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Murder In The Mezzrow


Архив интервью | Русская версия

Thrash metal from Sweden – this phrase sounds somewhat awkward even today, when the listener is now and again confronted with such phenomena as black metal from Mosambique or indie rock from Yakutia. Now imagine how this was in the 1980s and 1990s - Sweden was associated with either melodic rock in the vein of Europe or newborn death metal / melodic death (Bathory should be mentioned here separately). Of course, true connoisseurs will be able to recall bands like Midas Touch, Hexenhaus or Rosicrucian, but generally speaking, thrash metal made in Sweden did not enjoy the demand on the global scene. Nevertheless, that country had its worthy representatives of the genre. Mezzrow are one of such bands, and in this interview their guitarist, Zebba Karlsson, shares with us some memories on the origin of the band’s only album, “Then Came The Killing” (1990).   

Hello Zebba! It’s common knowledge that Mezzrow was formed by the Karlsson brothers. How did you all discover heavy music and decide to become musicians?

From the beginning we were just friends who listened to heavy music. The first band was started by me and 2 friends, Nicke (Andersson - ed.) and Robban. Nicke was the bassist from the beginning and appears on the first two demos and Robban was our first drummer. At that time we used to play black metal like Venom and Bathory and the name of the band was Necromancy. With just one week left to our first gig ever Robban decided to quit and my brother Steffe Karlsson, who had never played drums, who just was there , listened and watched when we rehearsed, replaced Robban with a couple of rehearsals before the gig and became our longtime drummer. After a while we felt that we needed a second guitarist and my brother had this school friend, Staffe Karlsson, who wanted to play in a band so he joined in. At that time Nicke and I shared the vocals in the band. We also changed the name to Dark Ripper. We rehearsed in a place called Bartex with some other bands and one band we began to become friends was a band called Witchhammer were Uffe Pettersson played the drums. Me and Uffe started to be very close friends at that time and we used to go to Stockholm to buy records looking for fast and heavy music in a record store called Heavy Sound. That way we discovered bands like Slayer, Metallica, Exodus, Testament among others and we read different kinds of fanzines which were writing about the bands from San Francisco Bay Area. We were such big fans of the Bay Area scene. Once we went to Stockholm we got home with a record of S.O.D. and we just loved that one. We played in our different bands and every weekend we were partying and listening to heavy music and getting drunk (laughs). Anyway, Uffe, myself, another guitarist named Peter Rosen and Nicke decided to start a band just for fun which we called R.I.P. We put together S.O.D. riffs with our own riffs and made songs like that. Uffe played drums and did the vocals in that band. So, after a while I asked Uffe if he wanted to be the singer in my band and he decided to join. Because we had this big feeling for Bay Area thrash we decided to start up fresh and wanted to try to sound like the Bay Area bands even though we were from Sweden.

What does this name – Mezzrow – mean?

We changed the name to Mezzrow when Uffe joined the band because we wanted to have a new fresh start. I saw the name in a Swedish newspaper in a small announcement of jazz musician Mezz Mezzrow so I just took the name Mezzrow ‘cause I thought it sounded cool.

What can you say about the metal scene in Sweden in the late 80’s – early 90’s? Was thrash metal popular there at that time?

I don t know if thrash metal was so big here in Sweden but there was some interest in it and some smaller festivals and some shows were arranged together with death metal bands. Metal and heavy music has always been around here in Sweden. We used to go and see most of the bands like Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, Exodus, Testament, Nuclear Assault, Dark Angel, Forbidden and Death Angel among others. Yeah I guess there were a lot of bands that played here anyway.

In the inner sleeve for “Then Came The Killing” you thank Midas Touch, another amazing thrash metal band from Sweden. How did you get to know them? Can you share some stories about your relationships with those guys?

We only played with Midas Touch at some gigs and the only thing I can say about them is that they were a great band and cool guys. I don’t remember any stories about them or with them, we just met at the gigs.

There is almost no information about the early days of the band. I only know that before the album the band put out two demos. So what are your brightest memories about those days? Did you play enough shows? Were they just one-off dates or were they proper tours? Did you play in support of some foreign bands?

From that time when Uffe joined and we became Mezzrow we only rehearsed a lot and played some one-off gigs from time to time. We wanted to come up with the best songs we possibly could, trying to get a record deal. That was our goal - to be signed and to go out on the road and play.

What can you say about those two demos – “Frozen Soul” and “The Cross Of Torment”? Did the help you to get a contract with Music For Nations?

We first recorded the “Frozen Soul” demo which we sent to both record labels and underground fanzines where the readers could order the demo. At that time we mailed demos around the world so I guess the word about Mezzrow was spread in that way. We also send it to some radio stations in the USA and a Swedish radio show called “Rockbox” where they played our demo. In the States it was listed along with both demo bands and well known bands that had put out records. We didn’t get any record deal with the “Frozen Soul” demo but I think we began to spread the name around with it. It was after “The Cross Of Torment” demo that Active Records showed some interest in us. I think they were a sublabel of Music for Nations where many of the thrash metal bands were signed. We didn’t get so close with another record label to get signed, so we signed a 5-year and 3-album contract with them which sounded pretty nice at that time.

