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Jonatan Ramm in his backyard in Gothenburg, Sweden, with his favorite SG—a ‘68 Special loaded with the guitar’s original P-90 pickups.
Graveyard would fit into the music scene of, say, 1969 far better than they do 2012’s. Hailing from Gothenburg, Sweden, the classic-metal quartet seamlessly melds late-’60s and early-’70s influences to create a sound so raw, loose, and grooving that, upon first listen, newcomers might wonder if they’ve just discovered some cult band’s long-lost tapes from decades back. Singer Joakim Nilsson’s howling, gritty vocals dance around from a cathartic “White Room”-like Jack Bruce to a hair-raising “Whole Lotta Love”-ish Robert Plant, while bassist Rikard Edlund and drummer Axel Sjöberg’s plodding rhythms anchor guitarist Jonatan Ramm’s heavy blues riffs to create a manic, drug-hazy mélange that’s equal parts Sabbath, Zeppelin, and Cream, with hints of old Fleetwood Mac and the Doors.
“We play music we would want to hear if we were in the crowd watching us,” says Ramm. “It’s not so much a throwback, trying to sound vintage or old school. I just think we’re hitting at the right time when people are tired of overproduced, computerized, formula-based music.”
After their 2007 self-titled debut went practically unnoticed, Graveyard smoothed out their coarse sound and made a thunderous entry with 2011’s critically acclaimed Hisingen Blues—which landed on three Billboard charts and multiple year-end-best-of lists, and earned a Swedish Grammy for Best Hard Rock Album. But even when their star began to rise, Graveyard never lost that garage-band mentality. Ramm and Co. thought about going elsewhere to jam, write, and record this year’s Lights Out, but ultimately they opted to stay in Gothenburg’s snowy gloom.
“A change of scenery is always an option for writing and recording, but we’re inspired and influenced most by everyday life around us,” says Ramm. “The long, gray winters affect our songs and moods. It might not be the perfect place to be all the time, but it’s proven to be an ideal place to write our style of music and songs. We write best when it’s not sunny [laughs].”
From their debut to their sophomore effort, Graveyard evolved to add textural layers like background vocals and atmospherics, and with Lights Out, they’ve found their psychedelic-doom-rock groove.
“We just continue to jam and add new things as they fit and musically make sense—this time we worked in a heavily Stooges-influenced part complete with a saxophonist,” says Ramm. “I even learned to play slide guitar for the first time—even though what I did on the album I wouldn’t call slide guitar [laughs] … I just used a slide for the first time.”
We recently caught up with Ramm to discuses his treasured ’68 Gibson SG Special, why he tries to avoid using pedals, and how Sabbath’s “Wizard” changed his life.
What are your earliest guitar memories?
During my mid-teens and after a few years of playing by myself, I started a band in my small hometown for fun. But when I heard Black Sabbath’s “Wizard” off Black Sabbath for the first time—[laughs] things changed after that. That’s the moment that I knew I was going to play guitar for the rest of my life.
The guitar riff and its interplay with Ozzy’s harmonica parts made it gel. Tony [Iommi]’s main riff is so heavy, but it’s so catchy, so bluesy. It’s an experience to hear that song—even to this day I get chills to hear how they mixed dark, dirty blues with the beginnings of heavy metal music.
Who are some of the other guitarists
I think the tops for me would be Peter Green and Danny Kirwan of the early Fleetwood Mac days. If I could pick one player’s tone to have as my own, I think it’d have to be Peter Green’s off of “Albatross” or anything from Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. His sound was iconic, but what really does it for me is his phrasing—the feeling he conveyed through his instrument, and how the guitar became an extension of his mind and soul. But lately I’ve been really gravitating towards Danny Kirwan’s incredible vibrato work on Then Play On, because it is so vivid and comes to life right off the record.
How has your appreciation for Kirwan’s
vibrato come through in Graveyard?
Wanting to improve my vibrato influenced me to switch to Ernie Ball Skinny Top Heavy Bottom .010–.052 strings, because we tune down to D and I’m able to use my vibrato more effectively and complementary with the thinner strings. But I still prefer the thicker-gauge strings on bottom for bigger, more powerful chords.
Which elements of the band’s sound
would you say are most indicative of the
Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac influence?
The melancholic vibe in their music speaks to me a lot. I don’t know if I’ve ever enjoyed listening to happy music at all, and if you listen to Graveyard, we don’t have the sunniest of songs either. The song “Dragonfly” is a great example of how they were working with harmonies, vocal progressions, and that’s definitely something I try to achieve with Joakim—you can hear it in certain musical arrangements and overall compositions like in “20/20 (Tunnel Vision)” off Lights Out.
Prior to Graveyard’s recent video shoot for “Goliath,” Ramm asked his manager to help him acquire a white SG because, he says with a laugh, “White guitars have always had this elegance and I figured it’d be the perfect video guitar.”
You weren’t with the band for the 2007
debut. How did you land this gig?
[Graveyard’s bassist] Rikard was at a show I was playing and liked how I sounded, so he asked me to stop down to the studio to jam. While the band was working on their debut, Graveyard, they asked me to add some solos to their songs that were already worked out. I guess they liked what they heard, because they not only kept my guitar parts on the album, but they asked me to join the band. They only started Graveyard I think about three months before they asked me to jam and record some parts. But I am thankful every day that they gave me a shot.
Since Joakim also plays guitar, how do
you make sure your parts stand out but
also complement his playing?
One thing I try do whenever possible is pick the individual strings in an arpeggiated manner, so you can hear each string rather than bang out the chords. It provides a broader feel and shimmer instead of the cluttered sound of strumming or rocking through those same chords. I’m more of a rhythmic guitarist, even in my soloing—I just prefer to stay locked in to what Rikard and Axel are doing to keep the song and flow intact. Joakim is actually a pretty gifted guitar player, and he can typically play the faster stuff a lot better than I can right off the bat. Our two different styles and tendencies blend real well and help us sound unique without stepping all over each other.
Which pieces of gear are central to
I use an old Custom 100 Hiwatt amplifier with two different Gibson SGs—one has the standard humbuckers, but my brown ’68 SG has its original P-90s that seem to cut through when I play with the band a bit more. I don’t really use overdrive pedals too much in my setup. I generally get most of my distortion from the amp, but I do have two MXR pedals— a GT-OD and a Micro Amp—and a Boss TU-2 tuner. I use the GT-OD for a bit more bite and growl, because getting the Hiwatt to naturally overdrive would blow some windows out at the clubs we play [laughs]. The Micro Amp works like a volume boost for soloing and pushing the front end of the amp harder.
What do you like so much about
I really dig the sound of my ’68 with P-90s because of their girth and growl, but they still maintain a distinctive clean tone when I need that. I couldn’t believe I found a ’68 with P-90s at a decent price point—the neck was cracked, so that’s why I could afford it. It has become my favorite guitar and the one I use the most. I really like a rounder, fuller neck like a ’58 Les Paul, and my ’68 SG is really close so it’s ideal. I had a few ’61 SG Reissues and the necks were broader and flatter— those were a struggle for me to use.
How is your Hiwatt typically dialed-in?
I generally use the high or low inputs of the bright channel and dial the volume and master volume all the way up. I use my SG’s volume knobs for cleaner or softer tones. For the EQ, I just have the bass, middle, and treble set at about 2 o’clock and presence at noon—for me and what I do in Graveyard, it gives me a very clear, cutting, classic rock ’n’ roll tone.