If the name UNDER THE CHURCH doesn’t ring a bell yet and you’re a fan of Swedish Death Metal the old school way, you should definitely pay attention now! These guys not only deliver the goods in the best possible early 90s tradition, they also have two members of Sweden’s legendary NIRVANA 2002 in their ranks: bass player Lars Henriksson and drummer Erik Qvick. So far they’ve released a demo (in 2013) and earlier this year a CD (or EP as they prefer to call it). Reasons enough for us to hook up with Erik, who lives in Iceland these days, for the following interview…
Greetings Erik, hope you’re feeling good and the most recent vulcano eruption in your country won’t demotivate you to answer some interview questions?
"I am actually listening to the classic VULCANO (Brazil) track ‘Ready To Explode’ from 1986 when answering these questions so I’m definitely in the right mood."
It’s great to see that Lars and yourself are back in action together again after NIRVANA 2002 fell apart. What have you both done to kill time ever since? Have you remained in touch with each other or did you just re-connect for the birth of UNDER THE CHURCH in 2012?
"Oh yeah, we’ve kept contact and stayed in touch all those years, maybe not on a regular basis, but we’ve always met in Sweden over holidays and similar things, we haven’t played anything before reforming N2002 for those reunion gigs around Maryland DeathFest a few years ago though. I’ve been playing in tons of different bands and projects for the past 20 plus years so I’ve kept myself busy to say the least… I’ve been working as a drummer and percussionist playing every style and kind of music and recorded / played on 60-70 albums and toured a lot."
Had you contacted Orvar (Säfström – vocals) to join UNDER THE CHURCH as well? Was it maybe even planned as a NIRVANA 2002 re-union at first?
"When we had the basic tracks for the demo written we actually contacted Orvar, but due to several reasons that never came to be, anyway that turned out for the better when we found MiK, we actually talked to both Jonas Stalhammar (BOMBS OF HADES) and Erik Sahlstrom (GENERAL SURGERY) to do vocals just for the demo, but we realised that we would never be able to do any gigs with their schedule and also that the world didn’t need another "Allstar" project… don’t get me wrong, Jonas and Erik are awesome! However, we wanted to do a proper band and they are so busy doing their own thing that that wouldn’t have worked anyway and when we found MiK everything fell into place so it was for the best."
Who came up with the band’s name UNDER THE CHURCH and does it have a deeper meaning for you?
"The name comes from Sigge Sigfridsson who ran a fanzine in Sweden in the late 80s, he later had a small label that released a split 7" single with NIRVANA 2002 and three other Swedish bands. Anyway, I remeber a phone conversation we had when we discussed cool bandnames that noone had used yet. Sigge said UNDER THE CHURCH and I thought that was a really good name, a bit confusing and very cool sounding. The name doesn’t have a profound meaning at all, but it’s nice that it can be interpreted in more than one way."
When and why did you move to Iceland and did Lars move there as well?
"I moved to Iceland in 2000 to work as a teacher at the Music School / Conservatory in Reykjavik, Lars still lives in Edsbyn, Sweden and has done that for many years."
Where do you see the main differences between living in Sweden and living in Iceland?
"Sweden has four seasons, Iceland has one… which is Autumn all year around."
It seems that the heavier music scene is growing there as well slowly but surely, with bands like ANGIST or SÓLSTAFIR that are both getting pretty good international attention already… do you also have good possibilities to play live in Iceland? Is there an underground scene for heavier music with clubs, promoters, zines etc.?
"When I first came here I wasn’t connected to the Icelandic Metal scene at all but slowly I got to know people in it. There is a small scene here and it’s getting bigger each year, more bands, there’s a few clubs in Reykjavik and also a few festivals."
I remember that you told me quite a while ago that you already received record label offers before you even had recorded some music with UNDER THE CHURCH, just because of your musical past… Isn’t that a bit odd?
"I think that was when we had just put out the three track demo, there was some label that hadn’t heard the tunes but still wanted to sign us…" (it was even before you had recorded those three songs – Frank)
How did you hook up with Australian vocalist Mik Annetts? Have you been in touch with him previously already because of his activities in BASTARD, HOSTILE or ODINN? Please introduce him to our readers a little bit more…
"I met MiK when he was in that band BASTARD, we also used to bump into each other downtown at the few bars that Metal heads frequent… anyway, when we started looking for a singer I remembered MiK and just gave him a call, the demo recording went fantastic and the EP recording even better! He’s just perfect for this band and the kind of stuff we write."
