Interviewed by: Anders Sandvall
Thanks to Vic Records for provided the promo pictures of the band
Promo pictures taken by: Jimmy Johansson and Patrik Hellstrom
Simon Johansson is a very busy man who is involved with Memory Garden and BibleBlack to mention but a few. His act Memory Garden released a new album last year so I decided to hook up with Simon in order to talk about the new album, the band and his history in the music industry.
Hi Simon, how you doing today? Are you ready for some close-up questions about you and the band Memory Garden?
Hi, I’m fine, we are on a ferry on our way from Finland to Sweden right now. Played a great show yesterday together with Manilla Road.
You have recently released your brand new album CARNAGE CARNIVAL, how long did it take you to write music and lyrics to the album?
Well, not sure…we did it during a long period but I guess it might have taken maybe 6 months spread over 4 years or something like that.
Your previous studio album MIRAGE was released in 2000. Why has it taken you so long to follow up that album?
It was mainly because the lack of a label. We split with Metal Blade in 2001 and didn’t sign to Vic Records until 2006. We had a lot of offers but nothing that was good enough for us to sign. If we were going to sign a new deal and release a new album we felt that we wanted to do it under good circumstances.
Were there many songs that didn’t made it on to the final cut of the new album?
No, not really… we wrote what we needed for a full-length album and when we were happy with those songs the album was finished. Pretty much like that.
How long did it take you to record CARNAGE CARNIVAL?
Well, it was done in our own studio as well as mine and Mike Wead’s studio Solnasound Recording so we’re not sure exactly how much time we spent recording. Maybe 8-10 weeks totally in the studio.
It was spread over a long period as well so it’s hard to know exactly.
This time you recorded the album in SolnaSound Recording in Solna and in Annoying Sound Production in Kumla, Sweden. Why did you choose those studios and have any other well known acts recorded anything in those studios?
The reason we choose those studios is because we own them our self. It’s cheaper and it works really good for us to not have a clock ticking studio time.
The BIBLE BLACK album is also recorded there as well as Mike’s lead guitars for the last King Diamond album. We also did the last Steel Attack album CARPE DIEND. We have done pretty much recordings by now there and are always looking for new jobs.
You have used keyboards in some of the songs. Who plays the keyboard? No one is listed on that position.
They we’re played by me and Tom Björn, some were played by Mike Wead as well.
Where does the title CARNAGE CARNIVAL come from? Does the title have any special meaning to the members in the band?
From the beginning it was just the title of the song. After a while we thought it could work out well as an album title. The inspiration to the title/lyrics comes from the fact that the world of today is corrupt and that everything is for sale pretty much.
What’s it like to produce your own band like you have done on this album, isn’t hard to stay objective when it comes to the music?
Well…maybe it’s hard sometimes to stay objective and it’s sometimes easy to get stuck in certain song parts. But we always have Mike Wead close at hand and he can see it from another point of view which can be a really good thing.
What do you think is your strongest feature as a producer?
We aren’t really producers in that sense, but I think that we are pretty good at spotting a good song and also create a special vibe for how a Memory Garden song should sound like.
Mike Wead has also co – produced the album together with you and band-member Bjorn. What do you think of Mike as producer?
He is really good at taking the songs to a higher level. He has a good ear in what works and what doesn’t work in a song. He also knows the type of music we play by heart and that’s a good asset.
Do you think that Memory Garden is going to continue to co-operate with Mike Wead in the future?
Well, nothing is decided right now but probably that will happen. We are very happy with the cooperation between us. So in one way or the other I’m pretty sure that will happen.
What do you think of the cover art-work of the album? Do you think it reflects the music and the feeling of the album? Who has done the cover?
We are very happy with the way it turned out. We wanted to have artwork that stood out and that really make people react. We had the basic ideas which we gave to the artist and he came up with the artwork out of that. As we see it it reflects our music and idea really well. His name is Hjules and he has done covers for bands like Annihilator, Grave Digger, Stratovarius etc. Amazing artist!
You have also shot a video for the song “Carnage Carnival” . What can you tell us about the video?
It was done in a town called Umea in the north of Sweden by a director named Owe Lingvall. He’s a close friend of us and he really wanted to work with us. Besides the video directing he is also the drummer in the Swedish band Nocturnal Rites.
