Interview September 2003
Your last album "Jungfruburen" was released in 2000, thus about 3 years ago. What have you been doing since then? Did you have a composer´s block or were you involved in so many other things that you simply didn´t find the time to record a new album?
A: After the release of the album we played a lot in Sweden. Since then we have all been involved in a lot of different projects outside of the band: I (Jan Liljekvist) compose music for different choreographers and have been doing a couple of dance performances. Besides that, I compose electro-acoustic music and have been to England and Germany (Inventionen in Berlin 2002) with my music. I am now working on a record that is to be released on Fylkingen Records. Stebbe and I have been working with music for different theatre groups. Sebastian has been studying the tablas in India for 1 1/2 years and is working on a soloalbum with Indian musicians, Gustaf has moved to Spain to be a designer of clothes, Olof took a break from the group for a while (but is now back again), Marcas left us and was replaced by Anders who plays nyckelharpa (keyed fiddle) and Umer started studying at the university.
When can we expect the release of a new album? Will there be any changes as regards the band´s line-up or the musical direction?
A: We will try to have it out around Christmas. We have not planned any musical changes but we are working a little different from our previous records. We have done a lot of jamming and there are more self-penned songs on this one.
As far as I can see, all the songs on your first two albums are traditional pieces. As there are probably hundreds (or maybe even thousands) of traditional songs, how do you decide which songs you put on an album? Do you make a list of several songs and then every member of the band has to vote for his/her favourite songs and those with the most votes are then recorded? Or how does it work?
A: Three of the songs from "Jungfruburen" are our own. The other are pieces we have found in different places and worked on for a while and that works well at the concerts. Traditional songs are chosen informally (i.e. somebody sees/hears a song s/he likes and says "hey, let’s make something of this") and are usually severely dismembered and rewritten before they go on stage and/or record.
Is it possible to say in how far your arrangements differ from the original versions of the songs? What is the basis for your arrangements? Is it usually just a vocal melody-line or are there, at least for some songs, also entire arrangements for instruments already written down note by note which you can resort to and then rearrange? I mean, at least some of the songs (or is it just the lyrics?) go back a several hundred years to a time when, as far as I know, music wasn´t written down the way it´s done today (if it was written down at all).
A: The original versions of the songs are often just melody-lines or a part of a melody-line. We find a lot of stuff in a large edition of what is known as "Swedish Medieval Ballads". There are hundreds of songs in different versions from different parts of the country, sometimes just lyrics or a fragment of a melody. We often take good parts of melodies from different songs, put them together with lyrics from another song and make an arrangement that fits our line-up and way of playing. The basis for our arrangements is always the line-up of the group.
As you are a Swedish band playing traditional songs, it´s no surprise that most of your songs have got Swedish lyrics, but on your debut album, there are also two songs – "Im Mayen Secundum" and "Mit Ganczem Willen" (the most powerful song and my favourite one on this album) – sung in Middle High German (if I´m not mistaken) and another one – "Douce Dame" with (ancient) French lyrics. On "Jungfruburen", there´s another song – "Meie Din" – sung in Middle High German and one – "Fortune Plango" – with Latin lyrics. Is there any special reason why you chose to record exactly these songs?
A: Only that they are good songs that can make people dance. In the early days of the group we played more of this kind of songs. Fortune Plango is an original piece but we took the lyrics from Carmina Burana.
(To Umer:) How did you know how to pronounce the words of these songs written in a foreign language? Did you learn or study any of these languages, were there some linguists who told you how to pronounce the words correctly or did you just sing them according to your own ideas how they should be sung?
A: I didn’t know how to pronounce the words, and I don’t think even the most devoted linguists can say for certain exactly what is the correct pronunciation. I do, however, have some knowledge about modern German and French, and I just try not to be way out of line pronouncing the lyrics.
(To Umer:) Did you always want to become a singer? Were you encouraged by your parents, relatives and/or friends in your decision? Has it so far turned out to be what you had expected it to be? Have you also learned a "proper" job?
