VI SOM ÄLSKADE VARANDRA SÅ MYCKET
Buy 'Eight Feet Under - Vol. 1' 2x12"
So this is David Norman (blog person) interviewing Arvid Ringborg (vocals) and Mark Shaw (guitar) of VI SOM ÄLSKADE VARANDRA SÅ MYCKET. The other members of the band are Tomas Brisman (bass), Johan Angantyr (guitar), Jens Gentzschein Lager (guitar) and Gösta Jonasson (drums). This interview took place via emails but last night I was lucky enough to spend time with both of these amazing people at Arvid's apartment in Stockholm, Sweden.
1) Tell us about the two songs chosen for the 2x12”…split? Comp? What would you call it?
Arvid: You approached us about the release, which we think of as the 8-way split, right after we released 'Den sorgligaste musiken i världen'. Besides the split we did with They Sleep We Live, these are the first songs we wrote and recorded after that. When we saw the other great bands from the three other countries that were going to be involved in the 8-way split — and not to forget our Swedish friends in the awesome Via Fondo — we were really excited about the opportunity to get to share our music with other scenes alongside great bands. The songs we chose are a natural progression from what we have been doing before and really we just try to write better material all the time. We were particularly excited about how these two songs were coming together in the recording process, so we thought we would be putting our best foot forward to share with others in our own and three other scenes, and wherever else the 8-way split finds its way. Both these two songs were recorded together with "Skymningstimmen" that appears on the split with мятеж and are mixed by Tomas in our band and mastered by Magnus Lindberg (Cult of Luna).
2) You did a split with my other band мятеж, did you want to talk about that song and why it ended up where it did?
Arvid: We recorded three songs in the same session for the 8-way split. One song we were going to use for a split 7” with Mark’s old band The Khayembii Communique with an old song that never was released. The only person who knew where the only copy of that recording from 2000 was was Nick, who founded and ran Blood Of The Young Records. As many know, Nick tragically passed away last June and we had no possible way to recover that song. Since that split can’t happen, the consequence for us was that then we had one song too many with nowhere to go. We decided not to put "Skymningstimmen" on that split because it was the least representative song out of the three. We really like the song, but for us it has a little bit of a weird structure. If it wasn't for you we probably would have never released it. We have fully recorded several songs that we never released for various reasons. I sent it to you and then you suggested the split. We have no intention of releasing it digitally also, so those 70 cassettes are the only way to get it. For us, as Swedes, it´s a good story that we released a split cassette limited to 70 copies in Canada. Just goes to show that we do some obscure music. Haha. But 70 tapes isn’t as obscure as some other ideas we have had. For example, Jens used to have a really terrible old car that barely worked, but it still had a working cassette player in it. we used to talk about writing and recording a song for release on cassette — but just one cassette. And it would be sold exclusively in the tape deck of Jens’s car. We would write our name on the hood of the car or something as well, just to make it an immersive experience. Whoever bought the car, would get the tape and would be the only person with the release of that song. Unfortunately, Jens got rid of his car before we could do it.
3) As you mentioned, in 2016 Nick Blood passed away. Please tell us all about him. How did you meet? What was he like? Stories? Did you want to say anything about his passing?
Mark: I met Nick when we were both in 5th grade in Minnesota, so probably 10 or 11 years old. He was a friend of a friend and we both made the super cool choice to play the saxophone in the school band. If you forgot your instrument, they made you sit there and pretend to play a wooden stick. Nick and I both forgot our instruments one day and we spent the whole class rolling our eyes at the absurd situation of pretending to play "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" rather than doing literally anything else. So I guess it was music and a shared disrespect for hollow authority that brought us together! Over the following years, we grew closer and closer until we ended up evolving from listening to metal/grunge, to finding our way to punk. Keep in mind, this was the early and mid-nineties, so the music you found was based a lot of hard work and luck. I got my driver’s license first and we started driving to Extreme Noise in Minneapolis from our suburb to spend whatever we had on records, often taking wild guesses as to whether something would be good based on the cover. You had to listen to a lot of bad and mediocre to find the good and a few great records. We eagerly shared all music we found together and eventually we started to find hardcore bands like Born Against and then screamo bands like Portraits of Past and Shotmaker. I was playing music with Mark and Brian (which became The Khayembii Communique) and we also evolved from covering Metallica then Nirvana to writing our earliest songs, like "Lacking". After leaving the US to live in a Sweden for a year, we came back and became Khayembii and Nick was right there, ready to start his label along with us. We always considered him the fourth member. Nick’s family asked me to do a eulogy at his funeral -- along with Tim, Nick’s dad and Nick’s former boss at his computer day job -- which was both the highest honor and biggest challenge I’ve ever faced in my life. Nick had some hard times with substances, as many know, but he had done so much hard work to get himself better. There isn’t anybody who knew him who thought he was anything other than the kindest, smartest, and most loyal person they’d ever met. He really was nicer and smarter than all of the rest of us. Really. And I’ve never seen a person care more about music. When we were teenagers, we were roughly equivalent in our passion, but as we got older I stayed interested but he kept that youthful intensity up, perhaps even increased it when he restarted Blood of the Young. Nick’s love of music and the care he gave to all those around him made a huge impact. Before Nick passed away, he spent several days in the coma at a hospital in downtown Minneapolis. Throughout it all there was a constant stream of visitors coming to support Nick’s recovery and then ultimately to say goodbye before he left us. It was a remarkable thing and even the staff of the very busy hospital was in wonder at it; they had never seen anything like it where a patient received more than a hundred visitors. Nick would do anything for anyone and gave freely of everything he had. And he wanted to give the world music he loved, so he did.
