Heart of Steel: Interviews

Interview with Nils Eriksson

Interviewed by EvilG

How does a band stand apart from the power metal horde these days? How do they difference themselves from founding father bands like Helloween and not sound like just another power metal band? There are bands that have managed to stand out in this often slagged (especially by those who want to appear more "metal" and underground than others) ) metal genre. Bands that have their own sound and style yet still can be called power metal. Bands like Steel Prophet, Rhapsody, Lost Horizon, HammerFall, and Blind Guardian are but a few examples. With the change in sound that Nocturnal Rites went through after the album THE SACRED TALISMAN to AFTERLIFE and now with SHADOWLAND, the band stands more on it's own with an identifiable style. During my chat with bassist Nils Eriksson, we covered the change in the bands sound, the new album and all the way to the correct pronunciation of NR's home base in Sweden - "UmeŚ."

Let's start the interview out by talking about the new album. Can you tell me about the beginning; when you started writing and recording for the album.

I think we had some ideas for songs quite early on actually, but I don't think we started writing fulltime until all the touring was wrapped up for AFTERLIFE. I think we started in August last year. We wrote August through September I guess. We went to the studio in November, so it was three months of intense hard work I guess.


Right. And regarding the album cover, I really like it, really nice and bright colours. I was wondering how you found the Russian artist Leo Hao, and how the concept for the cover came forward?

I started talking to Century Media about different artists and cover ideas and stuff like that and I think we kind of agreed that we shouldn't use Andreas Marschall, the guy that we had for the last two albums. Just given the fact that he's done the two last albums plus we didn't want him to be associated with our covers as an exclusive artist. We kind of agreed that we should find someone new. We got some samples from this Russian agent of Leo's and his stuff was awesome so we had a friend of ours make some sketches of some ideas he had and we had too, and we got that to him and we got back this amazing looking cover about two weeks after.


In terms of the lyrics, does the album cover reflect what the lyrics are trying to say in any way?

Releasedate: May 27th 2002
Label: Century Media

Released: 2000
Label: Century Media

The Sacred Talisman
Released: 1999
Label: Century Media

Tales of Mystery and Imagination
Released: 1997
Label: Century Media

In a Time of Blood and Fire
Released: 1995
Label: Megarock Records

I think in some sense yeah. We didn't use the lyrics of that specific song as an outline of how the cover should look, but I think "Shadowland" is about death and the dying, that whole kind of thing, and that it's also reflected in the cover. Sort of the crossroad/crossworld kind of thing you know, sort of the place you end up before you're passing on, and you could go either way. The dual kind of landscape thing. I don't know, I don't want to get too deep here. (laughs)

Yeah sure. So did you write any of the songs on the album yourself?

I wrote all the lyrics actually. I think Fredrik, myself and the other Nils, the guitarist, I think it was sort of a collaboration between us. It's usually Fredrik or Nils who come up with an idea for a song, a riff or a passage or a structure. We meet up, the three of us in our studio and we sort of write the songs together. Sort of a rough outline for a song and then we record it, I bring the tape back home and start working on the lyrics, and then we go back with Johnny and try to nail some vocal lines and some vocal ideas.


So you write all the lyrics... Tell me a little bit about what inspires some of the new songs on the album perhaps.

I don't know, I don't think I have an inspiration. I mean I never go look for topics or things to write about. I never go find interesting books and find topics that way. It's just stuff that comes to me. I think lyrics should be a continuation of what the song is trying to express. I always listen to the song, and the first idea I get when I listen to it, that's what I'm going for. I guess every song has some kind of story and it's own meaning and they're all very different.


Do you want to pick one or two of your favourites and give a brief explanation maybe?

I think some of the songs are about science fiction kind of stuff. Strange nightmares scenarios, like foreign life forms eating you up from inside, and that kind of strange stuff.

Aliens, The Movie? Hahaha. Do you watch a lot of movies like that?

No, not really. Maybe not aliens, just stuff like scheming to take over the world, controlling kind of thing. Remember the old series "V". I don't know if it's called that in the States, but it just started airing here again, the re-runs of it. That was so cool.

Yeah I remember that. I was young when it came out. I remember it being scary for a young kid to watch.

Oh definitely. Eating rats and stuff, that's not too cool!


