky ride at times, but it’s great fun!

With 2024 just starting, a whole year is yet to come and hopefully new music will reach us all. As far as your work with Harm Studios goes, are there any things you can share wit us about projects you work on, that will be released in the (near) future?

The main goal is to get the new Tungsten album done, which I’m certain it will be.
For me as a mixer, I will get improve and learn. That a never stopping carousel.  I already feel that my latest work in 2023 could be better at points haha! That’s both an upside as well as a downside of learning and growing. You see and hear imperfections or things that could have been done in another way. So for lack of a better word, it’s always an ongoing battle against myself and I will not stop!

By the sounds of it, you have plenty of things to look forward too. For now things are relatively easy to combine with your work in metalbands. But there can come a time that for one reason or the other you are forced to choose between them. Would you choose for a life behind the scene’s or opt for a live on the road and be a stage performer?

On stage and on the road. But I want to achieve that with my own music. So it goes hand in hand for me. The perfect year would be to have festivals every other day in the summer, 1 or 2 long tours with one the bands I am part of and in between making music and mixing for other bands. The time left in my agenda will be filled with sleeping hahaha.

Haha, that sounds as if 24 hours in a day is nowhere nearly enough!
Niklas, thank you for your time and this amazing talk! On behalf of everyone at Maizter Underground I want to wish you all the best with all your endeavours. We will make sure we keep a close eye out for you!

As the festival season is already on the horizon, Niklas will be present this summer as lead guitarist and backing vocals on stage with Tungsten. Several festivals and shows will be played and a brand new album in the works should be enough reason so keep a close eye on both Tungsten and Harm Studios.
With Harkla the latest album The Living Mountain was released recently and for all who are interested, the album can be found on all streaming services.


Niklas Johansson

About the Author

Patrick Reos

Patrick Reos
Based in The Netherlands.
Writing journalist.

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