Roll The Dice: Somebody just happy-go-lucky laying in a swimming pool

July 26, 2017

Swedish duo Roll The Dice, consisting of Peder Mannerfelt and Malcolm Pardon, recently released their 4th full-length record ‘Born to Ruin’ on The New Black. Peder dropped his genius ‘Controlling Body’ last year, while Malcolm was busy producing scores for film and television, which is reflected in Roll The Dice’s cinematic aesthetic. Together they take this aesthetic to a whole new level in ‘Born to Ruin’, stripped to the bone, spiced up with jazz and curious electronics. We met them to chat about everything you wanted to know about the new record but didn’t dare to ask.

Roll The Dice (Malcolm Pardon and Peder Mannerfelt)

How are you guys? What have you been up to lately?

Peder: We’ve been sorting out everything with our album, there’s a lot of small details to handle when you’re releasing an album by yourself.

What was the biggest challenge?

P: There’s no challenge, just small things that need to be decided upon. When there is no label involved, there’s fewer obstacles, fewer people to discuss things with. Which can also be difficult when there’s no one to bounce with.

Malcolm: Peder sold the idea to me. Every time we make a decision, it’s like “that’s it!”, between the two of us, and then that’s done – instead of we decide something and you have to e-mail someone at a record company and they gotta discuss, and two weeks later you haven’t gotten an answer… so, I’m happy.

Was that one of the reasons you wanted to do this yourselves, because it’s so much hassle?

P: It just makes everything easier to manoeuvre quicker, and we can plan everything together.

M: It goes back to us making a decision and then we stick with it.

P: Exactly. The release date was end of May, but the date wasn’t set until the last week or something. In a good sense we can keep that open until the last minute.

You never know…

P: You never know, and it could be the opposite, that you have a date but the manufacturing is not finished and that happens quite a lot. You have a release date but you don’t have the physical record on that date…  It’s not a massive problem, but this way you can play it by your own rules a bit more.

Please tell us a little bit about the conception of Born to Ruin.

M: We were discussing this earlier and it was probably more a reaction to the previous one. At least when we started. Last time we did the whole thing with the orchestra and everything. Basically, the only idea was to make something that was not that. The opposite, basically. That would mean tightening it up, keeping it kind of small… not big and open, more like small and contained and frustrated. That was the general idea early on.

P: The last one was kind of grand and open, pretty bombastic. This was the opposite. Doing it as we often do, putting things into a timeline or a concept behind it, we started talking about an old jazz club in the 30s. A really small room with just a handful of people really close to the music, kind of up against the wall behind the band playing. We were just speaking of the music and the physical form of how to place it, in what room and what circumstances.

M: Yeah, like finding a room for it. As we don’t write lyrics, there’s no narrative in the songs. We don’t tell a story in that sense, so we kind of have to create it with the music that is evolving in the studio. We might just have a title of a song which sends you in a direction, gives you an image and that image kind of furthers the next song. The idea revolves around this… maybe the jazz era, the city darkness and depression. That’s also why the horns came into it. “Maybe we should try… what’s the sort of typical instrument for that?”, and that would probably be the saxophone or something. And if it didn’t work with the saxophone, the album would probably not have had anything to do with this. It’s sort of random. We had these main ideas, like a sequencer thing going or a piano line, and then maybe we try replacing those with saxophone hooks. So we brought this guy in who is really good and…  it was a gamble. Obviously, if it didn’t work we would’ve scrapped that idea.

P: We scrapped quite a few ideas along the way.

M: But when we did, we felt that “this is gonna work”, and with that everything… the images, the ideas and the titles all came together.

P: And you can spin off of that, it’s a kind of chain of thoughts that made the album title and the cover and stuff like that. It goes back, when you look at it, it becomes like a big arc of narrative.

M: We try to stay true to our original idea, to be a bit random in everything, not really know what’s gonna happen. Everyone who comes into contact with us seems to be through some sort of random situation, and that’s how we want to do it in a sense. For instance, like the story behind the album cover. I was on an airplane, going through the computer. We have a mood board going on, images like… New York in the 30s, black and white murder scenes, somebody laying dead in the street. I was sitting and going through this. Behind me there was a guy sitting, and I was feeling him looking at my images. He ended up being the photographer who has taken the picture on the cover, never met him before. He’s an old hippie, he’s been around, he’s in his 70s.

P: An old punk.

