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flag Norway - Full Moon 234 - 09/28/15

Opening Up The Gate
A closer look at Swanlake Gate by Dog Age

Dog Age Dog Age released their seventh album Swanlake Gate this summer. A fine crafted piece of psychedelic pop and rock with detours here & there. It hasn't received too much publicity on the home front and deserves better. The album booklet doesn't say a lot about the music and it doesn't include printed lyrics this time. The latter were published on the band's Facebook site The Dog Age Psychedelic Beer Club recently, though. Anyhow, we confronted the band to reveal something more about the contents of the new album. The band members are, from left: Jørn Smedslund - main and backing vocals, a bit guitar, but not on the album, and spiritual leader, I guess, Jon Anders Strand - all kinds of voices and instruments, Harald - about the same as Jon Anders except main vocals, Øystein Jevanord - drums, percussion, backing vocals, Lars Fredrik Beckstrøm - about the same as Jon Anders, and finally Eystein Hopland - guitar and main mix master.

Luna Kafé: Initially we have to ask about Swanlake Gate's humble beginnings...

Jørn: We intended to record a few songs for a single, to be released quite soon after our previous album On The Garish Isles. Then it grew into an EP, then a mini album and finally we had a short but full album.

Harald: First the drums were recorded in a proper studio. The rest in our rehearsal studio, on a Mac. None of us knew the software. It was sheer hell in the beginning. Often it was four hours of trying to sort out the programme instead of playing. And when we thought we had managed to record something, it had vanished into cyberspace...

Jørn: But after a while Jon Anders and Lars managed to handle the programme and it went smoother for a while. Then the mixing turned into something close to a nightmare, even Eystein was frustrated. He is one of the most experienced producers around and normally enjoys sorting out and testing details, and you know, trial and error. Not so this time. He was really relieved when everyone was satisfied and the mix finally was done.

Harald: We've never had that many mix outtakes for any album before. I felt sick listening to the recordings. But now that it's finally finished... it feels very good to pick up a copy of the CD and hold it in my hand!

LK: Why on earth did you release the album in the middle of July when nearly everyone in Norway is busy with summer holiday activities? Do Dog Age deliberately want to keep a low profile?

Jørn: We just wanted to get it released, really. It didn't seem to matter that much exactly when we did it, as we weren't planning to play live anyway, this time. The good thing about release in the summer is that at least a couple of the papers have nothing else to write about. We don't mind having a low profile, we don't like bothering people, anyway. Just hoping that 'if you build it he will come'.

LK: Let's have a listen to the album, shall we, track by track.

Dog Age Jørn:"Opening Up The Park" is a song I wrote just after we had finished recording When The Fish Are Down, I think. We recorded the drums and some bass and guitars during the sessions for On The Garish Isles, but decided to leave it off that album for some reason. We listened to it again when we started working on Swanlake Gate and decided it was worth a go. It's mostly about how all the nice and peaceful places of our youth are being invaded by noisy young people with no manners, but it is also open to interpretation. I may have made an attempt at making a Small Faces song here, but it sounds even more like Dog Age. The brilliant Steinar Buholm (of The Tables etc. fame, ed.'s note) helped out on percussion. Harald thinks that the guitar lick on the verse sounds progressive, I think it sounds a bit like Sweet, but that's ok.

Harald: Well, you know, The Sweet was a progressive band on their first album, so I guess we're both about right.

LK: With all these cool young unmannered people from out of town who invades your parks, stealing your tables this should have been a sad song, but it mainly sounds quite merry...?

Jørn: It is that feeling of euphoria before impending doom. And I guess it somewhat ironically reflects this silly, unfounded optimism one is supposed to feel about the way things are going these days. We don't really believe that young people today are any worse than how things were back when we were young, though. But we didn't really like young people when we were young ourselves, either. They were a bunch of idiots. And so were we. Only different.

LK: "Swanlake Gate", the title track itself, another park song...

Lars F.: It's an attempt to write a really nice melodic pop song. And so Jon Anders would have to sing it instead of me. He has a lovely Australian accent. Having lived in Australia. There are a number of great pop songs about life in parks, about swans and about waiting for your girlfriend, so we are in good company here. The song was written during the winter of 1997. I remember longing for summer, and making music can be comforting then.

