Dag Rosenqvist: It was my way of dealing and not dealing with the fact that my life had been taken away from me in an instant
Dag Rosenqvist’s name might ring a bell, but most probably you need to think twice. But if we say Jasper TX and heavy-hearted experimental music from Sweden… there you go! The Jasper TX moniker has been terminated last year, therefore Dag has stepped up to show an even more sensitive and wholehearted side of his with ‘Fall Into Fire’ – the first album of hopefully many to come, released under his real name. In our interview Dag unfolds why his latest album turned out to be even more personal than the others, tells us about his special relationship with books and explains why you should watch more films by Gaspar Noé and Harmony Korine. He also prepared a non-conventional mixtape featuring artists such as Dead Letters Spell Out Dead Words, Gnaw Their Tongues, Nekrasov and Khanate, which will make his own music seem to be sweet lullaby compared to the tracks he has chosen for this compilation. This is what you should start your week with.
Your latest LP ‘Fall Into Fire’ has been recently released on the American label n5MD. It’s your first release under your own name since you said goodbye to your Jasper TX alter ego last year. How come you made that decision and how do you feel about it now? What difference does it make to you which name are you using when releasing new material?
I just felt I had come to a natural end point with Jasper TX. I had done what I wanted to do and with the last proper album, ‘The Black Sun Transmissions‘, I felt I had realized all the ideas I wanted to manifest as Jasper TX. I also started to feel that the moniker had become something that was separated from me as a person and since the music I make has always been highly personal, I just felt I wanted to move on to a place where I had nothing to hide, where there was nothing between what I expressed and me as a person. I definitely feel I made the right decision and I have never once regretted doing it, even though it made things harder in some ways. I had to start over and find a new path for myself and I don’t think I could have done that as Jasper TX. As being simply Dag Rosenqvist, I can be truly free in all the ways I want to, because it’s just me. No one else.
The name is of course important, as you may have guessed here. Jasper TX helped me when I started making music. It was something of a persona that I could use. Today, when I work in collaborations it’s still important to decide if the collaboration is gonna be my name and the other person’s name as is the case with my collaborations with Matthew Collings and Simon Scott, or if it’s to become a project with a name like From the Mouth of the Sun (with Aaron Martin), The Silence Set (my project with Johan G. Winther) or de la Mancha (my project with my childhood friend Jerker Lund). I honestly can’t explain why some falls into the first category and why some falls into the second. As a lot of things, it’s just a gut feeling and as much as possible in life, I tend to go with my gut feeling. If something feels right, then it probably is, whether you like it or not.
‘Fall Into Fire’ is considered to be even more intimate than your previous releases, which – we could all agree – have already been quite personal. In what way do you think this intimacy is manifested in this case? What is the story behind this album?
When I made this music I was in a really bad state. On the summer of 2012 my wife left me and throughout fall and winter I was drinking too much, I was depressed and on medication. Since we were selling the flat we used to share, I had no home anymore, so I lived on a mattress in my niece’s room for a few months while everything I owned was in storage – save for a few records, some books and some clothes. I started working on the foundations for this album before my wife left me, but when she did it took another direction and I can honestly say that this record helped me stay alive. It was my way of dealing and not dealing with the fact that my life had been taken away from me in an instant. I buried myself in the making of this music, I poured everything into it. I poured love, rage, sorrow, hatred, anxiety and self-loathing into it. It is by far the most personal thing I have ever done and it’s also the one thing I wish I never had to make. It’s very hard for me to listen to this album (if not impossible) but I’m very proud of it and I can honestly say that I think it’s the best thing I have ever done. It’s also one of the few ‘good’ things to come out of one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to endure.
There is plenty of silence and even more noise in your latest sonic collection of your ideas. What does silence mean to you personally?