Mezzrow’s Myspace page reads that you didn’t get a lot of support from the label. Would you say that it was a mistake to sign with them?

That’s right, we didn’t get so much support from them as we thought we would. They promised us to go to London for a promotion thing, but it never happened. They also said we were going to get on a support tour in Europe with some Bay Area band which never happened either. They never worked for the record to be released in the States so it wasn’t ever released there at all. The only thing they did was a small weekend tour with some weekends we played with some other Active Record bands like Hexenhaus, Kazjurol and Krixhjälters. At that time we begin to show our dislikes of Active Records and all the promises that never came true. Because we talked shit about our label, the words reached our label manager, and after that they kicked our asses and we were without any record label. The record was also going to be released in October 1989 but for some reasons they released it in June 1990, so it was delayed for a long time as well. But at that time as you know both death metal and grunge were on their way to be very big and as you know most of the thrash metal scene was on its way down.

The inner sleeve for the album also includes special thanks to Ross “I’m The Viking” Anderson from Forbidden. How did you know him and how did he gain this nick name “I’m The Viking”?

We met Forbidden when they were in Fagersta, Sweden, together with Death Angel. We talked to them before the show and Russ said he had some roots in Sweden, so he said it himself, "I am Russ ‘The Viking’ Anderson".

Do you still like how the album sounds? Are you satisfied with the producer’s work?

I don’t think anyone in the band is happy with the sound on the record, we don’t like it at all. The record label wanted it to sound in the way of “Ride The Lightning” (Metallica’s masterpiece released in 1984 – ed.). But we recorded it in the same studio where we did our demos in our hometown. I think - yeah, we all think - we had a much rougher sound, more thrashy sound on the rough mix from that studio than the final result was when it was mixed at Stockholm recording studios.

By the way, in 2009 there was an info that the band was going to re-issue the remixed and remastered version of the album. Did it really happen?

Conny (Welen, bass) got in contact with some guy saying he had a record label and he wanted to put out “Then Came The Killing” as a new release. Because we weren’t pleased with the result on the first release we thought why not try to remix it from the master tape but we didn’t find any tape recorder for the tape, so I guess it run out in the sand with that, but if we find it any day, maybe we’ll do.

As far as I understand, the title track “Then Came The Killing” was influenced by the story of a serial killer. Can you tell me that story behind the lyrics? Was there any real prototype?

Yeah, that story was in a magazine I had, and me and Uffe read it. It was a story in a nude girl magazine combined with some documentary stories. It was about a man called The Ropemurderer. His victims were young girls whom he tortured by putting in different kinds of metal things in their pussies. Nasty stuff but we decided to write a song about it. I don t really remember the whole story about that killer.

Some songs on the album “Then Came The Killing” such as “Ancient Terror” and “Where Death Begins” are dedicated to mystical stuff. Who was responsible for those influences?  

It was Uffe who wrote all the lyrics except the bonus track on the CD "Inner Devastation" that was written by a friend of ours. Uffe used to read books about mythical stuff so he wrote some songs about that.

Can you comment on the lyrics of “The Cross Of Torment”? Does it show your negative attitude to Christianity?

I think that lyrics also come from a book that Uffe read. It has nothing to do about Christianity in the way that it’s bad or not.

We contacted Uffe Pettersson and he kindly agreed to tell our portal about what influenced him to write lyrics for the above mentioned songs:
“Well, each of the songs has a certain story behind them. Even though I'm no fan of religion, I wouldn't write lyrics about it. So, "The Cross..." is an old story about a knight returning from one of the crusades to Jerusalem. On his journey home he finds this old cross and so the story begins. And it doesn't end up well... "Where Death Begins" is based on the movie "The Serpent and the Rainbow". "Ancient Terror" is an early HP Lovecraft story/novel, which I thought was perfect for the song.”

There are some fans who say that Mezzrow’s “Then Came The Killing” sounds very close to Testament. What do you think about such comparisons? By the way, was it true that Testament influenced you to write those songs?

Yeah, Testament was a big influence on us among other Bay Area bands, but Testament had everything: great riffs, both crunchy and melodic, and they have great vocalist Chuck Billy and in the early days of Legacy - Steve Souza.

Did you play enough shows in support of the album? Can you share some stories from the road?

