Published on April 12th, 2017 | by The Beige Baron0
Interview: Kungens Män
Compensation for getting older is perspective. Some artists, who’ve ridden the turbulence of youthful creativity, find a deeper reward later on in life when process yields greater satisfaction than outcome.
A good example is Kungens Män. Formed in 2012 by veteran musos in the Stockholm scene, the band started as an alternative outlet for its members, most of whom are active in more established outfits.
“We really, really want to keep it DIY, in every detail…”
With no rules or concrete goals in mind beyond hanging out and jamming with whoever else drifted into rehearsal, Kungens Män’s freewheeling approach has produced some astonishingly good results in a short period of time.
It’s a little ironic that of all the other “serious” bands its members have been a part of, it’s the laid-back Kungens Män project that has taken on a life of its own, music spreading virally and live shows leading into festival slots in different parts of Europe.
What started out as primitive single-mic recordings offered for free on Bandcamp has grown into beautifully packaged double-LP releases on respected labels such as Adansonia Records. And while Kungens Män may have refined their recording techniques since then, they are still very much guided by a DIY ethos.
Entranced by the hypnotic grooves and swirling krauty vibes of the band’s recent three-track release Bränna tid, I sought out guitarist Mikael to chat about the band, starting our conversation with an admission that I’d found them on a torrent tracking site. I wondered if pirates like myself—who use trackers to taste-test new music and end up buying what they love—were a blessing or a curse to the development of bands like Kungens Män.
“Well, first of all—it’s totally okay! Nothing is sabotaged here,” says Mikael. “This way of finding music seems to be a good strategy for a music addict and I think in our genre many people fit into that category—all nerds—which means many of them will end up buying stuff if they like it. And if it weren’t for those torrents, or legal channels like Bandcamp, we would probably just have been playing to our friends in Stockholm.
“Bandcamp has been vital to spreading our music, and actually we don’t know exactly how it all started out. I have been in loads of bands over the years, but somehow Kungens Män almost immediately connected to something that made people want to listen to it without us having to struggle.
“We don’t make budgets built on fantasies…”
“I hope most of it is due to the music, but it also probably has to do with us embracing the Internet and all the possibilities with social media. Another aspect is that we really, really want to keep it DIY, in every detail. Actually, we’ve been joking about starting to build our own instruments, but they would most likely sound like shit, so we scrapped that idea…
“The funny thing is that when it comes to the monetary aspect, this band isn’t any worse off than any other band I’ve been in. I used to play with a band with ambitions called Switch Opens—we even won fancy awards, were in glossy rock magazines, and stuff like that—but didn’t earn a penny. Kungens Män has ambition, but we’re only doing things on our own terms, and we don’t make budgets built on fantasies.
“The Internet has clearly been the key to a lot of what we are able to achieve. I was struggling with bands back in the nineties, sending demos to cool labels in Stockholm, and didn’t really get any further than ‘thanks, but no thanks’, and then playing over and over at the same old joints that booked shitty bands. The world used to be considerably smaller.
“So, yes, I’m okay with people downloading and sharing our music, with the addition that I know how this genre works—networking is extremely important and builds lasting relationships. I probably wouldn’t say this if I were a songwriter aiming for the hit lists.
“But to complicate things a little bit more—I think musicians should get paid properly for their work, but we live in a paradox where old models of analysis do not work anymore. Maybe you wouldn’t have found us without that torrent…”
BNU: It’s interesting that you say that even with a high profile, and playing music full-time, it’s still almost impossible to make a living from music. Do you think people have short memories about the “old system” in terms of what a lottery it was to win a recording contract, and the mercenary way in which artists were often exploited? Do you think money and fame are corrupting influences on art?
Mikael: Honestly, I’m not quite sure how to answer this, but I’ll try. I have never been able to live off music—I have always combined it with day jobs or studying. And I have never been in a band on a major label that put that kind of pressure on the band. It has always been DIY or indies.
