Tuesday 25 December 2007

A short history of DOG AGE

Although established since the summer of 1985 as a code word for going out on the town and behaving like pop stars, the actual band Dog Age was started in 1986/87 by Jon Anders Strand and Jørn Smedslund. A vague notion of playing depressive industrial synthesized pop was quickly abandoned for the somewhat more ethereal folk-pop psychedelia one finds in songs such as “Sweet Scent of Life” and “The Sun”. The latter was also the reason why Jørn one fine spring day in 1988 was asked to return a call to the newly established record company Voices of Wonder. They had through Trygve Mathiesen, leader of Ym-stammen, another Norwegian group, heard a recording of this tribute to the glory of summer, recorded at Strømmen’s Studio Staal a few weeks previously. By this time two members of Ym-stammen (where Jon Anders was the bass-player), Christian Thorleif Refsum og Jan Harald Beckstrøm, had been drafted into what was verging on becoming a “real” band. The recording of their first album continued throughout the spring of 1988, and the Contract with VoW was signed on the 24th of June the same year. After this, the recording sessions were moved to the more suitably equipped Red Light Studio in central Oslo and Eystein Hopland from Sister Rain was brought in to produce the album.

It was released in the autumn of 1989 as “Good Day”, the references to the summer of 1967 and the Beatles, as well as Norway’s former PM Kåre Willoch were clear, while the closest you get to a title track would be the political advert “Party”, with the line “[…] never felt as good as today”.
The sleeve, based on one of Jon Anders’ more creative dreams, was photographed on Bygdøy (by Paul Paiewonsky), and hand coloured and designed by Marius Renberg.
The album’s reception was fairly mixed, the reviews abounded with comparisons to another, contemporary Norwegian band Matchstick Sun, not usually to Dog Age’s advantage, the feeling of 60’s nostalgia and retrospectivity in a group of fairly young musicians annoyed some critics who thought music should mirror its times, that one should be in touch with society, that innovation is the essential aspect of pop music and that bands have a responsibility to create the “soundtrack” of, in this case, 1988. And all that. Oh, well.
Quite inexplicably Norway’s largest tabloid, VG, handed out a “five” on a scale of one to six (where six was the best).
The same year Dog Age, now with the addition of Thomas Widerberg on keyboards, played their first ever gig at Oslo’s Rockefeller scene at a Radio Nova-concert. This was broadcast live on
radio, so there should be a recording of it lying around somewhere.

The follow-up was supposed to have been a 7” EP, but VoW wanted to front the potential hit “Freda’s Married”, so “Free” and “Gathering Round” were put on hold until the second album, while “Violent” ended up as the b-side (however, the sleeve was already printed, so the lyrics to the two songs left out are still, confusingly enough, for all to see on the flip-side of the cover). This record (which despite of the changes kept its original title “Outdated Yeah!” as the sleeve was already printed) was released sometime in the spring of 1990.
“Freda’s Married” was a somewhat heavier tune than what one was accustomed to after “Good Day”, especially Jon Anders’ opening guitar riff made one think more of the early seventies than the innocent (and completely imaginary) 60’s which permeated the first album. The experienced Norwegian pop critic Willy B. is supposed to have exclaimed that it was “…the best I have heard in twenty years!” Nye Takter’s Asbjørn Bakke preferred the b-side “Violent” “…with its paradoxical lyrics”.
This single is meant to have sold an unusual number of copies for a Dog Age release, though not, of course, so much that the band received any royalties from it. The receiving of filthy lucre was, however, never of any interest to these young idealists…
Christian Refsum left the band after the recording of the four songs that were supposed to have been on “Outdated Yeah!”, and was temporarily replaced by the drummer from Sketsjen Kveler (and an uncompromising defender for the top notch Norwegian football club “Hordene” ), Geirr Thoresen, partly because there were serious plans of making a much heavier second album, a virtual necessity when entering Svein Solberg’s Warehouse Studio.
The recording of the remaining material was executed during the summer of 1990, but the record was not released until the following year due to the usual delays one has come to expect whenever Dog Age are involved in something. In the meantime they managed to put in some more gigs also outside Oslo, so that audiences in Trondheim (who were few) and Bø i Telemark (who were drunk) had the opportunity to discover that live gigs at this time perhaps did not flatter Dog Age unduly.

