Per Wiberg needs no introduction. His status as a hard rock/heavy metal artist speaks for itself. His incredible musicianship, multi-dimensional creativity and so much varied works throughout all these years that he has been active, have placed him in a special way among the music fans, who consider him one of the most important artists of our era. Myth of Rock had the opportunity to speak with him, actually one day before his new EP “All Is Well In The Land Of The Living But For The Rest Of Us Lights Out” was released, about it, but also about his career highlights, inspirations and his early days with Boom Club and Death Organ. Enjoy!
by Antonis Mantzavinos
Hello Per and good afternoon!
Good afternoon Antonis, I think I am going for swimming after we are done with our interview, the weather is fantastic today! How are you doing?
I am fine thanks, the weather lately in Stockholm is pretty nice and warm, I agree. Thank you very much for accepting the invitation of Myth of Rock for this interview. How are you doing these days with Covid-19? Music has probably kept you busy and a little bit away from the pandemic itself.
It's all cool, thank you for having me. I am fine, no worries about my health, everything is good. Actually, yesterday I got a slot for vaccination, so I am really happy to be able to get vaccinated next week with the first shot. It feels a tiny step closer to the end of all this situation. It seems that they are doing ok now with the vaccination, the previous phase went quickly so now it’s our turn!
If that is ok with you, I would like to start with your early days and your relationship with music: who were the artists that you mostly listened to, when you were a child/teenager and which ones of those influenced you later in your bands?
Oohh…! That would be a very long list actually…! My parents have always been into music a lot, so I have always been surrounded by music as a kid. The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, lots of John Coltrane, Neil Young, etc. I was always surrounded by good music. My first 45” that I got from my parents was one of Jimi Hendrix with the song ‘Freedom’ on the one side and ‘Angel’ on the other side. That was my first record. And that has certainly influenced me and still does. I think Hendrix is one of the key musicians for me, one of the big reasons I am playing music at all. But also, hearing Miles Davis as a kid… I mean, I don’t want to say that some sort of music is more advanced than other music, but Miles Davis stuff late 60s-early 70s, a lot of improvisational music, I mean it’s easier for a kid to get stuck with a chorus or a melody, so...
But just the fact that I heard music like that, I think that it made a lot of stuff easier for me later, a lot of music does not sound ‘weird’ later on. And even if I did not know that as a kid about Miles, I have realized that now, after so many years. It’s like a gateway to accept a lot of different kinds of music out there. And then of course, when I discovered Black Sabbath… That was the heaviest stuff I have ever listened to.
What was the first song/record of Black Sabbath that introduced you to this band?
The first one was with Ozzy, and it was ‘Never Say Die’, the first album that I was listening on my own, so to speak. That was in 1978, I was ten years old, I like it a lot, because maybe it was my first contact with Black Sabbath in that way. I had heard Black Sabbath before, because back in those days, people were listening to Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and all those great bands. That was like pop music those days, it was very popular to the people. Obviously, I had listened to ‘Paranoid’ and other songs by Black Sabbath, but when you are ten years old, you start listening to stuff on your own free will, so to speak. And this album has an unnecessary bad reputation I would say. It’s a really cool album. And for me all Black Sabbath albums are classics. I like all Black Sabbath eras, regardless of Ozzy, Dio, Gillan, etc.
That’s very interesting to hear and I relate to it. Let’s stick to the past a little bit more. The very first bands you played in were Boom Club and Death Organ, the latter has been one that I personally enjoy a lot listening to. What is the story behind those two bands? Any interesting information about them?
