The Radio Dept. - Alexander Kovalev Interviewing Johan Duncanson

2005

Johan Duncanson: Lead Singer From The Radio Dept. Q. (Kovalev):
It's absolutely clear that pop component of your music predominates the one consisting of hushed vocals, white noise and different lo-fi effects. you seem to be much more involved into pop music than into 90s early shoegaze. can be the choice of shoegaze as wrapper for pop melodies interpreted like some kind of protest or demonstration against something?

A. (Duncanson):
when we recorded lesser matters and the eps prior to the album I had been into noisy recordings for quite some time. martin (we record most of the music together in my flat) caught on to that very quickly. We really wanted to make noise as much as we wanted to write melodies. I wanted to listen to records like that but I couldn't find any. After that our tastes have changed and we've taken the music in a slightly different direction. It's still pop though, as much as it ever was. We are a pop group. Not a shoegaze band or another narrow misinterpretations. We love sound however, and to explore and arrange sound through home recording with pop history, present and future in mind. We are loyal amateurs creating pop music out of our homes.

Your upcoming release is one of the most anticipated records of this year. Is it reasonable to consider that within frames of your new LP you'll renounce lo-fi/shoegaze? ( this past week ep let us think this way, doesn't it?) What about integrating new electronic technologies to your sound?

- it didn't t take too long for us to get tired of being compared to my bloody valentine and Jesus and Mary chain all the time. jamc is a boring and very heterosexual rock band that wrote a few good songs (and I don't mean any of the rock songs, I m talking about songs like just like honey ). mbv I like because they had a genuine interest in both melody and sound.
We took a step away from noise and distortion with this past week partly because we simply wanted to change but mainly because we felt like creating something cleaner in a way and we didn't t really know where to start. It was exciting. The album will hopefully take it one step further.

How do you feel about your home at Labrador?

- Labrador is ok. We don't feel connected ideologically or musically to any of the other bands but we get along with Johan and Mattias who run the label, we can release anything whenever we want and they've stopped trying to make us do stuff that we don't want to do (like stupid p.r. things, interviews with tabloid papers or magazines for guys). They know what we hate and respect our opinions.

Have you talked to any larger labels yet?

- Xl recordings released the album in the rest of Europe last august and they re good. After we had released the first singles ourselves in 2002 a lot of major labels got in contact with us but we didn't want to have anything to do with them. To be forced to print the Warner logo on our records would be a bit like having to get a McDonalds tattoo on the neck. And a major label would constantly try and change what we sound like. Threaten you not to release the records you make unless you record a hit and that type of thing. We resigned to EMI publishing but a publishing label is not like a record label. They have no creative control.

A lot of Labrador artist are involved in many side projects (e.g.. Johan Angergard -- Acid House Kings, Club 8, The Legends, Malin -- Douglas Heart, Laurel Music, Pelle Carlberg -- Edson and solo). so will it be possible to recognize anybody from other bands on your new album? I mean not only Labrador bands.

- maybe. I've had a couple of projects on the side. One band called pophitler and another one with Jens Lekman that we haven t got a name for yet. It might not happen though. We'll see.

Can you tell me about collaboration with Jens Lekman in broad outline? was it spontaneous or not? What was your role and does your joint material differ from Jens Lekman's solo stuff?

- It was nothing but spontaneous. We met him for the first time when we both played support to a Swedish band that s kind of big here, broder daniel. We partied in Jens hotel room afterwards and I think I kind of scared him by getting really drunk. The gig was in the very north of Sweden and I can't really remember but we were booked on the same flight the next day and I think it was then I asked him if he wanted to start a band. I really loved Maple Leaves and Black Cab. He said we would have to do something that differs from both his solo project and the radio dept and I agreed. That s as far as we've come though. We haven't actually done anything but talking about it since then. I guess my role in the band would be co or independent songwriter, musician and producer. Same as Jens. We re not sure if we re gonna sing ourselves or ask other people.

Could you describe your creative process? Are things worked out in the studio or do you come in with prepared material? will one person develop a
song for the most part, or is it very much collaborative - everyone brainstorming in the moment of song writing. do you start with a chord progression or a melody, or...

- In most cases I have a song from the beginning that martin and I arrange together. By a song I mean chords and a melody, in most cases a vocal one, and then lyrics. Arranging in our case means everything from programming the drum machines, playing the guitars, basses and keyboards to working with the sound, the eqs and, finally, mixing the track. We record everything at home, in my flat (that we call Möllan studio 1 in the record sleeves) on a regular pc. Anyone that has a pc could do it really. We never start with rehearsing a song live and then record it. We do the exact opposite and start with the recording. Then we try to recreate it live when we re supposed to perform somewhere.

Is it hard to be a creative songwriter these days? what are you inspired by? Are you reading anything or is there any author that inspires you?

- I guess it's as easy or as hard as ever really. I get inspired by music, film, art, reading and ultimately living. I like reading music journalism when it's good. Becoming aware of the past and present of pop culture is often very inspiring. When you feel frustrated with the ways of the world and you can't sit still it's the perfect boost before recording something; reading an article about orange juice or m.i.a. without listening to them.

