For the twentieth installment of our interview series, we introduce Alexander Johansson & Mattias Fridell.
Techno veterans, Alexander Johansson & Mattias Fridell, have been releasing music together for over 20 years on many of the genre’s most established and notable labels, and here we are in the year 2023 seeing their first definitive techno album on Recorded Things.
Label owners Oliver Rosemann and Sebastian Rothermel approached Alexander & Mattias with the proposition to make an album for their label, and after heartfelt conversations about it, everyone concluded that their ideas aligned, both conceptual and musical and that it was time to set a plan for it in motion. True to their nature, Alexander and Mattias provide their signature sound in album form; efficient rhythmical work-outs & stern, yet playful synth sequences that sometimes bear the mark of classic techno, and other times take unexpected directions. All in a package that presents an uncommonly energetic album, with no fillers or pauses. There is just one direction, from start to finish.
We chatted with them about their new album ‘Skrammel & Banks‘, and a few more aspects of their career. Read the full interview below.
Hi Alexander & Mattias, Luis from Living Techno here, it’s a pleasure having you in our interview series, thank you. First of all, how are you and where in the world are you guys taking this interview?
Hello Luis, it’s our pleasure, thanks for having us. We’re currently in Alexander’s studio “the Boglake studios” in the south Swedish highlands, and we’re still trying to survive the winter.
How did you guys know each other, and how long have you been working in collaboration?
We’ve known each other for about 26 years this year. The first times we met we realized we had a lot in common, importantly the taste in music and humor. From there it did not take long before we realized we wanted to create music together. Which we did as often as we could, either together, with other friends, or by ourselves.
What led you guys to start your career in the electronic music scene, how, when and where did you get involved, did you guys start this journey together?
Since we both were very much into electronic music, we felt the urge to create our own music too. We were listening to lots of stuff, trying to analyze & understand the tracks we felt strongly for, what was going on in them, and why and how things connected and became full tracks. We lacked the instruments to create what we heard though. Initially, we had access to keyboards, guitar pedals, guitars, a cassette deck and a DJ mixer. However, it vaguely made us realize and figure out some aspects of how electronic music was made. There was no one to ask back then, no tutorials, books or mentors. But we were so deeply intrigued by this music so we never gave up on it. We spent a lot of time buying records and just listening to tracks, making mix tapes and such.
After some time, we got access to computers and discovered early software. We visited music shops and tried every synth we could, and dreamt about buying some. Our music and our understanding of it got better. Before long we bought an MC303 and in the early year 2000 we got our first synth, as well as some sort of sequencer we barely used, old buzzing Roland mixing consoles and an Atari computer that we probably never used. With every piece of new gear we acquired, we felt we continued to evolve in our music-making. We sent only a couple of demos during this time, as it felt we were not good enough for labels.
Together with three other friends, we started a small little association and threw a few parties, had some stupid fun, rented a small place to have as a studio and eventually we decided to start a record label too. So we did. We felt we had one shot at it to make the best tracks we could, so the record would get noticed. It got picked up by some amazing DJ’s and was played on Swedish radio on the only electronic music show back then. The label was disbanded after only one release, but that’s another story. The first record set us on the right path. We got offers from the classic labels Audio Assault & ARMs and made some music for them. Good times.
How did 2023 begin for you guys and what plans do you have for the year?
This year definitely started very well for us with a vinyl release on Blueprint, which is one of our all-time favorite labels. And now with our first true techno album on Recorded Things, it feels like it will be difficult to top all of that since the year started so well already.
We have several releases coming up this year on our own label Lömsk, and for other labels. Expect reappearances from us on labels we previously released on the last few years. We’ll appear with a remix for a classic label for a classic artist too. There is a lot going on actually.
Congratulations on your new album ‘Skrammel & Banks’ already out via Recorded Things. What is the concept, inspiration and meaning behind this album and was the album a logical consequence for a follow release since you were the first external artist with your Simhall 101 EP on Recorded Things?
Thanks, we’re glad it’s out. The album is notably straightforward we think, and that’s definitely the concept behind it too. We wanted to make a techno album where each track has its own character and drive while still having some sort of coherent feel to them to tie them together.
When we discussed the album together with Oliver & Sebastian, we all had a common idea to make the album in the direction of our track “Taktfull” from our first EP on Recorded Things. To quote Sebastian, that track was: “simple but driving and delivers much energy on a dance floor”. We expanded a little on that while keeping the original intention intact. Also they figured 12 tracks would be a good number for the album so that’s what we settled for.
It’s almost a cliche to make a techno album and include some ambient or experimental tracks, so we choose to go the opposite direction. With that said, we decided that we still wanted to have some tracks acting as an opening, a middle point and a closing for the album.
Can you guys tell us about some of the highs and lows in writing and producing it?
There are a few different highs throughout a process like this. First, when everything is going well in a state of flow and things just come together. But also when everything is done & ready, it feels like a relief.
