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Hanging out With Pallers

Aug 31, 2011 Pallers
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Take a moment to consider your best friend. He’s awesome, right? Now imagine locking yourself in a room with him and beginning an artistic process that will take years to complete. The picture may start to look less than ideal. Pals and musicians Johan Angergård (Club 8, The Legends, Acid House Kings) and Henrik Mårtensson managed to do just that—and maintain a sense of humor about the process. Leaning on a bulletproof friendship, the two musicians slowly chiseled out their haunting electro take on love and loss over the course of two years (or three—depending on who’s telling the story), displaying a patience usually reserved for sculptors.

Ahead of the band’s debut full-length, The Sea of Memories (due out September 27 via Labrador) Under the Radar joined Pallers in Stockholm for ice cream and a conversation that spanned from linguistic barriers, to Marilyn Manson, to the nuts and bolts of their collaboration—some 20 years in the making.

Laura Studarus: For the uninitiated—which includes me—how did you two meet?

Henrik Mårtensson: We met a really long time ago! We went to the same school and had the same friends.

Johan Angergård: Henrik started playing bass in a band called Poprace. I had that band before. Karolina [Komstedt] from [Poprace and] Club 8 knew Henrik. We needed a new bass player. Actually we need a bass player. Then she said, “Oh Henrik, in my class, he plays the bass.”

Henrik: I was 16. So that’s way back! We did some music together at that point. One song.

Johan: Actually you contributed to the first Club 8 single. You co-wrote one of the songs I think. And played bass or something. The single was called “Me Too,” I think the song was called “Girlfriend.” Actually, I just listened to it two weeks ago.

Had you been contributing to other projects before Pallers?

Henrik: Yeah, we played together in The Legends as well. I’ve played some bass in Club 8. [laughs] And I’ve toured with Acid House Kings!

Johan: Yeah! In France! [laughs] The European tour of 90-something! It was a really weird tour. We played a suburb to suburb. The community had sponsored the event.

Henrik: The mayor was there! [laughs]

Johan: He had a speech and everything. There was food offered and stuff. And there was like, five people who showed up! [laughs]

Henrik: It was horrible!

Johan: But fun.

Henrik: It was nice seeing Europe. Well, France.

Johan: France and Belgium. A European tour.

Henrik: Apart from that we haven’t done anything.

About how long ago did Pallers officially start?

Henrik: Officially last year. [laughs] Unofficially two years ago. We’re really slow!

Johan: Two years ago I think.

Henrik: Two years ago in the summer! It was exactly two years ago. Maybe three!

Johan: No no. Two sounds better.

Henrik: When we just started to collaborate and focus on music.

Johan: I’m quite used to playing all the instruments and producing everything. So it was quite a nice change. Henrik does most of the music now as well. But in the beginning he did all the music sort of, and I just did the vocal parts. It was a new and inspiring way to work.

Henrik: Well, both of us do everything.

Johan: It used to be more separated. Now it’s all mixed up. Before it was me writing the vocals and the lyrics and Henrik the music. Now it’s a bit all over the place. We work on our own. And then we get together and try to be creative. Then usually a lot of stuff happens. So everything is the two of us making it sound the way it does.

How did the name Pallers come together?

Johan: It’s part of Åhus.

Henrik: It’s the neighborhood where I’m from. And Karolina as well. It doesn’t mean like “pallers” in American! [laughs] Pallers is a boy’s name. I think the owner of the woods where they built the neighborhood, his last name was Paller. But it’s also a first name. I didn’t realize it had an English meaning when we thought of it.

I was thinking it had some dark connotation, like a death pallor—only spelled differently. Oh deep music! Deep name!

Johan: [laughs] I didn’t know that!

Henrik: Pallers. You know, we’re pals. So Pallers. That’s the meaning I thought.

I’ve never heard that.

Henrik: I thought that was the only meaning of it.

Johan: A dead face. It sounds like a Goth band.

Well now I’m going to start calling my friends my Pallers.

Henrik: What’s up Pallers?

Just hanging out with my Pallers. Better than homeboy.

Johan: That’s a great name for the article. “Hanging out with Pallers.”

Perfect. You’ve done my work for me. You’ve done quite a bit of recording in Spain. How did that come about?

Johan: We were so slow with finalizing stuff. So we figured we had to go away and finalize it and sort through stuff. We did a lot of it at home, but there were a lot of loose ends. We thought if we go away for a week and do nothing but finish the songs, they’ll have to be finished when we get back. I thought we were going swimming and stuff like that.

Henrik: We were really focused. We swam once. It was too cold to swim!

Johan: I thought it was nice. But I was expecting a lot more swimming.

Henrik: We didn’t seem much of Spain!

I guess swimming can be important to the working process.

Johan: I thought it would be.

Henrik: [laughs] It’s important before and after, but not during.

Yeah. Probably not good for the equipment.

Johan: When we got back, actually the songs weren’t finished. The mixes sounded really weird.

Henrik: Yeah, we had to mix them at home. We weren’t used to mixing electronic stuff.

Johan: We were only mixing in headphones.

How would you say Pallers is different than The Legends, being another one of your electronic projects?

Johan: The way the songs are built up are less conventional. The Legends, even though it’s electronic, it’s still conventional pop songs. This is more something else. For me it’s also different because it’s a completely different way of working. The old cliché: when we get together it’s 1+1=3! [laughs] It’s a bit like that, especially when we were in Spain. The songs become a lot more three-dimensional than they would be if Henrik did everything on his own or if I did everything.

Henrik: I work until I am so done with it and have no more ideas. And the Johan comes in and says, “What if we try that?” And I’ll say, “No.” And then we’ll still try any way. [laughs] And it gets better.

