Friday, 1 July 2016

Dog Age Swanlake Gate

So there's a new album from Norway's beloved psych pop legends Dog Age called Swanlake Gate out on Voices Of Wonder on both cd and vinyl (with a gatefold sleeve no less). It comes highly recommended and as you would expect it is mighty fine music to be cherished and once more I got to design the front cover. Orginally this was going to be a seven inch single, but that plan was shelved and it became a full album instead. Just below is the unused back cover art for the single.

Here's my old Bucketfull interview with the band from the time of their previous album On The Garish Isles.

For more than two decades now Norway’s own Dog Age have been quietly going about the business of creating wonderful, melodic neo-psychpop with little or no concern with what the rest of the world thinks. Every few years or so they serve up another rich pudding of blissfully winning rainbow dipped songs of beauty and worth, play a few local gigs and sit back, relax and watch the praise come dribbling in. It’s not that they don’t care that their fans number in the low thousands rather than in the millions, its more that they have realised long ago that it is pointless to care too much about the numbers game when caring does nothing to change anything. Instead they put all their care into the creative process and their ambition into creating some of the most ambitious popsike out there. Untouched by the unseemly rat race of being in anyway successful, that has been the musical undoing of many a good band, they have succeeded in creating a body of work that is great today as it was all those years ago when their debut album, Good Day strolled so confidently into the consciousness of true music lovers everywhere. With a new album On The Garish Isles, effortlessly winning the hearts of the few that understand the quiet greatness of this mighty little combo, it seemed time for us to sit down with the honey voiced  singer Jorn Smedslund and find out the laid back secrets of their lack of success.

So how did the band first get together?

Well, I was in a weird little band called (*cough*) Autistiske Barn (Autistic Children), and Jon Anders Strand joined on drums in 1985. Partly because he wanted to play drums and we were the only band around that would let him, and partly because he thought we were hilarious. A couple of years later we started talking about forming another sort of band, a bit like Dog Age, which we were going to call Dog Age. And then Jon played bass in a rather excellent group called Ym-stammen, and we nicked their drummer Christian Refsum and guitar player Harald Beckstrøm. We weren’t thinking any further ahead than just going in a studio and recording some songs. I hadn’t really planned on singing either, but as I wrote most of the songs and was a terrible guitar player, I didn’t really have any choice. Except for not singing, obviously. But that wasn’t an option either. Not really. We didn’t really decide on anything musically at first, but we knew we wanted to avoid being anything like the very dull and self-important country and ”roots” scene that was dominant on Oslo’s musical scene at the time.

Can you tell us about those first couple of albums, how they were recorded and what was the response?

Well, the first one was done in patches, we did the initial five or six songs in a studio in Strømmen, just outside Oslo, that was dead cheap. We did some further work on those recordings, may have just been mixing, at another studio in Oslo. Then the label Voices of Wonder got to hear ’The Sun’, and called me up to let us know they liked us. And then we went to their offices. I remember being mightily impressed that they actually had rented office space, we were used to people working out of their kitchens. They listened to the other stuff we had recorded by then, must have been ’The King of Ing’, ’I Wish I Were Here’, and ’Outside’ at least, probably ’Here Comes the Summer’ as well. Then we were assigned Sister Rain’s Eystein Hopland, who was Voices of Wonder’s go-to guy, as producer. And they packed us into another, rather fancier, studio to finish off the album. We got some good response from that one, but I mostly remember the negative stuff. People were telling us that we should sing in Norwegian, and some found it strange that relatively young men were playing the kind of music we were playing. They wrote us off as a retro type band. But there was some positive response, especially from abroad, but also a very good review in Norway’s biggest newspaper. Didn’t help the record sales a great deal, though. We then recorded a four track EP called ”Outdated Yeah!”, but Voices changed their minds when they heard the songs and wanted to put ’Freda’s Married’ out as a single instead, with ’Violent’ as the b-side. The cover had already been printed, but they used it anyway, which led to some confusion as the lyrics to four songs were printed on the back. The two songs held back for the next album were ’Gathering Round’ and ’Free’.The remainder of that most second of albums, ”Sigh No More”, was recorded with Svein Solberg as producer at his studio. Christian had quit by then, so the new drummer, Geirr Thoresen, played on four or five songs. We got fairly good reviews of this one as well, but it sold even less than the first one, which was a bit disappointing, but not very.

There was a bit of a gap between the second and third album, what happened there?

