When I decided to become involved in the world of music journalism a good decade ago, I did so with the hope that, in time, I would be given to meet some of my music heroes and get to talk to them about all things relating to their inspiring music.
Swedish Deathsters Grave may not be the most commercially successful band in the world, but their honest, passionate and groove-infused music has truly helped shape my musical upbringing so it was with great pleasure that I sat next to vocalist/guitarist and only remaining founding member Ola Lindgren to have what turned out to be a very enjoyable discussion.
Currently on tour with fellow countrymen Marduk, Grave’s leading figure had a lot of interesting things to say about the times spent together and shed some light regarding the band’s plans for recording a new album next year.
By Yiannis (John) Stefanis.
- Hi Ola. It is a great pleasure for me to be able to do this interview with you as your music has been in many ways a my musical upbringing of sorts. How is it that Grave find themselves on tour at this moment in time? I am asking as there is no new album out and that is not the orthodox way of doing things. Was there an official invitation by the guys from Marduk to support them on this tour?
Ola: That is exactly what happened. We have been in contact with them over the years. We did a lot of stuff with them earlier on in our career and there was a discussion of us doing something together before the end of this year.
We talked about doing a few headlining shows on our own but there wasn’t really enough time to schedule anything. The Marduk tour, on the other hand, was already booked, they asked us if we wanted to become part of it and I personally think that it is a great idea.
I mean, it is a good package that has a little bit of everything: some Black Metal, some Death Metal…it’s a strong package and up to now there have been good shows everywhere we played so I think that this was a good decision for us. We don’t really care if we play last or third in line or whatever, you know? I don’t have any such preferences really. It is a good thing and everything is working really well.
- In principle I agree with putting many different bands together in a touring package as this is not the 80s, a time when genres were strictly defined and people enjoy this cross-pollination of styles. I have to say, though, that I was a bit disappointed when I realised that you were only given a forty five or so minute slot tonight.
Ola: Well, it is fifty minutes we have been given.
- So, you think that five extra minutes are enough to change my mood (I laugh)?
Ola: Well… (laughs).
- Ok, I know that this was not up to you to decide so you are off the hook. As I have already discussed with Morgan (Håkansson: guitarist of Marduk) earlier on, I am quite impressed by the fact that, with the exception of the 3rd of December, you guys will be performing twenty three shows in a row. It’s quite brutal stuff, right?
Ola: Nah, this is a short tour for my standards (smiles).
- Further proof that old-schoolers like you are made from different stock.
Ola: Yeah (laughs). I was actually happy when I saw the schedule as I don’t like having days off when I am on tour and Morgan agrees with me in saying that we are lucky to only have one day off. It is an unnecessary break from everything, a routine that you get yourself into. Every day on tour is the same, even though you’re in a different city and even one day off means that you have to start adjusting all over again.
I have been on tour where, for instance, every Monday has been a day off for some reason and I hate it! There’s nothing to do. We spent the whole day yesterday in Utrecht in Holland, which was a nice city but all we did was walk around, have some coffee, walk around, eat dinner, walk around, go for a few beers…it’s such a different day from a normal touring day when you go to a venue, check up that everything is OK, then you have dinner, doors open, you play your show and things roll on.
- With the long distances sometimes involved do you not find the whole process way too tiresome?
Ola: No, not really and a twenty three day duration is not bad at all. I have done ten weeks straight touring in the US in the past so this is a nice short tour for me.
- The first six dates of this tour have already been performed and I guess that, by now, all necessary dynamics between the bands involved have been established. How would you evaluate the overall experience?
Ola: It’s been very good. I mean, it’s very easy with everybody speaking the same language (note: all bands performing on this tour are Swedish). I mean, everybody speaks English nowadays but it is still much easier to be able to communicate in your native language.
We only have one Italian guy on the bus and, of course the Polish road crew, but the rest are all Swedes. There is a good feel about as being together: there’s absolutely no animosity between people and we are all quite friendly with each other. We joke around all the time and I am very sure that nothing strange will happen for the remainder of the tour (laughs).
- How much do you think that a band like Grave can relate to the average Marduk fan? Nowadays it must be easier than it would have been, say, twenty years ago, but I guess what I am asking here is, do you still find it a bit of a challenge to get people who like Black Metal to embrace your music?
Ola: No, I don’t see it as a challenge really. As you said, these days things are much easier. People were much more close-minded twenty years ago; if you were a Black Metal fan you would listen only to Black Metal and nothing else.
