The last entry here happened sometime in early October (2013), and then I was back in school and being a dad all fall. I’m done with the “Swedish as a Second Language Ground level” courses now, as of the beginning of December, so I get to be a house husband for a couple a weeks now before heading out on tour in the US again. I like this house husband job! I drop the child at preschool, come home and clean up a bit, do laundry, dishes, work on some music. Maybe actually listen to music! That’s new. Usually I only get to actually listen to music on my phone while on the subway or an airplane. Then, pick up the kid, and play for a couple hours. Fuck working. Until you get bored and start watching daytime TV and eating yellow pills, I guess.
So in theory, my Swedish is getting better. I am not going to convert this blog to Swedish just yet though. I can read easy-to-read books. I still barely understand the newspaper (but, to be fair, who really understands what the hell is going on in the newspaper?) My adaptation to Sweden is getting a bit better, though marred by a few choice incidents involving post or UPS*. These sorts of things just really piss me off. I actually got out and played a few shows, which were great.
And I finished mixing a new record, tentatively called “Shine Out”, all recorded last summer and mixed this fall. Mastering happening right now.
And I made a digital-only compilation of my “greatest hits” (or misses…) from the past 25 years, called Horseshoes and Hand Grenades.
We’ve been adjusting to finally having our own apartment. Many people are impressed that we have a first-hand contract with Svenska Bostäder, it seems. I was actually sort of surprised that they rented to us as well. But there you have it! We have a place. We bought a bunch of Ikea stuff and then started looking on Blocket for more stuff. We found a nice wooden tall bureau and I got a studio desk, so most of my crap is off the floor. Now it’s in drawers. Or stacked in piles of guitar cases. And now that the temperature has gone to freezing, I got a humidifier finally so the guitars may survive the winter.
Anyway, like I said, besides the school stuff, I actually did some fun ipad drawings of people on the subway on the way to school. I like drawing people when they don’t know it. I’ve posted a bunch on Facebook, people like them, which is cool. I’d love to print them somehow. Larry Farber keeps saying I should have a show at Larry’s Corner (the coolest “shop” in Stockholm. It’s a hangout for weirdos, basically.) And play a set there for the opening. This will happen, somehow.
I played again with the Plastic Pals this fall, the first time also with Chris Cacavas. Chris has been playing as long as I have, back in the ’80s in Green on Red, and playing with Steve Wynn, Giant Sand, on his own… his songs are great. I remember back in 1990 he and I had alternating gigs opening for Robyn Hitchcock, that may have been where I met him first? Or possibly when I was living in LA in the late ’90s and playing with Mike Marrt, as Chris was also in the Long Beach scene then. So the Plastic Pals were his back up band for a tour of Sweden, and I got to sit in with them in Stockholm, twice! Super fun shows, both times, once at the Southside Tavern at the beginning of the week and once at Pet Sounds Bar at the end (which I always hear at Pettson’s Bar, as I am more familiar these days with Pettson and Findus than Pet Sounds.) Chris has been living in Germany for many years now, so it wasn’t too far for him to travel to get to Sweden. I didn’t go with them to Malmö, Gävle and Göteborg due to school. I think the turnouts were generally small, even though there is so much hipster online writing here about the Paisley Underground scene, they seem to forget to actually go out to see a show when somebody comes to play. Regardless, it was a blast to play with these guys and with Chris, and I hope to do it again. Maybe in Germany?
