Earlier this year, I had the chance to experience one of my favorite experiences: listening to an album that came un-recommended and having my mind blown. A Swarm of the Sun’s The Rifts played for the first time and my mind rebounded, swept away in the sadness, musical talent and excellent song-writing on it. Blending post rock and post metal, drawing on intricate themes and simply sounding excellent, the album drew my interest and curiosity with every listen. And so, when I was offered the opportunity to interview Erik Nilsson and Jakob Berglund, the duo behind this album, I was delighted. Below you’ll find my interview with them, focusing not only on the themes and concepts of the album but also on making music in general and their source of inspiration. Head on after the jump!
It has become my suspicion that The Rifts is a concept album. Something about the structure of the track names suggests couplets to me and that in turn suggests a story. Am I off the mark? Is there a concept to the album?
Jakob: Yes, there’s definitely a greater arch to the album. To me, all songs are part of the same whole and benefits by being treated as one single unity: lyrics, titles, music, design, video etc. I think it becomes so much stronger by being listened to from beginning to end. The structure of an album is extremely important and The Rifts had a complete track list with titles, even before we started writing any music.
How did this project come to life? A duo is not something you often encounter in the world of metal and the dynamic here seems interesting. Were you friends beforehand? Did the project bring you two together or was it pre-established?
Jakob: We’ve known each other for a very long time. We grew up together and have always had different projects going on. There’s always been a mutual need to create, as well as a love for music. And I guess A Swarm of the Sun is what more than twenty years of that has led us to.
Veering to the music a bit, the album certainly treads the fine line between post-rock and post-metal. I’ve seen reviews to either direction. How do you feel about genre classification? Is that even something that interests you or are you content to leave this to the critics?
Erik: Personally, I have no issues with categorising music into genre. It helps when trying to find new music or when trying to explain a song or a band to someone that hasn’t heard it yet. But in terms of my own music I don’t bother putting much thought into what that categorises into which genre. Jakob and I tend to speak much more in terms of specific bands or songs as a common reference when we discuss our music.
Still on the subject of the music, there’s a lot of pain on The Rifts. Where does that come from? Would you say it’s a coping mechanism for your own hardships or the other way around, something which is inevitable but also hard to deal with?
Jakob: It’s not a conscious choice exactly – it’s what we both enjoy listening to and how we write. And sure, part of it is probably a coping mechanism, but the writing process itself isn’t especially painful. Quite the opposite actually. If writing was painful we wouldn’t do it. But there’s a lot of pain in life and why not write about it? I think it’s our obligation to face up to it, write about it, not shy away from it and to treat it seriously and with deep respect. It’s the only way to bring real and lasting value to whatever you create.
While we’re on the subject of life, how do you handle the need for day jobs? Music is very rarely a way to make a living. Is that a necessary obstacle or do you find that it actually invigorates you to write?
Erik: Creating music and my daytime job are two different creative outlets for me, so I can’t see myself combining them or getting rid of either of them in any near future. If I haven’t been involved in music for a while I start to feel very empty, and I’m pretty sure the same applies to all my creative outlets. With that said, sometimes one of them requires more attention than the other, so it has to be some kind of balance act.
Back to the music. Let’s talk about the writing process: is there a natural progression to the album, a starting point, or do tidbits slowly come together to make the whole thing? Obviously the vocals are a big part of your work. Do these come first?
We try to do things a bit different for each album. It’s a good way to get new ideas and avoid getting stuck in old patterns. For The Rifts, we decided to start off by writing everything on the piano. When we had the foundation of all the songs, we started playing around with drums and guitar arrangements. The melodies for the vocals are mostly composed at the same time as I write the other melodies, but we usually don’t record any vocals at all until the very end of the production. Sometimes, that leads to rearrangements in the very last moment, and that’s not just for the vocals, it happens for other instruments as well. You have to allow yourself to kill your darlings, because it’s not until all the pieces are in place that you surely know the role of each instrument and melody.
Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions guys!
Erik: And thanks a lot to you!