A: Yes, as a matter of fact, I think I have always wanted to be a singer. When I was younger I seriously considered an opera career, but eventually decided it would be too rough a life for me, elbowing my way to the top, or simply not making it at all. My parents were (and are) ever supporting in whatever I wanted to do, but my mother also kept reminding me that singing professionally would mean a hard and probably economically unstable life, and that I might want to consider getting a – as you put it – proper job, continuing my singing on a less serious level on the side. As I am not a professional singer today, I only get the good part of it, so to speak, and am able to really enjoy it. And, yes, I am currently studying systems analysis in order to some day actually do some decent work ;-).
(To Umer:) Did you sing in any bands before you joined Två Fisk Och En Fläsk? If yes, was it a similar musical style? Are you involved in any side-projects or are there any guest-appearances of you on albums of other bands? Could you imagine singing in a band pursuing a different musical direction? If yes, what direction could this be?
A: I have never sung in another band. As mentioned above, my original territory is classical music, and that is what I have devoted myself to in addition to singing in the band. As a matter of fact, I have been featuring (together with Janne) on two albums of a band called Månegarm, which is a death metal group. Don’t ask me why they wanted me… I think I would be prepared to sing any kind of music, provided the "band chemistry" is right.
(To Umer:) What kind of music do you like to listen to? What are your favourite singers with regard to their voice, their lyrics and/or their appearance on stage?
A: Again, my answer will have to be classical music almost exclusively. I really can’t name any particular favourite singers, though. I like uncomplicated, "clean" voices, and opera singers hardly ever meet my standards in that way. There are a few baroque singers who are close to my ideal, such as Emma Kirkby for example. When it comes to appearance on stage, I like Jessica Rabbit – you know the cartoon nightclub singer from the film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
(To the other bandmembers:) What kind of music do you like to listen to? Is anyone of you involved in side-projects? Are there any guest-appearances on albums of other bands, or do you all fully concentrate on Två Fisk Och En Fläsk?
A: Speaking for myself (Jan Liljekvist), I listen to a lot of jazz music,
Coltrane, Dolphy, Mingus and such. Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Iggy Pop, Led Zeppelin,
blues, hip hop, Bach, Bartok… I know that Stebbe is much into Nick Cave,
The Cramps, Iggy, hard rock and the same goes for Olof. Sebastian listen
to a lot of dance music, music from India.
We listen to a lot of different music in different styles…
Now again some questions to the entire band:
How did you get the idea to call the band Två Fisk Och En Fläsk?
A: The name comes from the Apocrypha of the New Testament. It is written that Jesus our saviour feeds the masses with only two fish and a piece of pork…
When you´re recording an album, do you play live or are all the instruments as well as Umer´s vocals recorded step by step one after another?
A: On the first record we all played live but made some overdubbing. The vocals were made afterwards. On "Jungfruburen" we laid down all percussion at the same time but recorded the other instruments step by step afterwards. This was because the studio didn’t have space enough for us all to play at the same time with good enough sound. On the new album we work in quite the same way with the exception of some pieces that started out as just an idea that we were jamming around. These pieces are made entirely live.
Listening to your albums, my impression is that your music has to be played live to unfold its real strength. In which countries have you been performing live so far? Have there been any remarkable differences considering the reaction of the audience towards your music? (Or perhaps towards Umer´s appearance?)
A: We have only played in Sweden. We always prefer to play dance gigs to concerts since our music is at its best when people are jumping and moving around and the feedback from the audience makes us a better band.
What was the biggest audience in front of which you´ve played so far, and where was it?
A: I think the second time we played at the Arvika festival 2000 there were a couple of hundred, maybe 3-400, in the audience.
Are there any special/exotic places you would like to play, but haven´t got the opportunity to do so yet?
A: Anywhere outside of Sweden is exotic enough…
Has any of your shows ever been played live on a radio or TV programme? Are there any plans for a live-CD or –DVD?
A: No, we have never played live on TV or radio. No plans for a live album.
When you´re playing live, do you (sometimes) change the arrangements/improvise (as e.g. Mari Boine and her band often do) or do you try to stick to the album versions of your songs as close as possible?
