The Bear Quartet

The Bear Quartet – You you you you you you
(dark live video with a so-so sound)

Références musicales : The Pixies, Sonic Youth
The Bear Quartet – We’re not gonna make it (mp3)

(Afin de maintenir une longueur raisonnable à ce billet,
celui-ci n’est pas traduit en français)

Spending my time writing “the Bear Quartet is my favourite band” is something I am not tired of. How those guys manage to release nearly every year a record very different from their previous one remains a mystery to me. But that might be the main reason why they occupy such a special place within the Swedish music scene.

On the 15th of September, you will be able to listen to their new album Monty Python (order it there). It is their 16th! And they still reinvent themselves. I could review it song by song. I could tell you I prefer it than 89, their previous one (reread my review here). I could tell you We’re not gonna make it is definitely in my “favourite BQ songs top ten list”. I could go on and on and on. But I prefer to publish this (quite long) Questions/Answers thing I did separately with singer Mattias Alkberg (aka “Matti”) and keyboard-guy Calle Olsson (aka “nmtiö”). If they usually do not talk much, when they do, they are always interesting. Also, my questions are not some regular journalistic questions, and some of them probably suck. But they are personal and honest. Just like Absolut Noise tries to be.

First thing that strikes me when I listened to Monty Python is that, compare to 89, it is” less “macho”. Mostly because a girl sings on many songs (I’ve been told We’re not gonna make it featured Sibille Atta from the band Little red corvette, but I confess I am not sure it is the same feminine voice during the whole record). Was there a conscious will to give a more “feminine” side to this record or was it just because of Sibille or what?
Matti : No, not really. People are people. We just wanted the parts were Sibille sings (it is her and only her) to be more call and response-like. Mixing male and female vocals seemed to be the way to do that. She duets with Calle (AbsNoise : aka nmtiö ) on our songs We’re Not Gonna Make It and Escape From Promille Hill, and she does some more atmospheric vocals on Lovers Goodbye as well. When we have been playing live this summer we’ve had the honour of being joined by Julia Hanberg from the band Penny Century on vocals.

nmtiö : No. No will, at least not from me. I was not in the studio when she recorded the vocals, don´t know what was going on then.

Actually, I might be wrong, but the only past featuring I can remember with BQ was Alexandra Dahlström on your album Ny Våg. But there are several songs on Monty Python featuring a non BQ member. Why?
Matti : On earlier records we’ve had tons of guests, mostly male for some reason, apart from Alexandra and Karin Dreijer. The (un-)conscious decision we made after our record Eternity Now was to not include any outside people at all. Sibille is the only guest on Monty Python. So that’s changed over the years.

nmtiö : The bear quartet has reached out for help before, for example on our record Personality crisis Karin Dreijer sang, Håkan Hellström played the snare drum and Patrick from Brick played some guitar, a very harsh and distorted guitar! Patrick is kind of feminine… I think that anyway.. Kåre and Ekan sang on some songs on our album My War, Pelle played the farfisa on outnumbered… the song Sailors from our album Eternity now featured Yngvie Malmsteens ex-singer Mats Levén .

I find also Monty Python less monolithic than most of your records. I can quote the kind of opera beginning of opening track You you you you you you, the metal Silent film ending or the oriental atmosphere in We’re not gonna make it. The whole record seems to take one direction then it switches way. Did you consider it as an album or did you take the songs one by one and put them in a same album?
Matti : Less monolithic? I take that as a compliment. We made this record and 89 as a band, more as in five different people showing the other four what do with each song. And then we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed as our beards grew longer. Me and Jari (AbsNoise : Jari Haapalainen) provided the skeletons and the others really, and beautifully, sculptured meat on the song’s bones. The influences, operatic and so on are entirely up to you and whoever else listens to it. It was a hard album to make, to write and record and most of us didn’t really have a clue of what the others were doing until quite late in the process. But it was totally worth it. And Peter’s lyrics (AbsNoise : Peter Nuottaniemi) are better than ever. It’s more or less a perfect record.

nmtiö : One by one! (For me, but not having listened to the album for a long time I remember it as a whole).

As a BQ fan who knows about the “Y ending first word + a 2 words title” record title rule, I always wonder about what will be the title of your records. I confess “Monty Python” surprised me since the English humour of the Monty Pythons are not what comes to my mind when I think about BQ music (which is darker to me than the John Cleese crew). You might be fed up with this question, but why did you pick this title?
Matti : It was my idea. I thought it was funny. But I also think we share some common ground. Like, we were both funnier when we were younger, but overall better and more substantial as we grew older. Also, they didn’t care about the conventions or standards of their time, just like us. And they also had a kind of twisted, sexual aura. Laughing in the face of catholic guilt, while still being terrified of the concept of a vengeful god. Not that we are in any way christian or religious, just guilt-ridden.

nmtiö : It was Matti’s choice. I thought it was a good title, even though I don’t drink tea with milk and sugar. But I don’t say no to a good joke every now and then…

The album’s cover surprised me too: it is the first time one can see your faces on your record. Is there a will behind it (like you’re still standing as a strong band despite the years passing by) or am I just thinking too much?
Matti : It was Jari’s idea, and I for one wasn’t that into it, but it wasn’t like I had a better idea so I just went with it. What the others thought, I don’t know, you’ll have to ask them. But I like it, I find it hilarious: Five regular guys playing regular rock, and a “cool” font stating the band’s name. And then you listen to the record…

nmtiö : It was Jari’s choice with the cover. He always wants to try new stuff. But again on Personality crises our faces were all over the cover and on the following My War (Matti), Gay Icon (Jari), Ny Våg (Jejo), Saturday Night (Peter) Angry brigade (Calle) but new with this one is that we were in a photo studio.

First time I heard Escape from Promile hill, I tought it could be a western soundtrack. Would you like to release a movie soundtrack? If yes, which directors come to your mind?
Matti : Actually, Calle’s made some music for the theatre/dance-world, I did some soundtracks to short films and Jari has written the score to a swedish TV-series. I mean, the concept isn’t new to us, and I quite liked it and I will do it again if someone is stupid enough to ask me. But if the question is whether The Bear Quartet would like to do a soundtrack I don’t really know. Perhaps we’re a bit unruly? If Ingmar Bergman or John Cassavetes, (or the young Godard, for that matter) was still alive we would probably shit ourselves with pride and nerves if they asked. But they didn’t, wouldn’t have and quite frankly shouldn’t have. So the question will probably remain hypothetical and unanswered forever.

nmtiö : I don’t think The Bear Quartet will record a movie soundtrack. There are no directors that are worthy.

The songs in this record last longer than on your previous ones. Do you think you will want one day to come back to a more regular pop/rock formula such as in your record Angry Brigade?
Matti : I don’t know if we’ll ever come back to anything. That’s on a musical as well as an existential level. I don’t want to think about it anymore than I have to. This record has really, really taken it’s toll on us.

nmtiö : We will never record another Angry Brigade again.

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