Club 8's Johan Angergård

Club 8's Johan Angergård
For nearly 20 years, Johan Angergård has been "Sweden's and the world's finest purveyor in pop music." As a member of Poprace, Acid House Kings, Club 8 and the Legends, as well as running Labrador Records, Angergård has immersed himself in some of his country's best and brightest music by both making and releasing it at a steady rate. His turnaround as a musician, especially, has seen the 36-year-old release some 15 albums, not to mention countless singles and EPs. The newest ― for the time being ― is the seventh full-length by Club 8, his 15-year partnership with vocalist Karolina Komstedt. On The People's Record, the two push their sublime harmonies into new directions for a heady brew of airy pop music accentuated by some tremendous African rhythms. The direction is one of the countless many that Angergård has taken as a songwriter, yet like every other one is carefully crafted with an expert's precision. Exclaim! caught up with the workaholic to discuss his penchant for diversions, why Club 8 is his favourite band, and how he manages to keep three bands on the go and run a successful label at the same time.

Do you write songs and then decide if they're for the Legends, Acid House Kings or Club 8? Or is the songwriting for every band specific?

I usually concentrate on one band at the time, so yeah, in most cases the songwriting is specific for a particular band. And the bands are so different from each other that it's easy for me to feel which band I'm writing for even if I don't have a specific band in mind when I start on a song. The Legends is very experimental for me. It's about exploring different sounds. The very reason that I started the "band" was to be able to do things I couldn't do with Club 8 or Acid House Kings. And with the fast changes in sound that I have with the Legends, it'd be difficult to do it in another way than as a one-man-band.

Club 8 has been around for 15 years now. What keeps you coming back to that band?
It's my favourite band! I love the way the songs grow with Karolina's vocals. It's easier to express feelings in a way that is close to "the core emotion of the song" if you know how I mean. For me, singing is difficult. When I record with the Legends it's a struggle to get the vocals right. It sounds in a particular way in my head, but it takes so many vocals takes to get it close to that ― and usually a bunch of effects too. And I like the way Club 8 has been very creative and productive but still it's just pure joy. No pressure or anything like that. Even if we've gone for 15 years it all feels new to us. And I think it has helped that we don't play live that much. That would probably feel a little bit like a job if we did it too often. Now we're just making art, as a hobby.

How do you think The People's Record differs from the previous Club 8 albums?
I produced all the other albums and played basically all of the instruments so there's a lot of change coming naturally from using an outside producer and having 11 musicians on the album. But the songs were really different from the start too; they were lively and full of experiments with rhythms and percussion from the start. And a perhaps less apparent change is that I've used fewer chords. I've been a bit bored of chords and they seem a lot more interesting the fewer you use. If you only use one or two chords it doesn't colour the music that much. Instead it leaves space to build it on other things and I like that. We also did a large part of the instruments in the song live in the studio. The musicians listened once to the demo and then we started playing together. They were extremely receptive to what we wanted to do so that was a very inspiring experience.

There are all sorts of worldly polyrhythms on The People's Record. What attracted you to trying such a bold thing like introducing these kinds of rhythms into the music?
I had to look up the word "polyrhythms"... so, I don't know. I can't speak in technical terms and with the guys on the album we didn't need that. They understood what we wanted anyway.

For the last ten years Club 8's sound has constantly shifted. You do the same thing with the Legends. Do you find this kind of freedom is more about trying out different kinds of music or do you just get bored of repeating yourself?
I totally agree on the Legends but I think the general mood in Club 8's songs have been somewhat consistent. Sometimes it's been a bit dubby, sometimes more acoustic, sometimes more electronic, etc. But I think The People's Record is the first album with a bigger leap or change in sound. But yes, I would get bored if we'd stay the same all the time. Change is extremely important for me. There's a big excitement in discovering and exploring new things, doing the same things over and over again would just be... dull or something. And most bands that sound exactly the same from album to album grow gradually worse all the time. It's natural that they do so, I'm quite sure they run out of musical enthusiasm by doing that. I would. If you want to keep your fans it's smart to stay the same but from a creative and artistic point of view it's suicide.

What is the status on Acid House Kings and the Legends? Are there any releases in the pipeline?
We're writing new songs for the Kings right now and they're very good ones if I might say so. I found a slightly new take on Acid House Kings, which has been really inspiring. The Legends ― no plans right now.

