Kungens Män interview
Kungens Män started out in 2012 in Stockholm, Sweden. Always new sounds and improvisations, different guest musicians, different happenings. Kungens Män are rooted in the psychedelic/drone rock tradition of bands such as Träd, Gräs & Stenar, but also add influences from ‘krautrock’, shoegaze, noiserock and free jazz.
Who’s in Kungens Män and what do you all play? Have you all made any changes to the lineup since you started or is this the original lineup?
Mikael Tuominen: It is the original lineup, but with a couple of additions to the steady band… We started as a four piece with me on guitar and vocals, Hans Hjelm on guitar, Magnus Öhrn on bass and Mattias Indy Pettersson on drums. Pretty soon Peter Erikson (synthesizer) showed up on almost every rehearsal and he became a permanent member from our first European tour in 2015. Since about a year ago we also asked Gustav Nygren (sax, guitar, percussion etc) if he wanted a spot in the steady lineup – so we see ourselves as a six-piece now. But then we also add other guests sometimes – we were eight people when we last played a gig in December.
What do you consider to be your first real exposure to music?
If you mean going way back, the real spark getting it started for me personally was heavy metal and hard rock in the eighties. When I was ten in 1983-84 I heard Ozzy, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen, Accept, Iron Maiden and the rest, and off I went.
When it comes to playing music I started playing the bass when I was 12, with Steve Harris, Cliff Burton and Nikki Sixx as role models, and pretty soon started writing songs on guitar as well. The first time I played guitar in a band must have been in the mid-nineties, I always considered myself a bass player first.
Can you elaborate on the formation of Kungens Män?
The first time we played together as a band was in 2012, but by then we had all hung out as friends for a few years. Hans and I go way back – we grew up together and started our first band in 1986 when we were 13 years old. I met Indy in the punk/metal scene of Stockholm in 2004 and around the same time Magnus and I became neighbors and hit it off. I met Peter through mutual friends around the same time as well, going to the same shows etc. Gustav and I met through our common love of free improvisation and we started playing sporadically back in 1999. So, it’s really built on friendship more than anything. We had no grand plan whatsoever. I was in another band with really serious ambitions at the time and this was just for fun and a good way to hang out. We started making primitive recordings, put some up on the internet and suddenly people started liking it! We were kind of blown away by the response really.
Mikael Tuominen and Hans Hjelm (1989)
Is there a certain concept behind it?
Not exactly a concept, I would rather call it a method in that case, built around our limitations as well as our strengths. We realised early on that improvisation was the primary tool that fit this band, and due to very different musical backgrounds we needed to keep it pretty simple and clear. It’s almost always grounded in a straight beat and a certain key. Stylewise the horizon is really wide, we don’t set limitations in our minds, but we have certainly developed a common language. The artwork is another pretty conceptualized thing – our bass player Magnus does all the record covers and as many flyers, posters, shirts as possible. We have even handprinted a lot of the stuff in his basement.
Magnus Öhrn © Martin Wilson
What does the name “Kungens Män” refer to in the context of the band name?
It means The King’s Men. It was just a funny name – us being as far from the strict soldiers you could imagine. We’re a bunch of very different middle aged freaks. The only king we serve is music. There’s no deeper meaning to it.
I usually ask about particular albums, but that would be absolutely impossible in your case. You released so much.
Yes, we did. But it’s easy to get your sight blurred by the crazy project we did early on when we released one digital album per month in a year. Actually we consider Förnekaren to be the first “real” album.
It came out in 2015 and after that we have released about one album a year, except a few special things in very limited editions like a couple of cassettes… The thing is that we record every rehearsal. We have a huge archive of music. I certainly don’t mix everything, that would be a crazy amount of work, but we pick the best pieces and mix properly, and then some of those mixes end up on records when the sequencing, song lengths, moods etc feel right in combination to make an album.
Can we concentrate on your latest album Fuzz på svenska, released by Adansonia Records? Please share some further details how your latest album was recorded and released?
