I’m not sure exactly how Hills appeared on the horizon. Like Hills’ music, that one is hard to pin down. Shrouded in a warm red-eyed haze, Hills’ music collapses a wide vista of influences and approaches into a sound that you may not be able to exactly put your finger, regardless of how focused their modus operandi may be. Two stellar albums in though, it’s clear that’s not the point. It’s a pulse they have their finger on; a throbbing pulse that is vibrant and alive whether it’s dissipating into space or firing up the boosters.
Rise Again :: Hills :: Master Sleeps (2011, Transubstans)
ma: When I first heard Hills (Kalle, Pelle, Tobias, Hanna), I thought the name was a perfect fit, for my own loose reasons. What does ‘hills’ mean to Hills?
Kalle: I don’t really know. When it came to me some years ago I just wanted to find a name which would in some way be representative of the music I wanted to do with the band, but then also not for the name to be genre-bound by its meaning, like Cannibal Corpse or something…Also, as I recall, I know that during the time I came up with the name I had been listening to Earth and I thought that was a great name for a band so I kind of wanted something in the same vein. It’s also a visual thing I guess. And also I had never heard the White Hills which I think were active back then as well. If I had I think I might have had a change of heart considering the name.
ma: What’s the ‘visual thing’ to you for Hills? It’s highly visual to me, if for the only reason that Hills leaves so much up to interpretation. I guess to me, by leaving so much up to me/the listener, you get around simply name-dropping your influences…you treat the listener as an equal…your music becomes more part of an ongoing story. Traditional in a sense. It’s like when I was a kid and saw 2001: A Space Odyssey; I knew what it was about, but I couldn’t tell you…
Kalle: I don’t know so much about the visual part…I get what you mean, but I guess that part is up the listener. We create the soundtrack and the listener creates the storyline and plot, the actual movie so to speak. I guess we all have our different “movies” going on while making/playing/listening to the music… When we’ve played live with visuals it is really awesome. It really adds to the whole experience. When I create a riff or something I just, well I don’t know what I do exactly, but I know when something is worth working on/bringing to rehearsal. At least most of the time I do…haha…There’s a feeling or something, a good groove and movie to go with it so to speak haha…Most of the time I don’t even know what my own songs are about.
What you say about the listener being an equal is really well said. From what I gather we are making music that mostly appeals to people whose interest in music stretches a bit out of the ordinary. And that is where I am at myself as well. Not really so interested in the charts you know . Most “new” music I hear is stuff that I read about somewhere (Optical Sounds Fanzine) or through recommendations I get from friends.
ma: There’s so much great music out of Sweden, of all kinds. Where do you see Hills in the scene? Are Hills filling a void, carrying on that tradition…maybe a bit of both?
Kalle: Yes, I guess so…there has always been quite a lot of good bands coming out of these parts of Scandinavia. As far as the Swedish psych scene goes it’s not too vast if I dare say so, but in all, punk, metal and so on there are a lot of good bands here. I guess I’m not the one to say if we fill a void or not, but our main goal has always been creating music that we would want to listen to our selves (somewhat of a cliché I know, but true nonetheless) and when we started out, the psychedelic scene was quite dead in Sweden except for bands like Dungen and probably a couple of others that I do not know of. I can only speak for myself, but I am heavily influenced by the Swedish 60s/70s scene and 60s/70s music in general, so in that regard I guess I am subconsciously and consciously channeling some of that influence through what I do with Hills. Bands like Träd, gräs & stenar, Persson Sound are an important part of my musical library.
ma: How did Hills get together? Was there a moment when you all said, “we have to play together?” Or was it a case of “we can do that better?” You sort of laid down a challenge on your first with You Talk the Talk! Was that directed at anyone particular?
