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Interview conducted October 22 2019
Interview published November 19 2019

"So actually grunge was what started my interest in music."

Metal Covenant met up with VOJD frontman and former Enforcer guitarist Joseph Tholl to listen to his views on his new solo record Devil's Drum. [Out on October 18th.]

Tobbe: Tell me about your new record. The way it sounds and what type of music it contains, because it differs a bit from other stuff in your discography.

Joseph: Yes, it absolutely does, and that was my intention. I didn't want to make something that sounds like my other bands that I play with or have played with. I wanted to make something fresh and that's where this record comes from. Like everything I haven't been able to do with other bands. So it's pretty dynamic and I have included a lot of different inspiration in it.

It's not a hard rock album from start to finish, in any way, and it's not a rock album like many people think because of the opening track "It's Just Rock N' Roll", but that's just an irony, really. I wanted to make something heavy and dramatic, yet emotional. So it's dynamic and it has a lot of withdrawn, tranquil parts that flourish into something bigger and heavier.

So basically hard rock is close to my heart and I stand with one foot in hard rock, but also with one foot I'm a singer/songwriter and has always been, you know. I like stuff like Nick Cave, and lyricists, like, poets. I focus on my lyrics quite a lot and I think that that's important and especially when the songs are stripped down like I'm The Machine, which is really just an acoustic guitar with some overdubs.

Tobbe: What are your lyrics about in general?

Joseph: They often follow a thread, in terms of style of writing, that there is some kind of mystique around them. You know, they kind of have the same vibe, and it doesn't matter whether it has been lyrics to Enforcer, Black Trip, VOJD or to what I do now. You can use the same lyrics, because they aren't fixed to a specific band. All the lyrics kind of fit, in terms of hard rock, since they deal with a certain darkness.

So my record has different songs, but still the same type of lyrics. They deal with different subjects though, even if the vibe is the same, and they might have a lot of metaphors. So they might deal with all kinds of destinies, like personal or other persons', and some of them are stories that I personally find cool, like science fiction really.

Tobbe: Over the years you have been playing with quite a few bands and in what way has each and every band affected the music you now put out as a solo artist?

Joseph: Well, I have kind of always wanted to do different stuff, you know. Maybe it's because I like so many different types of music, from hard rock to singer/songwriter to Bob Dylan or whatever. Then I'm not a typical guitarist now, like I was in Enforcer. And I've been singing in Black Trip and VOJD and now I have picked up the bass in VOJD as well.

I have enjoyed doing a little bit of everything, so maybe it's the wide range and that I love to write music that make the flow never stop. I never just played the guitar in order to try to become a virtuoso and I need to do something where I do the whole spectrum to be fully satisfied.

So this is something that I really wanted to do to get things exactly the way I want to and not have to compromise. I like playing and writing with other people too. It's awesome to have a great band chemistry, but this time I wanted to see what would happen if I was in charge of everything myself, you know.

Tobbe: The record definitely belongs in one genre. It's not like you have a thrash metal song here and a cheesy ballad there. And I guess that would basically be impossible to do, or would it?

Joseph: Well, I guess that would be quite difficult to do. And I'm happy that the record is as cohesive as it is, really. When I work on a record, or at least on the latest ones I've made, I think it's always like: Let's take VOJD as an example. It's the third record actually, if we include the two Black Trip records, and we started to think like "Something interesting must happen now. We can't make those two records a third time.". So you broaden your perspective in the studio, you think. Like "Can we really do this? What will people think?".

But when everything is down on the record and everything is mastered, then you realize that it's not so far from the other stuff as you initially thought. Well, at least it makes perfect sense, you know. And my record turned out a bit like that as well. Occasionally I was worried about taking it too far in one direction. You know, making it too spread out. And the songs are varied, but when I listened to the master later I was like "It's a cohesive record. It follows a thread.".

Tobbe: You have obviously made different kinds of music over the years. Tell me about your influences.

