saw Dungen live a couple years ago, and what stood out more than anything else was guitarist Reine Fiske, whose solos matched note-for-note what came off the records. Standing on the stage, wind blowing his hair back while he laced each song with a fretboard volcano, he looked like Page to Dungen’s main man Gustav Ejstes’ Plant, an actual ROCK STAR. After a DJ set during which Reine and Gustav spun some smoky Swedish psych nuggets, I went back home and looked at my Ta det lugnt booklet, only to find that it was Fiske, not Ejstes, who plays the lead guitar parts in Dungen.
While most people are naturally eager to sit down with Ejstes to hear more about Dungen, I was glad to have the chance to talk with lead guitarist Fiske, an old hat in the Swedish rock scene, to hear about Tio Bitar, rare Swedish psychedelic music, and the odd rumination on music, nature, and whatever else happens in the world of one of the best guitarists around.
How significant was your contribution to Tio Bitar? Was it greater or lesser than on Ta det Lugnt?
Well, to be honest with you, I guess I’ve been pretty hard on him [Gutav Ejstes] concerning this latest project. To some extent I’m maybe the one he "lets in" the most in the recording process, apart from actually playing many of the parts himself. He pushes himself very hard. I mean, he is behind the wheel after all, and I’m probably good at throwing ideas at, too. For this latest record there was a scheduled date for it to be finished, as for the last one, but this time it got more "serious."
We actually get along well, but playing and listening is really the language. I guess I influence him, and he knows what he wants from me and sometimes I manage to give him just that. We’ve sort of found a place where it all just "clicks," and sometimes there is that stream of consciousness going on between us—when this occurs every once in a while some of the music is actually MADE too; in a recording situation. As the live band it’s been harder, ��cause we’ve been pushing ourselves pretty hard into it. We always push ourselves to the limit, actually...
It’s been said that Gustav was pissed off when he made Ta det Lugnt, and equally so during the writing and recording of Tio Bitar. Did you feel similarly when you recorded your parts for the album?
I was more drawn into the "unsound" world at times... but there was also a lot of pleasure, of course. It’s one of the most rewarding parts of my life, really, to record the Dungen material. There is a very special feeling when certain overdubs suddenly open up a whole new perspective, and I can feel and simultaneously color Gustav’s original intentions for a song, or a specific part of a song, in the present. Sometimes it’s because I’ve been hearing many of the songs take shape over the years, but I think we also share the same fascination in this process—the moment. That’s why much of it sounds so “live,” because we’re actually playing it "live" inside our heads ALL THE TIME. It’s constantly vibrating in there. It’s only a question of when and how that feeling finally comes out.
The "pissed off feeling" this time around was really just tension, and the pressure that I could see in him. There were lots of joyous drunken "air-drumming" and late nights too, of course. We got pretty dozed at times, listening to all kinds of stuff for inspiration...
Sometimes the energy almost gets overwhelming with Gustav, and it’s easy to be inspired by it. The beauty in many of the songs also made it easy to just "jump in" this time. The "rockier" stuff was a bit harder. "Familj" was one of those pleasurable moments. It’s something of a bittersweet symphony song in a way, but when he added the organ and I was sitting and perfecting the delay for the actual take I just sensed that he’d just made the best song in the world—in my world, anyway. That’s when the sun suddenly started shining again, but mostly it was made in the dark.
How is this tour going to be different from the one you did in support of Ta det Lugnt? Are there any significant changes to the live performance?
Right now there are no current plans for touring. It’s been put on the shelf a bit. Musically, it could be rewarding, especially since there are a greater palette of songs and moods involved, which could create more of a "concert" experience for us too.
When I saw you and Gustav spin records in Chicago two summers ago, you were playing some excellent old Swedish psych/folk/rock records. I was curious: why do you think those records still haven't found an audience in the States?
Well, much of the stuff we played was really rare stuff in the heavy-psych genre, not so much Swedish stuff really. Most of it actually comes from Stefan Kéry (Subliminal Sounds) who has an incredible ear for all kinds of music. I think much of the stuff we played, like Jesse Harper, Aguaturbia, or May Blitz are pretty easy to track down, especially through the internet. It’s not the same "hunt" then, but it should be spread anyway, I think. We had an awesome time during that set, though, drinking beer, getting tipsy, and just blasting away on the biggest stereo in the world. Like if we were "air-drumming" somewhere, you know? The reissue market is actually huge at the moment; it just seems to be never-ending.
If you could name a couple old Swedish rock records that people in the States are generally unfamiliar with, but should be, which ones would you suggest?
Mikael Ramel Till Dej and Extravagansa, Kebnekajse Resa mot okänt mål, Pärson Sound, Älgarnas Trädgård Framtiden är ett svävande skepp förankrat i forntiden.
You have played a large role in the Swedish prog/hard rock scene for many years. How is playing in Dungen different from your other bands, such as Landberk or Paatos or the Guild?
Hard to say…all are equally important, and have been very different from each other…different expressions, and different extensions of myself. Landberk was mostly joyous, I was very young and just happy to be able to express myself on the guitar. Paatos was like a family making songs together as a continuation of Landberk, then Morte Macabre was a mix of Anekdoten and Landberk, and the Guild are really a group of friends getting together for an occasional gig or a recording. Dungen is more life-and-death, really...Gustav’s music has a very peculiar way of affecting me.
Do you see the possibility of trying to reissue the work of either Landberk or Paatos in the States now that more people here recognize you from Dungen?
I don’t know. Paatos are still playing without me. Landberk, I don’t know. They should be available as imports, I guess. Some of it is good I think, but some of it is just plain weird. There were a couple of songs that were never completed with Landberk, some of the best material we ever made. Maybe we should try and record them some day...
Are you working on anything else outside of Dungen?
Well, I’m recording some stuff with Fredrik Björling who’s one of the drummers on Tio Bitar and has been in the touring band since the beginning. A friend of ours, Christoffer, is working on an album, and I’m playing some bass and maybe some guitars. The Guild has the occasional gig, and Morte Macabre may do something in the autumn. I don’t know where that music is heading actually, but it’s not gonna be the same "horror-rock" concept as the last one. Otherwise, I’m working on re-releasing some amazing Swedish music from the 1960’s. Bo Anders Persson, who was the founder of Pärson Sound, made lots of recordings prior to forming that group, so that’s the next project, as well as releasing Baby Grandmothers and Pärson Sound on vinyl. And then I have my day-job, of course—that sort of sucks much of my spirit out at times...
How is Dungen's response similar/different in the United States in relation to Sweden? Is the audience more responsive/enthusiastic at home or in the States? Is there another country where you find Dungen to be especially popular?
I don’t know. Maybe the US audiences are a bit more open, and we’re maybe seen as a bit odd and maybe "exotic" to some extent. We haven’t played very much in Sweden. The touring has been more centered around the US and Europe, and then Australia of course. There is a bigger "underground" scene and culture going on in music outside of Sweden, really. It exists here too, of course...
What do you think is the reason for this?
Hard to say. We got some very good reviews and press in the US, people got interested. Maybe it’s been some kind of word-of-mouth thing going on too... “These ��Swedes’ playing this ��heavy’ music.” I don’t know. I just hope that people still want to listen. We’ll be back. I just don’t know when, or in what form or state—that’s for Gustav to decide. I just want to make another record.