I have a deep respect for fully improvised (psych) music and musicians that dare to dive deep into the unknown. The “jam” to me is an enigmatic thing, and to always jam, and never know how it will end up, is terribly frightening for a control freak perfectionist like me. So for a band like Swedish improv jam band Neon Heart to devote their existence to just that: to float freely without constraint, no verses, no choruses, just to listen closely to each other and go go go. That is heroic.
Not to say that they are the first or last to do it, -cough CAN, cough-, but Neon Heart are definitely one of the few bands I have recently met that are completely devoted to play their music unrehearsed, unprepared, unwritten. Surprisingly the result is not chaos, but a very natural sounding band, mixing up repeating rhythmic pulse with beautiful jazzy horns, subtle postrock guitar noodling, and enigmatic -also improvised- vocals.
Just listen to Livet/Ytan and realize these individuals are truly living in the moment while recording. They are one living, breathing organism together that pulsates and throbs wherever the vibe takes them for an hour and a half, without missing a beat.
I was impressed, and flabbergasted no record label had been willing to take them on for this trip! Feeling the need to tell people about this discovery, I sought contact with the band, and found drummer Magnus Nordén willing to elaborate on his beautiful project.
How have you guys been during the past corona years? How have you managed as people and as a band?
The pandemic hasn’t been much fun. Even if Sweden didn’t have the total lockdowns of other countries, we did have restrictions that concerned most areas of life – live gigs were banned some periods.
Just before the pandemic, in September 2019, we released our five-track album Trio. We had gathered some momentum, and had decided to self-release a vinyl lp in 2020, Neon Heart. Which we did in May. By then, the pandemic ruled the world, and we had to cancel the release party.
On the other hand, we got very creative. From June to August 2020 we recorded all the material for our third album, temporaria. This happened between the first and second corona waves here in Sweden. After temporaria, we began working on yet another album (our latest release Livet/Ytan) and continued recording for this until 27 October. Then, the second wave hit Sweden, and we couldn’t meet up to play until June 2021.
This was frustrating, as we had a good thing going and were getting great international reviews.
On a personal level, we’ve been okay. Even if we couldn’t play together for long periods, we kept in touch in other ways, because we are also good friends.
Can you introduce Neon Heart to us?
Neon Heart was started by me in 2006. Our concept is simple: No verse-refrain structure. No written songs. No soloists. Improvisation. Freedom to do what you want.
But this also entails responsibility. If everyone is free to do what they want, it is also easy to swamp the freedom of others. So listening is extremely important.
Neon Heart has had various members over the years, but we’ve been the same five players since 2018.
What is your musical background?
As a drummer, I come from post-punk/new wave, and I also play jazz.
Johnny and Petter have a background in post-punk/new wave like me.
Björn was a founding member of Commando M Pigg, a legendary Swedish new wave band.
Daniel has strong links to art music, progressive rock, and jazz.
Johnny played guitar in the first version of Neon Heart, left and then re-joined as a bass player. I met the others through an impro network here in Stockholm.
How did you get drawn into the world of the psychedelic?
I had a penchant for psychedelia when young, I listened a lot to the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, the Moody Blues, Gentle Giant, the Doors, Cream, Love, Pink Floyd, Soft Machine, the Mothers of Invention and other early psychedelic rock bands. Primarily, though, I think I just like long delay lines.
All the other members in Neon Heart have monumental pedal boards, with multitudes of fx boxes, so we all like freaky sounds, I guess.
But we are not that psychedelic as people. I do have round glasses, though.
Can you tell me about the writing and recording process of Livet/Ytan?
We don’t write songs. At all. Not even the tiniest note. Everything we play is improvised. Even Johnny’s lyrics are improvised. We literally never play the same song twice.
During the pandemic we started recording all our rehearsals. We did this since it was almost impossible to have live gigs and we wanted some pressure on ourselves. This resulted in a lot of material.
The tracks on Livet/Ytan were recorded between June and October 2020. I do all the recording, set up the mics, wire up the speaker cabinets etc. I also do all the mixing/production.
I go through the recordings and choose the parts I think are good. I work on those a lot. When I’m happy with the resulting song/track, I present it to the rest of the band for their feedback, which I incorporate, and eventually a finished song trickles out the other end. Our process is very similar to how Can worked.
For Livet/Ytan we chose between 47 tracks, which were all good enough. There are 13 tracks on the album, so a lot of material has never been heard by anyone outside the band, except my wife.
When the track list for Livet/Ytan had been agreed upon, we sent the mixes to Subvert Central Mastering in the UK. Leon Smith there is a great mastering engineer, who has mastered almost all our releases.
We knew that it wouldn’t be easy to find a label for a vinyl version of Livet/Ytan. So, instead of waiting around, we decided to self-release the album as a double-CD. CDs are way cheaper to make than vinyl, and still physical. We had already self-released our two previous albums. Temporaria was picked up by Adansonia after we had self-released it as a CD, so a double-CD was the right thing to do at the time.
Can you tell us about your hunt for a label? What are you looking for? Perhaps some of them are reading?!
I’ve contacted labels about Livet/Ytan. Adansonia released our previous album, Temporaria, on vinyl. However, a vinyl double-lp is a big ask. Perhaps two labels could partner up, splitting the costs for such an ambitious project?
A double album wasn’t the wisest choice, perhaps. But the material we had craved a double album. So, there we are.
What are your immediate future plans, what is your ultimate band goal?
Our immediate future plans include live gigs in Stockholm and Göteborg. We would love to participate in festivals in Europe, and to do a European tour. We would also love to release Livet/Ytan as a vinyl double-LP.
We’re already working on our next album. Nothing is set in stone yet, but I would certainly love it if we could release it towards the end of 2022.
What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do immediately after this interview?
The reader should head over to our Bandcamp, listen to our music, enjoy the weirdness, buy one of our albums, help us find a label for a Livet/Ytan vinyl, and invite us to their local psychedelic festival/venue.