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Memory Garden's Tom Björn: "Creativity can strike when you least expect it, and you better take advantage!"

Interview with Tom Björn from Memory Garden
by Lior "Steinmetal" Stein at 25 December 2021, 9:51 PM

When the pandemic started two years ago, there were several comparisons to previous pandemics, yet, and gladly for the mankind of the present, and with hopes, Covid doesn't measure up. There is also the technological advancement, which provides an edge, but everything converges, and surrounds people. The Swedish Memory Garden are back with new material, after quite a while, as they never left, portraying a fictional story, crossing the Black Plague, over "1349". Signing with the Greek No Remorse Records, as their new home, the Doom Metal band unleashed one of their heavier pieces to date. Steinmetal had a chat with Tom Björn about coming up with new material after so long, working on the album, the idea and idle, and more…

Hello gentlemen, I am highly pleased to have you for this conversation for Metal Temple online Magazine, how have both of you been doing?

Quite fine thanks! Hope you are as well.

Even without really reliving the past, which we will discuss about it in length later, for the past two years we have been having a pandemic on our hands. Societies have yet to crumble, let’s hope that they won’t, yet the term ‘uncertainty’ surely triumphs. How do you view this situation from your perspective? You come from a country that barely has restrictions, is it living the life or simply carelessness?

It's a merry-go-round with this covid spectacle, but what else to do but to ride out this shitstorm… No real lockdowns here, but more of recommendations and restrictions. The government and authority of public health have put a lot of responsibility on the people. Keep distance, wear mouth protection while in stores, or public transportations. But there are always people who don't give a damn. I understand that it's a good thing to keep the country running as much as possible, but what are the costs in the end? We have yet to see. Hopefully they have learned something until the next pandemic…

We headed straight through the pandemic along with myself forgetting that Memory Garden has been absent for far too long, eight years. What made you stop creating after the release of “Doomain”? Was it a simple case of being out of ideas or mainly taking your time without any form of rush?

Many seem to have thought we made a reunion for every album release! 😄 We have taken our time, especially with this album, to make the songs the best we possibly could. We started working on the new songs after Doomain was released, so in 2014 I would say.

This time around the label situation was very unsure. We even discussed releasing the album ourselves, only digitally. But we concluded that it would take too much work, planning and getting a lot of contacts needed for the task. Instead, we kept working to have a finished product to present to an interested label, and one day No Remorse Records contacted us and offered a nice deal. Saved us a lot of headaches…

Also, kids take time as every parent know. So, during the making of the two last albums, we have pretty much just met for once a week to create/rehearse and record.

Evidently, you set a new path for yourself, and returned. Please let everyone know what itch had to be scratched for you to return to your craft, writing new songs for a future new album?

Well, from our point of view there was really no “return". Since we saw each other almost every week, sometimes more to drink coffee than to be creative, but still. Creativity can strike when you least expect it, and you better take advantage! We had lots of ideas piled up in our voice memos…. But it's really not as easy to prioritize the band as 20 years ago, naturally.

If you wanted to shock, well I believe that the desired effect is to be achieved through your new album, titled “1349”, released through No Remorse Records. What can you tell about your deliberations, if there were any, to head down the road with a concept album? As in contrast to plenty of narratives of standalone tracks, this one needs a different mindset

That's true. After we had decided to go for a concept album, I remember getting a bit unsure if we could really pull it off. To me the phrase “concept album” felt kind of pretentious and maybe out of reach. Having masterpieces like Queensryche's “Operation Mindcrime” in mind. Then I thought, maybe it's easier to dive deeper into one subject than to find nine different ones? At the time I listened to Amon Amarth's “Jomsviking", a good album and also a conceptual one. I got some inspiration from that and started researching some about the black plague, which we had decided for earlier.

“1349” is a deeper gaze upon one of mankind’s darkest of times, I can only assume that those who lived back in that dark period of time, wanted the experience to end rather than suffering its consequences. What were the reasons that drew you to this particular theme? Was it because of what we have been experiencing, which is lighter in comparison?