It was recorded in our rehearsal space in Aspudden, Stockholm. I take care of recording and mixing and we use pretty simple equipment for that, nothing fancy or vintage. Everything is played live. Most of those songs were recorded when Gustav had become a more regular player in the band, so I would say that the sax playing affects the mood of Fuzz på svenska a lot, taking it in a jazzier direction than before.
Adansonia Records also released Förnekaren and Stockholm Maraton. How would you compare it to your latest album?
Yes, and Adansonia also released Dag & Natt in 2017. Förnekaren is closest to my heart in a way, since it was the first one on vinyl. It was like our vision of the band that we built over a couple of years manifested itself in a really neat way. It’s not perfect, and that shouldn’t be a goal anyway. On Stockholm Maraton I had learned a little bit more about recording and we also moved into the rehearsal space we have now, which is a lot slicker than the previous one. We were also getting more confident in our art and method, from touring. Dag & Natt was a progression of all that, but also a post-conceptualization of our improvisations, where we really packaged them in a context which came out pretty successful I think. Fuzz på svenska has an even wider approach stylistically, with a quite introverted main mood with very noisy explosions.
What’s the ‘songwriting’ or should I say ‘jamming’ process like?
We decide on a key to play in and go for it. That’s it. Sometimes it takes a while to lock in, sometimes we fuck up completely, and sometimes we reach the transcendental, magical state of mind we’re after. But you never know when you’re going to get there, it’s like walking in the woods without a map and then suddenly it opens up and you see the pond and dive in.
Kungens Män live (2014)
Improvisation is a big part of your life.
Yes, it is. But also instant composition, and I want to stress the word composition here. We like to work with repetition, loops, motifs, singable melodies, catchyness and all of the stuff you use when you’re writing songs. It’s just that we use those tools in the moment, and invite the order of it all on the spot. It makes you very awake and on your toes. The NOW is all there is. You never know when it’s all going to crash and burn, right?
© Unn Hjohlman
What does it mean to you and to your perception to improvise?
I also practice meditation, it’s the same thing. I think it helps me to walk into situations with a more blank mind than I would have otherwise. It’s not always easy or pleasurable, but it would be incredibly boring if it was. Improvisation has taught me to listen to all sounds, to the body of the music, it has taught me to fully appreciate musical ugliness as well as lyrical beauty. Like everyone else, I have bad days though, when you question everything. Every moment is open for any possibility, but sometimes you just feel stuck in cliches, habits, technical limitations or in your own head. It’s part of the process.
What other musical activities have you undertaken?
Well, I’ve been playing music in bands for 30+ years… Most of the stuff I’ve done over the years has been either in the rock field or around the jazz/improv spectra. A lot of it in between. I have never really taken the easy way out. I guess I’ve never seen the point in doing exactly what other bands have done before me, even though that often seem to be the most successful way of dealing with music from a monetary perspective.
Before Kungens Män, the band I put most time and energy into was a band that was first called Fingerspitzengfühl for two albums, and then we changed our name to Switch Opens and made another two records. We played heavy rock that sounded kind of like a combination of Motörhead and King Crimson, if that makes sense… We were active between 2000 and 2013 and won awards and stuff in Sweden. We worked hard, but it never took off. I guess we were too hard to categorize to be marketable, and maybe too tough to digest for the regular Joe. All of that makes me a bit pissed off sometimes.
There are a few projects I know you’re part of and I really love listening to. Sista Maj is amazing and so are Automatism and Fanatism. Would you like to share a few words about your ‘side’ projects and maybe tell us what I missed out?
Thank you! Fanatism actually came out of the demise of Switch Opens in 2013. Me and Tomas Bergstrand who also played guitar in Switch Opens immediately knew that we wanted to continue making music together, but that we wanted to explore songwriting in a more psychedelic and “krauty” direction. And I wanted to play bass. We soon recruited Peter Erikson on synth and another childhood friend of mine, Jonas Yrlid, on drums. We have been working in a quite slow pace due to different reasons, and finally our debut album The Future Past came out on the UK label Drone Rock Records in the summer of 2018.
