At the Gates’ Tomas Lindberg Explains Being a Schoolteacher + Metal Musician
The worlds of heavy metal and public education are, in many ways, complete opposites. The grind and chaos of the road is the perfect antithesis to the hyper-regimented structure of a school system and so often we hear from musicians that they are simply not the "school type."
This doesn't mean musicians aren't interested in learning, however. Quite the contrary.
For National Teacher Appreciation Day (May 4), we wanted to dive further into this dynamic and enlisted Loudwire contributor Jordan Blum, who, by day, is an adjunct English professor, making him the ideal fit to speak with At the Gates' Tomas Lindberg, who teaches social studies when he's not on tour, pacing the stage while discharging tortured, feral screams to thousands of headbanging fans.
Check out their chat down below.
There are many fascinating things about At the Gates vocalist Tomas Lindberg, including his surprisingly dissimilar day job as a social studies teacher.
In commemoration of National Teacher Appreciation Day – as well as the band’s upcoming seventh studio LP, The Nightmare of Being – Lindberg spoke with us about his approach to the job (including the impact of COVID-19), a bit about the new record and At the Gates’ legacy.
How did you get started as a teacher, and what grades do you teach?
It started as an extra job in-between tours, but I got into it more and more because of the gratitude I received from students. I was still in the teaching program when we were planning the band reunion [circa 2008], and I knew that I wanted to do social studies because of my interests in politics and religion. So, I got a master’s degree in it and spent the first few years teaching fourth- to sixth-graders. Pretty soon after, I realized that I wanted to deal with more adult kids [laughs], so now I’m with ninth-graders mostly.
I wanted to teach older students, too, which is why I’ve been an adjunct English professor for about 10 years.
I’ve been at it for that long, too. Some days, it’s hard. You get tired and you come home with big rings under your eyes, but every day is rewarding in some way.
Right. If you can connect with at least one student, it makes the job worthwhile.
Do you find it difficult to balance teaching with your role in At the Gates?
Ever since At War with Reality , we’ve found more effective ways to work. It still takes time for songs to mature, but the whole process is more streamlined and less stressful. We’re pretty lucky to have Century Media behind us and believing in us.
Even so, sometimes I need to take a few weeks off [teaching] if something needs to be finished, which I can do because I’m also the coordinator for all of the teachers between seventh and ninth grades. It’s a small school, with a handful of classes and maybe 300 kids.
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That’s great! Do you ever discuss At the Gates – or metal in general – with students?
Nah, not really. I mean, it’s the same place I started at 10 years ago, so all of the kids and their parents know what I do in my “spare time,” sorta say. They think it’s cool, but no one is really into that kind of music. I guess you could say it’s in a socioeconomically underdeveloped suburb, so they’re mostly into hip-hop [laughs].
That makes sense. I try to bring in some of my music writing to show them how I’m still following the structure of an academic essay. It helps me connect with them.
I’m sure. What’s interesting is that it’s usually other teachers who — like, if you’re a writer or a musician, they think you’re cool. They want to know about touring stories. I’m like, “Um, no.” I tend to downplay it more, you know? I’d rather be the nice-but-a-bit-boring teacher.
Same here. Obviously, the pandemic has greatly impacted what we do. Have you been teaching as often as before COVID-19?
Yeah, it’s been consistent. Since Christmas, at least here in Sweden, they’ve basically been online for two weeks and then in person for one week. We switch it around for each grade, too, so they’re not all in school at the same time.
I’ve seen a lot of kids sink into the black hole of being unmotivated, though. Online, they don’t say much, even if they have questions. I say, “Well, I guess you’ll all get an A on this test, right?” We also have fewer lessons per week when they’re online, so that they have more time to study on their own.
Has the content changed in terms of what you teach? Like, I’ve been giving students more room to discuss how they’ve been affected by the pandemic.
Social studies teachers have a really specific and mandatory curriculum for each grade, and some of it must be done in the classroom. That said, I think our schools would’ve collapsed if not for our flexibility as humans. I don’t have social media, so I had no clue what Google Meet or Google Classroom was before this. A lot of kids find it easier to do this online, too, especially if they’re highly efficient and focused. Others do worse online, of course, and they laugh when I mess up the technology. I’m a mentor for them, too, and I always try to lift them up.
All of that humanizes us to them, and there are many pros and cons to teaching online vs. teaching in person.
Moving onto The Nightmare of Being, it’s the second LP with Jonas Stålhammar instead of Anders Björler. Has the writing dynamic changed since To Drink from the Night Itself?
Well, Jonas Björler and I still wrote basically the whole record, but when you’re a songwriter or an arranger, you write for the people you know will play it. Jonas Stålhammar has a very different approach than Anders had, and he has a lot more knowledge about playing with prog rock and Krautrock styles. In that sense, the new album was written with the band in mind more than last time. There’s also a lot more orchestration this time around.
Yeah, I really like those moments.
We’ve just reached the 30th anniversary of At the Gates – not counting the hiatus – so I wonder how you feel looking back about being considered one of the progenitors of Gothenburg-style melodic death metal.
We’ve learned a lot along the way, and even at the start, we were intrigued by bands like King Crimson. Now, we’re more confident players and songwriters, so we can incorporate those influences more naturally.
Thanks to Tomas Lindberg for the interview. At the Gates' 'The Nightmare of Being' is out July 2 on Century Media. Pre-order your copy of the album here and follow the band on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.
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