You may not love it but I bet that the music of the Gösta Berlings Saga won’t leave you completely apathetic. The Swedish band made debuted in 2006 with an album full of vintage flavours and folk references but that was just a first step towards a path that led them to explore different (and sometimes tricky) musical directions. As always, their strong personality prevails and encourages them to continue on their own way without pleasing anyone's expectations. "Konkret Musik", their latest work, surprised us once again: we talked about it with guitarist Rasmus Booberg.
When I first read the title “Konkret Musik” I immediately thought to the musical movement inaugurated by Pierre Schaeffer in the 1950s. Is that so? What does the title refer to and how did you interpret the concept of concrete music in your music?
Hello there, and thank you for featuring us! Firstly, the title is of course a nod to musique concrète. While writing we were focusing on very tangible themes, like infrastructure and development, and we wanted the title to reflect this. So “concrete”, as a leading word, is very much in reference to the actual building material and it was through that path we came up with the title. And, even if our music is a lot more conventional compared to what Pierre Schaeffer was doing, I think there are similarities in the ideas behind them. And so, while putting the album together and discussing names and themes we realized that there was this connection. I think it’s a sort of playful way of crossing the gap between the music we put out and the inspiration behind it while also paying tribute to the ones that came before. The Swedish word Konkret probably has the same definition as its English counterpart and we most often use it more in synonym with something like ‘tangible’ or ‘straight to the point’ and I think that it’s a freaking good title. Especially if you think about what the subject really is. It’s basically just two-dimensional compression and expansion of atmosphere traversing into your earholes, making you feel things. I would call that completely intangible, or pretty vague at best.
Unlike the previous albums we find shorter and unrelated tracks with rather different characteristics. Why this choice?
I can’t say that this was a “choice” in the way that we made plans for it beforehand and then executed those plans. We focus a lot on what we are doing from moment to moment and use whatever inspiration or impulse we can. So I would say that the album is sort of a consequence of what we were going through over that year. Many of us have had a pretty rough time and I remember that there was a feeling of urgency and that none of us really felt like we had time to drag things out, so to speak. I also think we were collectively pretty fed up with a lot of the ideas that typically lead to “epic” 13 minute tracks. So what came out was not surprisingly a reflection of all this.
The contract with Inside Out Music has certainly allowed you to reach a wider range of listeners. Did this choice affect your compositional choices?
I don’t know! It probably has in some ways but I don’t think that has much to do with the idea of reaching a new audience. But, reaching for straws, I think we have this deep rooted urge to circumvent expectations. So signing with a label that is really in the forefront of what I probably would call “conventional” progressive rock has, if anything, pushed us to reach further away from those ideals. But when it comes down to us writing and what we do in our studio I don’t think it has had any big impact. Something that is nice however is the relative security of being signed for “the upcoming album”. Even if they can drop us if they want we don’t really feel the need to worry about a lot of the logistics of putting an album out thanks to this. And I think it has probably kept us more productive.
Compared to older productions you have moved further and further away from symphonic prog with folk influences. How do you explain your evolution?
Apart from the aforementioned urge to circumvent expectations, and more importantly as well. I think we have grown more confident in what we do and are letting more of our influences and original ideas shine through. We all love wide varieties of music and we seem to come up with this mishmash of different ideas from every direction. I also experience strong cyclic tendencies in our processes. The effect is sort of that - if we write a ‘folk’ tune we will probably strive to write an ‘urban’ tune next, and if one song is very layered or spacious we will counterweigh that with something more upfront and direct. Sometimes these cycles go on for a long time, over one or multiple albums, and sometimes it’s even apparent within a single tune. Alex usually talks about “contrast”, which I think is a great way to summarize this idea and phenomenon.
In a short time you have released two live albums: "Kontraster Live" and "Artefacts Live". Why this choice? What are their particularities?
We had long time plans for ‘Kontraster Live’ to be released at the 10 year anniversary of our album ‘Detta har hänt’. That album and concert signifies a sort of turning point for the band that ultimately led them to the path that brought us here. So that release is really a tribute and a celebration if anything. Then we have ‘Artifacts Live’. Which conveniently is a pretty stark contrast to ‘Kontraster’ (which translates to contrasts). And us putting in that work, despite of what we all had going on personally, was really important to us. To add to that we were basically backed up by the full crew that helped create ET EX, that we were preforming in its entirety. As well as having some other guests with us. Let’s run down the roster: Fagge, who has been working with us for a long time and who produced our two latest albums, really worked his magic to fully realize all the detail of the album and incorporate things that we normally can’t recreate live. Henke Palm, who co-wrote and recorded guitars for two of the album’s ‘biggest’ tracks. Lars Enok Åhlund, with the same big old saxophone that he played in the studio. Tor Sjödén, who didn’t contribute on ET EX but is someone whom I have known and played with for over a decade, in our old band New Keepers of the Water Towers, and for a short while in Viagra Boys after that. A nice little reunion for us. And then we also had Jesper, who ended up just straight down joining the band after this, doing his first ever show with us. But as to how and why the album came to be. Since Alex couldn’t play during most of the show, he instead took it upon himself to work on lighting, and he planned some video recording. Beyond that it was really just a fluke that the sound engineer happened to tell us, during stage preparations, that he had the possibility to render a multitrack-recording of the show. And when we got hands on the tracks, and I did a quick preliminary mix, we realized that we had something very cool on our hands. The video version actually has that first audio mix, which is a bit lacking to my ears haha. But I think the ‘CD’ master sounds spectacular. The first part of the show is (almost) the ET EX album in its entirety and I think this live version is very strong, in many ways even better than the original recording.
