Interview: Jörgen Sandström

Jörgen Sandström claims he’s not a rock scientist, but I beg to differ. I’ve seen him at the gaming table, he’s gonna give you a real beating. In 1991 he released the death metal classic Into the Grave with Grave, an accomplishment that would make most people quit. How could you ever top something like that? We’ll, ten years of touring with death metal legends Entombed comes with some good stories too.

Jörgen is one of the biggest names in death metal in Sweden. Rock Science wanted to hear more about his stories. And of course we had to know why he likes Rock Science.

Rock Science: Why and how did it become death metal for you? What led you to end up in the genre?

Jörgen Sandström: It really started with my introduction to Kiss when I was like 6 years old. Later an older brother listened to Thin Lizzy, Motörhead and Judas Priest. With time I got my own heavy metal albums, Iron Maiden, AC/DC and so forth. After that it was thrash metal with Slayer and Metallica and black metal with Venom and Mercyful Fate. And finally i started listening to more German thrash: Kreator, Sodom, Destruction and death metal with Death, Possessed etc. So I came to the genre in natural way, I’d say.

RS: To us, a “rock scientist” is someone who can get lost in a band, become an obsessed collector who wants to find everything that’s been released, written by and about the band etc. With what bands have you been a scientist through the years?

JS: If that’s the definition, none! I’ve never been a collector or that fucking interested in a single band that I’ve read everything about them. On the other hand, I listen to a lot of music and some bands you do follow even if they sometimes make questionable albums. Trouble, for example.

RS: What were your top three influences when starting to play death metal, both musically and otherwise?

JS: It would be hard to pinpoint three separate things. Because it was a lifestyle as a whole you adopted. Clothes, music, tape trading and the whole thing you know. Horror movies too of course.

RS: In the beginning of your death metal career, what did you want to accomplish soundwise? What was your vision of perfect death metal?

JS: It probably shifted as we found and listened to more bands over time. We lived on Gotland [a Swedish island in the Baltic Sea] and it was bloody impossible to find any records there. You had to go to Heavy Sound [record shop] in Stockholm or listen to their answering machine :-) But I guess we wanted just what everyone wanted, to sound meaner than everyone else :-)

RS: Sometimes it seems as if the whole Swedish death metal scene is one big family. Many musicians have been grouping into new bands and projects throughout the years. Some have become bigger while others just made a demo or a few releases. Give us a tip on a release or a band that you think deserves some extra spotlight? Something that you’d want Rock Scientists all around the world to hear!

JS: There was a band from Surahammar [a town in Sweden] named Tribulation that I really liked. Crematory from Stockholm released a few demos and were fucking awesome. In later years there’s been so damn many things released that it’s hard to keep track of everything. But there are some records that have become somewhat favorites of mine. For example Sanctification’s Black Reign (2009) which is insanely great death metal from Östersund [another town in Sweden]. In Battle’s Kingdom of Fear (2007) is also totally crazy :-) I’m not a guy who only likes old death metal although I think that Autopsy still might be the best death metal band in the world, which they proved to the world on Macabre Eternal (2011).

RS: I know that you’re really satisfied with the debut album of Grave, Into the Grave (1991). You created one of the most brutal specimen in the genre.

JS: Into the Grave = death metal.

RS: After Grave you played with Entombed for almost 10 years. What are your personal milestones from the Entombed era? A moment that’s meant something extra?

JS: I did my first gig with Entombed as a stand-in for Lars [Rosenberg] at the Hultsfred Festival in 1995, I believe. Then I had to learn the songs in like a week. I think we rehearsed two times. Then we went to Hultsfred and boozed our heads off for two days, then played on the third. I remember sitting in the van. I’d been drinking so hard that I’d forgotten every single riff an hour before the gig, hahahaha… It was a bit of a challenge to get up on stage. But it went well and I think I faked it pretty good by playing the E string or acting like Cronos in Venom…

Ozzfest in London was awesome! We had Fast Eddie Clarke on the VIP list! And Slayer played before us on the stage next door so we had the world’s longest and best intro: Slayer live for 45-50 minutes! Opening up for Iron Maiden in Europe and Canada was nothing I’ll forget in the first place either. Or the cooperation with the Royal Ballet at the Opera House in Stockholm.

And that’s just the big things I’ve mentioned now, but there has been so much fun things through the years. And I’ve met so many cool people around the world that it’s downright impossible to remember everything right off the bat.

I often say that my biggest accomplishment is to have been growling together with Chris Reifert (Autopsy) on the Murder Squad record Ravenous Murderous [2003]. We stood screaming into the same mic so it was on the same take.. I had the chills all the way!

And that Uli Jon Roth called me one time after his gig at the Sweden Rock Festival. We’d been playing in Västerås [a city close to Stockholm] and were sitting in a van when he called. That was disturbingly big and totally unexpected, haha..

RS: You were one of the first to play Rock Science ever. Why do you like the game, and who would you most like to meet in a match (Kerry King… Darth Vader..?)?

JS: I like the game for pretty many reasons. It looks good, it’s fun and it doesn’t take forever to finish. And you damn well learn some things through playing too. I’d love to sit down with Malcolm Young, he’s one mean fucking guy!

RS: Why release your music for free with Torture Division? Have you given up all hope of making money through the record companies?

JS: Make money? Hahaha… Through the years I’ve served death metal more that I’ve made money, that’s for sure.

If you want to sell records and make money you have to:

  1. Be really fucking good – which we are so that’s no problem

  2. Tour your ass off! – which we’d done twenty years ago but now we’re twice as old so we don’t have the energy for that.

  3. Have a record company that can sell a lot of records – but that will require you to go through number 2 above…

RS: You release your music as demos and not in the classic album format. Is this because you no longer have to follow the rules of a record company?

JS: I just want to make it clear that we don’t have anything against record companies and releasing records. I still buy records regularly and want to be able to continue doing that. What we do is not an uprising against the record companies, although it may seem like it…

We’ve recorded tons of records through the years. To be working this new way, three songs at a time, totally fucking rocks! You can concentrate on the songs in a totally different way and you seldom get tired of them. Often when you’ve written an album, you start questioning the first two-three songs you wrote and then begin to mess with them until they’re ruined. This never happens now. And when you’ve recorded three demos you’ve recorded an album that you can give away for free. Amazingly good for all involved.

Now it so happens that Abyss Records in the USA has released our demo trilogies on CD which has become like 2 album releases. The difference though is that they don’t have any rights whatsoever to any songs or artwork, everything belongs to us. So if their neighbor starts a record company he too can release the albums if he wants to. I believe an Italian company is about to release the first trilogy soon. Abyss has sold 2,000 soon I believe, which is damn good considering all songs are up for free on our web page :-) So if anyone is reading this and wants to release our material on record, just get in touch and we’ll probably work something out :-)

RS: How do you best maintain your death growl? Whiskey, skinny milk..? Or is it something you just have to be born with?

JS: I don’t have a good answer to this question. Whiskey usually works well for warming up before a gig. In the studio I mostly drink Dr Pepper or perhaps a beer.