Monday, May 4, 2009

Interview w/ The Soundtrack Of Our Lives: "All Time is One Time"

Soundcheck @ the Troubadour 3/16/09. Photo by Linda Rapka

My interview with Swedish rock gods The Soundtrack Of Our Lives as published by LA Record:

The premiere psych-rockers of Scandinavia, Ebbot Lundberg (vocals), Mattias Bärjed (guitar), Kalle Gustafsson (bass), Martin Hederos (keys), Ian Person (guitar) and Fredrik Sandsten (drums) have redefined what it means to be influenced by ’70s psychedelia, prog pop and classic rock. Though Sweden’s economy is in as much trouble as ours, TSOOL wasn’t bashful about releasing their latest effort Communion—a discussion of the corporate mass psychosis that has slowly taken over the world—as an epic 90-minute double-CD. The band stopped by L.A. for the first time since opening for Robert Plant four years ago, having just enough time to do Leno, play a one-off at the Troubadour, and perform an acoustic set at a private party thrown by the Swedish Embassy in their honor. Just before sound check, Ebbot, Ian and Mattias strolled over to a nearby park to soak in some California sunshine, get trampled by frolicking dogs, and chat with Linda Rapka about their album.

Explain the cover art of your new album, “Communion” – a wealthy, middle-aged Caucasian couple drinking an ungodly concoction of fluorescent green alien juice.
Ian: We hired this guy to come up with some ideas about mass communication. So he came up with a few suggestions and this came up, and we kind of collaborated from there.

So what exactly is in that drink?
Ebbot: Tomorrow we will find out, because they’re gonna have this party, and they’re gonna do these drinks. So I’m curious!
Ian: We’re going to a party at the Swedish Embassy.
Ebbot: There will be lots of them there…

The new album was based on a theme of modern mass psychosis – which I see happening here in the U.S. Was America a major source of inspiration?
Ebbot: It was a global thing. I don’t know if you’ve seen the whole [CD] package, but it’s not only Caucasians, but all people.
Ian: It’s like Noah’s Ark.
Ebbot: Yeah, it’s like an ark. It’s just pictures you see every day without even thinking about it. It can be plastic surgery, it can be like a life coach, or whatever. I’m curious about the people on the cover – they don’t really know they’re on the cover. So we’ll see what’s going to happen. We might get sued!

Releasing a double CD in today’s economy is pretty ballsy.
Ian: We didn’t go out and say, “Let’s do a double CD.” It sort of evolved itself, really.
Mattias: I guess we always wanted to do a double album as well and now it just felt natural to do that.

You recently got out of your contractual obligations from Warner Bros. The last album you worked on, “Origins: Vol. 1,” they were pestering you about what was going to be the radio hit. That can be difficult when trying to create a work of art.
Ian: Especially when you’re in the studio and trying just to get everything going.
Ebbot: Well, I dunno. There’s a lot of singles on the new one, so we’re just gonna put out singles from the album and see what happens. Milk it as long as we can.
Ian: Basically Warner didn’t really have the money, ’cause we wanted a certain amount of money to do this album and they said no.

This album sounds a lot more energized than “Origins.”
Ian: We kind of had a lot more fun!
Mattias: We had some time off, actually like two years, before we started working on this album, so I guess that’s – you can hear that.
Ian: We had a lot of energy going in.

It sounds like it – which is probably why you ended up with so many songs.
Ian: For once it was quite easy to do the album. For once it was quite fun!

It always sounds like you guys are having fun.
Ian: But this time we actually had fun! We always had fun afterwards when the album is done. But now it was a nice process all the way.

I read that each of 24 tracks is supposed to symbolize each hour of the day.
Ebbot: It could be. It could be anything.

Were you trying to bring back the lost art of the concept album?
Ebbot: Yeah, why not? We grew up with it and we love it, so why not?

In today’s mp3 culture, a concept album is a way to bring back listening to an entire album.
Ian: Absolutely. Take some time off and listen. That’s one thing to do. The vinyl is coming back. All the record stores back home now they carry as much CDs as vinyl these days. The kids are learning.
Ebbot: It’s more like you do something that you wish existed and then you do it. You kind of miss it, you miss idea of what this became.
Ian: Carry on with the old legacy.

