Interview with Johan Angergård

Photo Credit: Henrik Martensson

Hello Johan!  It’s so fine ‘n’ dandy to be doing this interview with you.  You have a long and prolific history in the music field, forming the band Acid House Kings with your brother Niklas and Joakim Ödlund in 1991, starting the duo Club 8 with Karolina Komstedt in 1995, and creating The Legends in 2003.  In 2001 you also founded Labrador Records and have produced other artists’ recordings.  How do you keep all these plates spinning in the air?  Is there ever a point where you feel overwhelmed by it all?

No, it’s been just fine and fun so far. If I started to feel overwhelmed I’d just do a little less of something.  I love running Labrador too, but making music is more vital so I’d probably cut down on Labrador a bit. But I do Labrador in the day time and make music in the evenings and nights so there’s time for everything. I’m more afraid of never being able to write another – very good – song again. A lot of the times when I get back from my studio with a new song I feel like it could be the last great song I’ll ever do. Not because I don’t want to make more songs, I MUST make more songs, I love it.  I’m just scared that one day nothing good will come out. But I’ve been thinking like that the last six or seven years or so, so logically speaking I should be safe.

Yes, I think you’ve been safe for years and I hope you continue for many more.  When you start composing a song, do you figure it out on piano (or keyboards) or guitar?  What instrument in your repertoire is your most favorite or most natural to play?

I usually start with the drums. The rhythms usually set the direction of the song for me. Before I got the studio I normally have an idea of what I want to do, express, what mood I want to create / re-create from my head. So the first thing I do is to try and capture that in the song’s basic format. First drums, then percussion, then I’ll probably add bass and then some chord instruments like a guitar. Or I’ll jump directly to the vocal melody before the chord stuff. The key for me is to put down basics that inspire me and then I start doing vocal melodies and if it becomes something good, something that really communicates something strongly, then I just keep building on that. Guitar is the instrument that I’m most comfortable playing.

Club 8 - The People's Record

The new Club 8 album, The People’s Record, is out now and it’s a departure from previous Club 8 albums, where you travel over different sonic terrain.  The album is also produced by Jari Haapalainen, who has worked with bands like Camera Obscura and The Concretes, instead of you as producer.  How did this break from past tradition work out?  What did Jari bring to the table that you weren’t expecting?

It worked out amazingly well I think! And it was a must for this particular album. It might sound a bit egotistical, but usually I feel that no one can produce and record the Club 8 albums better than me. I’ve always felt that it’d be stupid to try to explain the emotions we want to express in our music to a producer… and then see if he understands it… and then see if he’s able to capture that mood better than me. This time was different. Jari was into the same type of rhythms and production style that I wanted on The People’s Record and I felt he understood very easily what we wanted to do. This needed to be very lively, we needed people who can play in a way I never could, and we needed people to play together in the studio – we recorded most stuff live to capture a specific feeling and groove. As I’ve never worked with a producer before I didn’t know what to expect. But he had very good input on the arrangements of the songs, came up with great guitar bits and, perhaps most importantly, chose the perfect musicians for the album. Honestly, I hadn’t fully understood how much the right musicians can add to an album.

What kinds of instruments did the various musicians use on this album?  Did you play an instrument that you hadn’t played before or in a way you haven’t played before?

Yep, there was a whole bunch of very talented and, more importantly, very perceptive musicians playing. I didn’t play any instrument I hadn’t played before. Well, I hadn’t played EXACTLY those instruments before. Like the Korg MS-20 which is a very simple, but effective, old synthesizer. And I used my Vox guitar for the first time on an album. I suppose most people in bands buy a new guitar every three weeks, but I don’t. The Vox is the first electric guitar I’ve bought in many years. It sounds a bit different I think. And it wasn’t possible to tune it all that well which added some personality to it I think.

These were all new people who haven’t played with us before:

Thobias Gabrielsson – bass, Jouni Haapala – drums, percussion
Jari Haapalainen – guitars,
Marcus Olsson – Farfisa, piano, saxophone
Tomas Hallonsten – Farfisa, synthesizer
Anna åhman – backing vocals
Annsofie Lundin – backing vocals
re runninghorse – backing vocals
Chuck Anthony – backing vocals

Photo Credit: Kjell B. Persson

You were on tour as Club 8 for a short jaunt around the Philippines and China from May 14th to 19th.  What was it like to play in those countries?  Were you able to find time to explore the towns or countryside there?

We’ve been in China a few times before. The people who arrange the shows are usually very well organized and quite business-minded. They’re not very sentimental people. The audience is very good there. Our audience is actually fairly similar in all parts of Asia. They’re very appreciative and polite. We didn’t get to see that much of the country this time, because it was three shows in three towns far away from each other in three days. We got two days of holiday in the Philippines though. We went to a beautiful resort called Alegre I think which had amazing nature, coral reefs, and it was super-relaxed. I really liked the Philippine countryside. It must be quite hard in cities like Manila though. Extremely hot, dirty, traffic everywhere and so on.

