Monday, 10 February 2020
Mick Dillingham Interviews : The Greek Theatre
The Swedish duo of Sven Froberg and Fredrik Pesson go by the name of The Greek Theatre and are a studio based combo with three quite remarkable albums under their belts so far. As with the likes of The Luck Of Eden Hall, they take the adventurous spirit of late sixties and early seventies music as a jumping off point, having been made aware of the musical freedoms and possibilities of that richly creative time.
If they are returning to the glorious past it is always to grab hold and pull it unblinking into the bright light of today. They effortlessly range from magnificently cinematic in scope to movingly intimate in a moment. Both musically and production wise, there’s an abundance of thrilling detail to explore and enjoy in every new listen and made vital by the beautiful song writing quietly turning at the heart of it all.
Listening to the new album, When Seasons Change, for the first time I glimpsed languid shards of early seventies Floyd, a sprinkling of Joe Boyd’s Witchseasoning, the joyous progressive country of the original Barefoot Jerry and the gentle shimmering ghost of Tom Rapp on the album closer Sail Away.
By the third play all I was hearing was unmistakably The Greek Theatre above all else and that’s the beguiling magic of this very fine combo. Let’s sit down with Sven and chat awhile.
What are your earliest memories of first getting into music?
"I have memories at the age of five of my best friend’s oldest brother playing the soundtrack to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Jesus Christ Superstar all the time. I didn’t get the lyrics or the very dramatic story but was so absorbed by it that I refused to leave when my mother came to fetch me.
I was listening to "rock" I proudly told her. As I grew older I didn’t hear it for many years but when I finally bought it I realised that little kid was right. Top album. Fantastic singing and playing and the songwriting is unbelievable.
I was probably eleven when my parents bought me a cheap bass. Totally the wrong instrument to start with when you have nobody to teach you. At fifteen I started playing guitar and that suddenly made playing bass easier too."
When did you start writing songs?
"I must have been sixteen. I had formed my first band and introduced my first effort as a cover of The Knickerbockers "High On Love". We learned to play the song and to my amazement everybody was pleasantly surprised when I admitted to actually being the writer.
For me music is the highest art form by far. To be able to see if I had the ability to communicate, like good music does, was probably an unarticulated reason. Also, like a lot of other introverted kids, music seemed to be a natural expression.
Are you slow or prolific?
"Very slow when it comes to completing songs. Structure and melody comes, at times, very easy. Lyrics can take years. Long dry periods and then without notice spurts with good stuff. "
Were you in any early bands worth noting?
"Yes the first one that springs to mind was called "The Shepards Of Mighty Joy". A unique hybrid of barbershop and chamber pop. Three singer songwriters playing upright bass, drums and acoustic guitars pared with a string quartet.
If you listen to "Old Jawbone" from our latest album that will give you a tiny idea of what we sounded like. Our vocal sound was close the '67 era Beach Boys (think Smiley Smile). We did a couple of sessions with a brass band that still blows my mind.
Fredrik was in a powerpop group called The Halos who did a two song demo that was produced by Ken Stringfellow of the Posies. A memory for life no doubt. An amazing player and quite a character I’ve been told."
So from what I understand you and Fredrik formed the band in 99 and then wrote a whole lot of songs, enough for four albums and then the muse deserted you? How does the song writing process work with you, where do you lyrical ideas come from?
"Yes, as I said earlier, the muse has a way of deserting me. Still I’m thankful for the songs I was able to write during that fertile period. The song writing process is for me very zen, in that the harder I try the less I accomplish.
The best way is to pick up the guitar and sing and play before I have the chance to think of what to do. It’s so easy to get caught in old, used structures. I need to surprise myself. Lyrics works like dreams: I tend write about feelings, often blocked or painful. Still I want there to be hope not gloom."
Talk about the first album Lost Out At Sea.
"Lost Out At Sea was recorded over a very long period. It was not our first time recording, but the technique was changing during it’s making, which for us created new possibilities. The songs where strong as we had so much to chose from.
We were learning along the way and made millions of mistakes. It’s raw and crude in some ways but is has a special magic to it and it’s my favourite of the albums we’ve made so far. One of the best decisions we made was to let Jon "Mojo" Mills do the promotion for the Lost Out At Sea cd-release.
Thanks to his good work the "right" people got to hear it. Nathan Ford of the Active Listener was an early supporter and one of the first to make us realise that we communicated with the listener, that this whole endeavour was worth pursuing."
Talk about the follow up album Broken Circle….having different players involved must have changed your approach at times?
"Yes no doubt. Tomas Eriksson´s drums really transformed our sound. At the same time his playing was really suited to the big, long songs that we had decided to record. The record was an effort to show what we are capable of, that we could stretch out and rock too. And it was a chance for Fredrik to shine and show what an amazing guitarist he is."
And now we have the fantastic new album When Seasons Change.
"The new album is a reaction to Broken Circle. The songs, if not all, are a bit more subdued. My initial idea was to incorporate and combine flute, cello and strings for a kind of chamber pop, Bryter Layter sound.
Since we couldn’t afford a string arranger much of the process was spent listening to string arrangements in a rock/pop context (Robert Kirby´s stuff, Forever Changes, Moby Grape’s He and many more) to analyse how they are structured. Working with cellist Leo Sander, violinist Sandra Marteleur and flutist Erik Lundin was such a thrill.
Most of the bass and drums where recorded by Fredrik Swahn, from The Amazing and Dungen, in his small but great studio. He also plays bass on most of the tracks. Loved working with him, great guy!"
What would you say were your biggest influences?
"Byrds, Beach Boys, Buffalo Springfield, Beatles, Big Star, Nick Drake, Fairport Convention, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape, Mad River, Pink Floyd (68-70) and many, many more."
How happy are you with the finished albums? Are they close to your original vision….have you been tempted to stretch the rules or change anything?
"Well in my head I’m already far into planning the next album and hopefully start to record it in May to early June. And at this stage in the process, I’m always overly critical of the last album. I kind of need to destroy it to be able to start something new and fresh.
That said you can’t reinvent yourself all the time, you need to build on your last accomplishments and we learned a lot making this album. There is a strange dynamic to our band as we don’t have a formula or a band sound that we can wrap every song in.
Every new track is a new mountain to climb and new space to explore. I honestly think that we’re doing something unique, in that we don’t sound like anyone else, which cannot be said of many others these days. At the end of the day I really hope that will count for something."
You can listen to and buy When Seasons Change and pick up the Back Catalogue here. You can also buy the Vinyl from Sugarbush here and the CD from Kool Kat here. You can also review Don's IDHAS Review here.