Putting together a billing like ours is a necessity these days, especially when you play places like London where there’s so much going on. There are at least a couple of shows that you can attend each week if you are into Black Metal, Death Metal or extreme music in general, you know?
This package was a very cool idea as it brought together people from different musical camps, so to speak, but nevertheless people who can appreciate the music that every simple band on this billing is performing.
Genres are not so strictly divided anymore and that is a good thing. I mean, if Marduk were to perform this tour with two relatively unknown Black Metal support bands I think that the turn outs would have been a lot worse and the same would have been if we had chosen to go out with two relatively unknown Death Metal bands in support. It’s good to be able to combine forces in such a way.
- Marduk will be performing two of their most celebrated albums tonight, “Those Of The Unlight” & “Panzer Division Marduk”, in their entirety. Grave are also a band responsible for the creation of “classic” albums, such as “Into The Grave”, “You’ll Never See…” & “Soulless”. When the decision to participate in this tour was finally made were you at all temped to do something similar, say perform “You’ll Never See…” in its entirety?
Ola: Hmm…not really. We didn’t discuss this really. Two years ago we did quite a few “Into The Grave” shows as it was the album’s twentieth anniversary but for this tour we didn’t really plan anything similar.
We talked about maybe performing an old school set but we are a band that still releases new stuff so we wanted our set to reflect our whole career rather than parts of it. As I mentioned earlier we will be performing a fifty minute set…actually we normally play one hour shows but The Underworld has a strict curfew policy that we have to respect and follow. You will listen to everything from our first album to our very latest releases.
- Personally speaking I am happy to hear you say that, as I don’t think that Grave have released a single album that doesn’t deserve to feature the band’s logo in it.
Ola: Thank you for saying that.
- I am sure, however, that there must be times when you’re pretty annoyed by people’s insistence on listening only to the band’s oldest material.
Ola: Yeah. When we did those “Into The Grave” anniversary shows it was a pretty cool idea as there were songs there that we had not played for many, many years.
When we actually did that album the material in it was all we had to play when on tour – that, plus a few demo songs that never made it on the record. From that tour onwards there was a selection process that we needed to follow and some songs were necessarily scrapped.
There were three or four song from that period that we hadn’t played live for at least fifteen years. Learning those songs again, songs that I never sang on as Jorgen Sandstrom was our recording singer at the time, was just like learning to play new material for me. It was a fun thing to do but I don’t think that we will do this with any other of our old albums really. “Into The Grave” is so special in so many different ways and that is where such things ought to end.
- When you began revisiting those songs you mentioned before it must have felt quite strange to realise how much you have evolved as a musician since 1991. I mean, the levels of progression on both a musical and technical level must be enormous, right?
Ola: Yes, it is a weird thing to observe actually. I think that the cool thing about it is that, even though we do new material, it still carries with it that Grave trademark style and sound.
It is cool to be able to perform ten or twelve songs and realise how well these can fit together. It’s not like one can easily say “oh, now they perform their newer style songs” or anything like that. The all mix well together regardless to how we position them on our set list and that is a very cool thing as what we always try to achieve is keep that vibe and feel of ours alive with every new release.
- Well, you have certainly managed to achieve that goal through a succession of good quality album which sound “classic Grave” even though you are the only remaining founding member. That must be quite some weight that you are left to carry – trying to retain a certain identity during a constant reshuffling of members on the group.
Ola: That is true.
- With “Endless Procession Of Souls” being one and a half years old now I have to ask: are there any new ideas that you are currently playing with?
Ola: Yes, we have a lot of new stuff laying around but no finished songs as of yet. All the guys in the band are pitching in ideas, riffs and stuff, so I am really looking forward to doing the next album. The plan is for us to record new songs before the summer and to have the album out around September or October next year. We will see what happens with regards touring schedules and all that, but that’s our plan at the moment: to enter the studio round April next year.
- If success in the music business was measured with regards ability and skill, Grave would have been a far more commercially successful band than they currently are. It is very annoying for long term fans such as myself to realise such a thing, as I am sure you can appreciate.You are the best person to explain how that’s possible to happen to a band like yourselves that has been consistent in creating good quality music. My take is that record labels have never provided you with the support and attention that you deserve and that is crazy when considering the attention you receive when performing at massive music festivals around the word. Quite a strange paradox, don’t you agree?
