Interview – Dungen at Pickathon 2017

Aaron Sharpsteen / August 10, 2017
Dungen. All photography by Aaron Sharpsteen

Swedish psychedelic masters Dungen paid a visit to Pickathon this year for two performances: a late night screening of a film that they recently recorded a score to, The Adventures of Prince Achmed, as well as a more traditional set to close out the famous Woods Stage. In between those sets, on a hot sunday afternoon under a tree in the front yard of the Pendarvis residence, Dungen sat down to talk with us about the experience of playing along to the film at a festival, and to answer some questions about their different personalities.

So how was last night, performing Haxan?

Gustav Ejstes (Gustav): Amazing. It was so unique, the whole festival has such a great arrangement, it’s very special. For us to come in and do the score outside.

Yeah, how did that go? Performing a movie score outside?

Gustav: That was a little bit weird maybe. For those who sat and really looked at the screening of the film…

Mattias Gustavsson (Mattias): Did you see it?

No, I was at Dinosaur Jr. in the woods.

Johan Holmegard (Johan) You ditched us.

I’m seeing you tonight! In the woods! I’m sorry.

Gustav: It was good. The crowd was amazing. After that we did a small recording session.

Up in the woods?

Mattias: Yes, at the pump house.

Gustav: So at this festival, we’ll do three shows here, that’s also very special.

Mattias: It seemed to be working yesterday. There was a girl who came up after the show and said “That was a healing experience.” Fantastic.

Gustav: I felt the energy from the audience. Definitely. The silence makes it very…

Were people quiet during the film?

All: Yeah.

So it was kind of like watching a movie.

Mattias: And you could actually tell that they were paying attention to the movie because they were reacting to things happening in the movie rather than what was happening in the music. Which is the way it should be when we do that.

Do you think the album needs the visuals? I’ve listened to it on its own, and it is good. All your stuff is good. But do I need to watch the movie with it?

Gustav: Maybe some parts would make more sense. The record is not in chronological order. The record is 40 minutes long, and the film is one hour plus. But the themes are intact. It’s all in there.

Did they let you play for over an hour?

Mattias: Yes, it was 65 minutes. We got a little extra.


Mattias: Yeah, but we had to wrap it up really fast.

Whose idea was that?

Gustav: To do the film?

To put the music to the film.

Mattias: Here at the festival or in general?


Reine Fiske (Reine): Well we were asked to produce this thing for a festival in Sweden. We were hooked on the idea and the project.

Mattias: It was the cinema division of the Swedish Film Institute, they put on this silent movie series with artists to write new scores for old silent movies. We were one of the artists and the promoter was so happy about it so he set up another show in another city too. We were going to do an album and it was suggested that we record this. We didn’t really know how it was going to work ourselves, due to the time problem. But in the end we just did it recording the different themes, and our producer Mattias Glava had freedom to arrange it and sequence it as he wanted. So you don’t need to see the movie, but I’d say the music makes more sense when you see the movie. I love the way Mattias arranged the album.

I wanted to ask more general questions. I guess each of you can respond. Do all of your different personalities show through in the way you each play your instruments?

Gustav: I guess so.

Could each of you describe that?

Mattias: In what way each of our personality shows through our playing?

For example…

Reine: I’m mostly tortured by malfunctioning things.

That’s what I was going to say: last time I saw you in Portland, at Mississippi Studios, one of your amps, I could tell that you were pissed off at it. You kept looking at it and kind of messing with it. When you play guitar, does that frustration get channeled?

Gustav: That’s his personality, yeah.

Mattias: He feeds off anger…

Reine: I don’t know. I shouldn’t, but sometimes it’s just…I know it’s sort of phoney and it gets everyone down every once in a while and I’m sorry for that, but I’m so dependent on getting the right sound.

So you’re meticulous.

Reine: If I don’t [get the right sound], then I have to work. I still have to do it. It is so wonderful when it actually works. It does sometimes.

Are you satisfied usually?

Reine: Sometimes… (Other members shake their heads no)

No? You say no?

Mattias: Not usually.

Not usually? 50/50?

Reine: Sometimes, but I also have to let go of my ego thing. We’re doing this together, and the most important thing is the end result of all of us playing together. That’s the most important thing, and the audience of course.

(addressing Johan) What about you? Do you think your drumming with Dungen reflects your personality?

Johan: No.

No? You’re just here playing drums…

(Johan smiles and chuckles) (Laughing)

You looked very serious there.