Well, it’s a cliché but without silence there is no sound. To me, dynamics are really, really important when making music. It’s only when it’s been really quiet that you will perceive something as really loud. If everything is loud all the way then nothing is really loud, right? A few years back I played at Café Oto in London. The London audience isn’t really known for keeping quiet during concerts, although at Café Oto they’re generally a bit more attentive. So what I did was I got on stage and started out dead quiet. Initially no one cared or had even noticed I had started. But after a while people started hushing each other and eventually it simmered down until you could hear a needle fall to the floor. When it’s that quiet, people pay attention to every detail and for the rest of the show they keep that focus. I just played a gig in Karlsruhe and afterwards a woman came up to me and said how the silence at the beginning of the set had sucked her in completely and she gave every detail her utmost attention. So silence is very important to me and whenever I master my records, I try to make sure that the original dynamics in the pieces are kept as close to how I did it as possible. Of course there is some compression on basically all my masters, but in most cases very little. When it’s quiet it should also be quiet. Funny thing is that Mike, who runs n5MD, actually passed on ‘Fall Into Fire’ the first time around due to the fact that there is so much silence on it. Of course he’s right, the album begins with almost two minutes of almost silence. There are sounds there, but they are very low mixed. This is of course intentional as I wanted this to start from the absolute zero, from nothing, just to fall back into nothing once it’s over. Also the whole album is mastered at quite low volume in order to not have to compress too much and destroy the natural dynamics of the album. If people think it’s too quiet, there’s a volume knob on your stereo and I suggest you use it…
You live in Sweden, but have released your music predominantly on international labels. There are only two Swedish labels in your discography – Fang Bomb and Kning Disk –, who used to actively publish music earlier, but not anymore or just extremely rarely nowadays. How do you feel about the opportunities to share your music with people in Sweden? Is the Swedish public interested in ambient music and their own local artists, what are your experiences?
My debut album was released on the English based label Lampse, my second full length album ‘A Darkness’ was released on a German label and my third full length ‘In A Cool Monsoon’ was released on a US label. So to me this has always been an international thing. I don’t think it matters where the label is based, the people who are interested in this will find it anyway. Since there are basically no record shops around anymore, everyone just buys things online where anything and everything is available. I mean, I think I buy 90% of my records on Discogs these days. The world is shrinking, for better or for worse.
Gothenburg has a strong scene for experimental music with a lot of good labels, venues and promoters around, so I think there’s a good atmosphere and a curiosity towards this kind of thing. I think that the same could maybe be said for Malmö and Stockholm as well, but I guess that’s pretty much it. I’m not saying people aren’t interested in experimental music or making great things on the countryside, but as in every country this is perhaps something that exists (or at least gets noticed) in an urban environment. Also, I don’t think that Sweden in general is that interested in what I do, which is totally fine with me. It’s a small country but with a strong music tradition, so there are a lot of amazing musicians and composers around. I do get good reviews here and I occasionally do gigs here as well, but on a large scale I don’t even register.
What do you work with besides producing music? In Gothenburg you have your own company, organizing events. What else is going on there?
Since three and a half years now I am one of four co-owners of a company called Producentbyrån. We work as project managers and producers in performing arts, mainly in contemporary music, contemporary dance and dance for young audiences. We also work with arranging conferences, seminars and festivals and Producentbyrån is very much my extended family. I work mainly with music and music related projects (go figure…) and I work a lot with communication, marketing and audience development aspects in these projects. A lot of what I do is also advisory work. As an independent artist you’re very much working alone and sometimes it’s really good to just discuss your thoughts and ideas with an external part (me in this case) and see them from another angle. Since I know both what is it to be on tour and to be the promoter, I think I have a pretty good idea on what each part needs to make things work.
The best part of my job at Producentbyrån is that I get to help promote good art. Art that would have a much harder time reaching its audience without the work that we do. That, and the freedom being self-employed gives, means more than all the money in the world to me.
If you could move away from Gothenburg – just about anywhere in the world -, where would you move?