You cover a Nick Drake song, which is an interesting choice – not many people are perhaps brave enough to take on Drake.
Ebbot: That was the reason. Nobody ever did it. Maybe it was the wrong idea, I don’t know! We kind of did it around the demo version, which is on “The Time of No Reply.” The other one, John Cale produced, and it doesn’t really sound that good.

Another track, “The Fan Who Wasn’t There,” was based on a conversation that Ebbot had with Arthur Lee.
Ebbot: Yeah, some of it. He played in Gothenburg, his manager was there, who passed away like six months later, and then he passed away, sadly. It’s inspired by that conversation, having drinks for three hours. That was pretty fun. But it was sad…

It sounds like there were a lot of ’60s/’70s influences going on.
Ian: Yes.
Mattias: Yes.
Ebbot: Yes. And we DJ’d. It’s like all time is one time.
Ian: Squeeze them all in together. The best picks of raisins in the cookies.

I don’t like raisins.
Ian: Chocolate chips then.

Do you enjoy listening to your own records?
Ebbot: Yes. We’re warming up to it sometimes. Our own records. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s The Soundtrack of our Lives. We try to be what the name is. Sometimes it sucks. And sometimes it’s OK.

I stumbled upon a food blog where your bandmate Martin had posted his recipe for lamb tagine. Do any of you have any hidden surprises?
Ian: Martin and I are the chefs in the band. I’m into the Italian kitchen at the moment. A friend of mine had his wedding recently and I cooked for like 200 people.
Ebbot: Did you get paid?
Ian: No, I didn’t get paid. But the food was great. And I got to eat the food.

The food is what’s really important.
Mattias: When we come over here we try to eat as much Mexican food as possible because it’s really hard to find good Mexican food in Scandinavia – Sweden, Norway or Finland – it’s impossible.
Ebbot: There are no Mexicans. Just Finnish people.

You haven’t been to the U.S. since 2005.
Ebbot: We actually here in 2007 in New York for a while.
Ian: And Austin last year, SXSW. We did a couple of hit and runs. Guerilla warfare.

But what about L.A.? We missed you.
Ian: We love L.A., so we’ve been sad.
Ebbot: We went to China last year.
Ian: But that’s not America.

Was that your first time in China? What was it like?
Ebbot: It was exactly like here. But it’s even more futuristic. It’s like beyond “Bladerunner.”
Ian: The director’s cut.
Ebbot: It’s happened. It’s really growing fast and scary.

That is a lot of billions of people.
Ebbot: And they’re working all night. It’s like, “You’d better stop.” They’re just like ants.
Mattias: We might go to Taiwan in a month.
Ian: And then South America in the fall.

Do you get time to actually enjoy the countries you visit?
Ian: We try and plan a couple of days. When we did those long tours we didn’t have much time, but now in China we had a few days off, Australia we had like five, six days to hang out.
Ebbot: We spent a lot of time in L.A. and had a lot of time off here.

And a lot of Mexican food.
Mattias: Yeah. As you can tell.

If Obama’s stimulus package fails and I move to Sweden, who’s couch can I stay on?
Ian: Kalle’s got a grand studio. It’s gigantic.
Mattias: My guitar tech is single.

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Cello Without Boundaries: Interview with Tina Guo

Published in the May 2009 issue of the Overture, official publication of Professional Musicians, Local 47.

Cello Without Boundaries

From classical to prog rock to metal, cellist Tina Guo pushes her instrument to a realm of endless possibilities

by Linda Rapka, Overture Managing Editor

Cellist Tina Guo has never been one for cookie-cutter labels. A virtuoso on the classical cello, the 23-year-old crossover artist is equally skilled as a powerhouse shredder on electric cello, masterfully balancing classical elegance with her inner metal child.

Tina began her musical training at age 3 in Shanghai before moving to the United States when she was 5. In the classical realm, Tina has appeared as a soloist with many orchestras internationally, including the San Diego Symphony, Thessaloniki State Symphony in Greece, Petrobras Symphony and Barra Mansa Symphony in Brazil, Vancouver Island Symphony in British Columbia, and most recently she performed the "Shostakovich Cello Concerto" with the National Symphony Orchestra in Mexico. She has also recorded with artists such as Stevie Wonder, Josh Groban, Michael McDonald and John Legend.

