Gösta Berlings Saga

Nick: Gösta Berlings Saga started its musical journey back in 2000, if I’m not wrong, so this year is your 10th anniversary! Please tell us something more about your first days with GBS. How did it all begin?

Photo: Johan Kindbom

Alex: You are absolutely right about the 10th anniversary, but personally I believe I will wait until 2014 before I celebrate it full-scale. However, what happened in 2000 was the first seed of what later became GBS. Me (Alex) and David shared rehearsal space at that time, with no real connection to each other apart from knowing each other from school, but we had no idea of our shared musical influences until we started talking at a meeting in our rehearsal space. I had been listening to progressive rock for a few years and David was playing in a cover band playing songs by The Doors, as well as playing other organ driven 60’s songs. Both of us were heavily into Hansson & Karlsson so we basically decided to stay after the meeting and it did not take many minutes for us to realize that we were onto something fun. And “fun” is probably the keyword for what has been our biggest influence ever since.

We recorded a 4 track demo the same summer that also set the recording standards in some aspects; the no-holds-barred-approach. To us it wasn’t important that we could play all of it live – probably because live gigs felt very distant at the time – but to feel free during the process and do whatever we wanted. Therefore the demo, that initially started out as a H&K-clone-but-less-jazzy-thing, ended up being our shot at progressive/symphonic music. It definitely had its moments.

Nick: As far as I know, you and David Lundberg, have been strongly influenced by Bo Hansson, who sadly passed away a month ago or so. You have been especially influenced by Hansson & Karlsson. Have you and he ever considered doing a duo homage to H&K? Also, how much are you actually influenced by Bo Hansson?

Alex: Well, after having started playing together we noticed that we drew towards written compositions instead of improvisational jazzy jams and personally I believe that our musical limitations were the reason. We were simply not able to pull off what we heard H&K do and we realized that other people were better at this, such as the now disbanded Sagor & Swing as well as Trummor & Orgel. Bo Hansson was on the other side doing something completely different on his solo albums and that overall feeling was something we were even more inspired by. We listened a lot to those albums during our first years together, so much that I couldn’t listen to them for years, and it wasn’t really until after him passing away that I dug into that treasure pile again. Regarding a possible tribute, I still believe that other people would be better at interpreting their music but at the same time I would rather keep it the way it is. Frankly, too many bad or semi-decent covers has been made and I’m not sure that everything should be made in new versions.

Nick: In 2004 you decided to become a full time band by joining Gabriel Hermansson on bass and Mathias Danielsson on guitar. This has opened many doors for the band, as soon after that you started to work on your own songs. Would you tell us about that time period? What was happening around when the first demo was recorded?

Alex: Oh, this time was when everything started to fall in place. Me and David came to a point were we felt extremely limited rehearsing on organ and drums so we asked a somewhat distant friend of mine, Gabriel, to give it a try playing bass guitar with us. He had previously been playing in a kraut-ish band named Pharadox and I knew he had a similar approach to music as me, coming from the hardcore and punk scene. Obviously, it turned out great and after an additional ad on some Internet forums we added guitar to our line-up thanks to Mathias Danielsson. THIS was actually the birth of Gösta Berlings Saga. We tried out some songs during the following months, took the band name, got our first gigs and started to get a vague feeling of what was actually GBS. Basically we tried to blend in all kind of influences we had at that time while still trying to keep it fresh in some aspects and traditional in others.

Nick: That aforementioned demo later became your first full-length album, called “Tid är ljud”” which helped propel you to become one of Sweden’s premier progressive rock bands. What was it like to make this album? Are you satisfied with it in general?

