“We’re not just a pop band, you know!” Hailing from Malmö, Sweden, the intriguing band knows of what it speaks—and on its new album, of what it plays.
BY JONATHAN LEVITT
Swedish Band Death and Vanilla’s latest album To Where The Wild Things Are (reviewed last month in Blurt, and released on the Fire label) is so far one of 2015’s coolest records. With an icy exterior, the band has managed to create some dark contemplative songs with a dream pop exterior. I decided to hunt the band down and ask them a few questions about what makes this album tick.
BLURT: What has the reception to the new album been like?
It been great, we’re very pleased that there are so many people who seem to like the album, and who bought it. There is no guarantee that anyone will like what you do so it’s great that people seem to enjoy it!
How hard are these songs to convey live?
It varies, some songs are almost impossible to do live and others work very well. Since we’re a trio we usually have the backing tracks, bass and drums, on a sampler and then play electric guitar, organ, vibraphone and Moog synthesizer. We try to play the songs that work well with this setting.
You’ve created a very beautiful sonic world with this album, production wise how did this album differ recording technique wise than previous efforts?
Not very much actually. We record everything ourselves and we’re not very proficient when it comes to recording so it a trial and error approach basically. It’s a DIY lo-fi record with some cool sounds on it. We don’t write the songs first and then go into a studio and record them, but writing and recording is both part of the same process. We record and/or sample bits and pieces and then add to them and kind of build songs from these bits.
Speaking of To Where The Wild Things Are many of the songs have a nuanced intricacy about them. Do you jam these songs first, or do you build them up in a different way?
There isn’t any jamming like that, but if we have like a bass line and a drumbeat recorded already we usually jam over that to try to come up with riffs and melodies for the organ, vibraphone etc. to it, and we record the best bits. Most of the arranging of tracks is done when we’re mixing the songs and we keep adding sounds until the very last minute.
Many musicians will talk about the place they live having a major impact on the music they make. What elements of the Swedish life/landscape have affected elements of this record?
Yes the environment you spend your days in has to have an influence on you in some way. It’s hard to imagine Black Sabbath sounding the way they did if they grew up in Saint Tropez or something like that! We’re from Malmö, which is a very multi-cultural city in the very south of Sweden. There are lots of people from all over the world living in Malmö and it’s not a very typically “Swedish” city. We usually don’t look north to what else is happening musically in Sweden but out over the European continent and beyond that for inspiration.
Do you ever sing your songs in Swedish?
No we don’t. Most of the music we’ve listened to in our lives have been sung in English so it’s quite natural for us to do that. We never even discussed it. We do have one song with German lyrics though, but the rest is in English.
What are the images on the album cover meant to evoke?
The cover is a collage and it’s cut and pasted together much like the songs on the album are. There is no theme, we just like it and thinks it fits the music. As well as writing and recording the music, we also do all the artwork ourselves.
“Something Unknown You Need to Know” is a symphonic close to the album, it has so many disparate elements that fit neatly together, and can you tell readers how this song came about?
That song is probably as close to prog rock we’ve ever come! It grew out of the end part of another track of the album, “Follow The Light.” It’s the same drum loop used in both songs and it was just supposed to be small outro for “Follow The Light,” but grew into a whole other thing. It wasn’t something we planned, it just sort of happened and we’re glad it did because we like it a lot and had lots of fun with it. We’ve always been interested in experimentation and we’re not just a pop band you know, and would never want to limit ourselves to be just one thing.
“Shadow and Shape” is one of the most beautiful songs on the record evoking a lonely snow entombed environment, with a brief glimpse of the sun. What was the inspiration for this song?
Thanks! Well it’s written on the vibraphone and probably inspired by some of Carl Orff’s stuff. It also features a string instrument called zither, which is mostly used in folk music, and it was double tracked with lots of echo in a way that was inspired by Nico’s track “Evening of Light.” We’ve had this song for a while not knowing what to do with it but suddenly everything just fell into place and it was done. Magic!
Were any vintage instruments used on the album if so which?
We use mainly vintage and analog instruments, not very much of our sounds are generated digitally. We just like the sounds of those old things. Not because we want to sound retro, it’s just they kind of live and breathe. We don’t mind so much if they’re hissing or are slightly out tune, that just adds character. We use organ, vibraphonette, Moog and lots of spring reverb among other things.
What music were you all listening to at the time you recorded the record?
Lots of different things. It’s hard to remember but some of it were Donovan’s ”Wear Your Love Like Heaven”, Bo Hansson, Ennio Morricone, Neil Ardley’s ”A Symphony Of Amaranths”. A lot of the psychedelic soul of Norman Whitfield’s Motown – like The Undisputed Truth. Shabazz Palaces. Lots of library music form Mario Molino, Bernard Fevre, Alessandro Alessandrini etc. John Bender. And late ‘60s Pink Floyd – like the ”More” soundtrack.
What’s next for the band? Do you currently have more material in the can slated for a future release?
We are planning to do some shows around Europe after the summer and we’re looking forward to that. Also we’re working on reissuing some of our earlier records. And we did a soundtrack to the Polanski film The Tenant which was performed live to the film at a film festival in Spain. We did two hours of music for it and we’re currently working on editing it down so it can fit on one album. We’ll see how it goes.
Can you tell us of some other Swedish bands that you all are fans of?
We love the band Skeppet from Malmö. They have a kind of kosmische sound but in a style of their own. They have an album out on Not Not Fun Records. Check it out!