RAM from Gothenburg in Sweden is a band I have followed closely ever since the guys sent me their first EP for review back in 2003. When “Rod” was released in 2017, I spoke with gitarist Harry Granroth, but since I wasn’t fully satisfied with the end result, the interview was never published here at Metal Squadron. This time, I once again got on the phone with singer Oscar Carlquist, who I also spoke with when “Svbversvm” came out.
“The Throne Within” marks the 20 years anniversary since RAM was formed in 1999. How has the band affected Oscar’s personal life?
– Immensely! Very, very much, I can’t imagine the last 20 years without RAM. It’s been my main focus for all those years, and it certainly changed who I am. It made me force myself to develop, to have such a high grade of personal development, since the music industry is a very tough business. We always aimed to be as good as we possibly could, and we developed so much in songwriting and even learned how to record, produce and mix our music and develop our skills as a live act. Me and my work with Ram are inseparatable. I would be a completely different person if I hadn’t started this crazy endeavour 20 years ago.
What about the negatives? What has been the worst part about your 20 years of existence?
– It’s been a lot of frustration of course. Things don’t always go the way you want them to. I would have liked us to be a bit bigger as a band by now, that we got a little more recognition. Because the reviews and so on, which have overall been great, I would have expected us to be a bigger name. On the other side, it’s always good to still be hungry and still pushing it. Were not slowing down in any sense, and are still aiming for the top. It’s been a very heavy work load for a long time now, in the beginning the work load wasn’t that big, as there wasn’t too much stuff to work with, but now it’s enormous. At times it seems a little too much.
Are you bitter about the fact that RAM isn’t bigger?
– No, I wouldnt go that far, to say I am bitter about it. We haven’t achieved our goals, but it would be impractical to be bitter about it, because then I would loose my enthusiasm. I try not to go there. Instead, I try to find the key to unlock the next stage all the time. Before we started RAM, I was basically going around to metal shows, buying a lot of underground metal albums, and if I had set a goal then, I would have liked RAM to become a cult band, underground and slightly obscure. That goal is achieved, but when you reach a goal, you set another one, and then another one. The good reviews and all that, have simply made us set higher goals all the time.
It also seems quite difficult when you perform music similar to, let’s say Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Accept. I mean, not a lot of similar bands have gone on to bigger things, because there are already these enormous bands performing similar music. Iron Maiden fans for instance, they only care about Iron Maiden.
– Yeah, that’s true. It’s also this thing I am experiencing. Maybe the music is so good, that its kind of easy to get to close to those big bands? But remember, those bands aren’t getting any younger, so hopefully there will be a spot for us coming through in their spotlight. I think our quality is on the same level, we can definitely play with the big boys.
How would Oscar describe RAM’s position as part of the Swedish scene at the moment?
– We never really bothered about the Swedish scene. We are quite big here in Gothenburg, and do some cools shows here, but if we travel somewhere up north, and have a good showing, we are lucky to attract like 100 people. The distance you drive, would have taken you way down south in Germany. I would say that there is not much of a Swedish metal scene actually, if your not playing like death metal. Maybe Bullet kan draw some people in Sweden, due to their “folkish” appeal. They are Swedish and they make people laugh. Thats never been the thing with RAM. We never really bothered, because the Swedish scene never was very appealing to us. So we play Stockholm, maybe Malmö and always once a year here in Gothenburg. When we started up, there was this melodic death metal-thing going on. Everybody was talking about it: “Oh, you are from Sweden? Then you need to play melodic death metal like In Flames”. We weren’t doing that, so we always got on the wrong foot with the Swedish scene, except for a festival like Muskelrock, where we always got a nice reception. We have had great shows there. Travelling to these small towns though, is really not worth it. It’s a really crappy scene to be honest, and the distance itself is crazy, and due to this climate thing, you can’t even fly within Sweden anymore. We drive south instead, and have ten times as many people showing up.
As I mentioned, I spoke to Harry when the last album was released, but are there songs on «Rod», that Oscar feels will be remembered as RAM-classics, that have to be performed every time you play live, even in, say ten years time?