Arvid: I met Nick the same time I met Mark, when I was a 17 year old exchange student in the US. I lived in Sioux City, Iowa; my cousin Erik also did a year but in Minneapolis and went to the same high school as Nick and Mark. This was a couple of years before Nick started BOTY, but being into punk rock we had a lot in common. We just met a couple of times but he was always super cool. A couple years later I went to Minneapolis and crashed on the couch where Mark and Nick lived for a month. They actually lived with my friend Jamie who played in Song of Zarathustra that I knew from Sioux City. This summer was super hot and Nick’s room was the only one in the house with air conditioning. We ended up hanging out a lot and he was one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. He was warm and generous and fun to hang out with. When we started VSÄVSM Nick was getting BOTY up and running again so we started talking about doing something together. For me it was special to do the record on BOTY. He started the label to put out Mark’s old band The Khayembii Communique and he also put out a lot of great stuff. Also, my cousin Erik is the logo of the label. I am happy to have been a part of Nick’s legacy.
4) What was it like being in Khayembii Communique? In retrospect? Tell us about the reunion show. Arvid, what was that like?!?!?!
Mark: It’s pretty funny because when we were in Khayembii, it was mostly just us playing in our own basement in Minneapolis when touring bands like Milemarker rolled though. We moved into a house that had been having basement shows for a few years prior called 1021 House, though initially known as Castle Danger. I remember our first official show as Khayembii Communique was with Saetia, which I know blows some minds these days. But back then, it was just a bunch of us in a basement -- things like that only look like a big deal in retrospect, if they ever do at all. Only a handful of people who weren’t our friends cared - for some reason, we really won over Milwaukee! - so we didn’t break up thinking I would be answering questions about it 17 years later. But at the same time, when people connected with us, it did seem to happen in a rather strong way. So I guess there was something real there within ourselves that we accidentally accessed which a small number of people still connect with, and that’s pretty amazing. The reunion show was fun but it was a bit stressful. The show was a tribute to Nick’s memory involving a huge range of artists and it was at First Avenue's main room, which is a very iconic place if you’re from Minneapolis, or if you have seen Purple Rain. Khayembii playing at First Avenue was unthinkable when we were around, it would be like Vi Som playing at Coachella or something. Just way beyond the scope of what was possible. And, man, it turns out those songs are really hard to play and scream. I didn’t do my future self any favors back then by writing so many lyrics and writing guitar parts that are just at the upper edge of my ability on a good day. So there were some missteps in the performance, but Mark and Brian are amazing musicians and since I grew up playing with them, we really understand each other musically so we more or less pulled it off. We just tried to be as real as we could. Some people from back in the day came up and said they were extremely moved by seeing us play again; it really took them back to those basement performances, although this time I tried harder to scream into the microphone rather than just lay on the floor screaming into the air. Also, we got to have Arvid on stage with us, which was like a bridging of my worlds in a really meaningful way that’s hard to articulate. A lot of those Khayembii lyrics are about living in Sweden as a teenager, directly or indirectly, so it’s just a surreal scenario to be on stage at First Avenue with Arvid, Mark, and Brian, playing those old songs in memory of our dear friend Nick who left too soon, but who managed to release music I’ve been a part of over the course of a couple decades. It’s too much for words, really.
Arvid: When Nick passed away it hit me really hard. Even though we weren't that close he has had a lot of impact on my life. I went to Minneapolis to play a song with The Khayembii Communique for Nick’s memorial show and that was the first time I met his parents. We just hugged, no words were necessary. There were a lot of emotions that night and it just goes to show how important Nick was to a lot of people. He will forever be missed.
5) You ended up moving to Sweden, how did that all come about?