Do your sensibilities line up?

Henrik: No!

Johan: [laughs] Well we have to have some common points.

Henrik: Yes we have. I’m a bit grumpy. When I work on a song, I don’t want to change it. But it’s good to change it. To swallow your ego and get things done. I think what we are striving for is the same. When you’re working on something, you have more stuff in your head than you can really hear. The other person can’t hear it. You have to explain and make things more obvious.

Is that tough, to communicate to each other what’s in your head?

Johan: Usually I think it’s easiest when we just do things. When we were in Spain, we had one computer and one synthesizer. I did stuff, and I gave it to him on a memory stick, and thought, “Oh this fits in.” Then he showed me something he had done and I would say, “Maybe we can change a little bit like that.” So we just added the pieces that both of us liked.

Henrik: We can be pretty honest with each other and say, “Oh no, that’s not good. That’s good. Shut up!”

I love that you describe your sound as “Music for the slightly depressed.”

Johan: Yes the “slightly” depressed. I think the music always has a slight melancholic touch to it. The melodies and the sounds never become too bright or too comfortable.

Henrik: I try to do happy stuff some times. But I always love those melancholy things and those harmonies.

Johan: I think that’s also what we do well together. Actually we did try to do one song together—

Henrik: —Yes we did try to do a summery thing! [laughs] I couldn’t listen to it.

Johan: We labored over it for a few weeks!

Henrik: I was tortured!

Johan: We had to write a very sad song after that.

It seems like American press loves to talk about “Scandinavian Melancholy.” And yet I’ve never heard anyone properly define it. What does it mean to you?

Johan: I think it’s “happy sad” a bit like that. It’s not like a dark heavy depression. It’s quite light, but still it’s a bit depressing.

Henrik: It sounds like we’re trying to be melancholic. It’s not like that, I mean, we’re not trying hard to make anything melancholic, it just sounds that way! I tend to think more like, “It’s beautiful! It’s not depressing.” As far as Swedish melancholy, I don’t know what that is. I think maybe it starts by not trying too hard. We’re not trying to be like Marilyn Manson.

Although I think I would like to hear Pallers’ take on Marilyn Manson.

Henrik: [Laughs] We could probably turn it into something really nice.

So you’ve got a new album—The Sea of Memories—ready for release.

Henrik: It’s a great album!

Johan: It went quite slowly…as usual.

You should have gone back to Spain.

Henrik: Or Australia! For at least three months.

Any favorites on the album?

Henrik: Well there’s one happy song! [laughs] It’s more a mix of what you’ve heard before. Some up-tempo, and some slower and more moody pieces.

Johan: I think it’s a bit more moody.

Henrik: It’s hopefully an album you’re going to be able to listen to for a long time. We’ve found new sounds. That’s why it takes such al long time.

Johan: I think [previous single] “Slow Down Quickly” is a little bit flat. So this is more like “Humdrum” but with a more hi-fi sound.

Henrik: Yeah a bit more depth and variation.

Who is the female vocalist on “Wicked?”

Johan: She’s called Elise. She’s from the same part of Sweden as me and Henrik, and I’ve known her by name for a very long time. I’d never met her before she recorded with us though. Henrik knows her a little though. She and her sister had a duo called Zodiac in the ‘90s and after that they were called Jemma & Elise. I saw them as Zodiac live 15-20 years ago and it was pretty much an exact opposite of what I thought music should be at the time. And I was more of a hardcore indie nerd back then. Not that I would like it today—it was some kind of Euro techno—but I wouldn’t be upset about it. I believe they were a bit popular in Poland. Or Japan. Or both. Anyway, enough of that! The thing is I thought her vocals were perfect for the song—it pretty much turned out exactly the way we wanted it.

You’ve done some cool remixes with other bands on the Labrador label, like with Club 8. Do you have any other mixes in the works?

Henrik: We’re just trying to stay focused on this thing!

Johan, how does it feel to be remixing your own music between bands?

Johan: Henrik did most of the remixing. I think I was just there with the final touches. Especially on Club 8—I think he did most of the instruments. I helped out with mixing and stuff like that.

Henrik: If you give me a chance, I’ll turn anything into an 8-minute song and really slow! I have to be edited.

Johan: I gave feedback on the remixes. Maybe you should do that; maybe you should do more like that.

Is it tough to give feedback, watching someone remix your stuff?

Johan: I think it’s quite good. Usually when people do remixes of your songs it’s like “Here is the finished remix.” And you think some parts were good but some parts weren’t that good. Maybe you’re not 100% happy. This is a remix that turns out really really well, I think. Maybe one of my favorites is the Pallers’ remix of The Legends’ “Over and Over.” It turns the song into something completely different. In a good way. Well, the Club 8 remixes are really good too.

Henrik: The Suburban Kids remix of our song is the same thing. It’s a completely different song with different harmonies and stuff. It’s really weird. I really like that, when you get surprised and it’s like “Ah ha!” It’s like, “Ahh…it can sound like that! Yeah! It can be a slightly happier song!”

With the album’s long incubation period, when can we expect more from Pallers?

Johan: We won’t make an album every year with Pallers, that can’t happen. I think we need time to make the music the way it is. I sometimes talk about aiming at a three-dimensional sound with Pallers, and the step from two-dimensional to three-dimensional takes quite a bit of time to achieve. A lot of the songs sound pretty much finished after so and so many months, and after that we continue working with them for another few months. Or years. And that’s when I think the songs become more three-dimensional, they step away from ordinary electronica or pop or whatever it is we start with and become something else. Something that feels more special. At least for me! But an album every two or two and a half years might be realistic.



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