But then again, sometimes you start putting that kind of pressure on yourself from within the band, just because you think that’s what is needed to “make it”. So, I guess I would say that money and fame changes music, and in most cases, in a bad way.
“It’s still a lottery who gets recognized and all that, but at least you can put your music out there and have some kind of closure…”
There are a few examples I can think of who actually took care of the profit they made and put it into great, creative projects—artists like Sonic Youth, Mike Patton, or Radiohead.
Just like you suggest, it’s still very much a lottery who gets recognized and all that, but at least you can put your music out there and have some kind of closure when a project is finished, whereas it used to just end up on a tape in a drawer. Or maybe you sent it out to a few labels and never got an answer.
BNU: Bandcamp has “democratized” music, but it’s also meant that anyone with a PC can make a record and sell it. But they are competing for listeners; social media is choked with people each trying to get someone, anyone, to listen. And at the end of the day, who is to say the Joe Nobody’s music isn’t better than a group ordained by tastemaker media as being geniuses? Do you think that music festivals are the way in which a “class” system has been reinstated to the industry?
“People value the live event higher nowadays, the exclusiveness of what happens in a room, something that can’t be digitized…”
Yes, I guess the creddy festivals are the most coveted gigs for a reason. It has probably been like that for a long time, but from what I understand, more and more festivals make a lot of label deals or booking agent deals that close the door for real creativity in the lineups.
That’s a shame. It cements trends and works against freethinking music.
BNU: Why do you think “jam bands” are suddenly so popular? By that I mean, many musicians who might have grown up on riff rock or doom seem to have found freedom in ’70s krautrock and free jazz, and these heavy tonal colors are being carried across into fluid structures; free jams that can go anywhere. How does playing “instantly composed, instantly deleted” music differ from writing and honing a song to perfection? How do you judge when a jam has strayed or lost focus? Your music is very tightly groove-based, does that help with keeping a sense of momentum?
Very interesting questions… About the “jam bands” being popular, I don’t know for sure… Are they more popular now than they have been in the past? I wouldn’t really know. I have always been drawn to free-floating music, but you are probably right that heavy music has spilled over to the jam side of things more and more.
My guess is that people value the live event higher nowadays, the exclusiveness of what happens in a room, the mood, something that can’t be digitized and served in a neat package. I also think that bands that are really playing together the old-school way are getting more and more unusual and obscure. The top lists are full of artists and bands that piece together their music entirely with software—which isn’t wrong, just a different dominant paradigm from when I was a kid. We are probably the last generation that stood in garages and basements en masse.
“When I improvise, I always think of it as a composition, rather than just making cool sounds…”
When it comes to playing instantly composed music versus written music, the biggest difference is the risk-taking in improvised music. Everything can fall to pieces at any moment, but on the other hand, you can reach heights you would never come close to in a written song.
One important aspect for me, though, is that I always try to cross-pollinate these methods or attitudes. When I improvise, I always think of it as a composition, rather than just making cool sounds or playing flashy, fast licks. And when I play songs, I try to have the same focus I have when improvising, which means I put effort into every note, listen closely to every tone even though I know how the song is going to end up in the bigger perspective.
That’s a lesson I have learned from playing funk, where you play the same riff over and over again. You can’t play a James Brown song without being totally focused on what you’re doing, every moment and every note matters or else you will lose the groove.
We definitely listen a lot to our own stuff with a critical ear, and it’s very obvious when the momentum of an instant composition gets lost. Sometimes it gets lost only for a while though, and then catches up again, which explains why we sometimes leave kind of “boring” stretches of music on our records. Listening to the whole track hopefully makes it worth it in the end!
“The motorik aspect has become a bit of a trademark for this band…”
And yes, we edit songs—that’s why they often have fade-ins or fade-outs… We don’t do a lot of editing within the jams, however; it’s more about balancing the mix and working with different rooms, panning, and that kind of thing. We never add additional instruments or tracks or do several takes on the same song.
We’ve tried playing songs twice, but it’s hard to reach the same spontaneous magic that’s associated with a rough first take.
