The Not-So New Guys: Jonas Stålhammar of At The Gates and Tom Draper of Carcass
In March, Philadelphia hosted Decibel magazine’s second annual Metal and Beer Festival. Besides having an ever flow of craft beers, the two headliners for Saturday and Sunday were legendary death metal bands: At The Gates and Carcass. Both bands were debuting their new guitarists for the first time on U.S. soil. At The Gates has called on veteran Jonas Stålhammar , whom many know from bands such as God Macabre and The Lurking Fear. Carcass calling upon Tom Draper, who had previously taken Bill Steer’s position in Angel Witch. Although neither of these guys can be considered “new” in any way, they are fresh to these bands and both fit right in when it came to showtime. I was able to talk to both and gain some insight into their backgrounds and of course, their best spinal tap moments.
How did the guys in Carcass find out about you? Was it through your work with Angel Witch?
Bill and I have known each other for a while – we’ve had mutual friends for a long time and when he became too busy to play with Angel Witch (around the time Surgical Steel came out in 2013) he was kind enough to ask me to take his place. We stayed in touch ever since.
When did you first officially meet Bill and Jeff, practice with them, and what was going through your mind?
I met the band and jammed for the first time in January this year. I prepared as diligently as I could but was also extremely nervous – I mean, it’s Carcass! The guys were all really nice and made me feel welcome and relaxed. It was a truly surreal moment looking around the room and thinking “Holy shit, I’m playing Incarnated Solvent Abuse with CARCASS!”
Your debut was a surprise to most people and it was also at Netherlands Deathfest. Not a small show. You got nothing but well deserved respect and acclaim from it. Talk about what it was like for you leading up to that moment.
It’s fair to say I’ve never worked on anything as hard in my life as I did learning the songs for the month or two leading up to the show, and it was not easy keeping it all secret! I really wanted to make a good impression and to do the songs justice. Weirdly I didn’t get very nervous at all on show day despite it being the biggest crowd I’d ever played to. I think a lot of that’s down to how relaxed the vibe is within the band. Jeff, Bill, Dan and the crew are all total pros and it’s an absolute pleasure to be around them.
You have only played a couple of shows so far but what song is your favorite to play live?
TD: Impossible to choose just one! I love Pyosisified (Rotten to the Gore), Corporal Jigsore Quandary, Buried Dreams, Cadaver Pouch Conveyor System, Exhume to Consume, Keep on Rotting in the Free World…The cool thing about the current setlist is that it really represents all eras of the band, so there’s a lot of variation in the material – from blast-beats to groove, from insanely fast riffing to twin lead guitar sections. It’s a real workout for the fingers (and brain) and massively fun to play.
You were telling me about your Grandfather whom played in the London Symphony Orchestra. He was on the Star Wars soundtrack! Music must have been around you your entire life. Did you parents play instruments? How did you find your way to guitar?
There are a lot of musicians in my family for sure! My parents never played any musical instruments past school age, but my brother is an accomplished drummer and I have several cousins who play to a very high level; from harp to theremin(!) And yes, my Grandfather and Uncle are both lifelong classical musicians – there must be something in the genes. I began playing guitar at 14 when I started listening to music obsessively; we found my Dad’s old guitar from when he was a teenager and I never stopped playing since.
How many hours do you practice guitar? Do you set aside a certain amount of time every week?
A normal week is probably about 10-15 hours but it varies – there’s no specific regimen. I’ve never been one to sit and learn scales or techniques, I’ve always tried to make up my own stuff, and figure out how to play songs I like either by ear or with help from internet tabs. My rule has always been to not force it and keep it fun. I like going to local jam nights too – playing music with other people, especially live, is infinitely more fun than practicing alone at home.
Being around so many musical legends, what have you learned from them that you apply to your work?
Patience, tolerance, preparedness, politeness, being aware of other people’s feelings and space – if anything I think these are even more important than the mechanical aspects of playing the music. Of course you have to do your homework and make sure your musical sh*t is together too!
You live in California now, when did you move here and what was the reason?
My wife had a career opportunity about three and a half years ago that meant we’d have to leave London and move to California. It was a terrifying thing to totally uproot our lives and start again somewhere new, but so far I’d have to say it’s worked really well for us. The Bay Area is a fantastic place to live, I’ve met so many awesome people I’d never have known otherwise, and being from England I certainly prefer the weather here.
Besides cats and guitar, what does Tom Draper enjoy?
Mostly going to gigs and listening to music! I also love watching football (the kind with the round ball), going to the cinema, hanging out with friends and exploring California with my wife.
Tell me your best Spinal Tap moment:
Have definitely fallen off a stage or two in my time going for overambitious stage moves, have learned to reign those tendencies in! There was a moment at a gig in Sweden a few years ago where the vocalist introduced me, I took a bow and my guitar fell off the strap directly onto my pedal-board. Fortunately, the guitar survived intact – even if my ego didn’t!
Follow Tom on Instagram at the links below.
instagram: @tomdraperguitarist / @carcassband / @pounderheavymetal
JONAS STALHAMMAR: AT THE GATES
Full Name: Jonas Stålhammar
Country of Origin: Sweden
Current and previous bands: AT THE GATES, BOMBS OF HADES, CRIPPLED BLACK PHOENIX, GOD MACABRE, THE LURKING FEAR
First record you bought: Kiss ”Destroyer”
I was super Death Metal from like 1985 to 1991 but even in those years i listened to shitloads of other stuff stuff like a lot of US Hardcore, UK/Swedish Crust, Doom and stuff like The Cure and 70’s rock stuff. I was there from the beginning in Sweden so it wasn’t a scene i gradually fell in to.