Living in Chicago, it’s easy to forget that we don’t have the worst winters outside the arctic regions. Although battling sub-zero temperatures, face-burning cold winds, and crankier than usual commuters isn’t pleasant, there is one thing we can be thankful for: Sunlight. Over a very long distance phone call, Joakim Nilsson, singer and guitar player for Göthenberg, Sweden-based Graveyard describes winter in Scandinavia, “We haven’t seen the sun in months, so it’s a bit depressing.” However there is a bright side, figuratively speaking. “It’s warm for Sweden. We haven’t had any snow this year.”
That’s not all Nilsson has to be happy about these days. He and Graveyard bandmates, drummer Axel Sjöberg, bassist Rikard Edlund, and guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Ramm, are gearing up for their first major tour, in support of their recently released self-titled record on Tee Pee Records (Transubstans Records in Europe). The four-piece draws on blues driven hard rock, metal, and folk and revitalizes the classic sounds into a fresh and exciting package, making for one of the most powerful debut rock albums to appear in the first part of 2008.
Although Graveyard is relatively new on the scene, some of the band members have been playing together for over a decade. In 1995, Nilsson and Edlund formed a psychedelic rock quartet called Norrsken (“Northern Lights” in English). When Norrsken disbanded in 2000, guitarist Magnus Peelander went on to form doomy folk metal act Witchcraft and Nilsson and Edlund joined Albatross, a growly blues rock band whose lineup also included Sjöberg on drums.
Initially they considered Albatross to be a hobby, but five years later, the members began taking their music more seriously and had grown dissatisfied with the direction their sound had taken. When Albatross inevitably broke up, Nilsson and Edlund decided that for their next venture, they would head back towards their roots as musicians and songwriters. Nilsson explains, “I am a singer, but in Albatross I only played guitar. Rikard played guitar but he is a bass player. We also wanted a more straightforward [rock] sound.”
Together with Sjöberg and guitarist/singer, Truls Mörck (who left the band and was replaced by Ramm soon after completing their record), they began practicing as Graveyard. In the months that followed, Graveyard played a total of three shows, and began planning for a full-length album with Swedish boutique label, Transubstans Records. In the meantime, they posted a demo of some of their material on MySpace.
It was through a fairly routine activity that Tony Presedo, founder of Tee Pee Records, a New York based independent label with a penchant for psychedelic rock and a history of working with talented artists including Sleep, Earthless and Brian Jonestown Massacre, discovered the new band.
Presedo recalls, “They sent us a friend request. I usually just check ‘accept’ and move on, but I noticed that they had a cool graphic and that they were from Göthenberg. I like a lot of music from there so I went and checked it out. They were a doomy bluesy folk kind of thing with cool vocals. I liked it, but I let it go, because I had a lot of stuff going on at the time.”
But soon after, a friend inspired him to give the band another chance. “I was having lunch with Mario Rubalcaba from Earthless at South By Southwest last year and he asked if I had heard of them, and I said, ‘Yeah, I did’ and he said, ‘You should check it out again. You should really put that record out.’”
Listening to their samples again, Presedo found that he liked what he heard even more than his original impression. “I get that feeling from a lot of old records,” he explains. “The first listen is kind of cool and the second and third really sink in.” Releasing an album by a band in another country, especially one that hasn’t yet developed a large following can be a daunting task, but Presedo says that for a group like Graveyard, it’s all worthwhile.
“I love music a lot and sometimes I don’t give a shit how much work is involved, I just really like it and want to work on it. Moral of the story is; if something is good, you’ve got to get involved. You can’t let it sit there.” The band was caught pleasantly off guard when Tee Pee first expressed interest in working with them in the United States. They put the label in touch with Transubstans to work out the details of an international release.
Graveyard was recorded with Don Ahlsterberg (International Noise Conspiracy, Jose Gonzalez) in roughly two weeks, although mixing had to be delayed for months while Ahlsterberg was out of town. Fortunately, the end result was well worth the wait. The ten songs on the record contain intricate, electrifying riffs, catchy melodies and intense moods. Tracks such as “Evil Ways” and “Satan’s Finest” exhibit Nilsson’s powerful voice, which has gained favorable comparisons to the likes of Chris Cornell and Glen Danzig.
Nilsson modestly attributes at least some of his talent to genetics. “I’ve been singing all my life. It has come quite natural for me since I was a little kid. My mother is an opera singer, and my father is a violin player. I come from a musical family, but I didn’t have much training.” The record’s virtually seamless pacing makes it easy to overlook its intricacies and nuances on first spin, but they become impossible to ignore later on. This fluidity is at least partially due to Graveyard’s egalitarian songwriting process. “We jam a lot in rehearsal, we have ideas we bring to rehearsal. We usually put the songs together and different people write the lyrics. It’s quite equal between us.”
Graveyard will appear at 2008’s South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas, before accompanying Tee Pee label mates Witch on a short jaunt through the East Coast then joining them on the road across Europe. Not bad for a band whose longest tour thus far has been ten days. Nilsson says, “We are looking forward to it very much. It’s been quite a dream since I was a little kid. To go on tour in the U.S.! To go on tour anywhere!”