Continuing about Club 8, you have an extensive back catalog with 7 albums now.  I’m not familiar with all of you albums and I was wondering if Karolina is always the vocalist or whether Johan contributes some vocals?  If you haven’t done so already, I think it would be wonderful if you did a duet!

I used to sing a bit in the past.  Just one or two tracks on each album at the most. There’s some amazingly embarrassing vocal contribution from me on the first album called Nouvelle. The only good thing I did, vocally, for Club 8 was “Saturday Night Engine”. Which was the starting point for The Legends actually. That song sounds quite a bit like the first Legends album. But as I started The Legends, and most of my vocal contributions had been crap, I decided not to sing anymore with Club 8. So from the 2nd latest album, The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming, and on I don’t sing. And until I decide not to make anymore Legends albums I don’t think there’s any reason for me to sing with Club 8.

Photo Credit: Kjell B. Persson

I’ve noticed that in various reviews and descriptions of Club 8 and other artists on the Labrador Records roster, the music is referred to as ‘twee’.  Does this description bother you at all or do you embrace the word (like bands who say they are ‘Twee As Fuck’)?

I don’t think I’ve ever listened to any bands that say “We play twee” and I don’t like the label “twee” so it’s more of a bad thing than a good one. But I have liked, and still like, bands that probably some might call “twee” so even if I think it’s a pretty stupid label it’s not an insult. What’s bad about it is when it comes to Labrador Records, in most cases it’s just very misleading to label our bands as “twee”.

In 2001 you built your own recording studio, called Summerland Studios, and founded Labrador Records.  Was your purpose to work on and release only your own material, or did you already have other artists in mind that you wanted to promote with the label?

Club 8 and Acid House Kings were the first artists on Labrador and that’s how I got to know Bengt Rahm who was actually the one who started the label. I joined on the fifth release I think, after a year or so, and then it happened that I sort of took over – not by force though. I had another label before that together with the guys in Acid House Kings. It was called Summersound Recordings and we released Happydeadmen, Edson, and some other stuff before “merging” with Labrador. But to answer your question, no, I didn’t start the label or start working with it to release my own material. Club 8 was around the time of the first album and signed to Siesta in Spain, but after that we wanted to be more independent and started licensing our albums to various labels instead of relying on one to take care of everything. And I’ve been very happy with that set-up ever since!

Photo Credit: Henrik Martensson

Thanks for clearing that up, about who actually started Labrador Records, and that you founded your own record label before ending up at Labrador.  What are some of the current releases on Labrador Records?

This spring on Labrador has, honestly, been the best ever. We’ve released three bloody amazing albums by Sambassadeur, The Radio Dept, and Club 8. No, I don’t mind the self-promotion here…

I think it’s wonderful that you ‘have it all’, so to speak, musically, with your own studio and label.  Is it a feeling of freedom and relief to have a calm spot amid the storm, or are there pressures and demands with having to organize it all and be in charge of not only your projects, but other artists as well?

Yes, organizing other bands can involve a bit of pressure I think. I wouldn’t say that they’re all like a walk in the park to work with. And success, even if it’s merely small indie success, can change people quite a bit even if they were super-easy to start with. But most of the time it’s just one big treat with lovely people and amazing music. I do need to make music though. It’s the most important thing there is for me. And having our own studio and my own label certainly is a great freedom. I like to be, or perhaps I should say “have to be”, totally independent.

As you know, the music world, like the rest of the world, is in economic tumult and it seems like people have to reinvent themselves or their products to get noticed.  Has the economic rollercoaster ride affected your output at all?  Have you had to change the way you conduct business at Labrador Records?

My view on Labrador is quite idealistic I guess. I either do things my way or don’t do it at all. There’s never any compromise in what we do here. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to make money, or don’t want the artists to make money, on the music. We do. And the way we sell, market, and promote music has changed a lot of course since such a large part of it all is happening on the Internet. And that’s great changes for us. But the artists still have 100% independence to do what they want musically. If I don’t love it we want release it of course, but still… And we don’t hook up with other commercial, non-music companies for desperate cooperation.  We’re very picky with aesthetics, we care a lot about our own independence, etc… The trend to let artists be drawn into the super- commercialized world of consumer products and the world of bad TV and make a mish mash of it all where you don’t know where a bottle of soda starts and the song ends is not a very fresh trend to me. The way cross-promotion is making the world of music merge with the rest of the commercialized world of consumer products may be seen as progressive by some, but to me it seems rather dirty.