And then a month later, back at Pettson’s, opening for the Pals. They, by the way, are sounding better and better, and this show was their sendoff to go play some shows in New York. I played solo, sang some old and new songs, and even had Håkan Soold accompany on “I Know You Know Me”. This was really my first official gig in Sweden, you know. And done on a twisted ankle, as I had slipped on the apartment stairs carrying the child, and sacrificed my ankle to not drop her. (And this before it even started freezing, and everybody starts slipping on the ice.) Fall is generally muddy, and our building has the dumbest steps that go out the back into the park, then suddenly end in a slope of mud where the park starts, obviously where the border of private and city land is. When someone slips and breaks their head back on the steps, I wonder who would be liable? But they’re not so litigious here as in the States…
Later in November, I had a couple more shows, right in the same week as my finals. Both involved some serious rehearsing, for different reasons. One was with the Great Learning Orchestra, a mishmash of whoever is into the current project, this time doing music of Arnold Dreyblatt. The concert was part of the opening night of Fylkingen’s 80s anniversary week of concerts. Fylkingen is an experimental arts theater, this is where most of the odd modern, improvised or electronic music or dance happens around here. We were the latter half of this evening’s entertainment, after some acoustic improv and electronic music with dance. Our stuff involved several days of rehearsals, starting in October, due to a couple things. One is that the music is entirely written in just intonation, so the notes are named by which harmonic starting from F they are. For example, F is 1, (and 2 and 4), C (+2 cents from equal temperament ) is 3, A (-14 cents) is 5, Eb (-31 cents) is 7, etc. Then there’s the G (+4 cents) that’s the 9th, but also a G (-45 cents) that the 7th of the A (5), being #35 (5 x 7). So, anyway, these notes are one thing to learn to play, then we had to learn them by number also because the score was rhythmic loops with numbers above the staff saying which pitches you could play for that loop. Pretty cool, with all the players, the full ensemble was violin, viola, 2 cello, bass, then saxophones, bass clarinet and flute, a tuned tack piano, 2 electric guitars, 2 drummers and several electrified instruments that were tuned strings hit with mallets.
The day before the show was my last bit of testing in school, after the written part and book report, where I had to give an oral presentation on a Swede. I chose to talk about a composer named Moses Pergament, who was a from a Jewish family, in Swedish-speaking Finland, born in 1893, studied in Finland and Berlin, but cam to Sweden in 1915 (probably to avoid WW I) and became a Swedish citizen. Wrote some nice post-romantic/post-impressionist music and became a music critic for the newspaper. His editor thought he should just sign his reviews “Pergament” so people would think it was a signature name… or they would guess he was Jewish! Oh no! Well, the composer’s union figured it out and wouldn’t let him in. Between the wars, you know, Europe had some serious issues with “national identity”, and even though Sweden wasn’t Nazi, per se, they were pretty dang racist. That’s still a big issue, these days. One other guy in my class, not exactly sure where he came from, did an oral report on “Jimmy” Åkeson, who is a current politician who came to prominence by being essentially racist. He was recently grilled on BBC, actually, where they asked him to back up his “immigrants cause violence” statistics and he couldn’t, oddly. However, when the other student asked the class how many had heard of this guy, maybe 3 people raised their hands… scary. Anyhow, Pergament is interesting, if only because he was a testy dude, and wouldn’t give in and just do the Mahler thing (convert) so he made a bunch of Jew-music along with other chamber music and things. Strangely very little of it is recorded! Hmmm.. Despite the fact that he is considered one of the top three Swedish Modernist composers, with Hilding Rosenberg and Gösta Nyberg. Being a big fan of string quartets, I really weaned to hear his later ones, 2 from the 50s and one from the 70s (he died in 1977) but I can’t even find the scores.
Well, so I had to back to school the next day, just to get my grade. I didn’t really understand the grading system (C,E, something?) but I would have received a B+ equivalent but the oral report pushed into A territory. So I get to start the actual high school level Swedish as a second language—online—in January. So I left to go to Fylkingen to help set up, we set up the room for our show from 12-2pm or so. It was weird to see the room again, last time I played there was in 2005 with Chaos Butterfly. Some of the same people were in this show, actually, like Lisa Ullén, who played piano with us!
