Dungen and Oceans: A conversation with Gustav Estjes in advance of Waved Out 2
Gustav Estjes, the wavy-haired wizard behind the Stockholm-based quartet, has toyed with audience perceptions for much of the last decade and his latest excellent effort continues his scrambling of Swedish folk, acid rock, and jazz fusion. Like a Scandinavian cognate to Madlib, Estjes ditches dull gravity for a sublime celestial groove. If his latest album title means anything, it's an attempt to finally shed any lingering expectations or preconceived notions. It's "Just Do It," for the artistically inclined.
Originally hemmed into the psych-rock genre, Dungen has increasingly incorporated orchestral sounds to produce the sort of genreless float that was once common in the early '70s, but rare in the contemporary indieocracy where bands battle to most artfully ape C86 or the Animal Collective.
Whereas most of their peers play instruments like an early period Wyld Stallyns, Dungen are virtuousos. The last time they came to town, I described it as: "the score to an Ingmar Bergman adaptation of 'The Electric Kool-Acid Test,' performed by a 'Tangerine'-era Led Zeppelin, if they really had come from the land of ice and snow -- an abstruse sort of transcendence impossible to understate or oversell. It’s unlikely that a single audience member understood any of the lyrics, but no one seemed to care. If the prevailing cliche holds that music is the universal language, then last night it was seen fluently speaking Swedish."
How did you end up selecting that album title and were you worried it might baffle people?
Well, the English translation doesn't really capture the full meaning of what it means in Swedish. It means don't give up on what you want out of life. Go for it. Don't let yourself have boundaries or limits. Do whatever you want. The Swedish definition is a little bit lighter.
What was the recording process like? Did you record it in Stockholm or in the country?
We did a two-week session in the countryside, which had a more traditional living arrangement and then we continued to work in a Stockholm rented studio space. This album is different from previous efforts in that I used to do most of the instrumental parts myself; now we're more of a traditional band. Everything used to come straight from my demos, but now it starts with an idea, I let it grow for a while and then I bring it to the rest of the band and we all develop it from there.
On this album, you've continued to shift away from hard rock into a more jazzy orchestral sound. Was that a conscious decision or more of a manifestation of the head space that you're currently in?
I’ve always been interested in production and engineering. First and foremost, what I write has to be a good tune and have a good melody and sound. Hopefully, I've improved at songwriting but it’s hard for me to have perspective on that. We've definitely become more orchestral over the last two albums.
You're one of the only modern artists that has successfully incorporated Jimi Hendrix into your sound. Why do you think so few groups have been able to successfully expand on his music?
I don’t know. He's just a scary guitarist and no one can play like him. It sounds cliche, but he had his own way of treating the guitar, and I've never met anyone who can do that and find those tones and crank those sounds and music. Hendrix definitely has his own language. I was mostly inspired by the ideas of the first Hendrix record, that airy kind of sound when they were a three-piece -- the classic power trio. You can hear the space between the instrumental and the sound of the guitar and the piano and the trumpet.
Dungen sounds absolutely nothing like any of the Swedish groups that have broken in America over the last few years. Are there more groups in Sweden that sound like you guys, or are you guys outliers?
I've never really been a part of any scene or genre. I sort of live in a bubble and rarely go to shows. I'm always out of date and pretty much just rely on my friends to get music. But from what I know and have seen, Sweden has a huge amount of talent and many good groups. It's a matter of pride to see so many of them make it in the United States.
If you sang in English, it's likely that you'd probably enjoy a lot more crossover success in America and other English-speaking countries. Have you ever considered doing so?
I have, but for me, the lyrical parts of the songs are so important. I put a lot of effort into the lyrics, and through my travels I've learned that not everyone cares as much. People always get disappointed when I explain what I meant when I was writing it. Which is not to say that I don't love music in English that I don't quite understand. I guess in the end, it's really a combination of lyrics, melody and sound that I'm most concerned with. I have to have all three right to be satisfied.
Photo: Dungen. Credit: Dungen Myspace
Dungen Play Waved Out 2 Saturday at the Echoplex, 1154 Glendale Blvd., $13, 3 p.m.