[Photos by Sahar Ghahari + Sarah Schmidhoff]
“Dreamy” is one way of describing Dungen‘s new disc, 4, which comes out next Tuesday through Kemado Records. That and, well, “jazzy,” as if Gustav Ejstes’ band was performing at a bar rich with the scent of spilled whiskey and stale cigarette smoke. (Sure enough, Dungen performed a lot of new material as a piano and drums-led duo earlier this summer.)
“It’s not easy to make something sound good on the telephone, but [Gustav] played me this one piano melody [during the songwriting process] and it just sounded beautiful,” explains drummer Johan Holmegard, as we ease into an interview with him and Ejstes at Kemado’s Chelsea office. “Since I’m really into jazz, I was glad that a lot of this [new] music had a jazz feel to it.”
As he’s done in the past, Ejstes worked on 4‘s skeletal tracks while decamped in the countryside home of his mother, a place with a negligible population and storage for the singer/multi-instrumentalist’s throwback equipment and prized vinyl collection. Writing and recording sessions in Stockholm were sporadic throughout the past year, a time that allowed Ejstes to become a more open-minded band leader.
“I’m a control freak, but I have a lot of confidence in these guys now,” says Ejstes, “Where I can present a song and ask what they would contribute to it. I might still say, ‘You should play a little more like this,’ but I am open [to ideas].”
That much is clear in our conversation, as Ejstes and Holmegard give us a complete breakdown of 4‘s back story and an EXCLUSIVE stream of the entire record. Enjoy …
1. SÃ¤tt Att Se [0:00]
Gustav: This was recorded right after we finished [the 2007 album] Tio Bitar. I wrote the song on the piano at [Johan’s] apartment and said, “We have to record this. If you’re able to come down to the studio, we’ll do it tomorrow or something.” The whole vibe the next morning was emotional for some reason–winter, but crisp and bright with a lot of sunlight out. I was walking over a bridge and ran into [guitarist] Reine [Fisk], his mother and her husband in a park. I remember she had red lips, kinda like my girlfriend at that time, who had red lips every day. She actually used to say, “Life is too short to not have red lips every day.”
Anyway, we went to the studio and recorded a take with Reine. The drum sound on the recording comes from putting a 45 sleeve on the snare. It’s one of the best we’ve ever gotten. This song was very special because it’s quite epic. One of my best friends, this rapper named Marcus, said we have to put it out, whether it’s an instrumental or there’s vocals on it. For a whole year, we listened to a rough mix of it and didn’t add any vocals to it. We even tried having some rapping on it.
2. MÃ¥lerÃ¥s Finest [4:45]
Gustav: I wrote this song a few years ago and then tried it the way we do most [first] takes: Johan on drums, Reine on bass and me on piano. It was instrumental for a while and very open-ended, like we had this girl Pauline try to bring some soul to it. Eventually, I found this [sings melody].
Johan: I was very influenced by a video for “Show Me What You Got.” Jay-Z’s drummer has the same rhythm, but he plays a little funkier.
3. Det Tar Did [7:07]
Gustav: This is a love song type thing, about a girl who gave me much-needed confidence in my songwriting. We’ve come here and done tours, but I still have [trouble being confident] some days. I doubt myself a lot and don’t take anything for granted. If you like the music, it’s amazing. I still get shocked over that.
The birds and the strings on this are meant to sound very dreamy.
Johan: This is my favorite track actually. I understood what he was trying to do and loved it.
Gustav: Johan’s tom playing is classic.
Johan: This is going to sound really nerdy, but I listen to a lot of jazz from the bebop era to the end of the ’60s. Even though I like a little bit of avant garde and free jazz, I’m not too into the ’70s and ’80s stuff. I really love the pop music from ’66 to ’69–not just the skills everyone had, but the way they produced the records. You don’t hear that today. It’s quite sad, actually. A lot of people say Keith Moon’s corny and can’t follow [Pete Townshend’s] riffs, but the way he expressed himself was so open and honest. He’s one of my favorite drummers.
4. Samtidigt 1 [11:25]
Gustav: This was a long jam that we edited down into [track four and nine]. Reine always says he likes melodies and isn’t a “heavy guitarist” or into “masculine stuff like biker rock.” But he gets into that mode once a month anyways.
Johan: Reine and I always connect really well when we try to play like Jimi Hendrix. Here we got into a stoner rock groove and went from there. I love pushing Reine to where he has this crazy “I will kill you” look in his eyes.
Gustav: When I noticed this, I ran into the control room and hit record, because that’s the type of thing you have to capture live. We would have kept this as a long jam but the middle part wasn’t that good. There’s nothing wrong with having long songs, but I wanted to get the essence here.
Johan: The original jam was like 60 minutes. We just kept pushing each other that whole time.
5. Ingenting Ã„r Sig Likt [14:39]
Gustav: This one’s a tribute to one of the most beautiful girls in Sweden. It was written while I was living at my mom’s house. While I was there for a while, I practiced a lot of [turntable] scratching and beat-juggling–crabs, flares, transformers. When I got tired of that, I composed a lot of piano-based music like this song.
Johan: Where’s my song? [Laughs]
6. Fredag [17:37]
Gustav: This had lyrics at first, but I didn’t like the vocals so I took them out and changed the title.
Johan: It’s funny, because the titles seem to change every time I come to the studio.
Gustav: This is meant to evoke the weekend, like, “I’m so excited!”
Johan: In Sweden you have to be 18 and go to a certain store to buy alcohol. You should see the lines because they’re only open until 7. People get so smashed.
7. Finns Det NÃ¥gon MÃ¶jlighet [21:57]
Gustav: This is about controversial stuff and calling someone to buy something that’s illegal. Everyone has their codes, like, “Do you have any reggae tapes?” or “Is it possible to meet up today and go skiing?” [Laughs] In Sweden now, we have a new law called FRA. The military has the right to bug your phone because of terrorism. So you’re watched everywhere. I got a funny chain text message a few weeks ago where someone said, “Bomb! Terrorism! Cocksucker! Send this to 10 of your friends so the FRA keeps busy.” Europe is the worst. One city in England has cameras everywhere and speakers, so if someone throws garbage on the street, the speaker says, “Hey you, you in the suit! Pick that up!”
The chorus of this song is a response to this policy. It goes, “Is there any reason to believe the cops are checking someone other than you?”
8. Mina Damer Och Fasaner [25:52]
Gustav: We used to play this at every show but never recorded it, so there are a lot of live, 30-minute versions. I wanted to record it in the studio as a verse/chorus sort of thing. So many harmonies and tones got lost live.
Johan: It started as more of a hard rock song, but ended up with flutes and a lighter sound. Plus the one beat sounds like a hip-hop beat.
9. Samtidigt 2 [29:35]
See track four.
10. Bandhagen [34:15]
This is named after the Stockholm suburb where I currently live with a girl. We used to [date] but now we’re just friends.