What other songs on here would you say stand out, or represent the sound of the band best?

I think the whole album actually. What we try to do when we write, we never write a hundred songs and chose from those. We write exactly what we need for an album and maybe a couple songs more, just to be on the safe side. We try to capture every kind of vibe you should have for an album. There should be heavy songs, kind of moody songs, fast aggressive songs and mid tempo stuff. I think we managed to to that, this time around. I think a Nocturnal Rites song should have both aggression, heaviness and very strong melody. So I guess the opening track ("Eyes of the Dead") is a good example of that I guess.


After the album The Sacred Talisman, the Nocturnal Rites sound underwent some changes, and not just related to having a new vocalist. I was wondering what were the reasons for the change in the bands sound?

You know, whenever a new guy comes along I think he brings something into the band. He's never been part of the song writing process or how we work, and it's typical for our kind of writing process. Getting a new guy who can sing our new ideas and songs always triggers some sort of new thinking I guess. I mean John's voice is obviously a lot harsher and a lot rougher than Anders Zackrisson (former vocalist), and I think it just clicked instantly, that we unwillingly and unintentionally wrote more aggressive songs, just to meld Johnny into the band. And it felt right from the start.


Not to dwell on the past too much, but I was wondering why did your former vocalist, Anders, leave the band, and do you stay in touch with him at all anymore?

I think it was a mutual decision. He was never really into our kind of music anyhow. He's a lot more into more more melodic stuff like Whitesnake and stuff. I think we went separate ways I guess. He didn't want to commit as much to the band as much as we wanted him to. No hard feelings and all, we just came to the conclusion that he was leaving and we had to move on. I don't talk to him that much actually, but I know he's always got something cooking I guess.


So when you did find your new vocalist Johnny, did you try out several vocalists? Tell me a little about the story about how you found him.

Actually that's the only guy we tried out. I think we had our sights directly on him when Anders left. He had been singing with our drummer in a band they had about eight years ago, and I think he's one of the best vocalists in Sweden, he's amazing. Right when Anders left the band we just called him up and tried out a few songs and it worked from the get go. It couldn't be better. Like the day after Anders left we had a new guy singing for us, and in that sense we're lucky. You know, vocalists are very hard to find.

Good ones are!

Yeah exactly (laughs). Crappy ones, you can find them anywhere! So I could sing! Ha!

Hahaha sure. So what do you think his impact has been on the band, and what input does he have into the songs? I know you mentioned you kind of write it around his voice. Is that what you think the main impact would have been?

Yeah like I said, his voice is a lot rougher than Anders, and that obviously made us write songs that fit his kind of voice, and it also made us think in ways we hadn't done before. I always welcome change and I think if you listen to our back catalogue you're never going to find two albums that sound exactly the same. We always try to change our sound within reason. We never try to recreate whole albums that we've done before. We always try to look ahead and never look back. I think that's our strength with the band, we're able to put old albums aside and just focus on new stuff.


Have you ever found that having that attitude has generated much criticism? Like for example the change that happened when Afterlife came out was obviously a little bit different than the change from previous albums. Were a lot of people criticizing or did most people seem to follow along?

Yeah, like 99.99% really welcomed Johnny into the band. There's always going to be some people that think you know, it's a classic scenario, all the old stuff was alot better blah blah blah. But I'm so happy, like 9.9 guys out of 10 really welcome Johnny and thought Afterlife was our best album so far when it came out. And I couldn't be happier actually. It's always a bit shaky when you have a new guy singing; it's like the identity of our band. But it worked out so well with him singing all our old songs live.


Your new album ShadowLand; to me sounded a little bit more like a mixture of the Sacred Talisman and Afterlife. Whereas Afterlife didn't sound at all like the Sacred Talisman. Even for the new album, the cover and lyrics seemed to have a little more fantasy element back in the band again. Do you consider this looking backwards or is it just something that's going to be a part of the band forever kind of thing?

I don't know. Like I said before we don't TRY to look back. When we write songs we just write whatever we feel like at the moment. I feel that when we started writing this album, I guess we'd done a few more melodic tracks than on AFTERLIFE. I think we just went with that. We never think about what we're doing we just write them and have a good time, and whatever comes up, that's what we're gonna put on the album if it feels good.


