The Spacious Mind interview
The Spacious Mind formed in 1991. This incredible Swedish band is still going strong and continuous to discover unknown areas of psychedelic universe today.
Interview with Jens Unosson, Swedish keyboardist, singer, songwriter
Would you like to talk a bit about your background? Where and when did you grow up? When did you begin playing music? What was your first instrument? Who were your major influences?
Jens Unosson: I was born in 1974 and grew up in Lövånger, a small country town on the east cost of northern Sweden. In fourth grade all kids had the chance to choose an instrument they wanted to learn how to play, and I opted for the balalaika – but since none of the teachers knew much about it, I had to go with my second choice, which was trumpet. I kept on playing until I was 16 or so, and have on rare occasion used it on latter day recordings as well.
My first real musical love as a listener was Ultravox, I got their Lament album for Christmas in 1984 and I reckon this was why I decided to get a synth a few years later, even though by that time most of my favourite bands were guitar-dominated ones.
“I wanted to dive head first into outer/deeper space.”
What led you to form The Spacious Mind and when exactly was that?
Fall 1991. As to why… I guess I just wanted my own band – many of my friends were in bands, but they all played some kinda goth or indie rock while I wanted to dive head first into outer/deeper space. At first we were a duo, myself and an old friend from Lövånger, Anders Sundbom. This line-up recorded the track “Druid Two” for a local CD compilation.
Have you all made any changes to the lineup since you started or is this the original lineup?
Yeah, there’s been a few changes through the years. Anders left around late spring 1992, and I borrowed a four track from another friend, Henrik Oja, and proceeded to record a demo. Somehow this led to the idea that Henrik would join me for the first ever TSM live show, at a festival in Skellefteå, July 1992.
Later that year we had another gig coming up, and we needed more people to realize the ideas we had for it. Henrik was then playing in a band called Vilhelm Fort together with, amongst others, Thomas Brännström and David Johansson (now Åkerlund), and since I was friends with both as well we asked them to come along for the ride. For that second gig Thomas played an amplified bucket of water, run through a delay, and David used a bass drum as a huge tom-tom along with some cymbals. We just played one ‘song’ for about 30-40 minutes, and later on recorded a shorter version of it for another CD comp, which came out in spring 1993. This track also landed us a deal with the Garageland label out of Umeå.
When we recorded our debut CD, Thomas had ditched the water bucket in favour of a guitar and David used a full kit. On one track a friend of ours, Mårten, guested on backwards guitar and before the CD was released, in November 1993, he was a proper member of the band.
This line-up – me on keys, Henrik and Thomas on guitars, David on drums, Mårten on bass and some wild guitar solos – lasted until 2000, when Mårten quit and guitarist Niklas Viklund came on board, with Henrik switching to bass in the process. Since then we’ve had no further changes.
Did you draw any influence from any particular psychedelic rock bands from the past when forming The Spacious Mind?
When we started there were all kinds of bands that in some way or the other influenced us, or at least influenced me, as Anders hadn’t heard all that many of them, but I doubt they are easily detected in “Druid Two”… some of the things that were on frequent rotation in my room (still living at home) at the time would have been Forest, Julian’s Treatment, Electric Prunes (interview here), 13th Floor Elevators (interview here and here) (there’s a direct quote from them on “Druid”), Third Ear Band, Gandalf… to name just a few. During the recordings of our first CD, I’d say that between all four members Pink Floyd, Hawkwind (interview here, here and here), and Tangerine Dream, all in their early incarnations, were the main influences, along with one less obvious record: In Search of a New Dawn, the first album by Tangle Edge. We listened to this a whole lot, and I still rate it as one of the very best post-70s psych LP’s. Later ones by them have been too prog for me though.
“There’s typically room for a lot of individual freedom”
How do you usually approach music making?
With TSM it’s generally very open-minded – we might do total improvisation, or someone’s bringing in an idea of some sort, it might be a riff, a bass line, a certain sound or just a mental flash. There’s typically room for a lot of individual freedom, especially for keys and guitars. We do occasionally have more traditional song structures as well. With other bands it may range from all-improvised to proper songs. There’s always plenty of space to do your own thing though.
