by Niklas Göransson
Swedish drummer Perra Karlsson has been to hell and back – through failing organs and financial ruin. His personal story begins in the dawn of underground metal, passing death’s door on the way to touring the world.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is approximately twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #3. Perra‘s new band, DREADFUL FATE, are releasing their new album on June 15.
– To be honest with you, I don’t really have any other interests or passions in life besides metal. Usually, when people start talking about their cars, motorcycles, or pretty much any other trivial matter I don’t care about… most of the time I just feel uncomfortable and uninspired to even be part of the conversation. I’ve never really been much of a small-talker anyway.
Perra Karlsson is about as much of an old-school Swedish metalhead as one could possibly imagine. He became heavily immersed in the then-tiny Swedish metal underground of 1987 but had already started his first publication two years prior.
– It wasn’t much of a fanzine I must admit, more like a bunch of pages stitched together with pictures stolen from other magazines, but with personally written articles. I printed about twenty copies or so, it was called Heavy Metal – extremely original name, I know, but what can you expect from a twelve-year-old kid who got his entire education from hard rock and heavy metal?
A somewhat more ambitious fanzine, Mould Mag, was then established in 1989.
– It was written in ‘Swenglish’, I suppose you could say. Everything was very spontaneous, but I somehow managed to get interviews with all of my favourite bands at the time; ENTOMBED, GRAVE, NECROPHOBIC, GROTESQUE, and so on. I made four issues up until 1992.
During that period, Perra had also started a small underground mail-order and distro called Megagrind Productions.
– This led me to start releasing a few seven-inch EPs under the same moniker. Of course, I was also playing in shitloads of bands during my early years – the late eighties to mid-nineties – some of them released a bunch of albums, like SUFFER, SERPENT, T.A.R… others did not: WORTOX, ALTAR, SNAKEYE, INTERFEAR, and MAMACLAW to name a few.
Among his many different pursuits in the servitude of metal, Perra Karlsson is primarily known as a drummer.
– I’ve been into percussion for as long as I can remember. When I was around seven, I got totally hooked on THE SWEET’s “Ballroom Blitz” that my five-year-old sister was popping. That fundamentally changed something in me. I started fooling around with air drums and pretty soon I was banging on just about anything that would generate noise.
When Perra was ten years old, his father bought him his first drum kit; a Meazzi Hollywood five-piece.
– Very basic yet perfect to get me started for real. I also took lessons, both through regular music school but also from a private drum teacher. They were both very different, which I think was a good thing. After probably a year and a half though, I quit both of ’em – I got tired of being taught the same shit week after week. I ended up practising to all the classic hard rock and metal albums at home in the basement instead: AC/CD, ACCEPT, KISS, SAXON, MÖTLEY CRÜE, BLACK SABBATH, and so on.
Technical concerns such as the intricate characteristics of different kits were never matters which captivated Perra to any large extent.
– My interest in those things is very limited. However, what I do know is how to perform rock and metal drums with passion and an original style that’s manic as well as highly personal. There aren’t all that many original drummers around these days, but just give my recordings a listen and you might find out what the heck I’m on about here.
Up until September 2017, Perra was the drummer of DESTRÖYER 666. This particular chapter of his musical life began in 2010, when he was recruited as a live session member for a U.S. tour.
– Mersus couldn’t get time off work or whatever, so they were looking for a drummer who could tour. Many mutual friends – like Tore of Necromorbus Studio, Erik from WATAIN, and Alan from PRIMORDIAL – pretty much told KK and the boys to get in touch with me.
Thus, after a few rehearsals in London, they were off for a twenty-five-date venture.
– It was one of the best tours I’ve ever been on; especially since we were supporting ENTHRONED and they had a rough time, to put it mildly. Not many bands want to follow DESTRÖYER 666 – that’s a straight fact. So whenever we were done, and let’s say it was four or five hundred people in the crowd, half of them left the building. It was a bit rude towards ENTHRONED, it was their tour after all. We played in front of a thousand rabid wolves in Los Angeles, that was insane.
In 2012, when both guitarist Shrapnel and drummer Mersus left the band, founder and frontman KK Warslut contacted Perra to inquire if he was interested in a permanent slot.
– I said, ‘Yeah!’ I’ve had quite the rollercoaster ride with the D666 boys over the years, and I think our “Wildfire” album certainly made a kick-ass statement when it saw the light of day in 2016. I’ll always be proud of the fact that I’ve been part of such a metal powerhouse.
The reason he left DESTRÖYER 666 was due to health complications, stemming from a kidney failure sixteen years ago. As of January 2018, his kidney function is down to about eighteen percent.
– It’s still possible to have a semblance of normal life but dialysis days are coming, sooner or later. I’ll have to go through another transplant at some point, we all know that, but it all depends on how long I can keep myself above the threshold of fifteen percent kidney functionality. Performing live is a challenge, for sure. After we played Gefle Metal Festival in July 2017, my body ended up with cramps and aching bones for days. It was pretty bad.
This was the moment Perra decided that he couldn’t go on performing and touring at this level any longer. The aforementioned festival would end up being the last gig he ever performed with DESTRÖYER 666.
– There’ve been instances in the past while performing live when I thought I was about to collapse. Fair enough, I know other drummers have felt like that too but I don’t want to fuckin’ pass out in the middle of a gig. Especially not when I’m already down for the count. I don’t want to die on stage, no matter how ‘legendary’ that might be – fuck that.