– Yeah, sure. Definitely “Gulag”, it’s doing really well live. “On Wings Of No Return”, is definitely another one. Then it would be cool to play some more songs, I really like the song «Cease To Be» for instance. The song would be cool in a live situation, but at the moment we are not playing more than one hour or max 70 minutes, so it hasn’t broken into our setlist yet. We try to be very agressive, and we’re a little bit scared to go soft, as we want that really aggressive energy, because that’s what we live on. When you have released six albums, you can easily play a two hour set. Then it would be really cool to go down in intensity and do slower stuff like “Cease To Be”. The show would then be more dynamic, and more of journey. At the moment we can’t do too many songs from every album.
RAM is bringing out new albums, one after the other, at a steady pace, but Oscar is not sure it’s the fact that the band has their own studio that makes theem keep up the tempo when it comes to releases.
– It’s also about the fact that we’re constantly growing. And growing demands stuff from us. When you are not growing, you don’t have to do anything, but when you are growing, you see the next step all the time. You don’t want to lose the momentum or the grip that you have, so I think that even if we didn’t have our own studio, we would probably still had been on this path. An album actually goes quicker if you don’t have your own studio, because you have the constant notion that time is money, and you try to have things done fast. When you have your own studio, you don’t have to look at the clock all the time. Especially on the last album, we certainly wouldn’t have done so much experimentation if we were in an expensive studio.
«Rod» was a concept album of course, did it mean you had musical or lyrical ideas laying around you couldn’t use for that album, but could use this time around?
-Before the “Svbversvm”-album, we had loads of song ideas laying around. We were writing songs all the time. In 2005 when we released “Forced Entry”, we could just pick songs from what we had for that one, and then for “Lightbringer”, I think we wrote four or five songs, and then there were still some ideas for songs left for “Svbversvm”. After that album, we had been working on so much other stuff, and hadn’t had time to write music, so that marked the end of the old stuff we had, and we had to sit down and write that album in one and a half months. All the songs for «Rod» was written really, really fast. We were pleased with it definitely, but there were some details…so we thought: The next album we’re not gonna make that fast. And so we did, we started writing this new album in March last year, and wrote songs until March this year, when we entered the studio to start recording. So there was much more of writing process in details for this album. But I don’t know if we would have anything different on “Rod”, even if we were taking this much time, I guess it was just us not wanting to do the same thing once again.
That’s something RAM have been quite good at. You have told me before, that some albums have been spontaneous, while some are more planned, some are recorded close to live, while others are studio albums in the true sense of the word.
– Yeah, we try to do it differently to develop. We have to take the chance to grow, and if we do the same thing every time, we won’t. We need to get better and better all the time. We have to make challenges and overcome them, so we feel we are going somewhere. Some bands are using the same producer, and doing the same album again and again. That wasn’t the case with Judas Priest or Iron Maiden back in the day, because Tom Allom and Martin Birch never did the same album twice. I think it has to do with computers and stuff, some of the producers today…it’s all software… they have their drum sound and their guitar sound, everything in the computer. The just open a preset project and they’re fucking done! Some bands are getting so uninteresting, with each new album sounding exactly like the old albums. We absolutely do not want to end up like that. We want every album to have it’s own identity.
I read in the press release Harry saying that you wrote “The Throne Within” with no particular type of record in mind. Would you say this is less of an album and more of a collection of individual song than «Rod» was?
– Well since the B-side on “Rod” was a concept, definitely… But we always start writing a song and when we are at song three or four, we start writing depending on what we think the album needs. For instance: “We now have three heavy ones, we have to have a fast one.” We are always thinking albums when we are writing, or A or B-sides as we are stuck with the vinyl-format. “What does the A-side need? We have these songs, what does the B-side need? We are not developing that idea now, because the album doesn’t need it”. I really think this album is a nice album in the way the songs are put on there. The opener, “The Shadowwork” is the absolute best song to open with, from those we had available, and I really like the flow of the album. The difference with this album, is that it’s a little bit bigger and a little more epic, with a bit more of a “rockstarish” vibe to it. It’s a little more direct.