About the motorik aspect, that has become a bit of a trademark for this band, because that is what works in this constellation of musicians. Our drummer Indy locks in with Magnus on the bass or with me when I’m doing rhythm guitar, and then we basically hold on to that and paint the picture inside the frame.
BNU: How much does a new piece of gear influence what you play? Does tone or sound shape the composition, or do you select sounds to fit a structure?
It goes both ways. It’s like painting a picture. Sometimes you work with blending colors smoothly, and other times it is all about contrast. It can be very effective to rip the painting apart with a brain-melting fuzz sound, just when everyone thought everything was safe. And new gear can bring in new ideas for sure, though it’s hard to say how much it affects the jam in general—it still comes down to the musical idea.
“If you don’t try new combinations of sounds you will get nowhere…”
BNU: Any gear that was brought to rehearsal and got it vetoed by the band?
No, I can’t even imagine how that could happen! We always embrace new gear, sounds or guests that bring new instruments that we haven’t tried mixing up with our thing. Sometimes I hear comments from people like, “Oh, I don’t like trumpet,” or “I hate saxophone,” which is totally weird to me. I just don’t understand how you can rule out an instrument like that.
It depends on who plays it, how they play it, what the context is. If you don’t try new combinations of sounds you will get nowhere if you have any interest whatsoever in the development of music.
BNU: How did your band come together, and what has changed conceptually since you started out till now? By featuring many guests, have any of them left a lasting impression on the way you approach your music?
I brought the guys together. They were close friends from different circles and all of them were very interested in music. The first time we hung out as a group was on a trip to the Roadburn Festival in 2009. The first time we played together was in the summer of 2012.
“We were forced to find ways to communicate musically that didn’t involve the regular music talk…”
The other guitar player Hans Hjelm and I grew up together in a small town called Sigtuna outside of Stockholm. Back in 1985, he was the only guy I knew with an electric guitar, which was really weird since he was into synth music like Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, while I was totally into heavy metal.
I started playing bass and we formed our first band in 1986. Soon his mind was destroyed as well, meaning we shared our youth worshiping Edward Van Halen and then later on indulging in jazz. Nowadays I play both bass and guitar, focusing on guitar in Kungens Män.
The bass player Magnus Öhrn, who is also our visual artist and designer, is an old neighbor of mine. We moved into the same house in Aspudden in 2005 and soon started going to a lot of concerts and hanging out with our families.
Magnus also started designing and printing merchandise for my band at the time. He had never played in a band and bought his first bass during those years, so his first gig ever was actually the debut gig with Kungens Män, opening for The Master Musicians of Bukkake in 2013. That’s actually freaking awesome!
The drummer Mattias Indy Pettersson and I knew each other from “the scene”. He once took promo photos of my band and then I got him a job at the library I worked at back in 2004. We became close friends and also did some infrequent jamming over the years up until Kungens Män. He comes from a punk background drumming-wise and didn’t even use a hi-hat when we started out. He used to play with the fastcore band Massgrav.
The synth player Peter Erikson wasn’t in the band from the beginning, but since we started inviting people to our rehearsals, pretty early on he was one of the guys we regularly asked since he’s such a great guy. He always showed up and then he stuck! He was also a friend from the going-to-concerts-drinking-beer-hanging-out scene and interested in synthesizers in a very nerdy way. Perfect.
So, as you can see we come from very different backgrounds musically. That’s also probably the most important key element to our sound and approach. We were forced to find ways to communicate musically that didn’t involve the regular “music talk” that Hans and I are used to, and we also needed to keep things simple.
We just had to put faith and trust into the process of making sounds built around one chord per song—which wasn’t a sacrifice, but a blessing. I always enjoyed drone-based music most of all anyway: free jazz, folk music, chiming guitar rock, and so on.
But then again, I need to adjust my playing for Kungens Män. I can’t just fly away before I hear that everything’s safe and the groove is steady, which in turn has been important to our sound. I think it makes the music clear, concise and well composed compared to a lot of other improvised music. Abstract is good too, but it’s not what Kungens Män is usually about.