It’s mainly a performance video but our singer Stefan is also doing some clown acting. He had to drink tremendous amounts of fake blood…
Has it been picked up by any TV-channels yet?
I know it has been played in Greece, besides that I have no idea. Nothing that have reached our ears or eyes.
Are there plans on shooting videos to any of the other songs on the disc?
We talked about it but I think we will wait for the new album to be ready and then we will shoot another one for one of those songs.
The first edition of the album is gonna include a bonus DVD, tell us about the DVD?
There are some live clips recorded at different shows, Sweden Rock Festival to name one. There is also a making of the album documentary, a making of the "Carnage Carnival" video documentary. It’s no high budget thing, just something for the fans so that they get a glimpse of what’s going on behind the scene.
Do you read reviews of your albums? What have the press to say about CARNAGE CARNIVAL?
We try to ready as many as possible and I must say that most of them are really good. Some bad but that’s nothing strange, that happens. But, in general the press seems to like what we do and that’s really great.
I think that Memory Garden plays melodic doom metal with hints of progressive metal. How would you like to describe what kind of music the band play?
I think your description fits our music really well. Traditional epic doom with progressive more up-tempo parts maybe. We try to blend different styles together to make it a bit more interesting as we see it. We aren’t that genre focused so to say, we write what we think is good and what feels right for Memory Garden. If someone then calls it Doom Metal or Progressive Doom Metal or whatever they call it is not that important.
During 2007 did bass player Ken Johansson leave the band, why? And are you friends with him today?
Ken left due to lack of time. We were supposed to go out on a tour with King Diamond and Ken had just bought a house that he was going to renovate. He figured out that he wouldn’t be able to find time to do both and then he decided to leave his place to someone else.
We are still very close friends, he and Tom are brothers.
Johan Fredrikson came in and replaced him, was Fredrikson the natural choice for you?
We really couldn’t escape him…that damn brat stalked us day and night…he slept outside of our rehearsal room and every morning we arrived he was there singing old Swedish folk-music, begging us to let him play…???
No really, we have known him since forever. He is the younger brother of Stefan’s old girlfriend. He is a really cool guy and he contributes really well to the songwriting which is great and he really was the only and natural choice when we needed a new bass player.
Have Fredrikson been involved in any known acts prior to Memory Garden?
Nope, just some small Death Metal bands on the local scene.
In 2008 the band was struck by another drop-out when guitarist Andreas Looström packed his bag and left. Why did he leave and how did it feel to go through another departure?
That split was pretty much needed do to different things happening around that time. Of course we were sorry that it happened but life is life and the functionality of the band is more important than a single band member.
Ante Mäkelä joined then the band what’s his strongest feature as guitarist?
We knew Andreas from the band Evil Conspiracy, we rehearse at the same place and Ante is an awesome guy that fits the personality of the rest of the band. He’s a really stable guitar player and songwriter and he sings really well. A perfect contribution to the line-up.
At the time when the band went through the drop-outs did the thought of putting the band to rest ever crossed your mind?
Nope, never. We knew right away how to fill the open spots and for us it just felt like a good thing and a new start for the band. I think Memory Garden is a better band now than ever before.
You have been a part of the band since 1996. How did you end up in the band?
I looked good in a great distance…:) Hahaha…
What really happened is that I met the guy’s at a Heathendoom Music party. They knew me from Abstrakt Algebra and I guess they liked what I did there. They were in need of a new guitar player and we decided that I would come to the release party of the Tides album, which was Rick’s last show with the band. At that party it was decided that I would be the new guitar player in the band…and here we are.
Are any of the other members in Memory Garden involved in other bands or projects?
Yes, Tom plays in Nightingale as well and Ante plays in Evil Conspiracy.
Your previous album MIRAGE was released on Metal Blade Records but you have now ended the co-operation with them why?
Well…I guess they didn’t think we sold enough albums, which was probably true. We did 2 albums for Metal Blade, both received amazing reviews and everything was going really good, but we had a big problem getting out on tours. We got some really good offers to do support tours but we never got the support from Metal Blade we needed to be able to do them. This probably led to the lack of sales. When we were going to book the studio for the 3:rd album on Metal Blade I received an e-mail saying that our budget was cut with one third. Because of that we didn’t have enough money to pay for the studio. We tried to get them to change their mind which they didn’t do and that was the end of it pretty much.
