As we mentioned in our Best 50 Albums Of 2015 list, we had the greatest possible pleasure to talk to the artist behind one of the best ambient albums last year. This would be ‘The Park‘ (released on Dais Records) and its creator, the American painter and musician Tor Lundvall. He’s been active in the music scene for around two decades now, however he never promotes his music violently… he is not even active on social media, he prefers to stay in the background and let his art speak for himself. Let’s stop the music for a second and give some space for his thoughts on his influences, nature, self-promotion, solitude and Benoît Pioulard.
What is your first memory involving sounds?
I have vivid memories of the sounds in my parent’s backyard. Their yard seemed vast and endless at the time, with each path and clearing leading into a different world. During my explorations or while falling asleep outdoors in the afternoon, I’d listen to the far off droning of lawnmowers, blurred chainsaws, sirens, distant voices and other strange sounds echoing through the woods. These sounds were both calming and unsettling, especially since I had no idea what most of them were at such a young age. I am certain that my fascination with echo and reverb is deeply rooted in these childhood experiences.
When did you get interested in music on a more professional level? How did you get started with your own?
I think exposure to bands like Coil, Cabaret Voltaire, The Durutti Column and :Zoviet*France: during my college years (1987-1991) certainly helped to fuel my creative spark. On their earliest, and in my opinion most innovative recordings, these guys were creating incredible pieces of music with very little – sometimes just primitive or home-made equipment and a 4-track. A far cry from what I had been told was the “proper and professional” way of making an album. I started to take the same approach. I’d spend my evenings and weekends documenting spontaneous ideas, songs and atmospheres on an old tape recorder. Soon these recordings started to have continuity and developed into small albums.
Whose music did influence you the most back then?
Apart from Brian Eno and Harold Budd, I still site OMD as a big influence during those early years. It might seem surprising considering the more commercial direction they took from 1984 on, however their first four albums and early B-Sides pretty much encapsulate everything that is important to me in music: warmth, simplicity, atmosphere, experimentation and melody. OMD adopted a more organic, human approach to electronics and I think this is what makes their early recordings so endearing to me. The imperfections, studio hiss and other musical artifacts add to the charm. Stepping back several years earlier, I would have to say that seeing Pink Floyd perform “The Wall” in 1980 had a profound impact on me. I was 11 years old at the time and I’ve never experienced anything quite like it to this day. I didn’t listen to Pink Floyd for about 30 years due to changing musical interests and, frankly, being turned off by their inflated egos, insane popularity and legions of followers. I rediscovered them just a few years ago, listening to their lesser known, but equally fascinating psychedelic releases for the first time. I was overwhelmed by just how great they really were. The perfect balance of beauty and darkness.
You’re not only a musician but also an excellent painter. Which passion came first? Could you tell us a bit about your ‘other’ side as well?
Both pursuits evolved side by side, so it’s difficult pinpointing which came first. My childhood artwork coincided with my first piano lessons. Then my high school art was simultaneous with learning jazz piano and playing synthesizer in high school bands. After that I studied studio art in college and recorded my first permanent original material. So it is impossible to separate the two, although I suppose I consider myself a painter first and a musician second, because everything I do is so visually oriented. I approach a recording the same way I approach a blank canvas – by treating the work as a whole from the very beginning, then adding and removing elements until there is finally a sense of resolution.
Your first release ‘Passing Through Alone’ dates back to 1997. At the same time you also launched your own label, Eternal Autumn Editions. 1,000 copies were made which were sold at your gallery exhibitions… how did this work out?
I was sick and tired of waiting for a record deal, so I just forged ahead on my own. I was also at a crossroads musically. My second album “Ice” was completed a few months prior to the release of “Passing Through Alone”. “Ice” was a much better representation of the direction my music was headed, so I was seriously considering releasing this album first and possibly scrapping “PTA” altogether. I was primarily known as a painter at the time, so in hindsight, it probably wasn’t wise pressing 1,000 copies of my first CD without any outlet for distribution. Self promotion has never been one of my strong points, however. I’m a private person by nature which is both a blessing and a curse, especially in this age of over-saturation. I know the strength and importance of my work and I think it deserves more respect than it has garnered over the years. At the same time, I ultimately don’t care what others think about it. That doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate my fan-base, getting their feedback and hearing how my work affects them. It simply means that I don’t value my work based on how others value it. I would continue to record and paint even if no one saw my paintings or heard my music at all.