Some of the most well known The Spacious Mind albums are Cosmic Minds at Play, Garden of a Well Fed Head, The Spacious Mind III: The Mind of a Brother to name a few. Can you share some further details how these albums were recorded and what’s the story behind them?
Well, that’s a whole lotta albums… but here you go:
Cosmic Minds at Play (1993) – our debut CD, but I find that it holds up well still, with a sound of its own. I’m the youngest of the band and was 18 when we recorded this, Thomas and Henrik were 20, and ol’ man David all of 21 and I believe this plays a big part in why it sounds fairly unique – we didn’t really have the ability to transform influences to music, you know? Thus it came out more ‘us’ than maybe we’d intended! All for the better, in retrospect. Also, there’s no bass on there, the lower end is covered by deep hovering keys, making the whole coming across as not very ‘rock’. Or at least that’s the way I hear it.
Cosmic is about to be reissued as a 2LP by the great guys at Sunrise Ocean Bender/Deep Water Acres. Had we – the band – not been such lazy pricks it’d probably have been out already!
Organic Mind Solution (1994) – For this second outing Mårten had joined us on bass, and there’s a marked difference in sound because of this. The overall sound is also slightly different, a bit murkier – we’d recorded Cosmic in a proper studio (bar some field recordings and a few sessions at a radio station), but for this we’d borrowed a local theatre for a week around Easter and then a couple of weeks in summer. Henrik and David had been involved in an in-house production, and through this we had access to this huge place. We used the black box for recording room, and the work shop for technician’s boot. Organic is also due for a 2LP reissue.
Sleepy Eyes and Butterflies (1995) – a 2LP set and our first vinyl release. The late Michael Piper was a well-known US record dealer, and one of the earliest and foremost champions of Cosmic, and he got in touch with me in 1994, saying that he wanted to launch his own label, Gates of Dawn, by putting out an album by us. We didn’t think about it twice.
Sailing the Seagoat (1996) – originally intended as cassette release, and I kinda wish we’d stuck to that plan… or that we’d taken more care while recording and, especially, when doing the mix.
Garden of a Well Fed Head (1997) – our second LP, and our second US release, this time via Pat Reilley’s fine Lone Starfighter label. Pat’s wife, Caryl, did the awesome cover art.
The Mind of a Brother (1999) – the third part of the ‘Mind trilogy’, the first two being Cosmic and Organic. Another switch of label, this time to Delerium in the UK. Richard Allen (interview here) had long been a supporter of the band, and it was fun to actually meet him and Ivor Trueman when this was released in August 1999, in conjunction with the London Terrastock. That was also the first time we met up with another long-time advocate of the band, Phil McMullen, editor of the excellent Ptolemaic Terrascope. As for the CD, we had recorded a lot more material than what could fit on one disc, but had somehow missed this completely, until the evening before we were to master it in a pro studio. Myself and Henrik spent the better part of the night in his studio, editing out something like 25 minutes, so that we wouldn’t have to deal with all this – at an alarming cost – in the other studio.
Life’s hard for the stupid. We hope that this can see a vinyl release as well, along with Cosmic and Organic, but there’s a rights issue at work here – Cherry Red now owns the Delerium catalog and they’re asking for a not insubstantial amount of money to let us use our own work. Nice one, lads!
Reality D. Blipcrotch (2002) – a 10” to celebrate our first ten years together, although it came out a year too late… to repeat: life’s hard etc etc. This was also the first release on our own label, Goddamn I’m A Countryman Records, as well as the first one with Niklas in the band.
Do Your Thing But Don’t Touch Ours (2002) – A live recording, from when we played at Skogsnäs, one of the oldest and biggest hippie communities in Sweden, back in 1999 (which means that Mårten is on this one, but not Niklas). Before us there was some sort of stage play using music from Organic Mind Solution.
