At the beginning of the 90s, the thought of Carcass playing good ol’ rock & roll would have been pretty damn unlikely. Not impossible, but probably not too high up on the list of future career moves. Since then, though, we’ve had Bill Steer’s excellent work with Firebird and, of course, Michael Amott’s Swedish riff machine, Spiritual Beggars. With four of their finest works, from the Grammy-nominated Another Way To Shine all the way through to the still huge-sounding On Fire now getting the reissue treatment, remastered and finally getting that vinyl pressing they’d always deserved, we caught up with Spiritual Beggars co-founder and former vocalist Spice to talk about his recollections of those albums and his current work with Kayser and Band Of Spice.
Thanks a lot for talking to us, man. Have you had a listen to the remasters yourself yet?
No, I haven’t, but I listened to the records again for the first time in years. They sound great.
How do you feel about how them after so many years?
I’m very pleased with them. I’m proud of them.
Is it good seeing them on vinyl? For a few of these, it’ll be their first time.
At last! At the time they were released, I didn’t even have a CD player. I was against CD players until I left Spiritual Beggars.
Was there any particular reason they weren’t pressed onto vinyl at the time?
I don’t know. They just didn’t do that back then.
Yeah, those were pretty dark days back. Are you a collector yourself?
I was, back in time, but I don’t have the money to spend on those good albums I want, but I still buy records. I just can’t afford those obscure records that I really want because they cost a lot.
How much input did you have on the remastering process, and when did you hear they were being reissued?
About a couple of months ago, actually; I had no idea. Mike just emailed me and I thought it was a great idea.
Are you still in regular contact with Mike?
I have contact with Mike but not on a regular basis.
How did Spiritual Beggars originally form?
I got a phone call from Mike in the fall of ’92. I didn’t know him back then, I just knew him from Carcass, and he asked if I was interested in forming a ‘70s band because he had heard a demo of mine, and it was very ‘70s in style. He liked my vocals, and at first I said no because I thought “The guy from Carcass? Can he play ‘70s style?” I called him back in a couple of hours, and then I met him and started jamming. There were two other guys at the time. We weren’t a band, we were just trying out songs. After that, nothing happened, and then he called me in the summer of ‘93 to tell me had found a good drummer – that was Ludwig. That was when we started. I was playing guitar on the first album but we couldn’t find a bass player that could jam as well, and Mike was a little better than I was on guitar, so I started playing bass. There weren’t as many jam songs on the first album. I wrote two, three songs, so did Mike, and then we wrote two together.
What were your memories of recording those early albums?
Taking Another Way To Shine first, I think that’s the album where we found our sound, because all the jamming we had done up to that point came to life. It was what we were aiming for. We were jamming a lot – every rehearsal session was a jamming session. I remember I was in a bad state when we were doing that recording of that record. I was depressed, had some problems but it turned out good, though, and it’s a great album. We were searching for studios all over the place to get that unique sound on it. I remember we were up in the north of Sweden, testing out these old 1950s studios, and it just sucked! Then we found this studio in Malmo, with old stuff, but new stuff as well but it was great.
What did you manage to capture there that you hadn’t on your debut? Was it simply that you were more comfortable with each other as a band?
Yeah, and when we recorded that album, we were playing live. Mike would get in and change something, but it’s still a live recording.
Is that a technique that you prefer?
It depends on the band I’m playing in. In Kayser, that’s metal and it’s much harder but in my solo band, I always record with the drummer to get that feeling of playing live. We don’t use computers at all, just going with the feel and the vibe of it. I prefer that because I think it’s boring to record on the computer, always changing things. I don’t want a record to be perfect, I like it when there’s more mistakes. When you listen to old records, like Black Sabbath or Led Zeppelin, there are lots of mistakes but it makes it real and unique.
Did you record that way up to Ad Astra too?
We jammed that as well, but we just kept the drums on the session. Before that, I always recorded live with my bass as well. With Mantra, I fixed maybe two mistakes but that’s it. You can hear it on songs like Euphoria, when Ludwig speeds up the tempo in the beginning of the songs. On Ad Astra, we used click tracks for him, and I thought that was annoying. I didn’t like that at all.
In general, are you not a particular fan of remasters and reissues, then?
No, I prefer the old stuff.
You got a Swedish Grammy nomination for Another Way To Shine. Were you surprised at receiving that level of critical recognition?
Yes, because we weren’t that popular in Sweden so that was a huge mistake. We never got nominated again because I made a fool of myself at the ceremony and was arrested. I hit a guy and was arrested by the police. I think that’s why we never got another nomination in Sweden.
Was it Mantra III that allowed you to move away from that, and allowed the jams to be more cohesive?
I think Mantra, for me, is my favourite album. It was a good time doing the songs and the recording, and I felt that the songs were getting stronger and stronger. It was a fantastic period in my life, and we recorded in the summer, when the weather was fine – everything was fine. When we did Superbossanova, we recorded that live with the windows all open and you can hear the traffic passing by, and we just jammed it – one take!
How did you feel about the recording of Ad Astra now that you can look back?
