The Scandi artists compare notes on pointless remixes, dumb audiences and awful interviews.
Korallreven are young Swedes Marcus Joons and Daniel Tjader, who last year released Second Comin’, their sophomore album of skyscraping club-pop infused with tablas, timbales, gospel voices and a knowing nod to the riotous excesses of EDM. Hans-Peter Lindstrøm you will know as a veteran of Oslo’s dance scene and master of the side-long prog-disco odyssey. His latest project is his barmiest yet: a “spiritual magnum opus” recorded with Emil Nikolaisen of Oslo psych-shredders Serena-Maneesh and 60s garage-rocker turned polymath producer Todd Rundgren.
Between them they represent two generations of Scandinavian musical exports with something of an outsider’s perspective on the incomprehensions of the music industry. A little while ago we asked them to interview each other, inviting them to send each other some questions in advance before we got going with a three-way Skypeathon. Turns out when you ask artists to to talk among themselves, they like to talk business. So here it is: Lindstrøm and Korallreven versus the music industry.
As a bonus we’ve got the first play of a blinding Erol Alkan rework of ‘Runddans’, a section of Lindstrøm’s forthcoming album of the same name.
Daniel Tjader: We were just talking about how we got in touch with Lindstrøm’s music. When me and Marcus started working together we did a lot of DJ sets – this was in 2008 or 2009 – and we were playing at this club in Stockholm called Spy Bar, I think it was. One time one of the turntables stopped working, which is always pretty annoying, so our best bet was to put on one of the longest tracks from Lindstrøm’s Where You Go I Go Too.
Lindstrøm: So I saved you guys!
Marcus Joons: That record was a big inspiration for the first record – maybe you don’t hear it, but it was. So we were really happy when there was an interview with you in Svenska Dagbladet and they asked if you had some favourite Swedish music and you named us, I felt like it had gone full circle.
Have you met each other before?
MJ: Yeah, I interviewed Hans back in the days when I worked as a journalist.
L: That’s a long, long time ago, I remember we were walking around in Oslo.
MJ: My biggest memory from that is that you said when you were younger you played Bob Dylan songs on the street in Oslo, that was surprising! But that’s an interesting thing, because you [sent us a] question about what our influences were for our album and if we have an uneducated audience. I don’t really think that what we listen to and what we get inspired by really goes through to the final product. It always tends to end up as pop music, however hard we try to make dance music.
DT: We listen to Arca, or Jacques Greene, stuff like that – but people always pin it down to pop music.
L: But you’re not trying to make club music are you?
MJ: [laughs] I think we are!
One of Hans’ questions is about your recent album Second Comin’ being more club-oriented, which you can hear in the big trance stabs and piano lines. You must be inspired by that big EDM sound in some way?
DT: We listen to a lot of different genres of course, and we’ve been going to clubs for ages, but EDM also has this larger-than-life, no limits quality to it, which is interesting to us. The more the merrier.
MJ: I like the fact that the new album has this great balance between artificial sounds and organic sounds – I always feel that that kind of contrast in music is exciting, because it makes everything a bit different and weird.
DT: For example, I find the trance elements really sad if you isolate them, or if you don’t use them in the same way as Sebastian Ingrosso uses them. Also we could have an idea of making, like, a shoegaze track but with no guitars, trying to do that in another way.
“SXSW is probably a great festival for the people attending, but for the bands it’s just extremely stressful”
Korallreven, you wanted to ask Lindstrom about the way that nationality or geography can mean that diverse music sometimes get lumped together – in this case, the fact that you’re both from Scandinavia might lead to comparisons that wouldn’t be applied to acts from the UK or the US. So does geography really play a part in how your music sounds?
L: For me it’s not so much a geographical thing and more what kind of people I’m with. If you listen to a lot of Norwegian electronic music it’s possible to hear similarities, but when I started I was influenced by a lot of UK and American DJs, so I don’t know. What do you guys think about that? Because this is one of the questions I get asked all the time and it’s the only question I don’t really know how to answer!
DT: How do you feel about being connected to the Norwegian disco scene?
