I was so happy to do this interview, as Sweden's THALAMUS released two of my favorite albums of the past few years. Their music is trademarked with talented and accentuated songwriting, fresh hooklines, heavy guitars and extremly charismatic vocals. THALAMUS channels classic 1970's hard rock through a modern filter, with the result that their music is always dynamic and extremely powerful. This is further underscored by their new album 'Subterfuge' (review here) with whom THALAMUS expand further into 1970's territory without neglecting the band's superior riff ferocity. In this way, they have shown once again that they belong to the spearheads of classic hard rock, not only in Sweden. The only thing still missing at the moment is a tour through Europe, so that more people will get the direct benefits of a THALAMUS live show. I recently caught up with guitarist/vocalist Kjell Bergendahl, who is also the co-founder of the band, to talk about the past and the future of the band and everything else which is important. Read on and find out more details about one of the best 1970's influenced hard rock bands of current times (I am sorry, but I cannot repeat it often enough).
I assume that not everyone is familiar with THALAMUS. So let us begin with one of those typical interview questions: when was the band founded and what was the major reason for this decision?
Well, it all came about in 2004, I think. I was playing in a cover band here in Sweden and I was really tired of doing that. I wanted to start a band that focused on riff based 70's influenced rock, and I also wanted to sing the lead vocals (I only sang backup vocals in the cover band). I tried to find good musicians to form a band, but it was very hard, because all good musicians I knew, already played in other bands. After about 2 years (in 2006) I got together with Jan Cederlund and Sebastian Olsson and we formed Thalamus.
I had been writing songs for a while and so we started to rehearse. I contacted Peter Johansson, who had filled in on the bass in my cover band and asked him if he wanted to join Thalamus, which he did. Peter has a huge love for 70's rock and we started to collaborate and new songs emerged almost immediately. The songs were really heavy, a mix between Down, Soundgarden, Led Zeppelin and Captain Beyond. We felt that we had a recipe for something great.
What were you all doing in the period before THALAMUS? Have you played before in other bands and what is your musical background?
As mentioned above, I came from a cover band; Jan Cederlund and Sebastian Olsson came from a power metal band: Cryonic Temple (3 albums), and Peter Johansson played in a 70's tribute band called LavskÃ¤ggÃ¤.
Where does your love for 1970's heavy rock comes from and what do you find particularly fascinating about the heavy music from that decade?
Well, I was kind of a late bloomer and stumbled on to 70's rock quite late in my teens. I was into MotÃ¶rhead, Metallica and heavier metal. Then my brother introduced me to Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin, the music they made blew me away. I started to explore the 70's and found bands like Mountain, Black Sabbath, Cactus, Captain Beyond, Vanilla Fudge and so forth... It was an instant love affair. Those heavy blues based grooves, especially John Bonham's drumming, rocked me to the core. I felt that I had great ideas to continue their legacy, but with my own songs and riffs. Because that is what it's all about, keeping the flame of Classic Rock burning.
Before we talk about your new album 'Subterfuge', I would like to talk about your great debut full-length 'Beneath A Dying Sun' which has been released by Grooveyard Records in 2007. How did you get in touch with the record label and what do you think about the album today?
I was contacted by Janne Stark on Myspace (Janne is a renowned guitar player and writer for Sweden Rock Magazine, Fuzz Magazine and author of the 'Encyclopedia of Swedish Hardrock and Heavy Metal'). He had listened to our demos that we posted there. He commented and told us how much he liked our songs. I was very happy with his comments and we decided to go into the studio to record the songs for real, so to speak. We went to Vasteras, to Studio Underground, to work with Pelle Saether. Jan and Sebastian had recorded three albums with him earlier (Cryonic Temple) and liked working with him. When we were in the studio, recording an EP actually, Janne Stark called Pelle Saether, we had no idea they were friends, and Pelle told him that he was recording Thalamus, and that it sounded great.
Pelle asked Janne if he had any contacts that could help us to get the songs out on a record. Janne helped us to contact Grooveyard Records, who were very interested in us but would not release anything but a full-length album. So we booked another session with Pelle and recorded 6 more songs, and 'Beneath A Dying Sun' was born. We are still very happy with 'Beneath A Dying Sun' and feel that it is still a really great record, but we have evolved with our music and feel that we have found the essence of Thalamus. But I expect the sound to continue evolving, still keeping the Thalamus essence of feel and groove.
What was the collaboration with Grooveyard Records? Have they done enough for THALAMUS?
The collaboration with Grooveyard was good, we had a licensing deal with them, but Grooveyard is a smaller indie label, and we feel that they have done as much as they can for us.
How come, that THALAMUS and Grooveyard parted ways?
We wanted to work with a label that had a bigger distribution network, so that we could reach as many people as possible with our records. There are no hard feelings between us and Grooveyard, they distribute 'Subterfuge' for us in the USA.
Although you have formed your own record label SCOJ Music, you have chosen to release 'Subterfuge' via Transubstans Records. Why should it be that label?
SCOJ Music was an attempt, a kind of do-it-yourself project. We wanted to try and do everything ourselves. It turned out to be too much work for us to handle, I mean, it would take all our time and we would not be able to concentrate on writing new material for new albums. So we made a deal with Transubstans Records to handle the distribution for the EP. They knew an album was coming and the issue of working with them came up during a telephone meeting, and we decided to sign with them. For us it was easier to work with a Swedish label and we feel that they are really good with 70's influenced stuff, they have lots of artists in our genre, and we became a priority band on the label.