Well, let’s start with Death Organ. That was back in 1992, it was an idea that came up to me and one of the singers, it was an organ bass and drums band and death metal vocals. Around that time I was listening to a lot of death metal, like many people in Sweden did, haha! We thought, why not starting an organ trio with death metal vocals! That had not been done before, at least to my knowledge, so it was something new. I asked some of my friends to try out some new stuff I had written. It kinda worked, we had a blast out of that! We rehearsed the whole first album, that was not in Stockholm, but in Borlänge. We started playing gigs around there, some friends of ours who had an independent label called APM, wanted to release it, they were like a progressive rock label, so they thought what we were doing was a little bit like Atomic Rooster meets Entombed, I don’t know! It was a cool band, I am still in touch with all those guys, they play different stuff in different bands right now. We did two albums, in 1995 and 1997. And the first album was recorded with Peter Tägtgren from Hypocricy, so that was really cool. Boom Club was a little bit earlier, they were a three-piece and they did not have a singer, same city as well, Borlänge, a small town, everyone knew each other, especially if you were doing music. They did not have a singer and then they asked me, I said, ‘I am not a singer’ and they replied, ‘That’s great!’, so I thought I would give it a shot … I only did vocals for them, did not play any instrument. They played alternative rock with hints of metal stuff, like Jane’s Addiction. It was like Red Hot Chilli Peppers meets Anthrax! We only did one album, it was fun and a necessary band for me, I don’t think I wouldn’t sing in bands, if it wasn’t for that band. We were not great, but it was a good learning experience, we had a lot of fun too.
Let’s move on a little bit in time, but also move from Dalarna to the south of Sweden and Spiritual Beggars. How were you involved in the beginning with Spiritual Beggars? How did it all start with you joining Michael, Ludde and Kryddan?
It was all due to a mutual friend of ours, because they come from the southwest coast, and I come from a different part of Sweden. So, I didn’t know the guys before, but a friend of mine, from the same city that I come from, he had signed Spiritual Beggars and helped them in management and label issues, and it was via him how it all started. And then, me and him together went to Dynamo Open Air in 1996, to party and have fun, but he was also going there to meet Spiritual Beggars, they were playing there in that festival. We went there, we arrived – due to bad traffic – when they were walking on stage. We could not see the performance. But I hang out with Mike the whole day, actually, me and Mike had been writing to each other well before that, talked on the phone, via our friend – who was also called Mike. We had already established a little bit of a contact. I had received a demo of Spiritual Beggars and sent to Mike a demo of Mojobone too. But Dynamo, that was the first time we met in person. We talked and drunk beer that day, we hung out and talked about music, and after that, we continued to talk for a while. Then, they asked me if I was interested in playing keys on a track or two on their next album. And I said, “of course!”. In those times, you should go and visit the band physically, because you could not send music over. So, I drove to Gothenburg where they were recording ‘Mantra III’ at Fredman Studios, and we just recorded a bunch of stuff for two days basically. And it was first they wanted me to play in three tracks, ‘Superbossanova’, ‘Euphoria’ and also I think it was ‘Send me a Smile’, those were the songs we started with. And then it worked really well, Mike was happy, Fredrik was happy too. We just thought while I was, there it was better to record many tracks instead of only three, sitting around and doing nothing. And if they don’t like during mixing, then they can just take it away. So, I ended up playing in the whole album pretty much.
Thank God for that!
I am pretty happy about that, of course! It was a fun couple of days, and it was also the first time I met Fredrik Nordstöm of course.
Which was your first ever gig with Spiritual Beggars? Do you remember anything from that event?
That was a one-off show in London, like a showcase show in a pub, it was us and I am not sure if Orange Goblin played also on that day, I think not... but it was us and another band, which I am trying to remember the name… I can’t remember now… There were lots of media people, more or less like an invite only show, not an open gig. It was a super fun show to play, we did not that at the time of course, but after that show we could hear a lot of ‘noise’ about us. At the time Spiritual Beggars were not the band that people could expect anything, I don’t think Spiritual Beggars had ever played in the UK before either, so that was the first UK show, people did not know what to expect from the band, it was a really cool evening. For me, I put that gig on the top 10 gigs I did with Beggars, it was the first and it was kind of an electric feeling, it has a special feeling in my heart for sure.
In my opinion, the ‘Mantra III’ and ‘Ad Astra’ period of the band is my favorite era of Spiritual Beggars. Could you kindly give us the overall feeling in the band at that time, how the band evolved from a three-piece group to have you as an integral and vital part of it? And I guess, you started travelling a lot towards the south probably...!