What are your future goals or in what direction would you like to see the band evolve in?

Right now we are doing festivals in Sweden, and in a couple of weeks we're going to Germany to do Wacken Open Air, and some other festivals, Belgium and Holland and stuff. So our goal right now is to definitely tour as much as possible for this album, and try and go to some other continents we've never been to like coming to the States is one of our goals I guess. I mean like there's still so many places we haven't been to yet. I know we got fans all over the world that still haven't had a chance to see us and we'd like to include them too.


And musically is there any certain direction you think the band should move in or do you not think too deeply about musical direction?

When the times comes that we actually start writing songs and have a few going...we just write and don't mind really how they sound, we just write whatever we want to write. That way we never sound the same on two albums, which is really good I think. I still think we sound like Nocturnal Rites either way. We can't sound like any other banc actually. A change is always welcome as long as you do it from your heart and you still sound like your band.


The band is from, and forgive me if I pronounce it wrong because I haven't heard it properly pronounced yet; and that is UmeŚ (trying to pronounce it as "u-mea")?!?!?


That's a hard one.

You gotta have a bigger U sound in it....Kinda like "ewwwwww-mail" as in UUUUUUUU 

(lots of laughing)


Haha! like that exactly....Americans can't pronounce the "U"



There seems to be a few bands and somewhat of a local scene happening in your city. Are you playing much locally or involved with the local scene there?

Yeah, to some extent I guess. There have been a couple of festivals that we played and stuff. We usually play at least a few shows every year when we have a new album out. We've got a lot of fans here and we do very well in terms of record sales in our home town, which is strange actually, but we do. We try to play as much as we can.


Is there any new and up and coming local bands in your area that you've checked out?

Not right now. I'm sure there are, but I haven't heard many actually. It used to be tons of hardcore bands a few years ago. Really good bands like Refused, Evenunda(sp?), and Meshuggah are from here; they moved to Stockholm though, but they're from here. It's a really nice city for music.


I know your guitar player Nils Norburg, his bother Emil also plays guitar, or was recently playing guitar for a band from there called Persuader. I was wondering if you have any info, if they're still together?

YEAH! I think so. I don't know what they're doing actually, they're friends of mine, but I haven't asked them. I think they're writing songs and practicing. They've got some other bands too. They keep themselves busy.

I heard the first Persuader album a couple years back and was quite impressed, and then they kind of drifted away or something.

Yeah, I guess so.


So where do you think Nocturnal Rites fits into the scene within Sweden, as opposed to the rest of the world?

Sweden right now is such a great market for our kind of music. You know, we got HammerFall going gold in Sweden, and now there's just bands popping up left and right...everywhere. So it couldn't be better right now. We're going to try to tour as much as possible in Sweden also, and we do better and better for every album. It's a great market for us.


Definitely. Is Sweden where you have your best sales, or is it Germany?

I think Japan and Germany, and the south of Europe I guess.


You just mentioned HammerFall, and something you have in common with HammerFall is both bands beginnings can be traced back to Death Metal bands. I was wondering if you have a theory on why you think some of these melodic/true Metal bands, you can name a few, who began with members from Death Metal bands who "saw the light" or something, and realized they wanted to play just straight up Heavy Metal?

I think a lot of guys my age grew up listening to Heavy Metal, but then there was this whole thing happening with Death Metal in the early nineties and late eighties. You know, bands like Entombed, Dismember, and the list goes on and on...At The Gates, and those kind of bands. Every band started playing Death Metal so I guess that's why a lot of kids started doing it too. It was kind of the thing to do back then. But as time goes on I guess you can't deny your roots, and a lot of people came back to playing metal again.


When you joined the band, that was when some of the members had left the Death Metal style behind. You weren't involved in the band when it was playing Death Metal were you?

Yeah for some some time actually. I started in the band in '91 and we did a demo called "The Obscure" and it was kind of a Death Metal demo. Then from '91 and on we evolved and changed our sound within a couple of years. I think we started sounding like we do now in maybe late '92 or something.


Do you ever miss the anger or extreme heaviness of Death Metal or do you still listen to that style of music at all these days?

