This was probably the fastest interview I ever did via email! When I figured that the timing for a NIRVANA 2002 feature couldn’t be any better now (due to the recently released compilation CD of all their old material via Relapse Records) I contacted their original singer Orvar Säfström if he’d be willing to answer some questions about the history of his legendary band. His reply came as quick as it was short: "Sure, go for it!" So I compiled a bunch of questions and sent them over to Orvar, who returned the answers within a couple of hours!!! That’s what I call true dedication! So, read on and re-live the early days of Swedish oldschool Death Metal with us…
Greetings Orvar, it’s a pleasure to finally have you in VOICES FROM THE DARKSIDE… Hope you’re in a good mood to answer a whole bunch of questions?
"Sure! I’m home alone all weekend preparing a lecture on zombies in popular culture. That’s the kind of stuff I do for a living."
Have you been involved in any bands / projects before you founded NIRVANA 2002 with Erik (under the band’s original name PROPHET 2002) in the fall of 1988…? What actually inspired the origin of PROPHET 2002?
"Well, not really. I guess all young kids into Metal talk about having bands, but until you start writing songs and rehearsing it’s all just a pipe dream. I think my frist attempt was a Heavy Metal based band called Obituary, which is really funny because Erik was in a Thrash band called Excexutioner! But Nirvana 2002 was the first “real” thing. Erik and Lars had been in a few bands already though. They were both a little older than me. What really happened was that I got to know Erik. He was kind of a geek, with really thick glasses, but he could play drums better than anyone around. I mean he was 14 and adult drummers in our neighbourhood didn’t stand a chance next to him. Lars on the other hand was just your avarage teenage bass player, but he was really cool socially, hanging with the tough crowd. So I guess I was in the middle. Not very talented and not very cool!!! Hahaha! I was 13 when we first met and we hit it of right away. I was listening to straight Heavy Metal but I borrowed some albums with Celtic Frost and Slayer from Erik and that was it. I was hooked. So we started hanging together almost every day, listening to music and going to concerts (that was a big deal, we lived 4 hours from Stockholm). We started working on our own Thrash / Death fanzine called Hang Em High in 87 I think and then the next natural step was to start a band. Seeing Slayer on their first concert ever in Sweden (1988 – "South Of Heaven" tour) meant a lot to. That show changed my life."
Your first official release must have been the "Truth & Beauty" rehearsal in April of 1989… At that time the band was still a two-piece and you were handling all instruments on your own, except for the drums (that got played by Erik)… How come? Weren’t any suitable musicians available / interested to complete the line-up and how did you actually rehearse at that time?
"Everything was just Erik and me back then, the fanzine, the band etc. We were just these two friends who loved Metal and things grew out of that I guess. That first recording kind of came along by itself. There was a guy working at our school who was a drummer in some Van Halen style of band, and he had a 4-track Tascam. So he brought it to Erik’s place and we layed down those tracks. It was never meant to be anything serious really, just some kids fooling around. Then we copied it to friends like Nicke, Alex and Uffe of Nihilist and all of a sudden we got letters from Japan and Chile. The whole tape trading / fanzine / band scene was just exploding at that time."
"Truth & Beauty" got recorded on a 4-track recorder and featured the two songs ‘Brutality’ and ‘Truth & Beauty’… a quite unusual thing, considering that most other bands just recorded their rehearsals on a simple tape recorder back then… Did the incomplete line-up have something to do with that? Were those the first two songs you ever wrote together or had there already been any material before that you didn’t spread around simply because you didn’t consider it good enough?
"No, that was the first songs we did. Erik had actually written those songs earlier, inspired a lot by early Napalm Death. I think we just worked back and forwards you know? It was fun to try stuff out on 4-track and then things sounded pretty good so that inspired you do think of new things you could do. I mean today you could by a soundcard and do stuff 10 times better in Cubase in two seconds. But I actually think the hard work put in was important for the sound. When we started getting possitive feedback we realized that this was actually something others could be interested in too and that could be a real band. I guess that’s sort of when Lars got into the picture."
