the end of 2009, I had the rare chance to discover a brilliant album
by an artist called Citizen Kessentially the work and
vision of singer-songwriter, guitarist and general multi-instrumentalist
Klas Qvist. And so once again making a strong musical connection
courtesy the country of Sweden, that first Citizen K album that signalled
the end of the decade, Somewhere Up North made a big impact
on my musical and personal identity at that time. When one thinks
of Sweden, I personally look back and remember the first of the original
progressive rock bands of the 1970s like Bo Hansson with guitarist
Kenny Håkannson, Zamla and Peter Bryngelssons band Ragnarök
to name some of the originals. Although huge in Sweden, pop music
sung in English has always taken a back seat in a world dominated
by American and British pop giants, the rare exception being ABBA
of course. Yet, in coming up with that 2009 breakthru album, Somewhere
Up North set Citizen K out on a most unique musical journey, a
journey that was, after years of waiting, finally brought to fruition
with the long awaited follow up that in 2017 of a double CD called
Second Thoughts. Less than a year later, now in early 2018
Citizen K has released a third album, simply called III (as
in the Roman numeral 3). As the album credits indicate, Klas performs
all the guitars, keys, bass, percussion, lead and backing vocals with
key assistance from III co-producer Andreas Holmstedt,
who adds in programming and drums on a track along with some effective
sound effects on a range of tracks here. Also on hand is Citizen K
drumming ace Kim Gunneriusson, Gudmundur Bragason (orchestral
arrangements), along with several other contributors. The photography
and a&r work of Peter Holmstedt (founder of Swedish music
information website Hemifrån)
is always excellent as is the album cover painting by his gifted wife
following interview, Klas spoke via email, as they normally do, with
mwe3.com founder Robert Silverstein. Lucky for the readers of this
interview, in light of of the unique nature of III, as it turned
out, the interview goes well into fair detail about the various
III album tracks. Most noticable in the upbeat musical vibe
on this album is the fondness Klas writes about his muse Annika
Larsen, the artist in her own right that Klas sometimes performs
with as Larsen-Qvist. The interview also interestingly notes that
as a follow up Klas is planning to finally release archival music
with an early collaborator to which he adds, Next thing Ill
do is to release two albums that Gudmundur Bragason and I recorded
together in the early 1990s as Agony Street. We didnt release
them back then, simply because there was no label, let alone budget,
behind us, so it all just ended there. Now, when you can put anything
you want out on ITunes or Spotify or a CD, we simply decided it was
the right thing to do. Even if you discount the fact that
Klas was born blind and is blind still, and even more you consider
that he has turned out to be among the most informed pop statesmen
in Sweden today and, then that his electric guitar work is on par
with some of the best players in rock today; consider still that as
a collection of indelible pop melodies and timeless rock arrangements,
III is a breathtaking music classic of the highest magnitude.
mwe3.com presents an interview with
Your new CD, III opens with an instrumental called Welcome
Abroad. Does the track serve as an overture of sorts?
Citizen K: Yes it does. I have a soft spot for beginnings like
mwe3: Also the backing vocals on III are excellent.
Who are you featuring on backing vocals on the III CD?
Citizen K: The backing vocals are all mine on III except
for one track. Andreas Thulin came in and sang some harmonies on Oceans
Call. He also played the Waldhorn (French horn) on Canceled
mwe3: You say that III is more upbeat and even a kind
of Fleetwood Mac Rumours era influenced say compared with
the more free flowing, spatial nature of your 2017 double album Second
Thoughts. So is True Companions a good example of
your upbeat vibe of III? Of course the McCartney influence
is pretty clear too. Would you say Citizen A had a strong influence
on your music especially post Somewhere Up North?
Citizen K: Yes, I wanted to make something more 70s-sounding
this time. I think it can be heard especially on True Companions
where I tried to pay musical homage to both Andrew Gold and Hall &
Oates in particular.
Citizen A has had a profound influence on this record as well as on
both Somewhere Up North and Second Thoughts. I wasnt
able to write love songs like these before Annika came into my life.
You can definitely say she contributed to the upbeat vibe.
mwe3: Is Let This Be Love autobiographical? Is
this a kind of modern example of The Things We Do For Love?
You say 10cc is another influence on III, but the chorus I
hear myself say
is very McCartney influenced. Again the
backing vocals are great on this track as are the backward guitar
Citizen K: Thanks! Yes, its totally autobiographical.
I tried to describe what I felt while I was falling in love. The song
came much later, though, a decade or so into our relationship. A kind
of modern example of The Things We Do For Love? Dont
know really. Havent studied the lyrics that close, but Ive
always liked the song. Maybe so...
The Toolmakers Daughter is an interesting track
with an interesting title and more harmony strewn vocals. You speak
of God in this track. Whats your opinion of God as God puts
some interesting people, places and things together. Are you a religious
person? Is this another track dedicated to Citizen A? Whats
the meaning of the Tool Maker in the title? Another amazing guitar
based song. How did you layer the guitars in this track? Its
heavy but in this case the heaviness works in favor of the song.
Citizen K: Long story short: In my teens, I was heavily into
Christianity. I havent practiced organized religion since then,
but I think the experiences left permanent marks, positive and negative.
