Interview with Axel Sjöberg from Graveyard: Blues In The Cemetary

Swedish retro rock forerunners Graveyard released their second full-length, Hisingen Blues, in the U.S. on April 19. The album—the band’s first for Nuclear Blast—follows late on the heels of 2008’s self-titled debut, and finds the foursome working hard to develop an individual sound within a classic rock framework that bounces references both titular and musical off of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Lynyrd Skynyrd. To somehow come out of it sounding like none of those bands at the same time is nothing less than a landmark achievement, and Hisingen Blues, thanks to infectious songs like “RSS” and opener “Ain’t Fit To Live Here,” is one of 2011’s best records to date.

Drummer Axel Sjöberg recently took some time out to discuss the making of the album, the eventuality of Stateside touring (it wouldn’t be their first time over here), and how they hope to get their next album out sooner than later. Please enjoy.

Was there anything different you wanted to do coming off of the self-titled?

Well, we wanted to do it better (laughs). The first album was, maybe not rushed, but sort of. I mean, we hadn’t been a band for so long before we recorded it, and we hadn’t played together for that long.

Basically, we recorded what we had and had to hurry to finish the songs that we started before recording, and this time, we had much more time and had played together much longer as a band. We’re [tighter] as a band. I think this album has much more thought behind it and is more worked through than the first album.

It seems like this album more than the first one sounds more like you do live.

Of course, it’s good that you want to bring something more to the table live, but you don’t want it to be a totally different experience from listening to the album and going to the live show. I think the album is maybe almost that way.

It sounds like we sound. Obviously, we won’t be playing all the songs live, or if we do it won’t sound near what it does on the album, because we had a lot more instrumentation.

Do you think about the live shows when you’re writing the songs?

Yeah, we do. At least us in the band do, but Don [Ahlsterberg, producer], he doesn’t think much about how we’re going to pull things off live. Sometimes after we record stuff, we discover it can be quite tricky to perform or play live, especially for Joakim [Nilsson], the singer. But it usually works out.

Tell me about the time in the studio with Don, then. What was the atmosphere like? How long were you guys there?

I think it’s very hard to say how long we were there, because we were there on and off very much from when we had time off from tours, and it had to fit with Don having time off from tours, because he works with touring bands as well. We had to coordinate that schedule, and yeah, all I can say is four years is way too long for an album [to come out]. It’s really bad. I don’t know actually how long we spent.

We had both fun times and hard times and all kinds of times in the studio. It was all in different sessions, so it was a very diverse experience, you could say.

Were you worried about having to piece the record all together, recording in different sessions like that?

I don’t think so, because, in a way, our different songs have a lot of different styles, but they all sound Graveyard, I think. Then there were songs that didn’t go on the album because we wanted the album to be cohesive, even though the songs are from each other. Say, the opening track and “Longing.” They’re miles apart, but I still think they both sound very Graveyard. We’re a band that does not often make so many long-term plans.

We kind of shoot from the hip and play stuff that feels right, like if you get the right feel, then it’s good. If you don’t get the right feel, you don’t use it anymore, just throw it in the trashcan. So I guess the answer is both yes and no. We didn’t have a master plan before we started to record, like wanting the songs to sound like this and be coherent in a certain way, but as you go, you think about it along the way, I think.

How do you feel about the record now that it’s coming out? Now that it’s finished, can you have some perspective on it?

I’m satisfied with it. Basically it was finished before we signed any contracts, so we wanted it to be really good. I’m proud of it. Actually, I was nervous before about what people would think, but now I’m getting real close to relief.

Reviews are starting to come in, and we’re doing a lot of interviews, and a lot of people like the album. I was confident before, but now when people are starting to like it, it kind of builds expectations and expectations can be rough to deal with, but I’m proud of the album.

And tell me about signing to Nuclear Blast. It seems like kind of an odd fit.

Yeah, I was surprised too when they told me they were interested. I was like, “Nuclear Blast? What?!” But then, when you think of it, if you look around and look at the situation for record labels, what’s happening to record labels today and the past five years, and you look at how Nuclear Blast is doing, they seem to be doing just fine, even expanding, and they’re finding ways like signing us.

If you look at the bands that they have in the roster, they all seem to be doing fine. The promotion work for the bands was fine, and now I know, but beforehand, they seemed to be genuine music lovers—they started out as tape traders, and so on—and they were doing it for the right reason. Even though we’re not the typical Nuclear Blast band, if they liked us, they had to believe in it. It’s an odd fit, but it makes sense at the same time.

What are the tour plans? Do you know what you’re doing for the summer yet?

Yeah, the whole spring and the summer are booked, and then I think we’re coming to the U.S. late-August/early-September. The period is set for that time, but it’s not anything confirmed yet.

Day after tomorrow, we have our first release show here in Sweden, and then we do a couple Swedish shows this week and next week, and then we go up to Finland, then back from Finland, we’re home for a couple of days, and then we tour Europe, and then back, and then it’s almost festival season here in Sweden and in Europe, so we play basically every weekend until August. Thursday, Friday and Saturday for festival and weekend gigs, and then U.S., and then another European tour, and then we have to start working on a new album again.

So soon?

Yeah. We want to go the other way around this time, not make it four years, but maybe one year or one and a half. We’ve already started writing some tunes, and we’ll try to avoid doing the same thing all over again.

How is the new material sounding?

I think it’s hard to judge yet. I was talking, and it’s hard to describe when it’s not finished songs, but I think one of the songs makes a real Hawkwind, Dire Straits and heroin rock—I don’t know if you can make anything out of that or not.

That’s all right. I’ll spend the rest of the afternoon trying to figure out what that would sound like in my head.

Get three stereos going at the same time.

Yeah. The thing though about taking four years in between albums is it gave you all that time to grow as players and as a band. In switching gears and starting on a new one so soon, would you be concerned at all about losing that, or can you take the experience you’ve had between these two albums and work from that?

Yeah, I think so. I think judging by what’s happening with the new album, the attention we’re getting, I think we’ll have a lot of stuff. I mean, there have been so many things happening now that I know we have enough to channel into a new album.

We can easily collect in a year what we collected in four years last time, and I think now we’ve been a band for a while, so we’re quite confident in what we do. We know each other and we know Don even better and he knows us even better. I don’t think it’d be a problem.

I think it’d just be smoother, because now we’ve got better resources and better people taking care of the stuff that you have to do it yourself when you’re a smaller band. I think everything is going to be easier. But I don’t know, if you ask me again in a year, maybe I’ll say the opposite thing.

Graveyard’s Hisingen Blues is available now on Nuclear Blast. More info at

JJ Koczan definitely ain’t fit to live here. Or really anywhere, for that matter.