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flag Norway - Full Moon 124 - 11/05/06

Barking through the ages
An interview with Dog Age

Dog Age Backyard Norwegian Dog Age has kept going for a long time. Five albums in about 18 years doesn't seem that impressive, But, they have kept the spirit unspoilt. And after all, it's the music that matters. We're talking quality rather than quantity. The band keeps a low profile for long periods of time, then out of the blue appears an album filled with pop-psychedelic gems. I got in touch with the guys after the new album Reefy Seadragon finally had been released by the American Rainbow Quartz International label. The band has also kept a fleeting line-up through the years. The hard-core today consists of Jørn Smedslund (vocals), Jon Anders Strand (a lot of instruments and vocals), Harald Beckstrøm (also lots of instruments and vocals) and Øystein Jevanord (drums and percussion). In addition Tov Ranstad (cello) and Lars Beckstrøm (bass; Harald's profiled brother, member of Norway's dearies deLillos) add breadth and width to the live version of the band these days. The latter was not present when the pictures were taken.

Despite almost being neighbours, we found out, the interview was accomplished by e-mail as if Dog Age is living on the other side of the Atlantic instead of the other side of the park. After all it's modern times...

LK: Hello there, Dog Age! First of all, congrats with another excellent album! It seems it took almost a year from the recordings were finished till the CD Reefy Seadragon saw the light of day. Relieved that it's finally out? You seem to be used to this kind of incidents...
Jørn: Hello, Luna, and thanks! Yes, we're relieved and we are getting used to this sort of thing happening, to us or around us. We've been starting to think it might have something to do with us, actually...
Jon Anders: Was it, from now on just called The Album, really only one year in the oven, or twelve Jupiter days as I like to think of it (it, here being a year)?

LK: One reason for the delay probably has to do with the change from the Norwegian Voices of Wonder label to American Rainbow Quartz International. How did this come about?
Jørn: Yes, it was originally supposed to have been released early last spring on Voices. Jim McGarry of RQ heard a rough mix of the album, and wanted to release it. He had been a fan of ours years ago, but thought we had broken up after the first two albums, which isn't an unusual (or unreasonable) assumption. It was initially supposed to be a split release between Voices and RQ, but in the end dealing with one record company seemed like more than enough to us...
Jon Anders: Yeah, I mean, I even get confused when talking with myself, let alone Jørn. Just think of the prospect of having to deal with two outside sources. It was just too mind-boggling, man!

LK: Were there any hard feelings in the Voices camp when you left?
Jørn: Nah, they sort of encouraged us, actually. They might or might not have had a small celebration afterwards as well...
Jon Anders: Yes, it was a nice party.

LK: What are your expectations concerning your new label; will you soon be on top of the bill at Madison Square Garden or something?
Jon Anders: To be frank, I doubt it. But then again I'm Jon.
Jørn: He's not Frank. There might possibly be some talk of doing something somewhere next year, but you didn't hear that from me!

LK: You have been faithful to the quite happy English sounding psychedelic pop of the 1966-68 era, apart from some gloomier and heavier stints, especially on the second and fourth album. When you started out in 1987 (wow, a long time!), were there any particular bands or artists you were inspired by (apart from the psychedelic era Beatles, I guess...)?
Jørn: At the time I had been listening quite a lot to my mother's old albums, stuff like Donovan, Peter, Paul and Mary, Jefferson Airplane, Soft Machine... Then there was the early Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull, my older brother's albums...
Jon Anders: Sorry, I really can't remember. Oh, I've got one. There is of course, you know the band who released Psonic Sunspot. (The lovely XTC in psychedelic disguise, that is, as The Dukes Of Stratosphear.)

Jørn: And we loved Skylarking! (The lovely XTC without any disguise, that is.) I just got hold of Moving by Peter, Paul and Mary again, by the way. That is a truly great album!
Jon Anders: How could I almost forget mentioning Robert Wyatt. That nearly deserves a heavily spanked botty!