Ola: Yes, I do but we have always been a kind of underdog really and I don’t know why that is. What happened in the old days, the period between 1992-93, was that there were always four bands in Sweden that were acknowledged as special and Entombed was the number one band from those.
I don’t know what happened in the rest of the world but in Sweden they were the first band to get an album out, out of all those and they got a lot of attention as a result. If they did a US tour, news of that tour would be in the national Swedish newspapers and stuff like that so there were always talks about them.
The times when Dismember and Grave went to the States on a tour nothing was mentioned. I don’t really care about that to be honest. We worked as hard as we could, released as many successful albums as possible and still we find it hard to get over that threshold that would allow us to become what some would describe as a ‘big band’ rather than an underground band which I think we still are today.
What is cool nowadays is to do shows where there are eighteen year old kids that are super psyched to come and see Grave and it might just be that they discovered us on our latest album, you know?
It could be an older brother or friend to have introduced them to our music as normally is the case at some of them might just have realised that we have ten studio albums out rather than just the one they got to listen to first. Hopefully that will get them to dig out the rest of our discography and get hooked with that too. It’s a cool thing to be able to attract new fans today just with your current work and not live off the old stuff that you have done.
- Just as you spoke these very words I got this image in my head of the band’s 2008 performance at the Summer Breeze festival when you were asked to perform quite early in the day and still you attracted quite a substantial audience. That, to me, speaks volumes regarding people’s affection towards Grave.
Ola: Yeah, I remember and you know what: we’ve had a lot of those over the last few years. We have played shows at four in the afternoon. I actually remember our last performance in Wacken as we were asked to play at eleven on a Friday morning. We were the first band to perform on the Black stage and we were thinking to ourselves “ah cool, we are playing at the big stage” not realising that is would be eleven in the morning rather than eleven at night.
We were hungover as fuck but the cool thing was that we had the stage available to us from nine in the morning so we got to be there at nine on the dot, drinking coffee, checking everything out numerous times to make sure that we would sound well to our fans.
Then maybe twenty or so minutes before eleven there was nobody there and we were left to think that this would be a horrible show for us to have to perform. That’s about the time that they decided to open the main gates and let people in and we ended up performing in front of thirty five thousand people which was truly mind blowing! That was one of the few times that I got nervous before going on stage and believe me when I say that this rarely ever happens these days.
- I am quite interested to discover what a man of your experience and status in the extreme music scene has to say about the state of Death Metal these days. The genre has expanded dramatically these last few years as there are many young bands that are eager to indulge in this style of music. How do you find this current state of affairs and how do you envisage Grave’s future involvement and status within the scene?
Ola: As you rightly mentioned there are a lot of young bands coming out these days, bands which want to play old school Death Metal which is cool. We’ve had shows in Sweden when younger bands have opened for us consisting of twenty year old members and who play their instruments better than any of us in Grave do. These guys are freaked out about being able to play with us and we normally tell them: “Well, you were not even born when we did our first album so how did you even discover this kind of music”?
There are a lot such bands, especially in Sweden – they are popping up everywhere. That is very interesting and I think that a lot of them are really good at what they do as well. What I don’t like about the Death Metal scene today is the…I don’t know what to call it…thing where young bands like to compete over who plays the fastest and who can throw most riffs into one song – something that never appealed to me in any way.
I mean, I love old Morbid Angel, Immolation and stuff like that which have fast parts but they have all been riff based and they are not about the speed or about how many notes you can hit on your guitar.
It has to be a song based theme for me to be always interesting. There’s a lot of stuff out there that I have very little interest in – especially in the US. Playing there is horrible as you have four of those bands on the bill every night.
These are local bands that are brilliant on their instruments and everything but they are incapable of writing any songs. Hopefully we will get less of that and more song writing and riff based music.
- So, if you were to give one piece of advice to a young Death Metal band starting out would that be it?
Ola: Exactly that: invest in proper song writing. There’s not enough song writing stuff out there anymore. Furthermore, I would advise them to listen to their gut feeling about things – don’t try to impress people by your skills on your instruments because nobody really gives a shit!
- We’ve already had one Yngwie Malmsteen and I guess we don’t need any more.
Ola: Yes, exactly (laughs).
- Ola, thank you very much: it has been an absolute pleasure talking to you and a ‘big tick in my box’.
Ola: Thank you too!
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