Kalle: It was kind of a progression out of just being me and Pelle at first trying to rehearse, finding out what the fuck we wanted to do and then find a drummer, which wasn’t easy. Then when Hanna joined right in the beginning we actually did a cover of ZZ Top’s Sharp Dressed Man…can you imagine that? Me neither. Hanna played it to this guy she was interested in, like ‘check this out, this is my band’ and he just looked at her with a confused expression. They are still an item though, so he must have been really impressed and/or traumatized on some deep meta level of his existence. In retrospect the original song is kind of killer, I guess the lyrics as well…haha!.…I remember I heard our version of it some time ago and I just wondered like “what the fuck is going on here, what the fuck were we thinking..?” I managed to confuse my self massively. Our version was totally spaced out of course, but with the original lyrics I mean..I get exhausted just talking about it. You Talk the Talk! was a song I came up with during the time and it’s my homage to Kraftwerk, Neu!, La Düsseldorf and all that.
ma: Your first record was with Sulatron. How did you hook up with Transubstans for Master Sleeps? Another great fit.
Kalle: Well, Dave (Schmidt/Sula Bassana) from Sulatron got in contact after he had heard the LP and said he wanted to release it on CD and then with the follow-up, Master Sleeps, we had some discussions with Transubstans who were keen on releasing it, which we were glad to let them do. It’s not like we are making any money, so just the fact that anyone is willing to take the cost of printing and distributing CDs is great news for us. We just want the music to be available to people.
ma:Master Sleeps is a fantastic record. Are you happy where it ended up? Do you think you achieved what you set out to do?
Kalle: Thank you for your kind words and I must tell you that your review of that same record really blew me away, being one of the first reviews of the album as well, I can’t even try to explain. It’s like…of course you don’t make the music you do to satisfy anyone but yourself, but then when, like in the case with your review, someone with their own words tell how much the music you have made means to them then that is really what it’s all about for me. As a music lover and record collecting nerd myself I now exactly how much a riff, a certain chord-change, or vocal line can mean to the listener and when people tell you that the music you do does it for them, like you did in your review, it’s just so humbling. And I am still really satisfied and happy with what we achieved with Master Sleeps. It’s a really nice document of that period of time for us. And to tell you the truth I don’t even really remember what I set out to do from the beginning and I guess it doesn’t matter either because it is what it is. I think you always have an idea of what you want to do and want the finished product to look like when you start out with something, but then during the creative process you compromise, forget, change your mind to the extent that in the end it’s all just a somewhat more or less spontaneous composition/appearance of awareness.
ma: I got to say, it feels just as good to be on the receiving end of the arrow being shot, if that makes sense…to ‘get’ what you meant…I think that ‘spontaneous awareness’ you mentioned is reflected in how focused Hills’ sound is. I was talking to some friends who just got turned onto Hills and, of course, we were trying to stick labels on you, nail you down in our own ways. We all heard our own things…the 60/70s vibe you mentioned, various forms/eras of psych, Velvet Underground… You’ve brought up some of that, Kraftwerk and Neu! (I might have tossed out ‘stoner krautrock’ at one point), ZZ Top, Earth…but we all agreed how organic it sounded. You produce a heady mix of sounds on your records. Are you all on the same wavelength, or does everyone bring something different to Hills, a different target?
Kalle: I think when it comes to Hills now we all have a general idea what will work. That is not to say that we have a set of rules or preconceptions about what a Hills song should sound like, all ideas are welcome. It’s more a matter of the whole experience. A Hills song could basically be anything from a power ballad to a death metal song as long as we get to do it our way. I can’t even explain this properly, power ballad, what the fuck? Of course we wouldn’t do a power ballad; that would just be totally strange…well, at least not in this year…I’ll use an example instead. A friend sent me a live clip of the Residents covering Jail House Rock and it was just disgusting, I mean to say I really loved it! The whole song just sounded slow and retarded and Residents, you know what I mean? And that is what I’m trying to point out here: the Residents could have covered any one song from Celine Dion to Bathory and the outcome would have been the Residents. And if you didn’t know they were covering a song the thought wouldn’t even cross your mind. It would just sound like the Residents doing one of their own songs. That is kind of what I was trying to explain with all the ramblings above. And I am not in any way comparing us to the Residents; they were pioneers, we are just Hills. But you do what you do and you know when it’s good, it’s really not that much to think about I guess. We all, the four of us, have our preferences when it comes to music and it’s all just thrown in there in the mix.
ma: I know what you mean. From a listener’s point of view, I’d much rather a band take someone else’s song and completely make it their own. I still forget that All Along the Watchtower wasn’t penned by Hendrix. In my book, it is his…no disrespect to Dylan.