I dont think I stopped believing in God from one day to another.
Its more like putting my faith in the icebox.
The tool-maker in the song is Annikas father, though Im
not sure he had a formal education with a certificate if ever there
is one. His dad was a professional tool maker in America and later
in Norway. This was sometime before World War II, but to sing the
tool makers granddaughter wouldnt work, even though it
may be more truthful.
I added all sorts of guitars on this one; 6-string, 12-string, various
rhythm guitars, acoustic and electric. Its actually one of the
first songs Andreas and I worked on in the studio. It came out surprisingly
funky. I like that actually. Kim Gunneriusson, the drummer on virtually
everything I record, did an incredible job on this one too. Im
also very proud of the passage where I manage to sneak in pieces of
both Hey Joe (The Hendrix arrangement) and Hush
(the Deep Purple version) at the same time. Yes, its written
for Citizen A.
mwe3: Oceans Call has some interesting metaphors
in that the ocean represents a kind of danger. The undertow, drowning
and raging sea are some of the comparisons, in this case to love.
The 10cc / Bee Gees influence is apparent again. Interesting how the
piano takes over at the end with a kind of Renaissance type vibe.
K: Even this one has a lot to do with Citizen A. She grew up on
Swedens West Coast. Her parents and siblings still live there
and she goes to visit them regularly. I think it began with me saying,
sighing actually, Its the oceans call again
at one point when I knew she was going there for a week. Its
a joke, but semiserious.
I heard the sound of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood in my head as I
wrote the song. I actually think that helped me finish the song too,
the pure fun of writing the song that Fleetwood Mac never recorded.
(lol) But youre right about the other influences and metaphors
mwe3: Canceled Flight is a real tear-jerker of
a track that falls right in the middle of the album. Did you want
to create a kind of soliloquy type track after after the stormy sea
of Oceans Call? The feeling of relinquishing a relationship
has never been better expressed. Is this track autobiographical or
were you writing for a friend or in third person? Elton fans would
love the piano-centric style.
Citizen K: Wow! Thats a compliment! I wasnt thinking
of anyone particular when I wrote the lyrics to this one. Id
had the melody in my head for quite a while, actually playing it every
time I sat at the piano. This went on for more than a year. Then one
night at home, I simply thought: Alright, I wont stop
til Ive come up with a complete set of words to this one,
so what to do? I simply sat down, closed my eyes and visualized.
Its nothing I usually do, but this time it worked. I imagined
two people in a tiny room, one of whom, the I in the song,
did the talking.
Fifteen to twenty minutes later I, was able to write down the lyrics.
With only one or two minor adjustments, what you hear is what I imagined
when I sat in the dark. Yes, youre right about cooling it down
after an intense set of songs. This one is like the last track on
Side 1 for me. If we ever do a vinyl version of III, Side 1 will end
with Canceled Flight
mwe3: How Are You Going To Handle It is a bit of
sweet relief after the intensity of the two previous tracks. Proves
that being alone can be rewarding. At least you keep your sense of
humor. I love the Bee Gees break after the Lennon-ish middle break.
Back on your feet and with the knowledge that things could have been
so much worse.
Citizen K: Well, it describes what has happened to me a couple
of times when Im just about to wake up. Its almost like
an astral experience, a light version of locked-in syndrome.
You simply cant move, talk or scream for that matter, and even
though it lasts for a split second, it can be the worst split second
in your life. Thats what the song is about. But I added some
stuff to it to make it sound more like a story. We overdubbed some
weird things, the radio noise being one, turning it into, I guess,
a 10cc-ish track. Im very proud of this one.
How did you decide to combine Radio Classic with the subtitle
No More Songs About Jetplanes Please? Were you thinking
of a specific song or person when you wrote this track? Is the key
line what goes up must come down? Like a hit record ?
The track is filled with music business double entredres. The guitar
break is brilliant too with the auto tune type voice box conclusion
and your spoken word part...
Citizen K: I was listening to BBC Radio 2 one morning when
the Peter, Paul & Mary version of the John Denver song Leaving
On A Jetplane came on. I thought then and there that this was
the worst piece of music ever, and instead of throwing my coffee,
or tea or whatever it was, into the kitchen wall, I thought: OK,
Im gonna write an anti to it one day, and so I did. I
decided to concentrate on the person whos being rejected or
abandoned rather than the high-flying singer-songwriter type. Then,
much later actually, having written What goes up must come down,
I thought of what happened to John Denver, that it may not be the
best move in the world to include that in the song, but what the heck.
mwe3: Is Once You Had about growing up or facing
reality? Its a sad track but you were able to cloak the sentiment
with a ray of hope. I like the Hank Marvin inspired guitar break in
the middle. Are those guitar lines played in octaves? I really like
the way you pair guitar leads played with harmonies. How do you compose
guitar solos in songs?