Even though you’re actually a drummer you also played guitar on all UNDER THE CHURCH recordings so far… What is the reason for that? Weren’t you able to find a suitable guitarist yet?
"Ha! Well, yes and no. I played guitar on the demo, and that was so much fun, I mean, I’ve always kept playing guitar over the years but I’m not really "a guitar player" y’know? But in a combination of not being able to get the guitar player that we wanted into the band at that time, and that what I had played sounded pretty good ,we decided to use my gitplaying for the EP as well."
From what I recall you weren’t the main songwriter in NIRVANA 2002, but with UNDER THE CHURCH you easily managed to deliver material of a similar class rather quickly… So, does that mean that old school Death Metal is still a big part of your life after so many years? Was it difficult for you to write some new music at first?
"I wasn’t the main writer in N2002, however, we worked out the majority of those tunes together and I did have alot of input into writing the music for N2002 . I’ve always written music through the years and the same basic components for writing good tunes applies to Death Metal as well. For the tracks on the UNDER THE CHURCH Demo 2013 and the EP, me and Lars collaborated alot and came up with riffs and arrangements together. I wrote most of the lyrics, except for the tune ‘Digging In The Dirt’ which MiK penned the lyrics for himself. So far it’s been very easy writing new tunes and we already have a bunch of new tunes and ideas for the upcoming full length record."
You pretty quickly released your debut demo in 2013, which you partly recorded in Iceland (drums / vocals) and Sweden (guitar / bass)… why did you split the recordings and did Mik fly over to Iceland to put his vocals on tape?
"We recorded drums here in Reykjavik but guitar and bass in Sweden, took a bit of commuting to get that done… MiK lives here in Reykjavik / Iceland so we recorded the vocals there as well. I was really happy with the drum recording and the sound so there was no need of re-doing that in Sweden, when the EP was mixed the rawness of the drumsound unfortunately got lost in the mix, live and learn I guess."
The three recorded songs ‘Under The Church’, ‘Haunted By Demons’ and ‘Back To The Grave’ had only been released digitally at first, but then you also went for pretty cool, old school cassette editions as well (the first edition on a blue tape, and a second edition of 100 copies in green and red)… How was the response on those cassettes in times when younger people mostly check out music on the internet?
"The response was fantastic, all the editions sold out at once and people seemed to really dig it. We even did a Japanese edition for the store Record Boy in Tokyo, think IRON MAIDEN "Made In Japan" but a demotape!"
What was the reason that the 3 tracks have been repeated on both sides of the cassette?
"Then you don’t have to push the rewind button, when ‘Back To The Grave’ is finished, you just flip the tape over and can start all over again…" (clever answer to a rather stupid question – Frank)
In the meantime UNDER THE CHURCH got signed by the wellknown, Singapore based, label Pulverised Records… have you signed the contract before or after the demo was recorded and what made you go with them instead of the other labels that also have been interested?
"We signed with Pulverised after the demo was recorded and released. There was a few other labels interested, but signing with Pulverised made most sense at the time."
In 2014 you released a self-titled 7 song CD which features the original demo tracks, plus 4 newer songs (‘Denial Of Death’, ‘Macabre Cadaver’, ‘Digging In The Dirt’ and ‘Burning’)… Have you used the original demo recordings for this release or did you re-record those songs again?
"We used the drumtracks from the Demo 2013 sessions, but re-recorded guitar / bass and vocals. We really wanted to get something out and since time isn´t on our side we decided to use the drumtracks for the EP, I’m overall happy with the EP but the drumsound came out way too clean in the mixing."
Do you personally consider the newer songs as equally strong as the demo material or would you say that you already improved as a band when you wrote the newer tunes?
"That’s a hard question, of course we always strive to write the best tunes we possibly can and also the kind of tunes we ourselves would wanna hear, I can’t really tell if we have improved as a band in that sense, but we have started rehearsing with a full line-up now, so that’s a major change. Joining us for livegigs are Erik Wallin (MERCILESS) and Marcus Klack (MORBID) so we’re super excited about that! (so much about not forming an "all star" band ; -) – Frank) The new tunes we are working on now is keeping in the same kind of vibe and sound as the demo, raw Death Metal!"
