If Presence touches sensible issues of the current world, through engaged lyrics, talking about the failure of human values and ideologies, about the drowning of revolt in indifference, about the ecological crisis and about the abusive exploitations of the planet's resources, about the need for a reform of the human conscience, the album Dark Flowers Awake, which is a project of Dan Söderqvist done in collaboration with musicians and artists from various countries, aims at introvert matters and explores odysseys of the soul caught at crossroads or in a self-searching process. Being a very cultivated artist, and initiated in humanist and aesthetic matters as well, Dan transposes into music motifs and themes form the greatest European fictions and mythologies, in a personal interpretation. One of the most spectacular pieces, Endymion, is a pleading for an attempt to extract the elixir of beauty from the raw material of life, in an alchemic spirit. "A thing of beauty is a joy forever" the lyrics of the refrain state. Endymion is a myth of eternal youth. The legend says that Goddess Selena fell in love with a mortal, named Endymion, while he was sleeping in a cave. Mesmerized by his beauty, Selena began to suffer, thinking of the ephemeral nature of this beauty, so she decided to use her magic powers to keep him eternally asleep, so that he would never grow old. Selena's powers are those of the artist, who tries to extract the elixir of beauty from the perishable matter of existence. Legend has it that beauty is transcendental to reality, that you can only preserve and savor it in contemplation, in the unreal light of interiority and not on a contingent level. Sleeping Endymion is an interiorized man... In his interior world, his beauty never perishes. You wonder: is there anything immutable, an irreducible form of the soul, which time cannot reach? Something that can help us clearly recognize someone's manner of being from a few distinctive touches and lines? Is there something fundamentally individual? And if not, how can you love a being that is constantly transforming?
I had a chat with Dan and we talked about his musical career and about his artistic goals and views and also about the Northern sounds.
Ilinca Bernea: You have been prolific during these last years. Where does this burst of creativity come from?
Dan Söderqvist: I normally work in a steady pace with a lot of discipline, but there are bursts of inspiration now and then. It was very inspiring at the start of social networking through the Internet, almost 10 years ago, when you had the possibility to collaborate with people all around the world. In 2006-2010, I created a great body of work very quickly, but not much was released. After a personal crash, I didn´t do much of my own work for some years, I mainly made soundtrack commissions for theatres and exhibitions. For some time now, I have gone back to finish some of the collaborative works, besides working on the new Twice a Man album. I still have 4 unreleased albums.
I.B.: Where do you find your inspiration?
D.S.: In everything that I react to emotionally, and not only good things. There is a world out there and there are all these expressions from other artists. Certain states of mind, experiences, memories... it differs from time to time... for example, the inspiration for Presence came out of anger towards the political situation we all live in and especially the war in Gaza last summer. But I believe I have certain spiritual (I don´t know a better word) memories that I can trust when I feel bad... some kind of belief in Nature and a search for Beauty to find Truth...
I.B.: I rely on the same kind of faith, I'd say.
D.S.: One artist that I see almost as a father-figure for me is the Russian film director Andrei Tarkovsky. I have as long as I can remember felt a strong attraction for Russia, perhaps I have lived there in a former life? Tarkovsky´s universe speaks to me more deeply than any other artist's and I can always find inspiration in his work. Twice a Man´s album From a Northern Shore (1984) is much inspired from him, also the instrumental A Defence of Poetry (2014). I cannot explain his universe easily, but there is a certain atmosphere that I recognize as "Nordic", I think it has to do with the long winters, the darkness, the melancholia. We have a Swedish word for it - "vemod", which you cannot translate into English. It refers to a kind of nostalgia for something that we, humans, have lost, as if we are butterflies without wings...
Dan Söderqvist (photo by Bo Wieslander)
I.B.: Tell me when you decided you'd go for a musical career and when the idea took shape in your mind?
