(We are grateful that Comrade Aleks has brought us yet another doomy interview, this time with drummer Joakim Olsson of Sweden’s Serpent.)
Sweden is the epicenter of the modern vintage doom rock movement, and Serpent is one of its competent members. The band was formed in 2012, but already has two full-length records – Slaves of Babylon (2013) and Nekromant (2015). The last one was released on the 18th of December, 2015, by Transubstans Records, and believe me – this power trio know how to play damned rocking doom metal!
Serpent’s guitarist Adam Lundqvist knows how to create impressive riffs and solos, Joakim Olsson is precise and hard-handling with his drums, and Mattias Ottosson is an excellent vocalist with an expressive manner of singing that is ideal for this kind of music (besides that, he knows how to treat with the bass). Do you want a portion of murderously effective doom rock? Follow me, because Joakim is ready to spread the word of Serpent.
Hail Jocke! How are you mate? What is the current status of Serpent?
Hail hail! I’m good, thank you, how about yourself? We are trying to book gigs, as always, planning our first run in Germany, writing new songs, and talking to people like yourself about Nekromant. So pretty busy actually, in a good way!
I’m fine too – listening to your killer track “Hey You”, that’s one of my favorite song from Nekromant. How did you compose it? And what’s it about?
Good! Thanks! I think it came together like most of our songs. Mattias brought the riff and a vocal line and then we just jammed on it and ended up with what you hear. Since it’s only two different parts and one long-ass guitar solo, it was finished really quickly, so nothing spectacular. Mattias writes all the lyrics and he said it’s about a girl. Simple as that!
What drove you to create one more band under the name Serpent and move in a doom metal direction?
Haha, you know the name is always the hardest part of being in a band. We actually didn’t know that other bands existed under the name Serpent, we didn’t look it up. A name is just a name, and as long as nobody complains about this we will keep it. If someone sues us we’ll probobly change the name to Serpent BC, Serpent of Fire, or The True Serpent haha!
The “moving in the doom metal direction” is not that much of an active choice, we just play what we like.
Serpent is a trio — how long did you know each other and is the band’s current lineup the same as when you started it?
Mattias and Adam started the band back in 2011, just playing guitar together and writing songs. They recorded one EP, Black Magic, with singer Magnus Nilsson, now in Topplock, and their friend Simon Åhs on drums. Simon also plays on the Slaves of Babylon album. I joined the band right after that, summer 2013, and it’s after that we’ve done our first gigs and really worked together as a band.
Mattias and Adam have known each other since they were like 13, and been on a lot of adventures together. We all grew up in they same small city and went to the same parties, so we always sort of knew about each other. I think the first time we played together was at some party when we were like 16-17. A super-drunk version of Cowboys From Hell. Success!
Serpent – Doom on You
Your first album Slaves of Babylon was just a digital release, or did I miss something? Is it finally released in physical format? True to say, I was thinking that it’s not a problem today for a band like yours to find a label…
No, it’s still just a digital release. Don’t know if we will make a physical. Maybe some super-rare bootleg version under a different name 20 years from now.
I’ll take that as a compliment, thanks!
What about labels? Don’t they know about Serpent? How much effort have you put into pushing the band forward?
Don’t really know. At least Transubstans knows about us ’cause they signed us to release Nekromant! We didn’t put any real effort in getting in touch with labels to release Slaves. Maybe someone will make a re-release in the future! Other than that, we spend quite a lot of time emailing and nagging on venues to let us come and play. You need to stay in the booker’s head so you don’t get forgotten when it’s time to arrange things.
How did you get in contact with Transubstans Records?
We thought we needed some ”muscles” behind this release so we just emailed pretty much every company we could find. We got some hits but felt like Trans was not too big and not too small, and they had released some great albums. They actually said no at first, ’cause they don’t really release a lot of new music at the moment. But I guess they listened to the album twice and changed their mind. So good for us!
The music you play is a balanced mix of doom and heavy metal. How do you see this scene today? What’s its tradition in Sweden? I think that Sweden has a bunch of really good representatives of this genre – The Order of Israfel or Goatess for example…
Yeah I guess you’re right. Sweden is pretty prominent in a lot of music genres I think. I don’t really know about the tradition, but yeah, there’s a lot of bands doing great stuff in somewhat the same genre as us at the moment. Apart from the ones you mentioned I really like Monolord, Skraeckoedlan, and our friends in Grand and Topplock, just to mention a few. It feels like the retro rock thing that got really popular with Graveyard has transformed into people playing slower and heavier.
Serpent’s second album Nekromant shows a pretty professional approach, considering that heavy / doom classic vibe you put in these songs. What was on your mind when you compose it?
