Prior to the recent release of Helltrain’s new album, Route 666, I was able to pick the brains of the band’s guitarist/drummer, Oskar Karlsson, about the band’s beginnings, the members’ backgrounds and interests, as well as getting Oskar to introduce the album to the outside world!
Oskar Karlsson (OK)
Emily Dgebuadze (ED)
ED: Ok, to kick off, can you give us a small introduction to the band and the reasons why you all ended up working together.
OK: Helltrain started out in 2001 when we had our first demo and I know these guys for nine years or something like that and have worked with them in another band called The Everdawn where I am the singer and the guitar.
Pierre (Törnkvist) and I have played in another band called Scheitan - .So Pierre made up a name and I made some songs and we recorded a demo.
ED: Ok, so, basically, your history dates back to before this particular project.
OK: Yeah, I moved up here from Uppsala in around 1995, so we’ve known each other since back then and are really good friends. I find it really easy to work with them - they’re all really good musicians.
ED:The fact that you know each other so well does come across in your music, you can tell it’s a bunch of guys who really enjoy hanging out together -
Your album, ‘Route 666’ is out on the 18th of this month (October 2004). Can you give us an introduction to the album and the whole idea behind it?
OK: Ok, if I can - The album is called ‘Route 666’ and the basic idea behind it is that this is really a straight rock’n roll album. You can hear this style that we sort of ‘invent’ - maybe you can’t really say invent - on the Scheitan album ‘Nemesis’, recorded back in ’98. What else - maybe just check out the album, really -
ED: Good point! - I’m glad you mentioned your style: it’s definitely out there to confuse people. It’s almost as if you’ve done it deliberately! I’ve read a review where one person categorised you as Stoner (I don’t agree!), the Promo leaflet describes you as ‘Melodic Power Metal’???? and I personally can’t see the wood for the trees, so to speak, with the Swedish - sounding guitar, Hammond, Death vocals, groovy bass, rock and, in some places, pop influences.
OK: Melodic Power Metal??? Erm - I don’t think that’s quite right. We’re definitely not power metal! I agree that we have some pop influences. We all write music - my songs are maybe a little bit harder and Pierre’s are a little bit more melodic, or something and Patrik’s (Törnkvist) even have maybe some U2 influences - you can hear that on the guitars sometimes in the choruses. We don’t really have any ideas behind the songs, though, like ‘This song is going to be harder and that one a bit more ‘pop- y’. We just make riffs and record them -
ED: Ok, so we can stop analysing you guys -
OK: Yeah, if you take the vocals off the album, how does it sound? I think like an ordinary rock’n roll album - The vocals are really extreme, but I think that’s the key that makes the whole thing work.
ED: This brings me onto the album cover - it really is meant to give the idea that this is a Stoner band. Why did you choose that particular artwork?
OK:I don’t know, really. It was Pierre’s idea, for the album cover. And then a guy from our local town made up a sketch for it and he showed it to Pierre, who showed it to us and - yes - we digged it. There’s no real idea behind it - it’s Pierre’s business, really.
ED: Ok, just blame it all on Pierre.
OK: yeah, yeah
ED: What are your lyrics about? I caught the word ‘devil’ in there quite a few times. Is that an unhealthy obsession?
OK: Er - That’s one for Pierre too -
ED: No, you can’t keep saying that!
OK: Ha - I read the lyrics a couple of times and they are really fun. There’s a lot of irony in them. I think Pierre had a blast writing them as some of the songs, for example, ‘The Rat Pack’ - I think that song is about old jazz musicians from the States. So there’s a lot of humour in them. I received the lyrics right after we had mixed the album and I was looking at them and starting to laugh - I think they are really, really funny. (Readers: you will have to buy the album to share the joke!)
ED: So I gather that the lyricist of the band is Pierre then?
ED: What would you say your biggest musical influences are?
OK: For the band or for me?