D.S.: When I saw The Beatles on Swedish television in 1963. It was a revelation for me. I had many other interests during my childhood, not least of which the exciting space exploration. I was also interested in Nature, especially insects and birds... I dreamed of getting a Nobel Prize, but at 10 years old I began playing the guitar and soon after started my first band, I knew that was the road for me.
I.B.: I know from a mutual Canadian friend that your band, Twice a Man, became quite famous in the '80s. You've been very appreciated since then. What do you believe, was it easier for a young artist to gain an audience then or it is easier now?
D.S.: I don´t know really... as the music industry has changed and given the technical development with computers and the Internet etc... so many people are working with music today and it is probably harder to grow an audience... I believe that in order to be successful, you need to have both talent and a passion... and a certain timing to be at the right place at a certain moment. I have always been working in the non-commercial independent scene. I guess with money behind you, you could sell anything.
I.B.: How was the arts/music market back then, in Sweden?
D.S.: If you are refering to the early '80s, it was a good scene for alternative music and the arts. Music developed fast in new genres, like synth pop, industrial music and new wave acts... and there was also a good friendship between the bands, helping each other get concerts etc. The problem was that it was difficult to perform outside the Nordic countries. Twice a Man was one of the first Scandinavian bands to play in Holland, Belgium and Germany. At that time, Anglo-American bands had the whole market.
I.B.: Tell me about your band-mates. Who are they? And how does it feel to be in a band for such a long time?
D.S.: Karl Ingemar Gasleben and me have been friends since 1969, when we were attending the same school. We did some musical collaboration at the time and formed our first band in '76. After a X-mas spent together, we formed Cosmic Overdose, the pre-runner to Twice a Man. Jocke Söderqvist was a member of Twice a Man during 1983-86 and has been a member again since 2014. Jocke lives in Stockholm, while me and Ingemar live in Gothenburg or close by. To be an artistic team for such a long time as me and Ingemar, I guess it is unusual. From time to time, we take a break from each other. We have different roles in the band, difficult to pinpoint, but I would say that Ingemar is more technical than me, that I am perhaps more of a "poet". When we play on stage, there is a certain chemistry between all three of us and I am happy that Jocke is in the band again. Jocke is the best musician and he has a gift to make wonderful melodies that interact perfectly in our sound. Ingemar is great at making ambient textures. My role is to be the singer and guitar player live. For Presence, we collaborated with the much younger producer Daniel Kaufeldt that added some music, mixed and mastered the album. We also work with a light designer live, Lars Lanhed.
Twice a Man (photo by Jenny Eve van den Arend)
I.B.: I'm curious about your first stage experience. How difficult was it to climb on a stage? You seem to be rather the introvert and shy type, if I'm not mistaken. How did you train yourself in order to develop your stage-avatar?
D.S.: No, I don't see myself as introvert or shy, well sometimes yes, but that is more in private situations. I was 12 the first time I was on stage and it came natural to me. In my first "real" band, Älgarnas Trädgård, it was mostly instrumental music, so you could hide behind your instrument. To be a singer is something completely different. I started as a singer on stage with Cosmic Overdose, a band that had a kind of wild punk attitude. It took me some years to find my own voice and also my own expression on stage. I try not to be theatrical, as so many of my fellow singers in the genre do. But it is tricky to know how other people see you on stage... I guess I have some kind of stage persona different from what I am in private. I do my best to try to bring the essence of the music and lyrics to the audience. In this way, I am an instrument, like an actor, on stage.
I.B.: Is there any difference between Dan the composer and Dan the performer, with respect to musical exigencies and expectations?
D.S.: Yes, they are two different situations, when I am composing I am alone and can do what I want and take the time to experiment. On stage, I´m in the band, with an audience, and should perform as well as I can in every moment. I am not easily pleased with my own performance. I also depend on a good sound, which doesn't happen too often live. I find that performance is very demanding and exhausting, but when it all works out, it's more rewarding too.
I.B.: Who are the musicians that inspired and influenced you the most?