Joseph: It starts with the '90s, because I grew up with that. I was 6 years old when Kurt Cobain died, and that was a big thing. So actually grunge was what started my interest in music. And also the '60s and the '70s, but not so much the '80s in the beginning. I dug Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana and then some more '90s bands came into my life. It wasn't until I was 12 or 13 that I started to take interest in heavy metal and it's at that point where the '80s come in, because most of the, dare I say it, great heavy metal is from the '80s. Yes, I dare say it. [Laughs]

So there was a treasure chest there. And in my youth thrash metal was really important. German bands like Kreator and Destruction were my whole world for a period. And for some reason you tend to look back quite a lot and during the last decade I have found out that there were many great bands around 2001. In a different genre though. Bands like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Strokes and The White Stripes.

And then there are many underground bands in that, you know, type of genre, that I've been listening to quite a lot. Maybe those bands can be found in a genre called psychedelic rock, to some extent. The Brian Jonestown Massacre has inspired me as well. It's a huge mix, you know.

Of course there are the '70s as well, like Black Sabbath and stuff. The bands I've played with have been very much influenced by the '80s, but we had such a clear concept when we started those bands. You know, it could be a concept as narrow as between '79 and '81, when we made the first albums. But it has broadened more and more, you know, and even in VOJD there are influences from other decades. [Laughs]

Tobbe: You have chosen to let the bass come out pretty loud in the mix and what were you looking for there?

Joseph: It's really great that you point that out, because I've been thinking about that a lot. That was almost a keystone from the beginning; an inspiration to the sound. You know, a loud, distorted bass, in pretty light songs. There's also a lot of floor tom beats. A lot of floor tom and a lot of bass and that was something that I thought about in the beginning. You know, I want it to be heavy at the same time.

There isn't so much focus on riffs, but more about melody, and then the bass becomes more important. If the guitars are always going full-on, then there's not so much room for the bass. But now the guitars are playing melody, or the piano is playing the melody or the beat, and then the bass does the job with the distortion, you know. And in that range is where the bass belongs, really.

Tobbe: The record is only 30 minutes long and during the last 30-35 years the fans have gotten used to longer records. Is there an explanation for making a shorter record?

Joseph: Well, I could probably have made it longer, if I wouldn't have been so impatient to get it done. I've been working on every song so much. Put down a lot of time in them, so it's really a time thing. And when I got the contract I wanted the record out, you know. So I guess it could have been 5-10 minutes longer.

But I have recorded it myself, and I have played a lot of the instruments. Not everything, but almost all the guitars, and all vocals, and a lot of bass, and all the overdubs, you know. So it takes a lot of time for me to do it and I wasn't able to do more this time. [Laughs] But next record will probably be a bit longer. I had a couple of songs that didn't make it. I thought like "Well, I won't finish them now. They'll have to wait for some time.".

Tobbe: What's happening with VOJD at the moment?

Joseph: We have a few gigs planned and it's like we kind of do some stuff here and there. We're not able to be out playing too often, so we have turned down a whole lot of stuff and accepted a certain level that works for everyone in the band. But we have tons of fun and usually play weekend gigs and we make some short trips sometimes.

We were in Germany for a week this spring and maybe we're going to Spain in the beginning of next year. It's pretty much like that and we try to enjoy it when we get a chance to. We have recorded some covers just for fun and there is definitely some other material there as well, but it's a long process to make a record and I don't know when it's gonna happen.

Now, when my solo record is just out, I haven't had the time to think about what the next record is gonna be. But we don't have any pressure put on us to get something out quick, but it's more like we want to make a good album and have fun. Maybe we'll do it like the last time, when we didn't do everything at the same time, but put together a song when you have it ready, you know.

Tobbe: And your other bands, CC Company and your own band Escapades. Are those bands on hiatus, or are they finished chapters now?

Joseph: Well, Escapades is a finished chapter. I can't have two Joseph Tholl bands at the same time. I have been asked if the new record is my second solo record, because in a way it is, but they are two very different records. So in the end I want Devil's Drum to appear as a debut record, because it contains a different type of music.

So, Escapades itself is a finished chapter. But we recorded some stuff with CC Company some time ago. You know, the whole idea with that band is that it has to be fun and something on the side with no restrictions. So we pick that up when we have time. I mean, Tobbe [Tobias Lindqvist, bass] still plays with Enforcer, and Jonka [Johannes Andersson, drums] plays with Tribulation, so that's two highly active bands there, and I do everything that I do, so that's something we do when there really is time in between.

But it's great fun. So we have 3 new songs there, that will be released on cassette [Laughs], before we get the whole thing together. So our intention is to make another CC Company album.

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