Träd, Gräs och Stenar
Fri Oct 17, Crocodile, 9 pm, $8.
Creating timeless rock music is no easy task--but making music that's three decades ahead of its time is a remarkable feat. It's exactly what preeminent experimental Swedish band Träd, Gräs och Stenar (which translates to "Trees, Grass and Stones") accomplished in 1967, though, when they were known as Pärson Sound. (They've changed their band name over the years, but the core members and sound are basically the same.)
The Pärson Sound record combines the invention of '60s experimenters La Monte Young and Terry Riley with the primal rock power of the Velvet Underground. This potent combination has been carried on in the '80s and '90s, most visibly by groups like Spacemen 3 and Bardo Pond. Through the years, and a couple of name changes, Träd, Gräs added elements of folk, West Coast psychedelia, and Kraut rock into the mix, but repetition of sounds continued to play a key role.
Although quite radical for their time, the band's recordings sound as if they could have been released yesterday, and no one has improved on their deceptively simple recipe. Dense, hypnotic, droning guitars interweave with a driving, repetitive rhythm section to create music that's both emotional and cathartic. (Bassist Torbjörn Abelli describes the band as "one big sound, pulsating like a big heart.")
Most of Träd, Gräs och Stenar's recordings have been reissued in the past few years, to much critical acclaim. This is their first trip to the States, though, making the group's show here in Seattle a historic one. I recently spoke with guitarist Jakob Sjöholm, guitarist Bo Anders Persson, and Abelli about their history and music.
What are some things you're looking forward to seeing or experiencing in the U.S.?
Jakob Sjöholm: It will be very challenging to meet an American audience and see how we and the audience will react to our strange music.
Bo Anders Persson: I always thought Western culture is quite out of balance, and the U.S. is for sure a leading factor in this. But apart from that, we've met a lot of nice people from the USA through the years. It will be interesting.
Critics and fans have said that your music, particularly the Pärson Sound record, still sounds ahead of its time. Can you understand why people would say that?
JS: Well, it's not a kind of FM [radio] music, and it's very fundamental. If we are lucky and it's a good night, we can feel the connection with very primitive forces, but that is nothing that we can foresee. It just happens, and you are just standing there looking on.
BAP: Some people even wonder why we did not quit playing in the autumn of 1968 since we never could reach the same level after that. I have no answer for this question--except the old Greek saying that you never can put your foot in the same river twice.
Have you all had careers outside of music, as well? If so, does it ever get frustrating to always have to juggle the two?
JS: Yes, three of us have had careers outside music, but it has been a matter of survival. And for some period in the '80s, when we really felt we didn't fit into this world at all, it was totally out of the question to try to keep this band going.
BAP: It can also be very frustrating to be a musician, when you get stuck. I know that. That is not to say that we've found the ideal balance.
There is a political thread running through the liner notes to the recent album reissues. Do you think primarily instrumental music can carry a political message?
Torbjörn Abelli: I think music without words can carry political messages, even more than songs (or maybe more feelings than messages). By the way we are "building" our music, we present a model of a democratic, open way to create something together, just for joy. If it works (it doesn't every time) both we and all people present are joined in satisfaction.
Is there anything you're trying to directly "say" with your music?
JS: That life is a continuous struggle of trying to stay open and alive to people, and don't close the door for all the opportunities that life just pours out in front of you.