D.S.: Difficult question... there are so many! When it comes to male voices, I admired John Lennon and David Bowie in the past, but nowadays I prefer women voices, starting with Elizabeth Frazer in the '80s and I found some new voices that I really love, Chelsea Wolfe and Rachel Davies in Esben and the Witch to mention a few... Ian Curtis has been important in my life. I am inspired when I can hear a person's soul speak to me, and I am sure all these impressions influence me in some way... With regard to composers, it is the same, I like to hear the personality behind the music, the soul... In classical music, there are a number of composers: Stravinsky, Schostakovitch, Pärt... When it comes to "popular" music, one of my influences is Joseph Byrd from the '60s band United States of America who introduced electronic sounds to me, also early Pink Floyd and, later, I was impressed by bands like Portishead and Massive Attack. Come to think about it, one song that influenced me a lot was the Rolling Stones' song Paint It Black, because of the Indian-influenced melody in a minor scale... Ever since, that is how I choose my melodic scales.
Dan Söderqvist (photo by Jenny Eve van den Arend)
I.B.: Who are your favorite authors?
D.S.: Here too, there are so many that I enjoy reading. I have a love for early 19th century poets like John Keats and Percy Bysshe Shelley. I find that era very intriguing and they were kind of early "hippies" of the romantic era. I like Jane Austen, Edith Wharton, Henry James, also Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Vladimir Nabokov. I love Russian literature, reading Dostoevsky in my early teens, Chekhov... and I am very fond of working with a Shakespeare text... and the list goes on! I don't read contemporary authors, but mainly stick to the classics, one exception is Le Clezio.
I.B.: I know you're a very cultivated person and interested in many cultural areas. How do you relate with the idea of experimental art, literature and music?
D.S.: I do like all the arts and have been trying to put together art forms in what we in the '80s called multi-media work.
I.B.: Yes, there has been an opening towards synesthetic artistic experiences, those years.
D.S.: This was in fact a kind of commercial suicide when Twice a Man was at our peak in the Wave Scene and started to experiment with different art forms like Driftwood '87-'88. In this performance, we did not play any instruments, we only used our voices. It was more of a theatre performance. At the same time, we started to make soundtrack-related works for theatres. We made a kind of aural scenography or what we now call ambiences for the stage. At the time, this was an innovation.
D.S.: We were lucky and had the chance to work at the Royal Dramatic Theatre in Stockholm. There, we also met one of the most influential artists in my life, the costume designer and scenographer Charles Koroly. Since then, we have been working with many different media, with or without him, in films, exhibitions, dance performances, computer games, even research and pedagogical work. I am especially interested in working with poetry and making music and ambiences that form a new kind of art, what I call "Ambient Books". One of these works was the H.P. Lovecraft poem Fungi from Yuggoth, which was released as an album in 2009.
I.B.: How innovative do you consider your music to be?
D.S.: Not so innovative, if you think strictly from a musical point of view. I think though at certain times I have been sensible to new things and have made my own unique work as a result. I have my antennas out there. I think one of my greatest strengths is that I can come up with conceptual ideas that are new and innovative. Also, my partner Ingemar has been good to come up with technical innovations in electronics and later computer-based artwork. But I think that in general, at least in Scandinavia, me and my partners have been considered avant-garde, that we have introduced certain ideas, techniques and genres. That we have been a few years ahead of time. Since the '90s, I have the feeling that nothing completely new has appeared in the Arts, it´s mainly repetition of old ideas and that goes for my own work too. Maybe I am wrong or perhaps only getting old. In a sense, the new Twice a Man album, Presence, is a reinvention of own '80s. In another project, together with my old band mate RF Jan Ternald, we reinvent our own '60s teenage years.
I.B.: Name three aesthetic qualities that you demand from an art work in order to appreciate it.
D.S.: I think I can appreciate a great variety of artistic works, all different kinds of aesthetics... it depends greatly in what context they are made. I don´t know if Originality is an aesthetic quality, I guess it is, that is something I value, cause there are too many copies out there. Beauty is a somehow confusing concept, because what you see as beauty is so personal. I appreciate Empathy and the fact that the work has some kind of "moral" quality.
