Swedish progressive outfit Beardfish are highly influenced by seventies prog rock in the vein of King Crimson, Yes, Gentle Giant and Camel. They combine this with intelligent songwriting and thought-provoking lyrics. The band is about to release Mammoth, their latest effort. Some time ago I had a pleasant conversation with Rikard Sjöblom, the main songwriter and vocalist in Beardfish. Subjects of this interview are the collective love for seventies music, the fun they had while recording the new album and the noble art of songwriting..
Congratulations on releasing such a strong and convincing album as Mammoth. Did it turned the way you wanted to?
Thank you! Yes, it really did actually!
Compared to Destined Solitaire and both the Sleeping In Traffic albums the overall atmosphere is a bit harsher and darker on Mammoth. The Platform, Green Waves and Without Saying Anything are clear examples of that. How come?
We noticed right away when the new material started to take form that it was going in that direction and we decided to just go along with it. And then we took it to new levels for us (not really new for most bands in the genre though!) and overdubbed walls of guitars on the harder songs. It was loads of fun!
What I particularly like about Mammoth (and the older Beardfish material) is the sheer passion for seventies prog rock. Where does this profound love for King Crimson, Camel, Yes and the lot originate from?
I had a friend who gave me In The Court Of The Crimson King and said that I should listen to only that album for a week. After that I was hooked! I know the other guys found these kinds of albums in their parents record collections when they were younger. And once the hook is in there’s really no turning back! There’s probably never gonna be a musical experience to top the initial love I felt for King Crimson, kind of sad actually…
Intelligent songwriting and thought-provoking lyrics, often inspired by Frank Zappa, are a major part of Beardfish as well. How do you manage to write/create such elaborate songs? How important are meaningful lyrics to you?
It’s just the way we make them. I for one can’t understand how to write a really good 3 minute pop song! That’s much harder in my opinion. Everyone’s different, and writing extensive songs with a lot of twists and turns and using melodies and chord progressions like they were on sale at the supermarket is what gets me going, and I know how to do it. I like my lyrics to deal with something, but it can be anything really as long as it’s fun to sing it a hundred times. That’s the problem with the more humoristic material, after a while they tend to be like bad jokes you’ve heard a hundred times before. I still think The Gooberville Ballroom Dancer stands the test of time though, so I’m glad about that.
Mammoth is more of a collective band effort than the previous albums, which were mainly written by you. What did the other members contribute and it this something you would like to use on future records?
We just worked together more than ever before when it came to arranging the songs on this album, and it turned out great! Magnus was actually very much responsible for getting the songs re-worked and tested in different versions before we settled for a particular one. I’m not saying he always knew how he wanted it to sound, but he was usually the first one to say that we should change something because he wasn’t happy with it.
Your latest album has a very warm and vintage sound. How did you manage to achieve that and how did the recording sessions for Mammoth go compared to previous experiences?
Apart from having a really bad throat through most of the vocal sessions, I would have to say that this was probably one of the very best recording sessions we’ve had. Destined Solitare was really crappy, because we had very little time and close to 80 minutes of music to record. No one was really happy that time around! I think the vintage sound sort of comes natural to us, could be our choice of instrumentation actually, and that we use the instruments the way we do. I don’t know.
I would like to play the Devil’s Advocate here. There’s some criticism on Beardfish for sounding a bit too much like Yes, King Crimson, Camel and other seventies prog rock bands. Is this something that bothers you and how do you counter that?
Nah… of course people are gonna be able to pin-point stuff like that in our music, because some of those bands are our favourites. But I still think we’ve managed to find our own voice with the years. What does bother me though is people writing it off as sounding like something just because they themselves don’t have a better reference point for what we sound like or just because they think we’ve sounded that way in the past. Sometimes people say we’ve been influenced by a band and I have to check them out because I haven’t heard the band in question! Not that we may have been, but like it’s a fact! This has happened many times actually, and the person writing is so sure that we’ve been listening to “put 70’s prog band of your choice here” and we haven’t even heard them.
Progressive rock and metal seem to become popular again. Porcupine Tree, Opeth and Pain Of Salvation enjoy various degrees of success. Bands like Oceansize (sadly RIP), Orphaned Land and Textures incorporate progressive influences in their music. How is Beardfish affected by this and what are your thoughts on these current developments?
I don’t know if it has affected us in any way yet, but let’s hope that it does, right? I mean, we’d just love to be able to go out and tour every year and make money from doing it so we don’t have to do other stuff in order to survive. But hey, I’m a dreamer!
Sweden is well-known for its high quality output when it comes to metal and music in general. Which bands and artists do you admire and why?
From Sweden when it comes to bands known outside of Sweden I guess Opeth, Dungen and Pain of Salvation comes to mind. Also, I love ABBA.
It’s time for the final question. What’s in store for Beardfish the upcoming months and when can we expect you guys here in the Netherlands?
Well, we always seem to end up in the Netherlands one way or another, so we’ll probably see you sometime later this year!