Definitely I did! Then we rehearsed more than bands do now. Since all of them were living in Halmstad, they had their rehearsal room, so it was very easy for them to get together and practice, and I was going there just before a tour or something like that. I think there was a difference between ‘Mantra III’ and ‘Ad Astra’, because when they started to write music for “Mantra III”, they did not think they would have keyboards also in the band, and the material was written under different circumstances. But when we started for “Ad Astra”, I was already in the band, I had done the tour for “Mantra III”, it Is a different concept when one more guy/instrument is in the band. It was a very nice and cool period, we got some really nice tours as well, played in big festivals. It was a wonderful period. For example, supporting Iron Maiden and touring in Spain and Portugal with Entombed, that was really cool at that time.
Speaking about Spiritual Beggars, is there something planned for the near future?
Not actually… Nothing on the horizon at all. Everybody is busy with bands or projects, I mean, I constantly talk to Mike, but the later years, with Beggars, we have not planned something new actually. We did a lot of stuff in the latest years, within a short period of time, especially between 2010 and 2016. We had time then, so we said, “Let’s do it”. I will not be surprised if one day we will decide to say: “OK, let’s do it”.
You have played with so many different bands in your career, either as a full or part time member, as a guest in tours or live shows, where you have left your music/artist footprint. To me this is quite special, and I believe that you have the ability, through your influences or the bands you like to listen to, to incorporate all of these into great pieces of music, no matter where you have participated. How difficult is it for you to change in between these bands/projects, and how challenging it is for an artist to be so multi-dimensional?
I don’t think of it like that actually. I am interested in so many different music, and I grew up listening to so different stuff. It’s not difficult for me to adjust to a situation to be honest. And also, I am fortunate enough to play with bands and people that I like. And when you play with people that you like, it’s usually very easy to cope with and manage each situation. I guess being a touring musician it’s definitely not for everyone. I think for some people they struggle a lot being on tour, even though they like to play the show, so it’s quite difficult. I’ve always been doing layout graphics, design etc. (Hippograffix). That’s what I have been doing in between music. But I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to play with professional bands, in the sense that they make their living out of music, albums, touring, etc. I am lucky to combine all these different bands and projects and be also able to live out of music. Sometimes it’s difficult with planning and travelling, etc., but to me it’s worth it all the way. I’ve only been playing music during my whole adult life, so… I’ll continue to try and do this as much as I can.
Please, continue doing this, because this is for our own benefit, the benefit of the fans!
Now, let’s turn the subject a little bit and go to another band you are active, King Hobo. This band is a fantastic example of what happens, when great musicians come together and play music that is so enjoyable and so inspiring to others. King Hobo have only released two LPs, but when this happens, it’s happy news for the fans. Give us a bit of the background behind your participation on this fantastic group. How did you all come together, whose idea was it and how has it been so far?
It’s me and Thomas who plays guitar in Kamchatka and then also Jean Paul who plays drums in Clutch. With Spiritual Beggars, we toured together with Clutch in 2003, for the ‘On Fire’ tour, we shared the bus on that tour and as you can understand, there was a lot of music talk on that tour. We got to know all the guys, I love Clutch, since the “Pitchfork” EP (1991), a band that I really liked for long. Me and Jean Paul talked a little bit about making some stuff together. We met again and toured together, when I was in Opeth, a couple of years later. Then we hung out during a festival tour in the States with Clutch - on that tour, we spent a lot of time off the actual gigs of our bands, and talked a lot. We said: ‘We have to do something together”. Early 2007, Jean Paul e-mailed me and said ‘I got a couple of months off’, and I had too, so we arranged to meet in Sweden. Jean Paul travelled to Sweden, I rented a house, got a friend with recording gear, I asked two friends of mine to join us, Thomas from Kamchatka and Ulf, the bass player, if they would have time, to come over for a week, record and see what happens. And that’s how the first album happened! We were four people on the first album and then only three people on the second album. We did the second album in Varberg, on the west coast, and we did it on Kamchatka’s rehearsal room, so Jean Paul stayed after a couple of Clutch festivals in Europe, and we did that album in four days. It was different, because on the second album I played bass (on the first one I played guitar and keys) so, it was a different setup. In the case of the second album, we recorded the music and just shelved it for years actually. I felt like: ‘No, we have to do something of this, I don’t like to have music laying down in drawers’. There is no business plan behind, there is no schedule for King Hobo, and this is cool. We played one show in Gothenburg Sticky Fingers, in 2013, which was really cool, Jean Paul stayed in Sweden after touring with Clutch, and it was really nice! Now when we toured with Clutch, Graveyard and Kamchatka in December 2019, Jean Paul came on stage, and we did one King Hobo song every night! I would love to have a couple of shows on our own, you know, proper shows, I don’t think this is the last you have seen from King Hobo…!
