Steffe Karlsson and Ulf Pettersson told us everything about Mezzrow’s career – Part I
While Swedish bands were pioneering and responsible for such genres as epic Doom Metal (Candlemass, Nemesis), Black Metal (Bathory) and Death Metal (Nihilist/Entombed, Dismember, Carnage, etc.), they have never managed to reach any success in the Thrash Metal scene. There was Midas Touch, Merciless, Agony, Fallen Angel, but none of them became as big and influential as e. g. German outfits. Nyköping-based Mezzrow was a very talented act, but unfortunately they didn’t succeed either. In this conversation, drummer Steffe Karlsson and singer Ulf „Uffe” Pettersson told us everything about the band’s career. This interview is also dedicated to the memory of the late guitarist, Staffe Karlsson.
The band was formed as Necromancy back in 1985; did the line up consist of Steffe Karlsson drums, Zebba Karlsson and Staffe Karlsson (R.I.P.) guitars, Uffe Pettersson vocals/bass right from the start?
Ulf Pettersson: No, Necromancy consisted of the Karlsson brothers, Zebba (guitar) and Steffe (drums), with Nicke Andersson (bass) completing the line-up. (That band later became Dark Ripper, before Staffe and I joined in.)
Steffe Karlsson: Before me, they had a drummer, Robert. He left the band just before there first gig. I think he was nervous for the gig or something, haha. Then my brother asked me if I could play drums at that show. I hadn`t played drums so much at that time but I thought what the hell, let´s go. We did three rehearsals and then off to the gig. I was pretty nervous, but it went ok. Then we did some other shows after that with that line up.
Was Necromancy the first band for all of you that you were involved in?
S. K.: Yeah, that was the first band for us three. Uffe was in a band called Witch Hammer at that time.
U. P.: Yes, I was the drummer of Witch Hammer many years prior to Mezzrow. Me (drums, vocals), Zebba (guitar), Nicke (bass) and a guy called Peter Rosén (guitar) also played in a band called R.I.P, which was a side-project with more focus on having fun and partying. (But nonetheless very thrash metal.) That was, by the way, the first band with me on vocals. R.I.P was later turned into Mezzrow, with Staffe replacing Peter and Steffe took over the drumsticks, so that I could focus on the vocals.
How was the metal scene in Nyköping in those times?
S. K.: The metal scene was pretty bad here. I mean there were some good rock bands and old school Hard Rock bands, but none that played Thrash.
U. P.: Not very good. We (Witch Hammer and Necromancy) were like pioneers within the heavier type of metal. Actually, we were among the first ones who discovered Thrash in our area. As early as 1982-83, I was listening to Exciter, Metallica, Mercyful Fate, Venom and Slayer, although my all-time favourite record is Unleashed in the East by Judas Priest.
Did you have a clear vision of the musical path that you wanted to follow?
S. K.: We had a pretty clear wiev what we wanted to sound like of course, and what we wanted to accomplish as well. But back when we did Necromancy, I think we were after something bigger and better.
U. P.: When we formed Mezzrow in late 1987, we absolutely had a clear vision of the music that we wanted to play. We were big fans of the Bay Area Thrash movement and we wanted to sound like the bands that we supported. Especially Metallica, Exodus and Testament, with Slayer also being a big influence.
What about your rehearsals and early period as a whole?
S. K.: We did our rehearsals at an old factory in a suburb to Nyköping. It was a three story building with a huge room in every store and some booths to put our gear in. We had to put the gear up for every rehearsal and then put it back in the booth, so it was hard work, haha. It was there we met Uffe, because Witch Hammer rehearsed there as well and we became friends. Specially Zebba and Uffe, who hanged out all the time. They also had a side project called R.I.P, and played some punk stuff. Uffe did the singing there, so that’s why we knew he could sing, haha.
U. P.: We rehearsed a lot. As much as we possibly could! Our rehearsal studio was kind of small, and the walls were covered with posters and pictures from Metal Hammer, Metal Forces, Kerrang etc. The sound was incredibly loud and I remember none of us had ear-plugs because we thought that was for posers. (Each session lasted for about four hours, so you can imagine the feeling in our heads when we went home!)
