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dinsdag 27 januari 2009
Bokor: God is fond of bugs and rats and bacteria since they rule the earth...

Interview with vocalist Lars Carlberg from Bokor by Vera in January 2009

The entrance of Swedish band Bokor in my musical universe with ‘Anomia1’ was like a comet: it struck me as lightning and its tale kept on having its influence on me every time I listened to that innovative record again. In this respect I was of course on the tiptoe of expectations for the sophomore effort of the guys. They did not disappoint me with ‘Vermin Soul’ and so the time was right to formulate a few new questions and sent them to Sweden. Vocalist Lars Carlberg took the time to tell us what’s going on in the Bokor camp…

We will pick up the thread at the time of our first conversation. ‘Anomia1’ got rave reviews and was received very well by press and audience I guess. What happened after the time of promotion for that record? Did you get a chance to play some live gigs or even a tour? And can you tell something more about that?
Hi again, thanks for another great review and for the feedback! Sure we remember you hehe! Lars here trying to answer your questions...
We did a few gigs here in Sweden after the first album, but there were some member changes that held us back for a while. We started looking around for a good booking agency and other options, but things were a little bit slow. The songs for the first album had already been recorded for quite a long time before it was released, so during that time we had already began writing more stuff. And even if we really wanted to do more live gigs, we also wanted to focus on the second album.

I see you lost some guys along the way. What happened to the former lead guitarist Fredrik?
He got twins and had to focus on family stuff. It was all a question about priorities in life, I guess. We're pretty laidback in this band about many things, but you have to decide what you want and then stick to that, you have to be able to provide your energy and creativity when it's needed. We all have quite complicated lives outside the band, studies, families, work, own companies, etc, so things connected to the band need to work out at least somewhat effective and smooth. It's just one of these things that happen, when you have to face someone and make sure THEY don't complicate things even more. Ah, and he didn't play lead guitar, actually, that's Thomas. I know it said somewhere that Fredrik was lead guitarist, but that's wrong.

And can you tell a bit more about the new guy Jimmy Larsen?
Jimmy is an old friend of Thomas and Daniel, and they had played with him before. He brought a lot of new energy to the band when he joined, which we needed at that time. He's also been kind of a bandleader in his former acts, and knows what comes with having a lot of responsibility. He's having a hard time learning all the music right now, but he has a lot of dedication and is probably the best new member we could get.

Behind the drums I even got more confused: Erik Wennerholm, Daniel Melo, Daniel Ortega… I cannot follow anymore hehe… please unveil this enigma…
Hmm... Daniel Ortega, our pan flute player in the tight pants? Even I don't know anything about that guy, but tell him to call me if you see him, he owes us money for beer and drugs! No, I think Daniel Melo is called that too, actually... someone messed it up in some early promotion stuff or something. He's a little more metal in his drumming than Erik, and that suited us well when we began working with the new material. Erik was more into his other band, some mods-rock thing, and it felt best for all of us to let him focus on that instead.

Well, okay enough about line-up struggles, the main thing is you made a great album again with remaining core members and fresh blood. I remember songs came into being by experiments and jamming. Was it that way too for the sophomore release?
Yes, as usual Thomas Eriksson started it all up with a ton of different riffs and some loose structures for songs which we messed around with in different versions, added and subtracted things. And then we recorded rehearsals and did a lot of preproduction this time. I think we put even more emphasis on dynamics for "Vermin Soul", on the flow between different parts of the songs. It's easy to come up with lots of parts, the tricky bit is to connect them in a way that makes sense. Whether transgressions and build ups should be smooth or if the shifts in dynamics should be sharp and surprising. I had been working on the vocals and the lyrics all along to, with huge documents of brainstorming for lyrical ideas and stuff. The circumstances for this album have been almost optimal for a singer like me, I think. A lot of freedom to add things to songs that are already special, the possibility to try out stuff in different versions and get feedback.