M: Micke Berg, he’s quite famous. So just randomly we started discussing this, and an hour and a beer later… you know. Then I came home and told Peder, we checked out his pictures and it was a lot of great photos from the 70s. He was in Spain in the post-Franco years, transvestites in Barcelona… great stuff! We contacted him and went through all his images. We always like to have an artwork on our albums, and this time we turned it around and thought “what about just a photograph?”. With that photograph the title sort of came together… like somebody oblivious of what’s going on… somebody just happy-go-lucky laying in a swimming pool.

P: Yeah, the title came out of the photo. It worked with the narrative we had been working around, though it’s not exactly a straight line. It’s a longer arc, a bit more open. The downfall of society.

M: Yeah. It’s more like the general opinion of what’s going on everywhere. Either you can lay there in the swimming pool and not really care or…

P: …or you’re up against the wall. Pushed into the corner with things blaring up your face, physically.

It felt like the whole album was super raw. Like I could hear more of what you’ve been up to musically. That was interesting in contrast, not that what you did before was super smooth but this was… all in.

M: I can understand, the one before…at least the musical side of it, had more of a presence. Now it’s a split between sounds and music. Also the fact that there are less instruments, it gives more space to the little details. The hisses and the pongs and pings and bleeps and farts… You can hear them. Also, we tried to consciously narrow the songs down.

P: Time-wise.

M: On most of our albums the songs are at least 7 minutes, some are 12 minutes. These are all around 5, maximum. Which is also for the sake of doing something differently. It’s harder to take things away, especially if you like them. I’m usually kind of pissed off with Peder, like “this song hasn’t even gotten started yet” and he’s like “we should cut it here”.

P: What I did with my last album was to shorten things down. It’s harder to make something short that says something. But it’s even harder to get a listener that can focus on a two hour album. But like Slayer’s “Reign in blood” – you know how long that is? 29 minutes. You’d imagine it to be way longer. 29 minutes, and you don’t think about that. But when you see it, it sounds crazy for a Slayer album.

M: Ours is 32, so we haven’t beaten Slayer yet… it is short, but it doesn’t feel short if you know what I mean.

Some of the tracks from the album just cut off in the end.

M: One or two at least, purposely.

Then I felt like… what are you doing to me, keep going!

P: Yeah, to keep you on your toes! We did that after mastering actually.

M: The fact that that particular track had a movement, it felt at a point that it would be better if it just stopped, rather than just slowing down.

Yes, it was very intense at that point.

P: Instead of dismantling a track and transition, you keep that energy into the next track.

M: Your reaction is good. It’s kind of an irritation, the question comes “why did this happen?” and then the next time you listen to it, it comes to you and you understand or you think “fucking idiots”.

Also when you’re going into the second track you wonder if it’s gonna end the same.

M: “Is this a theme throughout the album?”, yeah yeah… But you can only do it once, haha. Or you can do it 9 or 10 times, but after the fourth you’re gonna go “ah ok, this is gonna end”, haha.

You composed part of a score and the credits theme for a show, “The Last Panthers”? How did that come through?

M: That came thorugh a guy called Johan Renck who is an old acquiantance of mine. He’s been kind of a fan, or at least he says he’s a fan since day one. Haha. He called us up, he’s directing it, and said “I’d like you guys to do the score. I basically want you to do what you do on your albums, in the Roll The Dice tracks. I don’t want it to be specified for this”. So we had a total “do whatever you want” – in the beginning. It started as a smooth sailing project, but turned out to be a bit problematic.

P: The good thing is that we made maybe 50 tracks for that.

Fifty?

P: Fifty!

M: Yeah, kind of rough ideas, you know, spreading it out, not spending too long on them. Some of them actually ended up being rough ideas for this album.

Then you’re set for five more albums.

P: It was pretty good, because we could distill what was the best out of that. There are still a lot of spur of the moment ideas that were really good. There was a lot of polishing and editing and rewriting that had to be done for this album. What was good about that process is that we did loads of ideas in a short period of time, just knocked it out.

M: I think we learned not to be precious with ideas, we learned how to be spontaneous in the early stages. We always have been, but we have always processed that out in long takes and whatnot. Peder would record me at the piano, sitting there for five minutes doing the same thing. Now we only need 30 seconds to know if an idea is worth to continue. That also fed the idea of keeping things a bit shorter, narrow down the goodies.

Could you imagine writing a real score for a film, where you are sort of instructed?

