The Spacious Mind has presented their mystical daydreams in the form of genre-defying music for almost 15 years now, but despite this considerable length of time they’re still right on one of those well-hidden tracks towards sonic perfection. Their unique blend of psychedelia, krautrock and spacerock is densely intertwined with pictures of forest-clad wilderness and cosmos. The latter is best illustrated in the band’s most quite and subtle moments, which are characterized by an impressive ocean of barren emptiness.
The wonderfully repetitious soundscapes can at first seem to be glacial if not even static, but it’s really all a gentle breeze of details that one after another are moved a tiny bit further from where we currently are situated. The endless view might strike some as monotonous but the more you allow yourself to absorb the more beauty, power and energy will come to the surface. This is particularly evident when the calm of the beautiful landscape transforms into time-bending sections that are bursting with unequalled galactic frenzy and spiraling intensity.
It’s no foolhardy assumption that The Spacious Mind are influenced by the early Krautrock movement, but just as with some of the finest contemporaries they shape their hallucinatory mantras of phased guitars, electronics and sounds into something all their own. It’s an inspiring and captivating place to pay a visit and in order to further try to spread the gospel about their brilliant work Mats Gustafsson got in touch with Jens Unosson, one of the original band members, for the chat that follows.
Do you remember when music really caught your attention for the first time?
If I was to give it some thought I could probably come up with earlier sound experiences, but the two that immediately come to mind are a reading light and Nationalteatern. We had this lamp with four spiral springs on its sides, and if you drew a pen up and down along these springs they created a great huge singing monotonous sound, which had me endlessly fascinated. We had several lamps constructed like this, but it was only one that had this really cool sound. As for Nationalteatern, I used to play their 'Kåldolmar & kalsipper', and later on 'Luffarrock' as well, for hours on end, usually tucked away under a blanket with headphones on. Amazing record, I still play it regularly. The crush on 'Sjörövar-Jenny' has sort of eased-off though.
What was it like to grow up in the relatively small village of Lövånger in the northern part of Sweden? Did you feel like you were allowed to be different? Could it in some ways even be easier to do your own thing in a small society?
So, I do think that it in many ways can be easier to be somewhat deviant in smaller places, if for nothing else there are so few folks around that the grouping thing doesn't happen as easily. You learn to live and hang out with others despite the individual differences. This said, Lövånger like most small places has an obvious lack of bohemian counterculture tradition, so you don't have much to look for locally. I spent lots of time in the library, ordering books not found on the shelves, on the subjects of political movements, psychedelic music, hippies.
Do you think that growing up in Lövånger in any way has had an influence on your music?
As for its influence on me as a musician I'd have to say that it's probably rather limited - but it has obviously affected me as a human being, and I'm certain some of that comes through in the music though I can't point to one specific thing here. Foreign reviewers often say that they hear the Northern wilderness in our music, or something that suits their idea of what that might be. I'm pleased to hear that, but it's not something we strive for when creating new stuff, and I don't hear or receive or perceive our music along those lines when we're playing either. Certain epical pictures might be conjured if I listen to our records, because I listen to these in a different way than I do to the music when in the midst of creating it. Anyway, I often think I hear specific influences in other people's music, like the area people grew up in or currently live in, so in the end I guess it's up to the listener - what you're able to hear, or perhaps what you want to hear in there.
However, this first line-up only lasted
until the spring of 1992, but during the previous months we'd made loads of
detailed plans for films and other things that would accompany our live
performances. When I began looking into actually making a gig happen, Anders
wasn't really up to it anymore, so at that point I forged on by myself,
recording new stuff on a four-track I had borrowed from Henrik Oja. Nothing
came out of this since the tape recorder ate the tape before I'd even mixed
it properly. We're now approaching summer 1992, and a local festival,
Trästockfestivalen, was about to happen. Both Henrik and myself were on the
staff for this, and I wanted to play and asked Henrik to help me out. We
rehearsed once or twice, but the only part that we'd actually given some
form was the intro. We played one piece for slightly less than half an hour,
and I'm guessing it was a pretty abstract sound we came up with. For a long
while Henrik played on the guitar with a plastic flower, somewhere between a
clumsy pick and a bow. Nevertheless the audience responded well, and we were
pretty thrilled to do something more.
A few months later we were rehearsing for a
second gig at a local café. Before long we realized that we needed more
hands than we had between us to make full use of the sounds we had lined-up.
The first person we called was David Johansson, drummer in Vilhelm Fort,
which was Henrik's main band at the time, and had him play marimba, cymbals,
and kick drum played with sticks. Later Thomas Brännström, also of Vilhelm
Fort, came aboard as well, though I'm unsure of whether he made any of the
few rehearsals, or if he just joined us for the show. In any event he spent
the entire gig blowing bubbles in a bucket filled with water, miced-out with
tons of delay on it.
Afterwards it was obvious that this was the line-up that would form the band The Spacious Mind, as opposed to the project of the same name. A much shorter version of the piece from the café gig made its way onto another West Side sampler, and we sent a copy of it to Garageland Records in Umeå which by reply gave us a contract for the first CD, eventually recorded in the spring of 1993 and released in November that year.
I'd rather say that I hope they're hearing
what they came to hear, and that they hear something more as well while
they're at it. I can't really get used to the thought that there are people
out there buying our records and really listening to them in the same way
that I listen to music; that our music in some way is part of other people's
lives and that they've taken it to their hearts. By that I don't mean that
the music isn't worthy its audience, it's just that this situation is
slightly surreal to me.
Do you consider the Spacious Mind to be a
band that plays psychedelic music? How would you define psychedelia?