And finally, when the music is out in circulation, played by our peers and out in the public, that’s definitely a huge high. Not sure if we feel there were any lows, but all projects have their obstructive moments. It took a while to get the album out because we had so much lined up already, which is totally fine, but it’s one example of such an obstruction. We had to move the release date forward to the 3rd of March on short notice too, but it worked out well in the end. Oh and very late in the process, when all was ready, we swapped one of the tracks out for another haha. Sorry for the heart-attack moment there, Oliver and Sebastian.
Tell us the story, how did ‘Skrammel & Banks’ ended up being released via ‘Recorded Things’?
A while after our EP “Simhall 101”, which was the second release on Recorded Things, was released, Oliver & Sebastian reached out and presented an idea they had about us making an album for the label.
And while we liked the idea, we initially said that we could perhaps make an album in the future since we had a lot of things going on with other releases at the time, but after thinking it through we said “fuck it, let’s do it!” haha.
From there we had an open discussion with Oliver and Sebastian about the ideas, direction and everything else.
Can you guys tell us about the production processes and inspiration behind each track of the album?
Yeah, as far as we can recall it. As previously mentioned we wanted to make a straightforward experience with the album. Basically, we thought that we should do what we usually do, but in album format.
The production process was similar to how we prefer to do things. We usually like to think in terms of the overarching aspect of a production process and use the tools needed to get there in symbiosis together. We’re very specific with how well each type of sound element works & complements each other. As well as how each element behaves in the big cluster of sounds that a track consists of.
Our processing is crucial to our workflow and end result. How we get there varies. We’ve developed certain outsets, processing-wise, that we work into. And for the album, we predominantly worked with roughly the same coloration tools.
In terms of structure, we wanted to keep things simple for the album, there are not a lot of elements or any dramatic changes in the arrangement of most of the tracks. Some are deliberately more empty than others for example. Some of the tracks are built on the idea of slowly evolving & sometimes erupting over time. Like “Blaenk”, the first track. It’s designed to open the album at a steady pace, with smaller events happening over time.
There are some tracks that have some type of reference to our past, like “Fan fan ryggafan” which is based on a vocal sample we used for our first live set back in 2002.
A couple of tracks were based on some recorded loose sketches from a few years ago that we revived because they worked well for the album overall, like “Hets” and “Skogsmulle”. In both instances, it was the synth sequences that we revived and reworked.
“Frysskalle” is the middle point of the album, and it breaks everything up till that point. It’s followed by “Evakuera” which was made to set the character for the final part of the album. The tempo is going up a bit more too.
Ending with “Oreda”, which is likely the most classic-sounding track on the whole release. It felt like a good outro.
Fun side note, we have our own internal terminology for our production process. For example, we always refer to the dominant leading sound in a track, such as a synth sequence, as “the main ingredient”.
How long did it take to create this album, and how was the process of working together on a collaboration, it was in sessions, by distance, both, how was it?
A bit of everything you just mentioned, actually. It wasn’t that much different compared to how we usually work, we just treated it as a larger project. We worked out some ideas and talked them through via phone every day before going into the studio together, but we also made some sketches and proposals on our own and sent them to each other and went from there. Sometimes it was a bit of preparation work for sessions, other times it was just flowing naturally.
We’re so used to working together after all this time so we basically just complement each other while creating and reacting to whatever the other one is doing.
We consistently inject a lot of humor and fun into our sessions and our music too. We see that as absolutely necessary. So a lot of humor is injected into this album!
We worked on the album for nearly 2 months.
Did you use some special hardware in the production process and what are your favourite tools in the studio?
We can probably talk about this forever….but seeing as we mentioned some of it previously in regard to the production process, we’ll keep it brief.
We likely used a bit of everything we have for this album in one way or another, though the Hydrasynth is what we used most.
Not sure if we have any specific favorite tools though…it depends on the project actually. Throughout the years we’ve worked a lot to get away from that type of thinking, as hard as it is, and really see everything as pieces that molds together in a pleasing way.
But broadly speaking, something we’re very fond of is using chains of different types of distortion and compression as an instrument of sorts. If that makes sense. Oh and delays, we love delays a lot.
This is a question that maybe I shouldn’t ask, but is there a favourite track or do any of the tracks on the album hold a particular special feeling for you guys?
Hmm, not really no. It depends a bit on the mood we’re in. All tracks have something we really like about them.
Could you guys define your new album just in one sentence?
Looking back at our conversations with Oliver & Sebastian, we talked about “focusing on energetic and driving tracks but with a fairly simple structure, though with some twists. “
That probably defines the album in one sentence!
Again, congratulations on the album, it’s very nice, now that this chapter ends, what’s next?
Thanks! Next we’re looking forward to seeing more releases coming out on all the great labels that want to work with us. And to make more music!
What do you like to do when you’re not in the studio or at a gig?
Spending time with our families, friends and pets. Playing videogames. And just being out in nature.
Thanks for your time, to close the interview, can you guys tell us what is the purpose of your music?
Our pleasure! The purpose of our music…Hmm, it’s probably our need to express ourselves creatively in a way that suits us and have fun creating. And being content with what we do. But it’s also about escapism. It’s an excellent way to get away from the world for a short time, doing something that is essential for our very being. So the purpose of our music is to give us purpose. Thanks!
Listen ‘Skrammel & Banks‘ full album below.
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