Before 'Subterfuge' there was the 5 track CD 'Sign Here For Nothing' which showed that you have increased your dose of 1970's influences, without doing any damage to the significant THALAMUS sound. How did this course correction come about? Is it perhaps because you have now an organ player in the line-up?
The Hammond softens the overall sound, but we also have had time to play a lot of gigs, and that makes you grow with the music. We do feel a change in direction, soundwise, although it's totally unintentional. It feels more like we found our true musical identity, how we wanted the band to sound from the beginning. However, we've had some change in the line-up during this three year period, that has also influenced our sound; new members brings new influences to the mix. It has been a tough time for us with new members joining the band and then suddently leaving again, I'm referring to Hakan Danielsson (keyboards) who joined Thalamus at the beginning of the recording sessions for the new album.
Jan Cederlund was the first member to leave, he found it hard to find time to play music with Thalamus and time to take care of his family. Half way through making the new album, Hakan also decided to leave the band, maybe Jan Cederlund's departure from the band influenced his decision to quit. We were left with the problem to quickly find replacement members for Jan and Hakan. I had played in a project with a guitarist named Mats Gesar, and the chemistry between us was amazing. It felt like I had played with this guy all my life, so filling the guitarplayer position was a no brainer.
Then we discussed the predicament of finding a new organ player, those guys doesn't really grow on trees. But I was listening to Greenleaf, a band from my home town, and I heard Hammond organ in one song. I felt that the guy played insanely good Hammond. I checked out who had played organ on the album and found Joakhim Aslund. I discussed the matter with Peter Johansson and told him that we needed to get a hold of this guy, 'cause he would be the perfect match for us. Luckily, Peter knew Joakhim and asked him if he was interested in joining Thalamus, and he really liked our stuff and accepted immediately. So we threw him and Mats into the studio and finished the album.
To me, 'Sign Here For Nothing' sounds like a sarcastic statement on the music industry. Are there any ulterior motives behind the title?
No, I think that the statement is as straight forward as it can be. As a musician, you sometimes get frustrated with the industry. We were talking about record deals and what they mean to musicians, and what you sometimes get out of it; we sarcastically said that a record deal doesn't mean jack shit today, and to some extent, that is true. But it becomes what you make it to be. In today's industry, it is hard to get rich and famous; I mean that is what all musicians dream about, making records, playing concerts and make a shitload of money doing it.
I think that 'Subterfuge' is an excellent album which bridges the gap between the old and the new. It's obvious that you love the 1970's, but you don't try to revive the spirit at all costs. What do you think about your latest release? Do you like it more than 'Beneath A Dying Sun' and what do you think are the differences between both albums?
First of all, thank you. We want to take music from the 70's and upgrade it with a modern sound. Take the best bits of yesterday and make it new and... hopefully improved. We feel that this album is our best so far, but it is also the latest, and the newest songs are always the best, at least for a while. But we feel that the new album has more substance and more diversity than 'Beneath A Dying Sun'. We have improved our songwriting skills and honed our sound. The two albums fit perfectly together, if you listen to them back to back, you won't get bored. We don't feel that one album is better than the other, they are just different, equally good.
How has the album been received so far and what is the status of THALAMUS in your native country Sweden?
The album has been received really well; it debuted as number 6 on the Swedish sales chart, so we are very pleased. Our status is improving every day, although we're not a big band in Sweden. We are trying to cross over to Europe for some touring, we feel that it's the next step in our musical career.
One of your strengths is your ability to combine sheer riff power with delicious hooks. How important are strong melodies and how do THALAMUS songs arise? Is there one main songwriter?
We love riffs, I can't point that out enough, even if I try. As of late, we are really trying to write better songs, working on melody, vocal melody and creating harmonies with two guitars and a Hammond organ so that all instruments provide something to the song and that they don't play the same lines together all the time. Peter and I are the main composers for Thalamus, however, we arrange all songs together.
When the foundation for a song is written, everyone gets the chance to have an input into the music. Peter is the professional, I think, he writes songs at home and records his song ideas and then share them with us. I on the other hand, write riffs in my head when we are rehearsing, this can sometimes be a little frustrating for everyone, we could be playing a song and suddenly I get an idea and stop everyone. Then I start doodling on a riff and usually after about 10 - 15 minutes I have written the foundation for a new song. It's different for everyone, how they write, I guess.
'Still Dancing On My Grave' as well as 'She Sells Desolation' are two of my favourite tracks of 'Subterfuge'. What are the songs about? Please tell me more about they lyrics.
'Still Dancing On My Grave' is about living life to the fullest. Making the most of every moment and not caring what happens tomorrow. 'She Sells Desolation' is about a guy who is in a relationship where he feels used and unloved, and where he is a puppet on a string totally controlled by her every whim and request. A real loser, you might say.
What are your plans for the next months with THALAMUS? Is there some hope for a couple of German tour dates in 2011 or 2012?
We are searching for a booking agency to work with, procuring gigs all over Europe. We really want to go to Europe for some touring, so hopefully we'll be able to come over in 2012 for some gigs.
That's it for today - hopefully we meet on the road as soon as possible. Thanks for your time and interest in doing an interview with Cosmic Lava.