We started recording our sessions from the very first time we played and onwards and then we just continued. Every session is therapy, party, contemplation, cleansing, and outrageousness in equal measures. It’s getting better and better musically and I’m getting some skills at recording our music.
“The guests always bring something interesting and fresh…”
When we started out, I had only been in the producer’s chair, never doing the technical stuff, so this has become my recording school. We started out with just a Zoom recorder and now it’s a bit more complex…
The guests always bring something interesting and fresh. I wouldn’t necessarily say that they change the band in a way that sticks, but all of them definitely change the vibe when they are there. It’s another layer to consider, another color, another risk.
And as I said, Peter started out as a guest, and he changed the sound and vibe of the band enough to not be allowed to leave.
BNU: So what is the system for practicing in Sweden? Do you rent rehearsal rooms, or jam in someone’s garage or barn, or do you rarely jam together and hope something good comes out live?
There isn’t a general answer to that. It depends on where you live in the country—it’s different on the countryside than in Stockholm or other bigger cities. We rent a rehearsal room in Aspudden in Stockholm, which we share with Spelljammer and Nej. I guess it’s pretty expensive compared to what people get in other places.
That’s where we record the music as well, since rehearsal equals recording. We have also been in my croft in the woods a couple of times recording and hanging out for a weekend.
“We don’t hang out with the cool people. We’re kind of old. We arrange our own gigs…”
BNU: What about the setup for playing live in Stockholm? Are there bands you frequently play with? Do you play much the same kind of music, or is there cross-pollination in terms of the acts that come together to play an event?
I have been in the music scene of Stockholm for years and years, but I still haven’t been able to decode how it really works, haha! We rarely get gig proposals in Stockholm, and I guess it is because we don’t hang out with the cool people. We’re kind of old. We arrange our own gigs instead and ask friends if they want to join us.
The last gig in Stockholm we did with the doom band Domkraft, before that we set up a gig with Øresund Space Collective; we’ve also played with New Rose, who play guitar rock in the vein of Sonic Youth. It doesn’t really matter if the bands we team up with are within the same genre or not—it’s more important that the vibe is nice and that the audience gets some varied input from the different bands.
I think it’s pretty boring when there are three bands doing the same thing, which is pretty common in the clubs of Stockholm. I’ve kind of stopped going to rock shows actually; I’m almost only going to jazz and free improv shows.
BNU: Why is that? What attracts you to jazz in particular?
I think the most important factor is that jazz is all about listening. It’s not primarily about looking good or about identity. It’s about following certain musical voices, rather than focusing so much on the mythology of the bands and musicians, even though the background stories often deepen the listening experience.
Jazz includes all emotions, and nowadays it also incorporates influences from other styles in a way that goes way further than non-jazz listeners often think. It’s not a closed genre as opposed to a lot of heavy music, where it’s all about being “true”, “hard”, “evil” and all that kind of crap.
Jazz is not a closed genre as opposed to a lot of heavy music, where it’s all about being “true”, “hard”, “evil” and all that kind of crap…
What got me into jazz in the first place, when I was about fifteen, was that it was really eye opening when it came to dynamics. A friend and his father took me to the jazz club Fasching in Stockholm (which I still go to regularly), and we went to listen to an old Swedish fusion band called Hawk On Flight. They would probably seem kind of dated today, but I remember being totally blown away by how they built up the guitar solos! It was such a contrast to the arena rock or thrash metal shows I usually attended.
It was something else harmonically as well, and I realised that those ordinary looking old guys had way more chops than any of the musicians I had on posters on my walls at home. And it continued from there… When I was 18 I found John Coltrane and I couldn’t believe the energy of it. Around the same time, Naked City with Yamatsuka Eye found its way to my record player. And the story goes on…
BNU: As you guys get a little older, do you find it harder to commit time to the band? Do you find that the perspective that comes with getting older balances the lack of time?