L: I guess it would be weird if people were not connecting me to that scene, and I don’t really mind – whether I like it or not doesn’t really matter, because that’s not my problem.
Do you think that the way that the rest of the world perceives Norwegian disco makes it hard for younger producers to get past that connection, even if they’re not making that kind of music?
L: I guess maybe it’s different in Sweden, because Sweden has always been the pop music country, from Abba and maybe before that, but Norway hasn’t really had any international [recognition]. Maybe except for black metal and electronic music. If you’re a Swedish pop producer you will probably get questions about Abba and Ace Of Base, but that’s natural I guess. I’ve been thinking of that – like, if I had started making electronic music recently, how I would position myself in the Norwegian history of electronic music? I would probably keep a distance from it, ‘cos that’s kind of what I did when I started making my music. I was not really into anything in Norway.
DT: We are the same. We don’t have any Swedish role models.
MJ: I think we are in a no man’s land, I don’t think that we’re connected to anyone. You make records with Prins Thomas and Todd Terje, but we have not really had that kind of connection. Sometimes I can feel that branding something as being from Sweden, or calling it Balearic, is almost like taking it down. I mean, would the Beach Boys have been called Balearic if they were around today, or would you call it brilliant pop? Sometimes it feels like you reduce something when you pin it down to micro-genres, or micro-countries like Sweden [laughs].
That relates to another of your questions – how do you feel about the power that journalists have in framing the musical experience for listeners?
L: In the beginning, talking with the press was something I enjoyed. I really looked forward to my first interview, but now it’s probably the worst thing. That’s kind of a cliche, maybe. But I don’t like it because I don’t really like talking about my music, especially when it’s getting reduced to a ‘text’ somehow – and the translation barrier and language barrier as well. I can speak quite good English but I don’t get all the answers how I would like them. Sometimes it feels weird to just talk about the music. Actually, I just read the question from Daniel and Marcus about whether I have any friends, or A&R people, or kids or siblings who I can play my music to, and I don’t really do that. For me, music is first of all just a personal thing, something that I enjoy doing. I really don’t enjoy playing it to other people as well. But I guess that’s just part of being in the music business. It’s a contradiction to just make music for yourself. I don’t mind if other people are listening to my music, but I don’t really want to know if they like it or not [laughs].
DT: So you mainly thrive in the studio?
L: That’s the reason why I’m doing this, and that’s probably the reason I was doing this 10 years before I was doing anything. That’s my main motivation I guess. I enjoyed the first year of press and meeting journalists, but after a while you just get tired and it’s not what really matters, but it’s just a way to get your message through or something.
DT: What about touring?
L: Well, it’s kind of the same thing. I’m not really a DJ, so I think the reason why I quit the DJing about 10 years ago is that I wasn’t one of those DJs who, if I was at a friend’s house and everybody wanted to play music, would be the guy who’s like, ‘Hey, you should listen to this track, it’s so good!’ And it’s the same with touring. I don’t really need to do the touring, and a lot of people demand that their favourite artist is available for them to watch on stage or something, it’s kind of weird. But I really see the importance of presenting my music – and it’s also a good way for me to try out new things and see how the reaction is. How are you going to tour your new album? I guess you are playing live?
DT: We’re talking about it now. We’ve delayed it for a while – I mean, the record was out [in October 2014] and they wanted us to be playing it by November, but we delayed it and delayed it. We want some more stuff to come out first, and we want the record to live a little more before we play it. And we haven’t really had time to really set up a new live show.
Do you have a complicated set-up?
DT: It’s not complicated, but it’s complicated working out how to do it with two people and make it interesting.
L: Would you rather not do anything live? I mean, there’s a lot of really good albums that were never performed live.
MJ: I think it’s a challenge. Last time we actually did about 25 shows, we did a US tour. But out of those 25, there were perhaps only five where it felt okay to be on stage. I think the live situation is one of the weirdest situations there is in life, in many ways, so this time the challenge is to come up with an idea of how to do it and to make it feel almost the same every night.