Your view about the negative aspect of music promoting commercial products is a distinctive one, because it seems like so many bands and singers have been lured into the world of commercials, which, as you point out, can trivialize and obscure the importance of the music.  This view leads me to ask what you think of the ‘digitizing’ of music so that a listener can break up an album and download a track from one album and a track from another and play it all on a portable music device while commuting to work, etc…  Is this also unfavorable to you or do you accept this as a necessary progression?

Though I think it’s usually slightly exaggerated how much digitizing has changed things for the listener I must admit that I do think it has brought along something bad with the good. As you say, people break up albums and that’s sometimes a shame because it becomes more and more like everyone’s listening to some kind of “Greatest Hits”compilations and don’t dive into the worlds of the separate artists. Which, at least for me, can be a much richer and fuller experience. I want an artist to take me places and fill me with emotions. And that experience doesn’t appear when each song you listen to is a new band, a new song. Also, I think the whole world is focusing on songs that stand out on a first listen. And those aren’t always the best ones in the long run. It’s like “Does it sound good when you check it out the first 5 seconds on or in the 20 seconds pre-listen on iTunes?” If not, it doesn’t end up on people’s playlists and doesn’t get heard.

The Legends - Over And Over

At this site I recently reviewed Over And Over by The Legends, which is essentially you playing all the instruments and singing all the male vocals.  Looking at this album specifically, I enjoyed the invigorating blend of classic pop hooks with distorted guitar fuzz.  I did feel, however, that a few songs tipped into too-noisy territory where the frequency of the distortion was too high-pitched for sensitive ears.  Were you aiming for that Psychocandy-era Jesus And Mary Chain abrasiveness that only a hale ‘n’ hearty aural traveler could venture through?

I wanted the music to hurt. The high-pitched feedback and guitars helped in achieving that. It was also a matter of distracting myself from my own life and the sounds and songs on Over And Over are hard to ignore. It’s a flood of noise that enters your mind and either you want it or not when you listen to it. It’s a real feel-good album for me. It’s medicine.

I was also wondering if you used Autotune on a couple tracks?  I’m usually not into Autotune, but I did think it was interesting that it made your melancholic vocals glide and dip ‘n’ peak more quickly on “Heartbeats”.

Yes, I did. Sometimes I do some first takes which are quite out of tune, but they still have a very special feeling. Takes that are done when I’ve just written the song and I sort of exist in the core of the song. These are sometimes very hard to re-do and then I choose to have a bit of Autotune effect rather than sing with less emotional accuracy.

You have a knack for picking lovely female vocalists, whether it’s Karolina from Club 8 or the bevy of singers on Over And Over.  Who sang on Over And Over and have they appeared on any of your other albums?

I had Liane Moccia from now defunct band Tralala helping out on one song. She wrote me years ago telling me she liked The Legends. I think she has a special voice and I needed that type of vocals on “Always the Same” so I just dropped her an email asking if she wanted to sing on that. Charlotte on the album is a friend and she hasn’t been on any albums before.

I love the cover art of Over And Over.  It’s so iconic, like the debut album by The Smiths.  Knowing of your deep appreciation of The Smiths, was this comparison intentional or am I reading too much into your cover art?

I’ve never thought of it as looking like a Smiths cover actually. I wanted it to combine the strictness of aesthetics of bands like McCarthy and early Nitzer Ebb with something a more strong emotional expression.

There is an interesting quote from you at the Labrador Records website.  In referring to your need for control over an album’s creation, you state “…by doing everything myself, the album comes out exactly the way I want it to.  Involving other people might only blur the vision.”  I’m not sure when you said that, or in what context, but I’m wondering if you feel the same way now, especially since you handed over the reins to Jari Haapalainen on the new Club 8 album.

Yes, that’s how I usually feel. The People’s Record was an exception. Usually I don’t even want feedback on my songs or production before it’s finished because I’m afraid that other people’s input might blur my ideas of what I want to do.

Acid House Kings

Is there any particular musical style that you haven’t yet covered that you would like to explore on an upcoming album?

The next album I’ll release will likely be one by Acid House Kings and the Kings aren’t really about abrupt changes. Still, the reason I’ve become so inspired to do something with Acid House Kings again is, as always, because there’s a particular type of music I long so much to do. Where I am in life just fits the Kings so well at this point. And I do feel I have a bit of a new take on what we do, but it’ll be a lot more subtle changes than what happened on The People’s Record or any of The Legends albums. I’ve written a few Club 8 songs too since The People’s Record which might point to a new direction. They have a very desolate, epic, yet soft sound. They’re a little dark I guess.

Can you give some more details about the soon-to-be-released Acid House Kings album?

Well, “soon” sounds like something that my brother Niklas, who sings in Acid House Kings, might have written on our Twitter or so… but it should be out early next year at the latest, and in the world of Acid House Kings that’s a very short time frame.

Please list the website for Labrador Records so we can find out more about your music and the other artists on your roster.  Thanks so much!

Lots of great stuff to discover there… if I may say so myself.