I.B.: Which are the distinctive features/qualities of your music?
D.S.: I think I have a certain tone in all I do, usually it is serious and melancholic... I try to be truthful, to not be influenced by commercial aspects, which can be very hard work actually. I want my music to be human, soulful and from the heart, in spite of using all these machines, but they are only instruments after all.
I.B.: Do you have a favorite genre or style?
D.S.: No, it will differ from time to time. I've had a long period of listening to ambient music, but since I started working with Presence, I have listened to a lot to '80s-based electronic, wave or synth music, to catch up with what has happened in the genre of Twice a Man. I like when music has passion and I am not in favour of music that is too intellectual, academic or "arty". I don´t value technical instrumental skills as much as heartfelt expression.
I.B.: Are you a melancholic man, Dan?
D.S.: Sometimes, but I am blessed with a great deal of humour too. I am too often a caricature of an "angry young man".
Dan Söderqvist (photo by Anders Nord)
I.B.: What do you consider to be the most important musical experience and/or achievement for you?
D.S.: Perhaps it's not the answer to your question, but I think I am a sensitive listener. Quite early in my life I listened not only to music, but my surroundings as well. It is a pleasure to actively listen to where you are in the environment, of course the sounds of nature, but also engines, traffic, distant voices. It is a kind of music for me. Texture in sounds and music has always been important, in a way it reminds a lot of painting. There is also a "spiritual" quality in music that I am searching for, a kind of "otherness", to leave your own body and be a part of something greater. I can´t express this very well, I know... but music can transcend you and in a way purify you, it is meditation... On the other hand, music also has a social context that is important, especially when you think of different genres that create subcultures, to be able to be part of a movement through music. I have some important musical experiences, seeing bands live, like Mothers of Invention, Jimi Hendrix and Pink Floyd in my early teenage years. As for achievements, I consider there are some moments in my production when I felt something special was going on... My guitar in The Rings of Saturn (Älgarnas Trädgård), the song Modern Dada (Cosmic Overdose) and perhaps the whole concept of Driftwood (Twice a Man).
I.B.: Do you feel fulfilled as an artist? If you were to choose once again, would you make the same decision? To be a musician, I mean...
D.S.: No, I am not satisfied or fulfilled. I have achieved work that I am proud of, but I will never be fulfilled as an artist. To be a composer and a musician has been very exciting, but if I had chosen something in Natural Sciences, which I believe was the other option, I guess I would have the same feeling. Sometimes, I feel that I should have done much more work in a social or political context, but it is not too late for that. I partly see my music as political, not least of all the new Twice a Man album. I have lived in an ebony tower from time to time, but the older I get, the more I want to change the direction the world is heading in.
I.B.: Have your views changed a lot in time?
D.S.: Not really, if you mean basic ideology. I don´t want to put a label on what I believe in, but I have always, as long as I remember, been a romantic and I quote Keats: "I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of the Imagination."
I.B.: Well said! Have you ever militated as an artist for a particular social cause?
D.S.: I have always stood up for human rights, justice, equality and such, but my most "political" statements have always been in environmental issues.
I.B.: You told me once that you have been a hippy. What was the reason for you break-up with this affiliation?
D.S.: It´s just a label on how you look, what kind of music you listen to or what kind of drugs you take. There are many "hippie-values" I still believe in: "make love, not war". But in a personal context, I had to leave this way of life, as it had become too much of an introvert journey into some kind of spiritual enlightenment thing. I was not ready to do that. I also strongly disagreed with the way music had transformed in the middle of the '70s, with the far too intellectual approach in jazz-rock" or symphonic-rock that was popular at the time. So, when Punk came in 1976, I revalued a lot of things and cut my long hair and me and Karl started Cosmic Overdose.
I.B.: I'm glad to hear so. You know I have a penchant for punk and I am reticent towards progressive-intellectualist music. And I'm not quite crazy about jazz either!