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Topic ClosedSimon Steensland

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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Simon Steensland
    Posted: November 11 2011 at 15:26

Simon Steensland is a Swedish composer and self-taught multi-instrumentalist, though he started as a drummer at the age of 17. He releases both solo albums as well as composing for theater. His first solo release was in 1993, The Simon Lonesome Combat Ensemble, which he then followed up on with more albums, each of which had several usual musicians playing: drummer Morgan Agren and keyboards/piano player Mats Oberg. The music was said to combine elements of jazz, neo-classical, rock and folk with a wide variety of instruments and to be influenced by Univers Zero, Art Zoyd, Present etc.

I got in touch with him and here is his story


You started out 17 years old. What made you take up music ? How and where did you team up with your companions Morgan Agren and Mats Oberg ? Your first album was released when the computers was tiny and a fraction of what a mobile phone is today. How was it to record back then compared with to today ?

Iīve always been very fascinated of music, but i never have any thoughts of playing myself. Not until many of my friends started to play. Then it was like-Hello guys, wait for me! I immediately by chance started to play in some symphonic rock bands. They werenīt any good of course, but it was a great way of learning and understanding more "complicated" music than regular pop/rock.

So i was playing seven and fives and other "odd" time signatures even from the start. So thatīs very normal for me. (Even today i never have to "count" something iīm playing, unless itīs extremely complicated with many fast shifts in time-signature. When another musician asks me to explain a pattern I often has to stop and think for a while, since i myself never count.) I started out as a drummer and played in lots and lots of bands. Stupid as i am i never thought of the possibility to write my own songs. Maybe because all the bands i played with all ready had their own composers.

But when i was about 30 years old i bought myself an old, used synthesizer and said: letīs go! And i went. My first songs is probably the most pathetic, pretentious and crappiest music ever written... But i soon got better. All ready after a year or two i landed a deal with the french label Musea! Of course i had to pay for everything myself, but i did it in the cheapest way possible. I think it was about 1200€ for everything... It was only pressed in 500 copies.

Back then, we never knew that computers would come to rule the entire world, as well as the recording industry. At least i didn`t. Of course it was obviously not very high-tech the way i recorded my first album ping-ponging between two stereo DAT recorders, through a very cheap boss minimixer... Thatīs a very "real-time" oriented  way of recording. And frustrating as well. You canīt punch in anything, and there is no way to edit things afterwards. Everything has to be in one take, and you cant use a click-track or anything to make it easier to play certain passages. Cause everything you put in or out, would be on the next generation of overdubs... And therefore you have to use a lot of sequensers to hold the numbers of generations down. So the music is somewhat stiff without "musical-flow, and still there is a good number of wrong notes being played! On the good side you have A LOT of time to get the work done, since i donīt have to pay for any studio-time! Everything is recorded in my living room except the drums. And the string quintet.

Regarding Morgan, i met him (and Mats) by chance at a gig they were doing with a band called "zapstitoot" (not sure about the spelling) playing only Frank Zappa covers. I think he was about 18 at that time, and even back then he was a ridiculously good drummer! We talked for a while after the gig and i was amazed over how nice a person he was! And since then we lived happily ever after...      

This is an archive based interview also intended for the fans you get well after both you and I have passed away so let's go straight to your albums. Please give us your views/some words on your albums, starting with.......

The Simon Lonesome Combat Ensemble from 1993

VERY low-tech. And in many ways a very naive album since i was an absolutely begginer as a composer. Itīs also in a way much more pretentious than my newer stuff. But iīm very glad i did it because it opened a lot of doors for me. And it was a great learning experience!

The Zombie Hunter from 1995

This is in many ways my favorite album. I got an eight-channel A-dat recorder which i thought was very high tech! Imagine whole 8 channels! I llke the albums furiousity as well as its healthy amount of play-fulness. And itīs completely stuffed with themes and notes.

I still wasnīt really sure what i was doing (iīm not sure even today) but some of the songs are really good, i think! It can be a very good thing to NOT know so much...

Under Oknar from 1997

Obviously a collaboration with sten sandell. I have not listen to it for over 10 years, but i remember we had very fun while recording it. Some of the songs (mostly stenīs) i recall as very good, but the problem i think, was that we didnīt have a "direction" to follow. We just recorded a bunch of songs and pour them out on a bit of plastic... I remember during the time of making that album there was a lot talk of starting a "super-group" featuring sten and me, mats öberg, morgan ågren and the late lasse hollmer! Unfortunately that never happened (iīm not sure why because everybody involved were really up to it) probably for the lack of money/time as usual... I have had the privilege to play with lasse hollmer some years earlier, and he was absolutely brilliant both as a composer/musician as well as a person. He is sadly missed by all of us (and many, many more all over the world).

Led Circus from 1999

This is sort of my first "real" album. 16-channels, thousands of overdubs, really long songs and packed with brutality. It took a great deal of time (and effort) making it. On Led (as in Zombie) the "goal" sort of was QUANTITY rather than good old fashioned quality!

Even today iīm very fascinated of quantity. Yes, it can sometimes be a way to hide that your songs are nothing but crap... But to stuff a GOOD song with millions of small lines no one else ever notice or care about, never repeating a phrase exactly, to lead the themes to different places every time. Sort of striving towards a minimalistic maximum! Itīs not that easy! And sometimes the songs are very GOOD, i think! Check out the last 4-5 minutes on "Dwarf Suite"! Rock & Roll...?

Still i think the album is pretty pretentious and iīm not all too happy with it. And the sound-quality is rather poor. It didnīt even had a proper mastering... Unfortunately iīm not a very good sound-engineer. I really donīt understand why, since i have been working with this professionally for 20 years, one could think that one eventually will learn something... But not me. My hearing is perfect, I got good equipment these days and i really do like good sound.

