Somewhere In The Forgotten Past: The Amazing Interviewed
, June 14th, 2012 03:52
Sweden's The Amazing have spent the last few years quietly honing a low key and lovely approach to songwriting. Barnaby Smith caught up with the band's Christoffer Gunrup and Reine Fiske to talk parties, jamming and Fleetwood Mac
There is not a lot of back-story to accompany The Amazing. No image. No band members with an exuberant or caustic personality. Instead, this is a quiet group of young Swedes, who so happen in the last three or so years to have produced music for which there is alas no other term than the sadly insufficient ‘beautiful’.
Their swooning and luscious sound is a mixture of steady, singer-songwriter fare with the convoluted layers of the early years of prog; Cat Stevens jumbled up with Caravan. The Amazing are a benevolent force, without hint of menace or threat, and while that will certainly turn off some, it is certainly no blindly celebratory thing either – there is a depth and profundity here, the result of some breathtaking songs, some soft production and the cherubic vocals of Christoffer Gunrup.
The Amazing’s last album, Gentle Stream, crept out amid meagre fanfare late last year through Subliminal Sounds, and was as satisfyingly lovely as 2009’s self-titled debut (an album that contained an extraordinary reinterpretation of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Sunny Side Of Heaven’, re-inventing an otherwise unremarkable track by guitarist Danny Kirwan). Both albums were a mixture of bucolic acoustic ballads alongside more muscular rock forms. They also managed to put together a mini-album in 2010, Wait For A Light To Come, that was so strong as to arguably trump both of their long-players.
There may not be any absorbing narratives or entertaining details to flesh out press releases, but there is one thing that always crops up in relation to The Amazing: the fact they include two members of hugely respected Stockholm psych masters, Dungen. While one could say the two bands operate at separate ends of the psychedelic spectrum, you would be hard pressed to pin down many common qualities. It is fascinating that guitarist Reine Fiske, in both groups, can sound like two different musicians according to who he is playing with. It is Gunrup, however, who writes the songs. It is his melodies that drive the band, and who the rest of the group – sublime musicians all – adapt and build around.
Everything the band does on record is done with purpose and love, but not a whole lot has emerged about The Amazing’s attitudes, methods and intentions. Good thing, then, that The Quietus found Gunrup and Fiske in mood to elaborate.
I wanted to start with your name. To me, given your music, 'The Amazing' is a reference to the spiritual, as in 'the divine' or 'the sublime'. Is that right?
Christoffer Gunrup: Yes and no. I suppose you could say that, but it’s also very much a joke, which came up after an early rehearsal.
Reine Fiske: It was actually just a reference to a sort of band we suddenly visualized that was maybe us, at some unknown festival ground somewhere in the forgotten past, referred to as just being totally ‘amazing’ or ‘awesome’ or something. We were just jamming away as a trio being a bit ‘amazing’ and very drunk one afternoon a couple of years ago. So that’s were we took the name from. It could very well be the reference you mentioned to, of course.
Did you have any worries about calling yourselves such a loaded (and very difficult to Google) name?
CG: No, I think all band names are rubbish. But of course, if you don’t see the joke of it all you might think we’re a bunch of pretentious twats. But we’re not, actually. I mean, it’s just music. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s a kind of rock band, not an AIDS clinic.
Please tell us the story of exactly how the band got together in the first place?
RF: Christoffer left his band Granada, who made four albums. He had worked with the then-Dungen drummer Fredrik Björling on the last one. Christoffer called and asked if I wanted to help him out at a little gig he had and the next time we played there again we were suddenly a trio with me playing bass and Fredrik playing drums.
CR: I had a few songs I really wanted to play with others. I knew Fredrik Björling and he suggested we call Reine Fiske to play some bass guitar. And I had this gig in Stockholm, so we rehearsed a few times. For some reason Reine and Fredrik liked it, so we kept going. It grew from there, people came and went and now there’s five of us. But I do remember those early nights as mayhem in all respects.
What sort of mood did you want to set with Gentle Stream as opposed to your first album?
RF: It was all done in the exact same way. We’ve never stopped recording so everything is very much interlinked. The feeling is pretty much the same as from the beginning.
CR: Well, I never talk about the songs with the others. I might give them a few vague instructions and off we go. Usually I have a pretty clear picture in my head what I want, but I find it weird to talk about it. I just finish them and they often turn out like I wanted. So there was no real mood I was going for except what I felt when I played the songs on my own.
Christoffer, your vocals are such a crucial part of the band, and you write the songs. Is the band ‘your’ project?
CR: One would have to say that this is my band. But Fredrik Swahn and Reine have been aboard this retarded ship all along. I won’t let them change or suggest anything, but the music making is an open and free process, usually I let them do as they please.
It's very interesting that you are such fans of such a relatively under-appreciated guitarist as Danny Kirwan. What about his music attracted you?
CR: Well, his playing and singing in Fleetwood Mac is just wonderful. You can instantly hear there’s something special about that man.
RF. I was listening to a lot of Fleetwood Mac when I was younger. Peter Green was my guitar god, and so was Danny Kirwan. A lot of things I thought came from Peter were actually Danny. He, like Peter, is very passionate, and he has an incredible voice. He is also cool to refer to, since so few know who he is. He is an unsung hero in many ways. I hope he is doing well, I know he slept on the street for a while.
He was in Fleetwood Mac between 1968 and 1972, the years many would say your sound comes from. Is being compared with 'classic' rock something that you are comfortable with?
CR: I don’t care at all. Sure, during those years some of the best albums ever were made, but I’m not going for that sound or whatever. We use old vintage gear and prefer studios like that.
RF: I listen to a lot of current stuff too, but my heart is really in those times, yes. We are not deliberately aiming for that sound. But it’s kept pretty simple, like many albums in those days.
Both albums have a nice balance between woozy instrumental playing and finely honed songwriting. Are those two things that define the band?
CR: Yes. I make the songs as little simple, straightforward things. And as I don’t talk about them it’s never decided exactly what’s going to happen and often we just fly away for a few minutes extra. And to me, that combination is wonderful.
How important is playing live to the band?
RF: Christoffer doesn’t like playing live too much. When the music and the sound and the mindset is right it can be very good, but it can be very devastating too I think. Often it is a plain struggle to actually get to play. But it’s what you do, isn’t it?
What inspires the lyrics? Any writers or poets that you enjoy?
CR: The lyrics are usually just pieces, fragments, nightmares that come together as I record them. Most of it is just improvised. Some lines were already there, but I don’t like obvious lyrics. There might be some twisted narrative which I have forgotten now.
Two Swedish acts we've heard a lot about in the UK in the past year are The Skull Defekts and First Aid Kit. Is Sweden as diverse musically as the difference between those acts suggests?
RF: Probably, but I’m not so up to date on the current musical scene in Sweden. There are so many bands.
CR: Skull Defekts? What’s that?
Reine, you have been in lots of bands aside from Dungen and The Amazing. What does playing with The Amazing give you that other bands doesn't?
RF: I like it because it’s rather free. And I get to ape some of my inspirations. We are also a pretty funny bunch of people. Sometimes we’re dangerous to each other too. We have partied almost too much sometimes. Some past sessions have been totally wasted, actually.