Thanks! The only thing that’s important for us is to write good songs and riffs, things that feel good to play without any special reason. Heavy metal and Rock ‘n’ Roll should always just feel good; if you try to analyze it too much you’ll end up ruining it. We can’t decide what the songs will sound like beforehand (though you might have a rough idea). Mattias brings most of the music to rehearsal, but then we jam on it and sort of arrange it together. So it always lives a life on its own and turns out like it turns out. But we basically just try to play simple, hard-hitting songs that we like ourselves.
Did you record Nekromant in a real studio? And how important is a professional approach for you? I’m meaning… is it only for fun or do you having some grand expectation about Serpent?
Ha-ha, yeah, I would say it’s a ”real” studio. Studio N3 in our city next door, Trollhättan. It has a pretty nice live room so we could get some space around the drums. We recorded the basics live together, re-did some guitar solos, and added the vocals. Charlie Johansson, who is a long-time friend, did all the recording, mixing, and mastering.
We are trying to be professional when we are out playing. At least we are much better now than we were in the beginning. To play live is what we love the most, so when we do, we don’t want to do it badly because we are too drunk or our gear doesn’t work or something like that. Though, we don’t have any grand expectations for the band. We just want to be able to play a lot of good shows.
Serpent – The Ritual
What are your requirements for Serpent’s sound and the equipment you use?
Hmmm.. The bass sound with its distortion is of course really important. We use quite a lot of delay and reverb on the vocals to let it sit further back in the mix. The guitar is also really distorted. People seem to think that we use a lot of fuzz pedals but it’s only Adam’s 30 watt Orange amp with all the knobs turned to 11. Other than that, Adam just uses a Crybaby Wahwah and some basic digital delay. Mattias is really in love with his EBS bass drive pedal. I crash and abuse my ride cymbal a lot, so that is important to me. But we are all really NOT interested in and don’t know much about gear. Maybe we should be more interested though! Might improve our sound, haha!
Mate can you tell a story of one particular song from the Nekromant album? Which topics do you see as suitable for Serpent?
I’ll let Mattias answer this one since he writes all the lyrics!
“Well, the name Nekromant isn’t a song on the album, its actually a song from our previous album called Slaves of Babylon. Every song has its own history, of course, but I doubt that those stories are very interesting for anyone not involved in making them.
“The lyrics on Nekromant are somewhat darker and focus more on the occult than Slaves of Babylon. Although those topics did appear on there as well, the Slaves-lyrics were more set in the real world while the Nekromant-lyrics are more dreamy, or perhaps nightmarish. I believe that any topic at all is suitable for Serpent. It would be stupid to limit yourself lyric-wise. But we play heavy, dark, bluesy hard rock, and the topics will most likely reflect that even in the future.”
So do you mean that Slaves of Babylon is a kind of modern morals portrait?
Naa, but I think the lyrics are more realistic than on Nekromant. There are some of those elements on Nekromant as well, but all in all, it’s more abstract lyric-wise.
There’s a Serpent Venom band in UK and a Serpent Warning in Finland, both of them playing traditional doom. How do you like the idea of organizing some Serpent tour with them?
Haha, haven’t really thought about it but I’m sure it would be pretty epic! We are totally up for it! Maybe we can invite Serpent Omega and Holy Serpent as well!
The last one is from Australia, it’s barely possible… Do you have bands with which you usually do play live?
Haha, maybe in the future! We have played a lot with Topplock from Trollhättan and Hexagon from Vänersborg. They both play a form of really great retro rock ‘n’ roll and we are good friends with them, so we have had a lot of fun together! And GRAND, a trio from Gothenburg, are really great and good friends too. We’ve done about four gigs together and have more lined up. So you should listen to them!
How often and where do you usually play?
We’ve been playing quite a lot lately, which is awesome! At least I think it’s a lot. We have done around 30 gigs so far and about 15 of those since last summer. Usually smaller clubs, often around Gothenburg, ’cause it’s close and got a relatively big scene.
What are the biggest achievements considering live sets?
I thought opening up the entire Wizard of Fuzz Festival in October was really great! A lot of great bands played after us. We got some nice gigs coming up this year as well!
What is the most impressive feedback you’ve received being in Serpent?
I don’t really know. I just think it’s pretty surreal that there are in fact people (even if they’re not that many) all over the world really liking our music. It’s also great playing a really good show as a support act and nobody at the club knows who you are and get all surprised, like, ”Where the f**k did you guys come from?”.
Ha-ha, that’s cool… Thank you Jocke for the interview, it was funny and interesting. I wish you all the best on your way to the top of Sweden’s scene, I think that there’s some free space left even though a lot of bands are heading there.
Thanks a bunch man! For taking an interest and the time to do the interview! It was fun. Talk to you in the future, all the best!!