When it comes to Kungens Män specifically, the commitment has been on the same level since the start of the band, since our lifestyle hasn’t changed considerably in the course of the few years we have been a band. But it has changed in the larger perspective.
“I don’t throw away valuable time with dysfunctional bands anymore…”
Before I had a family, I used to rehearse or go to shows several times a week, and it had been like that since I was around 14 or 15 years old. But yes, I think the perspective of things helps me a lot. I’m way better at prioritizing my efforts. I don’t throw away valuable time with dysfunctional bands anymore, and I’m getting better at identifying when things are getting stale.
As a band, Kungens Män are lucky this way as well. It’s like it is built into our method of doing things that we are not supposed to rehearse five times a week, but rather once or twice a month. We don’t want it to get boring or a routine thing.
On the other hand, we get a lot better when we play a lot, like when we are on tour, but it is what it is.
BNU: Sweden has a rich musical history that has had profound influence on so much world music. Can you tell us about how you came to support Träd, Gräs och Stenar, and what it felt like to meet the original surviving members?
First of all, it was one of my other bands, Eye Make The Horizon that arranged a show with Träd, Gräs och Stenar a few weeks ago. It was a wonderful night in every possible way. This was all made possible since one of the members of Eye Make The Horizon, Gustav Nygren, who occasionally also guests in Kungens Män, is a friend of TGS. We asked them if they wanted to do it and they said yes—it wasn’t more complicated than that. It was a huge honour though, to get the chance to do this.
It doesn’t really matter that it’s only Jakob Sjöholm who is still in the band since the old days—I think they manage to keep the sound and vibe intact and beautiful, and still somehow the members they have now shine through with their personalities.
“I’ve talked briefly to all of the old members [of TGS] over the years and they were always very nice…”
The lineup on this night was Jakob on guitar and vocals, Reine Fiske from Dungen on guitar, keys, and vocals, Sigge Krantz, a legendary bass player and producer who has been in the Swedish prog scene since the seventies, Nisse Törnqvist on drums, Hanna Östergren from Hills on drums as well, and Lise-Lotte Norelius on live electronics and percussion.
They did very long, trancey versions of classic songs and also a new one. Just wonderful. And they are all very sweet and humble people, just like all the members of TGS have always been, at least to my knowledge.
I’ve talked briefly to all of the old members over the years and they were always very nice. It’s very sad that we lost Thomas Mera Gartz and Torbjörn Abelli. They were inspiring musicians and I’m very happy that I got the chance to see the lineup with Bo Anders Persson, Mera, Abelli and Sjöholm a few times.
BNU: How much of a gap do you feel between what they were doing in the 1970s and what you and other bands like yours are doing now? Do you have any ideas on why now, specifically, the original music of Träd, Gräs och Stenar is resonating so strongly with contemporary audiences?
When it comes to the gap thing, I don’t really think in terms of gaps… I think music is both a continuum and a now. I feel completely connected to a lot of music that was made before or around the time I was born in 1973, though I understand on an intellectual level that we come from very different musical backgrounds.
“Drone and improvisation have always been around everywhere…”
Our references are very different sound-wise, when it comes to how we attack our instruments or what albums we listened to when we grew up, but the emotion and purpose of playing stays the same. I also think that we are close to, for example, TGS, when it comes to the method of making music, and also in the sense that Kungens Män aren’t a bunch of super-skilled musicians. That’s just not the point of it.
The reason for this music resonating with people today probably has to do with this thing I was talking about earlier—the rise of the event, the vibe, the search for a state of mind which lifts you from the quick, chopped-up stupidity and assault on the mind.
BNU: Do you think that late-stage capitalism and the absurd imbalance between rich and poor has sparked nostalgia for late-’60s utopian ideals of an “alternative lifestyle”? And do you think that perhaps a better understanding of consciousness-altering drugs and the suggested beneficial effects has driven the revival in the sounds of the ’60s and ’70s in rock? Or do you think people are just too tired and cynical to even countenance a “revolution”, and see psychedelic music as a form of escape?