For how long were you without a record deal?
I think it was about 5 years. As I said we could have signed a deal earlier but since nothing interesting came along and we thought it wasn’t worth releasing a new album under bad circumstances.
The new home for Memory Garden is the Dutch label Vic Records how come you signed on for them?
It started with them buying the rights for our first mini CD FOREVER and our first full-length album TIDES from our old label Heathendoom Music. I got a call from Roel (Vic Records boss) where he asked me if we agreed with them buying the rights, we thought it was a really great thing. TIDES had been sold out since long so we were happy that it would see the light of day again. I and Roel kept contact and one thing led to the other and I was asked if we were interested in signing with them for our new album. We had gotten pretty close by now and we thought it was a great idea.
Have you got any numbers on how many copies CARNAGE CARNIVAL has sold?
Nope, haven’t heard anything about that but we are aware that it’s really hard to sell CD’s today. We have done and album we are happy with, the reviews are great, we have played every show we have got the chance to play. We can’t do much more, hopefully it helps the sales in some way.
Vic Records re-released an enhanced version of your debut album TIDES at the beginning of this year . What can you tell us about the re-release?
It’s the original album plus we have added some bonus material. It was also re-mastered by Mike Wead. The bonus material is old demo recording of some songs as well as a new recording of one track live at rehearsal. It was recorded on multi track so it sound more like a "real" recording than a rehearsal tape actually. The artwork is also re-done. We had this idea of letting a new guy do his version of the old cover so to say. We wanted something fresh but still keep the link to how the album looked originally. The artwork was done by a guy named Peter Sallai. We also wrote linear notes about the recording and what happened during that time.
It can be read on Vic Records website that they are going to re-release FOREVER. When is that release going to come out?
Yep…that will be similar to TIDES. The original recording re-mastered as well as bonus tracks like the old vinyl single tracks, live recording etc. There will also be new artwork just as on TIDES. Same idea as with TIDES, also done by Peter Sallai.
Do you know if Vic Records is distributing the album in other parts of the world except for Europe?
Yes, it’s distributed worldwide through Plastic Head.
Do you see any problems with the fact that the label isn’t based in Sweden?
No, not at all. It’s so easy to communicate today and we have really close contact to Vic Records. It’s been really long since we had a Swedish label so we are used to the situation.
Has CARNAGE CARNIVAL been released worldwide yet?
Yes, it’s out worldwide. It’s been officially licensed by Mystic Mazzar in all former Soviet Countries as well.
Are you happy with the work the label hyas put into the album when it comes to promotion and so on?
We know they are a much smaller label that Metal Blade and that the resources are lower but I think they have done a pretty good job. There have been ads in metal magazines all over Europe, they paid the video for Carnage Carnival and so on. Of course we would want more promotion and also get out on a proper tour but it’s all about money. What feels really great is that we feel that they are on our side and support us in every way they can and that is really important. On Metal Blade we were one of the smallest bands and because of that you don’t get the attention and support that is needed.
You started out playing the guitar as early as six years old. How come you chose to pick up the guitar in the first place?
At first my cousin had an electric guitar which I got to try once..I thought this was really cool. Then my older brothers listened to Kiss, Sweet, Deep Purple etc a lot and I guess I thought this was really cool. When I got 7 or something I got to know Mike Wead, he and my older brother was in the same class. Mike played guitar by then and was really a big inspiration and reason to why I got hooked as well. I guess I didn’t start to play for "real" until I was 10 or something.
Do you have any idols or artists that inspires you when it comes to the guitar?
Of course Mike has been a huge inspiration and mentor to me. I also love Yngwie Malmsteen, listened to him a lot when I was young, also Jason Becker, Uli Jon Roth, Michael Schenker. I don’t compare myself to any of those guy’s but I really love what they do. I’m more of a laid back player, no shredder kind of guy. Also younger guys like Gus G and Alexi Laiho is just amazing. I could go on forever…
When did you join your first band and have you always known that you were going to play hardrock/metal music?
I think I joined my first "real" band in 1987 maybe, it was a band with older guys in my home town Boden way up in the north of Sweden. I think the name was Necrology or something. After that me and Nikkey Argento (later in Memento Mori) had a band together before we moved down to Stockholm in 1992. If I remember correct the name of that band was Dark Opera.
