Vocalist/Guitarist Ola Lindgren
Interview By Lord of The Wasteland
**Many thanks to Jodi for the transcription.
The Swedish old-school death metal scene is popularized mainly by three bands: Grave, Unleashed and Entombed. All three bands have certainly had their ups and downs whether it be changes in the musical climate, personnel changes or releases that just, truth be told, didn?t measure up to the rest of the band?s catalogue. Grave, in particular, took a five year hiatus from recording in the late 90s after the EXTREMELY ROTTEN LIVE album was almost universally scorned by fans and critics alike. Fast forward to 2002 and Grave returned with the punishing BACK FROM THE GRAVE to show fans that they still had some life left in them but it was on 2004?s FIENDISH REGRESSION that the band really found their groove again.
I spoke with Grave?s vocalist/founder Ola Lindgren at the ungodly hour of 6:00AM about his choice of working with Peter (Hypocrisy) and Tommy Tagtgren on the new CD, the new lineup, melodic death metal and what exactly the band did during their extended break from the studio.
FIENDISH REGRESSION has been out for a while now and the response has been excellent. Are you guys pretty happy with this one so far?
Absolutely. It’s turned out?both songwise and soundwise?over our expectations of things since we’ve changed the studio for this one. We really didn’t know what would come out of it but it’s on a really good hand, yeah.
Why did you guys decide to record at The Abyss instead of Sunlight for this one?
We just kind of wanted to get away from Stockholm and just concentrate on doing the recording instead of…I mean, I live like ten, fifteen minutes from Sunlight so if you go there, record, and you go home in the evening you have a lot of other stuff on your mind to take off the recording. So we just wanted to go away somewhere and spend the whole time there doing the recording and just focus and concentrate on doing that and nothing else, really.
It does sound great! I mean, Peter and Tommy T?gtgren did a great job.
Since he’s in Hypocrisy, does Peter bring anything more to the producer role because he’s also a musician than, say, Tomas Skogsberg did?
Uhh…I’d say so, yeah, sure. He had a lot of ideas and so on and, as you mentioned, since he plays in a band himself, you know, he has a lot more ideas producing-wise than Tomas did. It helped out totally. Absolutely.
?Reborn? is one of the songs that really stood out for me?I know you have an mp3 up on the website as well?it’s about vampires. Are you guys vampire fans, or what brought the vampire theme into the song?
Not really. It’s just easy to write about fantasy and stuff like that, you know, and a lot of the lyrics are totally made-up stories with, like, blood and guts and stuff like that…classic death metal lyrics. Some others deal with more serious things like religion or anti-religion, stuff like that. There’s no hard meaning behind it, just a little story put together, basically.
The intro to ?Last Journey? kind of reminded me of Slayer’s ?South of Heaven.? I know you guys are big Slayer fans, but does their influence play a role in the writing of Grave?s songs?
There’s always inspiration, of course, and since they’re one of my favorite bands of all times I think that it kind of sneaks in here and there and the opening for that track, I mean we knew it was kind of similar and that the guitar tone or that the sound of the guitar is pretty similar too, but we decided to keep it there and see it as more a tribute than a rip-off of some kind. There’s more songs on there and same with the BACK FROM THE GRAVE album, that also has a lot of influences in there.
There are a couple of bonus tracks on FIENDISH REGRESSION as well. I didn’t hear them myself since they’re not on the promo, but I understand ?Autopsied? is an unreleased song from 1989?
Was that one just something that you guys found that had never been finished up, or what made you decide to release that now?
It was finished. We had two or three old tracks that never got released on anything, so Century Media wanted us to do a couple of bonus tracks for this for like limited editions and first releases and so on. We kind of went through old tapes and stuff and wanted to record something that wasn’t out there already, so that’s why we decided to do that one. The cover [Saint Vitus? ?Burial At Sea?]…we wanted to do something old also, something from when we were growing up and something that inspired us and not just do another Slayer cover or whatever that’s already been done by hundreds of bands.
Right. Yeah, I think a lot of people probably won’t even…they certainly won’t know the song but they probably won’t even know the band either.
The cover art of the new CD is quite eye-catching once again. You guys worked with Jacek Wisniewski again on this one?
Is he going to be somebody that you’re looking at working with from now on? I know he’s done each of the last two Grave CD covers.
Yeah, I think so. I really like his work and the BACK FROM THE GRAVE cover was a painting that was already made and we kind of got it handed to us from Century Media and we really liked it so that’s why we picked it. So that was very easy, and this one was totally done from scratch together with him.
So you guys were also involved with the cover for this one?