Walked to Larry’s Corner and hung out for a while, bought some kids’ books in English for Marlowe. Eventually got hungry and left, wandered Södermalm looking for something small to eat (I’d kill to find a pizza place that served slices.) When I got back at 5pm it was time for sound check, finally got to hear the full ensemble. The rehearsals had always had bits and pieces. We conflated two pieces into on, so we were doing 3 altogether, after Arnold played a solo piece on his weird upright bass with piano strings. I went to eat some vegetarian food at a cool little buffet restaurant on Hornsgatan with a guy named Girilal Baars who was singing in the ensemble, he is a very interesting dude. Does music that mixes up some old folk tradition with modern electronic music, in fact he’s doing a Ph.D. for a UK University on this. (Though he lives in Sweden.) We made it back a little after the start and missed the first ensemble. The second one was one musician and one dancer, the musician was somebody I had met here years ago who works at EMS (Electronic Music Studios) and he made a feedback drone soundscape while the woman who danced did some sort of butoh-informed movement, which was great. She wore a slightly bemused smile as she wavered around, it was both hilarious and devastating, especially with the huge full spectrum noise onslaught. Very cool.
The next act was an improv ensemble with two acoustic guitars, upright bass and drums. Great players, all of them, some interesting sound and textures. The the changeover, and we drank a beer (they had Nebuchadnezzar, which is one of the best tasting beers I’ve had here, Swedish “ghost brewers” brewing in Belgium.) We changed the sidelines to have the room lengthwise, then Arnold began his piece. He bounced the bow off the strings in a steady rhythm, eliciting harmonics from the strings while creating a steady thump through the amplified bridge of the instrument, and a scrape of the bow. Very hypnotic. The we sat in our orchestra arrangement and played through “Fast Loops”, “Sustain” and “Slow Loops”. I think the pieces went generally well, especially the middle one, which was about 20 sections of arhythmic tremolo, then moving to another 10 of sustained tones, all in these microtonal intoned harmonies. I had to run away afterwards to try to catch a train home, but had to wait at the platform anyway, so it took about an hour to get home. Long day!
This concert was on a Wednesday night, which meant I missed the second rehearsal with Gösta Berlings Saga for a show the following Saturday at Sweden Prog Fest 2013 (!) Luckily, we got together again on the day of the show so I could rehearse the songs again. This music is, in many ways, the opposite of playing with Arnold Dreyblatt, in that it’s tuned normally, but very complicated rhythmically and melodically. I was only playing 3 tunes with them, but I still had to practice the melodies at home for a week beforehand.
We left to the venue at 5pm, and the “Prog Fest” had already begun when we got there, though it was in some sort of very open banquet hall type of room. There were two stages along adjacent walls, the “big” and “small” stages. We were last on the big stage. When we got there, we loaded in and then made our way to dinner elsewhere. Coming back, the promoter’s band (I think) was on. His girlfriend was the singer ( I am guessing) and they all had pointy black guitars. It sounded strangely a bit like Rush. The the small stage was taken over by a highlight of the evening called Necromonkey.
Now Necromonkey is really two guys, Mattias Olsson (drums, etc) and David Lundgren (keyboards), who have along past playing progressive rock music, among other things, but this band seems to have started as a recording project. They played with additional musicians on bass and percussion, and had a stage design with a stack of TVs with oscilloscopes on them and such. The music was intense, almost entirely instrumental except when Åsa Eklund (singer from Mattias’ former band Pineforest Crunch, and coincidentally his wife…) sang in unison with a synthesizer that Mattias played, which was extremely eery. This show was a definite highlight of the evening, and I guess the newspaper reviewers thought so too, as this was the only act that was written about! I picked up the Necromonkey CD, and it’s really cool.
The next couple bands were incredible, though not in any musical way. They were incredible in the exact ways that you would expect to have them be at a “prog fest”. The next main stage band started with a tape of Swedish folk music playing, then they started playing with it, then when they decided that they had shown their credible roots, they launched into chugging electric guitars like Steppenwolf, and the lead singer bounded onto the stage wearing tight white pants and a white suit coat, with no shirt to hide his bulging belly, and grabbed the mic stand with a prosthetic hook-hand! Wow. That was spectacular. These guys would have been the best biker band ever, circa 1973.