You started the band Fifth Reason in 1992. Was that your first act?
Nope, but it was first band after moving to Stockholm. We had Thomas Lundin (Hexenhaus) on vocals on the first recording but when the first album was released most of the members were changed and then we had Kristian Andrén from Tad Morose and Memento Mori on vocals. Marco Nicosia from Hexenhaus had also joined me as second guitarist. We had a blast, played many shows around Scandinavia and also some down in Europe.
You joined Abstrakt Algebra in 1994 which was led by Candlemass bassist Leif Edling. How was it to play with him?
I loved to be a part of that. It was actually the first album I recorded and to be among guy’s like Leif, Mike Wead and also Mats Levén was awesome. I think I was 19 when I joined the band. Personally I think that album is so underrated and was missed by most metal people. Everyone that actually heard it just loves it. I think we did totally 5 shows with that band.
And in that band also was Mike Wead. Was it back then you became friends?
No, as I said I have known Mike since maybe 1982 or something, of course I was just a little shit back then and we didn’t become "real" friends until maybe 87-88 or something.
In 1996 you joined Memory Garden. Have you been involved in any other acts besides Memory Garden during these years?
I was doing Fifth Reason until maybe 2000. I also joined a Swedish band called Steel Attack in 2007, I recorded one album called CARPE DIEND and played various shows and festivals in Sweden and Finland with them before I quit about a year ago. January 2009 I think it was. I have also done guest things on various albums during the years. I played lead guitar on the last Edge of Sanity album CRIMSON II as well as the album HYDRA by a band called Satariel, I’m a member in that band since a year or 2 also. Nothing has happened with that due to lack of time from all the members but hopefully we will get an album together sometime. Beside those things I have played guest things on albums every now and then.
How much have you toured through the years? What do you prefer most, tour or record albums?
Well, I have played a lot of shows. The regular touring thing has been slow but some tours of course. With Memory Garden there have only been short tours, no full European tours or anything. I think I prefer to play live. Of course the whole studio creative part is fun but for me live shows is what trigs me. What’s coming up now is a tour in Finland and one in Sweden with BibleBlack. Think it starts in about 4 weeks. I really look forward to that.
How was it to be in Steel Attack? And why did you leave the band?
I had a blast in that band. Love the guy’s and I think the 3 last albums since Ronny became vocalist are awesome. We played a lot of cool shows but I decided to leave because we had different ideas on how to run a band.
I have read that Memory Garden “is Sweden’s best kept metal secret” what do you think of that statement? Is true?
Hahaha…well, maybe that’s correct, no idea? But I know that when most people hear us they like what they hear. If we would get our asses out on the road a bit more maybe the word would spread.
You and Mike Wead have a new band together called Bible Black when did you form that act?
BibleBlack was formed maybe 3 years ago, don’t really know. We have been working on material for many years and been recording different things that we kind of kept on the shelf to use at a later time. But I think that the name BibleBlack was chosen maybe 3 years ago.
You two also have the project Firegod together. What can you tell us about that?
It’s more of a traditional doom act a la Memento Mori, Candlemass and maybe Memory Garden. We have a lot of material written, a contract signed and we will record and release the album as soon as time let us. It’s me and Mike as you say, on bass we have Hal Patino from King Diamond, Snowy Shaw was supposed to play drums to start with but there will probably be someone else doing it. We have worked with a couple of different singers but I can’t give you a name right now I’m afraid. But I can promise you that the vocals will be clean awesome doom vocals that won’t disappoint anyone listening to this kind of music.
Are you involved in many bands or projects today? How do you find time to work with everything?
My main bands now is Memory Garden and BibleBlack. But as said I’m also involved in Firegod & Satariel as well. I recently did a tour in Finland with a band called Wolf. They had this support tour with WASP and one of their guitarists couldn’t make it so I helped them out. We are close friends and I love their music so it was just an honor to do it. I have also played shows here in Stockholm with various acts but nothing really serious. Besides playing I also work in the studio recording albums and so on.
As you say time is a big problem, also the fact that I have a regular job besides the music doesn’t help out. So people need to buy our albums so I can quit that job…hahaha!!
Do you know on how many albums you have participated on so far?
No, not really…but I think maybe 13 or 14 by now. Shit…I must be old… Hahaha!!