You already mentioned your fanzine "Hang ‘Em High"… tell us a bit more about it, like when you started it, how many issues got released, what kind of bands were featured and so on…
"We started on it late 1987 and the first issue came out in late 88 (even though it says 89 on the cover). We only made two issues but had some cool stuff in there like interviews with Death and Bathory. That’s actually a thing I’m really broken up about. I wrote a page of interview questions (just like this one) and sent to Quorthon and I got back this very ambitous letter with 7 or 8 typewritten pages with the answers (and signed by him). But it’s been lost over the years. I’d love to still have that one."
Unlike many Death Metal bands your lyrics didn’t deal with the usual topics, like blood, guts and gore, as you seemed more interested in metaphysical philosophy, parapsychology and stuff like that… Tell us a bit more about that and what inspired you in that department… Did you ever get any negative reactions on those lyrics from narrowminded Death Metal kids?
"Well, first of all. That was a bit more of an image than the actual truth. When you’re in a small, underground movement, the only way to stick out is to be even more different than everyone else. So we decided to just do something else. That’s where the yin-yang came in, and some of the lyrics. There’s still some traditional Death Metal elements here and there but we tried at least. But it’s not like we were Voivod or anything. Basically I just picked things from what I was reading like Castaneda, Rhinehart and so on. I’d say me and Tomas of Grotesque (later At the Gates) were the two in the scene into that kind of stuff. No we never got any shit. You gotta remember, the Swedish Death Metal scene back then was tiny. Maybe 50 or 100 people and a handful of bands. We were all like family. Well, all except Chris in Therion. He was always kind of the Dave Mustaine of Swedish Death Metal."
When exactly did you change your moniker from PROPHET 2002 to NIRVANA and why? And how long did you work under that new moniker until you found out about the band of the same name from Seattle?
"I think we changed the name in the fall of 88 and then Nicke Andersson told me he had read about a small band from Seattle in early 89 (their first 7” was released in November 88 and things moved slower back then… no Internet!)."
Did you consider to change name completely again or was simply adding the old "2002" to the name again the easiest thing for you? By the way: what did the 2002 part actually mean to you that you’ve used it in two band names?
"No, not really. The thing to remember is that Seattle-Nirvana was completely unknown back then, like the smallest band on the fucking planet. So adding 2002 was just to avoid confusion. We never thought they would ever become anything more than that. The name was always really strange. Once again I think listening to Voivod and Mekong Delta warped our fragile little minds. Prophet 2002 is actually the name of a groundbreaking, early synthesizer. Depeche Mode and Ultravox used them, but I think we heard about it because John Carpenter used one for some of his electronic soundtracks. I really don’t know why we used it as a band name, I guess we just thought it sounded cool."
In May 1989 you once again released those two songs from the "Truth & Beauty" rehearsal demo as "Excursions In The 2002nd Dimension", but changed the title of the track ‘Truth & Beauty’ to ‘Physical Excursion’ and also added an outro entitled ‘Krishna Extrema’ to it… Tell us a bit more about all this…
"I’m glad you ask because there seems to be a lot of confusion about this. Those songs were only recorded once and that was the first session covered in answer 3 & 4 (and that’s when ‘Krishna’ was recorded too). Me and Erik started tape trading these songs around the world, but for some reason we gave both the tape and the first song different titles. So it’s all the exact same recording / mix whatever. It’s just different names written on the tapes. Now I know some people say they sound different, but that’s just because 20 years of bad tape copying has given them quite different sounds. But trust me, there is no second recording. The reason ‘Krishna’ is only on some tapes is because I stopped including it while Erik kept it on his."
In 1990 you were finally able to complete the line-up when Lars Henriksson joined you on bass… How did you get together with him and what had he been up to prior to joining you?