Johan: I don’t like to talk about myself. When it comes to my drumming, I’m very often not very satisfied. I don’t know. Could you repeat what you asked?

Does your personality shine through when you play with Dungen?

Johan: Yes.

In what way?

Johan: In so many ways. I think I have so many different personalities, actually. When I play with this group, things come naturally, the way I want to express myself.

Reine: For me its always a kind of release, because there are so many different layers to the songs and the music, and you have to go through a lot of various moods. And I get really affected by those things. That’s why when things break I get totally frustrated.

Gustav: One thing that I think is about listening through the audience’s ears. When you’re aware of being watched. Then you can feel the presence of the audience and get that feedback loop. You’re playing together with the audience, kind of. But like you (gesturing to Mattias) said earlier today, you felt it was so easy to play, that you were getting anxious about “Is this really good?” But when you feel like that, then it is probably good.

Does that happen? Are you ever anxious about that?

Gustav: Of course. All the time.

Mattias: All the time.

All the time?  But your music doesn’t really seem influenced by anxiety at all. The opposite really.

Gustav: Thank you.

Mattias: It’s more like, last night, when we were playing, it was more the state I was in because it was such a relaxed atmosphere up there, and we were just relaxing when they were setting things up, and then it was like “Now we go?” It was strange, because it wasn’t like we were just playing the songs. Last night we just played. I was thinking, “Man, we’re outdoors, at a festival, in Oregon, and this sort of sounds like the Grateful Dead in a way,” and suddenly I said to myself “I don’t know what I’m playing.” I know he was great, they were great, I just don’t know about my own playing. But that is more of a state of mind, a spacey state of mind. It was probably fine.

Gustav: I’ve noticed that the work that I do, songwriting wise, those songs that I’m most anxious over, in the process of writing and recording them, and then finally releasing them, those songs are the ones that come through. People tell me they are connecting with them. That is when you are showing your personality or your soul, more than if you are not having a particular feeling or strategy.

Mattias: So the anxiety is a sign of vulnerability.

I think I understand. Do you each of you fall into different roles when you are touring?

Gustav: (gesturing to Johan): He’s always late.

Johan is the late one. (to Gustav): What are you?

Gustav: I don’t know.

Reine: (with a chuckle) Always stoned.

(All laugh)

Reine: Sorry, no, that’s not true. I tend to drink too much, and I can be very grumpy.

Gustav: The nervous one.

Reine: The nervous one.

Johan: (pointing at himself): The perfect one.

Gustav: The chosen one.

Reine: (to Gustav) The chosen one, the oldest one, the golden one. The olden one.

Gustav: I don’t know. The stressed out, golden, old dirty doctor.

Reine: We’re a weird bunch.

Do you all get along?

Gustav: We don’t hang out that much, we just play music.

Reine: Yeah.

Mattias: Nowadays, as soon as we start playing together, for some reason, it still is very easy.

Gustav: We live together in music.

Mattias: But then outside of music we see each other occasionally, but not that much. We’re into such different things too.

Yeah, you all play in different bands…

Reine: And we have families too.

Oh, yeah, you don’t just do music things.

(All laugh)

Reine: I quit my job to do this.

What did you do before?

Reine: I was a postman, actually. For fifteen years. Mattias was also a postman.


Reine: Yeah. But he stepped up.

Mattias: Yes, I was working in a post-office.

So here in the United States, there’s a phrase, “to go postal.”

Mattias: I know, we did that. But we did that through music.

So in terms of composition, Gustav, you’ll write most of the music, then call everyone up and say “Hey, we have an album now”? How does that work?

Gustav: There have been different ways, that has definitely been one, one side of it.

What about recently?

Gustav: When we play songs from the older times, from the whole catalog, we re-arrange them for the live show. The more recent recordings, like Allas Sak, that is more easily captured in the ensemble.

Is the more recent material everyone’s favorite material?

Mattias: That’s such a hard question.

I guess playing it live is different than recording it.

Reine: We are still working on the old songs to get them right.

Mattias: It is more particular songs, rather than when they were made, I think. There are some older songs than the ones we play. It’s more about how you put a set together.

That’s what I was going to ask, how does that happen? Who writes the set?

Gustav: We all do.

Do you all get to pick a song or two?

Gustav: People say “Can we play this song after that one” and I say no.

(All laugh)

So you have veto power.

Gustav: Yeah. DJ Veto.

