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Review + Q&A: Les Big Byrd- Eternal Light Brigade (2022, Chimp Limbs)

Joakim Åhlund is a producer and songwriter from Sweden who has done some pretty impressive things in his career. He fronted garage pop band The Caesars, as well as electro pop band Teddybears STHLM, and wrote hit songs for famous artists like Cheryl Cole, Robyn, Sia, and collabs with Brian Jonestown Massacre, and Iggy Pop. You can imagine he is a musician with some freedom to roll the way he likes. Les Big Byrd is how he likes to roll. Together with Frans Johansson of Fireside, drummer Nino Keller, and keyboardist Crille he explores cosmic space krautrock style. Eternal Light Brigade is their best album to date.

Eternal Light Brigade is so incredibly cool because it oozes hazy relaxation while throbbing up fierce urgency at the same time. Stereolab-esque drum repetitions, super spaced up keys, and Jocke’s characteristic sleazy “Caesars” vocals make it a unique kraut pop experience. And there are songs! Whether they last seven minutes, two, or five, they are all laced with that Swedish earwurm quality that will make you hum along in the shower whether you want to or not. To me personally it is the warmth the album radiates that is most appealing. It is the perfect morning record, a ray of relaxing sunshine to the face that is so much needed in these days of darkness and cold.

And finally, Eternal Light Brigade is a fun record. These four guys had a good time making it, and it shows. Good music does not need to be overtly complicated at all, as long as it takes you the right places. Les Big Byrd spreads their enormous wings, and takes you to space. What more do you need?

I had the good fortune to reach Joakim “Jocke” Åhlund through the interwebs. He was friendly enough to introduce us to the rest of the band, their plans, and how they generally roll. I got the feeling that life in general is good to these birds.

How are you? How has the pandemic period been for you as a musician?

I feel good, thanks. The pandemic was awful of course for the world and for a lot of people and it’s not like I can’t feel empathy with that but I have to say that for me personally, it was kind of not entirely unpleasant. If you could avoid the whole apocalyptic feeling of it all. 

I liked that the ever spinning wheels of capitalism sort of got a spoke in them and I liked the calmness and even to some extent, the isolation. 

Can you introduce yourselves?

We are four guys from Stockholm Sweden that like to make and play music together. We have been around for a long time although you have not heard about us. We play some sort of space rock I guess one might say, sometimes reminiscent of krautrock from the seventies, sometimes with psychedelic elements and sounds. Nino, our drummer has a day job as a mailman and Crille, our keyboard player is really good at cooking. Frans our bass-player works in a bar and he was previously in a band called Fireside, who were signed to Rick Rubin’s Def American label in the US. I have a recording studio in a little 400 year old cabin right in the middle of Stockholm. 

What can you tell me about your musical backgrounds?

Nino, the drummer is classically trained, but all three other of us have learned by failure. 

I have been in hundreds of bands over the years, some have had some little limited commercial success and others have been quite good artistically I think. Frans, our bassist, was in Fireside as I mentioned above and also played in a bunch of different other projects, Crille, our keyboardist used to be the percussionist and composer in a avant garde string-quintet.  

What does a regular day in your lives look like?

I wake up super early mostly, especially if I have had a drink or more the night before. I like those quiet hours before the rest of the family wakes up. That’s when I write stuff mostly, I usually make a pot of coffee and then I sit by the kitchen table and play my electric guitar really quietly without plugging it in, and with the morning news rolling on my laptop. 

Then I usually go to the studio and work on some music. I make music for films and stuff, and sometimes I produce other artists when I’m not making my own music.

Then I will go and have some beers at the bar where Frans works and maybe see some friend or my girlfriend. And then I go home to my apartment, wich I am so grateful to have, and go to sleep, if I can, in my nice warm bed, while the icy winter wind howls in the street outside my window.  

What is the best thing about Eternal Light Brigade?

I like the songs and I like the sounds. And we had fun making it, it was probably the least hard and painful record we’ve made so far. We all stayed friends during the process and the fighting was absolutely minimal. I have to say that I’m real happy with the way it turned out also. I like the spontaneous parts of it the most.

Where do you live and what is the environment like for musicians like you?

I was born in Stockholm and have lived here ever since. It’s like a quite small town at the edge of the world, but that can also have its advantages. When I was was younger I used to be bothered and frustrated over the fact that I lived sort of like outside of where the real world was taking place. I used to always dream about moving to NYC or LA or someplace more vibrant and happening. But as time has passed and I can appreciate the calmness here more. Nino, our drummer and Crille are also born and raised in Stockholm. Frans originally comes from further up north in Sweden from an even smaller town, or more like a village even. But he moved down to Stockholm pretty much as soon as he could, when he was something like 19 or so. 

What is your main aim with your music, is it complete artistic expression, or an escape from the every day world? (or something else ;))

We do this because we find some kind of satisfaction in making music together that we groove to. But the better we get an d the better we think the music gets, the more fun we think it is.

We do have a lot of freedom of expression with this band, that’s the best part of being a small indie band with very limited ”success”. 

There’s no one who can or even wants to try and tell us what to do. I guess that makes whatever comes out of this project, if it’s great or shit, at least it comes from ourselves and it’s kind of real and honest. I grew up with that whole DIY aesthetic from punk and hardcore and underground rock and I guess I still believe in that part of it. It comes down to the artwork record covers and everything. It’s homegrown. 

Of course there’s still a lot of limitations for our artistic expression and possibilities but at least those limitations don’t come from outside the group. And they’re something that we can work on overcoming.  

Can you tell me about how you go about composing and recording songs? And what is the main difference from last time around?

We recorded most of this album in an island in the baltic called Gotland. I loved the isolated and calm feeling of Gotland in the off season. Gotland gets invaded by tourists during the summer months, but if you’re there pretty much any time except june to august, it feels like a calm and secluded place, the nature is very special and Visby town is a super special and very beautiful town. We spent most of the time in the studio, but we also found time to go for long walks, we met up with friends of ours that live on the island, and I even swam in the sea one morning. It was in october and really refreshing haha. But mostly we were in the studio of course, since we had a limited amount of time that we could stay away from home because of other duties and we wanted to concentrate on the album. 

I love the sounds we got in that studio and the seclusion also worked in our favour, it was so much easier to concentrate and stay in the bubble of making the album. 

I love it when sounds in music are not too familiar to me, when you can’t really understand where they derive from, that’s why we love love experimenting with weird electronics and pedals and stuff. I suppose that’s where the psychedelic element in our music comes in. 

What are your immediate and long term future plans?

We are in the middle of a tour of Sweden right now, we have a couple of shows left before christmas, and then next year we will continue touring in Europe and also hopefully other parts of the world. 

At the same time we are also working on scoring a documentary about a big industry poison scandal, so I’ making a lot of ominous and foreboding music for that in my studio on the days off from touring. 

What should the Weirdo Shrine reader do after reading this interview?

Take a listen to the album that John Cale and Terry Riley made together in 1971 that’s called Church Of Anthrax, that’s a really good one. 


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