The Workhorse Chronicles: Rogga Johansson

Rogga Johansson’s music doesn’t show up on year-end lists or required-listening threads. His long-running project, Sweden’s Paganizer, reliably product pretty-great gutted chainsaw death metal. And actually, pretty much all of Johansson’s projects, whether he’s collaborating with Massacre’s Kam Lee or Master’s Paul Speckmann, fall into that mold. Raising the bar song by song, album by album, is not what he does. That’s not what makes him special.

But Johansson is, in fact special. By one measure, he’s one of the most noteworthy musicians in death metal history.

He is special because he is prolific. Johansson released eight records in 2018. He averaged almost a complete full-length LP, every seven weeks with enough time left over for an EP. And while those records aren’t the hippest, most outré or savage young slice of OSDM worship on the market, they are reliably worth listening to.  

Metal has more than a few musicians like Johansson, individuals who can’t be held in by record labels asking for a single studio LP every two years. Their songwriting wells seem bottomless. Riffs flow out of their bodies like wine from the cups of mythic gods. They are workhorses. In a series of interviews, I plan on finding out how some people —like Johansson — can just keep producing.

Johansson is far from done. He’s already got another record prepped for release — his first solo LP, which will be released via Transcending Obscurity next year. Follow his solo project on Facebook here.

By my count you’ve released seven LPS and one EP in 2018, spread across multiple projects – bluntly, how do you have the time to write and record all this stuff?
I have? That seems like quite a bunch! I don’t know really. It’s not like I only do music, not like I spend too much time on it really. I guess when I write and record, I do it fast and I get done what I want to do. I never force myself to write anything. On the other hand, there are many things I’m lazy with, so I guess it’s just due to the natural flow that it happens.

Where do you draw your inspiration to keep producing work at such high volume?
These are question I have a hard time answering, as I don’t really know. It just comes out simply. I sit down, and then after maybe ten minutes, mostly, a song or the basic skeleton of a song is finished, and then gradually it’s fleshed out. The ideas for the music and lyrics come from themselves, I guess. Naturally, sometimes also a movie or a book gives me fuel for ideas and makes for a conceptual idea to emerge too.

What is your home recording rig like? Do you record all analog, or onto a laptop? I assume you begin with electric guitar, but do you also use drum machines, etc?
I’m very low-tech. At home I just have my guitars and an old computer with an equally old software to record stuff on, and at the rehearsal room we have a very primitive studio based around a 16-track recorder and a bunch of microphones. It’s cheap stuff, all digital, and it was many years ago that we switched from cheap analog multitracks to cheap digital ones. When I write music I always start with guitar indeed, to a clicktrack if it’s supposed to be for a band I have with someone far away, or if we jam we usually just record drums and one guitar, and then gradually fill songs up with more tracks before mix and mastering of the material.

You’ve been making death metal for almost thirty years now, but it seems like your output has only increased recently, even though people tend to think that musicians slow down over time, not produce more – why do you think you’re making more music now?
In terms of released stuff beyond demo stage on labels it’s like 29 years now indeed. And to answer your question, I have no idea, maybe simply every year you get more comfortable in your writing and find simpler ways to achieve what you want to do. On the other hand, it’s also frustrating that I feel like a one trick pony, just doing my simple style of metal and not being able to evolve much even though I’ve been doing it for so fucking long.

Do you work on your projects one at a time, or do you tackle multiple at once?
It’s mostly simultaneous work, as I have a few bands that I write for. But every now and then I get into a more certain flow, and then maybe I work on just one thing for a few weeks or a month until it’s finished, before I do anything else.

You’re a prolific collaborator, and frequently work with many other metal musicians, such as David Ingram and Paul Speckmann. How do you select your collaborators, and how do you approach a long-distance collaboration project?
The ones that I have approached have been people I really like musically, where I have been a fan myself. Some of them I’ve met and talked to, mostly at gigs. Others I have simply sent a message and talked to. I met Paul for the first time almost 20 years ago, but when we decided to work together it was much later. It was when I asked him to do some vocals on a song for me and then we both thought it’d be cool to continue working together.

Bluntly, a great deal of your music falls into a narrow spectrum of genres and sounds. The big difference, to my ears, between most of your projects is who you are collaborating with. How do you know which riff or vocal part belongs in which project?
So, what you are saying is that all my stuff is similar, [laughs]. And yeah, that’s indeed what I’m told and I’m not stupid, I think, so I know that as well myself. And to be honest, if there were a possibility to be on a label that thought it was a good idea for me to release five albums a year under the same name, then maybe I wouldn’t have many different projects going. So, from the start, it was really out of this that I came to do so many things. I like to write music, I like to record music, but no label would be interested in more than maybe an album and an EP a year from one artist, so that’s why I started doing different things, even if many people might think it’s just more and more of the same. Naturally when I work with other people, mainly on vocals, it sounds different and I guess that’s why I still can keep doing lots of music and people still seem interested in it. For me it’s basically just that I like to do music, and then if it’s pleasing others or if they think it’s just a bunch of shit that sounds the same, I don’t care much about that.

Despite your prolific history, you’re only just now about to release your first solo album—why go solo now
Actually, a bunch of years there was a collection of my music under my own name, released on a double album. And I also did the Garpedans album under my own name a couple years back too. But this new one, it’s more maybe of a fresh start I think. It’s another level of a release. And to be honest, years ago I thought it to be weird for someone like me to do an album under my own name, but then I thought as its mostly me doing everything, it’s a natural step really.

Is there one piece of music or project that you’re particularly proud of? Or that is special to you in some way? Why?
Paganizer is very special to me, as it’s always been a real band rehearsing and doing gigs and everything that you should do, so to say. Also, The Grotesquery and Revolting are bands that are very close—The Grotesquery because of its immense concept by Kam Lee, and Revolting because it’s just so much fun to merge catchy melodies with ugly death metal, just try to write fun music that doesn’t have much of a meaning besides being utterly catchy yet heavy really. Lately though I feel that the music I make under my own name is the most important to me, as it feels like I can do anything there, and incorporate concepts and things that have been in other albums I’ve done before, and that connects to where I am from and local folklore but with a darker and more sinister, more horror-based approach.

Do you make your living by being a professional musician? I can’t imagine that you keep up a day job while creating music at this high volume.
I have had day jobs too, and I don’t make a living from the music, no. So, there you have another thing that takes time. So, I don’t know where I get the time really for everything, but I do. And I don’t feel I have a lack of time either. I mean making money from the music isn’t what drives me either, spending time with my kids and making music is what makes me happy really.

What is the most rewarding part of making music, to you?
I think it’s when the music takes shape and the parts all come together. Not in one song, but more like a collection of songs and when you know it’ll be an album or an EP, and it is almost finished. That’s the thing for me I think, that it comes together and becomes a work that you can listen to, and that holds music and lyrics inside a story. I guess that’s the point of making it, to have it finished and be able to enjoy it and feel pleased with the result. And then do something new [laughs].