LK: That sounds reasonable. Who plays the great harpsichord and Mellotron here?

Jørn: It has to be the Beckstrøm bros. It's hard to remember...

Harald: It's hard to hear which one plays the keyboards. Our bass playing, however, is very characteristic...

LK: One more Lars Beckstrøm offering, one of the strangest Dog Age offerings to this very day, "Happy Fowl Stomp"...

Lars F.: It was written a summer's day almost twenty years ago. I amused myself by making a summer waltz and picked out the melody on my old piano. I made a lyric too; an homage to summer, nature the beauty of Woman and the Wonderful Workings of Wine. I have later realised that the song is very much influenced by the legendary Swedish band Samla Mammas Manna, of whom I am a big fan, and this is the reason we decided to turn up the tempo a good deal. We've had a lot of fun with this one.

LK: There seem to be some inspiration from Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band shining through here as well. Samla Mammas were probably also inspired by them... I know Jørn is a keen admirer of the Bonzos. Does this go for more of you?

Jørn: We all love the Bonzos. Of course we do!

LK: Back to the "Stomp", what do the core/steady members of Dog Age for the past 28 years feel about that saxophone?

Jørn: And as much as I've loathed saxophone solos over the years, the eighties were particularly horrible, you have to like it when it's used properly. Jonas Bjørnerud does a fine job! Not for the first time. He also contributed to On The Garish Isles. But it mustn't be too much jazz. There need to be some structure in there.

LK: Here comes another great Mellotron-laden song, "Sitting Here".

Jon Anders: It's a love song. Written in a few sleepless days and nights. When, I cannot remember. I just remember the feeling of love of angst and loneliness and darkness of the self. The energy that is positively destructive. In a good way. The empty or full space in which the id may live. And all of us who are there.

And it is a love song written to A.K. A wonderful person whom I shared many years and angst and deliriums with. A good fine time. Really

It just started with a C major chord on the guitar and the rest just found out itself really. Melody and all. Now, when I try to remember how the chord shifts go, I need to think. For a little while. And then it all comes back. Unthinking. It's really very obvious. No?

LK: I guess this is what we may refer to artistic freedom...Let's move to one of the songs with a bit of raga-rock flavour, "Phone Poles".

Jørn: It's a comparatively new tune. About the pointlessness of it all, that nothing ever lasts and just put me down, I think I'll sleep now. That last bit is what my cat Ginny tells me a lot.

There is also a reference to an early Victorian English poem that talks about the pointlessness of it all and how nothing ever lasts. It is a happy tune. And it doesn't sound like The Beatles at all. Tov Ramstad and his trusted cello is a nice touch here, and Øystein plays the bongos. Which is an anagram for "Bog Honest".

LK: Right! To me the lyrics seem to be as hazy psychedelic as the anagram. And it fits nicely with the melody and arrangement. Where have all the phone poles gone, really? Underground? Nice mandolin at the end!

Jørn: Thanks! That's the Beckstrøms in fraternal harmony. And now I really wish I had called the song "Where Have All The Phone Poles Gone"!

LK: "Scathing" then. Those sharp guitars can cause damage...

Dog Age Jørn: "Scathing" was written sometime in the nineties. It could actually have been on As It Were, but I didn't know quite what to do with it, back then. It is sort of about how many people are often very angry and we do not think much of that. In the sense that we do not like it. But we do not get angry about it. Oh no, not us! There may be a hint of XTC in this. We never recorded this one when it was new, even as a demo, which is unusual, and I couldn't remember all of the original lyrics, so I re-wrote parts of those.

LK: The last Smedslund song og the album, "How You Are"...

Jørn: It's the oldest song here, written in the autumn of 1989. It has actually been considered for every release since then, but there has always been some other, similar song that has been preferred. I was in a Syd Barrett phase, I guess, and the song is about a specific girl, but I can't say who. Harald's slide guitar is great on this one, I think.