And then the next small stage act was semi-acoustic, maybe a broken down version of some bigger band? An acoustic guitar and bassist smarmily singing in harmony with a couple extra guys backing them up. Pretty sounding, and pandering.
So then we got to go last, on the big stage. My wife and her mom had arrived to see us, which was cool. GBS is amazing, they have an incredible way of making music. It’s like every song is based on one root-idea only, but then as it goes around, they change through all the possibilities of chords or melodies that could go with it, with different dynamics and instrumentation. As I said, I joined them on 3 tunes, so I came in after a couple songs into the set, and played one new song (not super well) and one older song (more improvising, this one went well) and then after a few more, came on to play the last song with them. Mattias also sat in on percussion on this one. Here’s a film of it.
This was my last obligation for the fall, so it was time for winter to come, and starting the following week, I got to be house-husband. I did manage to go and visit Mattias Olsson at his studio, Roth Händle, in Sollentuna last week, though. This was a major event for me in many ways. To begin with, Mattias is someone that I was told to look up when I moved here by Victoria Jaschob who was Camper’s very first manager way back in 1985. I don’t really even know how she knew him. But when I got to the studio, Mattias was just tinkering on things, which is my specialty, as you know. The studio has big rooms filled with numerous weird instruments lining the walls, and I mean weird: at least two Mellotrons, a dual keyboard Chamberlin, a few celestas, a pipe organ, bass marimba, vibraphone, numerous odd guitars, etc, etc. Sort of like the Chicago Store in Tucson used to look. I felt right at home immediately. So we went into the control room, and proceeded to futz around with many weird noisemaking pedals, like some Russian-made things with voice synthesis chips made for the Russian phone company… we drank coffee until it was time to drink beer. We discussed the difference in being a lifer musician in Sweden versus California. I think I want to make music with this guy. The only potential bone of contention is that I really like using ProTools and do a lot of composing in it, visually using it like a score, where Mattias like to get everything done before setting it to “tape”, which in his case is an Akai hard disk recorder (he has 3 of them). Nonetheless, it’ll work. When I get home from tour in February, I hope.
*UPS incident: I had a hard drive case I got from Other World Computing, whom I like, and brought it back with me after the shows in September. Unfortunately the drive controller was missing a dipswitch making it Raid or not-Raid, so it raided a drive that I wanted normal. So I needed the right chipboard for it anyway, and sent them the chipboard (3″x2″ about). When it got sent back, the UPS affiliate charged me 290sek ($45) for customs, which should not happen on warranty replacement parts. Also, this would be customs duty on the entire $110 device. Much arguing, with them and customs. So fucked up. I lost in the end of course, too much bureaucracy to wade through. It’s heavy here, like former Soviet-era style. Additionally, in our new building, the mobile phone don’t work due to thick environmental walls and windows. And there’s no port code to allow entry to delivery services, other than the post (for some reason). So I missed deliveries while I was here. The delivery thing here is really fucked up. Many company subcontract to other private delivery companies. It’s really difficult. Maybe it’s purposeful, to prevent a runaway Amazon/Ebay economy and keep people shopping in stores. I don’t know. Even the post is often not delivered to your mailbox, but is held at a post counter in a local grocery store.
Which leads me to incident two: I got something addressed to Jon Segel. I had to go to the store to pick it up, even though it would have fit in the mailbox. But they wouldn’t let me have it because my ID says Jonathan. I made a scene. They called the post office, who are bound by specific rules due to being approbate company that has taken over a previously governmental operation! So it’s as serious as passport control, you bet. In the end somebody at the post office said, ok, let him have it, which begs the question: why didn’t they let me have it in the first place if somebody can just say so? This sort of nonsense really makes me angry.