Yeah, it must have been utterly horrible… Nothing I would like to experience. Today we have at least more knowledge and modern techniques to save people. Back then, if you were really unlucky, one of those empirics could smear you in mercury or drain your blood. Tough. When the new songs started to come together, Stefan told me he wanted to make a concept album. We got hooked on the black plague due to it's harsh and unrelentless nature, it would fit the new songs and the doom heritage perfectly. We drew some guidelines for the concept and then I started developing the story from that, along with some facts here and there to give the story more depth and relevance. This was in 2017 sometime, so well before covid.

You mentioned characters that take on roles on your semi-fictional storyline. What can you tell about these characters? Who is the main protagonist? Is there a chief antagonist that is there to take on the side of death?

It starts with this orphan boy who finds a ship drifted ashore, he's the main character. The songs Shallow Waters, Pariah, The Messenger and Blood Moon tells his story from different perspectives. In The Messenger is also found his only friend, the girl portraited by Josefin Bäck. He has gotten her infected and she knows her days are numbered. However, the boy remains unharmed by this illness. But he's spreading it…

In Blood Moon he’s eaten by remorse from all chaos he has caused, and decides to find a tree and a rope. Which is the last thing you hear on the album.

The other songs all make different portraits about certain events concerning the black plague. A sadistic plague doctor in The Empiric or a coward king in 1349 for example.

Comparing the general feeling of the people between the Black Plague and our present pandemic, and in light of the album, how do you observe mankind? Are there fine lines between the eras? What haven’t we learned?

Good question… Despite all the good things in our modern world, the human brain is still lacking in many areas…When corona came crashing the party, many switched to survival mode. Egoism, hoarding, plundering etc. Everyone for themselves.

It really doesn't take much to ruin a society. It's a very fragile system we have created, and on top of the food chain we still have some filthy rich people who couldn't care less about making things better for the masses. Better to have 50 Ferraris and a castle in every damn country.

In the medieval times, I don't know what the equality to 50 Ferraris were, but surely there were ignorant assholes like the king in 1349…

Even with the melodic fumes of Power Metal gathering attention throughout the musical effort, your emotive form of meaty Doom Metal, crossing your own past Metal scene, along with a sense of British candor, is the center stage and the captivating element. Writing music for such a darkened nature narrative, how did you find the experience? How were you able to find that cohesion between the distributing lyrics and the heavyweight musical prospect?

We tried to make every song the best possible version we could, and by utilizing all our ingredients I think we got there in the end. Heaviness, melancholy and melodic are some key words. Most of the songs had the foundations ready before we even decided to go with a lyrical concept. But surely some musical refinements were made as the songs grew with vocals, choirs and keyboards.

The songwriting on the album presents Memory Garden as articulate, and to a measure of extent, dynamic, although you were able to preserve the darkened atmosphere, and general depression. How do you find your development as songwriters on this record? What lessons of the past did you implement while writing the songs?

We know quite well which elements we want in a song. But that doesn't automatically make a good song of course. It's easy to make a heavy riff for example, but if a song is heavy from start to finish it kind of loses momentum. One thing we have learned is to avoid parts that are not beneficial for the song.  Using the same riff for too long or the exact opposite, stacking too many riffs. It really feels like we hit bulls' eye with this album, took our time and let the gut feeling decide.

Using various elements, such as medieval instruments, performed by Göran "Freddy" Fredrikson, you were able to open a new dimension of your music, even if the intended effect was supposed to be minimal. In your perspective, what is the contribution of this additional instrumentation to the album’s effort?

Yes, it was meant to create that extra atmosphere, to make the listener get a glimpse of what medieval might have sounded like. Göran is our bassist Johan's father, and he is a quite known folk musician around here. We felt that The Messenger would need something different to really make it special, and Göran brought that extra dimension to it.

In your opinion, what is the powerful musical edge that “1349” offers the listener, other than the medieval instruments? What aspect, or aspects, of the record have the potential in making it a sort of a totem for future releases?

