With the recent release of their astonishing debut, “The Zeramin Game”, Memories Of Old are a super group that holds in its ranks vocalist Tommy Johansson (Sabaton, Majestica, ReinXeed) and brings back all the majesty of Power Metal in its heyday. Shan Siva spoke to founder guitarist Billy Jeffs (NightMare World, Grimgotts) on the secrets of his own impressive lifelong quest!
1. Hi Billy, superb album if I might say so, what prompted you to start Memories Of Old?
Billy: Thank you, I’m really happy to hear you enjoyed the album. Memories Of Old is something that I have wanted to do for many years, something that was always in the back of my mind, I just needed to actually get on and do it. All the way back to my first discovery of power metal through bands like Freedom Call, HammerFall and others, I always wanted to write and record my own power metal album. I would frequently come up with songs and ideas and just keep them on the side knowing that eventually I would use them, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I really started to finally put the pieces together and make a start on things. Once everything got moving, it was like a snowball effect, and it just kept on growing and getting bigger, and eventually the first album became what it is today.
2. You’re involved in other bands so could you tell us a bit more about them, and also how they fit into your sphere with Memories Of Old?
Billy: When I started this project, I was also a member of NightMare World, which was the band I had been in for the last 10 years or so. Our debut album came out in 2015, and we played a few great shows, but the band was never especially active, so it was just a thing that we were dipping in and out of when anything came up. As Memories Of Old started to pick up, myself and Anthony, whom was also a member of NightMare World at the time, both made the decision that we wanted to put all of our focus and energy into this band. I didn’t feel it would do either band justice to split my attention between them both, so it was the best decision for us to make really. As for right now, this is my only band, and that’s pretty much how I want to keep it.
Billy: Tommy’s involvement started very early in the process, around the time I was starting to put all the plans together and started to really get serious with the songwriting. I had recorded the very first piece of music, which was the intro to The Land of Xia, and I was really happy with how it was sounding and excited for what I could eventually make this album become. Having been a huge fan of Tommy’s for a long time, and given that he is one of my biggest influences musically, I really wanted to share this with him, just from a fan perspective, and show him what I was working on, it felt like a really cool and nice thing to do, even if I never heard anything back. So I wrote him a message, told him how much of an influence he was on me and shared the recording, sent it over, and really just left it at that. However around a week later, I was driving along one way, and I saw a notification pop up on my phone that Tommy had sent me a message back, so I pulled over to give it a read. He basically said he really liked what he heard, and could hear some of his influence in there and how cool that was, and at the end of the message, he mentioned that it would be really cool to sing on the album if he had the time for it. Naturally, at the simple mention of that, I decided that I really wanted to make this a reality, I kept in contact with Tommy and continued to show him the songwriting progress as it happened, over time we became friends and we managed to make it work so that he could record the vocals on the album, and ultimately become a full member of the band.
4. You’re signed to Limb Music, which is a label associated with epic power metal so how has that been working out for you?
Billy: In a word, great! Since signing with Limb back in 2019, things have been going really well for us, and it afforded us the opportunity to reach new heights with Memories Of Old that I never would have imagined possible. It really is great to get a chance to work with a label that is so well known for the kind of music that we are producing, and one that has worked with so many amazing power metal bands over the years, it’s almost like a stamp of approval and quality for a lot of perspective fans, and that really does mean a lot these days. And not to mention, they are just great guys to work with, always true professionals and very supportive of all our endeavors, honestly we couldn’t be happier.
5. You’re clearly a talented multi-instrumentalist and composer so I’d like to ask if you’ve tried your hand getting into bigger bands?
Billy: I can’t say I have, I think really for me personally, this band is where my heart is at. It is so nice to be able to have a creative outlet like this that is my own, somewhere I can channel my energy into and create the music I love. I’m sure it would be really cool to play alongside a bigger well established band, but the end goal for me isn’t to jump up to that point with them, but rather to try and elevate Memories Of Old to the same level.
6. Besides Tommy Johansson, there is a pool of talent involved with Memories Of Old so how did that all come about with the likes of Anthony Thompson, Erick Tekilla, Paul Sundt and James Chapman?