Rotvälta (2005) – Perhaps my personal fave from the 1st Black Owl decade – this is pretty cool, really, and I don’t say that about a lot of our stuff!
Gentle Path Highway (2007) – To my ears a kind of kid brother to Rotvälta. Both of them have been suggested for reissues on LP, but it’d be a bit of an ordeal to make them fit the format. Would be a treat if it could happen though.
Greazy Green & The Stoney Lonseomes (2014) – We recorded quite a lot of stuff during 2008-2010, but this was the first time any of it was released. The back cover is from my neighbour’s place – a long story, but I’m proud to say that it was me who tied the dustbins to the tree, standing in the bucket of my neighbour’s back loader tractor. Also, this was the first release of ours in quite some time that wasn’t released on Countryman, as Tobias Petterson’s Kommun:2 stepped up to the task. I see this as our John Wesley Harding.
The Drifter (2018) – A comp of scarce material culled from out of print LP’s and CD-r’s, released on the Russian-American Trail label, who did a great job with bringing our merry little band back into some sort of public consciousness. For the record I’d also like to stress that despite initial arguments regarding the first pressing we’re since long back to being on good terms with Alex & crew.
The No. 4 or 5 Gravy Band (2019) – Well, this is a very recent album and I don’t know what to say about it really, apart from the fact that it looks awesome in any of its three editions! It sold out very quickly and a second pressing is due any day now. Essence Music, the label behind the release, are stellar guys and we’ll continue working with them in the future.
I think that’s all… for the sake of sanity I’ve left out any & all CD-r releases.
“I’ve avoided being part of straight society ever since I was a teen”
Would you say that you follow a certain concept?
No, not really. There are certain ideas that constantly run through our work, but they’re all very vague and obscure, and probably look different to each of us. My overall take is that we’re a band of outlaws on the run from it all, creating an on-the-edge soundtrack to this escape from the man as we head deeper and deeper into the Forest of Black… I’ve avoided being part of straight society ever since I was a teen, and that’s definitely colouring my perception of what we’re doing! The 9-5ers in the band would likely just find my notion silly though.
The No. 4 or 5 Gravy Band is your latest release. Can you share some further details how your latest album was recorded?
I don’t recall any specific details of much interest – we recorded most of it in Henrik’s studio in Umeå, and the bonus CD-r that came with some copies was in parts a live recording that was then fiddled with in Niklas’ studio in Skellefteå. A lot happened in our lives during this time – three of us split up from long-time relationships, more kids were added, I was involved in a nine-and-a-half-years long legal battle regarding my farm, so out of necessity we put the band on a back-burner for several years. I guess we also felt that after 20 years together we could use some time apart – we’d basically gone from kids to adults together, and by the early 10s we’d moved in rather different directions as people, meaning the entity TSM was not quite what it once was. Or at least that was how I felt, the others might not have thought about it like that at all… anyway, when first The Drifter came out, and then Gravy Band, we got back into keeping frequent contact and when playing our first show for eight years this summer we had a great time together and realized that, hey, this is fun! And we’re pretty good at it too, you know, so why don’t we keep up the pace a bit?
How about concerts and touring?
Since 1991 I count seven (7) Swedish gigs beyond our hometurf… but we’ve played a fair bit in Skellefteå and Umeå. We’ve also been to Belgium, Holland, Finland, England, and have three US tours under our belts. We’d happily do more if the occasion occurs.
“Improvisation is in many ways the whole foundation of this band”
What does improvisation mean to you and to your perception?
Improvisation is in many ways the whole foundation of this band, there’s always at least one instrument that’s roaming free & freely, more frequently most/all of us, and that’s a big part of what makes it fun – to not know exactly where things are going, to leave room for the absolute now. It’s pretty rare for humans to be in that ‘now’ spot for any period longer than seconds, so having been able to stay within a situation where that’s the most basic of building blocks for almost 30 years is something of a luxury on both human and musical levels, should we differentiate the two. Of course it’s not always a success, but to paraphrase a fellow improviser: “I appreciate a good try”.