Album number 2, “Sigh No More”, had found its title in a line from the song “Lullaby”, an old folk song from the days of Autistiske Barn (with the lyric picked up from Tolkien’s “The Hobbitt”). This album was darker and heavier, and VG’s Børre Haugstad went down from a “5” to a “2”, taking the rather puzzling view that this album sounded too much like early Pink Floyd. Mode Steinkjer, writing for the Norwegian music paper Puls was of the opinion that this was a good record (possibly caused by a bad conscience after having done three interviews with the band, neither of which were ever printed), even if the somewhat cryptic headline posed the question “Why do we need the sixties?”.
The sleeve, designed by Simon Oldani, was less playful and friendly-looking than “Good Day” had been, its best feature probably the excellent fake “sleeve-notes”, provided by an unusually obliging Tables’ CEO, Bartleby (under the nom de plume of Jonathan C. Byrd, a resident of Happy Hills Sanatorium).
A big release concert at Månefisken (with The Time Lodgers headlining) was pleasant, but commercial success once again eluded them. The sales figures, this time unaided by the “debut album effect” were impressively low.
On the positive side, the band felt that they had made a very good album, and one or two of the gigs (especially the one at Hulen in Bergen) actually sounded fairly decent. By this time Øystein Jevanord had replaced Geirr Thoresen behind the drums, and a new guitar player, Ola Erik Sørlie from Chris Eriksens Orkester had also joined the band.

My interview from PT winter 1990
"Pining for the fjords?" No, your ever-vigilant Pollymaic Terrascope isn't a recently passed-on parrot - but nevertheless we certainly can't help but be drawn back to Norway for yet athird time by the sheer quality and freedom of music the midnight sunners are producing at the moment. My own personal favourites, the truly wonderful DOG AGE whose debut album, 'Good Day', was everything one could hope for from a band who obviously spent 14 hours a day listening to Magical Mystery Tour and Piper At The Gates Of Dawn whilst smoking larch cones and drinking especially imported P.G. Tips tea by the bucketful.The truth however behind this band, as we will come to find out in the following brief interview with head Dog Jorn Smedslund, is even less strange...
So, tell us about the history behind Dog Age - was there previously a 'Pup Age'?
In the beginning there was drummer Jon Anders and myself playing in a strange experimental folk/punk/pop band called 'Ausistike Barn' ('Autistic Children') which recorded and released two 23-minute cassettes in 1985, and then broke up the year after. Before the split we had already taken to playing these 'uppy songs", among them The Sun', at parties we went to, so it was natural for us to continue something along those lines. In the meantime, Jon started playing live in a sort of Viking-rock combo; not heavy metal, not folk-rock, it was something entirely Norwegian and to my humble ears, very good. They were called Ym-stammer'(or the Ym Tribe', named after Ymir a deity who according to Norwegian folk-lore is supposed to be the ancestor of all mankind) and played, as the first Norwegian band ever, at the WOMAD festival in 1988. From this band came the two other members of Dog Age as at the time of recording 'Good Day'; the drummer Christian Refsum and the guitarist/bass player Harald Beckstrum who had also played in a band called 'And The Balcony Fell'.
That first album, 'Good Day', is really quite amazing stuff. What were the influences behind it and how pleased were you with the finished result?
We are quite happy with the album, but it would have sounded different if we could do it again. I guess that's how everybody feels about an album of their own. It's like, when I'm drunk and listening to it I think it's brilliant, whereas when I'm sober I only hear those those irritating imperfections. So now I only listen to it when I'm drunk. The influences are to some extent pretty obvious -67/68 Beatles and Syd Barrett - but that's about it. I must admit I hasn't even heard of most of the stuff people compared us to when 'Good Pal 'was released - and I still haven't. We'd been listening to all those Beatles albums, XTC's Skylarking'and also the Bonzo Dog Band - we're doing 'In The Canyons Of Your Mind' live. I didn't get Syd's solo albums until a month or so ago. We can't afford to buy thousands of records, beer is expensive in Norway. It's just that we like pop music but we also like to side­track a bit, and that 60's psychedelic stuff has the kind of feeling we were looking for. The reviews of the album haven't been too flattering though. Some people like us a lot, but mostly they dislike us for sounding too much like 1967. The new single 'Freda's Married' seems to be more popular.
What's happening to the band right now? Do you play live, and what size audiences do you attract?
Right now we're recording our new album, so we haven't been playing live lately. In fact, we rarely do. We've been having problems with our drummers, but now it seems like we've found the right man for the job, so we expect to be touring Norway later in the year to promote the album. As to the size of audience... (laughs slightly hysterically), not toomany, no. As I say though, we're currently working on our second album. We haven't decided on a title for it yet. We're using the same studio (Warehouse, 24 track) as we did for the single. The album will contain five or six of my songs, one of Jon's, two short instrumentals that Harald has done and a 10-minute version of Jimmy Campbell's'Half Baked' - that's the plan, anyway. It won't be as sunny and psychedelic as'Good Day', it feels a bit heavier in a way, but don't worry! We're not becoming serious or anything...
What are your plans after that?
We would like to play abroad soon, in Britain for instance. We really would like to get on TV (and we probably will soon) so all the 13-year old schoolgirls will recognise us on the streets and ask for our autographs.
Always an important factor in a band's music is the music they themselves are listening to. What are Dog Age's current faves?
My girlfriend has just sent me, from her exile in Florence, a tape with stuff like The Incredible String Band, Curved Air and the Grateful Dead and so-on. I really like that. And I like the B-52s latest album, Wire: Chairs Missing, and the Sugarcubes. I'm not too sure about the other guys though. Jon and Harald listen to a bit of ethnic stuff. Thomas Widerberg (the keyboard player) and Beirr Thoresen (the drummer), I really have no idea what they like. Apart from Dog Age, Maybe I'll ask them one day.