You're your own boss. What is it like working for yourself when you release records by three of your own bands?
I do like being very independent and other people's points of view can make me a bit irritated, so it's a very good thing most of the time. I wouldn't like anyone to influence my music or the surrounding things like artwork, photos, etc, unless I asked them to. "My" albums are released on lot of different labels around the world though, but it's on license basis so they get the full finished package of music when it's "too late" ― i.e., when all the artistic decisions have been made. And when it's like that, I have no problems releasing my music on other labels. But I would hate to have an A&R or manager on my back while writing the songs or recording. That could possibly blur my visions of the music. Or at least annoy me a lot...

What are some of the difficulties you've found trying to juggle running a label with making music?
I must admit it's been quite easy so far. I do Labrador in the daytime and make music in the night time. Most people have hobbies, or at least watch far too much TV. I don't have a lot of hobbies. I make records instead. I sometimes feel that I should have more interests in life. Start to grow things perhaps. Or watch birds. I'm not sure if this is answering the question, but another thing that might be slightly difficult sometimes is too choose how much priority I can give my own bands. There's a chance Labrador might put slightly more money into the other bands on the labels because I might feel guilty giving my bands the highest priority.

None of your bands ever tour. Is that just a downside of having so much on your plate? Or are you just not a fan of performing live?
We just got back from a tour with Club 8 and in March I toured with the Legends. But you're right ― we don't tour a lot. It takes to much focus away from what's important, which for me is writing songs and releasing records. That's the art. But I do like playing live and I've started appreciating meeting the people who listen to our music. Not to mention that touring takes me to a lot of amazing places like Brazil, Philippines and Japan that I hadn't been to before and might never have seen if it wasn't because of the Club 8 tours. It's a real privilege. And perhaps I've rapidly become a bit spoiled. We tour a lot more in Asia than in Europe because it's more interesting to see these countries and because we are perhaps more popular there. Also because we are treated so well there. Some tours have been like going on unusually good vacations. But we don't want to play live too much. The live appearances would start to feel like a job if we did that and that's very dangerous.

Is there a particular record you've released on Labrador that you're most proud of?
It's a bit typical I guess but recent releases like The People's Record by Club 8, Islands by the Mary Onettes, Over and Over by the Legends and Clinging to a Scheme by the Radio Dept. really are among my absolute favourites. It's really been an amazing last year at Labrador.

The Radio Dept.'s new album has been getting a lot of exposure. Why do you think that band is now just taking off?
I think it's partly because Labrador is better at getting stuff out and heard than we were four years ago when we released their previous album. But the most important reason could be because it's a much better album than Pet Grief. I hope that's it. But it's not like I believe that a better album equals more exposure in the press or better sales. Unfortunately there are still a lot of other factors that seem to have a bigger effect than the quality of the music.

What do you look for when you're scouting for new artists? How do you search for new music ― do you attend shows or search online?
I want to feel things and I want to feel them strongly and I want to be surprised and I need to love the music. The surprise element is becoming more and more important for me I think. A new band needs to add something to my world of music. They don't necessarily have to sound nowhere near anything else that's ever been done; very few bands in the worlds ― perhaps none ― do that. But some at least sound like something you haven't heard in a long time; or not that well done, or just picks up elements and put them together in a way that surprises me! And that's important. I've never signed a band based on a live show because I don't think live shows are very important. The recordings are the core of the art for me.

Do you limit your roster to Scandinavian bands?
In the beginning it wasn't a conscious choice, but most of the good bands we wanted to release was friends of ours, or people from the same part of Sweden as we were from. Leslies, Starlet, Acid House Kings, Waltz for Debbie, Mondial and Club 8 are all from Åhus or the very nearby town Kristianstad. Soon we felt there was more great Swedish bands than we could release and we had only released bands from our country, so we figured we might as well do it an official thing and turn it into a motto ― bringing the best Swedish pop to the world. That was a long time ago and we haven't had any reasons to change it; the Swedish scene is still so good there's no reason to look outside the borders. But if ever a band would come along that is the best thing I've heard in my whole life, perhaps we'd re-consider or start a sub-label.

What else is going on with Labrador right now? Any new bands or records you'd like to plug?
Yes, there's a new Pallers single coming out on May 26 called "The Kiss" and we're also working on an album that should be out early winter. As it looks right now, it will be a quite dark, atmospheric album. "Dance music for the lazy, the blazers and the slightly depressed" will probably still ring true. Little Big Adventure has a whole bunch of new great songs, so we'll do something with them/him and there will also be new material from the Mary Onettes and Acid House Kings. We're also talking to a new band that might do something in the fall. We'll see. In any case, I think I can promise a very exciting fall here!