I wouldn’t necessarily call it escape, even though that aspect is there and it is possible to make the choice to only follow that path. I like to think of it as a way of communication, interconnection, and working with quite universal musical tools.
Drone and improvisation have always been around everywhere. The expansion of the consciousness as well, whether it’s with or without drugs. All of this can be seen as political acts—we might not start a revolution in the classic way of visualizing what that means, but I truly believe that these experiences change those that have them—in a good way. As soon as you have seen this interconnection between things it’s hard to hate. Now this is real hippie talk, right? [Laughs]
BNU: Can you list some formative records? I definitely sense some Harmonia, Neu!, and TGS in Kungens Män … what albums did you guys bond over, and why do you think they still sound so fresh today?
Okay, I need to make it clear that we never try to emulate anyone else’s music, not consciously. We are our own entity made up by our musical and personal histories. Of course we hear similarities to other bands sometimes, but that’s usually when we listen to a song or jam after it’s been recorded. We never set out to be TGS copycats: we realized afterwards that some of our music got close to their sound.
Still, it is not even close, really. It might just make your brain do approximately the same things when you listen to it.
So, the conclusion is that we don’t really have formative records as a band. We usually listen to music during rehearsal breaks or in the tour bus, and a couple of moments that held a special magic was when we listened to the song Al-Khutba Al-Akhira by Alif in the rehearsal room, or when we put on Tricky Kid by Tricky when we were in the croft in the woods of Vretstorp.
“For Sweden in general, I think there is quite a lot of elitism and shit. If someone gets too successful, the ‘cool’ people turn their back on them.”
But if I look at our shared playlist at Spotify I find stuff like BEAK, Lalo Schifrin, Slowdive, Can, Bardo Pond, John Coltrane, Yo La Tengo, Mulatu Astatke, International Harvester, Massive Attack, and U2.
A few of my personal formative records that make constant references in my head would be Miles Davis’s Live Evil, Sonic Youth’s Washing Machine, Sonny Sharrock’s Ask the Ages, Van Halen’s Fair Warning, and John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme.
BNU: Australian band King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard currently have the best-selling No.1 LP in the USA. As an Australian ex-pat, I feel proud but also bitter. Proud because it’s so great an Australian band are doing so well overseas, and bitter when I think of how poorly attended their local shows must certainly have been. It’s dispiriting to think of all the bands out there playing to basically empty rooms. What do you feel when you see the wild success of local bands like GOAT or DUNGEN? Do you think Swedish listeners feel jealousy, or are people proud of them at home?
It’s totally cool that Dungen and Goat have their success. They are both great bands and have been struggling with music for a long time. And also they probably open up possibilities for us, getting people to listen to music that approximates us.
But for Sweden in general, I think there is quite a lot of elitism and shit. If someone gets too successful, the “cool” people turn their back on them. And we’re kind of jaded since we have had so many successful bands, artists, and songwriters over the years.
“Everything that comes with money… All of that is like another world that I don’t really know a lot about.”
Music is actually one of our biggest export markets, which is something I don’t really like to think about. It makes it sound very bloodless and cynical. Everything that comes with money… All of that is like another world that I don’t really know a lot about.
Sometimes I have been looking at it jealously, just being able to actually live off music, but on the other hand, I hate competition and the dependency on what certain people like, or what the market says.
BNU: To you personally, what is the most satisfying aspect of playing music? Is it the live performance aspect, or putting your CD on in the car and cruising around listening to it? Is it a form of release to play? Can you listen to your own work uncritically? Do you measure your own work against others or do you feel like it fits in with a global community of bands with similar approaches?
I don’t compare Kungens Män to other bands a lot. We are not competing. In my mind, Kungens Män wasn’t even supposed to be a band that would meet the world in the first place—it was a way of hanging out with my best friends. We have never had any expectations whatsoever. That’s still the backbone of this band and it’s also what differs Kungens Män the most from almost all other bands I have ever been in.