LK: It is, along with the other nice guitars! This is vintage Dog Age! Not that similar to Syd, though... The neatest song of the collection. Happy, but a bit sad all the same...?

Jørn: Only sad in that fake way you are sad when you are quite young and indestructible.

LK: Here comes Lars' third offering, "Maureen".

Lars F.: It is influenced by 60's psychedelic garage rock and presents a confusing love story. I feel a bit sorry for the boy in this song. Maybe Maureen just wants to go to sleep and to get away from it all? Maybe she has a crush on the boy? What happens next? I don't know.
Anyway, quite some band, this.

LK: Yeah, quite some band! And far from standard garage rock.
Now to relatively newcomer Eystein who contributed his very first song to a Dog Age album this time...

Jørn: Yes, "Sonatine" was another left-over, this time from Eystein's Stone-o-Saurus album, so it must have been recorded in the late nineties or early noughties. We're very pleased that he chose not to release this himself. The basic track has been left unchanged, so drums and bass and some guitar and backing vocals are from the original recording. Eystein played that lovely guitar and there are several contributions especially from Harald on guitar and keyboards. The tambura drone was his idea. The lead vocal is new, as is the lyrics. They are somewhat inspired by Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.

LK: At first I thought "Wasps" was about insects and beer. But wasps here is an abbreviation for White Anglo-Saxon ProtestantS. Anyhow, it's the only song of the album about beer...

Jon Anders: When you have beer, you've nothing to fear. This is true.
It is also true that you are fucked in the capitalist system.
So there is this dialectic problem, given that the rulers provide this numbness.
This melody is how I try, in my humble drunken way, to focus on how we, the fucked, can stay drunk without being totally politically ignorant and fight this system.
And of course, this song ends in the total intellectual inertia.
But there is hope!
Drink more!
And fuck the system with action!

LK: Fear and loathing in the UK?

Jørn: You just get really tired living with Wasps. They're relentless.

LK: That was the last track of Swanlake Gate. Is this your usual way, leave more or less finished songs for several years and pick them up again when they're mature?

Dog Age at Blaa Jørn: We often have some semi-finished songs lying around, and eventually it grows into a full album. Or I do anyway. And Lars Fredrik as well. And sometimes one of them seems to fit into the feeling or mood of one album, or you just haven't listened to it for ages and you hear something new. The song doesn't only have to fit with the band, it has to fit with the album as well. As late as November last year Swanlake Gate consisted of nine songs, all but finished, but then Eystein brought along "Sonatine" and we just had to have that one on it as well. It just felt right. Jon Anders keeps complaining that he's run out of songs, but he always comes up with something great. He's a lying bastard!

LK: There are no songs penned by Harald Beckstrøm this time around. That's unusual.

Harald: 2014 was my annus horribilis. My relationship broke up and I was more smashed to pieces than I'd thought I'd be. I just wanted to lie on my sofa and drink wine. I didn't have the energy to finish any songs.

Jørn: We had to pull him to the studio. But once he was there he did an excellent job on our songs. Creative as always!

Harald: I'm ready to deliver for our next album and should have recorded a depressive and self-pitying blues album last year...

LK: We have to mention the cover, better than ever...

Jørn: It was commissioned from Mick Dillingham when we started recording what we thought was going to be an EP in 2012. It dropped into my mailbox after two or three days. Some people work faster than others!

LK: The next, the folk-rock and power ballad album, that you promised us in 2011...

Jørn: Like Some Bacon In The Night will be made, and it won't be just a piece of meat, I can tell you!

Harald: To be released in 2017, or maybe that's a bit optimistic. We have only recorded the basics for one song so far.

LK: The inevitable last question: It's more than two years since last you played a one off gig. When will the tour to support Swanlake Gate start?

Jørn: The wheels are in motion, now we just have to try to get them all rolling in the same direction. We're aiming at a release party only six moonths late...

We say thank you and good night to the boys of the band and wish them the best of luck with the continued promotion of Swanlake Gate, gigs and albums to come!

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Copyright © art/photos Mick Dillingham/Steinar Buholm; Live photo by Johnny Nyhagen

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