As Long As It Has the Right Vibe: An Interview with Skeppet
The first time you listen to the epic “Den Nya Kusten” (Swedish for “The New Coast”) by Sweden’s Skeppet, you’re likely to be thoroughly drawn in by the hypnotic collision of sounds that ooze from your speakers. There are only a handful of musical elements at work in these recordings (guitar, keys, percussion), but their flow leaves you transfixed by a groove that builds so smoothly during the track that you hardly notice twenty minutes have passed by the time it’s over. It sounds so natural that it seems as if all the musicians had to do was plug in their instruments and hit record. However, it may surprise listeners to learn that Phase 3, the group’s latest LP (released earlier this summer via Not Not Fun), has been in the works since the beginning of the decade. The pair of Andreas Malm and Henrik Wallin has been making music together in various forms since the early 2000s, and after connecting with the Not Not Fun crew, they refined their jams and let four wicked tunes gestate until they were ready for the public’s consumption. And it was well worth the wait: the entirety of Phase 3 is a towering achievement of psychedelic music circa 2014.
From their home base in Sweden, Andreas and Henrik were kind enough to answer my questions via e-mail, discussing the band’s beginnings, first record, their approach to songcraft, and what’s next to come in their exciting musical careers.
Jason Cabaniss: Can you describe your respective musical backgrounds?
Andreas Malm: I started playing in various punk rock and hardcore bands in the early 90s – Three Minute Access was one of them. After that followed a period of post rock, taking influences from bands such Fly Pan Am. The discovery of German kosmische music and early American minimalism pushed us in new directions before moving into more free form noise rock with the forming of Fria Konstellationen around 2003. I am also in the tape loop-based duo Amph with Peter Henning (of Mirrors Are Black and Sprachlos Verlag), and occasionally I do solo stuff as Body Awareness.
Henrik Wallin: I have always been interested in music, listening and buying records and so on. I was the DJ at the high school discos (probably because I was the only nerd with a lot of records). Started going to live shows in Linköping in the early 90s. Didn’t start playing and making music myself until pretty late, I guess I was about 25 or so. The first band was called the Greatest of All Time. We were quite into American indie rock. This was back in 2001 I think. It lasted for about one year. Then we started Fria Konstellationen. Alongside Skeppet I also do stuff on my own as Foxy Music.
Was there a particular moment or experience that made you want to start actually playing music? What were your first instruments?
HW: As I mentioned, I started playing music quite late. I’m not sure there was a particular moment that made me start, perhaps hanging around watching gigs and meeting the right people. I started playing bass in my first band, then I switched to guitar. I have never really learned to play any instrument properly, just been trying to figure it out by myself. It can be a bit limiting, but I think it also makes it quite interesting to not really “know” what you are doing.
AM: As a kid, playing the recorder didn’t really get me into music. In the 90s there was this great hardcore scene in our hometown, Linköping, evolving around influential band Outlast. That, along with hearing bands like Fugazi and Void, got me into playing bass. Eventually I started playing around with drums in some band. Synths came much later, after moving to Malmö, just before the forming of Skeppet.
Just for fun, what was the first record you ever bought?
AM: Not sure, but I think it was the “Domino Dancing” 7″ by Pet Shop Boys. They were my first real favorite band. Still a great song!
HW: Dio, Sacred Heart. I think I got it only because I thought the cover was cool. I really like Dio but this is not their best album.
How did you two come together, and at what point in your relationship did Skeppet come together?
We’ve known each other since the late 90s. We grew up in Linköping, and attended the same shows and hung out with the same people. In 2003, Fria Konstellationen was born from the remains of the defunct bands we were playing in around that time. Fria Konstellationen was a pretty active band for some five years but since 2009 or so we only rarely play live and we haven’t recorded new stuff for ages. Sometime around 2006, we started jamming as a duo, but at that time we didn’t have any plans for recording or playing live. In 2008 we made some recordings that were released in early 2009 as the second release on our own Kosmisk Väg imprint.
‘Phase 3’ contains a number of lengthy pieces, yet they have a coherent structure and vibe that indicates a lot of work and care went into each track. Can you describe your approach to songcraft, and how much time went into the creation of this record?
Skeppet: Making songs, and recording them, is a time-consuming and slow process for us, as we are not very disciplined. Usually we’re jamming the songs for a long time before moving on to recording them. A lot of time is put into recording and mixing, which is partly due to our lack of recording skills. The recording of “Den Nya Kusten” probably started in 2010 or early 2011. A first version of Phase 3 was completed in 2012, but then we decided to do the final mixing of the tracks with Björn Stegmann, with whom we’d worked for live shows on several occasions. After completing the final mix, we decided to rework one track (“Genom öknen”) and include a new one (“Solskeppet”). The final version of the album was completed in the summer of 2013.
I’m not surprised by how well ‘Phase 3’ fits into the Not Not Fun catalog, given the amount of tight psych groups like Bronze and Jonas Reinhardt that have come before you at the label. When and how did you get connected with Britt at NNF?
When Skeppet started playing, NNF served as a great source of inspiration for us, with bands like Sun Araw, Pocahaunted and Robedoor, and later Peaking Lights, Rangers and Ducktails. We met Britt in Berlin when Sun Araw and Pocahaunted played at West Germany in 2009. We had just put our first tape, so we talked and handed Britt a copy. Some time later he wrote that he liked some of the tunes, and that he’d like to hear our future recordings. Later that year we did a split tape with Viking Jews (Hannes Norrvide of Lust for Youth) that we sent to NNF. Britt wrote us that he really liked the track “Coast Rider,” and that they wanted to do a tape or LP release. This must have been in 2010. So the LP has been in the making ever since…
Your label, Kosmisk Väg, contains music from Skeppet as well as other musical projects (Fria Konstellationen, Sand Circles, and others). I’m struck by the raw, drone-inflected psychedelia of some of the tunes. What do you look for in an artist or group whom you might be interested in adding to your label’s roster?
Yes, we kind of started Kosmisk Väg as an excuse to release our own projects. Then it went to releasing friends. The idea has never been to release stuff with a uniform sound or style. We like a lot of different kinds of music, so basically we are into releasing anything we like, regardless of genre, as long as it has the right vibe.
Does Skeppet play live very often? What touring plans do you have?
We played live a lot for a while in 2010, when the split LP on Release the Bats came out. After that we have played occasionally. The last couple of years we have performed as a trio, with Martin Nilsson (Upper Layer Snoozer/Super Jam) joining in on congas. We have plans to play more shows later this year, no tour scheduled yet at the moment, though.
What’s next for Skeppet and Kosmisk Väg?
Not Not Fun will release a compilation tape of old Skeppet songs later this year. It’ll contain some unreleased material, along with tracks from our out-of-print Kosmisk Väg and Release the Bats releases and more. We’re also in the process of recording new Skeppet stuff, but as you know by now, recording is a long and slow process… Kosmisk Väg also has a few nice releases on the way.
[Featured image photo by Jonas Eriksson, all other photos by Thomas Skoog]