Once again there are really different lyrics. But RAM have never, at least as I can remember, done this typicial heavy metal lyrics about spikes, chains, leather or headbanging or rasing your fist, even though it’s quite common for the type of music the band performs.
– Well, I think we already have that in the music. When we are performing live, we bring along the chains, leather and spikes. To me, that is like overexplaining. It’s like reading a receipe for pasta bolognese while you are eating it. It’s too much. It’s not appealing to me with those kind of lyrics. I prefer choosing a topic that invokes thought, and there’s not too much thought invoked by explaining the metal’s fundamentals. That doesn’t mean we don’t love heavy metal, and are proud as fuck to be a heavy metal band, cause we are. But it’s probably a waste of that space that you have. I feel I want to give a song another dimension. And I always try to look beyond the fact that the song is heavy metal, what kind of emotions am I getting from this song? That’s what I am gonna base the title and the lyrics on.
As there is not a title song on the album, I am curious to hear why you choose “The Throne Within” as the title?
– The title is from the song “Titan” from the “Lightbringer”-album, there is a line there: “I mount the throne prepared within”. It’s ten years since “Lightbringer” came out, so it’s a reference back to that. But it’s also about self-mastery and the road to spiritual enlightenment through individualism, and to find that place where you feel you are in control of your world, your inner self. It has a lot to do with how I perceive my journey as a human being.
I want to illustrate the diversity in the lyrics by speaking a little about two of them. The story behind «Fang And Fur» is almost unbeliveable, but it is claimed the event on which the lyrics are based, really happened in 1911 in St. Petersburg. An event that included a newly married couple, their guests and some really hungry wolves.
– Yeah, I found that article from the New York Times, about the wedding online. I found it because I read that pretty much the same thing had happened in 2013. It was the same biological occurance, where wolves formed this pack and they sieged through a small village in Siberia. It’s very fascinating, when the wolves run out of food, and come together to create this super pack. The funny thing about this crazy story from the wedding in 1911, is that they decided to sacrifice the women to the wolves to try to get away. A very strange way of thinking. The slede with the bride and groom was furthest away from the pack, so they almost outrun the wolves, but the slede weighed too much, so the drivers told the groom: “Throw the bride off!” But as he was just married, so he refused, so they threw him and the bride off the slede. In the end, those two guys were the only ones who survived the massacre. I wrote the lyrics as if I was the alpha bitch of the super pack, so its from the perspective of the wolves, which I think makes the lyrics more interesting.
Talking about perspective. «You All Leave» is about suicide, and it seems like you try to view it from the perspective of those that were left behind?
– I just felt I had to vent the fact hat there is so many people I have known and grown up with, friends and friends in the music industry, everywhere…too many people that have chosen that option. Its very tough and sad. My wife’s brother took his life a couple of years ago, so I came very close that, even the practial side of things. Because you leave a big mess after you, when you leave like that. There is so much that has to be done, it takes years to clean up. I was writing the lyrics, partly from my own point of view, and partly from my wife’s point of view. At the end of the song, it was important for us that it ends in somewhat of a positive matter, so you get the feeling that life goes on. The world doesn’t stop.
Can you understand that a person is drawn to this solution?
– Definitely, I have had those thoughts many, many times. I have had a tough life in many ways, and I have been considering it, but there is something that stops me from it. I guess I am too curious about what’s going to happen tomorrow. Lately I have been thinking that, even though my life is better nowadays, it’s in no way fucking perfect. I guess I can still end up with a big depression or something, but the thing is, life is moving so god damned fast, I’ll be seventy-eighty in no time. Death in that sense, doesn’t scare me, in many ways I think of death as a liberator and as as something I kind of look forward to. I think possibly if you take your life, there is something gone missing in your survival instinct. That’s what always stopped me. My system won’t allow it, and I guess that is something for the scientist to look into.
When all is doom and gloom, I have no problem seeing that it’s an easy way out.
– Absolutely, but I have never been about taking the easy way out. That is really far from my way of thinking.
So you would never have thrown the women off to the wolves?
– Haha! No, I dont think I would. It would be quite hard to live with yourself after that.
We need to speak a bit more about the songwriting. When you get more experience, I guess certain things about it gets easier, but some things might get morer difficult as well?