On several occasions over the last couple of years I’ve been thinking of moving somewhere else. But it all falls on my indecisiveness, as I just can’t make up my mind on where I would actually want to live. I also don’t want to question whether I’m moving to or from something. Since I am a bit of a control freak, I don’t like change that much and moving to another country is quite a big change and it would be something that I would have to plan meticulously and over a long period of time. One city that I really love, and where I could actually see myself living, is Copenhagen in Denmark. I’ve always loved Copenhagen. It’s a laid-back city that feels more free than Gothenburg does. Here everything’s very controlled and restricted, but Copenhagen feels more relaxed. Plus they have amazing restaurants there. I’ve also been playing with the idea of living in New York and Berlin, but I think I’d rather come visit, maybe for an extended period of time, but I don’t think I would want to live there.
Your choice of track titles (‘Blown Out To Sea, I’m Never Coming Back’, ‘All Those Broken Birds Singing Winter Into Spring’, ‘I Will Be Birds When I Die’ etc.) gives a peculiar poetic touch to your music, one would almost wish if someone would start narrating a story. Do you read lots of literature? What do you like to read?
I’ve always read a lot of books. It was my mom who turned me onto reading books. I remember how she would bribe me to read. How she would say “if you read ten books, I’ll buy you one”. I am extremely glad she opened this world to me as I think this has been the biggest source of inspiration throughout the years. It’s like a whole new room in your mind is opened whenever you read. Since you have to build your own universe from what you read, it feels as though the imagination grows the more you read, and the more the imagination grows the more ideas you get. To me this is often translated directly into the music I make. It can be something that triggers a track title or an idea for a concept or for a new approach to something I’m working on. It’s always hard to pick your favorite authors as I think it’s the same as with music, it’s bound to where you are in your life at the moment. But over the years I have spent endless hours with Siri Hustvedt, Bret Easton Ellis, Chuck Palahniuk, Paul Auster, Peter Nilsson, Carl-Johan Vallgren, Sara Stridsberg, Lotta Lotass, John Ajvide Lindqvist, Peter Høeg. There are a lot of Swedish authors here that a lot of people from outside of Sweden may not have heard of, but a lot of them have also been translated into English so they are definitely worth checking out.
You have also created music for a ballet piece and made the score for an independent horror, ‘Toad Road‘ directed by Jason Banker. How do you think your creating process had changed when you had to combine it with an already finished visual product? Did you feel any kind of pressure to fit into a certain atmosphere or was it up to you to shape it as you like?
Well, that differs from project to project. In the case of ‘Toad Road’, Jason had already used some of my released tracks for some scenes in the film, but what he lacked was something in the same veins, but with a more distinct song structure. When we started talking about what he imagined, we started narrowing it down and I remember talking along the lines of groups such as Neurosis and Earth. So what I did then was to try and create something that was along the lines of that kind of music, but that was also something that I could have just as easily had as a track on a record of mine. At that point the film wasn’t finished, so a lot of the editing was still to be done and I actually think he re-edited some after the music was done (I am now talking specifically about the scene in the forest when Sara disappears, which is the scene I wrote the ‘Toad Road Theme’ for and if you haven’t seen this film, then do so as it’s really fucked up in the best possible way). As for the music I’ve done for the various dance pieces it has been a matter of communication. When I’ve come into the process, very little if any of the choreography had actually been done so I’ve never actually came into a finished product or piece. It’s a matter of dialogue, finding what the choreographer’s artistic vision is and how you can meet that and still be true to your own artistic vision. In some cases it has worked out really well, in some others not so well. That said, I’m very proud of the music I have done for these things and I cherish these collaborations as they force me in new directions and challenge me to try out new things and step out of my comfort zone. That is something that I think we all really need to develop as artists.
If you could choose any director, whose film would you like to write music for and why?
