SUNDAY CLASSIC GTC: Hellsingland Underground Prevail! Q&A
by Alle Royale
Anytime I’m walking down the streets of my hometown, people stop me to ask if I know whatever happened to that nice, little rock band from Sweden, called Maryslim. Honestly, I had totally lost track of the guys until I found out that half of that band is now part of another nice, little rock band from the new ‘holy land’ of rock ’n’ roll, and it’s called Hellsingland Underground. I also discovered that the aforesaid six-piece has just released a new album, ‘Evil Will Prevail’, that masterfully combines tasty guitar solos a la Thin Lizzy, country rock-tinged balladry, pop hooks bonanza, and an inspired singer/songwriter in the figure of Charlie Granberg, a cat of rare talent.
Having the chance to talk with Charlie Granberg, singer-songwriter of Swedish mavericks Hellsingland Underground, was as pleasant and revealing as the first listen of their “Evil Will Prevail”, one of the most enjoyable records of the year.
Hi Charlie, anytime I take a look at your Facebook page you’re always on the road, somewhere in the world. You guys like some touring, don’t you?
Absolutely! First of all, we love playing music. But I also think being on tour with a band is the ultimate way of traveling. It’s such an egocentric trip you know. When you go on vacation on your own or with friends or family, you don’t really get to meet and talk to people in a natural way. But coming to new places as a band is a whole different thing. People are drawn to you because you are the whole reason for them being there in the first place. Everybody wants to talk to you or be close to you. Which is great for me. I can be a pretty shy person when I’m in new environments sometimes, but meeting people at our shows is great, because it’s usually other people that make the first contact. And we have such nice fans most of the times, it almost feels like you already know them. They are the same kind of people as we are.
Your music, in the end, is a boiling cauldron of influences, but I can hear a lot of west coast sunny vibes and American folk; CSN&Y, Buffalo Springfield, even The Guess Who…how did a kid, grown up in Sweden, Northern Europe, get touched by these musical suggestions?
Because Sweden is the most Americanized country in the world perhaps? I read somewhere that when American companies want to try out a new product, let’s say a jeans model, they like to do it in Sweden, because we’re like a mini-America. We have the same kind of demography and we’ve grown up on American culture, etc. If it works in Sweden – it works in the states. I grew up here in Ljusdal – a very small town where I didn’t feel like I was fitting in at all. So I sort of felt isolated and turned to music. In my teens, I luckily found this little group of people who were into the same music. That’s when I discovered all these bands… Most American music for some reason.
When it comes to tasteful melodies, arrangements, and vintage-sounding productions, you Swedes are unbeatable; from The Cardigans to The Hellacopters, from Diamond Dogs to Thunder Express, from The Soundtrack Of Our Lives to Hellsingland Underground. What’s your secret? Which are the reasons behind all this high-quality control?
I have no idea really. Maybe it’s because we have 9 months of darkness and winter? You just have to do something with all that time. It’s easy to become obsessed with things when you can’t lie at the beach all year long. Some people start a band. That’s what everybody in this band did as kids at least.
What’s this fascination the Swedes seem to have with everything vintage?
I know what you mean, there are a lot of vintage bands around. From using old calves skins on the drums to using the right microphones and pedals, having that exact seventies look, etc… But we’re not into that stuff at all to tell you the truth. We don’t record on tape. Why would you when it’s so much easier and cheaper on a computer? I just don’t get it. I’m aware that this may come as a surprise to some, since we have always been labelled a retro-act. Maybe it’s because we make music from the heart, which was more common back in the day. Many of these retro acts don’t have anything to say, it’s all about the right look, style and sound. We are all about heart and passion; fuck all that other hipster crap.
The cool thing about your band, it’s the feeling I have, as a listener, to be on a musical journey with no restrictions; ok, maybe I would be surprised to hear from your guitars some King Diamond, but not some Jethro Tull. Do you have an insurmountable limit, as a composer and as an artist?
Thank you! Interesting that you mention Jethro Tull, because Martin the bass player, has one tattoo, but it covers his whole back from ass to shoulders, and the motive is some hobo from a Jethro Tull cover! It’s only him that listens to them in the band though, but I think at least some of us has listened to King Diamond when we grew up. I know I have. We all grew up with Iron Maiden, Slayer, Motörhead, and that stuff, but I don’t think we will put out a metal album any time soon. We are six individuals that are quite different in many ways, but we meet in our love for good music. You’d be surprised at some of the stuff we listen to. Pop, hip-hop, death metal, prog, you name it. The only sort of “rules” we have in this band is that the music comes first and that there should be no limits about what kind of songs we make. It is a journey for sure. And hopefully, it will last long and take us places we couldn’t even imagine. There’s no point in trying to sound like we did on the first album. That was then, and this is now.
I think that with this new album, your third, you have reached the temporary zenith of your evolution as a band; the scope of all your influences, it seems more focused, mature, and personal. Which are your feelings about “Evil Will prevail”?