“I just love to be inside the body of sound, within the painting, surfing on the wave.”
I’m still looking at it with a little bit of awe, like, “How did this happen?” But of course, we’re not arrogant about it since things are actually happening, it’s just like everything is a bonus.
To me, the most satisfying part is playing the music, whether it is in front of an audience or in the rehearsal space. I just love to be inside the body of sound, within the painting, surfing on the wave. And hopefully it even lifts to those heights when the music just plays itself. We are lucky enough to have just the right mixture and chemistry to be able to get to this place quite often, and that’s actually pretty rare.
It is definitely a release and when we don’t meet and play for a few weeks I get the itches.
I love everything that surrounds having a band as well. I like to work hard, to build things, to look at it a little bit from the outside and see the sum of all the effort we all put into it. Of course, it’s hard to listen and look at it uncritically, but I enjoy what we are doing very much and I know the same is true for the rest of the band.
BNU: Considering you have the kind of familial relationship, do you feel the best music comes out of frustration and tension, or only when everything is cosmically aligned and things are “working”? I guess what I mean is, are you afraid that seeking that sense of comfort in sound will not allow you to grow as a band? Do you need to argue?
“Start out with the two double-LPs we released on Adansonia Records, Förnekaren and Stockholm Maraton…”
We don’t need to argue to get anywhere. Of course we do disagree about things sometimes, but we don’t depend on tension. I’m actually quite tired of being in bands that have that kind of built-in tension—I have been in it too much. It’s not that I’m scared of conflicts, but constant argumentation holds back a lot creativity, and it’s easy to lose the motivation to work for a common goal. You easily get egotistical and competitive within the band, you stop laughing and having a good time. Yikes, I don’t want that.
BNU: So what albums of yours would you recommend a first-time listener explore?
My recommendation is to start out with the two double-LPs we released on Adansonia Records, Förnekaren and Stockholm Maraton. I look at Förnekaren as our first real release, where we really worked things through when we chose the songs and did the artwork.
It was also great to hook up with Andreas Bäcker, the guy from Bassenheim, Germany who runs Adansonia Records. We have a very good understanding and relationship. He really cares about his products, almost to a manic extent, meaning that the records are top notch. He also taps into our crazy conceptual ideas and lets us work in a pace that suits us perfectly.
BNU: Which albums do you feel could have been better, but for whatever reason, were not executed properly?
By the time we released Förnekaren, I had also learned recording and mixing well enough to feel that it sounded the way I wanted it to sound. You have to keep in mind that my ideals are closer to lo-fi than hi-fi though! But it was still a pretty big stretch from the early stuff we released.
In the beginning we recorded everything with just a Zoom, which sounded better than expected for sure, but I didn’t have control of the sound of the recordings afterwards. All I could do was basically some EQ and compressing. That’s what ended up on the first physical release on Ljudkassett! and the first half of the string of digital releases we did on Bandcamp.
We had this nutty idea that we were going to release one album every month for a year, which we actually did. The quality of that music isn’t always the best in my opinion, but still that project was what really made things happen with Kungens Män.
Suddenly a lot of people started downloading our albums (and they even paid for them even though they were available for free), and it was people from all around the world. This was all very unexpected.
Since Förnekaren came out we have done a lot of fun stuff. We have done two European tours and played a bunch of festivals including the fantastic Psychedelic Network Festival in Würzburg, Germany. That one was very encouraging—people were completely nuts about our set making it one of those reminders of what this is about: connection.
BNU: When you say you prefer a “lo-fi” aesthetic, I assume you mean you want to avoid a kind of clinical sound rather than say the muddiness of, say, Guided by Voices. Someone once said, “Life is noise, why would you want to remove the life from the sound?” When you say “lo-fi”, what do you mean exactly? Analog? Fewer mics, four-track recorders? Can you describe some things you’ve learnt about recording that you’ve applied in Kungens Män?
