Wednesday 19 July 2017

INTERVIEW: "We never want to stand still in terms of songwriting": Amped & Doomed with Simon Ohlsson (Vokonis)

Vokonis Hailing from Borås, Sweden and formed in 2015 out of the ashes of stoner rock band Creedsman Arise, with a well-received EP ‘Temple’ under their belts, the band became embroiled in a legal dispute over the name. Well what better way to stick it to the lesser ‘Creedsmen’ than with a new album of six psych-tinged bangers? Rising like a phoenix from the flames Vokonis  released their brand new album The Sunken Djinn on 9th June via Ripple Music,  an album that has been met with almost universal acclaim, topping our own Sour 16 chart just last month.  

The Swedish doom trio, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Simon Ohlsson, drummer Emil Larsson and bassist Jonte Johansson, are hewn from the same doomy bedrock as genre titans Sleep, and with Iommi’s influence looming large, their new record is about as strong a rebrand as is possible.

The craft that afforded Vokonis such acclaim on their debut “Olde One Ascending” has been refined and renewed. Whilst being undoubtedly heavy what makes their sophomore effort stand out is the variation employed in the bludgeon. By embracing less traditional doom landscapes ‘The Sunken Djinn’ has allowed Vokonis room to demonstrate the full raft of their audio-weaponry, and in doing so propelled them to the forefront of the heavy underground. 

Today, Amped & Doomed is back and it gives us great pleasure to invite Simon Ohlsson to answer our questions.  You can check out our interview in full below. 

Simon, welcome to The Sludgelord.  Could you give us an insight into how you started playing music, leading up to the formation of Vokonis

I started playing when I was about 15 because I suddenly had this urge to play the guitar. I had just discovered grunge and alternative rock from the 90’s and was immediately smitten by the sound and feel of it. I’m very certain that to this day I am hugely influenced in my writing by
Dinosaur Jr. and Nirvana.

Vokonis came about when our previous band, Creedsmen Arise, imploded. The three of us all had Sabbath worship as the main goal with the band. But now we’re trying to incorporate a lot more in the mix than that. We never want to stand still in terms of songwriting.

Can you remember who or what inspired you to pick up the guitar and is there any bands, musicians currently on the scene that continue to inspire you and push you to try new things?

The one guitarist that made me pick it up at the first place is probably J Mascis. I was sitting around in my room and just trying to nail every
Dino Jr. solo I could find tabs on. That certainly sparked my interest for everything loud and fuzzy.

Shifting attention to the now there’s a lot of bands doing great stuff right now. The new album by
Elder (“Reflections of a Floating World”) have really given me a revelation on how to construct songs with different sounds and soundscapes. Nick is doing a wonderful job of always keeping it interesting with textures and dynamics in his playing. So he’s a major influence on me.

Going in a completely opposite direction, Thomas Jäger of
Monolord have been a huge influence for the past years. His no-nonsense sludgehammer approach is something I admire and get inspired by constantly.

Whilst we’re on the subject of inspiration or heroes for example, do you have 5 records that stand out as favourites, what influence did they have upon you and what is it about those record that particular resonates amongst others? 

Elder – “Reflections of a Floating World”. This is a new record but it has had such profound effect on me that I have to list it. It’s pushing the genre forward and I think it’s going to be regarded as a classic in a few years.

Monolord – “Vaenir”. They kinda perfected the Wall of sound bludgeoning doom with this record. Playing as a unit it’s always about the song and what the song needs.

Bad Acid – “Revelations of the Third Eye”. One of my favourite records of last year. It’s got a lot of cool things happening, a very psychedelic rock take on stoner and doom. But never losing its footing or direction. I appreciate when psychedelic music keeps a good flow and they managed that perfectly.

Slomatics – “Future Echo Returns”. Don’t know where to start with this. It’s something that just grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. You can’t just listen to separate songs; you have to listen to the record in its entirety to fully understand these guys vision.

Skraeckoedlan – “Sagor”. When Sagor first released I didn’t really understand it. But returning to it a few years later it have turned into one of my favourite records of all time. The way they took their influences and ran with it is outstanding.

Can remember your first electric guitar?

I think it was a no-name Jagmaster copy. Not quite a Jazzmaster not quite a Jaguar. Wasn’t very good but I loved the shape and feel of it. As previously stated I had a huge thing for Dinosaur Jr and Nirvana, so that’s why I even got it. Sold it many years ago.

I still have my third guitar though, my trusty
Fender Jazzmaster that I got as a graduation gift from my family. Last time I used it was recording clean parts for our debut album, “Olde One Ascending”. I consider this my first “true” guitar though, given the bond I have to it.

What guitar (s) are you using today and how did you gravitate towards the guitar you currently use? 

I use a variety of SGs.

For recording I have an old
Gibson SG from 88 or 89. It’s supposedly from one of the first years of the 61 reissue. It’s got a thin neck and a warm sound.

I also have a Japanese
Gibson knock-off from the late eighties called Burny. These are quite common in Europe I think due to them being as good as Gibson but without the price tag. I used this all over our new album, “The Sunken Djinn”, and live all the time.

