Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Swedish musician Action Biker has released her debut album, Hesperian Puisto, the title of which is named after a park in Helsinki. Sarah Nyberg Pergament credits influences as diverse as Moondog, Francoise Hardy, Syd Barrett, Flying Lizards, and Maurice Ravel. And yes, it's actually possible to perceive hints of all these inspirations.
The texture of her carefully arranged songs feature tendrils of delicate melodic lines woven in distinct counterpoint. The finely etched details of her compositions are probably due to her many years studying classical music. The brief tracks are interspersed with even briefer miniatures like diverting intermissions between vocal tracks. A fan of old musicals, she even does an idiosyncratic cover of the old standard, "By Myself," from the 1937 musical, "Between The Devil," by Dietz and Schwartz, performed by Fred Astaire in the 1953 film, "The Bandwagon." Fans of Au Revoir Simone or Broadcast should love this album.
Her thin, girlish voice is perfectly matched to her vulnerable and delightfully personal lyrics, including a quirky tribute to her favorite grocery store.
The title track is based on this lovely chord progression: A flat Maj7 / g min7 / d min / C Maj7.
I recently interviewed Sarah about her new album and her musical background:
Your new album is lovely. Are you happy with the way it turned out?
Thanks. Yes I guess I am. But it was quite difficult to finally decide that it was finished, but after working on it for a few years I felt it was important to complete something. The second one will be much easier to make and won't take another five years!
I know the name Action Biker comes from an old computer game. Why do you use a pseudonym?
I like to keep some distance between who I am and what I do I guess. Even though it's very related. It was my friend Anton who came up with the idea of the name. He was a big Commodore 64 enthusiast and he just decided that that was to be my artist name... if ever I'd release something. This was after I'd made one or two songs, and I had no idea that people would actually would come to hear them.
Why did you choose to record the tune, "By Myself?" And are you playing flute on that, or is it a sampler?
I'm a big fan of old musicals, especially the ones with Fred Astaire. In the musical "Bandwagon" he gets off a train and starts to sing this song to himself. I chose to include some flute on it since my father is a professional flautist, and I felt I wanted to include him on the record somehow.
Your songs are very meticulously put together. Did you study classical music?
I used to play violin for ten years and the piano for seven years. But I gave it up when I was fourteen. I took some singing lessons a few years later. I've grown up with classical music, since my parents are classical musicians and I listen a lot to it still.
There are a number of short tracks on Hesperian Puisto. What role do these miniature compositions play in flow of the album?
It's just something that felt natural to me, since I've done a lot of tracks like this that I guess maybe don't seem to make sense at all but still they are part of what I do. I just wanted to be honest. I wanted to include things I like to do.
As I listen to the album, I keep feeling it is telling a story, rather than just a collection of tracks. True of false?
I'm not sure. If that's how people feel that's fine. The record and my lyrics are quite personal even if the subjects vary a lot. A difficult break up or thoughts about refrigerators. I never intended to do a story though.
What software and equipment do you use for producing music?
Reason and Cubase.
Swedish pop acts, for example: Komeda, Club 8, Cardigans, and Robyn, are all very different from each other. Yet, they seem to have certain qualities in common, such as lightness, poise, restraint, melodic inventiveness, and pretty surfaces. How do you think the Swedish national character is reflected in its pop music?
I don't know really, since both the light pop and hard rock scene is quite big here. The Indiepop scene here has got quite a reputation during the last couple of years, I don't know how it reflects the Swedish people though. We're told to be quite introverted and shy, maybe we need to make music to express ourselves. Aaah! I don't know!
I read an article in Spin magazine that the Swedish government takes an active role in supporting pop music. How has the Swedish government helped you in career in any way?
Not in any way whatsoever! But I've never tried, I'm happy to work on my own without support, I really don't care about money or anything, not even gigs that much. This is something I do on my spare time. I get my money for being a student, I sure wish they'd help the students more over here!
I read that you played the NYC Popfest at the Cake Shop in June. How did you like performing in New York? Will you be returning to the US any time soon?
I must say I got a strange feeling somehow. I can't explain it. I liked it, but I was very jet lagged so I felt quite confused. I'd love to return some day. I had a wonderful time in New York. I loved Central Park.
Thank you Sarah!
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
During her long career, Gudrun Gut has appeared on over 50 releases, and has been involved in the German music scene since the early 80's, playing in bands such as Mania D, Matador, Malaria!, Miasma, and was a member in the first incarnation of Einsturzende Neubauten. She is also the founder and owner of two record labels, Moabit Musik in 1990, and Monika Enterprise in 1997. After working so long in group contexts, Gudrun was inspired to produce an album with a carefully chosen range of invited collaborators, releasing the fascinating "Members of the Ocean Club," in 1996. The release party for that album spawned a regular club night in Cologne, and a tour, eventually establishing a presence as a radio show in 1997, which continues to broadcast across Germany, as well as Siberia and China.