M: I think so, yeah. There was an American space movie that came out about a year ago, they actually contacted us. That never materialized, but the guy who was writing the script was a fan, he apparently listened to the “Until Silence” album and he said he was writing the script with the album continuously going around and thought “I’ll get in touch with these guys”. That never happened unfortunately, but…

P: We’re always open to it.

M: Under the right circumstances. If they would come to us, they’d probably want something that’s still kind of in our grasp. If someone would ask us, it wouldn’t be completely difficult for us to do it either.

P: They wouldn’t expect us to do like a baile funk track… You learn from both ways what to expect from each other in a way. How far you can push things, under what context.

M: How do you mean?

P: We wouldn’t make a baile funk track.

M: For a film? If they paid us enough we would, haha!

There was an orchestra performance you did up north in Sweden. How did that go? That was pretty low key, there was no information about it.

M: That was fun but very expensive. Not everyone wants to throw that kind of money out for us… It included days of rehearsals with an orchestra. But it was great, we wanted to do it and it would be fun to do it again. You’re not very free in that scenario, you’ve got to stay by the script and there’s not any space for improvisation.

P: I think it was more of an experience to be had there than to watch through a YouTube link in a way. You kind of had to be there. I like that about a performance like that – it’s physical and there’s a presence, having all those people on stage with us.

M: The best thing about it was actually the rehearsals. When we’re working with the orchestra and they’re doing their thing in front of us, but we don’t have to perform it. The size of the room and the volume. “Wow!”

P: It’s interesting to see how a modern orchestra works. They’re always reading the score – even if it’s a one bar thing that is supposed to be played 48 times. They don’t read that it’s played 48 times, they read it 48 times and play it at the same time. Then you don’t play with feeling. They can get a script in front of them, a new piece of music that they’ve never heard, and be able to play it within a matter of days. Together. Which is crazy, they’re like machines in that way.

You both have your own way of working individually, but how do you work together?

M: There’s a lot of bickering going on. It has changed, but I think there’s only one way the two of us can work together, and I don’t work with anyone else the same way. We put each other off guard a little bit. Stupid comments and the like. It started as something just to have fun, since we shared this space.

P: We didn’t really know each other when we started out.

So you already shared a space when you started working together?

M: We met before, but it was when we started sharing this space that we thought of somehow doing something together. It was kind of natural… “yeah, let’s just spend a Friday night here”. If it turns out good – continue. And it turned out good from the start. It was just as much the process of doing something that we didn’t do with anyone else, what’s the point of doing the same thing. So that was the general idea.

P: We have pretty defined roles in the way we work.

M: The difference is probably that when we started, we kind of really didn’t know what we were doing in a sense. It’s the same process, but now we kind of know how to approach things. We can cut corners, like “what happens if we do like this?”. We know what’s gonna happen when we do this.

P: It’s more like two days of talking shit and ten minutes of recording, as opposed to…

M …two days of recording and ten minutes talking shit.

Malcom, Peder and Billie, the studio’s secret agent

Since both of you work here individually, how do you know when it’s “Roll The Dice-time”?

P: Sometimes I’ll be fiddling around with something and he’ll jump in and say “stop, record that!”. Sometimes it’s like “oh, but that’s a track I put out like two years ago” haha! Or I’ll record and give him the recording, that’s what we’re doing now because I’ve taught him to use Ableton. We can bounce things back and forth. It comes pretty natural when it’s what time. When you’re working on an album you want to finish it.

M: Maybe on the first and second album we set aside time. On “Until Silence” the ideas came floating from different areas, we weren’t always together here. On the new one, it was as you said – Peder could have a sequence of something going on, and I could bring it home and listen to it, maybe just sit on my own with the piano. When I had something worth sharing, I would share it with him, rather than sitting here for seven hours and Peder would wait for something to sound good.

P: We have kind of a mutual language, we don’t really need to discuss anymore. But on this album there’s been a lot of dismantling of ideas and then putting them back together. It’s been quite a long time overall spent on it, but not has been planned really… just realizing like “ok, this is finished now”.

M: But that’s also the same way we approached the release of it, not putting too much pressure on anything around it. We were kind of taking things in a slow organic way, not forcing anything. Because that’s how we started also.

P: We don’t have anyone who sets goals for us, which is pretty nice.

What’s next? What are you working on, individually even?

P: To do a live show. We’re playing Berlin Atonal in August!

 

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