Interview by: Gustavo Maiato
Carl Johan Grimmark is the guitarist for Christian metal band Narnia, who are releasing the new album Ghost Town on March 17th, 2023. I talked to him about this new record and also about other musical projects and references to the Christian world in pop culture. Good reading!
You participated in the project “Martin Simson’s Destroyer of Death”. There are already two songs released. The song “Master of All” has a special guest appearance by Jorn Lande. How do you rate his participation?
Martin Simson came up with the initial idea for the lyrical theme. The main subject is the Christian faith and all that. So, Jorn Lande rewrote some parts and left it so that he could express himself better. He has great respect for Christianity in general, but he doesn’t consider himself a Christian. He doesn’t share our faith, he’s not very comfortable with ‘preaching’. Therefore, he decided to put the words in a way that was more in line with his thinking, but without straying too far from ours.
To him, it means one thing. For us, something different. But we are all together! [laughs]. In the end, we talked about how it should look and it ended up being really good. He did a great job! He’s a very talented guy. We were happy about it.
He rewrote a lot of stuff, but it was based on what was already written. He’s the kind of guy who looks at the performance as a whole. He wants the melody to sound good, but the words that are spoken to sound good too. He likes to put his personal touch on things. All sentences were filtered by the way he rewrote them.
The next song on the project will be “Rapture”, with Rex Caroll, guitarist for Whitecross, as a special guest. What can you comment on this new hit?
This song will be released within the next album. We’ll release it soon when it’s ready. Rex is one of the great guitarists in Christian rock. No doubt. Overall, he’s an excellent musician. I heard him when I was a teenager and it’s really cool to work with him now. We’ve already met at festivals around, but this is the first time we’ll work together. He’s a really nice guy.
How do you evaluate the new Narnia album, which is called “Ghost Town” compared to the band’s other records?
I think it’s a mix of our previous album, From Darkness to Light, only less progressive and symphonic, with our record Narnia, which we released after coming back from our break. It’s just more aggressive. There’s a little bit of those two, but with a “Course of a Generation” twist as well. He has aggressive riffs and sounds like us. I think! [laughs]. It’s a mix of what we’ve done. We also returned with the neoclassical footprint, something we haven’t done in a while! Everyone will leave happy!
Will it be a concept album within the Christian universe?
The songs work individually. I can say that it is our most Biblical album. The lyrics I wrote are connected with Bible verses. You can figure it out by listening. That’s the way I wrote it. The other guys went around too. It is a clear Christian message. We don’t talk much about everyday things. It’s hard to describe, but it’s not a concept record.
How was the process of choosing the songs that were part of the “Soli Deo Gloria” compilation? Any songs left out?
As I remember, it wasn’t very difficult. I think about 90% were pretty easy to select. Then for the rest we had some conversations. A few hours to decide. I’m happy with the disc. I had to give up on one occasion. One of the songs I didn’t want to include, but all the others did. I told you it would be a mistake! [laughs]. I won’t say what song it is! But that’s the kind of discussion we had.
In your view, is it easier or more difficult to talk about Christian messages in rock today compared to the beginning of your career?
I think it depends on the place. I live in Norway and it’s different from Sweden. We are Swedes and in our society it’s more difficult in a way to talk about it. It is not difficult to say: ‘I am a Christian’. That’s cool. But if you get into certain subjects, it can be controversial. I don’t think that in general talking about Christianity within the rock community is any harder today than it was in the past. There is a certain openness to spiritual matters in general these days. It opens doors for our message in a way. I could be wrong! [laughs].
Have you ever experienced prejudice for playing Christian rock?
We’ve had big battles that we’ve faced over the years! But we just decided to stick with what we do. If something causes us trouble, it’s not worth the effort. We have a definite time here on Earth and I’ve lived through about half of it, I think. I can’t live the rest of it fighting things. But yes, we have experienced a lot of resistance.
The band Narnia is named after the book “The Chronicles of Narnia”, by C. S. Lewis, which has a Christian allegory inside. What other pop culture products do you see behind this religious theme?
I think the parallels between the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ and Christianity are so many that I say that it is indeed a Christian book. It’s very clear! Symbols are everywhere. I think the strongest parallel in that sense comes from ‘Lord of the Rings’. There’s a lot of Christianity there, just less than in ‘Narnia’. The battle between good and evil is always there. There’s Gandalf who falls off the cliff and comes back to life. It’s one of the clearest references to Christianity in pop culture. Now, I think there are less and less movies that talk about that. There’s the movie ‘The Book of Eli’ too that talks about it. It has a strong message and the ending is spectacular. It’s just that this movie is about 15 years old.”
You play many instruments like guitar and keyboard. What is it like to manage all these functions? Is it a big challenge?
I don’t consider myself a guitarist but a musician. I think I’ve been playing the keyboard for longer. It’s natural for me to play the keyboard. Here in my studio there are two instruments. There’s also a bass somewhere. I always thought it was fun to play bass. I think I play better than guitar even! [laughs].
What are the 5 albums that most represent you?
Well, I think I could say 15. I definitely need to pick one from Yngwie Malmteen. It could be any of the first. Maybe ‘Odyssey’ or ‘Eclipse’. Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’. It was there that I discovered hard rock as a child. The ‘Images & Words’ or ‘Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence’ by Dream Theater. Also Peter Gabriel’s ‘So’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘The Division Bell’.
What about Christian albums?
This may sound offensive to some, but I don’t think I can make it to 5 Christian records! [laughs]. I grew up listening to secular music and that’s what affected me musically. This is my foundation. My inspiration comes from my faith, of course. I wouldn’t make music if it wasn’t to spread what I believe in. Now, about musical inspirations, that didn’t come from Christian music.
Have you ever met idols at festivals?
Yes! I’ve met a lot of nice people over the years. I don’t even know where to start! [laughs]. Festival backstage is cool, you see cool stuff and you get to talk. There are things you see, but wish you hadn’t seen. There was one time we toured with Dio in the late 1990s. We talked a lot and I remember one night when Dio was telling stories from the 1970s. He was sitting in a chair and we were like 10 people sitting around him listening! [laughs]. He talked about the Rainbow and Black Sabbath times. It was really cool to hear metal stories from one of the guys who invented it.
Interview conducted by Gustavo Maiato and originally published at https://www.gustavomaiato.com.br/post/77725-entrevista-carl-johan-grimmark-narnia