The first studio experience was a rather spontaneous effort, now I read you have your own studio and did not have to move. I guess this was pretty different. Can you tell about your recording experiences this time? You took someone else for the mix I guess?
For a while we were part of a kind of coalition that has a studio here in Norrköping. And we first thought we should do the whole new record there. But in the end, we just did a lot of preproduction, rehearsing and writing there. First, we decided we needed to record the drum tracks somewhere else, because our own recording gear wasn't really up to it. I've got a lot of recording experience when it comes to vocals and guitars and stuff, but for the drums we wanted to use Daniel "Dante" Gese of Realtime Recording again. His studio has a full Pro Tools rig, and while we were thinking about it we ended up doing the whole thing there. We knew it would have been a lot of hard work and time just transferring files and data between his place and ours, and the result would have been crappy and annoying. And by that time we were also quite fed up with the other people at our place, so the choice was easy to make. In the end we took still a lot of responsibility for the recording ourselves, but we had Dante as back up all the time. For a while we had talked about getting an outside producer, perhaps even someone with a "name". But all of a sudden we were already deep into the process ourselves, and it felt better having Thomas and me keeping it that way and getting the "producer credits". We had so many production ideas ourselves, so bringing someone else in would probably have complicated things. But it's still something we'd like to try sometime in the future.
As for the mix, Dante did a great job of trying to understand what we tried to accomplish, and after some initial problems of communication we basically did the mixes together. He could do a basic set up for the songs, roughly balancing drum sounds and bass, routing guitars through compressors and stuff to get impressions of how it would sound, with me and Thomas cutting and editing tracks and parts, trying out things and ideas. Then we polished the things, all the fine balancing and detail, together. This album, just as "Anomia 1" was then mastered by Peter in de Betou of Tailormaid in Stockholm.

Can you tell a bit more about the lyrical theme(s) this time. One sentence already struck me “This album may be a theme album” I read on your site. Or just kidding? Is there a deeper meaning behind the title of the album ‘Vermin Soul’?
Thomas have been interested in the concept album thing for a long time, and kept suggesting it to me. I have hesitated to do it, since I believe that we come around as rather pretentious bastards enough anyway. But while working with the lyrics for "Vermin Soul" a kind of a concept emerged, even though it wasn't very intended. I had this line "All children know where spiders come from", that originally was the title for a kind of very experimental early song that didn't make it to the record. Also, the "Varmint Soul" song came around very early on. A basic idea that lingered in my head is that of famine, of drought and dry earth. An image of a society desperately waiting for the rain to come, for the epidemics to end. But when the rain comes, the only thing happening is that all the eggs and pupae buried in the dry earth hatches. I have these thoughts about how a real "God" would look like, if he existed. Apparently he's very fond of insects, bugs, rats and bacteria, cause they are really the rulers of the earth. Biologist Edward O Wilson says something like: "take away all humans from earth now, and nature would just return back to a state of balance. Take away the insects, and the whole biology would crash at once." If there is a "Soul" in nature it is a swarm-like thing, a thing that likes to eat a lot, breed a lot and shit all over the place. Which is, when you come to think of it, quite much what we humans do. All the songs connect in one way or another to this, I believe. It's about death and disaster, about despair, but also about life, about returning to grow new harvests in the barren lands after a plague. About waiting for the rains to come, about returning to Jerusalem after living in the desert for weeks, feeding on locusts and listening to the Swarm sleeping beneath you in the dry mud. It's a little unclear, I know, but anyone can make what they want of it.

Another person who is quite important while working on this record seems to be Valentin Mellström. Some more details would be fine…
The thing with him is that he is also a great input for energy and inspiration, that has meant a lot for us. As on ‘Anomia 1’, he did the artwork for the album. He goes to great lengths to make it connect to lyrical themes and work with the feeling for the songs. In the end he always does something that you never expected, but it is way better than what you thought from the beginning. As for the vocals he contributed with, we wanted some growl on this album too. Thomas suggested that we would use him, and that was a great idea. For "Viral Prophesies", the concept was pretty much clear when he did his lines, but for "Watching the Western Desert Freeze" I just provided him and Thomas with a lot of suggestions for lyrics and they produced the vocals on their own. A funny coincidence is that the theme for the lyrics was just perfect for him, since he had just returned from a long journey in South America so he could relate to the concept on a very personal level.

What was the role of Niclas Kinnander this time?
Too small a role, I think... Niclas is a great friend of us that has been playing in different constellations through the years. Unfortunately I couldn't participate that much when he did his stuff, but the result is always good when he does something. There is a piece of Rhodes piano in the beginning of "... and in September, Father" that is perfect example of that. Very subtle, a few notes that comes and goes, but it adds just the atmosphere needed. Also, listen for the very subtle keyboards in the background of the long soft build up part toward the end of "Iesu".

I would say that ‘Vermin Soul’ is a bit more atmospheric and even more multilayered than ‘Anomia1’ but what are the biggest differences between both albums in the eyes of the creators?
Thanks! Sound-wise I would say two things. The slightly different drum style of Daniel Melo, with much more double bassdrums and stuff. He's a very versatile drummer, and I think he added much more to the songs than he admits himself. Then there's also new guitar gear. We like to get away from the ordinary Marshall and Boogie amps of the metal world, and Thomas bought this Diezel amp that I think has a very special vibe, there's a lot of low and high end, but the sound never gets unfocused. We didn't need lots of overdubs to create the sound we wanted. On a more creative and emotional level, we went into this with more focus and dedication. The first album was well received, and rather than put any pressure on us it proved that we were on a right path. We have evolved a way to work that feels good, and we got to do it "properly" all the way this time. And much of the things we set out to do work out, I think.