What is the reason that you consider the release as an EP instead of a full length album? I mean 7 songs is already pretty much material for an EP, isn’t it?
"The tunes are quite short and compact, almost like a RAMONES Death Metal album… so the length of the whole recording dictated it being a EP." (then we should also consider "Reign In Blood" an EP from now on ; -) – Frank)
There’s also a pretty cool collector’s tape edition of that release out via Tape Worship Records, which is limited to 200 copies (80 in blue, 80 in red and 40 in white), packaged in a special carton mailer box with a stamped UNDER THE CHURCH logo on it plus an A4 mini poster with the cover artwork and lyrics on the back and a logo patch… tell us a little bit more about that, like how you hooked up with Tape Worship for this and stuff?
"Tapeworship contacted us and asked if they could use the EP as their first release, it sounded like a great idea so we went for it. César Valladares and Tapeworship came up with a great idea and layout for the tape release, it looks really cool and comes with a beer opener… win-win!"
For the cover artwork you worked with César Valladares, who did a pretty good job for sure… does that mean you weren’t really satisfied with the cover artwork of your demo? What can you tell us about César? Have you seen some stuff he had previously created and wanted to work with him because of that or has he contacted you and offered his services?
"The cover and artwork that we used for the different versions of "Demo 2013" was made by Fannar Örn, we wanted something raw and gnarly for the demotape cover, what Fannar came up with looks fucking fantastic! It’s totally in line with the aesthetics of a Death Metal three track demo… I’m so happy with that cover. About César, I stumbled on some page on the internet and saw some things that César Valladares had done, I immediatly knew that I had to contact him to see if he would be up for doing the EP, lucky for us, César wanted to do the cover… César is a genius, there is no other way to explain him. He completely understood what we wanted to do, but took that initial idea and tweaked it into something even better. They’re both fantastic in what they do."
Since you’re still lacking in a guitarist and live pretty far away from each other, I suppose live shows are not in the works yet, are they? Have you ever talked about the option of hiring session members when some cool offers would reach you?
"We’ve been rehearsing this past summer in Sweden and we now have a full line-up for the bands live shows, joining us for gigs we have none other than Erik Wallin from MERCILESS / DEATHBREATH and Marcus Klack from MORBID / TRASH AMIGOS. We definitely wanna go out and play so we are looking into doing some gigs around Scandinavia to start with." Since the Pulverised release is out for a while now, I was wondering if you’re already working on some new music these days? Please tell us what’s currently going on in the UNDER THE CHURCH camp?
"We wanna start doing some gigs, the next logical step is to play live, so we ‘re working on a small tour to start out with. We already have material for the next release, hopefully we’ll have the full length recorded and mixed this autumn and released early next year. But currently we’re focusing on getting the band out to do some live playing."
Before we end this interview I was hoping that you could also answer some non UNDER THE CHURCH related trivia here for us… In the very early days you were working with Orvar on a fanzine called "Hang ‘Em High"… Whatever happened to that? Did you ever release any issues of it?
"Oh yeah, we did two issues that where quite good I think, for the first issue we had interviews with BATHORY, DEATH, CANDLEMASS, GROTESQUE… the second issue had SAINT VITUS, NIHILIST, EXODUS, NUCLEAR ASSAULT… it was a blast doing that fanzine, hearing great music and connecting with people from all over the world."
The original name for NIRVANA 2002 was PROPHET 2002… what is this 2002 part all about that you stuck with it?
"I don’t know really, I guess the way the logotypes looked with the numbers in them maybe? It just sounded cool with those numbers inserted somehow…"
There was a NIRVANA 2002 re-union a couple of years ago with Orvar, Lars and yourself and you all even rehearsed together again, but unfortunately you weren’t able to participate in the first NIRVANA 2002 gig ever on January 26, 2007 when the band played at the release party of the Swedish Death Metal book… what happened?
"Yeah that was a shame, I was booked to do a tour in Denmark playing with a Jazz Quartet, I thought that I was gonna be able to play with N2002 but there was a mixup with the dates, luckily Robert Hellacopter subbed for me."
Ok Erik, that’s all for now. All the best for you personally and good luck with UNDER THE CHURCH. Feel free to end this interview any way you like…
"Thanks for the interest in our band, stay tuned for more raw Death Metal from UNDER THE CHURCH!"