The chef from The Muppet Show. Bjorn Bjorg and Stefan Edberg. Volvos and Saabs. Labyrinthine, panic inducing IKEA stores. ABBA. As far as Sweden culture goes, that’s about all I got.
Until now. Add to that list Kristoffer & The Harbour Heads, a Swedish trio whose latest album, EX/EX, recently crossed my radar.
EX/EX has proven to be both a fascinating record and an interesting recording project. The songs, recorded chronologically, were recorded live to tape, via sixteen channels. The record was recorded in Sweden, with producer James Salter (Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, The B-52s) at the helm, and then taken to Muscle Shoals, Alabama, for mixing.
One of the highlights on EX/EX is the edgy, synth driven “When You Say Stay.” Check out the video here.
The band, already having gained a sizable following in Europe, is poised to gain some attention in the U.S., with EX/EX being the first record they have released here.
I recently caught up with Kristoffer Ragnstam to chat about the new record, Swedish cuisine, and bringing the band to America.
BRO – We are featuring “Nervous in Berlin” on this month’s Trail Mix. What’s the story behind the song?
KR – Thank you for spinning that song. The whole album is written and performed, lyrically, as a downward spiral. With the first song, there is a feeling of, “OK, I think we can fix this relationship if I just put some extra energy into it.” By the last song, it is more, “Hey! I’ve had it with you! We should split now!” “Nervous in Berlin” is the second song on the album, so there is still some air left, but the vibe of a split is more or less everywhere. I came up with the lines, and partly the title, with “I’m out of money, far from home, with nothing to wear and my phone died/But I’d rather be nervous in Berlin than home with you.” Those lines pretty much say everything.
BRO – How important to the project was it to have James Salter behind the board?
KR – When it comes to the American release, there are a few people on this project that I owe big time. I could not have done it without Michele Chapman, Cary Brothers, and an old friend, Evan Smith. Evan introduced me to James a couple years ago. He figured we would match and Evan probably needed a break from my constant talking and sucky school English. Both James and I love to talk about vintage gear. After our first hour talking, I felt I wanted to hang more and should try to work with him. He’s full of experience but still wants to learn more. Having him come over to Sweden to co-produce the album and then going with him to Muscle Shoals was a dream come true. I’ve learned so much from working with James and, as a producer, I see him as a mentor. Without him, we wouldn’t have had the guts to jump off the cliff and record straight to tape with just sixteen channels, a lot of bleed in all the microphones, with no edits and just a few overdubs. I’m very happy we did it that way.
BRO – When might we see you Stateside and catch you live?
KR – Pretty soon, hopefully. We have a lot of stuff happening in the USA right now. I hope you still want us to come. It is such a huge country, and I have heard that we will start touring in California, but that could change overnight. I do have to say that we are extremely happy and excited that people in America like the album. It’s a huge bonus in our lives right now.
BRO – Can you point me towards some other Swedish bands that I should check out?
KR – When it comes to Swedish music, I really like an artist called ALF. He’s one of my favorites. You should definitely check him out. But Bent Staf. This is my all time Swedish favorite. Typical 70s Swedish prog rock, but 100 times better than everything else in that genre. Also, Jan Johansson might be one of our greatest here.
BRO – This week, we celebrated our Thanksgiving holiday. Suggest a Swedish dish I could bring to the table next year?
KR – Yesterday, I met up with a Canadian friend who lives in New York. She’s on tour in Europe. She spoke very highly about traditional Swedish meatballs. I take that dish for granted. But if I would visit your Thanksgiving dinner, I would probably bring those, along with some mashed potatoes and pickled cucumber. And this brings up a wonderful tour memory. When we had a day off in Cleveland, our tour manager, Nate Walker, bribed the chef of our hotel. Nate and the chef made us a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and we ate in the room of some friends who were staying at the hotel. I remember that and tons of Shiner Bock beers. When I see a Shiner Bock now, I smile and think about Cleveland and a wonderful dinner with friends.
Kristoffer & The Harhour Heads have a run of dates in Europe to celebrate the release of the new record. Here’s hoping, though, that the band heads this way soon. There are always new memories to make.
To find out more about the band and how you can get a copy of EX/EX, check out their website.
Also, be sure to check out “Nervous in Berlin” on this month’s Trail Mix.