– Definitely. You have more roads to chose from when you are writing. Then you have that question where to go which is always hard. It was easier when you had found a way and knew it was the way to go. Now you have serveral options and it makes it more difficult in a way. I feel the whole songwriting thing is kind of constant, I don’t experience that it’s easier to write a song now. The quality is higher as well, it’s like playing a videogame, where level 2 is harder than level 1. We try to give every song the treatment it needs. Every song is a special project for us, we don’t use any formulas, we use emotions. What does this emotion tell us, and where should we go with it?
Is there a type of song you feel you do better than others?
– I think Harry on the last three albums has made these direct, a little bit uptempo songs that has turned into a bit of trademark, songs like «Eyes Of The Night», «On Wings Of No Return» and «Blades Of Betrayal». Tracks with cathcy choruses and melodies but still aggressive and fast. That’s something Harry is contributing. He wrote most parts of those songs. I can’t really answer if those type of songs come easier to him, but speaking for myself, I just pick up the guitar and see what happens. What I have done lately, is to find these isolated drum tracks on YouTube and just get some drums going and start riffing to that. That’s been kind of fun, and how I have done some of my stuff lately.
Alan from Primordial is contributing a bit of vocals as he does on albums by other bands on Metal Blade. It might seem a bit unnecessary, but Oscar says he really think “Ravnfell” is better with Alan than without him.
– For that song, he just adds this great “dirt under the fingernails”-feeling . When I wrote that song, I could just hear his voice on it. He is like this old blues dude of the metal scene, I think, with a natural, dramatic voice which I really enjoy. The song also reminded me a bit of Alans project, Twilight Of The Gods, in the sense that it has this Bathory-vibe to it. That’s possible why I heard this voice in the song. I really think it adds something, there are some dynamics in his voice. This is something I am always working on, finding this…I sing with a lot of output, very loud. I push kind of hard, probably due to the fact that the driving force for us is so much aggression, so probably it’s within my system. It’s cool to have another voice here and there as well, like we used Erik from Watain on the “Lightbringer”-album.
You were part of the band Source, featuring amongst others, guitarist Richard Lagergrenfor a while, why are you no longer a member?
– It turned out that I am really a one band-guy. I was in that project because I thought the music was so good, and that it was a project too good to miss out on. As we started working on it, I found out I couldn’t handle that kind of work load. My son was born sometime in that period as well, and I just had make priorites in life. I was working with a lot of business ventures too. I would have crashed if I didn’t. I had this strange idea in Source, that I always wanted to perform with my back against the audience, and stay all they way at the back of the stage. I wanted to make an altar with a big idol on it and basically play for the idol instead of the audience, but when I started to realize I was doing all this stuff to kind of get away from being there, from doing it. I asked myself: “Do you really want to do this?” The answer was: “I don’t.” That was mainly because I was very against the idea of fronting the band from the beginning. It takes so much energy to take an audience and turn them to your side. That’s a really tough job. I have done it very well, I can say that with pride, but it simplly takes too much. Then I thought, if I am gonna be a front man with my back turned, the band deserves something better, someone who has the drive and energy I had in the beginning of RAM. I decided to step down, but they’re doing well now with Julia on vocals. I am still helping them out as much as I can. I actually drove them to Norway for a show, because none in the band has a driver’s license. Also on the last 7» there is a lyric I wrote, and I probably will be contributing in the future as well.
RAM has been doing lots of smaller festivals this summer, and in September you are going on tour again. Are you in a situation now where you can tour more than you could in the past?
– Yeah, sure. We have always gotten offers from booking agencies and so on, but the deals they were offering us, were not good enough. They always patted us on our heads and told us: “We have a plan for you guys, we know what we’re gonna do.” But we always had that vision ourselves. It took a long time for us to find a good booking agency, to find someone who sees things our way. We had reached a point where we just had to be respected. We had been around for ten years and people could see we were handling our own business quite well. Now we are getting offers, and are getting on tours we would have done sooner if we were in the right environment. We want to play more, and play more territories. We are trying to get to South America and play all the continents before this is all over.