This interview appears courtesy of Julien Monsenego and http://www.progressia.net. The French version of this interview can be found at this page.
Three years of activity, three albums and then gone. Änglagård did not deserve such a short amount of time, inversely proportional to its talent. It is maybe what the Swedes thought when they decided to re-animate the band for a couple of shows... and maybe more. An opportunity for Progressia to talk with the band about their career and their future projects, just before their Crescendo gig.
First of all, could you briefly summarize us the career of Änglagård in the nineties...
Mattias Olsson: We formed in the early nineties, and quickly recorded 2 symphonic rock albums, "Hybris" and "Epilog", and did a series of gigs and became immediately quite popular... and at the peak of our career... we disbanded! And did not do anything for 8 years. And now, we decided we would do it again, but shorter and faster!
What were your motivations for playing progressive rock?
Mattias Olsson: I think we were all big fans of the old bands, and decided "we are going to do this for real!", "we are going to do the big symphonic rock album!". And we were very lucky to find other people who were really into it, who were ready to play the same kind of music. Indeed, I've been talking with other people in London and in America, for instance, and they always say "I really want to begin a symphonic rock band, but I've this guitar player who is really into fusion", or "I've my bass player who really wants to play pop", so it never really matches. We were really lucky to find out members that could agree and play the same kind of music, in the same way.
Jonas Engdegård: In 1991, when we began playing gigs and recorded our first demo, the progressive rock that we were listening to was really the fundamentals of our activity, that was really our world at that time, our learning period. And by the time we released our first album, in late 1992, we were not listening to this kind of music anymore. We were more into jazz and other experimental music and, since then, we mainly focus on learning by ourselves.
At that time, were you aware of your popularity? Do you explain it by the fact that at that time, progressive rock bands were declining in terms of quality and quantity?
Mattias Olsson: When we started out, we wanted to play progressive rock and it is only then that we realized that people were really getting into it, and we were pleasantly surprised. All the things about the popularity of Änglagård is based on very small details: the fact that Greg Walker received a copy of the album and told us to come over to Progfest 1993 (which was probably one of the most significant thing to happen to the band, and gave us an American audience), and the timing, as you said. The popularity of the prog bands was going down, as well as the quality of the material. Most people were pretty fed up with the whole neo-prog thing. But we did what we did because we were into it, not in reaction to other kind of music. Moreover, about "Hybris", I would say that recording such an album (a symphonic rock album using organs and mini moogs) was the most stupid thing to do at that time!
Jonas Engdegård: As we are Swedish, we are very modest and we worship this quality! When we became popular, we were very conscious that being a recognized progressive band relates to a very small audience, maybe a couple of thousands of fans around the world. This is very spread out, and it might be harsh to gather enough people to organize gigs. If you sell 10.000 copies of your albums, it is a good figure for progressive music. So we were really aware of these facts.
It seems there was a change of mood in between both album, as "Epilog" is really darker and more sombre. Is it what happened?
Mattias Olsson: "Epilog" was an obvious step for us. In January 1994, we decided that we wanted to stop the band, but we also wanted to record various songs. We recorded and released "Epilog" in 1994, and that was the last thing we did, apart from the gigs that we did. It was supposed to be the final chapter of Änglagård, and I think that did a lot to our approach of the music, in terms of mood. We were also a lot more focused and concentrated on what we wanted to achieve and do. Also, the other thing is that, on "Hybris", we had a 100 albums, as a general glance of inspiration, as on "Epilog", we probably listened to a couple of thousands albums, which we poured into as inspiration. Everything was wide open, production-wise and influence-wise.
Jonas Engdegård: On "Hybris", we wanted to get close to these progressive bands, to sound like them, while on "Epilog", we tried to make an effort to get away from that. We did not want to be too progressive; we tried to create something new. And I think this is something that we failed, in a certain way, as it became a progressive rock album.
What are the main reasons for the Änglagård split and for the reunion in 2003?
