July 14, 2013 by tonetribune
How I Became a Swanski Swinger
Late one stormy night, I was trying to think of a genre of music that encapsulated the feelings that I enjoy mostly in cinema and that I had always wanted to hear in music.
Unwittingly, I typed in Electro Noir to see if anything popped up. Low and behold, I discovered that not only has someone made an album with that exact title, but also the music and imagery that I was about to experience opened up a world that was equally bleak, beautiful, urgent, patient, dirty, clean, simple and complex.
Enter the world of A.S. Swanski
The music you will find there has been described as a mix of “cinematic krautrock and disturbing synthpop.” This is true, however so much more lies within and the music is not confined by time or genre.
Much of the music is inspired by Swedish crime fiction and does paint a mysterious backdrop, sometimes dystopian and dark, other times open, crystalline and chillingly serene. As the listener, you feel strangely secure as you are guided through the soundscapes by pulsing rhythms, multi-lingual vocals and layers of sound that are simple as parts, but layered together create architectural sound structures that are built up and torn down around you.
Swanski is an independent, prolific multimedia artist who shares his creations via his website www.asswanski.com. There, you will find his music, videos and writing. You can become a Swanski Swinger and receive his releases as they come in a subscription fashion and have access to more music, writing and videos than just the website has to offer.
The A.S. Swanski Interview
TT: Let us start with some of your more recent Swanski releases. Red Wolf and Kim Novak are both installations in your ongoing deckare project (music inspired by Swedish crime fiction.) Red Wolf is a pounding, aggressive tune with a revolutionary message, while Kim Novak is a more somber, introspective piece. Could you describe the origins of these songs and what elements inspired you?
Swanski: Red Wolf is based on a novel by Liza Marklund about left wing terrorism of the kind that Europe experienced in the 1970s. Many of these terrorists such as those from the Rote Armee Fraktion were disillusioned hippies who believed in a makeable society. But what’s a terrorist really? Aren’t they just politicians who would have become Members of Parliament if circumstances had been slightly different?
So, you are free to replace the terrorist in Red Wolf by one of the politicians that formed the welfare state Sweden.
Kim Novak is based on a crime novel by Håkan Nesser, which hasn’t been translated to English, unfortunately. On the surface, it’s a multilayered coming of age story about a school kid in the 1960s. He secretly falls in love with his teacher, a young woman resembling Kim Novak, most famous for her role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo, which is one of my favourite films.
What I liked most about the story is that it’s ambiguous. It doesn’t choose between right and wrong, good and bad. The murder in the book isn’t solved and you’re not even sorry about it, because the guy who’s killed was a prick who fought with everybody and beat his girlfriend.
In a way both songs are about the widespread illusion that people have control over their lives. However, we’re all victims of circumstances, incidents, coincidences and all we can do is make the best out of it. And sometimes that’s the worst.
TT: Your affinity for Swedish crime fiction has been the inspiration for much of your music. Is there a common theme or feeling you relate to with this genre? Your music has even been featured in a Swedish crime fiction event in Stockholm.
Swanski: Despite the hype around Scandinavian crime fiction, not every crime novel from Sweden is good. There’s a lot of mediocre rubbish coming out as well. But the really good stories say something about the human condition. They teach us that we all can be a killer if a situation pushes us into a certain position. That’s an unpleasant thought for many of us. Bad guys are people like you and me.
At the same time these books have the power to entertain you without too much action. Much of what happens is kept under the surface and not very outspoken, which is typically Swedish. It creates an unsettling mood, which fits well with my music.
It’s common to turn a book into a film. With the Deckare project I tried to do something else: turn a book into a song. That’s also a challenge in its own right.
TT: You sing in different languages on many of your songs. Is your choice of language for each song dictated by the subject matter, the character’s perspective or how it fits phonetically with the music?
Swanski: My music has very little to do with rock, blues or other musical styles of American origin. I listen a lot to European artists. Somehow I can relate more to what they do. That’s one reason why I sometimes choose languages other than English.
It also depends on the song. I did two lines in Finnish for a song called Dekorima, which is about the murder of Swedish Prime Minister Olof Palme. There’s a quite reliable witness report that says the killer spoke Finnish. Kälte was done in German, because it fitted the mood of the song. Many people experience German as a cold and unpleasant language – I guess it has historic roots – but it’s a fact that German doesn’t sound very melodic. The song would have been worse if it had been in English.
Still, most of my lyrics are in English for pragmatic reasons so the majority of people can understand what I’m saying. I’d love to do something in French one day, but I haven’t written a line in French since my school days, so that will be problematic.
TT: Your vocals are often sparse and direct. You seem to have the ability to capture a mood and convey a message using as little language as possible and it really works to create memorable listening experience. Is this tactic to leave some of the song open to interpretation or is it simply a stylistic preference?