It was the zenith when we wrote and recorded it, yes. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have released it. But we’re already writing new songs. It’s not like we put out an album and then sit around and wait for two years and then write another one. We write all the time. Personally I write almost every day. It’s as natural as waking up in the morning. I’m not saying that all of it are as good as the songs that ended up on the albums, but I have to write anyway. We have tons of songs that we’ve never recorded.
In “They All Grew Old While I Grew Young”, you sing about living a life in our own terms, with failures and mistakes, but without conforming ourselves to whichever social rule; at one point you even mention the “King of Sweden”. Sweden is renowned for being an egalitarian, developed, and equilibrated society, everybody looking blonde and happy, did we miss something?
-That’s exactly what’s sickening me the most about this country. We see ourselves as a little more civilized, a little more educated, tolerant, and classy compared to the rest of the world. And then we get shocked when we see burning cars in Husby during the riots recently, or when it turns out that the Swedish police is keeping secret files over Roman people like the worst STASI agents. We should have learned that we’re no longer that blonde-socialist-IKEA-ABBA-dream-society anymore. It died when they killed our prime minister Olof Palme. Count me out I say! I live in a place where we have among the highest youth unemployment in Sweden, the lowest education, we die sooner than the rest of the country, we drink and smoke too much and have a very high suicide rate. But even people around here refuse to see it that way. On the other hand, people are very nice and polite here and I wouldn’t wanna live anywhere else. At least not in Sweden. We have a special kind of grim humour around here that I like, and there’s a lot of people playing music.
While most of the songs conjure gloomy imagery, of resigned melancholy, your lyrics are beautiful, richly composed, visual, and epic. They tell a story, and in this age of void, they end to be, paradoxically, a breath of hope in our richness of human beings. Do you start composing from a lyrical blueprint? Strumming a chord? When does the whole band enter the picture, since a lot of your songs seem to have that jamming quality about them?
Thank you so much. Those are really nice words. That’s what the lyrics are meant to be. I can’t sing about happy stuff when the whole world seem to be going straight to hell. On the other hand, I think there is hope in the world. People are beginning to really wake up on a large scale. Starting to see who the sociopaths who are running the planet really are. I have become more and more aware of those things in the last couple of years. Maybe since I became a father, I don’t know. You don’t want your kids to grow up in this shit. I usually sit down with my guitar or banjo, sometimes I already have a melody in my head, sometimes I just play until the melodies comes into my head. You have to have your antennas out all the time. I write and re-write until I have something decent to present to the other band members, and then we just start jamming like crazy. Booze is also an important part of our music. We drink a lot when we rehearse. It kind of sets our spirits free I guess. Lately, we have also begun to write together more and more. I like finding new ways of writing, and this is something we haven’t really done before, so the next album will sound a little different I guess.
Since they look like having some pedigree in the Swedish rock scene, would you like to introduce us to the other band members?
Mats and Patrik used to be in a band called Maryslim. That’s actually how I met them the first time, when I was asked to do a cover for one of their albums. Martin also plays bass in a kind of heavy stoner band called Sideburn. Peter has been playing in a lot of different weird bands. Perhaps the most well-known is the Swedish metal band Wolf. They even went on an American tour opening up for Saxon. But when they asked him to become a permanent member he had to turn them down, because he was waiting for the right band. He always had the feeling it would come to him sooner or later. It came to him in the form of a phone call from his childhood friend Mats who asked him to become the second guitarist in Hellsingland Underground. He said yes as soon as he heard the first song. Henning has also been playing with a lot of different stuff. Both in bands and as a session player. Perhaps the most well known is Veronica Maggio. One of Sweden’s biggest stars at the moment. I’ve played in loads of bands that didn’t make it anywhere since I was around 12. Just like Peter, I have been waiting for the right kind of people to come into my life. And with this band, they all of a sudden did.
I’ve never been lucky enough to witness a live performance of yours; how do you translate the emotional and intimate nature of a lot of your songs, for the live impact? Do you favor the rougher, rockier stuff, or do you search for an equilibrium of intensities?
We want to bring the whole spectrum of emotions into our shows. But we tend to lean towards the more rockier songs and then break it up with softer stuff because the effect of caress or a hug is much bigger after you’ve just been run over by a freight train. And vice -versa. It’s double the intensity live compared to our records. I think it’s impossible to capture that spirit on a record. People keep asking us to a live album, and that might be something we will do in the future.
Are you already working on some new material, do you write while on the road?
Yes, as I said earlier, we write all the time. But not so much on the road because then you’re mostly busy with other things.
Thanks a lot Charlie, for your time…and for “Evil Will Prevail”, a triumph of beautiful music!
Thank you! Nice talking to you! And again, thanks for the kind words.
Hellsingland Underground – Evil Will Prevail
Band Photo by Carola Broberg
Evil Will Prevail LP (discogs)
Mats MF Olsson
“Hellsingland Underground are a bunch of disfunctionals that are functioning pretty good together. As a unit.” – bio