Kalle: Yeah that is it. At least for me, if I want to cover a song it will have to pass through my own “filters” so to speak. I will have to try to “make it my own.” I don’t know what the point would be of doing a cover otherwise. Well, if I was not active in a tribute and/or actual cover band…But, I mean, even then you would rather just listen to the original song right?
Actually I just came to think of something quite funny.
Do you know the song Schlaraffenland which was included as a bonus track on our first CD? That was actually built around our version of Suzy Q. That is where you end up sometimes when you try to cover songs. At least in Hills…haha…I had totally forgot about that. It’s not really a given, is it? Apart from the drum beat I mean.
ma: “But you do what you do and you know when it’s good, it’s really not that much to think about I guess.” That sort of sums up Hills some ways: there’s a lot of ingredients in there, and you can pick it apart and make it seem far more complex than it is while you’re trying to break it down at the same time. Simplicity is complexity, and vice-versa, if you look at it at the right angle. Right back to 2001 again…Does that explain your approach to creating the music? You just do it and you know when it’s good. It seems from the outside here it would be hard to know when to stop.
Kalle: Yes, something like that.
Like the very best way for me to describe that process is simply not trying to describe it. But let’s say it like this: all the bands we’ve mentioned before are good bands which I listen to and then add some of the following into that mix; Discharge, Nihilist, Repulsion, all the psychedelic Swedish stuff from the 60s/70s, some krautrock and then pick it apart keep the good bits, make it repetitive and then add fuzz, reverb some vocals or screams and there you go you have created a Hills song!
If I get what you mean above you are also talking about when too much of the intellect goes in the mix, right? A good example would be the late Coltrane recordings compared to a lot of the free jazz that evolved from that later on. I don’t think Coltrane even thought about what he was playing, or not most of the time, he just played as did the rest of the musicians as well. I don’t think they were going like “what would be the proper note to play or drum beat to keep this original, what do we want to say with this? “ …which is my impression of a lot of the later free form music. People just got lost in concepts about the music and what it should represent instead of getting lost in the music itself.
ma: If Master Sleeps was a document of that period, what’s coming up next? You knew when to stop; what’s starting now?
Kalle: Well, I don’t know really. We will just have to see how it turns out I guess. I’m really stoked though. We have started to record some new stuff which is different from what we have done before, but then again more of the same. Boring answer I know, but I’ll put it like this instead: I don’t think that anyone who likes what we have previously done will be disapointed with this.
That is kind of strange to me, that you can ask me about any old band and I could probably analyze it (the sound/musicians/the records etc.) to smithereens being the nerd I am, but when it comes to my own music I just kind of choke. I guess in a way the discussion around the particular sounds of something (a Hills album for example) seldom, if ever, beats or compares to the experience of actually hearing the music. Only cases I know of are all these ” rare Monster Psych LPs ” …where the description beats the experience 99 times out of 100!
I, for example, have an LP by a band called Magic, the LP is titled Enclosed. It’s one of those privately pressed rarities from the 60s and it totally sucks, believe me. It’s beyond me how anyone can pay 1,000 + USD for that crap. Don’t get me wrong, anyone interested just get in contact. I’d buy the re-release, CD or just download the thing. Most of the time I’d say if it didn’t work out to well back then, it’s probably not worth the effort now either with some exceptions of course like Pentagram, Beat of the Earth, Kalacakra, Skip Spence and so on…you know what I mean. It has just been getting ridiculously out of hand lately.
But to sum it up for Hills, we will record in the same way, a bit more primitive maybe. We will have the same preferences as always when it comes to the music (with a few new additions maybe…) It will be purely analog and it will be raw.
And we will most likely not be doing any power ballads.