There were many pre-recording sessions on that one. I knew that was going to be a great album. We really peaked, me and Michael, as songwriters but at the same time we were drifting apart on a personal level, but not on a musical level. We had a great chemistry when we were writing. The recording, in my opinion, was a little boring. As I said, we used click tracks and everything was so perfect. I recorded the bass later and it wasn’t that fun anymore. I knew it was going to be a fucking great album, but I had no clue what the audience was going to think. The sound was so huge, it was almost like a wall of sound, and I can’t hear my bass.
Do you feel that if you had enjoyed the process more at the time, that things would have worked out differently with you and the band?
I left the band after the recording, and then came back to do the tour. It was all personal. Me and Michael didn’t communicate that much and it was always me, and sometimes Ludwig, sitting on the bus drinking. It was always Ludwig who was my drinking buddy. The time was up for me, I guess. That tour was very hard work, and at the same time I was becoming a father for the first time. If we had better communication, I would have stayed in the band.
Ad Astra is such a fluid album, and that was the great thing about Spiritual Beggars – there was always this very natural sense of motion. Did you follow the band’s work after you left?
Not at all. I was not in the band, why should I go listen to that? It’s masochistic. I heard one or two songs, that’s all.
How long after you leaving the band was it before you started working with Kayser?
I did an album with The Mushroom River Band after I left Beggars, then I left that one and started writing songs that ended up being for Kayser in around 2002.
Did you feel that moving into the Mushroom River Band and Kayser gave you more freedom than you had with Beggars at the end?
I didn’t want to be in Mushroom River Band. Those were some friends of mine who asked me and couldn’t find a proper singer so they asked me and said I could sing for them. I started writing tunes before them but they were my friends but I didn’t want to continue doing that same genre. I wanted something different, and I’m a metal guy from the beginning, before I started in Beggars. Both me and Michael were huge metal guys, but we took that into Spiritual Beggars as well. We took influences from Megadeth and Slayer, we just did it with a more 70s approach. A song like Wake Up Dead, that’s just riffs after riff after riff – that’s what we wanted to do. Same with the first Captain Beyond record.
How did you get started as a metalhead, then? Do you remember what the first album you ever bought was?
The first record I bought was an Elvis Presley record, because I’m a huge Elvis fan – I have about 56 Elvis albums. The first hard rock record I bought was High Voltage, back when I was a kid, and then I liked Iron Maiden, of course, and Dio, Judas Priest, Accept. Then in ’84 I heard about a band called Metallica. I hated it at first, I couldn’t understand it, but then I was drunk one day and it was fantastic. It totally changed my life. Then I heard about Slayer, Megadeth, and I was hooked. At the same time, I was listening to Black Sabbath. I first heard Paranoid and thought “This is fantastic.” Simple riffs, and I can play along to it. It changed my life as well.
What made you decide to start Band of Spice?
After the second album with Kayser, I was fed up with everything, things we talked about – the computers, things like that. I wanted to go back to what we did with Spiritual Beggars – free myself and see where the music takes me. That’s why I started it. I wanted to play on a record live as well.
Do you feel music should have that natural feel?
I don’t want to judge the whole music industry but personally, I prefer that. For a technical band, though, it’s impossible, I guess. I don’t know, though, because I don’t really follow that scene.
How do you feel a band like Spiritual Beggars were received compared to how things are with Band Of Spice nowadays?
I don’t see Band Of Spice in the same way as Spiritual Beggars because I like to change with every record, like on the last one I explore the late 70s, early 80s. I was influenced by Dire Straits and Tom Petty, so it’s totally different. I don’t like to repeat myself. We never really toured with Band Of Spice, though – just small tours in places like Croatia and stuff like that, but the crowds like it. I’ve started to put a Beggars song in the setlist – they always go crazy!
Do you head into songwriting nowadays in the same way?
I want to always move forward but obviously, you repeat yourself no matter what. You take what you’ve done with you. I think I write more now than I did back then because I don’t drink that much or do drugs. I have a hard time shutting off my brain when I go to sleep. I write too much. With Band Of Spice, we just started rehearsing new songs and I have, like, five different albums and I don’t know which direction to take. I have to categorise; a metal album – 10 songs there; a rock album – 15 or 20 songs there; a soft album – 10, 15 songs there. That was different from Spiritual Beggars because we jammed more, all the time. Many of the songs could be two or three songs instead. One song could head off in many different ways – just riff after riff after riff. Me and Michael had a good competition to see who could come up with the coolest riff.
Looking back, what are your fondest memories of your time with Spiritual Beggars?
Lots of them. Very happy times. Most in the beginning but I remember playing in Athens – one of the last gigs we ever did – and I had goose bumps all over my body. They all knew all the lyrics and I just let them sing. It was almost like an out of body experience for me. I was thinking about sitting on my old couch at home and writing all the lyrics, and now here they are. A bunch of Greek people singing my songs – it was amazing. Then there was touring with Iron Maiden – that was fantastic as well. That was great – huge!
Another Way To Shine, Mantra III, Ad Astra & On Fire were reissued on vinyl via Music For Nations on 29th June 2015 as part of their reissues series.
Interviewed by: Dave Bowes