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Living the Dream Scenario —
The Gösta Berlings Saga Interview

The brilliant 2011 release Glue Works on Cuneiform Records helped catapult the Swedish band Gösta Berlings Saga towards the upper echelon of contemporary progressive rock. Following their extraordinary Sunday morning performance at the final edition of NEARfest, we had the opportunity to speak to two members of the band about their history and music.

by Steven Belkin, Michael Prete, Published 2013-05-08

photography by Helaine Burch, Linda Shulman, Johan Dahlroth

Can you please begin by introducing yourselves and what instruments you play?

GT: My name is Gabriel Tapper and I play bass and Moog Taurus.

AS: My name is Alex Skepp and I play the drums and percussion.

How did the band form?

Alex Skepp, photo by Linda ShulmanAS: The band was formed as a duo 11 ½ years ago by me (Alex) and our keyboard player David (Lundberg). Prior to forming, we shared a rehearsal space and other than seeing each other at school, we did not personally know each other. We then had a meeting at the rehearsal space and said to each other, perhaps we should just hang around, see what happens, and jam together - that was the beginning. Back then, we were heavily influenced by a Swedish duo, Hansson & Karlsson, an organ and drums combo. We began to play regularly and a few years later we thought we needed to add something to the sound - "Some bottom," says Gabriel (they both laugh).

So what did it sound like when you guys were just a duo?

AS: At that time, we were pretty adventurous, because we had no reference points in what to do. In some aspects, we are playing more safe chords now. Back then we just played what we felt like doing
and I feel sometimes that we need to get back to that, because it's a really fun thing to do. We just don't mind and just do it.

David Lundberg, photo by Linda ShulmanGT: You should probably do something with those early demos.

AS: Or not! (everyone laughs)

GT: But there is probably good stuff there?

AS: Yeah, but sorry, no. Some aspects, perhaps yeah.

A new digital album! (everyone laughing)

AS: We did put up the demos on mp3.com, which was like MySpace back then. In 2004, Gabriel joined us and we started to realize that we had something going on. We found the dynamic interesting and once we had the bass in the band, we thought that with the addition of a guitar player, we would have even more help visualizing our ideas.

GT: Our first guitar player joined us and his name was Mattias (Danielsson). He played with us on our first demo and that is when we took the band name Gösta Berlings Saga. After the demo was recorded, we sent it around to different record companies.

AS: I think we sent it to Cuneiform already back then and to the Lasers Edge.

Tid Är Ljud album coverGT: Yeah, a few American labels and bunch in Europe and Sweden. The one who wanted us were the Swedish label called Transubstans Records. At that point, we recorded the demo in a more professional manner with two extra tracks and that was our first album, Tid Är Ljud, in 2006.

AS: You actually remembered that we recorded two extra tracks?

GT: Yep.

AS: That's good for you! (everyone laughs) I don't remember!

GT: No? "Syrenernas sång" and "Svarta hål och elljusspår" were the two new tracks. After that album was recorded, Mattias (Daniellson) left us. We then put out an ad for a new guitar player and our current guitar player Einar (Baldursson) joined the band. And nothing has been the same (laughter). He brought in more dissonance and darkness into the music.

Collectively and individually, who are some of your primary musical influences?

AS: That's very difficult, because we have very few common influences. Gabriel and I grew up with hardcore punk rock and we were playing in different bands in Sweden in the mid 1990s. David was listening to more pop music like Radiohead. Einar is more into jazz music, like free jazz and more artistic stuff. That mix, perhaps, makes it interesting.

Over the course of the band's three albums, there seems to have been a stylistic shift from the use of more traditional Swedish folk melodies towards a more dissonant/angular sound with a post rock aesthetic. Please discuss some of this stylistic evolution.

Einar Baldursson, photo by Linda ShulmanAS: With the folk melodies, we have always been interested in using them and our former guitarist had that style and we really appreciated him. However, Einar's way of playing the guitar is complicated in one manner, but it's kind of geometrical. We create these patterns usually, that we repeat over and over again. Gabriel and I will play in one time signature, while the keyboard and guitar plays in another time signature. In that way, it's kind of African music with polyrhythmic qualities. Probably, our two guitar players have had the biggest impact on our sound and style.

GT: Yeah, I agree. It's quite funny, because all those things you say is really dependent on who you ask. Some people only find Swedish progressive rock in us. And some people also find the post rock
aspect, which is also definitely there. I think the correct answer is that it is all in there.

AS: It is just a blend of what we like. We were into the electric Miles Davis stuff for a while. It's all about influences. For a while, we tried to incorporate some of that into our music. Some of it worked out, most of it didn't. But, we just tried to have fun. It really depends on what you are listening to.

Detta har Hänt album coverWhen you are influenced by something, how much do you take away and purposely try to incorporate as opposed to how much you are not consciously thinking about, and does that show up later?

AS: Um, difficult question, actually. You should always try to have a personal approach to it and as soon as we feel like we are copying something we try to just tear it apart and make something of our own about it. For example, some of my drum beats are copied directly from things I like. We listen to a lot of Zeuhl and they have these great steady rhythmic beats that I really like - so I just copied that straight away, because it's sort of a tribute, I guess.

How did you hook up with Mattias Olsson to produce Glue Works?

