One of the more pleasant surprises of 1992 was 'Sound On Sound', the first album by Swedish combo Beagle, a very classy debut by any standards. Across a broad & eclectic pallet this six piece band clicked in all the right places, with an adventurous mix of quality songs and musical thoughtfulness that was a highly entertaining and winning formula. The album also had an unmistakable Beatleish tinge to it, though lacking the cartoon aspect that imbues the work of Beagle's nearest contemporaries, Jellyfish. The time seemed right to contact lead Beagle, Magnus Borjeson, to find out what was forthcoming from the combo. Beagle had just completed a second album,'Within'. An album which sees the band moving away from their Beatlesque leanings towards a heavier, leaner, an ultimately more rewarding style which strongly echoes Borjeson's own musical tastes which include Matthew Sweet, Michael Penn, Freddy Johnson and other quality acts. The result is one very classy item indeed, overflowing with melody, electrifying playing and top notch tunesmithery that put Beagle on an equal footing with any of their American counterparts. As ever Bucketfull are first on the bandwagon ready to get the low down on all things bright and beagleful (catching up with a saint along the way!).
So when did Mr.Borjeson first become interested in music?
M.B.: I've always had an interest in music. I can't really remember a time when music didn't play a major role in my life. This might sound grand and pretentious but most of my early childhood memories are intimately connected with music. I took a few piano lessons from my mother when I was about six but I didn't really start playing music until a year or two after that when my parents were kind enough to hire a drum kit for me. After that I started playing the bass and I joined a band for the first time when I was about eleven - it was a sort of a Punk band and the small repertoire consisted of the easiest songs from a "Never Mind The Bollocks" song book and "Get Back". No Gigs! I don't even think that we dared to try to get any. For a short period of time the band was called Gob 79. In my defence I must say I was only the "kid bass player", a few years younger than the rest of the band . When the punk songs began to feel like a much-chewed chewing gum we started to play songs by The Police and that was much more my kind of music - at the time. A couple of years after that the New Romantics came along and I was in a band called... sit down for this one, European Legacy. Hm... at least we wrote our own songs. We also had a fake disco band called The New York Funkers where we did our own disco pastiches. Since this band never was intended to be anything serious we, of course, managed to get the most gigs with it.
B.O.B.: When did you start writing songs?
M.B.: I was always coming up with things that I considered to be songs when I was a kid but I don't think I started to write like whole songs until I was about thirteen.
B.O.B.: When and how did Beagle get together?
M.B.: Me and Jacob Peetre had what I would call a "home recording project"; recording my songs on a Portastudio and so on. Meanwhile I and the other members of Beagle had a cover band called Koks I Lasten that played for fun, beer and money (not always in that order) in student clubs here in Lund. Lund is a University town so there are quite a few of those clubs to play. We got bored with playing these gigs but still wanted to play together so we merged the living room thing with the cover thing and got a proper band going that played my songs. We actually decided to put together Beagle on new year's eve 1990/1991.
B.O.B.: What recordings exist from before the album, and what do you think of them?
M. B.: The only pre-'Sound On Sound' recordings of Beagle are the album demos. We did three songs on 24-track as our official demo to get a record contract but we only sent two of them to the record companies. "The Things That We Say" & "And So It Goes On". "Between Me And You" was the third. After we got our contract with Polar (June 91) we made 8-track demos of the rest of the album during the summer of '91. These a re the only recordings from before 'Sound on Sound', I haven't got them myself and I haven't heard them since we did them so I can't tell you what I think of them. Still.... the versions of both "The Things That We Say" and "Between Me And You" on the album are taken from the original demo. Naturally they were re-mixed when the album was mixed.
B.O.B.: How did the first album come about?
M.B.: We recorded it during the autumn of '91. It took about 10 weeks to make and it was recorded in the same studio as our 24-track demos. The main difference was that now, during the 'real' recording, we had our producer Martin Hennel with us. Another big difference was that now we could also work during daytime and not just during the night like we had done when we recorded the demos.
B.O.B.: What was the response to it?
M.B.: The album was very well received by the press here in Sweden and "The Things That We Say" got in the top 10 on our most important chart, Tracks. In Britain the album got good reviews in Q & Vox and it was released in all of Europe & Australia. Unfortunately it wasn't released in America but we have an extremely loyal following in Santa Anna, California. They ordered "Sound On Sound" from Europe after having read the Q review. If you measure by the mail we've been sent we seem to have a much more intense following outside of Sweden than we do here. Maybe we're living and working in the wrong country? Anyway, we got nominated for the Swedish Grammy in two categories - one for Best New Act and one for Best Pop Group.
B.O.B.: Do Beagle play live?
M.B.: Yes. We did a tour in Sweden in the spring and summer just after 'Sound On Sound' came out. It was very exciting to play live after being locked up in the studio for so many months. What we tried to do on the last tour was to reproduce the album on stage. That was never a very good idea for any band and it certainly wasn't for us. I mean it worked and sometimes it actually did more than that but I feel we've got a lot more to give. So for this tour we're kind of rebuilding the live thing to give it new foundations, not worrying about small sounds and just go for the whole and let that be solid and powerful. On the last tour we had to fill the set with covers since we only had one album out, some were rehearsed and some not. The most frequent choice was "If She Knew What She Wants", a Jules Shear song that the Bangles had a hit with. Elvis' "Suspicious Minds" was another one - often we went out of "And So It Goes On" and right into that one, they have a similar rhythm to them and it's always great to hear one song grow out of another. The not-so-rehearsed ones were "Always Something There To Remind Me" and "Robert de Niro's Waiting". Why? I don't know. It seems we have a soft spot for girl's songs when it comes to covers.
