Saturday, May 3, 2014

Sweet Sweet Concorde: An interview with Anders Ekman

One of my fixations, as will become increasingly apparent on this website as time goes on, is the phenomenon of the superlative artist who bestows a single, singular work upon the world and then, for some unknown reason, seems to disappear. 

Sweden's Sweet Sweet Condorde is a prime example. After releasing the indiepop gem Life in the Canopy in an edition of 300 on the late, great Series Two label in 2008 and garnering respectable coverage in the blogosphere, the band dropped out of sight. 

Life in the Canopy is a perfect little record. When I listen to it, I never have the urge to skip any song. The song "The Picnic" —a story about some bears having a bad day—has an actual video, which suggests that it is the single from the album. The song is great, and the video is cute and pretty damn twee. But everyone for whom I have played the album agrees that "Carrot Cake" is the proper single. "Carrot Cake" would have been the hit. I'd link to it, but there's no YouTube video. Here's the video for "The Picnic" instead:

As someone who loves and frequently listens to Life in the Canopy, I would periodically search the Internet for news about the band: Who is the artist? When is the second album coming out? I finally tracked down Anders Ekman, who is Sweet Sweet Concorde, and he agreed to answer my questions. 

My interview with Anders Ekman is from May 1, 2014. 

What's the meaning of the name "Sweet Sweet Concorde"?

I wanted a name that would fit the music, and "sweet" does that rather well, I think. I also wanted it to be a little longer, not just one word. Lastly, I wanted it to be somewhat unique, something you could easily remember. "Concorde" is just a nice word, and it worked well together, so I went with that. It doesn't really mean anything though.

Life in the Canopy is very precisely performed. How did you record it? What recording equipment did you use, where did you record it, how long did it take?

All instruments are played by me, so a typical recording would start with something to keep the tempo: a click or a simple drum track. Then I would record over that, adding one instrument at a time: synths, guitars, bass, drums, whatever that particular song required. Most of the recordings were done at my home or at work. My recording equipment is just a laptop, a sound card, and some mics, which means I can record just about anywhere as long as it's reasonably quiet, which is really handy since I travel quite a lot. For the songs with real drums, I had a couple of mics to record the entire kit, but other than that, it's just one mic at the time.

It's funny you mentioning the word "precise," because when I wrote the songs, I wanted them to be just that. I'm not a big fan of just strumming on the guitar, or on any instrument for that matter. If there's a riff that you can identify, then I think that makes it so much more interesting, so I tried to think like that for every part—guitars, bass, drums, synths, everything. Obviously, there are parts that don't have a clear riff or pattern, but that was how I approached it. Also, I didn't want the songs to be too long. Almost all of the songs follow the same form, and I wanted to see how I could work within that frame.

I wrote and recorded most of the album in the spring and summer of 2008, although one or two tracks were written a little earlier, if I recall correctly. So, a couple of months maybe, but obviously that was very much an on-and-off thing. Some weeks I couldn't do anything, and others I was free to record more.

What did you do musically before Sweet Sweet Concorde?

I come from a rock background, but I've done a lot of things in most genres. Right before SSC, I was in a band that spent forever finishing one song. I seriously think we spent eight months writing and mostly recording one song. One of the members quit in the process. I realized that this was not what I wanted to do. So I decided to write music that didn't depend on the production to sound good, and music that wasn't very serious in terms of lyrics, but approach it in a serious way, if you know what I mean. Most of all I wanted the writing of the music to be the main focus rather than the recording of it.

Years ago, your Series Two and Myspace pages said that Sweet Sweet Concorde was working on new music. Did you finish anything? Are any new recordings in the works? 

Well, that's a long story. During the recording of Life in the Canopy, I started having problems with my throat. I had trouble singing some of the higher stuff and I was always hoarse. It wasn't too bad, but you can hear it on some of the songs. After the album was finished and I waited for Series Two to release it, I kept writing and recording songs for a second release of some sort. I finished two tracks that I was really happy with, but after that, my voice was not working anymore. Two more songs were completely finished except for the vocals, which I just couldn't record, so I stopped writing for a while. 

Things got worse and soon I had trouble speaking and had to seek medical help. Singing was out of the question. During all of this, I saw no point in writing new music for SSC since I knew I couldn't record it, which in turn meant that no one would hear it. Things didn't change much until about six months ago. Since then, things have slowly been getting better, and now I could probably sing the SSC stuff. It's not too demanding. Now it's more a question of finding the motivation and the time to start writing again. I want to, but I would need to think about how to release it. I'm still very attached to physical releases, particularly vinyl. Other than that, finding the time to write and record is the hardest part right now. So, you never know. Hopefully, SSC will resurface again in the not-so-distant future.

