Graveyard: Ungrateful Are We the Dead
By Raoul Hernandez,
3:26PM, Tue. Sep. 9, 2008
Seldom have the opening notes of any rock album had the effect of the deep, dark, descending tones of Graveyard opener “Evil Ways.” Axel Sjöberg’s gravity-free cymbal/toms dance thickens the ether out of which guitarists Jonatan Ramm (lead), Joakim Nilsson (rhythm/vox), and Rikard Edlund (bass) spark a firestorm of doomy roar that the Gothenburg, Sweden, fivepiece has thrilled record heads with since spring.
“I’m been alive and I’ve been dead,” cries Nilsson, “Must be something wrong with my head.” The chorus scrapes the bark off the similarly galvanizing opening notes of Black Sabbath’s eponymous 1970 debut: “There’s a hole in my soul that can’t be filled.”
At Encore Records and Video during this year’s South by Southwest, Graveyard took the sweet, corner, in-store stage and for 30 rocket-engine minutes proved the group’s debut no fluke. “Evil Ways,” “Don’t Take Us for Fools,” “Submarine Blues,” “Thin Line,” “Satan’s Finest,” and non-LP track “Ungrateful Are We the Dead” made up one of the band’s very first U.S. soil set-lists. A chat with tall, blond, bearded, Scandinavian drummer Sjöberg confirmed the band’s excitement in the music festival and Austin. Tomorrow, Wednesday, Sept. 10, Red 7 horn blowers get a chance to wear their fire retardant black tees in defense of Graveyard, fellow late-1960s-loving Swedes Witchcraft, and Brooklyn bangers TK Webb & the Visions.
Austin Chronicle: Gothenburg has a reputation for being…
Axel Sjöberg: …yeah, At the Gates.
AC: [Laughs] What’s Gothenberg really like?
AS: [Snorts] I don’t know. I guess we have a little brother complex towards Stockholm. None of us in the band are actually from here, from the beginning. Three of us are from a smaller town called Örebro. That’s in the middle between Stockholm and Oslo, the capital of Norway. Jonatan, the lead guitar player, he’s from an even smaller town called Vännäs. Back in ’94, that was one of the biggest hardcore cities in Sweden. Umeä in the north where Refused came from, and Vanished Boy…
Maybe I’m not the right person to ask, because I’m not from here, but I’ve lived here for eight years and the others guys too, more or less. It’s a nice harbor city, a bit rough. The tourist picture is that everyone [here] is quite jovial – friendly, nice. Like the next door neighbor type of people. But it’s also, you know, a harbor city. If you scratch the surface there’s a lot of rough spots as well. There was a strong punk scene here back in ’77, here and in Stockholm. They called it the Gothenburg punk. Maybe it all started from that. I think there’s always been a lot of music here in Gothenburg. Like Liverpool, also harbor city, a lot of people bring influences from other parts of the world. I wouldn’t say it’s a straight line, but you can see that there have been a lot of bands coming from here. The metal, I don’t really know. I'm acquainted with one of the guys in At the Gates, but I actually didn’t know that he was in At the Gates until this summer when they did the reunion shows. I met him at a festival where we also played.
So, I don’t know. The more I travel, the more I think all towns are alike. Big cites are big cities. I guess it’s just a matter of what kind of people meet each other, but then of course if one band gets attention, then others might move there or get influenced by it. There’s a couple bands here in Gothenburg that are inspired by the same decades in history as us.
AC: The perception here in the states is that if it’s hard and from Scandinavia it must be black metal. Yet you guys sound like 1969-era Led Zeppelin, almost like when they were still the New Yardbirds. Has that made it harder for you in your hometown, not being black metal?
AS: No, I don’t think so. ‘Cause I don’t think we’re metal, so I don’t think metal people… Before, with our old band, we always felt that we fell in between the chairs, like the metal chair and the softer rock chair. We were somewhere in between. We weren’t so heavy, but we weren’t light enough to fit in another category. Now with Graveyard, we feel that we can sit on both chairs at the same time. People that come to our shows are both metal heads with jean vests and patches all over them, and hipsters in tight pants and art school haircuts.
I also think that Scandinavia – at least Sweden and Norway – produces a lot more music than just black metal. Left Hand Path by Entombed is a milestone in metal, but there’s also a lot of blues-inspired and ‘67-inspired rock music from here. Like the Hellacopters. They just have a different take on it, like later Seventies. Same with The Soundtrack of Our Lives. It’s mostly the Norwegians that are black [metal]. The Swedish are more death [metal], old school death. Of course there are black metal bands from here too. There was a big scene in the Sixties and Seventies, because it was sort of a shifting society and lots of people tried to explore new ways in music. So there was a big progressive – not progressive technical, more like political – musical movement. And jazz people that wanted to try other things. There was also the hippie movement trying to seek new ways of life. So we have a lot of Swedish bands that are very influential and have been for many Swedish bands – blues, hippie rock.