Even though I consider you a great bass and guitar player (with Kamchatka or Mojobone), I personally enjoy you more behind keyboards (don’t ask me why, haha!). Which one is more challenging for you and what do you prefer playing the most, either live or in the studio?
It depends on the band I could say... I wouldn’t love to play keyboards in Kamchatka, I love playing bass there. The last five, six, seven years, I mostly play bass in bands live, with Candlemass for example. I love playing bass with Candlemass, it is so much cool and fun! They are amazing guys and a fantastic band. I played keyboards with Candlemass as well before, it’s different I guess. It doesn’t matter so much for me. The most challenging is guitar, because it’s been so long since I played guitar with a band, so, timewise this is quite challenging for me. I play a lot of guitar when I record stuff on the studio, but I haven’t played guitar live for quite a few years.
Coming to the new EP, I must say that even though I see similarities with the previous LP, there are new elements with a similar interesting dark atmosphere but the approach on this one is slightly different, maybe more experimenting, incorporating other elements also. This is quite heavy and dark, it brings to me in all four songs, gothic elements, a flair of industrial sound, I can see influences of course from Hawkwind and Pink Floyd (the latter on the guitar leads and solos), it could also be a beautiful soundtrack of a dramatic film – to give also a cinematic dimension. Could you please provide us a bit of how this album has evolved since the LP, which were your influences and what was your goal – music wise - to achieve?
When I started with the EP, I wanted to write one long song. That was my intension, to have one long track. Since the EP title is fairly long, I divided it into four tracks/sections. I think it still makes sense to listen to it as one piece. When I started recording it, I thought that I would try more acoustic instruments, because I wanted to try to play live, like a small setting with acoustic instruments, this could be a good way to start playing in small gigs, that setup would really help. But then, after a while, when I was recording, I said ‘No’… I wanted to do this EP like the first album, with a proper band setting, guitar, drums, everything. So, I asked a friend of mine to play drums, maybe that’s why it’s different because the original intention was to make more of an acoustic thing, but it did not turn out that way. And also, there is the third part or the third song, whatever you may call it, it is an improvisations section, which is new to me, to work on such thing, I basically set the timer for 6 minutes and did this improvisation into the piano. That was a fun challenge, because I recorded the piano first and then I added everything afterwards to adjust it and fit the improvisation itself. So, that was a new, but fun way for me to work. Maybe I will do more stuff like that in the future, it was really fun and cool to sort of play piano like that, because it’s nothing that I have done with any band before.
Taking the opportunity for the new EP, I really like your vocals on your solo works, where you have certainly more freedom to experiment and challenge yourself from that perspective. How intriguing is it for you to sing and how challenging is it also?
It’s always a challenge, vocals is the biggest challenge I believe. The voice is the coolest instrument of all instruments, no doubt about it. But it’s also the most difficult. I like doing vocals, but I think it’s really difficult. It takes time to prepare and get ready to do vocals. It’s a lot easier for me to record bass, guitar, keyboards, I just sit down, and I do it. But with vocals, it’s a little bit different. I think I learn something new every time I do vocals. And for both my LP and EP, the vocal style is a bit different compared to King Hobo, there the material is different, and the vocal style adjusts accordingly. It’s difficult to not sing rock vocals! That’s a challenge, but I enjoy musical challenges, it’s definitely the vocals the most difficult part for me to record.