DT: We went to play SXSW, which is probably a great festival for the people attending, but for the bands it’s just extremely stressful – you play three shows a day, you’ve got 20 minutes to get everything set up on stage, you play for 20 minutes and then you have to tear everything down in five minutes and rush off to the next venue. And you play at midday, there’s no vibe – at least not for us, it didn’t work that well. That’s quite common at festivals. If you’re not Lindstrøm [laughs], or some bigger act, you don’t get the night time slots, so you have to work with what you’ve got. You need to come up with something that works really well in those situations, or you just have to turn them down.
“If you do too many chords and too much weird stuff then people don’t understand it – even though in my ears it doesn’t sound weird at all.”
Do you think you benefited from SXSW at all?
DT: Probably in some ways, but I can’t say any specific things.
MJ: When we play somewhere and we get a great fee, I sometimes feel that I get more nervous that it has to be really good, but when we played at SXSW for free I felt like I didn’t give a… yeah! And then it turned out pretty good. So perhaps we should play for free every time.
L: That’s interesting, because compared to Europe where usually I’m just one of, like, five acts at one night, in the US I always find myself being the headliner, and it really makes me extremely nervous. If you’re a headliner then the fee is higher, but if you’re just one out of five artists then the fee would probably be just a fifth, and then I don’t feel like the whole night depends on me. So if I have a mediocre gig then people will probably be happy anyway, because there’s so many other people. I don’t really like that headline focus. So I kind of agree with you guys that doing those SXSWgigs, where you do it for the fun of it, or the promotion, probably makes for a better gig.
Hans-Peter, how about we move on to one of your questions?
L: I was interested to ask about your thoughts on remixes and remixing. I know that you’ve had remixes for some of your songs. Why? Is it just a promotional tool? Or is there important artistic value as well? My experience is that probably 95% of the remixes I’ve had are just crap. I’m probably happy with less than five or something [laughs]. I’m not saying that those remixes I don’t like aren’t any good, but they’re just not for me, and after quite a few years I’ve been asking myself, why is asking for remixes important? It’s not for satisfying my own needs, it’s more for reaching out to other people, people listening to other genres. But why should I reach out to those people if they’re not interested in my genre at all? If they come and listen to my music because of a remix from a dubstep guy or whatever, then they’ll probably think, ‘oh this is crap, I don’t like it’ [laughs]
DT: I think I had a pretty idealised view of remixes when we started making music. I thought it was so interesting – you ask someone because you like his or her music, or you rework something that you’ve done yourself, and then it’s like one plus one is three – but that’s not always the case!
MJ: It seems so rare that people actually ask. When we get requests there’s very rarely a clear view of why they want us to remix it, what they actually want us to do, what they want to achieve to take their song in a certain direction.
DT: I think there could be much more discussion and dialogue between the artists.
MJ: We should do that more in future, so it could be more like a collaboration – we start out with our stems but we do something together. That could be much more interesting.
The same questions can perhaps be applied to music videos. What’s the point of them? Are they part of your creativity?
L: The music will always be the first priority – I mean, this is why we’re in the music business. I have the feeling that everyone expects you to have some visuals with the music. I know that Sweden has a very long history with that because of whatshisname – the guy that made the Abba promotional videos?
DT: Lasse Hallström?
L: Yeah, he was in the mid-70s or something – really early music videos.
So music videos are Swedish!
L: I think what happened is that Agnetha didn’t want to tour, so they had to send some video cassettes to Australia and territories that they couldn’t really travel to because of her resistance to touring. I was watching MTV in the ’80s and some of those videos are classic, even legendary for me, but I think it’s different now. All the record companies, the managers, the A&Rs, everybody wants everyone to have a music video, and it’s being reduced to nothing, it’s not special anymore. Maybe I’m just getting old and bitter! But sometimes it just feels like an assembly line – where’s the art in this mass manufacturing thing called the music industry? But what happens if you don’t make a video is that somebody else can make a video for you, and that can be really annoying because you kind of get a visual expression of something that you don’t really want.
DT: That’s kind of a give and take, the videos that other people make. I think some of them are extremely funny and some of them are extremely crappy, but you just find them on YouTube and you’re like, what’s this?!