B.O.B.: Lets talk about the latest album 'Within' and how it differs from the previous record.
M.B.: We started out wanting to record in quite a different fashion from the first album. The idea was to record "on location" in some old house with a nice room and not once again at our producer's cramped place. This proved to be so expensive that we could only afford four weeks of recording and mixing, so we found ourselves once again going down into the bunker. Anyway, I felt very good about the actual recordings when we got going. We had a notion that we wanted to be noisier than on the first album - but we didn't just want to bang open chords through a fuzz box. Maybe we should have, because, at the end of the day, it didn't come out very noisy at all - alas, it was quite the opposite. But I actually think "Within" is a fine sounding piece of plastic - I like the songs very much. When I wrote them, I toyed with the idea of letting all the tracks tie together with crossfades and short extra pieces of music. The intro on "Nine" was to be such a piece, but, maybe it was the shortage of time, the idea stayed just an idea. There are a few crossfades though. I would still like to do something like that to the full sometime, though. Not like a Rock Opera, or a theme album or anything like that, just a flow of music so you can hear one song grow into the next. That would be quite lovely.
B.O.B.: I understand you play on the new album by Chris Bailey, of the Saints '54 Days At Sea'.
M.B.: I got involved with the thing through Martin Hennel, our producer. Chris and he had done some recordings at Studion (Martin's place) a few years back when Chris was here to do some acoustic shows. None of these recordings were released (I think) but Chris was so pleased with the results that he decided to spend some time in Malmo to write & record. Why someone would choose Malmo before Paris, his former base, is totally beyond me. It was Martin who suggested me as the bass player for these sessions. My usual role when it comes to recording is to play a little bit of everything but this time was it was different. I was just "the bass player" (and that suited me just fine). I did a little bit of keyboards and backing vocals as well, but I was mostly there for the rhythm tracks. I've heard the finished album and I think it is very good. I am not an old Saints fan but I've talked to some who are and they think it's one of the best things he's done. It's very varied, with lots of different instruments.
B.O.B.: What has been happening since then?
M.B.: Beagle have been on tour - more a couple of gigs spread out over some months than a proper tour. Getting gigs in Sweden has become quite hard if you're not a major band. And we're not. With the last album we really had the northern wind blowing hard in. it doesn't even have the courtesy to blow us coldly in the face It has just subsided. This album got good reviews and all that but it was more or less just received, if you know what I mean. Nothing much happened. It's a shame 'cause I really do think that it has it's moments. Still, our foreign friends will once again come to our rescue. Polydor in Japan is releasing an album at the end of March called just "Beagle". It's a merge of the two albums and I was just in Stockholm the other week to master it. The songs from the first album had to be remastered so they wouldn't sound like "Hello who's in here? No one! when played right after some of the newer songs. The tracks that are going to be on the CD are: "Nine Out Of Ten", "When I Speak Your Name", "A Different Sunday", "The Things That We Say", "More Like Animals", "Suit Of Armour", "Everything", "Thinking About...", "It Ain't You", "One Layer Down" & "Hills & Valleys". There were as many opinions on which songs to include as there are tracks on the album. Other than this I don't know what the future will look like for Beagle.
Michael Penn And Aimee Mann
B.O.B.:Finally, what were your own major influences, what records do you enjoy?
M.B.: I've always loved good songwriters and good singers who focus on the song. When we did 'Sound On Sound' I was very much into bands like Crowded House, Lilac Time, Jellyfish and, of course, The Byrds, the Beach Boys and The Beatles. I also listened to Bowie's "Hunk Dory" and Roxy Music records. Now I tend to listen more and more to American songwriters like Jules Shear, Michael Penn, Matthew Sweet, Lindsay Buckingham and Aimee Mann. In addition, I don't mind listening to an old Fred Astaire recording or songs by Cole Porter. I really like those kind of songs. Still, my most played record of the last year or so must be "The Great Puzzle" by Jules Shear. It's just brilliant. Speaking about listening enjoyment - I've recently fallen back into childhood together with my old Sparks albums. Amazing stuff. Haven't got them? Buy them now! There never was and there never will be a band like them - totally weird and totally together at the same time.
And there you have it. Magnus is obviously a man of taste. Despite his apparent down-playing, the new Beagle album is a treat not to be missed - in my opinion one of the best albums of 1993. There are also a couple of CD singles taken from "Within", each with an essential unreleased track included. Beagle are a pedigree combo, with Borjeson a creative talent going from strength to strength. So, unpack the Winalot, wash out the dog bowl and invite a Beagle to stay - you know it makes sense!
P.S. Beagle fell apart a few months later and Manus went on to form the more immeadiate Favorita who released two singles and recorded an excellent album that was never released. Everything they did can be found on a brand new release available here.