A particularly captivating track and accompanying video from "Members of the Ocean Club" is "Firething," a collaboration with underground Australian chanteuse, Anita Lane. Filmed on location at the original Ocean Club, the video combines a mood of bewitching glamour, and the intimate sense of eavesdropping on a private conversation. A vague sense of danger is offset by a barely detectable sense of humor, which takes the whole thing into the realm of an askew psychodrama:
In 2007, Gudrun released her first "real" solo work with minimal outside collaboration entitled, "I Put A Record On." References are made to a variety of genres of music, tango, sludgy blues, polka, and even some swinging, lounge-y kitsch. She uses bits and pieces from the standard building blocks of popular music, but assembles them into unfamiliar collages. Loops are grainy, and murky, as if channeled from antique Victrolas. The percussion parts have just a hint of techno. Her vocals, usually in English, are cool and unemotive, purred like Dietrich, or Morticia Addams, whispering from the crypt. Some of the vocals are merely spoken, but Gudrun's alto is delivered in such a soft, mellifluous style that you accept her sing-songy performance as melodic. Her compositions are pop based, but not like any "pop" you have ever heard. No shiny, glittery surfaces. Everything is sepia, hand-tinted, or black & white, and slightly deteriorated and dusty. The tracks are interleaved with channels of mystifying noises, looping like some arcane machinery running in the background. Although the arrangements are uncomplicated, repeated listenings are rewarded with the perception of new levels that were unnoticeable even after a dozen or more run-throughs. Her work was rewarded this year with an in-depth cover story in The Wire.
The opening track, Move Me, is composed of a queasy mix of delay lines and loops of a wheezy tango accordion. The track spins through your head like a mesmerizing blur, reminding me of the work of Philip Jeck, or Tom Recchion. When Gudrun's voice emerges, it suddenly becomes an accessible pop song, one however that manages to intriguingly bridge a divide between "sound art" and "pop:"
Gudrun is in the midst of performing around Europe this summer, in Germany, as well as Belgium, Italy, Spain, and she recently played in Moscow, which she described to me as a "fantastic" experience. She graciously took time to answer some questions that were on my mind:
How does living in Berlin affect your work?
oh- i love living here. berlin gives me freedom. its nice to know that there are some like minded people living close. i guess the fact that i have to kind of prove myself in this surrounding does affect my work.
Did your study of art influence your music?
yes i guess that my interest in art does matter.
What do you envision as the best way to listen to your music: on headphones, a good stereo system in a quiet room, or a club?
oh whatever is most comfortable.
Why are your lyrics primarily in English?
because that way i get a little distance to the lyrics- my vocal style is pretty private 'cause i do not sing loud- and i like to have that little language border. english has a different melody in itself. on the other hand i do enjoy german lyrics as well. blätterwald is german - because it's a free flow improv, and that doesn't work so well in a second language. i have a lot of english speaking friends as well- so english as a language is very important for my day to day communication.
How much time do you spend working on your own music every day?
ha- depends- at the moment i am still refining the live material and i always try new pieces and do new edits for the live sets. but at the same time i listen a lot to other music- once for the radio show we do every week and then for the label as well. i find this inspiring too.
Do you begin your work with ideas, or by messing around with sounds?
for new writing- i mess around. i love and need chaos for writing. chaos makes the ideas come without limitation - and out of this mess i love to create something new. organize it. collage it. the lyrics i have mostly roughly written before and then built it all together with the music.
What equipment or software do you use?
i use macintosh computer with logic and ableton live programs. for vocal recording and editing i go into logic. the more loop based stuff i prefer to do in ableton- more and more i do work the whole song with ableton. and i use it for live as well. otherwise mostly plugins. nice and simple. i have a good vocal mic and a focusrite vocal compressor. my set up is pretty simple- no big mixing console- sometimes i mix at the oceanclub studio.
The tone of "Members of the Ocean Club" is very crisp and pretty, whereas the sound of "I Put A Record On" is distinctly different, much darker and more organic. What kind of sound world were you intending to create on the new album?
different time- in the 90s i wanted a smooth sound. and i had johnny klimek coproducing- there were many guests artists- it was quite hard to get a unique, altogether sound happening. this time i wanted to have it rougher and produce, program and mix the album by myself- be totally responsible for it. there were a couple of doubts and insecurities- but i was happy to overcome them.
Why do you think Monika Enterprise has survived and succeeded for over 10 years?
quality. monika is an artist label. it all depends on the artist. and they are good. :-)
You're performing quite a bit over the summer. What are your live shows like?
i have a laptop and a mic and have accompanying videos with similar images like the album artwork. the set is loop based and i play tracks from the album differently arranged and mixed as well as short parts of tracks as references which i blend in and rearrange i use snippets from some of my old recordings- just short sound files. some might recognize or not. its half instrumental and half with vocals.
Will you be performing in New York?
would like to but no plans so far.
Hopefully, that will change! Thank you so much, Gudrun.