"Lars had played with Erik in several high school bands before that so they knew eachother. It was just the natural choice. He had a bass, could play and he liked hard music like us. Most people were into Metal in out town but basically Metallica was as hard as other people would go. Lars was a bit lesser involved than Erik and me in things like song writing, but I think he really contributed a lot of other things. It was more of a project than a band until he joined."
With Lars on board you finally went into Sunlight Studios to record the tracks ‘Mourning’, ‘Further Beyond’ and ‘Snake’… all of them were supposed to come out as a 7" EP, to be released through Chicken Brain Records (CBR), a project which never turned into reality, unfortunately… Instead ‘Mourning’ later appeared on the legendary "Projections Of A Stained Mind" compilation by CBR… How did you actually hook up with CBR for that, did they pay you for the recordings and was Lars already involved in the writing of those songs?
"No, they are two different recordings. ‘Mourning’ was recorded in April 1990 and the other two in February 1991. ‘Mourning’ was from the start supposed to be on the "Projections…" compilation but that didn’t come out until more than a year later. Then later there was talk about those 7” so we recorded ‘Further…’ and ‘Snake’ but that never came out at all so we just started spreading them as "Promo 91". CBR didn’t pay for anything but that didn’t matter because the studio time was paid by Studiefrämjandet. That was an organization for creating study groups, but if you had a band that counted as well. So every time you rehearsed you got a little bit of money saved up for something, like the rent for the rehearsal space or a studio. I know some people have been accusing CBR of ripping these young bands of but I don’t feel like that at all. They helped us get our stuff out and back then that was good enough."
From what I’ve heard it was also the time when you got to know Nicke and Uffe of ENTOMBED while you were recording at Sunlight Studio and that you even used some of their equipment there, is that right?
"No. We had known Nihilist long before this. Actually the first guy I met was Mattias (you know, the guy who DIDN’T sing on the first Nihilist demo) and then I got to know Nicke. This was in 1987. So we used to go down to Stockholm and hang out long before we recorded ‘Mourning’. So by the time we went to Sunlight the first time we actually stayed at Nicke and borrowed some gear from Uffe, and then both of them were in the studio all day with us. Hanging out and also helping with the production."
‘Mourning’ (as well as ‘Zombiefication’ later on) featured some of the riffs that you already had used on your rehearsal demo… what was the reason for that and does that mean that you didn’t use those original songs from that point on any longer?
"’Mourning’ definitely uses parts from ‘Brutallity…’ (not sure about ‘Zombiefication’ though, what parts?). I don’t think we really thought of those two first songs as part of Nirvana 2002. We just felt some stuff could be reused. Same thing with other bands, I mean listen to ‘Say It In Slugs’ by Entombed. That’s the riff from ‘Left Hand Path’ but faster."
It seems you got a lot of positive feedback on your contribution to that compilation as your first real studio demo "Disembodied Spirits" again got released through CBR in July 1990… Tell us more about that and why you went for Studio Edsbyn this time, instead of Sunlight…
"Yeah, a lot of people liked ‘Mourning’ and still seem to do. The guitar sound is still awesome. It may seem almost cliché now, but this was reorded in early 90. We were I think the fifth or sixth Death Metal band ever to record in Sunlight, and one of the first to use that (now) classic Entombed guitar sound. As for Studio Edsbyn, it was just practical. As I mentioned, Stockholm was 4 hours by car (and none of us had a driver’s liscense). So when a guy actually built a small studio in our own town we figuered we’d give it a try."
The demo featured the three songs ‘ Slumber’, ‘Zombiefication’ and ‘The Awakening Of…’ – when did you write them and what kind of reactions did you get on that demo? Why did NIRVANA 2002 not start to finally play live at the time?