Initially we were very pleased just being given the opportunity to release a record. We had a feeling of being rather isolated, musically speaking, especially in Sweden, and never really expected a label to show interest. Of course, both the first and second CD did much better than we ever could've imagined - they sold in decent numbers, got great reviews. Also, we happened to tap into the Euro psych/spacerock boom, taking place at the time. Magazines like Freakbeat, Ptolemaic Terrascope, Crohinga Well, and others, all had some sort of peak during the early 90's, and there were lotsa local radio shows across Europe playing bands like Dead Flowers, Magic Mushroom Band, Dr Brown, Omnia Opera, and our stuff went across well with that audience. There were also lots of festivals and basically just a happening scene. We landed head-first in all that pretty much immediately after ‘Cosmic Minds At Play’ was released, and it wasn't until 1996-97 when this scene more or less collapsed, coinciding with the fading of our original enthusiasm, that we came to understand that we'd reached out very well to this tiny circle, but not at all to the rest of the world.
‘The Mind Of A Brother’ eventually was released in 1999 on Delerium, which
to our standards was a pretty big label, we were expecting more and better
promotion and greater sales, but instead the opposite came true. Delerium
had some successful years behind them with a number of acts, but were more
and more focusing on their biggest name, Porcupine Tree, which didn't lead
to any major promotion of our new album. And, as I said, meanwhile this Euro
scene had come to an end, and we found ourselves with lesser sales, fewer
gigs, and just a generally low feeling within the band.
So, yes, in a way it has been a problem
being on smaller labels. I'm convinced that there is a larger audience for
us, but a number of drawbacks - not label-related only - have stopped us
from spreading our music the way we could have with better luck and timing.
Yeah, you could say that. When we regained a sort of band lust in 2001 we
thought it would be a simple thing to increase sales, and also the number of
gigs, if we did it on our own. We found ourselves a good Euro distributor
almost immediately, but after that it wasn't an easy ride at all! Some
mail-order businesses buy anything we put out, but we're not talking large
quantities by any means.
During our period of non-activity, as it
were, a new scene of sorts was born and blossomed, especially in the USA,
and for one reason or the other we were pretty much stranded by the wayside,
despite having much more, in my opinion, in common with these new happenings
than we ever had with the Euro spacerock-scene. So, in short the old crowd,
or audience, was no longer and the new one didn't know we existed...not the
best circumstances for running a record label.
Other reasons for selling so few records and
getting even fewer gigs are all these rumours going around that we don't
want to come out and play, or even that we're hard to get in touch with.
There's an interview with Steven Wilson on the net where the interviewer
suggests us as a warm-up act, and Steven replies that we're interesting but
lacking in ambition and only really want to hang out on our farm in the
woods - hence being a crappy warm-up band!
And of course, another rather important
detail that helps to explain our stagnation is my laziness and lack of
interest, really. I certainly don't have the drive anymore to deal with
these things. Obviously there are plenty of dealers and distributors to get
in touch with, and arranging tours could be made as well, but I'm not the
one to do it. What Steven said in that interview wasn't true then, but for
me personally it is now! Henrik, however, is much more into making things
happen, with setting up a website and finding new ways to get our stuff out
In 2002 you released the live CD, ‘Live Volume One: Do Your Own Thing But Don't Touch Ours’. If you ask me I feel it does one hell of a great job in describing exactly what it is that makes you so exciting in the live setting. What do you think makes a band work live?
Let me first of all state that we're a very
uneven live act, which of course has a lot to do with the heavy reliance on
improvisation. But if we're all getting ourselves together on the same level
during a gig it often turns out pretty good. Through the years we've learned
about each other’s styles and developed our own ideas and details based on
what the others do and don't do. There are definitely invisible ties between
us on stage and on good nights these ties turn into strong, solid rope. We
might still fall down the cliff but we're going together! During less
inspired evenings it may turn into something else completely, with five or
six soloists never finding their way home...which still can be interesting
but also a rather odd thing to witness, or so I'd guess. With the odd but
extremely embarrassing exception I don't think you can fail too severely
with the type of shows we do. Jerry Garcia said 'I appreciate a good try',
and I agree with that.
The Boston Terrastock was way different for
us. For a start we stayed there for two weeks and could afford to spend some
time checking out the city. Me being a record collector/dealer definitely
had no problem having lots of free time to hunt down record stores and
thrifts, something which isn't nearly as fun to do in London.
The festival itself came across as being
better organized, with a bigger and more varied audience, and our set felt
really good. I haven't heard the recording of it though. Again, one of the
nicest things about the event was meeting friends from around the world. I
spent a day hanging out with Tom Rapp and his family, and he played me a new
song, which he didn't perform at the festival. I rate his music very highly,
so that was a pretty big deal for me.
As soon as we got going we realized the
drums were a disaster, sounding like wet cardboard. I managed to find an
organ sound on the keyboard but it had this super bizarre touch-sensitive
thing going on and was absolutely impossible to play on - and I mean that
literally. Not only that, it was also tuned in some weirdo way, and the guy
who owned it had already left. I could never figure out to edit anything on
this monster, so eventually I had to do with the three notes I found that
did fit what the others were playing, and also vainly trying to control the
touch sensitivity with a volume pedal.
We'll also be releasing some band-related
stuff soon. I have a new album in the works and I think there's a Moon
Trotskij on the horizon as well.
Quite a few...right now though I'm mostly dreaming about bigger things, far from the world of rock 'n roll. This last year has been a rough ride for me personally, but for the band it's been pretty successful, with the release of a new CD, a bunch of CD-Rs, a US tour and more. Hopefully we'll see more of this happening in 2006. Perhaps we can provide the soundtrack for the Destruction of the Western Mind and Capitalism, and when that's done we'll be part of the Renaissance of Good Things.
by Mats Gustafsson