How about side projects? Were any members part of any other projects?
We’ve all been in loads of different bands and projects, too many to mention here. Currently Henrik’s involved in a couple of more pop-oriented acts, while Niklas does solo stuff under the name Sentimental Pet and the two of us do PSP together. Still under construction are the legendary Blackfoot Boojy Boys. They’re outtasight, man.
Cowboy Cathedral by PSP is a very different sounding album. How would you describe your sound?
If TSM is the easy-to-like happy-go-lucky dude, then PSP is the messed-up angry cousin, a much shadier dark-side-of-the-moon kinda character. We’ve said that we’re ‘dark, ugly & primitive’ and that’s fairly apt, I think. I find that a lot of current bands, even if supposedly non-commercial, have a very slick, clean, home-before-eight type of sound… like it was made by and/or for a bunch of art directors with too many designer tools up their asses, and PSP is hopefully the antithesis of all that. “I’m much too nitty gritty / to be cool, calm and collected”, as the Sons put it.
You also released your solo albums, for instance Standing in the Trees I Get Lifted by the Leaves.
Yeah, I did that one in 2002, mainly with Arne Jonasson, and the follow-up If You’ve Seen Me Lately, Please Tell Me Where I’ve Been, with Niklas as my prime partner, in 2006. I’ve had the songs for a third one ready for at least ten years now, but somehow never get around to record them. Maybe this winter though. A few years ago I had a song on the LSD Lullabies comp, and my intention was to put out a 7” of two recent recordings this year, but I couldn’t afford it. I’m now thinking of doing a super-limited CD-r of them instead.
And I don’t want to forget Holy River Family Band, The Brotherhood Of Eternal Love, Cauldron.
Holy River was me, Arne and Mathias Barder, and I continued playing with Arne in both Cauldron and The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, as well as on my solo releases. He’s an amazing player on all sorts of instruments, and despite him being on a whole other level when it comes to musicianship, our musical communication has always been seamless. Every time we talk we end up saying we gotta do some new recording sessions soon… I’m confident it’ll eventually happen! Last time we collaborated was a few years ago when I wrote a bunch of lyrics for some of his bands/projects, a reformed Njutånger being one of them. Oh, there’s actually a still unreleased 2nd album by Cauldron, which I hope will come out on vinyl somewhere down the road.
The third member in The Brotherhood of Eternal Love was Niklas – we’ve been doing a bunch of different things together ever since then and I reckon we’ll continue to do so at our own slow pace for as long as we can stand up. I dig working in duo line-ups, it’s a loose and hassle-free environment that suits my head just fine. Long before this there was also The Gracious Pond, which was me and Henrik, and as I said earlier, TSM started off as a duo as well.
Sweden has a lot of very interesting bands. Would appreciate a longer commentary about Sweden’s underground and your opinion how your band is connected with it?
Well, I knew Patrick Lundborg (interview here and here) a bit and collaborated with him on two of his books, TSM shared the bill with Kenny Håkansson (interview here and here) (though it was Kebnekajse, not Baby Grandmothers) in Gothenburg in 2002, I think, and we also played with Träd, Gräs och Stenar (interview here) a few times, so if just these three were considered I reckon we’d be smack dab in the center of the psych underground. As it is though, we’re far removed from it all, not being a very well-known name even amongst psychedelically inclined Swedes. In the mid-90s we did have something of a local scene in Umeå, centered around the Garageland label/store (I worked in the latter) with bands like Infra, Jukon Speakers, Optical Blue. A few years later this scene was sort of resurrected when our friend Anders Lundqvist began putting on shows, or mini-festivals, under the name Moonshake. We played there, as did some of our sideprojects like The Brotherhood of Eternal Love, Moon Trotskij, Cauldron… along with other local acts as well as US artists like Larkin Grimm, Black Forest/Black Sea, Christina Carter, Fursaxa. Maybe some of the Finnish bands too, I can’t quite remember. This all faded when Anders moved from Umeå, but he’s back now, so maybe we can look forward to a third coming.