Yeah. So we mailed him ideas and so on and he mailed us back with what he had and just back and forth via e-mail. And it took us like, I don’t know, three or four weeks to get it all together and get everything changed and stuff added that we wanted to have on there, so it was a very easy process, really.
There’s a new drummer on this record as well?Pelle Ekegren. What happened with Cristofer Barkensjo who was with you guys briefly before that?
Well, it worked out really good playing-wise and so on. He’s a great drummer and so on, but he did two tours with us, first in the U.S. and then over here and it’s really important that everything kind of fits together if you’re living with each other for like, a month or over that, and it just didn’t really work out from the social plane. We kind of felt the same when we got back after the second tour and he had really not felt that he was a part of the band as we others are. A little bit outside. Plus, there were some incidents on the tour also that kind of led to the decision to replace him.
I know your former guitarist, Jorgen Sandstrom, was in Entombed after leaving Grave, but is Jensa Paulsson still playing music? Do you guys keep in contact with him at all?
No, Jensa’s not playing anything at all but we’re still great friends. Jorgen left Entombed and I think he’s playing in Krux with Leif from Candlemass. It’s really heavy, doomy stuff. I think he’s doing that and I think he’s also involved in The Project Hate.
Right. I know you guys did the Party-San Festival in Germany and a couple other tours so far for the album. How did the fans react to the new songs?
Party-San was really good, actually. We played, I think three new tracks, and it was very well-taken by the fans. It was the week or the weekend before the release date and Century Media was there and they actually sold copies there before the release kind of exclusively for that show. A lot of people bought it the day before?we played on a Saturday and the festival began on the Thursday?so people really got into it and the songs we felt that they really fit it in well in the set. There’s not that much difference between an old track from one of the first albums and this new one, so it’s kind of keeping the style going, the whole concept we have in the band, so it’s pretty good.
I was looking on your website and I don’t see any tour dates or anything up. Is there anything in the works right now for a tour in the fall or next year?
We’re planning and trying as hard as we can to get something. There was stuff planned and confirmed for last November in Europe and then it got changed. It moved ahead to earlier this year but we’re still looking and trying to get something going over here or maybe go to the U.S..
And Canada too, right (laughs)?
I hope so, yeah. If they let us in (laughs).
You guys also did Carnal Forge’s record release party. Are you friends with those guys?
Yeah, absolutely. They’re good friends of ours. They invited us up there to play on the release, and it was a great party. Lots of people and lots of good friends were there, so it was a very cool weekend.
Cool. There was a vinyl box set released last year called MORBID WAYS TO DIE, that’s got all your albums in it. Did the band get involved with the package at all, or was that just left up to the label?
They came up with the initial idea but we were involved with the layouts and stuff for the booklet inside and I wrote some liner notes and stuff for it. It was totally their idea from the start but we really got in there and hooked up on the idea since it was a very cool idea, and we had never thought about doing anything like that. It was a really cool fan piece, I think. It’s really limited and so on, so it’s a very cool thing I think.
Is it available around the world or just in Europe?
I’m not sure if it was out in the U.S. or not. I think there’s still copies left and I think you can get it through the European Century Media homepage.
I wanted to ask a couple of older questions about the band, Ola. Why was there such a long break between studio albums with HATING LIFE in 1996 and BACK FROM THE GRAVE in 2002?
Well, no really special reason. We toured for HATING LIFE both in the U.S. and over here and we recorded a live album in Los Angeles that was released in ’97 or something like that [EXTREMELY ROTTEN LIVE] and we just figured we’d take a break for a while and see which way everything was going and focus. In those days, like the mid- or the late ’90s, we were getting more and more into black metal and people kind of turned away from death metal and black metal took a lot of interest from the other bands and so on. So it just kind of got out of hand and took longer and longer and longer and in ’99 I think, or 2000, we were just kind of bored of having normal lives like everybody else and never doing anything. We were kind of used to going out at least, like, once a year or every single year and play live and go on tour and so on. We still had the contract running so we didn’t really have to do anything but produce songs to get a new album out. So that’s kind of why we got started again.
Did you do a lot of writing when you were on that break?
Nothing at all. We started writing new material in 2001, I think. We did everything for that album in three or four months, I think.
Oh, wow. So what brought Jonas back for the BACK FROM THE GRAVE album?
He’s one of my oldest, best friends and we were talking about maybe doing some kind of project thing with him and me and some other guys. And he’s always been playing guitar?he’s not a bass player?so we were putting together the new lineup for it, and we got Fredrik [Isaksson] on bass already, so I asked him if he wanted to play second guitar in Grave instead of doing a second band and he was totally into that. And he knew all the old songs and so on, so it was very easy to get in there. He’s a couple of years older than us, but he’s got a lot of good ideas and is more thrash-influenced than we are and has a lot more bands in his baggage. It was very cool. On this new album we’ve been writing like, fifty-fifty, I think, for the songs, him and me, and we’re putting everything together but it’s a lot more involved in the writing these days.