Of course the long tracks always leap to the eye (at least with me) So, can you tell a bit more about ‘Iesu From Mattoroso’?
"Migrating" from ‘Anomia 1’ seemed to work as something that parted people's opinions of Bokor, whether they "got" our music or not. For this album, it felt natural to continue doing it. We have all been deep into progressive stuff with this band, anything from the longer songs on early Iron Maiden albums to the works of Genesis, Rush, Yes, Zeppelin, all that... It's both something we do as a kind of homage to these bands and as a way to contribute to a tradition. Most of all, we do it for ourselves, as a challenge. Every time we have managed to play right through "Migrating" or "Iesu...", we know that we are focused and have the right energy. It was the last song we wrote for the album, and it pretty much sums up what we try to achieve with this album, both musically and when it comes to the lyrics. The "Soul" is very present in this song, the dynamic changes, the melodies, the theme of small humans living under the influence of the Old Testament God of a relentless nature. The "more-of-everything" mentality. Ha, maybe someday we should shock everybody and do a super-minimalistic album.

Hehe do not become Swan Christy (LoL) And about ‘Seven Teeth Playfair (Out of the Pit of Oblivion)’?
It's based around a history and a collection of photographs I found on , from a building that was a mental hospital somewhere in northeast USA. Check it out. Psychology is my main interest of study, and for all the good things connected to the study of the human mind, there's also a darker shadow always following it. Today, we're beginning to have medication and therapies that can ease some of the symptoms for psychiatric disorders (even if you can still discuss a lot of the practical use and so on...). But it's not long ago when all we did, and could do, to people who had, for example, grave schizophrenia, was to put them in an institution. No matter what your opinions about psychiatry are, most people admit that there are mental disorders that are very hard to both the patient and their surroundings. But closed institutions have a tendency to become very inhuman places by definition. The lack of openness, the hopelessness for anyone involved, leads to many disastrous outcomes which are exemplified throughout history. In these places there are things that grow, out of control. Both in the patients and in the personnel. I sometimes picture the human brain as a very receptive habitat for different mind "viruses". There are walls inside a normal brain, that stop dreams and deeper levels of the mind processes to seep into the waken consciousness. There is much going on within us all the time, which we don't know of, so that we can separate a normal "now" from imagination and dreaming. But when these walls break down, then there is no mechanism to tell you where your perceptions come from. Normally, all the different voices and streams going on in the background of the parallel processes of the brain are filtered out to one, seemingly consistent perception of a "consciousness" that is really much of an illusion. No one knows how this is possible, really, and even the most prominent researchers in the field admit that. It's one of the great mysteries of the world, the magic of the prefrontal lobes, which I find much more interesting than anything else, including spirituality or whatever.
There is also some unexpected beauty to the song itself, I believe. It may be as an honour to all the patients that have suffered through history, often no more than objects for study and lab rats for bizarre treatments. As I said, psychiatry has been a very dark thing sometimes.

If there is any other song you want to tell something special about, feel free to do so…
My personal favourite on the album is still "Oh Glory in the Void", actually. There's something about this song that makes it seem so complete in my eyes. I knew from the first moment when the rest of the band presented the parts of it that it would be something.

Is someone of you involved in other bands or projects?
Yes, most of all Thomas has his band DeadPulse, though I believe they don't work that hard on it for the moment. He's also lead singer of doom metal act Griftegård. As for myself I have some sleeping projects, but I try to focus only on Bokor right now. There are always ideas for projects and collaborations, but I try to stay out of it because I have enough to do anyway. Jimmy also has a band that has been along for several years, but I think it's the same with him, there's just not enough time to do all the things you want.

What are the plans for the near future?
To work out deals with booking and management and play a lot live during 2009. If anyone has any suggestions, then don't hesitate to get in contact with us. First of all, we're going to do a small gig in Norrköping early March, to celebrate the record and throw a party along with a lot of friends. We haven't played live for a while now, because of member changes, album recording and stuff, so I guess we'll be so hungry to prove ourselves that it'll be like a fucking orgasm. After that, we hope that we'll do a little journey to Italy. But nothing's decided yet.

Well, I think that’s it for now Lars. I wish you great times and hope to see you live one day in Belgium or on a festival. Take care!
Cheers and thanks to you too, for the chance to talk to your readers again, and all feedback is welcome to us!

Geplaatst door Vera op dinsdag 27 januari 2009 - 00:17:50
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