Regarding the present day Swedish underground, I don’t know much about it – I live a rather isolated life and don’t really keep up with current music. I personally feel a strong affinity for what Bo Anders and pals were up to in the early 70s though – a few years ago me and him were in touch frequently and spoke at length about life in the country: growing your own food, chopping wood, keeping sheep, house repairs and an alternative rural life in general. What little we talked about regarding music had more to do with how we both carry ideas about breaking down the borders between the ‘artist’ and the ‘audience’. I’d love to find out that there’s a sub-underground somewhere dedicated to dropping out of straight society, with huge vegetable gardens, communal psychedelic all-night flights on stage floors made of grass and dirt, third eyes painted on the barn walls and “would you die to save a tree? Fuck yeah” mantras buzzing in the breeze, but I’ve yet to come across it! Or, rather, I have it right here, but one man and his sheep ain’t no movement. In the meantime, it seems to me that the musical psychedelic-and-beyond underground and the ‘alternative’ underground (I’m talking about back to the landers, eco warriors, mountain mamas) rarely connect anymore, not in these parts anyway. But then again, maybe I should just get off the farm more often.
DIY approach must be a big part of your band?
It is, but more out of necessity than anything else – I don’t mind working with labels as long as I feel that we’re on the same page, and they understand where we’re coming from. I tend to prefer keeping things small and local though, and this is obvious when you look at how a rather tiny circle of friends have popped up in various capacities throughout the history of TSM and related bands. However, when we did the PSP LP I realized that the music scene has changed so much that I could no longer make sense of it – most of my old contacts, radio stations, magazines, dealers, were no longer in business, and the social media thing had become tremendously important. As it happens I don’t care for any of that and don’t use any of those channels, which may explain why we’ve had a bit of a tough time getting the LP out there… Niklas put up a Facebook account for the label, but I don’t think he’s doing much with it. So in this case our DIY ethos might have been doing us no good, but on the other hand the failure is our very own… “we don’t owe nobody / for the things we eat”. When was the last time you saw Cornbread quoted on the internet?
What are some future plans?
TSM is about to head into the studio in November/December, if all goes according to plan. Hopefully we can get back to doing a bit more live work as well. We’ll roll down the road to any happening place looking for holy backwoods space musick. PSP will also record again, and – as I said – I hope to get started on my solo stuff soon enough.
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?
I haven’t come across anything new – to me – that’s blown my mind in quite some time, so instead I’m listing a bunch of recent spins. These are all old faves – for the last year or so that’s what I’ve mostly been listening to, records that have been with for a very long time. Needless to say I recommend them all to anyone not familiar!
Far Cry – s/t, Andy Zwerling – Spiders in the Night, Pentangle – Basket of Light, Tom Rapp/PBS – Beautiful Lies You Could Live In, Nektar – Journey to the Centre of the Eye, Merry Airbrakes – s/t, Pat Kilroy – Light of Day, Quintessence – In Blissful Company, Suni McGrath – Cornflower Suite, Rob Carr/Bill Kahl – Communication 1.
Thank you. Last word is yours.
Thanks for your interest! If anyone could take any more of TSM after this, I wrote a long piece on the band a few years ago, from my own record collector and countercultural perspective, and it can be read here. It just struck me that a lot of what I said above was also part of the notes on the Peace, Bread & Land Band 7” and I thought I could steal Siddhi’s words as a summary for those who got bored with me halfway and jumped straight to the end…: “This album was a co-operative project of many musicians. There is no Peace, Bread and Land Band, but there could be. This winter I’d like to do a 12” record and have the time and space to explore other musical idioms besides rock. I’ve been writing a lot of quieter songs and I’m looking for folks to add their licks to the musical stew. Anyone interested in creating some new sounds, free from sexist and acoustical oppression, down on the farm on those rainy days? We can grow food and make music to nourish folks in the lean days ahead.”
– Klemen Breznikar
Nice interview. Interesting and articulate guy and some fine music too. Sweden’s always had a vibrant music scene both mainstream and underground.