So, there you have it. A short introduction to a band looming large in the musical scheme of things. The new album promises to be well worth a listen, so let's hope Voices of Wonder Records consider a CD release worthwhile this time since the depth and quality of Dog Age's production would just howl under the silvery digital moon. "Beautiful plumage!

My Bucketfull review
DOG AGE SIGH NO MORE Voices Of Wonder VOW 022 (Norwegian LP)
Dog Age hail from Norway via Middle Earth, UFO and all things English and psychedelic, sunbathing in the summer of love while Arnold Layne pinches underwear from washing lines close by. Their first album, "Good Day" is full of rolling melodies and wigged-out production. Influenced rather than retro, like any 6Ts band worth it's pepper Dog Age are forward looking, building on the values of the late 60's rather than trying to recreate them. This new album lives up to expectations - everything is in top gear. Vocalist and main songwriter Jorn Smedslunds voice comes over like across between Syd Barrett and Roy Wood and the band are superbly confident throughout.
Side 1 opens with " Travel", finding Dog Age at their finest, light but with depths - like peering into a rockpool, green and limpid but with iridescent things scuttling around on the bottom, and with pincers capable of lancing through to the cortex. "Normals" sees the band in heavier mould riff-wise and it's this tougher side that dominates the album, particularly on the 71/2minute "Half Baked", a blistering epic to rival Rain Parade's "No Easy Way Down" where Harald Beckstrom let's loose his demon guitar. "Sleep" buzzes with sitars and swells into a beautiful harpsichord break.
"Sigh No More" is another psychedelic gem of an album from Norway's finest band. It rivals the brilliant debut by Jeff Saltzman's Cerebral Corps in terms of scope and ability to pull it off. Dog Age remain a mutt to be reckoned with.

After this relatively hectic period it was decided to slow down the pace even more, adjusting to the inherent lazy inertia of the band as well as such unavoidable side tracks as jobs, studies, moving to Moss and the extensive experimentation with the effects of lager upon the human body.
It therefore took some time (and a letter from Bad Honnef, Germany) until the next release saw the light of day in 1996. In the meantime some 4-track recordings were being done as well as a few gigs and a contribution (”Harm”) to favourite hang out Last Train’s 10th anniversary CD.

Then appeared on the scene one Norbert Schilling and his record company Magical Jack Records (apparently through Dog Age’s guardian angel Mick Dillingham). He wanted to release Dog Age, initially on a compilation album, but when he heard that they were without a recording contract, also on a separate 7” vinyl record.
“Makes You Wonder” appeared on the compilation “Hi Jack” in 1995, and the following year came the EP “Puddle” (called this as it is round, small and not very deep). Two of the songs later appeared on CD, those only to be found on this record are Jon Anders’ “Loathsong” and Jørn’s “Bird”, both, for some reason, furnished with a most strikingly dated 80’s sound.

1998: “As It Were”, release concert at Mir, first national TV appearance, sales figures hit rock bottom (fantastically few copies sold! The band blame it on the TV), first ever gig without Harald (Tamara), “best record so far” according to Mick Dillingham. “Very Bad” is a summer hit in the world inhabited by Johan Schlanbusch.
2001: Dog Age begin recording a new record. June: Jon Anders is off to Australia to find a wife, obviously inspired by Jørn’s similar successful trip to Rome earlier that year!

2002: “When the Fish are Down”, with a sleeve by T.B. Hansen, is released in the conspicuous absence of Jon Anders! A one-off gig to mark the release was held at Blue Monk on May 11, featuring the poet Oddvar Karlsmyr and eccentric folk singer Haakon (Ellingsen).

2007: The Band sign to Rainbow Quartz and “Reefy Seadragon” with a sleeve by Mick Dillingham is released. The Band play in Liverpool, England at the IPO.

Live at The Cavern

Jorn Smedlund-We're reviving our cover of Nick Nicely's 49 Cigars, and I've been given thorough instructions by the great man himself as to how it should be played. It turned out we were already doing it like he wanted, great bands think alike it seems...
It was fun to get that response from him, though, I initially had a query about one line in the lyrics. That turned out to be 'Undergarage eyes see me cry', although Nick thought he actually meant to be singing the equally oblique line 'Undercarriage eyes...'.
All this comes down to my erroneous version of ten years ago, merrily singing 'On the Garish Isles, see me cry'. This is now in the running for our next album title.

Jorn Smedlund and his wonderful wife Gro

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

groovy :)