You are also the mastermind behind Hippografix and all those incredible pieces of art throughout these years. Did you study this art in school, did you start it on your own? What is the background for Hippografix?
I was like a lot of kids, who during school years, drew some stuff. Later when I started playing with bands, I was interested in art covers, I thought like entering a totally different world, for example the cover for ‘Never Say Die’ of Black Sabbath. My favorite album cover since I was at school, it was the more detailed fantasy related cover, like ‘Destroyer’ of KISS. But then like the late 70s, there was this design company (Hipgnosis) that made covers for Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin, they did also ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap’ for AC/DC, those were so cool, because they did not look like the music, they were totally different. I always thought for example that ‘Presence’ of Led Zeppelin was really cool and struck me always, just a regular family sitting on a table, you could not tell whether that was a science fiction thing or what else. I always liked also the cover for ‘Wish You Were Here’, fantastic cover. I guess that interest developed in me the will to do poster and cover art myself. Then in the 80s, as a teenager, I started doing flyers, posters etc. I continued from there, I don’t have an education as such, I just worked on that by my own. Looking back at it, I certainly could have benefitted more, if I had the proper art education. I still like enjoying doing it, it’s a fun thing, and I am very fortunate that people still ask me to help out with artwork.
What are your next plans? Recording with any band in the next coming months?
To be honest, it might be possible to play a few shows in Sweden, in the summer, if its outdoors, or it might be possible in the fall, to have some gigs, depending on the situation of course. But not a regular tour will happen until next year. It will take the time it is needed. Let’s hope for the best! I’ll just continue to record stuff and try to finish as much as I can. I have finished recording basic tracks for my next full-length record, which is going to be different because we recorded it live in the studio, me and two other friends. It will be a bit heavier and noisier than the EP and the first LP. I haven’t added vocals or keyboards yet. Usually when you record live in the studio, it’s going to sound a bit more wild. We’ll see what happens… I hope to finish that during the summer and then there is only vocals left on an album that me and Martin Axenrot (drummer of Opeth and Bloodbath) have done which is something I am now doing. That’s also going to be finished this summer as well, so, let’s see what happens!
Last but not least, I wanted to ask you about some favorite things in your life, not necessarily related to music, just ten random things!
Favorite Country to visit for holidays.
Favorite restaurant, either in Stockholm or abroad.
Ima sushi restaurant in Hammarby Sjöstad.
Favorite hobby to do, when not being busy with music.
Reading or watching a movie, or sports, especially hockey and winter skiing.
Oldest rock/metal t-shirt on your wardrobe.
I’ve sold away or lost most of my old ones, I don’t know… I always throw away shirts after a while, I don’t have a mountain of shirts like I used to! But I have to say that Motörhead shirts are always great!
First ever gig you attended as a fan.
ABBA in 1975 with my dad.
Favorite/most special memory from all tours you have been to.
Royal Albert Hall with Opeth, pretty amazing and insane to be part of a band with death metal background playing in such a ‘sacred’ place.
The record you listened to most recently, either on your stereo or Spotify.
That was during my walk, an album I haven’t listened to for quite a while, “Angel Dust” of Faith No More.
Favorite place to go for running/jogging.
Very close to my home, south of Stockholm, fairly close to the Globe, there are beautiful running tracks, and there are several places to swim in the summer, I love it.
Favorite book you have read.
I’ve been bad at reading lately, there is a book “As serious as your life: Black Music and the Free Jazz revolution, 1957-1977” by Val Wilmer, a book about the jazz innovators at that time, where the jazz musicians were considered the ‘punk innovators’ of their era.
If you could choose only one artist per instrument, which ones would you choose to play together in the same band?
Guitars: Jimi Hendrix, bass: Lemmy, vocals: H.R. from Bad Brains, drums: Billy Cobham, keyboards: Jan Hammer. That would be an insane band!! They could be playing a long Hawkwind type of thing!
Thank you so much Per for your time to have this interview, I truly appreciate that and hope to see you in a Stockholm gig, when this whole Covid thing is over!
Let’s hope so, thank you as well Antonis, have a nice evening, bye bye!