Have you done any materials as Necromancy?
S. K.: No, we didn´t get in the studio with that band, all I can say is that we sounded like Venom and Sodom and those bands. Zebba and Nicke did the vocals. I remember we had one song called Nightmare City, haha.
U. P.: Nightmare City named after the horror/zombie-film by the same name. Very catchy tune! Witch Hammer recorded three demos 1985-87, with titles like Thrash Attack, Force of Destruction and Power Pounding Metal.
What made you to change the moniker into Mezzrow in 1988?
S. K.: In 1987 they tore down that old factory we rehearsed in, so we had to find another place. We moved to an old slaughterhouse which was run by an educational firm. They wanted to build a music house there, so we had to build our rehearsal room ourself. As I told you before, Zebba and Uffe were really good friends, so Zebba asked Uffe if he would join us and quit playing drums in Witch Hammer to come and sing with us. So after a bit persuading he did. Now we were a four-piece band and we wanted to get a second guitar player. At that time I went to school with Staffe, so I asked him if he was interested in playing with us and he was. So we did a couple of rehearsals and it went ok, so he joined, too. At that time we felt that we needed to change our name, and my brother Zebba was reading a newspaper and he saw an advertisement of Mezz Mezzrow the jazz dude. He thought that Mezzrow sounded cool, so he presented the name to us and we went with that, haha.
U. P.: When Staffe and myself joined the other three guys in late ´87, we wanted something new and fresh. That´s why the name Mezzrow came about! We just put together the words mezz and row, because we thought it sounded good/cool and it suited our purposes well.
At which point did Nicke Andersson join on bass? How did he get in the picture exactly?
S. K.: To be clear once and for all, it’s not Nicke of Entombed! Our Nicke Andersson was there from day one. He and Zebba went to school together and became friends and started Necromancy.
U. P.: Nicke Andersson was a founding member of Necromancy back in 1985, and played in that band from the beginning.
Was he meant to be a full time member or only a session musician?
S. K.: He was a full time member, but he quit just before we recorded the album. He wanted to be a family man.
How did you view all of those newer acts that were popping up at this point such as Nihilist, Grave, Dismember, Carnage, Mefisto, Obscurity etc., all of them trying to make a name for themselves and establishing a new musical movement called Swedish Death Metal?
S. K.: I personally wasn’t into that kind of music but I think Uffe was….a bit anyway. It was cool that the music scene expanded though with more gigs and interest in Swedish metal as a whole.
U. P.: Well, when we started to get gigs around Sweden, none of those bands were playing. By this time, Mefisto had put out their first demo at Heavy Sound record shop in Stockholm, but they never played live that much, from what I can remember. We played with Nihilist in Stockholm in 1989 and I suppose they started the Swedish Death Metal movement at this point. I never liked it though, and it was far from what we wanted to sound like. I respected them as fellow musicians and that they, more or less, created a new genre.
Would you say that these outfits, this musical direction overshadowed Thrash Metal in Sweden?
S. K.: Yeah, for sure. The Thrash more or less died. That and the Grunge music.
U. P.: Well, later on this movement definately overshadowed Thrash in Sweden. Things got very hard for us in 1991-92, when Death Metal took over and was gaining popularity all over the world.
How familiar were you with other Thrash Metal groups such as Agony, Fallen Angel, Midas Touch, Merciless, etc.?
S. K.: We went to a couple of shows with Agony and talked to those guys a bit, no more than that. Fallen Angel, Midas Touch and Merciless we did a couple of shows with and talked at the gig, but we hadn’t any personal contact. I remember we did a couple of gigs with a band called Total Death, they were cool guys. We probably did other gigs with other bands that were cool, but hey, it was 30 years ago, haha.
U. P.: Very familiar. Very talented bands, all of them, even though we never hung out with Merciless. (They were more connected to the DM bands than to the Thrash scene.) We also played a lot with Hexenhaus and Kazjurol. Agony was the first real Thrash band in Sweden and I think they were really good. I saw them live twice and they were a tight unit! Unfortunately they fell apart, when nothing happened after the release of their debut album, The First Defiance.