Do you know Träd, Gräs och Stenar – Trees, Grass, and Stones? They’ve been over in the States a couple of times, toured with Sonic Youth. I know Stephen Malkmus really likes them. They’ve toured with Acid Mothers Temple. They’re in their 60s now, like drone-y folk, psychedelic music. There’s so many more. Those are the influences that we have that are Swedish. Otherwise, I would agree with you on ’69, the year ’69. That’s maybe where you could fit our album, but I think you can also hear that it’s not purely ’69. There’s something else in there.
AC: It’s not retro. It has a timeless quality. It could’ve been recorded in ’69, ’79, or 2009.
AS: Maybe you’re right, because it draws on a lot of elements. That’s the ’69 thing, when they shifted from psychedelic to heavy. We listen to Slayer as well as Swedish jazz pianists. Maybe that’s the timelessness of it. You draw on the best things whenever they’re made.
AC: Do people assume you’re harder just from your name, Graveyard?
AS: Yeah, especially with the cover we had on the album and being from Gothenburg. A lot of people believe that. You want a heavy sounding name, but one that’s simple and not forced – when it’s so obvious that they sat around for days and nights to find the most heavy, evil name they could find. A good name is a simple band name that still says a lot. And that you can also translate from the original word to just being the name of the band.
AC: Was your Tee Pee Records debut in fact your first album?
AS: Yes. It came out six months earlier here in Sweden on a Swedish label. We have three new songs recorded. Two of them might be on a split later this year, or early next year, with Witch, but nothing is certain yet. Hopefully we’ll get some time to record in November or December.
AC: When we first spoke at Encore Records during South by Southwest you said it was your first tour of the U.S., correct?
AS: Yeah, yeah. You can’t even call it a tour. It was just those three shows at South by Southwest and then Philly, New York, and North Hampton.
AC: Was that your first time in the United States?
AS: For me and Rikard it was. But Joakim the singer, he’s been there before. One time, I think. He used to go out with a girl whose father was from the States. Jonatan has worked with a lot of bands as guitar technician and roadie and stuff. So he’s been over in the States with the Haunted and toured all over.
AC: Given the brevity of your original trip here, how was the experience? How did people receive the band? How was the experience for you personally to come over and play these songs?
AS: [Extended sigh] That’s a big question. We’re extremely glad and we had so much fun. It was amazing being at South by Southwest. We were overwhelmed by how much there was to see and how little time there was, and how fun it was. The first show, we were a bit stressed out, because all of us were playing on borrowed things. For the New York show, that’s where we got it together, because it’s hard playing on someone else’s stuff. It takes quite a while to get used to.
As for impression, you know the U.S. is big, but you don’t really comprehend how big it is until you get there and actually take two flights to get to another city in the same country where here, you could be down in Spain or something if you compare. But everybody was nice to us and we were well received. I think this time when we come over we’ll be better, because we have toured a lot more and are more experienced.
AC: How long is this tour?
AS: Six weeks altogether. First we go two and half, three weeks together with Witchcraft from Sweden too, and another band from the U.S. [TK Webb & the Visions]. We start off in Seattle and then go down the West Coast, through the south, up to New York. That’s where it finishes with Witchcraft. Then we go down to North Carolina where we hook up with Clutch and the Sword and we open up for those guys for three weeks through the south, then to Los Angeles, and then we go home.
AC: The Clutch/Sword/Graveyard tour rolls through Austin Saturday, Oct. 4 at Stubb's.
AS: Yeah, yeah. We’re doing Austin twice. We liked Austin. It was such a great atmosphere during South by. I’d heard a lot about it, but it was really great. Austin seemed like a really friendly town.
AC: What’s been the global reception to the album?
AS: I think overall very good. Vice magazine and some skateboard magazine hated on it. They didn’t like it. But Vice magazine is Vice magazine… Now it’ll sound like I’m boasting, but because we recorded the album so soon after we formed the band, we hadn’t gotten it all together yet. When you’ve played together for a while, you can read each other just with a look. We didn’t have all of that when we recorded the album. It was maybe three months after we formed. It’s a good recording, but when we do the songs live, I think it sounds better. So maybe we should have waited a while, but it’s easy to look back and [second guess yourself]. Here in Sweden, the album reviews were good, but the live reviews have been even better, so hopefully people in the states will like us too.
AC: Given how quickly the album was recorded were you surprised it came out as well as it did?
AS: Yeah, I think so. This is also maybe me adjusting my story because I know how it turns out, but I think ever since we started, our first couple of practices, it felt right. I could never have guessed that things would’ve gone as good so fast. It felt like we had something. After the first couple of shows in Gothenburg, people started talking because we had been around and played in other bands. You know how it is for most people in a band: you play your show and nothing happens. Then some record company gets in touch and nothing happens. You keep on struggling. But this time it fell from the start. People were like, “Hey, hmm. This is something.” Maybe that rubbed off on us too.