On what she calls her more visceral side, Tina plays electric cello on her own metal music as well as in progressive metal band Off the Deep End and has performed with rock artists including Zakk Wylde, Derek Sherinian and Persian superstar Andy Madadian.

Tina speaks with the Overture about coming to terms with her divergent musical identities, her upcoming projects, and her lust for life.

You started music at a very early age, which I understand wasn't always easy.
Both my parents are musicians. My father's a cellist, and my mom plays violin. Plus, they're Chinese, so they're very strict! It's very rare for a kid to want to sit in a room eight hours a day practicing. My parents forced me to, and I hated them. But after I grew up a little and came to L.A. for college at USC, my love of music developed. I realized it wasn't just a punishment. I found that having the technical control of the instrument gave me the ability to express myself freely. It's a very good foundation. Actually, pretty recently I've repaired my relationship with my parents.

You play classical on acoustic cello and metal on electric cello. How do each enable you to express yourself?
The beauty of classical music is being able to push and pull within a defined boundary, being able to work magic within what's allowed. I think classical and metal are the two closest, emotionally, in music, because they're very deep. There's a lot of depth and emotion. In metal, usually it's more tortured emotion. When you play metal, there is no box, you can do whatever you want. I feel most spiritually connected to the universe through classical music. But metal, that's primal. It's carnal, it's visceral. It's not on a higher realm of being. Classical, for me, is more enlightened. They're both on each side of the extreme.

What inspires you most as a musician?
Emotionally and mentally, for a human being, at least for me, I think you have to experience life in order to express it in your music. I mean, what is your music going to say if you don't know anything?

What are you working on right now?
I have my solo classical stuff, and I'm just starting to work on my solo metal project. I'm working on a metal version of "Flight of the Bumblebee."

You're also in a progressive rock band.
I have a band, with my boyfriend, called Off the Deep End. We are off the deep end – we're crazy! My boyfriend has more of a classic rock influence than myself. It's an interesting mixture. Our very first gig was the official wrap party for the Sundance Film Festival. We only had two songs, because we had just started the band. So we played our opening song, our closing song, and got off the stage.

Who has had the most influence on you musically?
When I was at USC I played at Disney Hall in a quartet with Midori. She's a great musician. I learned a lot from her. I'm naturally really crazy, up and down emotionally. She taught me there's something beautiful about control, and when you do decide to go over the edge, it's really something major.

Who have you worked with on the metal/rock side?
Recently I played on a track with Zakk Wylde, the guitar player for Ozzy. Most of the time people still use string instruments and cello for pretty things, which is fine, but my metal side wants to replace the lead guitar and do all that with electric cello.

These days a lot of traditionally orchestral instruments are going electric.
I think it's definitely a movement that's starting. Electric guitars once didn't exist, but somebody decided to plug in a classical guitar, and now electric guitar is like second nature.

You joined Local 47 a year ago. Has being a union member had an impact?
When I was at USC I met Mark Robertson, a union member who plays violin, who told me about it. Being in the union's great. All of the major session work and TV shows and movies – you can't do them if you're not in the union. It's a great safety net with the economy the way it is. They have the Relief Fund, there's a Pension Fund, there's health insurance... I was amazed when I found out about it, because being a freelance musician and not having a retirement fund is really scary.

Do you have any advice for aspiring cellists?
I don't mean to be cliché, but just be yourself. I can't tell anyone to be wild and do everything, 'cause maybe that will make someone unhappy and miserable. You just have to do what you love to do. But also be realistic. If you find that something isn't working out, don't stick in there until your life falls apart. Also, I think marketing yourself is very important. You have to meet people to get places. Sitting in a practice room for 10 hours a day is not gonna get you anywhere.

Classical and metal are seemingly at opposite ends of the spectrum. How do you account for being able to so seamlessly delve into both realms?
You only live once, and you have to embrace life. You have to do everything that you can do – without killing yourself. I don't drink at all, I don't do any drugs. I guess I find my excitement in other ways, and I try to artistically pursue as much as I can to the very extreme without going overboard. Whatever you tell me I can't do, I'm gonna do it just to make you angry. Sometimes that gets me into trouble, but for me personally, I'd rather be the lion than the lamb.

Visit Tina Guo online at

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