This Graveyard Rocks

Graveyard singer/guitarist Joakim Nilsson talks with Pollstar about the Swedish band’s winter tour of the U.S., writing songs in English and how difficult it is to break a European band on this side of the pond.

Graveyard may be a new band to American rock fans, but the group, founded in 2006 has already snagged a Swedish Grammy for best hard rock album. Having played its first headlining tour of the U.S. in early 2012, the band launched its latest adventure on these shores last week in Boston.  Prior to that, you might have seen the group on a bill with Motörhead, The Sword, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden or Clutch.

The band recently released its third album, Lights Out, on Nuclear Blast Records, in fall 2012. 

Graveyard also has its own line of Swedish beer.  Talk about a band that has everything.

Just hours before Graveyard kicked off its 2013 U.S. tour, Nilsson chatted with Pollstar about his favorite American cities, the various labels people have used to describe the band’s music and what fans can expect this time around.

Photo: Anders Bergstedt

You’re about to launch your U.S. tour.  How much time does the band spend rehearsing before touring?

I would say a week. I would like to say we do a lot of rehearsals.  But with the holidays before [the tour] we had to record a song, so we haven’t rehearsed that much.  Hopefully we’ll still remember a couple of the songs.

The band performs a lot in Sweden as well as the rest of Europe, so you’re pretty much ready to go, aren’t you?

Yeah, we do.  Usually we don’t have to rehearse that much.

How difficult is it to break a European band in America?

We’re still working on it.  We have been touring here a couple of times, opening up for bigger bands like Clutch.  The last time was our first headlining tour.  We hadn’t been here for a couple of years before that. It’s about touring as much as possible.  I guess it’s the same for every band.

What can you tell music fans on this side of the ocean who have yet to hear Graveyard?

I would say we’re a straightforward rock ’n’ roll band.  We don’t really do anything funny with the music. … I really can’t get the word in English, but you know when you’re trying to overcompensate things?  I think it’s more interesting to see a band that doesn’t do that.  That’s what we do too, try not to overcompensate things.  Just try to make the songs as good as possible, focus on that.

Entertainment Weekly described the band’s music as “impeccably scuzzy rock.”  Others have described it as a “’70s throwback” and “fuzzy riff-rock.”   You’ve worked on your music for years only to have someone sum it up in two or three words.  Do you like labels?

It’s kind of weird.  I think putting labels [on the music] is for the fans, is for the media – we don’t really care.  We just try to play our music as good as possible.  I guess the “’70s throwback music” thing is because all of us in the band listen a lot to old music, and have listened to it all our lives.  At the same time it’s unfair to call it “’70s throwback music” because we listen to a lot of other music … everything in between.

There’s a video on your website showing the band making its own tour patches. Was that just for fun or are you and your bandmates involved with all aspects of the business side?

No, not at all, actually.  It’s just that thing … we try to do something special, like the patches.  Sometimes we do like, posters and stuff like that.  The business part, we don’t deal with that too much.  We just try to add a little personality.

Graveyard members throw themselves into their work.

Of all the Graveyard albums, is there one that’s your favorite?

There’s a standard answer for that – always the latest album. Actually, I haven’t listened to the previous albums for a long time. When we made the records, I listened a lot to them.  I almost can’t remember what the first one sounds like.

Can you take a step back and listen to your own music objectively?  Or is that pretty much impossible for any musician to do?

I guess it’s kind of impossible. I would like to step out of the band and go to a show.  It would be really cool to do that. But we’re too involved.  That’s why we use a producer on the album because it’s always good to have someone outside the band hear the songs.  We’re too close to really be critics of what we do.

When composing, do you write in English and Swedish?

No, we only write in English.  I know it’s kind of weird because we’re not from England or America, but it’s common to do that in Sweden, even though it’s not our main language.  Also, we’re a touring band, we want to go all over the world, and English is good for that.

So you’ve never recorded Swedish versions of your albums?

No.  I’ve done that in previous bands, we wrote a couple of songs in Swedish.  That could be a fun thing to do, one or two [Graveyard songs] in Swedish.

Is it common for bands in Sweden to write in English?

It’s pretty common.  Even though the bands only tour in Sweden, they’re still writing in English.  I think most bands and artists think it’s easier to write in English because the Swedish language … sounds pretty corny at times.

Now that you’ve toured the U.S. a few times, do you have any favorite cities or venues that you’re looking forward to playing on this tour?

San Francisco is really cool.  We’re going to play two shows [on this tour]. There are a lot of good cities.  I like New York, Boston.

You’re opening in Boston tonight.  Have you been able to get out and see the city?

We tried to walk out and take a stroll through the town yesterday but it was so cold, even by Swedish standards.  We’re traveling by bus this time, so we have a little more time to see the cities.

What would you like to tell fans about this tour?

I don’t really have a good answer for that.  There’s going to be a lot of songs from the new album even though there’s going to be songs from the previous albums.  The main difference?  We have a stand-in bass player this time around.  That’s the main difference.  Our bass player, Rikard Edlund, is at home trying to sort out personal issues.  So we have a stand-in bass player, a really good friend of our guitarist Jonatan Ramm.  We did a European tour previous to this tour and it’s been working pretty good.  It’s going to be great.

Graveyard started about seven years ago.  Is there anything in the music business that has surprised you since founding the band?

The main thing I didn’t realize when we started touring was how much work it really is.  Going from city to city, playing, is kind of hard.

What’s a typical day on the road for Graveyard?

This time it’s different for us because we toured with a band before … and would stay in hotels.  This time around we have a bus and we’re staying in the bus. We’ll wake up in New York tomorrow.  Most … of [the] traveling is by night.  That is a lot easier. 

We have a load-in at 2 p.m. every day.  Then, if we don’t want to go out to the city, we just sit around waiting until sound check.  Then, after the sound check, go out to dinner, do the show, pack up and leave.  A typical day.  It doesn’t sound like fun, but it can be.

What other tour plans do you have this year?

Play shows around where we live – Sweden, Finland and Europe.  Also a couple of countries like Spain, where we haven’t been playing that much before.  Summer we’ll be playing a lot of festivals.  [The year] is pretty much packed with shows.

Do you like playing festivals?

Yeah, it can be fun even though it’s a lot more stressful than playing clubs.  It’s always fun to play for as many people as possible.  It’s two different things, playing in clubs and at festivals.

What are you listening to these days?

Always listening to early Fleetwood Mac, the Peter Green era.  Perfect music, I think.  I listen to a lot of different things.  Also a lot of modern music … Arcade Fire to P.J. Harvey.

Is there something you’ve been wanting to tell people but nobody ever asks you the right question?

The main thing we are doing is playing music for people. That’s still the main thing, trying to spread the music.  But it’s kind of hard to talk about the band and what we do. It’s easier to just play.

Photo: Anders Bergstedt

Upcoming shows for Graveyard with The Shrine include Asheville, N.C., at The Orange Peel Jan. 29; Nashville, Tenn., at The Exit / In Jan. 30; Atlanta at The Masquerade Jan. 31; Memphis at Hi-Tone Café Feb. 1; and St. Louis at Firebird Feb. 2.  Visit for more information.