Citizen K: Once You Had is actually one of the
last songs I wrote for III, quite a while after we went to
work on the album. I think it was at Annikas one night when
a melody and a couple of chords came almost simultaneously. The lyric
was written just after Id heard about someone, could be someone
I knew vaguely or something I heard on the radio, who had reunited
with his high school sweetheart after many years, and I thought it
was beautiful. Its never too late. Thats what the song
Hank Marvin-like part of the solo is just me playing solo, no octaves
or anything, just some echo. Dont know exactly what I imagined,
actually. Could be that I wanted to add some country flavor without
playing a pedal steel. My solos are always pretty much arranged when
its time to record them. Im not that good at improvising.
It just makes me nervous. (lol)
mwe3: So is Piano In The Rain is the centerpiece
of III, would you say? Love the thunder at the crack of the
track. Is there a metaphor between an abandoned piano and an abandoned
person, pet or soul and another metaphor for not only a piano but
also a musical style or tradition fighting for posterity? The guitars
came crashing in the end. Perfect, never to be forgotten
Citizen K: Youre absolutely right about the metaphors,
but I didnt think that much about it while I was writing the
song. But the line: We played it quite often, at least once
everyday could very easily be a metaphor for making love.
Ive also heard about people simply dumping their pianos somewhere
outside, after realizing there just was no space for it and that they
wouldnt get enough money for it. Ive always found that
disgusting. And what does one think having just done it?
Piano In The Rain was recorded only days after it was
written. I think you can still hear it. Gudmundur Bragason, an old
friend of mine who came in towards the end of the recordings to co-produce
a little, suggested we added the sound of a thunderstorm to the track
and so we did.
mwe3: So I had to check to see if Beasts Of England
wasnt my itunes flipping to a Richard Thompson era Fairport
Convention instrumental track! Why did you call it Beasts Of
England and it also has some additional motifs from your other
songs like Piano
Are you thinking or knowing that
music lovers will one day recognize your gifts as a pop instrumental
composer? Nice mellotron flutes sound too
K: I needed an "inbetweener", so I took a couple
of themes and hooks from all over the record. Beasts Of England
was the first thing that came to my mind, simply because I thought
the song had something very English to it. I got it from George Orwells
Animal Farm. Beasts Of England is the name
of the song the animals sing in order to work up some fighting spirit
I love short instrumentals, you know. They are very important too,
because they give the listeners some time to breathe or time to do
whatever they want to in the middle of all the info coming their way.
Maybe I should consider making an album or an EP of just instrumentals.
Is that a good idea?
mwe3: And You Danced All Night is another centerpiece
track on the III album. Were you able to attend a Beach Boys
concert ever? I dont know if they played Sweden in recent years.
You seemed to putting all the cooperative components together. Love
songs, the surf, chicks, Maharishi, and more. So why close it with
Citizen K: The Beach Boys were here in 2012 while on their
reunion tour, only months before Mike Love decided he needed the stage
for himself. Or something in that style
Annika and I were there,
just as the song says, and she danced for two and a half straight
hours, and that made me love her even more. Theres
a photo of us in the III booklet, taken during the concert.
Around the same time as I was writing and recording You Danced
All Night, I was listening to a very good podcast run by Karina
Longworth called You Must Remember This, basically the history
of Hollywood. Heard of it? In the podcast, there was a series on Charles
Manson. I think California Goodbye was my way of saying:
Yeah, I know about the dark stuff too
Anton Lavey, not to mention all the strange things that went on in
the 70s, stuff that The Eagles mentioned on the Hotel California
song and album. Theres a California girl living here in
Borås and her views on her old home state seem a lot more apocalyptic
than your average Beach Boys song.
mwe3: After The Fact is subtitled Encore.
Brilliant coming after And You Danced All Night so after
the SoCal sunshine its back to the timeless Euro beat or the
culmination of a great album?
Citizen K: Its my way of saying to Annika: You
and only you will have the encore. After The Fact
was actually the first song we recorded for III. The guitars,
the organ and the bass you hear are the very first things we did,
almost as if to see if this works at all.
It was my first day at PGA Studios. I still hadnt finished Second
Thoughts, so it was actually a bit strange: Should I do
this at all? Maybe I should wait a while etc.
mwe3: So whats next Klas? Can you let us in on future
games and plans you might have this year? So by my recollection, youve
made three brilliant Citizen K albums in the last 9 years. I think
theres no stopping the greatness youre bringing to pop-rock
fans and instrumental fans.
K: I dont know actually. Next thing Ill do is to release
two albums that Gudmundur Bragason and I recorded together in the
early 1990s as Agony Street. We didnt release them back then,
simply because there was no label, let alone budget, behind us, so
it all just ended there. Now, when you can put anything you want out
on i-tunes or Spotify or a CD, we simply decided it was the right
thing to do. And its great since were making music together
again after more than two decades of nothing. So there might even
be a third Agony Street album coming out.
know what will happen to Citizen K, though. Ive written a couple
of new songs, but I think they might end up on an album Im planning
to record as Larsen-Qvist. Its Annika and I. Weve played
some gigs together recently for which both she and I have written
some songs, mixing them with rare covers of The Moody Blues, The Rolling
Stones, YES and The Incredible String Band to mention a few. If III
takes off beyond expectations, then I might do another Citizen K album.
courtesy of Peter Holmstedt at Hemifrån