Especially dear to the greek audience, Memory Garden have been around for 25 years. Their return to Greece on Cretan soil for Over the Wall Festival was a great chance for an extensive conversation with Simon Johansson about the band’s history, their new album and their upcoming show in Heraklion.
1992 was the year the band was created. Tell us more about the details, how did you captured the idea of forming the band, how you got the members together etc, a sort of small bio.
Well, I wasn´t personally in the band at that time, but I know our singer Stefan used to sing in a local band and he and the guitarist at time Anders Looström was friends and had been talking about forming a band together. Kumla, the town where the band come from is really a small town so pretty much everyone know each other, at least if you are into the same sort of thing. It started out with a couple of demo recordings and a 7” EP vinly. In 1995 the first EP named “Forever” was released and in 1996the first full length CD “Tides” came out. At the release party of the “Tides” CD I had the pleasure of joining Memory Garden, I think it was November 1996.
I met the guys at a party in Stockholm where I live, they knew me from then band Abstrakt Algebra, a band I was in together with Leif Edling (Candlemass etc), Mike Wead (King Diamond, Mercyful Fate etc), Mats Levén (Yngwie Malmsteen, Therion, Candlemass etc), Jejo Perkovic (Candlemass, Mustach etc) & Carl Westholm (Krux, Avatatium etc). I had heard the “Forever”MCD and I really loved it. As it turned out we really liked each other and the fact that they would be in need on a new guitarist led to me joining the band shortly after.
How did you pick this certain name? I assume that Trouble was a big influence for that.
Yes, the Trouble song was a big reason to the band name, I think it was our bass player Ken Johansson who was into them and suggested the name.
Which bands or styles of music have influenced the band?
We were mainly into the traditional doom like Candlemass and similar bands and that has been the main influence for us over the years. But we also listen to a lot of other styles and for me personally bands like Nevermore, Psychotic Waltz, old Fates Warning (John Arch era) has really formed my way of thinking music. Also the traditionall bands like Judas Priest, Think Lizzy, Iron Maiden and so on has made a mark and is probably a reason as well to our sound.
You ‘ve been to music industry for about 25 years as Memory Garden. How do you feel about your legacy built over those years? Do all those years create a certain kind of responsibility towards your fans?
We sure have been around for long and we have some really dedicates fans which we are really grateful for. Regarding responsibility, I´m not sure, anyone who has followed us over the years knows what to expect when we release a new album or when they come to a show. Memory Garden is Memory Garden and will forever be…when we write new music it will always sound like us. It´s not like we will suddenly change our style and sound. So don´t be afraid…we will be Memory Garden for yet another 25 years.
Your last record was out before 4 years, and four-five years was the gap between your last album “Doomain” and “Carnage Carnival”. So, it’s time for a new album? How soon should we expect a new effort?
Most of the new album is written and recorded, only small bits and pieces remain before it´s ready for mix. It feels really great and I´m pretty sure anyone into what we do will love it. At the moment, I don´t have a release date but during next year for sure.
Will it be again via Metal Blade Records?
We´re still signed to them so that´s the plan. Great label and great people.
What does Doom/Heavy Metal mean to you? Is it just a musical expression or is it a way of life?
I would think it´s a little of both, I would not be the person I am today without it and I spend most of my wake time with music of some sort and mainly it is Heavy Metal of some sort, not necessary doom though. Besides playing in my different bands Memory Garden, Wolf & Βibleblack I also have a recording studio in Solna, just outside of Stockholm. So I record a lot of other bands and of course my own bands. My great friend Mike Wead also works in the studio and we do a lot of recordings, mixes and mastering there. Just recently I recorded the drums for the upcoming Sorcerer album that will be a killer album by the way.
Which is the album you’ve released that you are the proudest of?
I´m proud of all of them, but I think that “Carnage Carneval” has a special spot in my heart. We were not longer signed to Metal Blade, had to record it with NO budget so it was all done by myself and Mike Wead in my studio. I put a lot of blood, sweat and time into that album and I still think it´s one of the best sounding albums we have ever done. Song wise it´s also one of the top Memory Garden releases as I see it. So I think I put “Carnage Carnival” as the album I´m most proud of.