A new member has appeared in your line-up, Jesper Skarin; what novelty has he brought to your sound?
Jesper first joined as a stand-in and has proved to be a real powerhouse drummer. He has a distinctly different style to Alex, for good or bad. There is a lot of ferocity and heft to his playing. We begged him to join us in a permanent way kind of late into the making of Konkret Musik, when we had pretty much decided on what the songs were going to be. But he was with us arranging it and bringing the pieces together. He plays mostly percussion on the album and there are lots of it. You can hear him banging on trashcans and cutlery and what not. He set up a kitchen table just filled with drums, rattles, chimes, metal scraps, bells, and gongs in the studio. And since we recorded ‘live’ we couldn’t have done any of that the same way without him. So he really managed to impact the sound in a very important way. But the next thing about him is that he can make almost any instrument you put in his hands sing. On ‘Artifacts Live’ he plays the vibraphone and synthesizers as well as drums. And even so, his main instrument is probably the bass guitar. And he plays a kickass electric as well. So from a standpoint of utility, having him in the band really opens up new ways for us to expand our instrumentations. But the real reason for us snagging him was that he’s just an awesome guy that became a great friend. We just couldn’t say goodbye. We are writing our first album now with him on board from scratch so we’ll see what kinds of contributions he will bring for this one.
As already mentioned, your tunes are very heterogeneous. Are there any ideas in particular that you would like to explore more in depth in an upcoming production?
Well. We did an album regarding ‘the temple within’, ET EX. And then we did one on ‘the temples we build’, Konkret Musik. But I don’t know that kind of depths we will head down to in the future. I think the last two albums were kind of “two sides of the same coin” - apparently completely opposite to each other, but still sharing a very distinct common ground. I think that coin is tossed now and we have started on a new page in a new studio. I won’t go in to any of the grand ideas we are floating but there is still a lot of music out there just waiting to be invented so.. we’ll just try our hardest to make this a good one I guess.
How did the Covid pandemic affect your artistic life? What repercussions have you had both on a logistical level (recording, concerts, etc.) and purely artistic?
I think by now everyone knows artists can’t play live during lock down season so I don’t need to go on about that. But we have had enough to do with Konkret Musik to keep us occupied until around July, and since then we have kept up our usual business of meeting up once or twice every week to write and work on new material. We also took time to furnish a new studio that we recently got up and running and that is a very nice situation. We were a becoming a bit skeptical to the ways we have been working - with recording some demos at home, jamming together in a cellar, maybe picking up some audio on a phone or whatever’s available, and then doing our best to get our heads around what we have going on. Now we are basically all set up so we can get our jams straight down to multitrack right away and we have really accelerated in spewing out and banking new ideas. I think getting rid of barriers like that, reducing the transport between what you can tangibly create in one moment to what hear in your minds ear, is very powerful. So we might say we have been taking this time to work on our methods.
How important are synths in building your sound? Which models do you prefer?
Synths man. They make the world go around, and that is just a science fact. And I think we live in a golden age for synthesizers. We have all these great organic musical pieces of kit coming out and going around, that even a debt-ridden student like myself can keep many of the all-time great sounds available in both our practice space and our studio space. And still have more to keep at home! As a long time drummer, I’m pretty amazed that you can get a faithful analog, or a spot on digital, recreation of the likes of the 101 or a DS-20, a Moog mono or a Roland poly, or any of the classic drum-synthesizers, for the same cost as your run of the mill ride cymbal or a pair of hi-hats. I don’t know man, maybe it’s even become a bit too easy. But I fully get off just turning knobs and pushing buttons. We’ll see what comes out in the end but right now I, myself, is in a bit of a purist period and seem to be gravitating back more to the simple old monos by Moog or Korg. Maybe with some analog delay and nice saturation. So, keeping away from the polys and deep modulation routings for the time being and going back to the roots. Mort Garson rules!
If you could change something about your old albums, what would you change?
I would go back change that line of thought my man haha! I go back listening to those albums frequently and I wouldn’t want to change them. Maybe adjust some gain staging to cool down whatever is distorting some high treble here or there but it’s not very interesting. As I was mentioning before, to me those things are really snapshots of whatever transpired during a certain period of time. It’s been proven over and over again that taking a thing like that out of its own time and place, basically revisioning the past, is just futile. I mean, sure you can go back and add colour to an old picture, or remaster a recording if you fibbed it up back when you didn’t know better. But when it passes over into recreating something that is ultimately a performance is just not productive! There is probably a metaphor for life somewhere in there. We live, we mess up, we regret, hopefully we learn something, and then time is up for regrets.
Thank you for your attention and I wish you a good 2021!