MJ: We’re actually going to shoot a video tomorrow and Friday. We’re going to star in it for the first time, it’s a once in a lifetime thing I think. We’re gonna direct it ourselves, with the hands of others.
L: The only video that I actually did, or that somebody did for me, I guess was more or less a manager or record company thing – ’oh, you should do a music video and we know this guy and it’s important, blah blah blah.’ And it doesn’t really feel important to me, it’s more something that I’ve been saying yes to because I feel like everybody else is asking me to do it. Maybe I’m not really in touch with the world here. [laughs]
Where have you found the best audience for what you do?
L: Well, the best audience is the people who actually know my music, and the worst audience is like the average clubgoer in Berlin or something, who doesn’t understand any of what I’m doing. It has the rhythmic element but there’s just so much happening in my music that it’s probably overwhelming or something. They just want to listen to what they are expecting to hear, and because they are getting something else they are unhappy! Many times I feel that a lot of people don’t understand what I’m doing, especially in a regular club setting. If you do too many chords and too much weird stuff then people don’t understand it – even though in my ears it doesn’t sound weird at all. They’re trained to listen to a DJ set where a track is just one part of the whole journey that a DJ set will be, but a lot of my tracks are like one journey in one track.
Many times it’s a challenge for me to play my songs, and especially if I play a lot of them, because most people can handle one or two but if you play a set of only that kind of stuff then people don’t really know how to react to that, or how to dance to that, if that’s the goal of what I’m doing. Many times I feel that I’m clearing the dance floor [laughs] It’s kind of annoying and it’s kind of depressing sometimes because I really want to build up something, but I realise that you have to just make dumb music for dumb uneducated people, because they are not really worthy of this high class art! [laughs]
So do you find that some of your best gigs happen in places where people are more in tune with what you’re doing?
L: Well, I think so, like festivals or clubs where the audience actually know my music from before. But my problem these days is that I get so tired of my own music, of the stuff I’ve been releasing over the years, so I play a lot of new stuff that nobody has ever heard and then it’s even worse because nobody even knows the music. If you’re promoting an album then people can prepare and listen to it before the show or something. I also have issues with live settings, but maybe it’s kind of different from you guys. I don’t mind doing live shows. It’s not important for it to be something really special – I’ve been doing this for many, many years and my main thing is that I’m presenting my music, and I always do it alone more or less, even though it’s really hard.
Where have Korallreven found the best audiences?
MJ: I think when it was really, really small actually, like at SXSW or in Paris, when the stage is not too far up, so you’re not in your ivory tower.
Afternoon sets at festivals can’t be easy – you don’t have an audience who’ve come specifically to see you.
MJ: Yeah, it’s not like you jump into the audience. Stockholm is always the worst, people are sceptical. It’s funny, so many people I’ve spoken to say that London is the worst but we’ve had a fairly good response.
What have you both got planned next?
L: I’ve just finished an album with a friend of mine from a Norwegian band called Serena Maneesh, they used to be on 4AD. That guy is just amazing, and actually we are three people collaborating – the third guy is Todd Rundgren [laughs] It’s really exciting and the album was just mastered last week or something.
Is this like a rock album?
L: It’s something completely… it’s going in all directions. It’s very conceptual. I’m really happy with the album, it’s definitely something that all three of us are heavily involved in. It happened because of mutual connections. It’s kind of special because I don’t think he has ever collaborated with anybody else in that kind of way, I mean he’s been producing a lot of people but I don’t know if he’s been doing that kind of a collaboration album.
Did Todd come over to Norway to work with you or was it an email correspondence?
L: Yeah, he’s been over to Norway a few times, and most of the work has been post-production and stuff, so that’s been happening here in Oslo and also at his home in Hawaii.
MJ: We have this cover of Guns N’ Roses’ ‘November Rain’ coming. It was my favourite track when i was like 11. I think it was interesting because of the build-up in that track, so how to do that in an electronic way?
Hasn’t it got three different solos in it?
MJ: Yeah, we only did one. We had an idea of how to do that with arpeggios, like how to build it up electronically and keep it beautiful.
DT: It’s pretty different from both the original and i guess from a lot of our other output. It’s different from the album. Subdued.