Dungen: Interview

    Dungen is a four-piece unit consisting of Gustav Ejstes (piano, guitar, vocals), Reine Fiske (guitar, vocals), Mattias Gustavsson (bass, vocals) and Johan Holmegard (drums). The group, which is from Sweden and whose music is best described as psychedelic, exists to play the compositions of Ejstes. Dungen released its sixth album, Skit I Allt, earlier this month on Mexican Summer, not long after playing the final day — the one curated by Jim Jarmusch — of this year’s ATP Festival. Before that set, the members of the group sat down to discuss ATP, the band’s influences, and the reason behind calling their fifth album 4.


    From some perspective, the Swedish rock scene is defined by bands like Union Carbide Productions and The Hellacopters’ retro-hard-rock sound, but you guys take a completely different approach. Were you influenced by bands like legendary Swedish underground psych/prog outfit Träd, Gräs och Stenar?

    Mattias Gustavsson: He’s in that band [gestures to Reine Fiske].


    I didn’t realize they were playing again.

    MG: Since ’93.


    Gustav Ejstes: The bass player has just passed away.


    Reine Fiske: I attended his funeral the day before we left. So that’s weird, sad, terrible.


    GE: There are some major influences, but I think we all have some attachment to that old Swedish music or traditional rock music. I think we all have shared the same background.


    When you write songs, is it primarily your compositions, Gustav, or a mixture of different elements?

    GE: It’s my songwriting. But when we play live, these guys definitely are bringing in new stuff. That’s the difference between studio and live.


    Have you guys played an ATP event before?

    GE: Yeah, twice in the U.K.


    Were you surprised when Jim Jarmusch asked you?

    GE: No. I have hardly seen his movies, but I was definitely flattered. Extremely honored to do this.

    But you didn’t have any idea he was aware of you.

    GE: No.


    Maybe he could fit in some music on a future soundtrack?

    MG: Cha-ching!


    Did you catch any of the talk with him and Thurston Moore yesterday?

    GE: I think we arrived at the same time.


    MG: I got to see him, say hello.


    Is ATP the beginning of the U.S. tour?

    GE: We did one show in Buffalo before we came here.


    How was that?

    GE: [Deadpans] That was the first show. [Laughter]


    I think that says it all.

    MG: No, it was pretty good. But we came there and we hadn’t even looked at our gear. Johan opened his hardware kit and there was, like, four drum chairs and nothing else.


    Johan Holmegard: I ended up playing drum chair.


    MG: The piano wasn’t working, the bass.


    GE: Our instruments are stored here in the U.S. Plus the place we played at maybe had their stuff stored as well.


    RF: Another world.


    Are you gonna be playing some stuff off the new record?

    GE: That’s the plan.


    How did you come to name your fifth album 4? Just throwing a curveball?

    GE: I dunno. We’re four people.


    And it took you five albums to realize that?

    MG: [Laughter] The dog has four legs.

    GE: So many reasons…


    Are you involved with the Subliminal Sounds label, or do they just put out your stuff?

    GE: That is Stefan Kéry. It’s a one-man label. He puts out Dungen music, Life On Earth music and The Amazing and so on. Definitely, we know him.


    That Parson Sound box is quite nice.

    MG: Did you see the LP box?


    Yeah, I have a copy.

    MG: I made the cover for it.


    Nicely done.

    RF: I made the album. I compiled, it found the music, and edited everything. I sort of produced that record with Stefan.


    In Life on Earth and The Amazing, do you take a different approach than in Dungen?

    RF: I just play guitar. The Amazing is Christoffer Gunrup’s band, and Johan plays drums.


    Do you notice a big difference when you come over to the U.S., versus Sweden or Western Europe, in terms of the crowd or the kind of people that are interested in your music.

    GE: I don’t find any difference actually. There is generally cultural differences among the people, but at the shows I don’t find any differences.


    JH: I find a slight difference. People here, they come up to you after the shows and say, “Wow, this is amazing what you did!” Mostly, I think in Stockholm the audience is more…


    More reserved?

    JH: More like they’re tough to overcome. That’s why when we played in Stockholm last time was amazing actually.


    MG: The kind of people that come, it’s all white middle class music interested people basically.

    GE: Whenever we play, like in England or Europe, the same kind of — the same type of human being.


    Would you say it’s hipsters?

    GE: There is hipsters as well, but it’s also like a 60-year-old dude with a long, gray beard and his wife and his younger cousin’s daughter who is 13 and just discovered music.


    A wide range?

    GE: A wide range.


    MG: A lot of alternative nation.


    Gustav, when you’re creating songs and you’re writing, obviously you’re singing in Swedish, your primary language. Have you ever thought of doing any English recordings?

    GE: The Dungen music is in Swedish. But I’ve done some English stuff, that was long ago.


    MG: There is one English song on a compilation.


    A lot of Life on Earth stuff is sung in English. Is there a particular reason for that?

    MG: That’s my fault. [Laughter] But in the beginning, I don’t know. The first album was made with Mia Doi Todd in Los Angeles, and half of the songs were made with her, and then it was very natural for it to be in English.


    Any bands in particular you’re looking to check out at ATP today?

    JH: GZA and Raekwon.


    MG: I wanna see Kurt Vile.


    GE: Sneak up to Kool Herc and ask him to sign something.


    Reine, who’s the biggest influence on your guitar playing. Who was formative in that?

    RF: There’s a Swedish musician that I hail as the biggest musician ever in my world. He’s called Kenny Håkansson. He played with Bo Hansson, who is pretty well known for the Lord of the Rings LP outside of Sweden. Jimi Hendrix, of course. Terje Rypdal, Norwegian guitar player,and composer.


    GE: He’s magnificent.


    RF: I dunno, there’s so many guitar players.


    MG: Some say there are even too many guitar players.


    GE: Yeah, I think so.


    RF: If I have a good day, I could possibly come up with some great lead guitar playing, but I don’t see myself as a lead guitar player. I can hardly play a blues song. I’m more into melodies and phrases. But it’s nice when we get into some really heavier moments.


    Well you do have a pretty wide mix. Some pastoral, quiet, introspective songs, and the full psych freak-out. It’s good to have that kind of mix.

    GE: I was thinking of that last night when I saw Explosions in the Sky. They really have that range. Really quiet — from the loudest to the quietest.