Swanski: I recently read a quote from Marcel Marceau, a French actor. “Music conveys moods and images. It’s music, not words, that provides power”, he said and I totally agree.
I’ve worked as a journalist and writer for many years so I know what words can do. But what I like most about music is that it can express so much more. That’s one reason to keep vocals sparse. I want the music to be strong enough to stand on its own. Vocals are merely an addition.
There are exceptions. Some of the songs I made for Deckare are more focused on storytelling, but more often, I don’t depart from vocals or lyrics. I treat a voice like an instrument and the lead instrument in my music can be anything. The music should be one, with sounds, rhythms and instruments working closely together.
It’s an approach that more or less results from the way I work. I first write and play several little melodies, program rhythm tracks, record bass or guitar parts, twist, edit, and use a cut and paste technique as well as the delete button to turn all this raw material into songs.
At some point during all this construction work, I might add vocals. If I use vocals so sparsely, I want them to be short enough not too push away the other instruments, and powerful enough to make you as a listener wonder what’s going on.
I’ve written songs in a traditional way for years, with an AABAB structure, a bridge, a storyline and so on, but I prefer this freer form. The process is much more exciting and you never know the outcome.
TT: Your music has been described as cinematic and of course; you indeed make your own videos to your music. This is interesting in your case, because you are inspired by literature to make music, and then your music inspires you to create a visual experience. This results in a trifold of interpretation for each song!
Swanski: Many of the stories that inspired Deckare have been filmed and some were major successes. So, that makes even four interpretations: a book, a feature film, a song, a video. And with every step you get further removed from the original story. The only thing the world still needs is a painting and a sculpture.
I’m not an experienced video maker. When I made my first videos, it was purely to make my music available on YouTube. I don’t have the time nor the gear nor the skills nor the money to make highly professional videos, but I always try to create something that has a similar mood as the music. I’m now nearing the point where I can actually enjoy the results of my efforts.
TT: Your works as A.S. Swanski have a distinct, solitary feel. Have you ever performed them live or screened your videos publicly at a venue?
Swanski: No. I started out as a bass player and I played live with several bands in the 1990s, but I’ve never performed as A.S. Swanski. I’m not against it, but I now live in a rather remote area on the southeast of Sweden and there are no venues here that would even consider to book my type of music. So finding a band and rearranging my songs to play them live, would be a waste of time as long as I live here.
Sweden has a huge music industry, but its focus is on commercial pop. There aren’t many places where more experimental music has a chance and the distances in Sweden are huge, so playing live always eats a lot of time and money.
I actually wonder if my music has a place in this day and age. Today’s alternative music scene is totally uninteresting in my opinion. It’s either horrific folk rock from kids that make Cliff Richard look like a rebel, or boring industrial shit from idiots who think they’re vampires.
That said, if someone would hand me a sack of silver and a calendar with tour dates, I’d be happy to put a live show together and go the extra mile.
TT: Let us go back to your beginnings. Musicians have that first show experience that sticks with them forever. Was there a particular gig that inspired you to make your own music?
Swanski: I got my first bass before I even started going to gigs, but there have been shows that made a huge impact, particularly when I was a teenager.
The first famous band I ever saw live was Killing Joke, in the 1980s. I’ll never forget Jaz Coleman’s white-painted face and demonic performance. They started the show with The Hum, a beast of a song. The guitar was incredible and Coleman’s synth sound was downright scary.
Jaz Coleman is a fascinating figure. A well educated orchestra conductor and composer of classical music, who has worked with Sarah Brightman and contributed to Walt Disney films, but who also fronts one of the extremist, noisiest, most primitive and most political rock bands ever and who is known as an ecological activist.
It’s what I like most: musicians, who dare to cross the borders of genre, break down all expectations and don’t give a shit about their public image.
TT: As most Swanski Swingers know, there is an icy, beautiful, siren-like voice that responds to your call in many of your songs. Your partner in crime perhaps?
Swanski: Not only in crime. You are talking about La Gouzel who happens to be my wife as well. She’s a classically trained singer who could be an excellent opera singer, but she suffers from stage fright and never had a career in music. So, if I ever play live, it won’t be with her.
Her musical preferences are very different from mine and it’s not easy to write melodies that she likes to sing, but when it works, it usually works well. Together we’re the beauty and the beast.
TT: Thank you for talking with Tone Tribune. In closing, are there any events, releases, or media you would like to reveal to current and future Swanski Swingers?
Swanski: I’m about to finalize the Deckare project. A few more songs and that’s it. No more crime fiction stuff anymore. I will close it with an album release. Not sure yet what form it will get.
I’m working on new material that will be released next year. Too early to say which direction it will take. Anything can happen.
Anything can happen
To find out what literal, musical and visual directions A.S. Swanski has previously taken and follow him on future journeys go to www.asswanski.com or check out his recent song/video Red Wolf and demand the future……