For live use I have a
Boult Troglorite” which I love. It’s made of Zebrawood so it looks totally insane. It’s a very sturdy guitar and always manages to turn some heads so I use it live whenever I can.

Also I don’t want to forget telling everyone about my signature guitar over at
Boult, “The Djinn”. It’s got the shape of the Yamaha SG but without the backbreaking weight. So that’s a huge honour for me. Will come in silverburst with Zombie Dust pickups that me and Willie (at Zombie Dust) will design together.

What do you like about the guitars you currently use and has there been any specific modifications to it? 

I like the way the SG hangs on the body. They’re very light and easy to play. And they always sound a lot bigger than you’d imagine.

I tend not to do that big of modifications to them, mostly swap pickups or stuff if I become bored of them. I have a set of
Lace Dirty Heshers in the Burny SG that is totally face-melting.

What amps and pedals do you currently use?  Do you use a combination of amps, or a full half stack? Talk us through your set up both in the studio and in the live environment? 

For guitars I use two Orange OR100 heads. They just have a big and bold sound that go well with pedals in general. I have either an Orange 4x12 with V30s or an Orange 4x12 with Celestion G12 100 K speakers. We don’t play on big enough stages to warrant a full stack but we’ll see for the future.. For bass Jonte is using an Orange AD200B MKIII head along with an Orange 1x15 cab and my Orange 4x12 with G12 100 K speakers. This is a really menacing combination and gives us a huge low-end but a focused and aggressive mid-range punch.

I have a variety of fuzz-boxes and overdrives but I usually tend to go back to the
Pharaoh and Black Forest by Black Arts Toneworks. They have been really supportive of us and have been kind enough to grace me with a custom-pedal. So I’m using that for over the top insane sounds. Jonte is actually using a Pharaoh as well on bass, but I know he’s been using a DOD Boneshaker and a Boss ODB-3 in front just to tighten things up.

Our setup is basically the same for studio and live use. Last time we were in the studio we used an
Ampeg 8x10 cab and a Sovtek Mig100 for a huge clean sound along with the dirty Orange tone for bass. Turns out they complement each other in a really nice way.

What one pedal could not live without and why?

That would be the Pharaoh. Best fuzz pedal I’ve ever tried, and I’ve tried a few that have come close. The thing I like about it is that it can leave your EQ intact and deals more with the texture and gain of your sound.

What are your amp/ pedal settings?

Amp is set up just to get some break up. Mid heavy, roll off some bass and up with the treble a bit to get a cutting sound. Then blast with the Pharaoh. It’s got the volume all the way up and the gain all the way down. Think of it as the doom metal version of using a Tubescreamer with a 5150 haha..

I would say Jontes bass amp is setup fairly the same gain-wise but with almost a flat EQ. No matter what you do the AD200B just sounds great on its own. But it’s a great platform for dirt too. He’s very delicate with the way he tunes his pedals.

What tunings do you use and why, and as a result is there a specific brand / gauge of string you prefer?  

We play in C standard and we use D’addario strings. I use a set with 0.13-0.56 with a wound G-string that I like. Sounds fat but it’s tight and doesn’t get too floppy. Don’t know the gauges Jonte is using though.

Do you have any advice for up and coming guitars players, bands?

Practice your instrument, challenge yourself musically as a group and while writing, always think “what’s the best for the song?”
Do feel there are deeply help misconceptions about being in a band? 

I know that when we started out I knew there was going to be a lot of work. But the extent of it, I had no idea. We spend a lot of time rehearsing and writing just to become better as a band. But in the end, with a little luck, people will notice that your hard work pays off.

I mean look at a band such as
Conan. Completely D.I.Y approach to everything. They’re a band that has truly forged their own path. I don’t think I know a more hard-working band than them.

Moving on a little then,  what can you tell us about any of your current projects, tours, cds, etc you’re currently promoting, completed and anything else band related we should know about?

That would be our newly released album ‘The Sunken Djinn’ that’s out now through Ripple Music We’ve got a few shows lined up, including a Swedish iteration of Ripple Fest that will be a lot of fun.


What springs to mind when you think about the completion of your new record and how is the mood in the camp at present?

Having just released our new record I think we’re in that mode where we can finally breathe after 6 months of holding in a lot of material. For me this record is more of a first record for us than “OOA”. That’s not a knock on our first record in any way; I just view it more of a demo than our first real offering.

And we’re looking forward to bringing this new record to a live setting. There’s some cool parts on there that I want to see how people react to.

What can fans look forward to from you over the next 12 months? How is your schedule shaping up?

Other than appearing on a as of now secret double LP compilation we hope that The Planet of Doom have neared completion. Very anxious to see how it will turn out and how our music will complement the animations. We’re probably going to write another record this fall. But we’ll be a bit more patient with recording it this time. So don’t expect a new LP until around 2019..

Finally, do you have any final comments/word of wisdom you’d like to bestow upon us?

Just something that I try to remind myself of once in a little while, to try and sit back and enjoy the moment when you can. Life moves fast, two years ago I wouldn’t dream of doing the stuff I’m doing with Vokonis.

Thank you for taking the time for us. It’s been a pleasure.

The End

The Sunken Djinn” is available buy here
Band info: Facebook || Bandcamp