Alex: The making and the release of “Tid är ljud” was special in so many ways. First, we didn’t have very much experience of this whole thing. The basics were scheduled to be recorded in a weekend and due to technical problems with a broken soundcard, we started the recording on late Saturday. So basically all songs were recorded in two days. After that, we spent some nights and days doing overdubs with help from people we knew – all very relaxed and low-key. The mellotrons that in my opinion play a pretty big role on some of the songs was actually recorded four days before we wrapped the whole thing up, so it all was hectic to say the least. I dare to say that we had almost no idea that this album later was to get reviews from all corners of the world, so in addition it was more than a surprise to see it getting excellent ones. Overall we are satisfied with it but it lacks a little composition wise and I believe it is also clearly audible that we were trying to find our identity at the time we recorded it.

Nick: What do the titles of the songs mean? I have to say that I like the fact that you’ve chosen to name your songs in Swedish, it makes them more interesting, as there is some kind of strange feeling your music indulges.

Alex: Just like with the recording process, the naming part wasn’t solved until pretty late. We had ideas of what the music sounded like in pictures and I remember that I came up with the idea to connect them by making a loosely based concept album to give the listeners some kind of framework to rely on while still having enough room to come up with own ideas and imaginary scenes. So we had this little creature, dreaming of and longing to the city and therefore most of the songs describes nature sceneries, such as lilacs, mute swans and illuminated skitracks. As some years have passed by, I must however admit that the connection between the songs are somewhat forced but I still believe it is a good debut album, especially in relation with the conditions we had.

Nick: I love to think that you succeeded to connect old and new, conservative and modern in your music. At least, it’s your music that makes me think like that. Do you agree? Also, what’s your secret?

Alex: Thank you, this is actually very important to us. I hate to break it, but we do not want to be another 70’s retro clone band for the two simple reasons that it has already been done and that we do not have that kind of music in common, the four of us. The conservative part comes from the fact that we simply cannot keep our hands off vintage instruments such as the mellotron and the Fender Rhodes etc. And the modern part probably comes from the song writing and some of the soundscapes.

I’m not sure if we have a secret but I know what has become successful ways of working when writing music: keep it as simple as possible, don’t force riffs and pieces together, have fun, try out every idea that comes up instead of judging it in advance and be open and honest towards each other.

Nick: After releasing “Tid är Ljud” Mathias left the band. How much did it change your approach to the creation process for your second album called “Detta har hänt”?

Alex: Difficult question, but I believe that Mathias’s departure made us think about what was good in our relation to him and what could be better with the new person. Being creative, especially in a group of people, can be very demanding and we felt that the most important thing was to be able to have an honest and open communication where everyone could express their views freely. Also, we wanted to put emphasis on the fact that we are a group of people working together, not a group of individuals. Therefore we try to involve everyone in the creation process, which often leads to a very slow speed and other reasons for frustration, so I guess there is almost always some kind of friction present… ;) But hey, I guess that is how art should be, assuming that is what we are doing.

Nick: If there were any suspicions after your first album, then your second one resolved all dilemmas about your great potential and quality. With this one you broke all the limits and probably set yourself in a unenviable position, as you will now have to surpass yourselves for your next record. What can you say about the creation process of “Detta har hänt”?

Alex: What started out as a trembling and slow process ended as a warp-speed thing just like the first time and that made us believe in and understand that there was actually some kind of potential present. We had loads of material to choose from but once we sat down and tried to imagine what we wanted the final piece to sound like, it all went pretty fast discarding and keeping ideas. And it wasn’t really until we started recording we decided exactly how we wanted them. One might think that we had learned a few vital things from the Tid är ljud sessions regarding time planning, but let me assure you that we hadn’t learned a single thing. Once again we had planned on recording the basics during one (1!) weekend and of course we got technical problems this time as well so all songs but one were recorded in one day and one night. Somehow we also managed to cancel the studio booking three days before we were about to record so we had to seek refuge in our studio Pelikaan again.