I know you said Slayer is your favorite band but whose playing has influenced you as a guitarist?
Well, I really admire Randy Rhoads…what else? I like Prong a lot.
Tommy Victor, yeah. Kind of…really, his own kind of style. I don’t know anything else that sounds like that kind of riffing and stuff. King and Hanneman, of course. I like a lot of older stuff, like Uli Roth and stuff like that.
Tommy Victor?he’s in Danzig now, isn’t he?
I think so, yeah. It’s a shame (laughs).
Yeah, I think he’s wasting his time in there, but hey? (laughs).
(Laughs) Yeah, I met Prong when they were playing here, down in Malmo, down in south of Sweden. Me and Jonas went down there. We were playing Gothenburg the day after, and we went down there on the way just to check it out. And it was totally horrible. The show was great but there were only thirty or forty people there.
And we were totally feeling sorry for them and begging them to excuse Sweden and come back one more time and play somewhere else, you know (laughs). They’re one of my all-time favorite bands and Jonas, too, so we expected a really, really crowded show and there was like, just me and him in the front row (laughs). So it was kind of a shame.
?Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.? That’s a cool song.
Do you consider Grave to be pioneers of the death metal scene? I know you guys were kind of one of the first out there. Like, what do you think when people come up and say that to you?
It’s kind of strange since we don’t really look at ourselves in that way, but you totally understand it if you meet people and fans out when you’re touring or people e-mail you and say that they’re totally influenced and that you changed their life and got them into this kind of music. Bands are playing covers of our songs and stuff like that. So, of course we understand that we made a difference or an impact on the scene, but it’s not like we look at ourselves of godfathers of Swedish death metal or anything like that. But it’s very cool to have that kind of a status among fans and other bands.
The Forsaken actually covers of one of your old songs??You?ll Never See??on their new CD.
Old-school death metal, at least in Sweden, sort of seems to be dying out and more bands like Soilwork and In Flames are coming out. What do you guys think of that new melodic death sound?
Ehh?nothing that I really listen to myself. I can understand why they’re very popular and they sell a lot of records and so on but it’s nothing in my personal taste. But I’d rather see more harder bands getting out there and getting attention and growing, you know. I mean, In Flames was a really good band like, ten years ago or fifteen years ago but they’ve changed too much and I think if you change your music that much you shouldn’t even keep the band names. It’s like two totally different bands, you know. I don’t know if it did them any good or bad to keep the name, but I’m not really a fan of bands that change that much. I mean, I don’t know what they do when they play live, really, if they play any of the old songs, or…
Not when I saw them last year. They play a few old ones, but I’d say it’s about eighty percent stuff from the last five years.
Yeah. That kind of music is nothing that I enjoy listening to at all. I heard a couple of songs or saw a video or two, but it’s nothing that either inspires or impresses me.
They’re huge over here, though.
Yeah, I know.
I mean, they’re on the Billboard album charts, and they’ve sold tons of records for Nuclear Blast. We’ll see if they’re still around in five years.
Yeah exactly. I mean, it’s the same with like?take Slipknot. It’s very huge and it’s very hard music but…it’s not the same as death metal. And death metal would never be able to get to that level either, I don?t think.
Are you planning on doing a Grave DVD or a video release or anything? Seems to be that everybody’s doing one now.
Yeah, there’s been talk about it. We actually had two dates scheduled at two separate locations to do live video recordings, but there were like, tours and stuff that came in the way so we kind of put it on ice for a while. I don’t know if we’re going to do it or not since it’s kind of trendy to do it these days. It seems every band releases live DVDs and stuff but if there’s a right time to do it, I’d like to do it home here in Sweden at a smaller place, maybe like, five or eight hundred capacity and just get everything very well organized and get everything together. We might do something like that.
Are you planning on doing another live album as well?
Not really at this time. We might if we do a tour and stuff. The plans are to try and record every now and then and maybe get bonus tracks or maybe do a shorter live album with a couple new tracks on there or something like that.
Alright, thanks Ola. I appreciate the call this morning.
Thank you. Going back to bed (laughs)?
Yeah, I wish (laughs). No, I?ve got to go to work, actually.
(Laughs) Oh, okay. Alright, man. Take care.
**Thanks to Heather at Century Media for setting up the interview.
**Read Anders Sandvall’s interview with Grave’s Jonas Torndal from October 2004 here.
**Read all reviews of Grave CDs at Metal Rules here.
**Visit Grave’s official site