"All three songs were written during the summer on 1990. My parents were always away all summer so I had the house all to myself. So we brought all the gear and rehearsed there all summer. There were actually four songs written at that time. The fourth was ‘Watch The River Flow’ (included as rehearsal on the CD) but that was dropped right before recording the tape. Our first live show was supposed to be Entombed’s first show after they changed the name (from Nihilist) I guess that was maybe late 1989? We had only done the 4-track recording back then (no, not even ‘Mourning’) and just felt we didn’t have enough songs or enough time to write new ones. So we pulled out and for some reason decided never to play live. Just typical teen angst I guess. "
‘The Awakening Of…’ was previously already released on the Opinionate! Records split 7" EP with APPENDIX, AUTHORIZE and FALLEN ANGEL though… It was originally supposed to be part of a fanzine called ‘Is This Heavy Or What?’, but as that zine never turned into reality that EP simply came out on its own… Didn’t that release cause any problems with CBR? Was ‘The Awakening Of…’ recorded in the same session as ‘ Slumber’ and ‘Zombiefication’ or did you re-record that later on as well?
"Nope, that’s not how it was. Sigge who made the 7” also had a fanzine called ‘Heavy Rock’, but I don’t think the 7” really had any connection to that. He had already released a 7” with Thrash bands and wanted to do one more. It was a stupid thing but he was an old friend and we sort of trusted him. Actually the bands payed for everything, studio and pressing. I dare say the other three bands were crap, and then that ugly cover… Jesus Christ. It’s the exact same recording and mix of the song as on the "Disembodied" demo. We didn’t have any contract or obligation to CBR. They just made copies of our demo and sold it in their catalogue. We could do anything we wanted."
In 1991 you finally released the two unused tracks from the CBR 7" EP session as the "Promo ’91"… What lead to this decision and how did CBR react, that you used the recordings on your own?
"Well, as I stated, there were no strings attached. They hadn’t paid for anything and also, the 7” never seemed to happen. Add to the fact that CBR managed to lose the original DAT tape with the mixes of all our studio recordings for ever. So of course we could spread the tape if we wanted to."
The same year you got the offer to sing on ENTOMBED’s "Crawl" EP… Tell us more about this, like what exactly happened and if they also had offered you to join them fulltime… As far as I remember you also played a couple of shows with them at the time, didn’t you? Were they your first ever live shows? I suppose it must have been pretty exciting to play in front of such crowds right away, huh?
"Well we were all really good friends. So when LG got fired (because they were all drunk on new years eve and Nicke thought LG was trying to steal his girlfriend) Uffe called me and said “Hey, we’re in deep shit here. We’ve got to record a 12” and do a tour. Can you help us?” And of course nobody in their right mind would have said no to sing in Entombed in 1990. Yeah those were my first shows. We did a tour of Europe with about 10-15 shows and then some festivals in the summer. I was always just a stand in. They kept looking for a new permanent singer all the time. The only sad thing is that the guy they found couldn’t sing at all. It’s no secret now that Nicke sang on "Clandestine", but just listen to live shows from back then. I was nowhere as good as LG, but Johnny sounded horrible."
What was the reason that you re-recorded the vocals for ‘Snake’ and ‘Mourning’ in 1992 and what happened to those versions? What were they intended to be used for?
"Well we still thought the 7” on CBR was going to be made, but at that time ‘Mourning’ was REALLY old (1.5 years). So I wanted to sort of rework it and make it new. So I just went in to Sunlight alone one afternoon and recorded some new vocal tracks and mixed it. As I remember it was a lot rawer, not only my voice but the whole mix."
In the meantime labels finally started to show interest in the band and you received offers (a.o.?) by Deaf and Necrosis Records, but in the end nothing really came out of it… Everything seemed so promising at the time… so why did you never record a full length album in the end?
"We had all kinds of offers. Back then ANY Swedish Death Metal band could get a contract in two seconds. But we just lost interest. We felt that the worst thing we could do would be to sign a 7 or 8 record deal with some label and then quit. So we decided to just close the band down before we got into any mess like that. In hindsight I think it was a good choice."