It's so damn hard to analyze and describe your own music… The album consists of everything needed to make us as creators happy, and seemingly many listeners as well judging from many reviews we've gotten so far. The songs are varied and good enough to stand alone, and there is no “filler" in my opinion. For me, our first album Tides has always been my “totem". From now on I will surely feel the same about 1349.

After nearly 30 years, you were reunited with Josefin Bäck, who sang on the “Marion” song back in your debut demo. I have to admit that it was quite a surprise, also since she didn’t continue to guest on your later tunes. How did that reunion happen? How do you find Bäck’s performance and is there now a reason for continuance?

We have had a couple of different female guest singers through the years, it adds another dimension and expression to the songs. We know Josefin since -92, we were sort of rehearsal neighbors back then.

A few years ago, we teamed up with Nico Henningsson (original lead guitarist) and Josefin to do some rock metal goldies, at a local festival. When the concept for the album was materializing, we knew we had to ask Josefin again. She's very talented and her voice is freaking mesmerizing and fits well with Stefan's.

Dan Swano created for you a private heaven, sound wise, on “1349”. Once again, he proved his amazing skills to find the right sound, and thick as it is, to let your message out as heavy as possible. How do you find the album’s sound and Swano’s work, in particular since it is not your first time working with him?

We sent him a few songs even before he was the man for the mix job, his reply was: Awesome songs, you need the fattest production to go with them! So we knew he would do an amazing job for us. I also appreciate that he takes the time to tweak the raw drum sound and not using pre-sounds or triggers. I’m not a fan of that, much of the natural groove and dynamics are lost in my opinion. Of course, depending on the drummer and style of music. I think he nailed the massive but at the same time airy production we wanted.

One of the album’s heaviest numbers is the mighty “Distrust”, conveying chuggy rhythm guitar riffs that display that massiveness created by the fusion of Doom and Power Metal. Nonetheless, the song also shows a melodic course, gradually developing into an angelic ending that is classic bound. What can you tell about this tune and its impact on the record?

It's actually one of my personal favorites! Containing all of those key elements we hold so dear. Very powerful verses open up for a more melodic chorus with some nice harmonies, a middle section of a choir followed by a melodic part and a somewhat proggy solo riff in shuffle rhythm. And a really nice epic yet softer ending. Actually, the ending was initially meant to be an instrumental part all the way. But that's a perfect example of how we benefit from taking our time.

We had listened to the song several times during a couple of weeks and Stefan said: I want to try something in the end. I wrote those last lyric lines, and he came up with some amazing vocal lines, the true pinnacle of the song and one of the album's as well! It was a candidate for being one of the video songs, but it ended up as a cool lyric video instead. Made by No Remorse Records, great job!

 “Blood Moon”, the clincher of the story, is a tune that is solid gold, which I see as a perfection of your methods for a highly emotive songwriting. The lead guitar melodies, vocals and in overall the song’s development, makes it a strong moment of the album, which fits a deadly end. What can you tell about the creative process of this song?

I agree, it's a moody one… I discovered all the piano pieces on my phone. As with many ideas, I had recorded them and forgot about them. They worked with the same tempo and had a “nice” woeful feeling.

I also had a simplified version of  the chorus riff, which changed a little as the song grew. We tried the ideas together. Andreas came up with the melody between the verses, which is just delightful…

Johan came up with the solo part, which we called “the Slipknot riff" 😄 After some elaborating it felt pretty solid and we started working on the vocals. Stefan often comes up with a nice framework pretty fast and then we continue working from there.

With Europe being in a frenzy at the moment, with the rise of Omicron, how do you intend to support “1349”, are there thoughts about a plan going forward?

It feels like our nearest future is a bit too dim to really plan ahead that much. Hopefully we can attend the Demon's Gate Festival in Athens on the first of October, but we'll see. Other than that, nothing is planned. But we're really looking forward to rock out some new songs with our fans, whenever it will be!

Gentlemen, many thanks for your time for this talk, we are living in times that are safer than back in 1349, yet your quality reminder of what went on, including your story, is a much needed input. All the best. Cheers

Thank you for those kind words and for bringing some attention to our work, be safe! Cheers!



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