AS: Pure coincidence, actually. We have always dreamed of having these really vintage instruments on our albums. First we hooked up with Nicklas Barker of Anekdoten and we recorded the Mellotrons for our first album at their rehearsal studio. When we were about to record our second album, Detta Har Hänt, a friend of ours sent us an email to check out this guy who has a studio with all of these unusual instruments and plays with Änglagård. I looked the studio up, and I was like, oh my god - this is insane! He has everything that we have dreamed of.

Glue Works album coverGT: And when we visited the studio, we booked a time to record overdubs. As Mattias went through his arsenal of instruments, our jaws dropped all the time.

AS: So, we sort of found each other at that point, and he has been really encouraging. Mattias lifts us in a positive way. We got to like each other, and when we were about to record our latest album, Glue Works, we said to each other that since he seems to like us very much and we like him, we thought perhaps he can do all of the recording, mixing, producing - just do it all.

How did you meet Steve Feigenbaum and get signed to Cuneiform Records? Was there a specific motivation to get signed to an American record label?

GT: I believe it was shortly after we were first confirmed to play NEARfest 2011, wasn't it?

AS: I actually think we had some sort of discussion going on before that.

GT: Yeah, we had.

AS: I wouldn't say then, that our decision or his decision was dependent on our appearance at NEARfest, but I think it made things easier.

GT: We had been thinking about it for a long time, because our Swedish label Transubstans Records was concentrated more on stoner rock and music genres that we really didn't feel like were in line with our style of music. We then began to think what kind of label do we want to release our album, because we really didn't have the time to release it ourselves. The first label that came to our mind was Cuneiform. Alex and I love Cuneiform albums so much. I had sent Steve an email and asked him if he would be interested in releasing our new album, and he was like, "Yeah sure." (laughter ensues)

Gabriel Tapper, photo by Linda ShulmanAS: The thing about it that is kind of cute is the fact that when we started playing together we came up with a dream scenario for the band, which at that point was pretty farfetched. The dream scenario
for example included the first venues that we wanted to play in Stockholm, etc. We were nothing back then. I mean, we had a few contacts, but we had no reputation whatsoever. We included some summer festivals and record labels on that dream list. So, Cuneiform was like our dream label in terms of music that we respect and can relate to. So far, things have gone pretty well.

GT: Another dream was to play NEARfest.

AS: But that was like way beyond Cuneiform.

Is the band working on any new material?

AS: Yeah. We have been working on new material for ages. We are pretty slow in the recording phase. I made an illustration, a quick and dirty one, a few weeks ago, when I tried to just visualize what I think
our albums look like if made in one color or two colors. Our first album just takes off into places that you didn't expect, perhaps. For each and every album that we have recorded, it gets more uniform. For our fourth album, I made a pretty clear black square with a question mark illustrating, "Is this where we really want to go?" That is, it is more dense. I suspect that we increased our expectations. We don't want to put ourselves in a corner. I would like to come back to being more loose and adventurous.

To come back full circle...

AS: Yeah, I hope so.

When can we expect a new album? (laughter) When you finish...

AS: We have some plans on releasing a vinyl record.

GT: Not sure if it's going to be a full length or a maxi, but some kind of release. We can't promise too much, but it will probably be around Christmas.

Will it be self-released?

GT: We're not sure, and we haven't decided.

AS: As of last month, we now have our own company. So we have the possibility to release it ourselves. We just don't have the time actually.

Gösta Berlings Saga, photo by Helaine BurchHow often does the band play together?

GT: That's the tricky part. Alex has three kids, and I have two kids. We all work full time, but we have one weeknight per week that is dedicated to our band. Our families and everyone knows that it is Monday night.

AS: That's what we have basically, but I think that's more than many other bands.

GT: Depending on the level I guess.

AS: I have a neighbor who is a professional drummer and when I told him we are rehearsing every Monday night, he was like, "Wow, that is very often." We would definitely benefit from playing more together, but we just don't have the time.

Do you play live often in Sweden?

GT: Approximately once per month.

AS: But we don't have an urge to play live often, because it breaks up our recording process.

GT: Then you have to start rehearsing sets, because if you played live once a week, you would never find the time to compose new material.

Does it then throw you off to play the old material while composing the new material?

GT and AS: Kind of, yeah.

AS: For a few months, we usually say then that we are not going to take any new shows, and we are just going to try and focus on new recordings.

GT: But then something comes up.

AS: You know, we are not actively looking for new shows. Things just happen, and you don't want to say no. It's always fun to play.

Gösta Berlings Saga, photo by Helaine BurchDo any of the band members currently have other music projects?

GT: Yes. David is also playing keyboards for Änglagård in live situations since Thomas Johnson no long plays live. Along with Mattias Olsson of Änglagård, David also has a project called Necromonkey. They have recorded a full length album which will be released in the fall.

Einar is playing with a still un-named free jazz/improv group who will start recording material this autumn. He is also a part of a project called the Great Learning Orchestra.

As for Alex and I, we are utterly loyal to Gösta Berlings Saga!

What artists and musicians are you listening to now?

AS: Cardiacs.

GT: Cardiacs and Magma.

AS: Those are like the two main groups we are listening to. When we try to act "hard," we listen to Burzum, the Norwegian black metal dude. (laughter ensues)

AS: Have you seen his new promo shots? You must have a look at them! Just strange!

Unless you have anything else to share, that about wraps it up.

AS: That's how we roll... (laughter)

Filed under: Interviews

Related artist(s): Gösta Berlings Saga

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