I think it’s a draw between Gaspar Noé and Harmony Korine. These are directors who aren’t afraid to deal with the darker aspects of humanity and human behavior, they make films that upset people, that makes people think for themselves and at times perhaps question the society we live in. They are also daring and unique in their visual approach and watching their movies can at times almost be an almost hallucinatory experience, especially in the case of Noé’s ‘Enter The Void’ and Korine’s ‘Gummo’. If you haven’t already checked these films out I strongly recommend you do so as it’s something else entirely.
You have an extensive list of collaborations and remixes, so far you have collaborated with such names as Simon Scott (Slowdive), Rutger Zuydervelt (Machinefabriek) and you have your own collaboration project, From The Mouth Of The Sun together with Aaron Martin. Who would you like to team up with in the future?
I don’t really think about it in that way. The people who I collaborate with are all great people first and talented musicians second. I am currently working with a lot of different people on different projects and how I came to work with these people are more coincidence than anything else. Generally the people I choose to work with are people whom I’ve met while touring or something like that. To me it’s important that it is someone I like and that I know I can communicate and be totally honest with, otherwise the collaboration won’t work.
Even though you’ve just had an album out, you are not touring too much – only two live shows have been planned for this year. Is there any particular reason why you are not doing more performances?
Performing live has always been a hard thing for me. I am a control freak and in a live situation there are just so many things that can get fucked up. When they do it, kills me every time. I’m very hard on myself so basically every gig I’ve ever done has been a failure of sorts. But that’s my way of seeing it and I know that a lot of people really like it and I am extremely grateful for that. It’s not that I’m constantly disappointed when playing live, I have done shows that I think worked really well, but I guess my disposition is just to focus on the flaws and what I could have done better. After the two shorter tours I did back in spring 2012 and with the decision to bury the Jasper TX moniker, I decided I wanted to focus on recording new music and trying to also take it a bit easier as it was a very turbulent time for me personally.
That said, I actually just got back from Germany where I played at the ZKM in Karlsruhe as part of the festival The Swedish Scene. I must say I really enjoyed playing live there. But that is of course also due to the fact that the staff and the facilities there were amazing and that’s just not always the case.
What types of music do you listen to on a regular day at home? Could you share some of your recent favourite titles?
What I listen to depends totally on the mood I’m in on any given day. It could be anything from jazz to techno to black metal to classical music. Lately though I’ve been listening to Aphex Twin – Drukqs, Diamond Version EP 1-5, Pistol Disco – Radiation, Pitchshifter – Desensitized, Meathook Seed – Embedded, Simeon Ten Holt – Complete Multiple Piano Works, Swans – To Be Kind and Tribes of Neurot – Adaptation And Survival. An absolute favorite of lately is the latest Matt Christensen album ‘Coma Gears’. It’s just brilliant with its hazy fucked up sound worlds. Another absolute favorite over the last couple of months is the latest Greg Haines album ‘Where We Were’. The whole album is a perfect mix of ebb-and-flow soundscapes and broken down house music. Reminds me a bit of Polmo Polpo – The Science of Breath, which is an all time favorite of mine.
What is your favourite album cover ever?
That’s an extremely hard question to answer, but if I have to choose only one I’d have to go with Shellac – At Action Park. The simplicity is just brilliant. I still remember when I first saw it, my eyes were drawn to it instantly and it’s still the same today whenever I see it in a record store. It’s just perfect.
Who you would like to read an interview with on Sounds Of A Tired City?
Well, being a bit partial here perhaps, but I would love to read an in-depth interview with Matthew Collings. Not only is he a brilliant musician and composer, he’s also sharp as hell and will probably give some interesting insights into his approach to music making.
MIX by DAG ROSENQVIST
For the mix I’m presenting here I have just chosen some artists that I like and that I think people should listen more to, that’s basically it. Some of the tracks are kind of raw, some of them are calmer. They are all uncompromising in their own way, and they are all very good. If you like this music, check it out. Buy the records, support the artists. If you don’t like it well, then you don’t, and that’s okay too.