Monday, 12 January 2009

The Smell Of Incense 1994

With our well wrapped feet pressed pressed to the verdant tundra of Norway we come to a very special band indeed, The Smell Of Incense whoesmuch anticipated, but long-delayed, album for the Colours label All Mimsy Were The Brogoves,tumed out to be a real treat when it finally arrived. Presented with all the usual Colours care and attention to detail in a beautiful gatefold sleeve, the music is an endearing mixture of pure psychedelic fun, folk and spacey progressive dalliances that melt in your mind but not in your glands. The band say they've tries to make the type of album you'd be overjoyed to find lurking in the racks of a dusty back street record shop, a lost classic from 1970. In this venture they've succeeded admirably. Lumpy Davy and Bumble B of the Incense passed through London October of 94 on the way to the Incredible String Band Convention in Leeds, and I got to sit down with Dave Jorgensen and get the story behind the album. He was a man of obvious passions both musically and socially. In a twenty year career that encompassed parallel interests in many different musical forms he stands firmly behind the belief that he is first and foremost an amateur musician who strivcs to create music he enjoys whilst working within the framework of friendship with his fellow players.So let's start at the beginning, go through to the end and then stop.

Davy. I remember hearing Pink Floyd's See Emily Play on the radio in about 1967 and it changed my ideas about music overnight. Since then I've had a dream of playing that kind of mu­sic one day. I thought it was so diffi­cult that I would never achieve it. I thought it would be impossible to play — but it isn't really.

Your first band was The Heros in 1969.
I'd bought a lovely bass, a violin shaped bass with a dragon neck. I sold it when lacking money once and have repented that action many times since. After the Heros several years went by before I started to play again, this time with a loose, collection of friends. We used to listen to a lot of Pink Floyd and The Incredible String Band, therefore, we called ourselves The Incredible Piing Band. That was the first time that I had any of my songs played. It was all a dream we caught from England and America, because the rock scene in Norway has never been very exciting, only a few good Nor­wegian bands.

So what effect did the approach­ing punk explosion have on your music?
At the time I was very into Canter­bury music and psychedelic and eth­nic music. My friend Bert—Dr.Bert Blaster as he calls himself when he is guesting with The Smell of In­cense—had a lot of records that I got into, especially those by Frank Zappa. When punk arrived Bert and I were in India and knew nothing about it. We got letters from home saying something was happening, but by then it was too late, we'd already bought exotic instruments! We arrived back in Norway with
sitars and stuff only to find that they were completely useless. At first I was very enraged and thought that punk was quit infantile and would quickly die. I knew some­thing had to happen though to bring rock back down to earth again, and get away from bands like Yes and Supertramp. The best thing about punk was that it brought music back within our reach. Punk was so sim­ple even I could think about starting a band again. It gave us new energy. In 1979 we formed The Head Cleaners playing new wave music. Even more impor­tant to us was the Do It Yourself revolution, loads of amateur bands putting out cheap cassettes. We started our own tape label Shit Tapes doing recordings in our bedroom using one or two recorders. Later on we borrowed a four- track.

What were the limitations to this approach?
I don't think there are any real limi­tations to it. To record in layers where you can't change the first things laid down gives the music a very special character I think. We had this political strategy that we should keep things down to earth and that the music business was the great enemy, that we wouldn't sell out to big business. But after 1984 the whole tape thing died out. After The Head Cleaners finished I had about three and a half years of not playing in a band, other than a loose experimental outfit I formed with Bert called Faxnlend Forsoki. All this time Han Solo, Cool Kat and myself from the Head Cleaners dreamed of starting a psychedelic band. The idea was to play covers, all obscure songs by obscure bands. It was the time all the 'Pebbles' and 'Rubbles' collec­tions came out, which is where we drew inspiration from. Each week the three of us would get together and strum along with our favourite songs. We had absolutely no ambition to do anything other than drink beer and play these songs. We had our own small 8 track studio and we were called the Psychedelic Un­knowns. We did covers by Jefferson Handkerchief, The Standells and The Seeds. We also did a few English covers, but the American music was simpler to play.

So how did the band move on to become The Smell of Incense?
It took a long time, our playing had got a lot better over the years with­out our really noticing it. But the real turning point was when we got a new guitar player, Ernie Chung, who was a much cleverer player than us. He lifted everything up a level.

So what were the first original songs the band played?
I think it was 'Christopher's Jour­ney' and a song by Han Solo called `I Want To Live in the Golden State'. At the same time we also started doing these long instrumentals, sort of space rock or a term invented by The Red Crayola in 1967, "free-form freak out".