Have you ever felt on writing faster songs or do you follow a specific composing approaching?
We have some faster songs, like Revelation from the album “Mirage”. But maybe you mean even faster? Besides Revelation we do have some other more up-tempo songs, like Violate & Create from the “Doomain” album.
As we see it we are a doom band and we really want to stick to that sort of style, we´re not interested in suddenly doing some other style, if that would happen we do it under some other band name. It wouldn´t make sense if we would strive away from our sound and style 25 years after the band was formed.
Who’s responsible for the lyrics and how important are for how Memory Garden sound?
It´s a band effort, but on the “Doomain” album our drummer Tom Björn is responsible to most lyrics. I did some and our singer Stefan is usually involved a bit. But it´s not anyone specific, it´s up to everyone to contribute if they have an idea. Lyrics are a big part of our music and it´s important with lyrics that follow the same feeling and atmosphere as the rest of the music.
You always had strong production, crystal clear, your guitars have chugging riffs and there’s a lot of volume on your sound. How can you stay modern without losing any of your atmosphere?
Well, not sure, we have a lot of modern influences and speaking of me I´m really into the modern “Andy Sneap” kind of production and I often tends to move towards that when I do a mix. The last album “Doomain” was mixed by Dan Swanö which is a man of many talents and I really think he managed to get a modern yet at the same time old school kind of sound out of the songs.
If we talk about our music it has a lot of old elements in it but since a lot of us also are into the modern metal scene we probably get inspiration from that and weaves it together with the old doomy ideas. Probably it´s the combination of those that is the answer and also the secret behind the Memory Garden sound.
You play on Over The Wall with another great Swedish band Wolf. Why do you think Sweden has produced so many great metal bands?
Yeah, that will be great fun, especially for me since I play in both bands, I have ordered extra oxygen to the stage. Hahaha!!
I think at least one of the reasons why Sweden produce so many great metal bands (and other song writer/artists as well) is that we have a great system where it´s possible to get hold of rehearsal rooms that are sponsored by the government through different educational associations. There´s even rehearsal room fully equipped if you don´t have your own instruments. This is just an amazing thing for young people who are eager to form a band. When I grew up we also had the opportunity from 3rd class to play an instrument. This was a big help for me. Not sure if this public music school is available today though. Also the fact that we have a lot of successful bands and artist inspires a lot of people I think. For my own who grew up way up in the north there wasn´t much to do besides playing guitar and riding the snow mobile…hahaha.
There’s also the legendary Uriah Heep on the billing of the festival. How does it feel sharing the stage with living legends of Rock?
Oh man..this is so cool. I have loved Uriah Heep for so long and it´s really an honor for me to share the festival with them. I´m so looking forward to their show, will be just awesome.
What we should expect from your performance in Crete?
You can expect a Memory Garden in top shape doing what we love to do for our favorite audience. Greece has always been very close to our hearts and every time we have played Greece the response has been overwhelming and I´m sure this time will be no exception. We have never played Crete so this will be great fun. Lovely island with lovely people…it can be nothing but amazing!!!
Any special add on your setlist for your fans in Greece?
We have dig deep in the Memory Garden catalogue for this show and you can expect something from every album I think. We have added a lot of old songs from the “Forever” & “Tides” era but also songs from the newer albums. I´m sure people will not be disappointed. We also printed a cool new 25 year anniversary t-shirt just for this show. I think that one will be appreciated.
What are the band’s next steps? What does the future hold for you? Are there any announcements you can make through Metal Invader?
The next step is to finish the new album, since there´s no date set for release it´s impossible for any super announcement. But you are the first we talk to about the status of the album and that it will be out next year…so that one is yours.
The closing is yours.
I would like to thank the fans from Greece for all the love we have received over the years, we have met so many amazing people and made so many great friends from Greece. Now I´m just thrilled to get back there to share an evening of doom with all of you once again. See you soon, jamas!!