Many years later (in 2001 to be exact) Relapse Records contacted you for the release of a compilation CD that in the end took eight years to turn into reality (it finally saw the light of day on November 11, 2009)… What kind of problems did cause this long delay and why did Threeman Recordings (ENTOMBED’s company) plans to put it out in 2006 / 2007 also fail…
"A guy at Relapse managed to track me down by email in 2001. They had just released the God Macabre thing and wanted to do more stuff like that. I wasn’t sure if I could find enough old stuff to do it, and then that guy got fired from the label. It turns our no one else at Relapse knew he had been talking to me so nothing else happened for many years. The Threeman thing was Uffe. He wanted to make a CD but as soon as he left Entombed it was off. So then someone else at Relapse contacted me in 2008 and because I had been digging in old boxes when helping Daniel Ekeroth with his book I knew what things I had as far as tapes, photos etc. So after talking to Erik and Lars I said, sure I can do it."
On January 26, 2007 you were invited to perform live for the very first time at the release party of the book "Swedish Death Metal" by Daniel Ekeroth at Kafe 44 in Stockholm… What was the reason that Erik couldn’t be part of the first ever NIRVANA 2002 gig and how did you hook up with Robert Eriksson (THE HELLACOPTERS) for that… How did that gig go for you?
"It was really stupid. We were all supposed to play. But then the party got moved one week later and somehow Erik didn’t find that out until much later. By then he was already booked on a big European tour with a Jazz band. There was no way he could make it. So we had to quickly find a replacement. Now the thing is Robert is also from the small town of Edsbyn and we all went to high school together. Actually Robert first got to know Nicke and everyone else (loooong before they started The Hellacopters) because I brought him to a party in Stockholm. Since Robert used to play Death Metal many years ago (a band called Celeborn) we just thought it would be a really cool thing, and so did he. We only got time to do two rehearsals, but it worked out fine. The show was amazing and loud as fuck. The whole party was great. Unfortunately the recording is really bad but the important thing is that it sounded good there and then."
At least it seems that you tasted blood again, as the three of you reunited in the original line-up in July of 2007 for three days to play the old NIRVANA 2002 stuff again… Tell us more about that, how it felt for you and if you maybe also planned some live shows or even to write / record new material?
"It’s really strange, but the three of us hadn’t met together since we split up. We had all met two-and-two but not all three together for all those years. So when we just happened to be back visiting our parents at the same time that summer we said “hey, let’s just get drunk and jam!”. So we did. What was cool was how we remembered almost everything instantly. Stuff we hadn’t played for 16-17 years. So we played til the sun came up and it was great. We will not get back together and record new stuff. We’re old guys now and that would just be strange. Me and Lars have a new band going but that is something else. I do however think Nirvana 2002 might do another live show, because Erik wasn’t on the first one. It’d be cool to do one with all members."
To close this long overdue feature on NIRVANA 2002 I’d like to get some comments from you on the already mentioned, recently released Relapse compilation CD "Recordings 89-91"… Are you satisfied with the way it turned out? I’ve also read about a strictly limited edition (100 copies) edition on clear vinyl with a gatefold sleeve and 500 copies on black 180 gram vinyl… Tell us more about that!
"It’s been great. I’ve put a lot of work into it. I’ve done all the sound work / editing / noise reduction / mixing and even the mastering, I’ve assembeled all the booklet material. Relapse basically helped with the layout of the booklet and then of course they did the pressing, marketing and distrbuition. I’m really glad they felt they could trust me and that they gave me almost total control and freedom. I couldn’t be happier. I don’t know much about the LP. I really had no idea before the CD was already finished and Relapse said “Hey by the way, we’re doing an LP too!” So that was a pleasant surprise."
Ok Orvar, thanks a lot for taking the time to re-live the NIRVANA 2002 history with us… If we should’ve missed out on something, feel free to add it here… The last words are yours! All the best!
"Don’t have much else to say. I’m glad some people still care about the band and that people like you still spread the word. Hopefully you’ll be hearing new material from Lars and me sooner than later. Take care! "