Were you playing live by this time?
We were playing live even when we were the Psychedelic Unknowns and 'The Smell of Incense', the song origi­nally written bythe West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band was one of the covers we did, and this became the only name we could agree on for the band. We started to do very long versions of our songs, very different from the versions we recorded. We also did a lot of freakbeat/power pop material, but we had to admit we didn't have the greatest voices for this, or so we were told by the audiences who pre­ferred the long freak outs when we flipped out on twin guitars.

Your approach seems to be not so much recording something and then trying to reproduce it live,but more playing it live then refining it for recording after­wards?
Yes, the version of'Interstellar Over­drive' is a good example. That song started out completely different. The only bits of Pink Floyd are the 25 seconds at the start and the 30 sec­onds at the end. The rest is our idea of what the early Floyd could have been like, and that part is changing all the time. The version on the al­bum is just one that we did at the particular time, it won't exist like that ever again. One of the major changes that's happened in the band was that just before we recorded the album we brought in a female vocal­ist, Bumble B, and this is reflected in the more folk-like feel of the music. That folk direction will continue, but we are not going to become folk rockers.

You also do a version of 'A Visit With Ashiya' on the album.
Towards the end of'91 we did this five song demo and sent it to a few chosen individuals and record compa­nies and got very positive reactions overall. One person we sent it to was Merrell Fankhauser because we had covered his song A Visit with Ashiya and we were trying to get him to play in Norway. He was actually plan­ning some sort of small European tour and asked us to be his backing hand, but unfortunately nothing came of it.

What prompted you to sign to the Colours label?
I was very impressed with the care they took over their releases. You can see a Colours album and know the people running the label love the migsic, and fortunately Jorn Andersen of Colours was interested in us from the first.

So how did the recording go?
We had a very favourable recording deal from a friend of ours who has a 16 track studio. When there was spare time between recording other bands we would go in a do some recordings. We started in Septem­ber '92 and did the final mix the following August. As itt urned out it worked well in that it made the album as varied as it is, but we wouldn't like to spend so long on the next album. It was too much.
Did you have all the songs demoed before you started re­cording?
No, we only had 'Christopher's Jour­ney' from the five track demo. We did a version of that which we thought was just like the demo, but when we played it back we realised it was much much slower. We did every­thing else from scratch. Listening to it now, because the new songs were so fresh, we did some of the basic tracks a bit too fast maybe. Other musicians might find lots of techni­cal mistakes on the album, but to us that is beside the point. I think many of the classic albums are also full of technical mistakes and it just doesn't matter. We spent a lot of time doing the arrangements and adding small details with Mellotron and sitar. We use only old instruments and old amplifiers, I have Vox AC30 from 1961 and we have a Hammond or­gan. We haven't used sitars on stage yet but we plan to. We have a Mellotron but it is very old and sick. Only last week we found a Mellotron doctor in Sweden who fixes all the Mellotrons for bands like Anglagard and Land Berk and so hopefully we will be able to use it soon. The newest technology we've used up to now is the monophonic synthesizer from 1979.

The album release was delayed by a year?
Colours had a bit of financial trouble last summer. It gave us the opportunity to put some time between the recordings and when we started to listen to it again, we discovered we were more pleased with it a year later than when we had first re­corded it.

You also put out a single on the September Gurls label in Ger­many?
It came out in May in an edition of 500 copies and has long sold out, the only copies left were bought up by Colours. We wanted to put out the perfect "Summer of Love" single. We are enthusiasts and record col­lectors ourselves, so these records are like a childhood dream come true to us.
So what does the future hold for the band?
The album is a turning point be­cause up to now we have been very faithfully 60's and early '70's orien­tated. but know we've done that, we feel more free now to include other elements and more modern technol­ogy. We'd like to record something faster, for instance a CD with just three long spacey songs. But that would only be something between the proper albums, we are inter­ested in going down side avenues before returning to the central themes. We don't entirely know which direction we are moving in ourselves. We don't know and we don't want to know!

the band made a second great album a few years later and recorded a third album last year

Update from Davy. Incredibly enough Bumble & me are still together, it's been 15 years now. And lots of things have happened. Both my parents have passed away & I have inherited the old childhood house where I was born. Ìt`s a large house in the small industrial village of Eydehavn, near smalltown Arendal on the Norwegian south coast, with plenty of room, youknow I even have a seperate room for my record collection! And we've managed to keep the band together all these years, but that hasn't always been easy, I can tell you for sure. We`ve had our share of the Syd Barrett syndrome (after all, we are a psychedelic band, aren't we?), but things are looking brighter now.


Anonymous said...

I love the graphics on these releases... those were the acid daze for sure!

- ShockPop

Anonymous said...

I love the "Mimsy..." CD but can't find any of their other recorded works. Could somebody tell me where I can buy them?

tuskedbeast said...

Fantastic that you did this interview- so valuable! I just discovered and have fallen in love with this band. Thank you.