Lindberg and Nicke

The Internet features more than its share of negativity and snark—sometimes you’ve just gotta vent. But there’s plenty of room for love, too. With Fan Up, we ask pop-culture people we admire to tell us about something they really, really like.

The fan: Tomas Lindberg has spent the past 20-odd years twisting and turning through the tangled web of melodic death metal, both as the frontman for the on-again/off-again At The Gates and as a member of bands like Hide, The Crown, Lock Up, and The Great Deceiver. With At War With Reality, At The Gates’ first new record in 19 years, out soon, The A.V. Club asked Lindberg if he’d be up for talking about something he loves that’s just a little more serene: the sturdy but regal North Swedish horse.

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The A.V. Club: What do you like about horses?

Tomas Lindberg: It all boils down to my wife and my 18-year-old daughter’s interests with horses. I never really was a horse person. I don’t really ride horses at all. Due to their interests, we bought a horse three years ago. Obviously, it’s more their horse because they are riding it and training it, but I always came to them in the stable. I always follow them there and sit around while they train and just feel very calm and relaxed in that environment. It’s more due to that.

The last couple years I’ve been very stressed at work doing double duty being a teacher and being a singer in a death-metal band. And I got burned out. And my therapist asked, “Where are you most happy? Where do you feel that you’re calm?” And the first answer that came to my head is the stable. That’s where I can relax because you can’t really concentrate on anything else other than being there. You’re full of newfound wonder because you’re around these big animals, and you’ve got to stay focused. Everybody talks about mindfulness. That’s what it is for me. It’s very calming.

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I know this sounds really silly but they project their own energy as well. The size of these animals is a very special thing, too. It’s not like dogs, where they run around and you pet them. They’re huge beasts, really.

AVC: How many horses do you have now?

TL: We only have the one North Swedish horse, which is an old draft horse. It’s a local breed here in Scandinavia, but it’s one of those really big ones, a cold-blooded breed. You picture yourself going through the snow on one with a lot of hair on their hooves, long mane, that kind of stuff. They’re really mostly used as carriage horses or to pull logs through the forest. Stuff like that.

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They’re workhorses, but the breed is going away. It’s not like they’re going to be extinct or something like that, but everybody else wants these hot-blooded, jumping or racing horses or whatever. This is more like the horse you have because you like to be around horses, not to jump around on and go to competitions.

My wife’s into this natural horsemanship, which comes from America actually, from a guy called Parelli. It’s more like an art to see how the horse reacts and communicate with the horse using its own language. It sounds really silly but in most other kinds of training with animals, you decide and you lead the animal. But this is a communication thing. You’ve got to let the horse decide a little bit as well. It’s a more directive and peaceful way of communicating, I think.

AVC: It sounds like you give the horse some respect, not just because he’s big but because he seems like he knows what’s going on.

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TL: Of course my wife and my daughter, who is grown up now, they let the horse know who really is in charge as well but still listen to the horse. Whereas I’m not a pro at it. The horse still believes that he sometimes decides over me, but I try my best to work on that part of it.

AVC: You said it’s your wife and daughter’s horse, but it sounds like you’re getting more into it now.

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TL: My wife was away in Paris for three weeks. So my daughter and I took turns because she doesn’t live at home. We took turns just going out there and looking after him. So now I can actually take him out of the pasture myself with the lead rope and brush him and give him food. I can’t train him, really. I can walk around with him and stuff like that. But they still train him.

It’s my goal to be more involved. I’ve been riding him—not in a trot or anything—more in a walk. It still feels like you’re doing stuff together with the horse, which is very rewarding. But it’s very low level. A horse person would probably laugh at this, but it’s more about how I’m just amazed that he gives me so much even if I’m still learning.

AVC: The North Swedish horse looks like a beautiful horse. It’s almost a little “metal” looking.

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TL: Yeah, it has that kind of Northern mythology thing to it because of the size. Ours is only 5 years old, but it’s like 154 centimeters, 600 kilos. It’s more than half a ton. It’s supposed to drag carriages around, so he’s a big guy. It’s a gelding, I think it’s called in English.

AVC: A guy.

TL: Yeah, it can’t breed, but he’s very calm.

AVC: What’s his name?

TL: Nicke. It’s an old Swedish name.

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AVC: You said it’s kind of helped you find focus or mindfulness. Do you think that’s affected your music in any way? Do you go write in the stable?

TL: No, I think it’s the other way around. That’s the only place I can really let everything else go because both my lines of work seem to grab my attention all the time. I start thinking about certain things at work and school and also with music and stuff. I drift away. But in the stable I don’t drift away. I don’t let that stuff get into my mind, so it’s probably healthy in the way that I can find peace and relaxation from work. That could probably help work because I can put more energy into it when I’m relaxed.

AVC: Do you think you’ll miss your horse when you’re on the road? Do you think he’ll miss you?

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TL: Yeah, definitely. I always ask my wife, more like a joke, because it really feels important for her. She’ll ask, “Did he miss me?” Of course he did. He can’t talk, but yeah, it’s really because you always ask how he is. “Did he learn something new? What’s up with him?” It’s something we talk about a lot. It’s also something we have together now, because our kids are grown up. So this is probably our new kid. We’re too old to get new kids, so we have a new horse instead.

Of course I miss him a lot when I’m on the road. I remember we had this show in Italy, and I was really stressed out because we were playing with only one guitarist when the other one was sick. I was really trying to find a peaceful mind to relax and just concentrate, and I ended up watching videos of my horse.

My wife and my daughter have more control over whether he’s doing well than I do. She was more worried when she was away for three weeks and I was taking care of him, rather than the other way around. But that went okay.

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AVC: Do you have a sense of why you got a North Swedish horse versus another kind of horse?

TL: That was my wife’s wish to get that horse. She was just into them. But I thought it was really cool because it was a bit different. They’re not that common. They’re more common here than in the U.S., but they’re not that common here either. And it’s a bigger size and more massive and everything. In a way it’s more appealing, and because it’s cold blooded, they’re also calmer. Maybe other horses are easier to train to a certain degree, but he doesn’t overreact with nervousness and stuff like that, which is very good because he has to deal with me leading him when I’m not used to it, but he listens to me. It’s very nice.

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