Mattias: To me, this has always been Gustav’s project, and he is the founder. The primary reason this exists. And of course affect it, but in one way we are all like the three number one fans of his music, trying to make his music. If any of us disappeared, it would still be Dungen but if Gustav disappeared it would not be Dungen.

Is that true?

Gustav: Speaking of that, they are amazing. When I’m on stage, and I drop things and just listen. It’s nice to just stand and listen, dance, and play tambourine, and listen to these crazy motherfuckers.

I believe you. That sounds great. Being on a tour, is there anything new in the works? Or are you focusing on playing the film score? Is that happening many times on this tour?

Gustav: We’re doing that once more, in Sonoma.

Ok, in California. With some wine.

Mattias: Yes, it is at a winery.

That makes sense, that’s what they do down there.

Reine (raising a glass): Hit me again.

(All laugh)

On tour, is it the same set every night?

Johan: We try to have the same set every night, but sometimes there are changes.

Reine: It depends on the time. At this festival we only have an hour.

Mattias: Here I think we play fifty minutes.

I think it is an hour tonight. I guess you’re right, that isn’t that long.

Reine: So we need at least one and a half hours.

You should just try to play one and a half and see what they do.

Mattias: We can symbolically hand them an axe before the show. “When you think we’re done, you cut the cables.”

Do you all have specific songs that you like to play?

All: Yes.

Which one would you vote for? Each of you?

Gustav: Only one song? Right now…it’s a classic one. “Fredag.” Friday.

Is that what that means? That’s on 4. One of my favorite albums.

Reine: It is one of the best ones I think. There’s something special about 4. That time. That year.

Anyone else? One song that you would choose to play?

Mattias: Right now, “Haxan” actually, the version that we do for the live show. That is on a deluxe edition release.

Can you fit that into a set?

Gustav: We normally do, but I don’t know if we’ll do that tonight because we played the score last night.

Ok. (to Johan) What song do you like to play?

Johan: The medley.

Really? What is in the medley?

Johan: Many songs…

Reine: Things from what is it…4?

Mattias: Mostly from Tio Bitar.

That is an album I need to listen to more. I really like Ta Det Lugnt and 4, and Allas Sak. I drive for Uber and Lyft, and I make people listen to 4 all the time.

Gustav: Thank you very much.

Anytime. It’s great driving music. Anyways. (to Reine) What about you?

Reine: It is very difficult. There are songs that I think we should play but we don’t. I actually think “Satt Att Se.” I think it is one of the most beautiful songs.

That is on 4 too. The first song.

Mattias: Man, I remember the first time I heard that.

Reine: I remember convincing you [Gustav] to record it. To make it into a proper song. I was really happy when it finally grew into what it is.

It is a good album opener. A great song. Are you going to play it tonight?

(All look at Gustav) Reine: I hope so.

Oh no. I thought the set might already be planned out.

Gustav: We will see. (Editor’s note: They opened their set later with “Satt Att Se”)

I always like “Sluta Folja Efter.”

Gustav: Oh yeah. We used that as the final song for 3 years when we toured.

That is a really good closer.

Gustav: I love that song. It would be interesting to try with the current live mix.

I really like the piano line in it. Is there going to be a piano on stage tonight?

Gustav: Kind of a piano. It’s like an off road piano that you can carry under your arm.

So when is the next Dungen album coming out?

Gustav: I don’t know. I write music all the time, and I record sometimes, so there are a lot of songs.

Did you quit your job too?

Gustav: Yes.

What did you used to do?

Gustav: I had so many jobs. I worked on a farm, then I did some house carpeting, sitting in grocery stores. In Sweden we can’t drink until you’re 18, you can buy liquor in the liquor store when you are 20, when you are 16 you are allowed to start to practice driving, and you can’t smoke until you are 18. There were these three young lads in this posh neighborhood, and all the people that lived there they had their personal accounts in the store. So first in the afternoon the mom came, and she got piles of food. Then 2 hours later the boys came, her sons. And they had one big soda, and some chips, crackers, and then they wanted a small pack of crackers, a 10 pack. And I was in such a bad mood, I had such a bad day, so I said “Can I see your ID for the cigarettes.” And they said “We don’t have ID.” “Sorry, you can’t buy the cigarettes.” They were so angry. They slammed the door on the way out. I did that kind of thing for a while.

I think we can all agree that the world is better served with Gustav and the rest of the band touring the world playing beautiful music rather than denying Swedish youngsters their cigarettes. Catch Dungen on their current tour and check out their latest, Haxan.

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