Published on July 17th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Psych-rock collective Hills’ new album Frid—a greeting which means “inner peace” in Swedish–is one of the best psychedelic rock albums I’ve heard this year.
Slated for release on August 28, the LP sees the seeds planted on debut full-length Master Sleeps flourish in a bloom of hypnotic drones and lush instrumentation that push ever deeper into the territory covered on the first record.
While Frid‘s opener Kollektiv references late ’60s rock with jazzy Mitch Mitchell drum fills and blasting fuzz guitar (the album art gives a nod to International Harvester’s landmark 1969 album Sov Gott Rose-Marie, a big influence on the band), it’s the second cut National Drone that sets the scene for what’s to follow as the music plunges into deep ethno-flavored psychedelia.
Swirls of wah guitar unfold over a spinning fractal mandala of strummed acoustic and flute on track three, Anukthal Is Here, before Milarepa vacuums it up in droning tape delay and piping flutes.
Ten-minute epic Och Solen Sankte Sig Rod sends ripples of delay under a funky flanged-out-bass groove. Tabla-esque drumbeats slowly build over waves of eastern-sounding guitar and tinkling chimes. It’s an intoxicating head-nodder and you never want it to end.
The ritual vocals, backwards tape, strummed acoustic, and muted wah of Death Will Find a Way closes out the album.
At times we enter into the great trance and the instruments become our means of communicating
Based in Gothenburg, Hills formed in 2009 initially as a three-piece and have since settled on a permanent lineup of five members — Pelle [guitar/vox], Hanna [drums], Bob [bass], Kalle [guitar], and Tore [organ/vox]. The band signed to Rocket Recordings—home to fellow Swedes Goat as well as UK-based Gnod, The Heads, and Hey Colossus, and Frid is the band’s first album of new material for the label.
We recently got the chance to talk to Pelle about how it was made.
I think a lot has changed, and at the same time, we work using the same old recipe. We’ve had five permanent members for a long time. We haven’t had three since 2009, maybe? We operated as a four-piece for a couple of years, but have now settled for the five of us.
When we play live we often invite other friends to join in, so at the last show we did at the legendary TGS, there were actually seven people on stage at times.
It was a magic evening by the way! It was recorded as well, so there’s probably something coming out in the near future.
Regarding influences, I hear new stuff through the guys at Rocket Records and friends all the time. The best “new” record I have heard in a long while was the Arena Negra LP by The Myrrors, such a good album! Then of course friends recommend stuff, so it’s mostly through those channels. Mostly I listen to old stuff unfortunately, or should I say fortunately?
The whole point of playing is trying to make every gig a bit special and unique
Frid seems to be focused on an almost eastern-flavored drone sound, I’m thinking of tracks like National Drone and Och Solen Sankte Sig Rod. It’s probably your most deeply psychedelic record so far. Do you go into a trance when you’re performing these songs, or are you concentrating too much on playing? How much of the music was improvised?
A lot is improvised. The original take of National Drone is maybe 20 minutes.
And thank you, I agree that Frid is our most transcendent record so far, or meditative at least. Frid is “simply the best” Hills album so far, to quote an old stonker of a song.
I guess that this is the amount of time we needed since the release of the first album to find this sound. Channel it. Yes, at times we enter into the great trance and the instruments become our means of communicating. In a way, it’s like the music takes over what we can’t describe with words. This is where we want to be, and I guess you can hear that when you listen as well?
For me, I really feel that as a live unit we have grown and there is a lot of room for taking the songs anywhere, basically. What you hear on the record is often one version of a song that will probably sound a lot different live.
Usually it’s all improvised in the studio then we might add an overdub or two. Throw in a new idea.
And to answer your question, I think we get into it quite easily live nowadays. Depends on the venue and vibe of course, but since we don’t play much live and are a pretty picky bunch, this is usually not a problem since we only do shows we really want to do.
For us, the whole point of playing is trying to make every gig a bit special and unique, I think mostly for ourselves. That is why we try not to overdo it and do long tours.
There is no pressure involved when we make music
For me, music is maybe the one place where I don’t have to concentrate or make an effort to achieve something or “get somewhere”, if you know what I mean?
I notice tamboura and flute; did you bring any friends in to help?
Sometimes we just lay down the bass, guitar, and drums like on Och Solen Sänkte Sig Röd and then we finish the song later on when it’s more obvious to us which direction we want the song to go.
Did you play all together in the studio, or did you have drums and bass in a one room and overdub the rest? Any special bits of gear you used that gave Frid a different character?
We recorded everything ourselves in different locations always using the old tape machine [laughs]. Of course, with the help of friends also!
We use a lot of old gear, so that probably adds to the coloration sound-wise. Also, when you record yourself as we tend to do, you actually learn a lot during the process and through the mistakes you make. How to position the mics in the room you use, which amps to use, compressors, and so on. Basically, you know which stunts will do the trick, at least the “Hills trick”. I doubt I could do a classical ensemble justice.
Also I think that Frid really is a special one because we did not stress, and let the album unveil itself to us. There is also a lot of stuff recorded that wasn’t used, to be honest. It just did not fit.
Psych and krautrock-style music seem to be thriving in Sweden at the moment. Are you part of a larger collective or scene in Gothenburg? Are there a lot of live venues there? Do you have any favorite local bands?
I’d say I definitely see us as a collective, always people coming and going and joining in. Psych-rock is the new black [laughs]. Which is fine by me. To tell you the truth, I am not as up to date with the local scene as I used to be (kids, work) but there are quite a few I like and there are probably a lot more that I don’t know of. Weary Nous, Ill Wicker, Strändernas Svall, Uran to mention a few.
What did you enjoy most about the process of writing Frid? Was it an easy and smooth record to make?
Hard question. I don’t know. It’s like any process: the road is the goal kind of thing. It’s all enjoyable to me, but I really like when it’s all done and mastered and you get to hear the songs as a whole properly for the first time.
And it was easy to make, maybe since there is no pressure involved when we make music. We are not trying to break big or anything; we just do what we do because we really enjoy it. There is a lot of freedom involved in that. We just want to make music we enjoy and hopefully others will enjoy it as well.
What’s your plan for touring? When are you guys heading out and where are you playing? What overseas bands would you most love to play with?
Well, as I said before, we are not very keen on doing long tours. That said, we would love to do a bit of course. Get to see places and meet people, but that’s not even something we talk about. We play a bit around Sweden and Denmark and we are fine with that. If the money is right, who knows?
We’re living the dream already.
We are playing Copenhagen Psych Fest in September and then Oslo Psych Fest in October. Those are the only shows we have lined up now. Really looking forward to those. Both festivals have great lineups!
Would love to play with J.J Cale, Dave Pike Set, Gary Higgins, Exuma, and The Myrrors.
What do you guys do for fun when you’re not playing music? What’s your goal with Hills?
We go up to the lake or sea for a swim. We hang out with our kids and friends. We listen to music. We eat good food. We make music. Grow stuff. We try to contribute to the greater good, I’d say.
As for Hills, we’re living the dream already.