Memory Garden was formed back in 1992. Where does the band name come from?
It comes from the song Memory’s Garden by the band Trouble. It was Stefan and Anders that were listening to their album and thought that it would work really well as a band name.
Why has the band released so few albums over such a long period of time?
The main reason is that we were without a label for such a long time. Also, we are not a band that releases an album every year. We spend a lot of time working on the material and we want to be really content with the songs before we release anything.
The members in the band live in different cities. How do you get together and practice and rehearse?
Most of the guys live close to each other, it’s only me who live in Stockholm which is about 2 hours away from the rest of the bunch. We rehearse when we have gigs and when we are working on material for a new album, besides that we keep in shape on our own.
Have you done a lot of touring and live shows during the years?
Not a lot, but we do play our share of shows. We are always looking for shows and tours but sometimes it’s not that easy to get things together. One of the best countries we have played in is Greece, the fans there are just crazy and they always make us feel like kings when we are there.
This last year we have had a bit more shows because of the new album.
Most artists and bands consider their latest albums as their best ones yet. What do you think of CARNAGE CARNIVAL? Is it the best album you have done so far?
Well, we are very happy with Carnage Carnival, but we are also happy with Tides and Mirage as well. Of course Carnage Carnival feels fresher and more like Memory Garden of today so in a way that one feels like best.
Where in the world do you have your biggest fanbase and what’s the most common question you get from fans?
I think Greece is the best country for us. The most common question might be why we didn’t play a certain song, but it’s really hard to please everyone and also to get enough stage time to play all of our songs..
What do you think of the MySpace forum as a way to present your music to the world?
It’s really good, everyone looks at MySpace when they wanna check a band out.
We use it a lot and today it’s really important to have your own MySpace page.
You performed at Headbangers Open Air Festival in Germany and on the Rockweekend Festival in Sweden, how was it to be on stage?
Awesome, as I have said earlier I love to be on stage. Both of those festivals were really great and we loved every minute there. He weather on the Rockweekend festival was really bad though which made things a bit more difficult for everyone there. Especially the crowed that had to crawl through that shit. It was a bit better backstage. But that´s the way it is sometime at festivals.
Is it more fun to play on festivals compared to doing your “own” gig?
I prefer our "own" gigs, you get more contact with the crowed and that is just awesome. Of course festivals has their charm, you get to play for a lot of more people, meet a lot of cool people and so on. But if I have to choose then I choose our own shows.
You have a few single shows left to do and two shows as support act to Candlemass in Greece. Are you looking forward to the shows?
Since I was so slow getting this interview together for you those shows are already done. As I said earlier Greece is probably our best country, Candlemass is huge there as well. So first of to play there is just incredible, but to play there together with Candlemass made it even better. We played a bigger venue than before, it was packed before we entered the stage and we had a blast. Can’t wait to get back there again when the new album is out.
Do you think that you are gonna tour more this year or the next year?
Right now we are working on new songs so we don’t book any shows. When we are finished with the songs we will record the album and after that we will get back out on the road again.
When do you think we can see Memory Garden on a proper tour through Europe, Scandinavia or Sweden?
Well, I wish I could answer that. I hope after the release of the next album. We have our eyes open all the time and if something comes up we will do it.
You recently did a show in Stockholm together with Tad Morose, how was that?
It was great, they are close friends and an awesome band. Really fun to see them play again after some time away from the stage.
What do you have to say to the poor bastards that haven’t discovered Memory Garden yet?
I would want them to check our albums out…if they are into epic doom with a slight progressive touch then they will love us. I promise you won’t be disappointed. Now run to the store or buy the albums online!!!
Give the readers three reasons why they should buy CARNAGE CARNIVAL
Reason one – would maybe be that they will get an album that sticks out from most of the music released today.
Reason two – music done from the heart, not for the money and mainstream audience.
Reason three – well played quality doom that will grove on you for every listen.
Well, that was all I had for this time. I really appreciate that you took the time to do this interview and I wish you good luck in the future. Do you have any final words of wisdom to the readers and to the fans?
I hope you have enjoyed this interview and if you have never heard Memory Garden before I hope that it made you a bit interested in what we are all about. We are really looking forward to get our new album released and to get out playing for you again. Stay Doomed!