You recorded two demos (Frozen Soul – 1988, The Cross of Tormention – 1989, both of them featuring Nicke Andersson); do you recall how your originals got written and how were these demos recorded?
S. K.: Usually Staffe and Zebba came up with some riffs and we all contributed at rehearsals to put the songs together. Uffe then wrote the lyrics. The recordings were done here in Nyköping at studio Svängrummet on a 16 channel. First drums and bass were done, then all guitars and finally vocals. We did them in three days including mix.
U. P.: We put together the music to all those songs in our rehearsal studio. Of course, some of the riffs were written elsewhere as well, but most of the music came about from jamming where Staffe, Zebba and myself wrote most of the riffs. The lyrics were written at home when I felt inspired by different topics that combined well with our music.
Were the demos spread in the underground scene?
S. K.: Yeah, for sure. We always had demos in our pockets to give away and sent some abroad to other countries as well. We had a friend that became friends with Vio-lence and he brought some tapes over to the States when he went on a trip to SF Bay Area to visit them, so those guys spread them around, too, which was pretty cool.
U. P.: Absolutely! We had a good picture of the underground movement at the time and sent the first tape to certain pinpointed magazines and radio programs/stations such as Blackthorn, The Wild Rag, Rockbox, Morbid mag etc. Then, when we did the second tape, we had a much clearer view of how to get it to a wider audience and we managed to spread that tape all over the world, including South America and Australia.
When did Nicke leave the band?
S. K.: As I told you before, he left just before we recorded the album. He wasn’t into doing tours and so on. He wanted to spend his time with his family instead but it was no hard feelings between us.
U. P.: He left the band in 1989.
He was recruited by Conny Welén; was he your first choice or did you perhaps try out other bassists as well? How about his musical past?
S. K.: Actually he was. We were at a rehearsal and we sat down to figure out who we could ask and his name came up. Funny story that after we rehearsed we saw him on his bicycle in town. We drove up to him and asked him if he was interested in playing bass with us. As I recall he said yes right then, haha. Back when we did Necromancy he was a drummer in a band called Wizard, then he moved on to form a Doom Metal band and played guitar, so he had to quit that band when we snatched him. So we were three drummers in Mezzrow, haha.
U. P.: Conny was a well-known local guy with a good musical reputation. He was playing in a band next door to our reahersal studio and he was our first choice. We took him for a walk-about among the pubs in Nyköping and the rest is history. At the time, he fitted the band perfectly!
At which point were you signed by Active Records (sub-label of Music For Nations)? Were there other labels interested in the band?
S. K.: We were signed by Active in the spring of ’89. We also had sent the demos to other labels, and I think there was a German label who was interested, too.
U. P.: We heard that Active Records was interested and we sent them a live video from one of our gigs. They liked what they saw and we then met with Dave Constable, one of the owners, at a pub in Stockholm where he showed us the contract. We were on fire after that! There was some interest from other smaller labels, but nothing that felt serious.
Did you mind that Active had a lot of great bands such as Anacrusis, Atheist, Candlemass, Count Raven, Obliveon etc. around those times?
S. K.: Yeah, that was cool and we believed that we could do some shows with those guys, but we only played with Candlemass when they recorded their live video at Fryshuset in Stockholm. It’s a shame that they didn’t record us, too, I think. If only sound or with one camera. That was our biggest gig.
U. P.: We actually didn´t think that those bands, except for Candlemass and Atheist, were that great. Since Active Records was a sub-label to MFN, we hoped for a support tour with one of their bigger Thrash acts from Under One Flag or MFN. But that never happened.
Did the label promise you a lot of things such as tour support, promotion etc.?
S. K.: Yes, they did. They promised us a lot of promotion for the album in many rock magazines but we only were in two. They also promised us a European tour as support to a bigger Thrash band, but that never happened.
U. P.: The advertising was ok, I think. At least in Sweden and England. There was some talk of us supporting Exodus at some point and they wanted us to do interviews in London and other cities, but it never happened. We had to fix our own gigs to promote the album, which was really sad. So the big dream of becoming a touring band on a permanent basis just crashed. We were really devastated!
(to be continued)