LK: Right you are! What about today; are you inspired by the same beer, drugs, psychedelia, folk-rock and progressive rock and roll as when you were young boys, to refer (or reefer) to one of your recent songs?
Jon Anders: Hopefully not the same beer. It would be stale, taste like donkey urine and most likely covered in fungi. Hm, that sounds like a description of a band I know of, 'cept for the donkey urine. Our musical horizon has just broadened. Or put another way, our musical archaeology skills have been raised a few levels.
Jørn: Very clever, Jon!

LK: When you started out, there were quite a few other Norwegian bands playing a similar kind of music, to some extent, as you. Many found a harbour at Voices of Wonder in the latter half of the 1980s. I guess Dog Age is about the only one left by now. Do you feel lonelier today, in Oslo/Norway/this side of the Atlantic?
Jon Anders: Lonely, not as much as asocial. But we've got one another. And we're four - five or something.
Jørn: We might be six, or seven. Anyway, It seems as though those bands from the late eighties keep reforming all the time, both Sister Rain and The Time Lodgers are on their way back, I hear. We've never needed to reform, though. We just reschedule.

LK: You've recorded a few cover versions over the years, by Jimmy Campbell, The Rutles, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, even Status Quo, Donovan's "Cosmic Wheels" and George Harrison's underrated gem "Blue Jay Way" off Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour (the latter two on the new album). Some of them are quite obscure and the rest are not obvious choices compared to your own 60-70-something songs. How do you go about selecting these cover versions?
Jørn: Harald!
Dog Age Backyard Jon Anders: We sit and drink beer and wine and stuff and listen through some of Harald's records, and they're not few I can tell you, and suddenly you hear a song you've forgotten or didn't know was made. And by this time we will all be in a very happy mood, find the guitars and strum along. And, hey presto, a couple of years down the line, the song is recorded. And, a couple of years more, the song is released. Then we will all have forgotten about the song, the recording and the release and we will all be amazed and baffled by how wonderfully it all turned out. Then, most likely, we try to find the addresses of the culprits, some call them songwriters or even composers, now that's fucking pretentious, and decide to send a copy of whatever song it might be, to find out what they think of our version of whatever song it was. Eventually we actually never get around to sending the damned things to anyone. Regrettably. Or, maybe, luckily. Maybe we just'll get sued. And we don't want that do we?
Jørn: That Rutles song was my idea, I think. We haven't recorded anything by Bonzo, though, we just like to do "In the Canyons of Your Mind" live.... "Blue Jay Way" was originally done for that Beatles cover contest that some newspaper held a few years ago. It never made it to the final.

LK: Whether interested in the Dog Age history or not. Everyone in for a good time ought to head for your home page. It's not that extensive and not that up to date, but very amusing, in both Norwegian and English. There seems to be some black holes in the Dog Age story, though. What happened to the band between 1991 and around 1995, and then again soon afterwards, and then between 1998-2001, ... and what about 2002-05? Did you ever break up? Or are you just slow or lazy and have other commitments in life ("Tea, And A Wife", perhaps)?
Jørn: We've never broken up, as such. There was a bit of sulking at one point though..., around 1992, I guess. But just after that we started to record a couple of songs in Thomas Widerberg's studio, and we did play some gigs around that time, just not very high profiled ones... Apart from that we've just been slow on purpose. At some point in the nineties we sat down and agreed that Dog Age should never be a hassle. If anything about it resembled work, we should just drop it and go and have a beer. And we did.
Jon Anders: Again.

LK: And what was this Sea-Psycke in 2003?? Anything to do with the seadragon?
Jørn: That was the working title, Jon and I had decided, back in 1989 or something, that the 5th album should be about the sea. This has always been a long-term project...

LK: You seem to have maintained a fairly stable line-up for quite a few years by now. In addition to the quartet that recorded Reefy Seadragon, guitarist Ola Sørlie was in for a long time? What happened to him?
Jørn: He'll probably turn up to play a bit now and then, but Jon started playing more and more guitar, and three guitar players seemed a bit much.
Jon Anders: And I've got four hands.