You also played with Robert Church and the Holy Community. What instrument did you play in it, and is the band still active?

I played a number of gigs with Robert Church, but only as a live musician. Most of the gigs were as a three piece, and then I would play synth bass/drums/loops and do some backing vocals. It was a really neat setup where I played bass with my left hand and drums with my right and controlled loops with my feet. I'd like to do that again—it was really nice playing both drums and bass. On some gigs, there would be four of us, and then I would just play electric bass. 

Robert Church are still active. They have released a couple of cassettes. Not sure what they're up to right now, though.

Series Two didn't manufacture very many copies of Life in the Canopy, but you seemed to get quite a bit of attention around the world on music blogs. Did you have any particularly interesting or surprising experiences as a result of the album?

Well, any interaction with people who like what you do is rewarding; it motivates you to keep going. But some things stand out, of course. One thing I remember is being interviewed by a Japanese indie music/fashion magazine. That was fun. They included a sampler CD with the magazine with "Time to Die"
 and a couple of songs from other bands. Of course, I couldn't read the printed interview, but it looked really nice. 

Some people also sent me gifts, including a set of handmade wooden spoons—really beautiful stuff! Another thing that I remember is when I was contacted by Benji Gregory. He had heard of the song "Benji and Me" from a friend and wondered where he could hear it. I wanted to send him a copy of the album, but he got cold feet and stopped answering my messages. I guess he thought the song mocked him, which I can assure you, it doesn't.

Did you ever play live to support the album?

No, I didn't. Because of the problems with my voice, it just never happened. I really wanted to, though.

Talk about the video for "The Picnic." How did it happen, and who made it?

Well, as I was writing and recording songs for what would become Life in the Canopy, I thought a video would be nice. So, right when I finished "The Picnic," which I think was the third or fourth song I recorded, I realized that this could be it. The lyrics were really simple and kind of stupid, so I thought that they would translate well into a short video. So I went out and bought a couple of bears and started cutting out cardboard trees and shot the video at home. 

Shooting it didn't actually take too long—a couple of days, a couple of hours per day, maybe. But it's all stop motion, so after the stills were shot, I had to sequence the stills into video and edit the individual scenes to fit the music. The most time-consuming thing was getting the bears to jump. I had to edit those scenes in Photoshop frame by frame and repaint shadows and everything. That took a really long time, but in the end it turned out pretty nice. Really DIY-ish, just like I wanted it.

What kind of music do you listen to? Musically, who would you compare Sweet Sweet Concorde to?

I listen to a lot of different stuff. I grew up on rock and had all the old KISS records, but I've also always enjoyed pop, especially eighties pop and the indie/experimental stuff. Nowadays, I listen to a mix of pop, rock, and electronic music, but I'm not that picky. If it's good, I'll give it a listen, regardless of genre. 

Comparing SSC to other bands is really hard for me. I'm sure Life in the Canopy sounds just like some other record that I can't name. I guess the Postal Service comes pretty close, but obviously they're not very lo-fi and mostly use synths.

Why do you think that Sweden is such a rich source of indiepop music?

That's also a tough one. I guess the Swedish mentality lends itself pretty well to indiepop. We're not very dramatic, somewhat distanced, and yet exotic enough to the rest of the world to be interesting? I don't know. Most of all I think it's just a coincidence. A couple of Swedish bands get noticed, then people start to look for Swedish bands. A new band from Austria might have a tougher time convincing someone to listen to their songs than a Swedish band, just because of where they're from. And so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I'm not saying Swedish bands aren't great—I'm just saying there are great bands everywhere.


Life in the Canopy (Series Two Records #41, 2008)
  • Mr Tanner / Time to Die / Woo-Hoo / The Picnic / Carrot Cake / Benji and Me / Balloon / Superman Song / When I Am Down / Armadillo Man

Merci Magazine (Vol. 1, 2009)

  • Ingeborg Selnes – "Open Your Heart" / Bedroom Eyes – "Hand in Hand Grenade (demo)" / Punch and Judy – "You better know It's Coming Back" / Girl is Töugh – "Polynomie" / Run Toto Run – "Your Face" / Clover – "Tania in a Car" / The Pity Party – "Wanting Wan" / The Kazoo Funk Orchestra – "Robots in Your Eyes" / The Winter Club – "Stylo" / Hari and Aino – "Gold (Or Something Just as Nice)" / Ladies!Disaster! – "Sushi Sabotage" / Sweet Sweet Concorde – "Time To Die" / Oliver North Boy Choir – "Over/Out" / Naivepop or Petitfool – "Sunday Morning" / オードリーシューズ – カラフル

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