How do you think that distributing music has changed since you have released your first album? You have found yourself a stable label as well (Dais Records). How did this affect your audience and promoting?
Sadly, the golden era of music distribution is long gone. The decline of physical formats and the bankruptcy of so many great record stores has obviously changed things. I’ve never felt the impact of digital more painfully than in 2015, when sales from my website (especially CDs) dropped off dramatically. At the same time, I firmly believe that there are still people out there who cherish vinyl, cassettes and CDs as works of art. Working with Dais has been a pleasure and a blessing for this very reason and more. Gibby and Ryan are by far the best people I have ever worked with. Their passion, positivity and genuine love for the music they release makes all the difference. My audience and visibility has certainly grown thanks to their efforts and support.
Your last album ‘The Park’ contains recordings from between March 2011 and August 2012. Do you have lots of unreleased material? How do you decide what to publish from the archives?
I still have plenty of unreleased recordings in the archives, especially from the “Insect Wings” era and earlier (1989-1994). The Park was put on the back-burner so I could concentrate on the “Structures And Solitude” box set in 2013. In fact, most of my albums don’t see the light of day until a few years after they’ve been recorded. I’m very patient and methodical with the release of my material. In other words, I don’t put something out unless I really mean it. Every detail has to be in place. Personally, I can only digest one or two releases per year from the musicians I love. Otherwise, I tend to feel overwhelmed and over-saturated by their output. There are exceptions, of course.
Which was this release last year for example? And what was that you loved the most about it?
“Sonnet” by Benoît Pioulard was my favorite discovery of 2015. This album hit me like a breath of fresh air after a very rough winter. A record truly resonates with me when it triggers feelings and memories from my childhood. Tom’s sense of playfulness, inventiveness and his unique recording techniques on “Sonnet” remind me of my own creative process of recording “Ice” back in the mid-late 1990s. I was shocked to learn that Tom is so young, at least compared to me. His music gives me hope for the future of ambient and experimental music.
What is the most special about ‘The Park’ in a personal sense?
The fact that it’s such a personal album. Parks are my sanctuaries and the only places where I’ve experienced genuine peace and privacy. “The Park” captures the essence of my solitude perfectly. I probably would not have released an album like this years ago, since the recordings are so laid back and quiet in nature. I feel I’ve reached a place where I can release material to the public that I normally would have kept to myself. The type of music I once believed that only I was capable of enjoying.
There is a sense of loneliness in your solitude. How do you feel about this?
For me, there’s a big difference between being alone and loneliness. I enjoy my privacy, my freedom and most importantly my own company, so I rarely feel lonely. At the same time, there is certainly a sense of melancholy and approaching darkness in my work. Anyone with a sensitive soul is bound to be disturbed by the darker aspects of human nature and the state of the world. I also have a very strong memory, which again, is both a blessing and a curse. My memory fuels my creativity, however it works against me during those moments when I reflect on negative experiences from my past. Fortunately, I have a sense of humor which often pulls me out of these troubled thoughts.
Whose music do you enjoy these days? How do you discover new music?
The music I enjoy tends to get quieter with each passing year. Asher Tuil is a master in this respect and he remains my favorite composer in recent years. Kevin Drumm has also created some incredibly unique and diverse recordings. His quieter works such as “1983”, “Quiet Nights” and “Trouble” resonate strongly with me, being both calming and unsettling at the same time, like ghostly residues of events that happened long ago in some forgotten room – and not necessarily good things. I can’t quite put my finger on why I love his music so much, which is what makes it so great. The same goes for Asher. I often paint while listening to the works of these two musicians. As for discovering new music, I usually stumble across it on-line, like I did with Benoît Pioulard last year. The thrill of discovery is not as personal or memorable as finding something in a record store, but more convenient I suppose.
…and what is the future for you? What’s next in your schedule?
Right now I’m busy preparing the artwork and music for my 3rd box set. The title will most likely be “Nature Laughs As Time Slips By”. I was considering using this title for “Structures And Solitude”, but it’s much more fitting for this release, in more ways than one. I’ve also been talking with Dais about possibly releasing some of my pop experiments from the archives in 2017. Hard to believe it’s been almost 20 years since the release of my first album. Time slips by indeed.
MORE on TOR LUNDVALL