Besides learning that "begravningsplats" is Swedish for graveyard, talking to Axel Sjöberg, drummer for the Swedish rock band of the same name, was both fascinating and a bit unnerving. Not only does the guy sound exactly like Dirk Nowitzki, but just when I thought the language issue was going to get in the way, the guy would start talking about broadening his music spectrum.
In any case, Graveyard is one hell of a psychedelic rock outfit and the band's most recent effort, Lights Out, recalls everything from Black Sabbath to the 13th Floor Elevators. From a tour stop in Minneapolis and in anticipation of the band performing Friday night at the Granada Theater, Sjöberg talked with DC9 about singing in English, driving across Texas and explaining that Sweden isn't Switzerland.
Is Axel a very common name in Sweden?
Not now, but I think it used to be more common. It's not that unusual that people raise their eyebrows when they hear my name.
With a name like Graveyard, did you think people might believe you were some gothic punk or metal band?
Yes, we realized pretty fast that people would think that. Thankfully, it's not really a problem anymore. People know who we are these days, but we got that a lot when we released our first album. People looked at the cover and thought we were gothic. They thought we were [Swedish metal band] In Flames or something.
When did you first study English?
I think I started in fourth grade, but I think they start earlier now. I think I started studying English when I was nine or ten. But we have a lot of U.S. and English television and like the Germans, our shows are subtitled. We learned a lot of English because of that.
Have you ever sung in Swedish?
We haven't in the past, but we recently did one song in Swedish for a tribute album for a legendary Swedish punk band.
Do you perform that song live?
No, we haven't. I don't know if we are ever going to do it live. It would feel kind of weird, but it was a fun thing to record.
Is there a difference between fans in America and fans in Sweden?
I don't think there is a difference. People are people wherever you go in the world. It's more different from town to town. We are bigger in Scandinavia and in Europe than we are here. We have a more diversified crown at home. Average Joes listen to us. Here, we are outside of your metal and punk community.
Where are some of your favorite places to play in Scandinavia?
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This summer, we did some festivals in far north Norway. It was really beautiful. The natural scenes there are incredible. It's breathtaking. We are going back this summer. I am looking forward to that. In the United States, we have a lot of favorite places. In Detroit the other night, the people were crazy. I like the big cities. Portland was very nice. They have a nice, relaxed attitude and they seem to have a lot of good bands.
Many bands that Graveyard is often compared to are British, bands like Black Sabbath, Cream and early Fleetwood Mac. Are there any American bands that have influenced you?
Of course, there are a lot of them. All of the psychedelic bands like the 13th Floor Elevators. We love some new bands like High on Fire. There's this band from Seattle called Black Breath that I really like. There are a ton of American bands that we draw from.
In 2008, you came to play the SXSW festival. Was that your first time in Texas?
Yes, it was my first time in the U.S.
What were your impressions of Texas?
I thought it was fun. I was a bit confused by the long drives between cities. It was like being dropped in the middle of nowhere. But I had a blast. The weather is a lot nicer than in Sweden. But our climate is actually quite varied. It can be really nice in the summer. I mean, yesterday in Chicago it was very cold. It was like home this time of year.
How has the band evolved over the course of seven years?
One big change is when we could actually live off of our music. We do a lot of things differently now. We got more serious about music. We changed our self perception. You can say to yourself, "I am a musician and I live off what I do."
What about evolving musically? Many critics write about your recent albums being more influenced by the blues.
Maybe, but that element has always been there. The first one we put together in less than three months. It was very quick. We took much longer for the other albums. Plus, maybe we have matured a bit. We have allowed our own, true sound to come out more. I think we have broadened our musical spectrum. We can do hard and heavy songs, but we can also do softer ones. The songs on the first album sounded like each other. That's the biggest difference with the new album.
I love "The Suits, The Law & The Uniforms." What is the genesis of that song?
We were just jamming in the practice space. We really didn't know what to do with the end, so we just started jamming. When we got into the studio, we just decided to make it go beyond, make it all chaotic. It felt more like free jazz.
What's the biggest stereotype Americans have about Sweden?
It really isn't a stereotype, but I have had people confuse Sweden and Switzerland. They ask me about watches and chocolate.
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Do you go along and pretend you are from Switzerland?
Yes, I don't usually correct them. I just say, "OK."
Graveyard performs with The Shrine on Friday, February 21, at the Granada Theater.