A: The songs tend to change during the years. Not so much though. When we make an arrangement we stick to it. But there are parts of songs that we keep a little freer just so we can freak out if the communication with the audience is good.
Do you have any idea how popular are in Sweden or elsewhere? Do you have any idea about the sales figures of your albums (in Sweden, Germany or elsewhere)?
A: No, no idea. We don´t get reports from our record company very often.
On your debut album, there are three songs which I already knew from the first two Garmarna-albums, namely "Styvmodern" and "In Kommer Räven" from "Vittrad" (where "In Kommer Räven" is titled "Straffad Moder & Dotter") and "Varulven", my favourite song from "Guds Spelemän". Apart from the fact that your arrangements are very different from Garmarna´s, I noticed that the lyrics are not exactly the same. Are there different versions in different dialects from different regions in Sweden?
A: Yes, there are a lot of versions of these songs. Our way of arranging (see question 4) makes sure that our versions differ from other groups and I´m sure they work in a similar fashion.
Had you already heard Garmarna´s versions of these songs when you recorded your debut album?
A: No, we had played these songs before we knew that other groups played them. I try not to listen to other bands in the same genre, to avoid to be too influenced by their arrangements and ideas.
Did you know Dead Can Dance´s version of "Saltarello" from their fifth album "Aion" (1990), when you recorded a far more vivid version of this instrumental piece for your debut album?
A: I am sure that Marcas has heard the version with Dead Can Dance. I heard it the first time when he played it to me on the fiddle.
Have you already played live together with Garmarna on a tour or a festival?
A: No, unfortunately not.
Are there any plans for a German tour after the release of your new
album? What about a German tour together with Garmarna? In Germany, you´re
both on the same record label – Westpark Music – and though your musical
approach is different, I think your music might appeal to a similar audience.
If I was to decide, I´d also include Värttinä and Hedningarna (do the latter still exist?) on this tour, but you and Garmarna would already make a great package!
What band would you like to tour with, or do you prefer touring on your own?
By the way, when I saw Garmarna for the first time live in Germany in 1996, they played in some kind of Irish pub in front of about 25 people (2 or 3 even left during the concert, because it was obviously not what they´d expected), whereas at their last two concerts I saw at the Bahnhof Langendreer in Bochum – both were also recorded by a regional radio station called WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) – there were about 150-200 people. So I think there is a market for the kind of music you play here in Germany and playing some live concerts here might raise your popularity.
A: My favourite band in the same genre is Hedningarna. Yes, I think they still exist. I would love touring with them. Garmarna is a great band too. Värttinä I haven´t heard. A German tour would be very fun. There are no such plans at the moment though. I hope Westpark can arrange something for us when the new record is out.
Is there any question you´ve always wanted to answer, but haven´t been asked so far?
A: Can´t think of anything…
Is there something you would like to ask me?
A: Not at the moment.
How can people get into contact with you (by e-mail or "snail-mail")?
A: Most easily by e-mail.
Now some not so serious questions, first to Umer:
How many marriage proposals do you have to refuse each day?
How many offers to pose for a photo-session have you received so far from magazines like Playboy? And how many offers to do an interview about serious political subjects?
How many males usually faint at your sight during a concert?
A: I don’t think marriage is what first comes to mind to my male fans, and I am more likely to receive photo-session offers from them than from actual magazines. I’m afraid nobody wants to know about my political views. As far as I know, no one has fainted at the sight of me on stage, although a few have been turned to stone seeing me off stage without my make-up.
Now to the other bandmembers:
How do you manage to concentrate on playing your instruments live when Umer is standing in front of you? Are you all short-sighted and play live without glasses, do you have to be put on a leash like The Animal (the famous drummer from the Muppets Show) or do you simply put a paravent between you and Umer?
A: I nearly married the girl (Janne), the other ones wear dark glasses on stage...
Now the final question: Any – famous – last words?
A: I hope my last words will be waited for a long time…
Thank you for answering my questions. I hope it wasn´t too boring for you.
A: Good questions. Sorry for the delay...
Interview: - Burkhard - 09/03