Gustav Nygren plays sax on three songs on the record, and after the release we asked if he wanted to become a permanent member playing both sax and guitar – which makes Fanatism half of Kungens Män, but with songs…
The driving force behind Automatism is Hans Hjelm from Kungens Män. He started it basically as a recording project, but then it became a real band. We made the record From The Lake (review here) which was released on Tonzonen Records also in 2018, and it’s based on jams with some overdubs, structured after the fact. It has then developed into songs that we perform live and now we work more like a jazz band, often with predetermined themes and chords. This band is Gustav Nygren on guitar, Jonas Yrlid on drums, me on bass and of course Hans on guitar. What’s really cool is that Hans, Jonas and I were in our first band together in 1986. And participating on the record: Jesper Skarin from Switch Opens and Peter Erikson from Kungens Män and Fanatism. You’re starting to get the picture, right? It’s like a big musical collective.
When it comes to Sista Maj it’s a bit aside from all this. It’s the child of Jonathan Segel, whom I met when playing in a project with Einar Baldursson who used to be in Gösta Berglings Saga. Jonathan is American, but lives in Stockholm. He’s first and foremost known as the guitar player and violinist from Camper Van Beethoven and has also played with people like Fred Frith and Eugene Chadbourne. I handle the bass and I brought in Andreas Axelsson on drums and Per Wiberg (Spiritual Beggars, Kamchatka, ex-Opeth) on keyboards for some jams and then Jonathan mixed it all and did a bunch of overdubs. It’s not an active band though – it was for a while, but I kind of opted out because I had too much to do with other bands. The recordings were completely improvised, but Jonathan has done a lot of layering which makes it go in quite a different direction sometimes. Now the Kungens Män label Adansonia Records is releasing a double-LP by Sista Maj called Localized Pockets of Negative Entropy.
As if this wasn’t enough, there’s also Eye Make The Horizon, which is more of a free jazz/no wave band, once again with me on guitar and Gustav on guitar and sax. Mats Dimming plays the upright bass and we just got a new drummer, Niklas Korssell.
Gustav Nygren © Ralf Ginter Photographie + Kunst
If you really want to dig deep, I released a kind of an ambient solo album digitally under the name Silent Protest Army a few years ago, called Instructions. I have new solo stuff in the making, though it’s more song oriented this time and I don’t know what the moniker will be… I do what I can to confuse and mislead.
What are some future plans?
Kungens Män will release a new album called CHEF on Riot Season Records from the UK in the beginning of February. It’s quite different from Fuzz på svenska, which makes it fun. It’s a single LP, four songs, pretty straight forward stuff in our twisted way. It’s also fun to release something on another label, that probably reaches out to some other folks than Adansonia. Andy Smith who runs Riot Season has been in touch with us for a few years and now the timing felt right. This doesn’t mean we’re leaving Adansonia though, we’re only spreading the message further. Hopefully we’ll play live with Kungens Män during the year as well – I’m working on some smaller tour plans as we speak.
Kungens Män in Berlin (2017)
Automatism will start recording a new album in February in Träd, Gräs och Stenar’s studio outside of Stockholm and we will also go to Germany a couple of times in the fall. Fanatism are about to start writing new songs. Eye Make The Horizon have a couple of gigs lined up in Sweden.
Kungens Män (2017)
Who are some of your personal favorite bands that you’ve had a chance to play with over the past few years?
Eye Make The Horizon got the chance to play with Träd, Gräs och Stenar (or Träden) a couple of years ago, they are simply the best. Both Kungens Män and Automatism have been playing short tours with The Spacelords and we have built a very good friendship with those guys. Øresund Space Collective is another band that feel like kindred spirits.
Kungens Män and The Spacelords
Let’s end this interview with some of your favourite albums. Have you found something new lately you would like to recommend to our readers?
Honestly I have been a quite bad music fan lately… I have had too much to handle with my own music – rehearsing, recording, mixing, touring, so I haven’t really been the explorer I used to be. But I enjoyed the latest Träden, Kikagaku Moyo and BEAK> a lot!