An Interview with Simon Steensland
with Rafa Dorado
Reprinted courtesy of Margen Magazine, Spain
Led Circus is a new masterpiece in your trajectory: The musical brains of Zappa, Magma, Univers Zero, Hollmer, Ives... are here perfectly mixed. The complexity of this work is almost mathematic, however the musical message is also very suggestive. Give me your opinion about this judgment.
Simon: Let me begin with thanking you for your interest in my music and your kind words. I find it pretty difficult to explain my own music, or somebody else's for that matter. It is nice in many ways to be compared to all those people you mention, nice in one way to both me and them, and equally unfair in many other ways. Zappa made the best Zappa music in the world, Magma made the greatest Magma music and so on. I have never attempted to sound like anyone else, because the only thing I can try to do is being true to myself and attempt to write the worlds greatest Simon Steensland music. But, of course, I like anyone else get inspired and influenced by other music. If, for instance I had never heard Univers Zero, my music probably have sounded differently. When composing I try to be as non-mathematical as possible, or rather maybe I try to hide the mathematics as well as I possibly can. I think as a listener, one can sit down and analyze and try to transcribe all musical somersaults and leaps, and in that case really get a tedious task, but I really hope that people can stay away from that and try to experience the music just for what it is. When I compose I don't try to make things complex for the sake of being complex. I never think of music as being complex. If then certain passages and themes are hard to play it is merely a coincidence, or a by-product of attempting to reach the full potential of the piece.
Rafo: I'd say you are a classical composer using "rock instrumentation". Are you OK with this opinion? Your music is too complex for prog rock aficionados isn't it?
Simon: I wouldn't necessarily want to call myself a classical composer, especially since I don't have any such training in music, but I guess my music has a tendency to sit closer to the classical camp than that of Pop and Rock. However, classical music also follows a certain book of rules, and there are many rules that have to be fulfilled in order for a piece to be called a sonata and etc. I'm opposed to forms and rules.
Rafo: How is one to be musically free if one has to follow a certain set of rules? The instrumentation you use is very diverse: accordion, marimba, harmonium, guitars, bass, saxes... This special sonority + your own musical vocabulary give as a result a music "between" (between folk and rock, between rock and classic and again between classic and folk). An amazing musical hieroglyph. Please, Simon, can you tell us what is your secret?
Simon: I must say that there are absolutely no secrets involved. I don't believe in secrets. On the other hand I believe in staying true to yourself. Every time I write a piece I try to write the best piece I've ever written. Of course I don't always succeed in doing this, but it is always my ambition. I work fairly slow and extremely carefully, and it is only myself that I'm trying to please. I don't feel any pressure from anyone or anything. I think it is a fantastic thing that there are people who can actually enjoy and experience what I write, but at first it is always myself that I have to convince that it is good. Another important part in my making of music is that I am privileged to know so many wonderful musicians who, even without getting paid, put time and effort into learning my pieces and playing on them. I never have to limit myself when composing. No matter how easy or difficult a piece turns out it can always be played. Without all of them my music would be vastly different, worse. I am so lucky to be a part of a scene of freaks, UFOs and worldclass musicians where everyone is helping each other without involving any money - because none of us have any!
Rafo: What are, in your opinion, the main differences between Led Circus and your previous albums The Zombie Hunter and Under Oknar?
Simon: The difference between Zombie Hunter and Led Circus is that Led Circus has more effort put into it and that I have developed a lot as a composer and no longer feel like a beginner. My composing career didn't begin until 1990 and I'm slowly getting a hang of it, it feels. Under Öknar was a collaboration together with Sten Sandell, so that's a whole different story. Not every composition on there is a smash hit, but it certainly has its moments I think.
Rafo: Do you consider yourself as kind of modern anarchist in music?
Simon: Definitely! Anything goes. There are no rights or wrongs. No rules. No apologies. No limits. Let the massacre begin, everyone is Jesus, awaken the dead, no more bald operas or toothless symphonies!
Rafo: I'd say you feel that your composing of moods and textures is equally as important as coming up with rhythms or beats. Your music is very balanced between the rhythmic and atmospheric parts. Are you OK?
Simon: Rhythms and beats are what I think of the least when composing. They have a tendency to fall into place by themselves naturally, and all of a sudden they are just there without you knowing what happened. Rhythms by themselves are pointless until they are paired up with something else. At the same time a melody or a chord progression cannot fall into place without having any rhythm to fall back on. But somehow to me it feels the tonality is the most important. Not until I'm about to teach a part to a musician and they ask me what meter a certain theme is in I realize hmm, that's a pretty difficult question...
Simon: Right now I'm involved in a fantastic theater production based on a book by the Swedish cult author Sture Dahlström together with this "over the limit" theater company called Kommando X. "Den galloperande Svensken" (The galloping Swede) is about a reasonably insane composer who's focus is on writing National Anthems, who later travels to America to compose his masterpiece, a godsent opera which will change the world and awaken the dead. My part is to be his voice compositionally. This is a huge challenge for me which has been nothing but great fun and very inspiring as Sture Dahlström has one of my biggest hero's for years. I compose quite a lot for theater, which means using completely different techniques than for making albums. All of a sudden I have to write things that theater directors and actors like, something which can inspire and support their performance. It is in many ways more nerve-wrecking and more difficult than writing for yourself. We had our big premiere two days ago and it was a huge success!!! Everyone's happy, content and extremely hung over... I guess I'll start working on a new album later this fall, but that's a whole different story to itself...
Interview by Rafa Dorado, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reprinted with kind permission by the author.
THANK YOU RAFO!