I refer to it more as an aesthetic than a technical choice. We adapt to our budget, which means we use whatever microphones we have in our rehearsal space combined with a pretty cheap soundcard and my Macbook. That’s it. In other words, we don’t have access to a lot of retro analog equipment. It would be cool as hell, but we can’t afford it and I (or someone else in the band) would have to learn how to use it, which would make us lose momentum.
I’m talking more about how I treat the sounds when mixing. I don’t try to clean the mixes up too much. I leave feedback and other noise in there. We record everything live and loud in the studio and I don’t care if one instrument leaks into another instrument’s channel. When I’m mixing one of the things I often say to myself is: “Think Japanese!” You know, when there’s a rowdy guitar solo it should be just that.
I obviously don’t do noise mixes, but I think the mixes need some balls. You should jump at sounds sometimes. Dub reggae is a big inspiration that way as well—when you turn it up, you turn it up.
BNU: What do you guys do when you are not playing music? What do your friends and loved ones think about your obsession with music?
“I wouldn’t really know how to live in another way, music is totally integrated in everything…”
Indy works with PR, design, web stuff at a library in the Stockholm area. He’s also a music journalist, but doesn’t write a lot nowadays. And he’s very involved in the graffiti scene and a collector of all kinds of cultural artifacts … books, fanzines, records, and films. He’s regularly travelling to Japan. You go figure.
Peter works as a game developer. He’s into travelling as well and also a very creative guy when it comes to graphics and stuff like that. He’s also in another band with me, called Partikel.
Magnus works with mentally disabled people and homeless drug addicts helping them out in their daily lives. He’s also a trained artist and designer. He likes to tattoo himself—you should see his legs. And since he made his debut on the stage with Kungens Män, he thought, “Well, what the hell,” and joined the band I 11:e Timmen as their vocalist a couple of years ago.
Hans is a doctor of Computational Linguistics and works as a developer at a financial firm. He also takes care of our merchandise administration and is the one keeping our books. I hope he writes some good code that will make us rich. He’s clearly the scientist of the band, keeping everyone in check.
I work at the Stockholm Public Library as a project manager in the Digital department. When I don’t think about music, I tend to end up discussing or reading about politics or environmental issues. I’m also in a few other bands: the ones I mentioned before (Eye Make The Horizon and Partikel) and a band called Sista Maj with a drummer named Andreas Axelsson and the American guitar player and violinist Jonathan Segel from Camper Van Beethoven.
Apart from all this, some of us have kids, and we’re all trying to make life work out the best way we can. Sometimes there is frustration and bad conscience, but I think our families and friends are very understanding and supportive in general.
I wouldn’t really know how to live in another way, music is totally integrated in everything.
BNU: If you could be granted one opportunity to give Kungens Män a boost to achieve your dreams for the band, what would it be?
They have already pretty much come true—as I said earlier, everything is like a big bonus!
But then again, we would love to become “Big in Japan”. [Laughs]. Seriously! We would really like to come there and play, as well as to almost every other corner of the world. We would love to invite like-minded local guest musicians for recordings and concerts.
Oh man… I also really hope that we will remain friends forever and stay in good health for many years to come and just keep on making music.
BNU: Can you tell us what the band has planned for the next year?
“We are working hard on finishing our next double LP for Adansonia Records…”
Yes, we recently released the three-song CD-R Bränna tid on Alan Freeman’s label Auricle. Alan is the author of the classic kraut book The Crack In The Cosmic Egg.
And now a cassette called Tomhetens furste is coming out on the tape label Eggs In Aspic from Newcastle, UK. It’s three previously unreleased songs as well. While this happens we are working hard on finishing our next double LP for Adansonia Records, which will be called Dag & Natt, and is due out in August.
We also have plans to do some touring in Europe in August since we are going to play at Finki Open Air in Germany on August 12th. We’re really looking forward to that festival—it’s curated by Mani Neumaier from Guru Guru and will have acts like Arthur Brown, The Pretty Things, Guru Guru and… Kungens Män. Crazy.
— Top image: Andreas Bäcker