Mattias Olsson: We were really getting along! It is pretty hard to be in the same band when members are not in the same mood. And there were a lot of tensions during the rehearsals for "Epilog". I mean, we rehearsed 2 or 3 months, 6 days a week, 8 hours a day. It putted a lot of tensions on the band. We also made a tour in Mexico, which started a lot of problems. By looking back on it, we could have solved a lot of them. But when you are in the middle of it, it is really hard to sort things out. We are quite conflict-shy, we don't fight a lot, but putting things upfront would have been better. We had a lot of opportunities, a lot of offers from major labels, but we did not do it, because it would not have worked for us as people to do it.
And when it comes to the reunion, we got an offer, 2 or 3 years ago, to play Nearfest in New Jersey. Obviously, we just said no, because we were not interested. And then, after a while, we though about it, talked about it, and than we started to do some initials rehearsals. We said to the Nearfest guys: "Can you give us 6 months: if it doesn't work, we won't do it". And they were extremely patient and kind to us, to wait for us to find out if we could play or not. Then, we realized people's expectations about what we were supposed to be, reading polls and press. It was pretty impressing, because people expected a lot from us, and also, a lot of people who were going to Nearfest tried to get our albums, and could not because they were sold out after we split up. And we became this weird band that just disappeared, and supposed to be very promising. We did the rehearsals, and it became much more easier to decide to play Nearfest: we never had such a consensus before.
Did you rehearse a lot for this mini tour? Did you have to relearn some reflexes that you had by playing together?
Jonas Engdegård: We've been quite busy. We spent 1 year writing two new songs. Rehearsing took a couple of months during spring. That means that writing took us a lot of time, but hopefully, it has all been doable.
How do you play live your old material: have you written some new arrangements, how do they sound like?
Mattias Olsson: I think they sound better now! We are a lot more focused on what we want to achieve. They are basically played in the same way: we have not done a country-western version of them, just to have fun with it. But it sounds better: we changed some arrangements and actually solved some problems that we had back them.
Jonas Engdegård: The main difference, except from the arrangements and the fact that we now miss one guitar, is that in the nineties, we were trying to play everything as on the albums. We are now willing to adapt the arrangements for a successful live set, a good live show, not something that just comes along with the CD's. I think we did not like to play live that much back then, which is not the case now.
You are playing two new songs live. What can you say about them, and, more generally, what was the process for writing these new pieces?
Mattias Olsson: They are pretty close to our old songs! We are more open-minded now when it comes to instrumentation. It is one of the good things with the reunion: it is instantaneously recognizable as Änglagård, which is what we want to do, and what people want to hear. If we wanted to do something electronic or poppy, we could do it in another band. We are precise on the fact that Änglagård should play this kind of music.
Jonas Engdegård: There are some similarities with "Epilog". We tried to do something new, something non-prog. And we once again failed! It became some Änglagård's prog anyway!
In the end, will Änglagård be a stable project again, and the usual question: will you record a new record?
Mattias Olsson: I think we will have to wait and see. We won't be an active band in the sense that we won't rehearse 3 times a week, and play any gig. If we continue, it will be much more project-based, like a month of touring, getting the big festivals, in a short amount of time. When it comes to the new album, we have not decided yet. We have no plans for doing it right now, but no one thought we would play another gig 2 or 3 years ago. Just wait and see... things happen.
Last and least, what do you think of the flourishing Swedish scene: Landberk, Anekdoten, Paatos, and the more metal but still progressive Opeth?
Jonas Engdegård: At the beginning of our career, we were a brotherhood with Anekdoten and Landberk, we played several gigs together in the early days. We have not been in contact with them since then, and we do not need too much progressive bands around us nowadays. We mostly hear about them in interviews, such as yours, and we say we like their music, but we did not hear their music for a long time.
Mattias Olsson: For us, it is like a vacation in a lot of ways, from what we do in our everyday life: "we get the old band back together, writing a couple of new songs, do a couple of gigs". So it is a pretty relaxed situation. The other bands are working their butts over, for being active, and getting all the possible gigs. It is great, and their music is interesting. It's just that they are taking these things a lot more seriously than we do!