INTERVIEW: AXEL SJÖBERG, GRAVEYARD
About a month ago, Graveyard received a Grammis, (Swedish music award), for best Hard Rock act 2012. The day before receiving the award, Graveyard played a gig in San Diego. I went there to talk to them about their band, what it’s like touring the US, and Swedish music export. Arriving to the classic San Diego rock venue “The Casbah”, their tour bus was parked outside and I met up with Axel Sjöberg, drummer in Graveyard.
You started out in Boston and have been touring the country driving from coast to coast with your tour bus. How is it?
It is a lot better with the bus we have this time. We have been touring the US three or four times before with a van. So this is a great upswing. I’m like a thousand times less grumpy on this tour. You’ll always go to bed late but with a van you have to go up early as hell in the morning to drive to the next stop because of the distances here.
Where is the best place to play in the US?
For me, the venue is more important than the city itself. There are a lot of old theaters and cinemas here in the US, which are redesigned to venues and it gives a very different feel to the room. There are often balconies and the floors are in different levels so you can see the crowd and all who are at the show can see the band. I think this makes a great difference, in Sweden it is often just a room,
I like Portland, San Francisco and Seattle; they are a bit like home in Gothenburg, pretty relaxed. In Portland, they have a lot of vegetarian food and things like that. I like that, and most of us in the band are vegetarians. But I think all cities have their charm.
When we played in Detroit, I got a little tour. I had the opportunity check out all the abandoned areas. It was totally sick, you could go through block after block and you’ll see abandoned mansions that if they would have been close to Gothenburg city, they had surely gone for 6-10 million (SEK) easily. It's pretty damn fascinating. A lot of places in the middle of US have a doomsday feeling; there are a lot of abandoned industrial buildings and a lot of homeless and worn out people. It feels as if the coastlines manage a little bit better.
When were you able to live on your music?
We started to live on our music after we had released our previous album. But then, we lived like rats. Though that was no difference from how we lived before really, at that point we had to choose if we wanted to go all in or not. We used the money we had and got it to work even though there was very little at first, especially the first six months. But now we have an okay salary. It depends on if you count the years we have spent as an education, then it’s not that good * laughs *. But I do fine and can pay my rent.
Has that always been the goal?
I have not always been super focused but I have always wanted played music for a living. I think we got more serious about it when we started Graveyard. Thinking that we are really going to do it properly this time. We were not that determined in the bands we were in before. But it has always been my dream.
Why do you think it worked out with Graveyard?
Like most other things in this world, it is probably a thousand different things that had to run smoothly for us to make it or do well. The basic thing is perhaps the personal chemistry and musicality arising when we play together. Apart from that I think that you need to be hungry and have the drive. You shouldn’t wait for someone else to come and do it for you, although we obviously needed the help of many to get where we are today. In the beginning we organized our own gigs and sold beer to finance our tour bus, and stuff like that. And then it of course important to do well when playing shows.
Is there any difference making it in the US compared to Sweden?
Sweden is an extremely small country, if one is to be crass, or cynical, or bitter, you can make it in Sweden pretty much by knowing five people or something like that. But at the same time we've kept on playing no matter which people backed us. You need to be persistent, when we started touring and came down to Germany we were playing in front of 75 people the first time, the next time it was 150 and it has grown steadily. It's not just bands that like loyal fans, fans like loyal bands as well, bands that come back. I think you can notice that in every place we've been to.
Are the fans any different?
I don’t know, maybe they are a bit more wild here; it seems that a lot of skaters like us here. They usually like to have it a bit more livelily on concerts; it’s a bit more punk here. But otherwise, now when we start playing for 800 people or so, it seems that we attract people from very different subcultures. One can see a sixty-five year old cd collector and you can see one thirteen year old girl too. It is very gratifying that when we do better, the greater the spread we get on our audience. A lot of people have commented that you can see people from lots of different subcultures at our concerts, it's the same at home in Europe too.
Coming from Gothenburg, have you got any help from the music scene there?
I do not know, I think we started our own little part of a scene there, along with lots of other bands in Gothenburg also touring and playing around and stuff. I think that overall there is a very good music climate in Gothenburg, not so divided. You see people who are really into a certain genre, punk rockers who are at a hard rock gig and you see people who listen to death metal on a gig with people who listen to a totally different genre. It is not so damn important what music it is, although there is perhaps a certain style that is closer to the heart. People are curious and appreciate good music even if it is not a favorite genre or the genre that they identify themselves with, I think it's very healthy. But then again, it's expensive with rehearsal rooms and stuff like that in Gothenburg. Musically it is very good but you can always improve others things.
Sweden export a lot of music, any theories of why?
We often get that question, people ask: "What's in the water in Sweden? “. But I think that studieförbundssystemet (an organization that among other things helps with funding for bands and sometimes provides rehearsal space) is helping very much because it makes the threshold to start playing much lower than in other countries where you have to buy everything yourself to start and things like that. And when trying to get a rehearsal place when you're fifteen, it is not a soul who’ll let you rent. So I think that certainly makes it easier. I am also a believer of the good example; when you start to play in a band, you can watch the other bands from Sweden, touring abroad. You get the feeling of “If they can do it, so can I”. When many bands are touring, networks are built up, and if it starts to go well for one band, you quickly get to know people who might help with both practical and strategic issues, how to think or where you should play and who you should talk to and stuff like that. It's something that can be lost as well, the connections have to be maintained or else the networks quite easily die. Say there is a generation in which nobody wants to play music, then all contacts might disappear. I also think that a-kassa (Swedish unemployment insurance) is important as well, so that one is able to cope at times. People usually talk about Swedish folk music, that it has very nice melancholic melodies. Melodies that seem to strike, that we have some kind of melancholically melody heritage that strikes most people whatever type of music it is. I do not know if it's true, but it’s probably a combination of lot of those things I think.
Many critics have praised you; is that something you notice at gigs?
I don't know, maybe. We won a Grammis and we got a P3 Guld last year (Swedish music awards), it helps a lot at festival gigs and stuff like that, because then people can put a small label on you. It might also help reaching people who like music in general, but who might not be that active looking for new music. People who like to go to festivals and like rock music but might not be that super informed, who listen to what they get served, you can probably reach those people better then. Then maybe they’ll notice you and realize that they like your music, but as with the chicken and the egg, it's hard to tell what came first.
Visit http://graveyardmusic.com/s/ for videos, music, tour dates and more!
This article represents the views of the author and not necessarily the views of SACC San Diego. The interview was conducted in Swedish and was freely translated into English by the author.
David Svensson, SACC San Diego
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