Music Features

Dungen (Interview with Gustav Ejstes)

No Ripcord editor David Coleman caught up with the visibly exhausted Dungen frontman Gustav Ejstes before the final date of the Swedish quartet's August/September UK tour to talk about the startling success of 2004's Ta Det Lugnt, the often highlighted language barrier and, of course, moose.

. . .

First of all, how's everything going in England?

Well, we don't really expect anything. It has been quite surprising, everything that has happened lately. We have been doing small clubs and people they seem to know the songs which is incredible.

So people are trying to sing along?

(Laughs) I've seen people moving their mouths.

Are you surprised by the success of the album?

Of course, I'm very much surprised by this.

Why do you think this album in particular broke through to the international audience?

Oh, that's very difficult for me to even try to understand. I really don't know. Maybe it's just interesting music?

Does it frustrate you that the vast majority of this international audience doesn't understand what the songs are about?

It's not really a problem because the shows and the music we are doing is so much about playing and making other kinds of noises, not just the vocals. The vocals are not the main thing.

Even so, is there a temptation to record something in English in the future?

I have done that. I've been doing some experiments but I don't know really. Who knows what's going to happen? I make music and the lyrics are in Swedish because it's the easiest way. I want the music to be honest and natural.

I've read in a few interviews that you had an unfortunate experience with Virgin Records when making your second album. What went wrong there?

Well, I'm not that pop artist, I didn't fit in. In Sweden they were one of the few major labels that had real music but you have to make hit singles and all that and I couldn't. We separated when they got bought up by EMI.

So it was a friendly split?

Yes, a mutual agreement.

It's quite ironic then that since you went back to an indie label you've had more success, especially outside of Sweden, than even Virgin could have hoped for.

Yeah, definitely.

How successful are you back home in Sweden?

I think we are quite famous now. Many have read about the band and heard about us, but less have actually listened to the records. There was quite a lot of fuss about the second album which was released in Sweden with a lot of promo but there were quite of lot of 50-50 reviews. The people who didn't like it remember that and haven't listened to the new album, which is a little bit different.

I know that you recorded most of Ta Det Lugnt by yourself - do you intend to do the same thing again for the next record or will you work with the band?

Well, the band has been there all the time. It depends on the occasion. Sometimes it's easy to have everyone there working on a song, sometimes it's easier to record by yourself. I like recording alone though, I think it's very fun.

I read somewhere that your next album might be in English? Is there any truth in this?

No, that's rumours (laughs). I have not said that!

Have you started work on the new album yet?

I don't know what to say really, I probably have. I like to record and I do it whenever I have the time.

And when can we expect to hear it?

One year, two years, who knows.

I saw that you played the Intonation Festival in Chicago this summer. That line-up looked phenomenal - what was it like?

You mean the festival in general?


Well, it's the same thing as when you come home and everyone is asking you "how was New York, how was London?" When you're travelling it's really quite exhausting. That night we got two or three hours sleep. We were so tired so it was just get in there, do the gig, then me and Reine (Fiske, Dungen lead guitarist) had a DJ set, but that's the only thing we saw of the festival. After that, we just went to the hotel and crashed.

So you didn't get to enjoy it at all?

(Laughs) No, we didn't get to see a single band.

That line-up in particular was quite indie-rock based, a lot of US bands too. Do you feel musically that's something you fit in with?

I don't know about belonging to any scene, I don't think I fit in with any particular music scene. I do respect people for the music they are making - I can hear that they really make music in the right way - but I don't listen to music so much these days, I don't follow it.

What have you enjoying when you've had the chance?

We've just been to Brazil and there's a lot of good music there that I'm listening to at the moment.

So you're not listening to any new guitar-based music?

No, not right now. One of my favourite records recently has been Aphex Twin. I bought his Selected Ambient Works. That is a record I have been spinning recently - it fits in with the landscape here in England.

. . .

And at that, our chat tailed off into areas as fascinatingly diverse as the origins of Warp Records (Sheffield, of course) and the prevalence of moose festivals in northern Sweden (apologies to any Swedish readers, but such events apparently do exist). As the conversation began to wind down, I decided to leave the exhausted looking band members alone to their newly acquired bottle of dark rum and managed to catch ten minutes worth of Ormondroyd's set. And, as far as support bands go, they were actually quite good - Sheffield-based shoegazers, reminiscent of early Ride, Spiritualized and Mogwai. A pleasant surprise, and a band I will definitely have to investigate more thoroughly in the future. Watch this space.

But I digress, because this live showcase was really just about one band, and I'm referring to the one named, rather bizarrely when you think of it, after a small cluster of trees. That's Dungen, for those not following me. The Nordic four-piece, looking oddly rejuvenated as they took to the stage (mark that one down to the healing power of rum), kept their introduction brief before launching into a raucous version of Gjort Bort Sig. Most of the audience seemed content to stand back and soak it all up, but as Gustav had noted earlier, there was a surprising response, with quite a few people clearly recognising the songs. Some (myself included) were all too obviously fighting the temptation to (attempt to) sing along. By Panda, with its Keith Moon-esque drum solo, and an incendiary Ta Det Lugnt - combined, the best ten minutes of live music I've heard this year - they had all but given up.

The most surreal moment of the performance came during Bortglömd when Gustav, armed with a flute of all instruments, embarked on possibly the most meandering prog-inspired solo the Leadmill has ever witnessed. So much for 'folkrockpsych', this sounded more like a Jethro Tull tribute than anything else. Not necessarily a bad thing, just, well, a little different. And very long.

The evening's lamentably brief set - a mere 40 minutes for a headline act? - concluded with solid renditions of Festival and Sluta Efter Folja Mig, after which the triumphant quartet left the stage to an encouragingly warm applause. Chatting to a few people afterwards, the reaction to Dungen's set appeared to be mostly positive. Some sceptics were unsure as to the necessity of such a lengthy flute solo, but the more straightforward rock numbers seemed to have gone down a treat with the majority. A handful even seemed oblivious to the fact that they were sung entirely in Swedish.

Reflecting on my chat with Gustav Ejstes earlier that evening, I'm certain that the minor criticisms of tonight's proggier moments wouldn't bother him too much. If I learned one thing during our brief interview, it's that this young Swede has neither the time nor the inclination to worry about such trivialities as other people's opinions. Or what's currently fashionable in musical terms. To borrow a cliché, he is making the music that he wants to make, and doing a very good job of it too. In the fickle world of popular music, his attitude of laissez-faire seems to be a very healthy one indeed and it's clearly a factor in Ta Det Lugnt's unexpected, yet richly deserved success. I might not have a clue what many of these wonderful songs are about in lyrical terms, but I think I am beginning to understand what Gustav Ejstes means by 'ta det lugnt'.