Mark: Arvid told a bit of this above, but when I was in high school in Minnesota, some guy named Erik showed up as an exchange student with a t-shirt with a hardcore band on it. Besides Nick, there was NOBODY in my school who even knew what hardcore was (this was a very long time ago). So I went up and asked him about that shirt. Anyway, we immediately became good friends and after a time I jokingly told him I was going to come live with his family in Stockholm the following year. He responded, "Well, our apartment in Stockholm is small, but my cousin Arvid's house probably has room." Arvid was also an exchange student, but in Iowa, where he was coincidentally befriending the dudes in Song of Zarathustra. Point being, I ended up living at Arvid's family's house for a year as a teenager, which was amazing. I went back home to Nick getting ready to start a record label. Erik, who was wildly beloved among our friends back in Minnesota, became the face of Nick Blood's label. Many years later in 2012, through coincidences and the course of adulthood, my wife Arielle’s job really wanted her to come work in their head office in Stockholm. So much that they were willing to import me and our little dog as well. When we told Arvid we were moving to Sweden, Arvid told me I should join Vi Som, to which I at first was like, "Come on, you already have two guitar players, what are you talking about?" But the idea of 3 guitars started to seem cool and, spoiler alert, I ended up joining anyway. Things happened fast as Arvid had me in the recording studio like 48 hours after landing in Sweden. It's been a bunch of odd and unintentional twists and turns over so many years that got me here. But I’m really grateful for all the lucky twists and turns that got me where I am. I couldn’t have predicted it, let alone planned it.
6) Why the name, Vi Som Älskade Varandra Så Mycket?
Mark: It’s an homage to an Italian film called 'C'eravamo tanto amati'. In Swedish, the title is Vi som älskade varann så mycket. In English, the film is translated as “We All Loved Each Other So Much.” though we would say our actual name translates "We Who Used To Love Each Other So Much". We titled one our very first songs we released 'C'eravamo tanto amati', so it’s no big secret where we found our inspiration. For us, it’s just a beautifully wistful title that we felt fit some of the musical qualities and conceptual approaches we were going for.
Arvid: Most of my lyrics deals with love and loss and are really a way for me to deal with things that I have gone through.
Mark: Given the length of the name and the fact that it’s in Swedish, it’s not the most commercially accessible name internationally. I definitely keep having to teach and re-teach my American friends how to say it. I don’t think that’s going to change!
7) What are the most prevalent and/or important influences for yourselves and your band?
Mark: Since we’re all a bit older than some other people in the scene, we’ve been around and been influenced by many different things over the years. Every band member could give you an almost endless list, some of which will be in a similar vein to us, and some of it not at all.
Arvid: I grew up listening to a lot of punk and hardcore and always played music. Me, Jens and Gösta (and briefly Tomas) had a band called the Comedy that played some weird kind of garage rock for several years. It was a lot of fun but maybe lacked substance. I always wanted to start a screamo band and then we just did. Some of the guys in the band never listened to that kind of music at all, so they bring another perspective into the songwriting.
Mark: For me, I still really strongly identify with the mid-to-late nineties screamo bands that I first got into when I was young and mentioned earlier. There are of course so many newer bands that are great and that I am inspired by, but nothing ever feels as strong as the love one has of those first bands. Day to day I listen to a wide range of things that often aren’t anywhere near screamo. The main thing for me, in music, is sincerity. If something is real, I’m going to be open to listening to it regardless of the genre. I like a lot of “indie” whatever which is more likely to be coming from sort place of authenticity, but I don’t like a whole lot of mainstream hits, which sound and feel to me like they are mass produced in a factory somewhere.
8) How do all of the members contribute to the final sound that is the Vi som sound?
Mark: It differs from song to song, but everybody plays a role. Usually, one of the three guitar players or Tomas comes up with a song idea and records a home demo to share with the rest of the band. Once we’ve all heard it, we will do some rehearsals all together to develop the basic structure with a lot of input from Gösta and Arvid, and then go into the studio to record drums. Once we have the drums, the main songwriter usually does most of the guitar with the others contributing their own ideas for layers or other elements. In addition to adding vocals and lyrics, Arvid contributes a huge amount of ideas throughout the whole process, including suggesting guitar, bass, or drum parts for others to play. So everybody plays a very major role from start to finish, though there is usually one guitar or bass player taking the lead in writing and recording the key parts.
9) What is next for the band in terms of recordings/releases?
Arvid: We used to have access to a studio whenever we wanted, which made the process we just described easier since we could record almost whenever we wanted. Unfortunately, that time came to an end and we don’t have the studio anymore. Now we have a practice space deep underground in central Stockholm, right next to a highway tunnel. Really, you can open up a door and see the cars rushing past just a meter or two away from you. But we found a solution that allows us to record similar to how we did before: we are recording over time in a studio that shares our highway tunnel practice space. We have just started recording our follow up full length and hopefully the process will not take that long (we worked for one and a half years on our first record). Our ambition is set really high and for that reason it takes a lot of time. We go through a lot of demos to find the songs we end up working with.
10) Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Thanks for all you and Zegema Beach have done to support us and to support and release great music from all over the world! We’re so honored to get to be a part of it all.