But the Swedes did it! Emanuel Åström is not a workaround, not a copy of his predecessor. His singing is more variable and creates quite different moods. Although Agent Side Grinder’s new longplayer “A/X” is closer to the penultimate album and less organic than the last, with Emanuel as singer they have been able to expand their sound cosmos once again. “A/X” holds their extremely high level and at the same time presents Agent Side Grinder with completely new facets. We talked with founder member Johan and the new guy in town.
First, let’s take a trip into the past. Johan, since there have not been that many interviews after Kristoffer left the band, please tell us how this came about. Did it hit you completely out of the blue?
Johan: It came as a total surprise. But in retrospect, there were some warning signs. In 2016 Kristoffer didn’t want to tour as much as before for example. After we got the message, Peter and I were in shock for a couple of days and went into a mutual depression.
Many fans didn’t think ASG would be able to continue without Kristoffer. Guess you must have been aware of that, haven’t you? Did this fact made you insecure or affected you in what you wanted to do?
J: Of course we were aware of that. Losing a singer is probably the worst that can happen to any band. And to lose another two members on top of that! But on the other hand, Peter and I have always been the core of ASG and also been confident in our music, we knew our strength. So in just a few weeks we started re-arranging our back catalogue and writing new material for an upcoming album. And we quite immediately had a clear picture how we wanted the new ASG to sound. And to prove everybody wrong became a big driving force for us.
“To prove everybody wrong became a big driving force for us.”
The lyrics of The Great Collapse seem to deal with Kristoffer’s withdrawal from ASG, the time of renewal that followed and, finally, the new beginning with Emanuel. Was that your intention?
J: Sort of. It’s been a turbulent time for the band, me personally and for the world in general I guess – collapses are everywhere, to speak in metaphors. So you could interpret the lyrics in many ways.
Where do you, Johan/Peter and Emanuel, know each other from? And how did it happen that Emanuel joined ASG as new singer? And in this context: Emanuel, what was it like for you being asked to join ASG?
J: We got to know Emanuel when he promoted an ASG concert in his hometown of Uppsala back in early 2016. A few years later, when we desperately were seeking a new singer, we bumped into him at a Lebanon Hanover show in Stockholm. We didn't know he could sing, but a few days later we met in our studio and the rest is history.
Emanuel: It happened so fast I almost didn’t have time to react. But I’m honoured, of course.
Emanuel, rumour has it that you were a huge fan of the band before joining them, is that true? And what did you do before you became a member of ASG?
E: I saw ASG for the first time in 2012 and thought “that’s a great band, I want to steal their sound” and I’ve been following their work ever since. Before joining I’ve been in a variety of bands, mostly guitar-driven music, but I started experimenting with synths and electronic stuff with two of my best friends and long-time musical collaborators in 2014, a project still waiting to be finished.
Was it easy for you guys to adjust to each other?
E: For me it was a process of getting to know their way of working as well introducing mine. But on a personal level we’re a good match, so the workflow came naturally.
J: I agree. Right from the start the collaboration felt very natural and creative.
The new album is entitled A/X – like from Alpha to Omega, from A to Z? Or what’s the idea behind that?
E: It was inspired by the new logo that industrial designer Peter Lundbergh made for us. A symbol for a new start. A as in Agent, X as a variable, the unknown, a chromosome open to mutation. From A to the unknown perhaps.
“I think the modern Post Punk feels a little worn-out at the moment.”
A/X goes back to the more complex electronic sound of your earlier works, as on Hardware for example, and features less of the Post-Punk elements of Alkimia. Why so? Does it have to do with bass player Thobias Eidevald leaving the band?
J: Yes, partly true. But Agent Side Grinder was probably going in a more electronic direction anyway. We decided pretty early to skip the bass, at least on stage, and replace it with fat synth bass lines instead. And personally I think the modern Post Punk feels a little worn-out at the moment, we rather experiment more and push ourselves in new directions.
In Decompression there are slight hints to Lassigue Bendthaus to be heard – an homage to this band or pure coincidence?
J: That’s coincidence I guess. I thought it had more of a The Klinik vibe or perhaps Front 242. My idea was to make a claustrophobic, percussion-based track with a lot of drum fills and programmed double bass drums, almost Black Metal style.
Soundwise, The Great Collapse and MM/CM do remind of Depeche Mode’s Delta Machine era. Did you use the same equipment as Martin Gore did?
J: Yeah, maybe. I mean, he has a few synths to choose from and so do we. Analogue equipment has always been the main tool for ASG. But we rarely try to copy other bands. But sometimes you slide into DM territory, it’s no secret I’m a big DM fan, but not necessarily the Delta Machine era.
In Doppelgänger and Inner Noise, the theme of a split personality is striking. What fascinates you about it?
J: Well the whole concept about the split personality aligned very well with the phase the band was going through. It was a suiting theme for both the music and lyrics. I was also watching Twin Peaks: The Return around that time, which also had a doppelganger theme which inspired me.
In Stripdown a saxophone is to be heard dominantly – an almost forgotten relict from 80s pop music which seems to experience a renaissance these days. How did you come to use a saxophone in it?
E: The original plan was to have Gustav play one of his more experimental effect-heavy, free jazz solos. But in the studio we asked him to try something in an 80’s style and we really loved the way it came out.
Also, there are quite many acid sounds used on A/X. Why so?
J: We thought it would be cool to expand our sounds on this record. And those late 80s/early 90s sounds provided that feverish and clubby vibe we were looking for. We have used the TB-303 previously, but took more advantage of it now.
Does it become something of a ritual featuring slow songs with female guest singers as last song on your albums? On Alkimia it was Last Rites featuring Nicole Sabouné, this time it is Wounded Star featuring Sally Dige …
J: Hmm ... it may seem so. But sometimes the songs require a female voice. Initially we sang Wounded Star ourselves, but didn’t really reach the vulnerability and sensitivity we were looking for. We knew Sally from before and were very grateful she wanted to do it. It turned out perfect and was the obvious album-closer.
What are your plans for the coming months?
J: A/X is released in North America in June by Metropolis Records. Then we’ll be doing summer festivals, including Amphi Festival in July. In October and November we’ll go on a longer European tour.
Interview: Catrin Nordwig & Jörn Karstedt
Foto: Ludvig Lindqvist
Agent Side Grinder live in Deutschland 2019:
05.06. FR-Tours, Aucard de Tours Festival
20.07. GER-Cologne, Amphi Festival
16.08. HUN-Mátrafüred, Mátra-Sástó
17.10. SWE-Gothenburg, Oceanen
18.10. DK-Copenhagen, Vega
19.10. DK-Kolding, Nightmare Culture
20.10. GER-Berlin, Urban Spree
21.10. GER-Jena, Café Wagner
22.10. POL-Wroclaw, D.K. Luksus
24.10. GER-Nuremberg, Der Cult
25.10. GER-Esslingen, Komma Kultur
29.10. FR-Paris, La Boule Noire
30.10. GB-London, The victoria
02.11. GER-Hamburg, Hafenklang
07.12. RU-Woscow, Synthetic Snow Festival