Well, we took a break for about a year, an extended summer holiday, really, without ever breaking up or anything like that. And then we sort of discussed what we were doing for another year or so and we decided that whatever happened, this band was really about us enjoying ourselves and if it felt more enjoyable to sit down and have a beer rather than rehearsing, we would do that. And we did. But making music we like is also enjoyable, so we did that too, only a bit slower than before. We did do that German EP for the late Norbert Schilling’s Magical Jack label in Germany after he was pointed in our direction by a friend and fan. Also, Harald then  moved to Moss, just south of Oslo, for a few years. So that limited things somewhat as well.

The third album, As It Were, is a bit of a masterwork, lots of songs, huge production, wonderful stuff. The band seemed  on a creative high.

Well, we had time to write songs for it, I guess. And Jon started coming up with more songs for this one. I really like As It Were, it turned out like we planned and then some, and it was a really enjoyable recording process as well. The songs twisted and turned a bit, and there was stuff going on like putting the effect on the bass guitar on ’Alderman Violet’which suddenly transformed the whole feeling of that particular tune. And any record that has ’Cheese and Onions’ and ’Ferry-go-round’on it must be sort of good.

The album after, When the Fish Are Down is a bit of a stop gap though, being made up of outtakes and such. What was the thinking behind it….were you running on empty for a while there?

Well, Jon had to run off to Australia to marry some nurse in the middle of this one, so things got slightly odd. I deliberately held back a couple of songs that I thought might fit better on the next album, which we were already planning. We do five year plans. But there are some people who really like that album, for its eclectic nature or something, I guess. And it does have some really good songs on it, ’Mysterious Horse’, for example. And some of the stuff Harald made was cool.

 You returned with a vengeance with Reefy Seadragon and even got  signed  to Rainbow Quartz and you played IPO in Liverpool.  That must have been quite exciting?

Well, getting that offer from RQ was fun, and IPO was a..., let’s say eventful trip. Good to have played at the almost not fake Cavern. We got some good reviews and hopefully a few different people got to hear our stuff. Rainbow Quartz are a quality label, so many people keep an ear out for what comes out of there.

Let’s talk about the fantastic new album On The Garish Isle out once more on Voices Of Wonder. You’ve had some personnel changes since last time I noticed.

Well, Harald’s brother Lars Fredrik has joined on bass, and he is a very good song writer. Since he’s the New Guy we limited his contribution to three songs. As we say in Norway; ”You can’t come here and come here”, meaning exactly that. But those three songs were so good that we won’t let him do more than two on the next one. There are six of us competing now, so things might get nasty. like Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. We’re quite pleased with the album, and hope people enjoy it, even though it’s probably not as easily accessible as Reefy in some ways. But that was our pop album. This is the garish country album. I actually thought we might have this one out more than a year ago, so it has been something of a struggle finishing it, but all’s well that seems well!

How much do you still play live and what secret would you put down for the bands longevity and continued creative freshness without ever having to change or compromise your sound.

Well, we play less than we would like to, but there are several reasons for that, not just laziness. Not just. Some of us are rather busy, with other bands, and that four letter word we call work. And high maintenance Wags. We hope we still sound fresh, although some people might argue that freshness never really was our thing even in the beginning, but we just try to enjoy ourselves, really. And it doesn’t hurt to bring in a new band member every ten years or so. Being hugely unsuccessful commercially probably doesn’t hurt either; there’s no pressure or any expectations. But that’s not something we specifically strive for. The main thing is probably that we feel there are songs left to be written, and that it just is a very exciting thing, sitting down with your guitar and not knowing what might be brought into existence only a little while into the future. We’ll never go away!

You’ve done a few TV shows in Norway.

Well, perception is a wonderful thing. We’ve done a couple of television appearances, and they’re both on YouTube now, so it probably seems like we’re on TV all the time, but we’re not, really. Jon is, actually, but not in front of the camera. And Harald was on a Candid Camera program here in Norway a couple of years ago, but that had nothing to do with Dog Age at all.

Looking back what do you feel about what you have achieved creatively so far and looking forward what does the future hold in store for Dog Age?
We’ve written quite a few songs for the next album, and even a little poem, called ’A Dog Poem’ which I will be performing in its entirety. We have already recorded the basic tracks for four or five of the new songs, so there might appear something from the Dogageian corner of the world a bit sooner than one might have expected.  The working title is Like Some Bacon In the Night, so the philosophical and artistic bar has been raised. And glasses have been raised at the bar, philosophically and artistically.

Mick Dillingham.
  you can find my old ptolemaic terrascope articel here