OK: Well, for the band, we all have our own influences. Like Patrick, he only listens to rock’n roll he doesn’t listen to Metal at all these days. And I listen to everything from - I’m just into everything. I play drums in another couple of bands, but I only play hard metal - Death Metal, Hardcore, etc, so my influences are everything, I think from Slayer to Massive Attack and the same goes for Pierre - he listens to the same music as I do.
ED: I guess that’s why there are some many different elements in your music -
OK: Yeah, and it’s funny with Patrick - he used to listen to Black Metal and Death Metal, but now it’s only old school rock ’n roll.
ED: Have you already written any new material for another release?
OK: Yeah, we’ve already written some riffs. I think I’ve written one song and Patrick has written four or five. Just ideas, but - I think it’s even more melodic now and I don’t know how the new album will sound - something like ‘Route 666’
ED: But obviously with some development -
OK: yeah, not really a ‘Route 666’ part II
ED: It would have to be Route 667, which doesn’t really work -
OK: Exactly (laughs) - time shall tell -
ED: You were all involved in bands previously one way or another. Do you still carry on with them outside your commitment to Helltrain?
OK: No, the other guys don’t. Patrick and I play in a cover band which doesn’t have a name. We only play at parties or at local pubs -
ED: Do you really want to concentrate on Helltrain then?
OK: For the other guys, I’d say it’s the lack of time to do anything else. For myself, I am obviously quite busy with the other bands as well. I do find it fun, I like to play music -
ED: I believe Sweden is very musical. Do you feel supported by the community?
OK: My parents are very supportive, and we don’t meet the prejudice that bands in the US may meet - Sweden is a really good country to play music in -
ED: Where did the name ‘Helltrain’ come from? Any relevance to the ‘70s Movie?
OK: Is there a ‘70s movie??? I didn’t know that - It’s actually Pierre who invented it. He phoned me up one day and said, ‘What do you think about the name ‘Helltrain’?’ and I was a bit sceptical at first, but it is actually a cool name. At first I thought it sounded really bad, especially when you translate it to Swedish - Djävuls tåg (sorry for incorrect spellings!)- but after a couple of days it sounded better -
ED: How did you end up signing with Nuclear Blast?
OK: Me and Pierre were playing in a band like Scheitan before and we were signed to Nuclear Blast and there was a girl called Kathy we knew who started working at Nuclear Blast at the time. Pierre sent her an email saying we had recorded a demo and she replied saying she wanted to hear it. We sent it over and she said she wanted to sign us. So, it wasn’t really hard for us to get a new deal - we’re kind of spoiled. We’re also really impressed that the album is going to be released in the States through Universal and also in Japan by, I think, JVC.
ED: Where do you think you will be most popular?
OK: It’s hard to tell - I haven’t seen any reviews of the album at all. I think in Europe we’re going to be most popular. Perhaps in the States - I don’t know.
ED: That pretty much covers most places!
OK: Yeah (laughs) - One guy from Jackass has a show called Vive La Bam and they were giving away one song with the DVD of the first season - those guys really love the Helltrain - I’m sort of depending on the States!
ED: That’s great, ‘cause my next question is, what kind of person do you think your typical fan would be?
OK: Ha - I don’t know - a beer- drinking American - in his car -
ED: Not drinking and driving at the same time, though!
OK: No, only drinking!
ED: What are your plans for touring and promoting the new album. (Have you already toured anywhere?
OK: We haven’t discussed that really - we have to wait for the album to be released and then we will discuss when, where and how to tour.
ED: Assuming you do, who would you like to share a stage with?
OK: I don’t know - I think HIM wanted us to tour with them on their US tour. Pierre mentioned he heard some rumours. I think their music would fit us really good. We’re a little bit harder -
ED: That’s strange, because I was told today that you sounded like HIM with Death vocals.
OK: Yeah - it would be really nice as they are becoming really big in the States and it would open up a few doors.
ED: Finally, could you give a message to the readers of this interview - You’re not allowed to say ‘Pierre would have said - ’!
OK: No! Anyone who hasn’t heard the album should check it out as I think it’s really good - if I can say so!! Check out the ‘Route 666’
ED: Well, thanks for the interview Oskar
Interview © 2004