I do listen to it, but not much actually. I still like the old albums that I got back then, like Unleashed and Autopsy and all those great old bands. I don't listen to them everyday or anything but I still like that genre of music. I know Fredrik still listens to a lot of Death Metal. I'm a big Thrash Metal fan, I love Kreator and bands like that. So I definitely love extreme music.


What other influences outside of extreme music would you claim have influenced you bass playing and song writing?

I think everything you do, everything you listen to and watch. I think the world inspires you and affects you. You cant deny that fact. It's really hard to mention specific bands or artists that I, or we, have as influences. I guess we're all very different in our musical preferences. Some of the guys listen to light Jazz or even Pop music. I listen to Country music a lot, and really cheesy AOR music like Bon Jovi (don't laugh), Foreigner, Journey (don't laugh). Frederick still listens to very extreme Death Metal bands. So we're all very different and I think that shapes our style in some ways.


I don't guess, or maybe you do, have any inner desire to ever play in a Country band? 


I don't know. I'd love to play the steel guitar. With that big cowboy hat on. Yeah, that would be great. But no, it's not one of my immediate plans to start a country band actually.

Do very many people in Sweden listen to Country music? It seems more of an American phenomenon.

No, we've got our own kind of Country music. It's called "GonStomb" (ed. note: I have no fucking idea how to spell that one!! ha!)

Hahahaha! Is it anything like the Country & Western you hear from North America?

No, not really, but it's kind of workin class kind of image. Normal guys play it, and tour a lot in small clubs and people show up. Boot stompin' dance and that kind of stuff.

So when say you like Country music is that what you're referring to?

No no, definitely not! That not even music to me. I like REAL Country music like Travis Tritt and stuff like that. I'm a hard-core Country guy you know!


A quick question about an old album, and that's In a Time of Blood and Fire. It's the only one that's very hard to find. Has there been any talk of that being re-released?

We're thinking about that, yeah. We're still waiting for the right time and right circumstances. It will be out again, and everyone that wants it is going to get it because I get e-mails like, daily about that album.

Yeah, that's the only one I don't have. 

Yeah, a lot of people don't have that. It was released on a very small label with crappy distribution. They stopped printing it very early on, and once we got our second album out on Century Media it was already sold out, and out of print. Nobody ever bothered about it, but it's going to come out again for sure.

You do have the rights to the album, and the old record label doesn't?

Yeah, we do.

Ok, that's cool. So you mentioned some of your touring plans regarding festivals. Is there any talk of the band being able to go on the road with a bigger band? Is that your plan?

I don't know what we're going to do yet actually. We've got some interesting offers that we're looking into, and we're thinking about all our options and trying to figure out what's best for us right now.


How long before you think about writing another album? Have you gotten to that point yet? This one doesn't even come out over here until September.

Yeah I know. We've written a few songs, we've got a few things going, and we have some ideas. So we never rest you know. Whenever we have time we work on songs, so our studio always needs cleaning, Hehe.

You have your own studio?

Yeah, it's kind of a small studio though, but it's nice. You can write songs, and we have all the equipment we need to make well sounding demos. It's a good thing, being able to do that when you write songs and actually record them and get a feel for them.

That must shorten the time you spend in the actual studio at the end of the day.

Yeah, we can tryout all the ideas and arrangements and, you know, where your going to add a lot of keyboards and vocal harmonies. You can try out all this different kind of stuff before you actually go in and do it for real.


Is there any other news or things going on with the band that you'd like me to let people know about?

Just let them know that we have an album out in September and everyone buys at least two copies. (laughs) And then we'll see everyone on tour soon in the States hopefully.


Well that's all the questions I had man! So I'd like to thank you for your time, and for the awesome album Shadowland. I've been playing it a lot. It's a really great album and I like it a lot better than Afterlife  [Really!??!!]. I did like Afterlife, I guess I was still going through the "missing the old sound" a little.

OK, Haha.

But now that I'm over that, I put on Shadowland and I said "Well I hope it's not Afterlife part 2", and it's not. So I really like it a lot.

That's good. Alrighty, thanks a lot!

Yeah OK, and thank you!

Yes. Bye bye.

- Transcribed by Joel & Ronnie -

Label: www.centurymedia.com

Official Site: www.nocturnal-rites.com

Interview from 1999 With Nils Norberg

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