Graveyard’s ripping sound is based on the dueling guitars of Jonatan La Rocca Ramm (right), who handles most of the soloing, and Joakim Nilsson (left), who is also the band’s lead singer. Photo by Bjorn Pettersson
Black Sabbath and Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac may have never joined forces for a hard-hitting psychedelic mega-jam, but, thankfully, we don’t have to consider the results of that hypothetical freak-out for long because Graveyard are around to let us know how that might have sounded. With their brand of galloping rock ’n’ roll, the band swings and swaggers, wearing their influences on their sleeves. A big focus of their sound is the interplay between dueling guitarists Jonatan La Rocca Ramm and Joakim Nilsson, whose heavy unison riffage and ripping leads help the Swedish quartet sound fresh and inventive as they take on classic influences.
Formed in 2006, Graveyard released their self-titled debut album in 2007 on the Swedish prog and psych label, Transubstans, only to have it re-released a few months later by U.S.-based Tee Pee Records, home of such likeminded bands as Sleep, Earthless, and Witch. In 2011, Graveyard signed to the larger Nuclear Blast records, known for metal releases by veteran bands like Slayer and Municipal Waste. In 2016, after three albums on the label, Graveyard announced they were breaking up. That split didn’t last long: Just over a year later, Graveyard emerged with drummer Oskar Bergenheim replacing Axel Sjoberg, and declared they’d soon be releasing a new album, Peace.
While they’ve been a force to be reckoned with since the get-go, Graveyard sound bigger and badder than ever on Peace. The album is a non-stop blast of rock ’n’ roll mayhem featuring well-crafted, no-frills guitar tones that explode out of the speakers and get right to the point. Nilsson sings like a banshee over the pummeling riff of the opening track, “It Ain’t Over Yet,” with Ramm’s searing wah guitar responding at every turn. It’s off to the races from there, and songs like “Please Don’t,” “The Fox,” and “Sign of Peace” keep the thrill ride on track, while ballads “See the Day” and “Del Manic” maintain a quiet intensity that underscores the band’s psychedelic inclinations.
Premier Guitar caught up with Jonatan La Rocca Ramm to discuss what it was like getting the group back together after their time apart. Ramm also described his own experience as a player and revealed how he got his rocking tones on Peace.
In late 2016, Graveyard announced it had broken up. But before long, the band was back together and now you’re about to release Peace. What’s different about reuniting with a slightly changed lineup? And how did this affect the process of making Peace?
I think we worked the same way we had on the previous records, though we started writing songs more seriously when we got Oskar into the band. Before that, we just met up and we each had little ideas that we didn’t really know what to do with at that point, but we felt that we wanted to continue with the band and continue to play. Of course, [former drummer] Axel [Sjöberg] will be missed and it’s always sad when things like that happen, but we were going in different directions and we’re very happy to have found Oskar in this situation. Immediately it felt like he was a great fit for the band and we are back with a new energy. It’s a good group dynamic and we’re happy to be back, so it feels good.
Did the breakup alter your perspective on playing in a band?
Yeah, definitely. It becomes pretty clear that this can end any day—what you’re doing and what you take for granted. We all realized that we very much appreciate what we do and that we’re fortunate to be able to play music for a living. For a while there, we didn’t know if we were coming back at all and that wasn’t a good feeling. We missed it quite a bit. Truls [Mörck], our bass player, suggested that we should check in with Oskar, my old friend. When he came in, it felt like a fresh breeze. I think he’s a great drummer and a great person to be around, as well.
How does the writing process work for Graveyard? Is it a collective thing?
We all write songs. Sometimes we write them together and sometimes someone brings in a whole piece and we see if it’s fun to play. If it feels right, then we continue to work on the idea or just finish the song. Sometimes we jam on something and if it’s good enough, we try to develop it. Truls wrote a lot of songs for Peace—I think he wrote most of them this time.
There’s a lot of really great unison riffing and octave riffs between you and Joakim. I’m curious how you work out the guitar parts.
It just happens naturally. It starts in the practice space, when we play as a group. We’ll improvise parts and when stuff comes up we like, we try to remember it. It’s by feel, I guess.
TIDBIT: Graveyard’s fifth studio album is the first with drummer Oskar Bergenheim.
Graveyard makes musical references to bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Pink Floyd—bands that have long, open, jamming sections. Onstage, you seem to keep a pretty tight rein on things, but it seems like improvisation influences your sound.
Yeah, sometimes. We might jam on something during a soundcheck and then make a song out of it. Someone starts, you know, and we just develop it. As you say, we’ve all been listening to a lot of bands where they improvise. I like that about Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac, for example. I love the jams they have on the live recordings, and all of us have always been drawn to keeping it a little free.
On Peace, your succinct solos are really effective at getting the point across and keeping things rocking. The solo on “Please Don’t” is one that stands out that way. How do you approach soloing live?
It’s always different for me. On some songs, I try to keep more to the album version, and on others I don’t at all, really. Sometimes I think, “I could do something more fun there.” For example, with “Please Don’t,” which we’ve performed a few times now, I try to keep it close to the album version. But at the end, when the solo goes down a little in volume, I’ll always do something a little different. I don’t play exactly the same—I can’t do that, really. Every song is a little different when I play it because I’ve always done that. Sometimes it’s good and sometimes it’s not. You have to gamble a bit.
Keith Richards has famously talked about how it’s important that rock ’n’ roll contains both parts—the “rock” and the “roll”—and that it needs to swing. That’s something you adhere to in Graveyard. Many of the songs on Peace swing, or even gallop, and you include lots of 6/8 and triplet rhythms. Is this a specific part of your concept?
That’s just how it comes out. I don’t think we ever had a plan about how the record would sound. We’d just focus on one song at a time and try to make it as good as possible. The gallop and the swing just come along with that. Maybe also the dynamics—take it down a notch and not have it full-on the whole time. You know, take it down and just feel it for a bit. That’s fun.