So what music magazines/e-zines do you have confidence in?

- When I was fifteen to twenty I was totally amazed by this Swedish music magazine called Pop. It was genuine and written by fans. As was a fanzine called Benno but on a d.i.y. level making me discover real indie stuff, not the big record company version of it. Now I m 26 and maybe a bit pickier but there s no single magazine/e-zine about music that stuns me. Some texts are amazing and some writers are too but I can't think of one publication, as a whole, that really has it going for them.
There are the British magazines for aging heterosexual men, Mojo and Uncut. They always put Bob Dylan or a member of the Beatles on their covers. It's like Grandpa, your Mojo has arrived. I'll put it here next to your teeth . Then there are tons of magazines always writing about bands like r.e.m., radiohead and coldplay. I m not interested in their boring point of view. There are two quite good web sites I read called digfi and the jet set junta (a very academic and ideological site about pop culture), but they re in Swedish I m afraid. And I've been into a few Japanese e-zines but I never remember their names. If you've got any tips I d love to hear about them.

What were you listening to during the recording of new LP? And what sort of stuff are you listening to? Have you picked up some good stuff?

- I have listened to Out Hud, Prefab Sprout and Paddy McAloons solo album I trawl the megahertz , Frank Sinatra, The Avalanches, Mylo, St Etienne (the
early 90s records), Fennesz, junior boys and a lot more. And pet shop boys introspective album.

What are your favourite Sarah records bands? Secret Shine or The Field Mice?

- I d have to say Field Mice however obvious that is. I don't think everything they did was great but some songs are just fantastic. Having said that, the concept or idea of Sarah records has always appealed to me much more than the actual records ever have.

Since the concept of Sarah records is very close to you is it possible that after releasing of the defined number of lps or 7" singles the radio dept. Will be disbanded? Or maybe you meant anything else by Sarah records idea/concept?

- I meant their political stand. They were feminists and took a stand by deciding on a girl s name for the label. Very anti rock. They also decided never to put girls on the record covers unless they had a direct connection to the music. They were totally against record collecting and compared it to collecting stamps. Now people collect Sarah records and it's just so ironic. They released limited editions because they thought that was what they could sell. Not to create collectors items.

as for the Field Mice: 'Sensitive' or 'Missing the Moon'? =)

- Canada!

Do you listen to electronic music? If you do then highlight some records please.

- Quite a lot of the music I listen to is electronic in some fashion whether it's house, electronica or old stuff like kraftwerk or the klf. I like Superpitcher when he doesn't sing, I quite like IsolИe and you should check out a Swedish band called Differnet. They re on a Stockholm label called Friendly Noise where they've released two albums.

Do you still remember your first track ever? What was it like? What is the destiny of it?

- I remember it. It was called note for bike thrasher and was a corny song about a friend who had his bike demolished outside his mothers house and he couldn't afford to buy a new one. The melody was quite good though. Kind of sad. We might rerecord it someday for fun.

And what have impelled you to write your first song?

- note for bike thrasher was the first radio department song, not the first song ever. The very first melody I came up with I sang to my older sister when I was seven and she told me it already existed. She could have put an end to it then and there. I don't know why I kept going.

Does it make you feel sad that almost all the audio production moves to the internet?

- No. I think. I m not sure I understood the question but if you mean mp3s and downloading music I am not against it. It's a perfect way to reach people anywhere with anything you want to say. You can record a song in an evening and have people downloading it five minutes after you re done. For the Radio Department I feel it's great when people buy the records but I d rather have more people listening to it for free than not at all. Personally I like records and record covers and all the excitement around it all but that s me. And records are expensive.

What's the meaning of POP from your view?

- To me it's an art form that communicates almost violently. It's very one dimensional and pure. Joy Division didn't dress up in gigantic hats and dance around on stage. Happy Mondays however, did. Stick with the message. Or don't, but then that's the message. Pop is also arranging sound and music to create emotion. It's fashion and clubs and parties. It can be comforting when you re depressed about growing up or whatever you re going through. It works on so many levels.

How in this context can you explain the enormous number of amazing pop bands in Sweden? Is it special Swedish national feature?

- I don't know. I guess a lot of people just think they can do it themselves, think that it's not that hard. And then they do it.

I saw that, along with the band's sound, you've also created a very specific, recognizable aesthetic. If you had the chance to, for one night or one show, turn that aesthetic on its head and completely freak out your audience, what would you like to do? Maybe heavy metal? =)

- I think we would perform completely and obviously playback and see if we managed to piss anyone off.

One more question: What about title of new album? Did you think it over?

- We're not really done with the album yet so we're still thinking about the title. Nothing's decided. Both Martin and I work full time on schedules that don't match at all. We work at two different mental institutions in different cities so it's a bit hard to get the time to record new songs. I think we will be done in about two months but that Labrador and xl will postpone the release until early next year. unfortunately.

And the last one: What about cover? Who will paint it? Again Elin Almered?

- I doubt it will be a painting this time. It might be a picture of someone in his/her late forties/early fifties.


 


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