Billy: Well, Anthony was the first guy to really become involved in Memories Of Old, he had joined NightMare World as its new keyboardist back in 2017, and I was the one who found and recruited him there, so we were good friends from the very start. After talking and getting to know each other more, it was very clear that our taste in music was very much in-sync, so he was one of the first people that I started to discuss my plans for Memories Of Old with, and was showing him what I had done. I remember him asking when I sent the first bit of music over if it was something new for NightMare World, and I told him it wasn’t and that I was working on my own power metal project, he was very quick to say that if that project ever became a full band and I ever needed a keyboardist that he was totally up for it, and that’s basically where we ended up. Erick was the second person to join, even though my original goal of writing and recording everything myself was one I wanted to stick to, and I can play bass, I felt that an actual bass player would do the album a lot more justice than I ever could, so I started to look around and see if there might be any around that would be interested. I was looking at London based bands, seeing if there were any really good bassists I could contact, and I eventually found Erick. From the second I saw a video of him playing, I was hooked, he had it all, the talent, the look, everything, so I got in touch with him and after hearing the demos we had at the time we was more than up for it. Around the same time, we also had Jacob Ziemba (ex-I AM I) on board as a second guitarist, he’s someone I had been talking to for a while and I wanted to get that next-level of guitarist on board to pull off some of the more crazy solos that I couldn’t really do myself, and he did a great job with this. He was sadly not able to commit to the band full time, but every solo he recorded on the album really shines through, it wouldn’t have been the same without him. Paul and James both got involved with us mostly as a matter of us just needing people to play live with us, as we needed a second guitarist and drummer for our first live show last year in Birmingham. After the practices leading up to that night and the show itself, we really wanted to keep James on-board full time, and he was totally up for that too, he’s an absolute beast of a drummer and a really great guy, so it was a no-brainer really. Paul is also an absolutely amazing guitarist, though he wasn’t able to commit full-time to the band moving forward, but we did get him back to record a really lovely classical guitar part that you can hear on the intro of Destiny. Speaking of that show, I can’t fail to mention Craig Cairns, who did an amazing job filling on on vocals that night in place of Tommy since he couldn’t make it over sadly, there are not a lot of people out there that I could safely say can do justice to Tommy’s performance on the album, but Craig pulled it off! Fast forward to the last couple of months, we can now say that our full line-up is truly complete with the addition of Erwin Febrianto as our second guitarist, he joined us shortly before the album was launched, but we only made it official a short while after the release since we didn’t want it to overshadow the addition to the band of such a great guitarist and top guy.
7. You’ve also got Aussie pirate metallers Lagerstein contributing their banter so is there a more humorous side to Memories Of Old that may not be that obvious?
Billy: When I was writing The Land of Xia, and really knowing where the whole album was going moving forward, I knew there were some points where I wanted some pirates featured, so the very first thing that popped into my head was to ask the guys from Lagerstein if they would be up for it. Anthony and I had played with them shortly before as part of NightMare World when we opened for them in London, and they are really a great bunch of guys, so it was just a really cool idea to have them featured and be able to work with them again. Of course the main thing with any band like this is we all want to have fun, we love what we do and ultimately that’s what it’s all about, so don’t be surprised to see this shine through on stage some day!
8. Is there a concept behind “The Zeramin Game” or any of its songs?
Billy: There is indeed, ‘The Zeramin Game’ is a full concept album, with a story that flows from beginning to end, at times presented in a very theatrical way. It’s a story that has a bizarre origin in fact, it was many years ago, I was sleeping on a boat on the Grand Union Canal here in the UK, and I woke up having had this really vivid dream. It had everything, characters, setting, plot, and so on, so I quickly grabbed a notepad and started just writing down as much as I could possibly remember before I started to forget anything. As it happens, that story was ‘The Zeramin Game’, I remember my initial plan for it was to write a book, and this is something I did actually try out. I wrote about one chapter before I realised that I was actually not very good at writing, but I kept all the notes and never forgot about the idea. Then, in 2017 when I wanted to write a power metal album, I had a lot of musical ideas but wasn’t sure what to write about lyrically, so it just seemed like a natural choice to use that story from all those years back and write a concept album, it gave the whole album a structure and a plot, and it really helped everything to come together, and honestly I couldn’t be happier with the end result. As for the story itself, I don’t want to give too much away for those that have yet to hear the album, but to give the basic idea, it is a story of a young boy who dreams of adventure, and decides against all warning, along with his best friend, to pursue his dreams and try to be the very first to conquer the far, mysterious and dark island of Zera. Though on their travels, there is another watching their every move.
9. How active is Memories Of Old on the live front – I believe that you played the Power Metal Quest Fest in Birmingham last year – so what plans do you have for future gigging once it all gets underway again?
Billy: I honestly wish with all my heart that I could tell you we are very active in this regard, and I have no doubt at all in my mind that we would be, but sadly due to the state of the world right now that isn’t the case. We have a lot of really cool ideas for when we can start to play shows again, it’s just a matter of playing the waiting game and seeing how things go right now. But I am glad that we were able to play live at least once before everything happened, it was really something special to be able to perform these songs on stage and see peoples reactions to them, which were overall very positive, even considering at the time most of the people in attendance had likely only heard two of our songs, if any at all.
10. So just to conclude, congratulations once again on a superb debut and may I ask, when will you start composing the follow up?
Billy: Thank you once again! I can say, there are already some ideas floating around for our second album, and we are hoping to get underway with this pretty soon. First things first, I am currently working on building the bands very own studio from scratch, to give us a place to really bring our ideas to life, and act as a base of operations for the band itself, so once this is ready to go, we will be there right away bringing our second album to life.