LK: The musical careers of Jørn and Jon Anders from 1984 onwards seem to be well documented on your home page. Anything else the two of you've been involved in apart from Autistiske Barn and Ym-stammen that we ought to know about? Can you say something about Harald's whereabouts in between and Dog Age duties? I know he was in a trio with early Dog Age drummer Christian Refsum called And The Balcony Fell (one LP from 1987) before both of them joined Ym-stammen. He was also the third member of a hilarious and strictly improvisational trio called Fretlessarmeen (along with guitar builder and repairman Terje Mentyjærvi and a Swede). Anything else?
Harald: No, not really.

LK: I guess drummer Øystein Jevanord is the only member of Dog Age, too (as well as several other bands), who's played live at Budokan in Japan (with A-ha). Is there any group in the Oslo area during the last 20 years or so he's not been involved in?
Jørn: Is that really a question?
Øystein: Yes. There are many bands I've not played with.

LK: About time to move on to the new album. Where did you find the title? It obviously has something to do with the green dragons that probably roam around coral caves in "The American Line", the opening track of the album. Any dodgy drug reference here, too?
Jørn: Jon Anders...
Jon Anders: It is but a brief moment of time in a jazz-tobacco roll-up.
Jørn: Oh, you're just trying to be dodgy now...

LK: The lyrics of "Jesse Brown" differ from the usual description of a situation or dreamy lyrics we're used to from the Dog Age camp. Is it based on a real letter you received from a fan?
Jørn: Yes, Jesse sent us an e-mail, and I brought along a print-out one day we were recording a couple of songs in Harald's kitchen.
Jon Anders: ...and it fitted in nicely, as it were.
Jørn: We've asked him if he'd mind if we used it as a lyric, he seems quite happy with that...

LK: You've mentioned on several album sleeves that Jon Anders and Harald are playing numerous instruments, too many to mention, I guess. The sitar you've returned to now and again, is it a real one and who is playing it? And what about the mellotron that beautifully colours several of your songs; the real thing??
Jørn: All is fake!
Jon Anders: Hear hear!!
Jørn: Harald plays the sitar-guitar, I think. Jon and Harald both play keyboards on the album, but most of it is Harald, isn't it? The piano on "God lives Under the River" is real, though. Jon does that.

LK: Musically, Reefy Seadragon differs from your previous albums at least in one aspect. It has some jazz elements. How come? Are you in fact clever jazz musicians in disguise?
Jørn: Heh...
Jon Anders: Or might we even be pan-dimensional beings...
Jørn: Øystein is a clever jazz musician, but he's not so disguised, really.

LK: It took some time for me to obtain a copy of the album. Any news about a European distribution by now?
Jørn: La di di la di dei.
Jon Anders: A la firk a la mani.

LK: After reading the Dog Age story again I need to ask you: Have you ever made any money from your music? What's driving you to keep going?
Jørn: Money?
Jon Anders: Yes, them paper thingies.
Jørn: I think it's maybe sort of become a habit. An enjoyable one, though. Ah..., that could be it, by the way. We enjoy writing and recording songs together. Yes, I think that's it. I'm almost certain.
Jon Anders: And drink together. And sing. Simultaneously. And watch footy at the pub on Saturday afternoons. They're sacred, you see.

LK: Finally, any live-appearances in the neighbourhood from the 2006- or 2007-version of Dog Age per chance?
Jørn: Actually, yes!
Jon Anders: We are touring in close proximity to our dwellings this winter.
Jørn: We'll let you know!

We say thanks to the Dogs of the Ages and wish them the best of luck with forthcoming gigs, hopefully! And, if we're lucky, there might turn up another brand new Dog Age album in 4-5 years time...

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Photos copyright © 2006 Kjetil Syverud

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