Everything else such as overdubbing, choosing artwork etc. was done in the next months and apart from a delay with the release it all went good. For this album we really wanted to take our music further to avoid getting the retro prog label but it seems to be difficult as long as you use those vintage instruments. I believe that we will try to take this idea further in the future, hopefully without losing our fans ;)

Nick: This album is less keyboard-driven in comparison with your debut, I find it darker and more psychedelic, your musicianship is tight, the instrumentation couldn’t be better. You think I am praising you too much? Joking aside, these are the facts, so would you tell us about your inspiration for this work? Who or what has influenced you?

Alex: The darker vibes was something we decided instantly when we hooked up with Einar and his way of playing the guitar made the rest of us realize that we wanted to explore this further. We all have pretty different taste when it comes to music and I believe that this is one of our biggest strengths as we are pretty much able to focus on what we want to do as a band. I don’t think we have had any common inspirations except for Miles Davis’ electric period even though the fact that 75% of us likes Magma probably can be heard pretty easily.

Nick: “Detta har hänt” means something like “this has happened”, which I think fits very well with the music itself. Every time I listen to the album I have such an impression, this has happened, but it still happens. Why did you pick that name?

Alex: We had several ideas for the album title but every time we thought about that specific one it just felt right because of its honesty. Music wise we think a lot happened between our two albums and DHH shows this in a clear manner. Also, the name serves as an introduction to the second phase of GBS – we believe that this album in some aspects is more or less a step towards our next album which probably will have more integrity and hopefully show an even more progressive side of us in the word’s right sense.

Nick: What’s the art cover for “Detta har hänt” supposed to mean?

Alex: Just like with the album name we had many ideas and since the theme for the album moves focus from the nature to the city and from what we did on our first album to what we had recorded for DHH, we needed something suiting. Together with our good friends Daniel Fagerström (graphic design) and Johan Kindbom (photography) we came up with the idea to try showing a human side of the urban and modern, being somewhat inspired by the photos of Lars Tunbjörk Our alternate title was for quite some time Kontrast and together with the actual title, I believe the photos and design shows the contrast very well.

Nick: Maybe I should have asked this question at the beginning of this interview, but I wanted to talk about your albums first. I guess that you named the band

Photo: Johan Kindbom

after Selma Lagerlöf’s novel of the same name. There’s also a 1924’s movie, starring Greta Garbo. Have you been under the influence of it, or you just named the band because you liked the name?

Alex: A combination of the two. When we started playing we wanted to define ourselves in some way, to give our music some kind of context. To us the name stood for something very Swedish and something that made people think of romantic and moving descriptions of nature sceneries. And of course, the name was already established since generations. So we did what we knew from our days in the punk scene – we stole the name. Hopefully no one is upset by this, at least we have not met anyone that is.

Nick: The latest news coming from the GBS camp is that you are working on a new album. When that planned to be released and what can we expect from it?

Alex: Well, we are used to working extremely slow but when we got an email from the Nearfest camp saying that they wanted us for the 2011 festival we felt that we perhaps should try to act a little faster than usual. So the plan is basically to have the album ready a few months before our US debut. We hope to be able to get out of our own studio for this one as we have started recording it in Roth-Händle studios already. Based on previous experiences it can take any turns possible, but my overall feeling is that it will be more or less based on what we did on our latest album but with even more energy, experimentalism and our shot at true progressive music which basically could mean anything such as more darkness and more major chords at the same time. The only thing I do know is that we usually don’t approve a song unless it has the potential to be one of those songs you can’t get out of your head i.e. with killer harmonies.

Nick: I’m out of questions, so if there’s anything you would like to add, now’s a good time.

Alex: And I’m pretty much out of answers myself! I hope I haven’t bored you to death with all these lengthy ones. I hope to meet some of your readers on any of our shows, it’s really fun to hear what people think, especially when you reach people who usually don’t consider themselves being fans of ”progressive” rock/music/whatever.

Nick: Thanks for the interview, Alex. Hope to hear more from you soon!

Alex: Thank you!

Nikola Savić is a prog enthusiast, blogger and author, in addition to being the founder of Prog Sphere, Progify, ProgLyrics and the ongoing Progstravaganza compilation series.

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