His condition – chronic kidney disease, to be precise – first made an appearance in 2001, when he was working as a bus driver.
– I ended up at the emergency ward three times in the course of six weeks. At first, they couldn’t find anything wrong – they checked my heart and blood pressure and all results were okay. On my third visit, they took a proper blood sample and discovered I had about eleven percent kidney function. I was hospitalised straight away, that very afternoon. So there I was; going from thinking I was just tired and burnt out from work and life in general, to being deadly ill and fighting for my very survival for two weeks straight. Crazy!
Once Perra was out of immediate danger, he started dialysis treatment while waiting for a kidney transplant. Dialysis is required when one’s own kidney function is too low – it keeps the body in balance, regulates water and chemical levels, and helps control blood pressure.
– That worked fine for me and I actually played a couple of shows with NOMINON during this time, in 2002 and 2003, so it wasn’t entirely miserable. My private life on the other hand, was a bit more psychotic and troubled – I was going through a lot of shit, yet I survived that too. It took a year and a half before they found me a necro kidney. That’s what they call it when the organ is harvested from a deceased individual.
Perra’s post-mortem organ became available in the summer of 2003, so he travelled to Gothenburg in order to receive his new kidney.
– Everything went fine. I thought I’d be lying around puking, as one usually does after a long surgery like that, but upon waking up I had so much more energy and will – it was like a completely new body! Sure, it took some time to get everything more secured and safe, so to speak, but in general I felt reborn. They kept me at the hospital for a week after the operation before I could go home.
Perra had to come back three times per week for the succeeding months, performing constant checks to make sure his body wasn’t rejecting the new organ. Fortunately, this turned out to not be the case.
– Since that day, I said to myself: it’s time to live again. And live I did… again and again. Drumming in particular was something I wanted to get back to sooner than advised. They asked me to wait until at least three weeks post-surgery, but I was behind the kit playing ANNIHILATOR covers after two. That’s how it goes. I wasn’t much of a drummer prior to the surgery if you ask me, so I had to work all the harder to improve my skills.
I can’t even begin to fathom what it must feel like, having one’s body break down like that. Going through such an ordeal must re-wire a person to the core.
– Very much so. I learned the hard way that I must be in full control over my body and mind at all times, and say ‘no’ or ‘stop’ when I can’t handle things and situations around me. This means stopping band rehearsals, live shows and so on, when necessary. If I’m feeling uncomfortable in a specific situation, I have to think of what I can do to feel better. In a way, I must be constantly changing and adapting.
Perra also needs to pay close attention to his nutritional intake. He says that he’s been on a reduced protein diet for a while now, which works fairly well for him. A kidney operating at low efficiency is unable to rid the body of protein waste, which in turn starts accumulating in the blood.
– A lot of people don’t get that at all. They think I’m just weak because I’m so thin or blah, blah, blah. I’ve even heard people around me, individuals who I thought knew about my condition and took it seriously, say shit like, ‘Just eat more protein and you’ll be fine!’ That’s like telling someone with cirrhosis to drink booze – it’s just plain stupid and extremely ignorant.
He’s also forced to regularly ingest various medications to prevent his immune system from fighting off and killing the alien organ.
– Anything you read about this condition is like kindergarten compared to how it really affects me… imagine all your muscles starting to vanish, then having around twenty percent chance compared to a normal human being of actually retaining any mass you put on. Then there’s the swollen feet and ankles, high blood pressure, itching skin, aching bones, and frequent severe headaches. Plus, most of time it feels as if you’re freezing.
I can’t help but think that Perra’s well-established and hard-earned reputation as a man who enjoys carousing, and lots of it, hasn’t helped all that much.
– I liked to party a lot in previous years, mainly alcohol but also other things for some periods here and there. I was a sucker for bourbon and cola, which always led me into a fog of self-destruction. If only I could’ve been just another beer drinker, but I don’t fancy it much at all. Never did. I was sober for a period in the late nineties when I had a record store, I felt really good during that period. And needless to say, I took it easy during my kidney failure and dialysis treatment. I’ve now been sober since 2015, even though I had a sip of champagne after the final day of the European tour we did in 2016, and a glass of glühwein around Christmas time.
The last time he got drunk was at the 2015 Fall of Summer festival in France, following which he simply had enough.
– That was the final straw. I could barely stand when I woke up, life was miserable and it simply felt like time to move on. The only way for me to do that is called sobriety.
Perra mentions how he, while in Copenhagen recording the new THORIUM album, ended up in the same hotel as label mate Marco Mendoza – bass player of the DEAD DAISIES who was previously with WHITESNAKE, Ted Nugent, THIN LIZZY and so forth. They got talking.
– That guy has been clean and sober for almost thirty years so it was very inspiring to hang out with him, not only for the fact that I’m an old fan but also because he turned out to be such a humble and caring gent.
How did you find touring with an underground metal band without indulging in the revelry?
– Hanging around people when they’ve had two or three beers is alright, but beyond that it’s time to get the fuck out. In ninety-nine percent of the cases, I’d head back to the hotel instead of joining the self-destruction club. Might sound lame, but at least it was my personal choice. I don’t like being around people who have nothing of substance to talk about, especially since they probably won’t remember a word of it the very next day. Such a complete waste of energy and time.
This is an excerpt from the full article, which is approximately twice as long and published in Bardo Methodology #3. The remaining part includes discussions on Perra’s days as a tour manager for DISSECTION and IMPALED NAZARENE as well as drumming for BENEDICTION and IN AETERNUM.