No, we didn’t play enough shows to promote the album, we only had gigs here in Sweden except one gig in Denmark, so we didn’t even get outside Sweden unfortunately. There were some chances though to go to New York when we were a demo band but we didn’t have the money to go and some did the military service. At another point which I regret even this day, we met Forbidden and Death Angel in Fagersta, and they had Debbie Abono as their manager, and she actually invited us to come to the States, so she could arrange for us some support gigs in the Bay Area. But even at that time no one had the money to go. That opportunity I regret even these days. Maybe that could have been some help to get a record deal in the States. At least just the chance to play there would have really been something.

The band filmed a video for the song “Then Came The Killing” and Uffe Pettersson came to the shooting with a black eye because he had a fight a day before. Can you comment on this story? Was it typical for Uffe or for the whole band?

I don’t remember that Uffe had a black eye when we did the video for “Then Came The Killing”. Once again we did that video for MTV but was it played on that TV show? No, it wasn’t! Just another record label’s promise and lie. I remember one time though there was a fight. It was when singer LG (Petrov) of Entombed was saying about us and Uffe some bullshit and we were so tired about that. At a concert in Stockholm we ran into each other – we were drunk and young and stupid. (laughs). Uffe punched him in the face - no big deal really, but it was his way to show, “Now it’s enough with bullshit”.

After the release of the album the band put out only one demo and then split up. What was the reason for this decision?

Actually we did 2 demos after the record. We went to Bålsta in Sweden to try out a new studio for a second album and recorded a song called “Silent Extinction”. It never went further than that because our record deal was cut short. After that we continued to make songs for a new demo, trying to get a new record deal, so we went back to the studio. We tried out and recorded a three- song demo that we sent to some record labels. But at that time thrash metal was on the way down and death and grunge became big, so they thought that that kind of music wasn’t what they wanted at the point.

When we didn’t get anywhere with a new record deal, we started to feel heavy and useless to go on and it was the origin of some musical differences in the band. I don t remember who quit the band first, but Staffe quit and Conny began to play bass with Hexenhaus. At that point we changed a bit the line-up. .Me and my brother stayed, Uffe began to play bass and sing and we brought in Peter Rosen from our old band R.I.P. on guitar. Peter was back then in a band called Mortality, another thrash metal band from Nyköping and friends of ours. We came up with a couple of songs and played some gigs but nothing more happened than that. Uffe then joined Rosicrusian and recorded an album with them (“No Cause For Celebration”, 1994).

After the band’s break-up all the Karlsson brothers disappeared from the stage. What did you do during the 1990’s?

Yeah man, what did we do during the 90’s? Not much I guess. It began to be very difficult to get any work here in Sweden, so we were unemployed most of the 90’s and went for part time jobs that lasted for a short while. But in the end of the 90’s I guess we all had different jobs. Uffe have always had a job as a teacher and worked with children that had problems in school, I think he’s the only one that never was out of work. Conny also worked as a teacher, if I remember it correctly. Staffe began to work in mechanical industry, my brother started his own business as a painter. I tried to have my own business buying and selling used furniture and in 1998 I became a father.

Why did you decide not to join your bandmates in Tingod? What can you say about the music of this band?

The band Tingod… I guess they built that band behind my back. I was never asked to join and I even didn’t know they had a new band. I think that was Staffe’s idea. He wanted to try it out together with Uffe. They stuck with bands like Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice In Chains, so I guess they wanted to try something different that time. I didn’t bother so much about that. I was tired of being in a band at that point. But they did a demo anyway and it sounded pretty nice too.

What can you say about that reunion show in 2005? Did you consider not only a one-off show but a full reunion?

The reunion gig was only a one-off thing, we knew that from the beginning. It was the music house and the organization behind that which were having a celebration of I don’t remember how many years but anyway they asked us if we could play on that show. We put the band together just for that show, but we had a nice time anyway and it was fun.

Please say a few words about your DVD “…Then Came The Video”. Is it still available for purchase?

The DVD was something Conny decided to do. At first it was meant to be just for us in the band so that we could have some memories to look back at just for fun. But then he printed some copies and sold it. I don’t know how many copies he did but he talked about making some more, but it was a long time ago so now I don’t know. I guess you have to check it out on his own site conwel.se.

Sweden is well known by its strong death/melodic death metal scene. What do you think about such bands as Entombed, In Flames or Unleashed? Did you like such music at that time?

At the time I didn’t like that kind of music but it was in the air that bands like that were on their way to something big, and it’s nice they made it and created something on their own. I don’t listen so much to such bands now but I really like In Flames, I have every record of theirs and I love their music, so I m happy for them going so far and becoming really big.

Do you still stay in touch with your band mates? Can you say what they are doing at the moment (do they have day jobs etc.)?

No, we don’t have much contact at all nowadays except me and my brother of course. I think everyone has their families and day jobs and just lives normal lives. I know Conny is still active in some way like a music producer and maker of his own music but what he plays is not metal -  check out his site that I mentioned before.

Mezzrow on MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/mezzrowsweden

Konstantin “Hirax” Chilikin
June 9, 2012
(с) HeadBanger.ru

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