I just canīt achieve it, i think. Things have improved a little bit since i began working with computers, but itīs far from what i would like to hear. I sometimes think that i should let someone else mix my recordings, but who should pay for that? I have never made any money from none of my albums, and i probably never will. Making albums canīt be nothing but my hobby! I still feel very lucky that other people actually want to release my albums, without i have to give THEM money! And for all wonderful musicians i have used and abused over the years without paying them at all!  Without them there would be no simon steensland albums!

The Phantom of the Theatre from 2002

This is sort of an album i regret! (Luckily almost no one has heard it...) Sure, some of the songs are really good i think, but the album is WAY too long, with WAY too many songs. I was a little carried away, and i was trying to "show the world" how very broad my repertoire was.

Look, i can make thousands of totally different songs! Maybe if you took away about some 30 minutes of it, it might be justified. But probably not... But still, the song YES for example, is no walk in the park... And the pure quantity of "the Opera"...

Fat Again from 2009

Finally, a computer in the house! I have to say this is my best album so far, even if i miss some of the raw power from Zombie or Led. Itīs a bit of too "polished" i think. But it got some good songs on it. The sad thing with this album is that it took almost 6 years to finalize. I want the music to be fresh, not old and dusty. But i couldnīt find the time to make it any faster. Most of the songs are composed in 2002-3 so they donīt feel very fresh to my ears. Since the last 20 years or so iīve been working full time as a composer mostly writing for theatre plays. And since itīs not very good payed you are forced to take many jobs in order to pay the bills. And when youīre working 12 hour days composing, itīs pretty hard to find the energy to compose on your free-time.

Iīm very lucky to actually getting paid for writing and playing music and nothing else. But "career wise" for my albums itīs almost a disaster... In a perfect world, somebody gives me money to make albums! But that ainīt going to happen...

Iīm not very good at promoting myself, i donīt make the right phone-calls to the right people, i donīt write letters trying to tell people how good i am... And even if i did, thereīs no guarantee that things would be different. There just isnīt any money for music like mine.

If i had a manager, maybe i could go out on some tours if i got the band together, but still i probably wonīt make any money...    

Your live album Kamikaze United: Live Gang-Gang from 2004. How easy/difficult was it to get together a band for this gig ?

It was pretty hard, but for that special event i was for the first time in my life able to actually pay the musicians! Not much, but anyway! We rehearsed for about 3 or maybe 4 days and then played two concerts. As you clearly can hear from the result, we werenīt really ready to play the songs as a group! But hey, - letīs go down swinging! And to be honest itīs not a very good album i think, but i thought that this might never happen again and some of the stuff are quite good. So l gave it a shot...

The sound-quality really suffer from too many digital "converts". I think there was about 5 of them, due to computer and synchronization problems, and i think we even did the mistake to record it in 48khz. So i remember that everybody who heard it before it was released was very dissapointed over the sound-quality when it finally was released. The only good on the album, the raw power, sort of disappeared somewhere on the road...My pre-master sounds way better!

And actually, we did the same thing again the next year (rehearsing for 3-4 days and played two concerts) and with much better result! Some of the songs from that gig is featured on "fat again" (in studio versions). So in a "perfect world" THAT should have been the live album!

How is the availability of your albums ?

I donīt really know, but not that good. The first and second and maybe third is deleted or out of print. Maybe there are some copies left of led circus. The phantom and live gang-gang i still have hundreds of copies left in my basement!No one distributes them. Wanna have some? Five for the price of one... [email protected]

For those of us unfamiliar with your music; how would you describe you music and which bands would you compare yourself with ?

My music is very good, thankīs for asking. Iīm not very keen on comparing myself with others. Itīs not fair against either me or "the others".

Of course iīve been listening to, and being inspired by much music over the years. Itīs impossible not to mention "univers zero" and "magma". I also love albert marqceur, art bears, yes and king crimson. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band and the Sparks. I growed up with the Beatles.

I listened a lot to Frank Zappa. Mats & Morgan Band is both musical heroes and great friends. The swedish rock band Meshuggah is one of the best bands ever! And iīve been listening very much to modern "classical"music. The still very young brittish composer thomas adés is frightening good i think. But my big hero has to be Charles Ives! He, just like me, was doing EVERYTHING in his own way, by his own terms and principles. He was very well educated in music but still followed his heart and composed music that nobody would like to hear or play.

And much of this music is absolutely mind-blowing. So beautiful, complex and force-ful. So honest and sincere. On the other hand, iīm very different to him in the matter of education. I have no education what so ever, and that is something iīm very happy for! I love the "learning by doing" strategy! Still, that prevents me from being especially all round or a good session musician. Iīm fine with that. The important thing for me is that i can play the songs iīm writing. And the songs i want to play. Itīs very important for me to do my own mistakes. I donīt want to know about music theory.

There are so many rules to follow, so many things you should know. I want to carve out my own jigsaw puzzle. I donīt want to play with the pre-carved pieces. Iīm sort of a snob with this in a silly way. Obviously musical education can be something very good for many people. But itīs not just for me. There is no way in the world that i would have sounded the way i do, if i were "properly" trained and educated! And i get all my gigs for the way that i sound! I sound different from most other musicians, and that is my strength.

All my quality (if i have one) lies in the fact that i do things my own way.    

There has been some long gaps between the albums. What have you been up do inbetween the album releases ?

Haha, composing music for theatre plays that no one wants to see!

How is your creative processes from coming up with an idea to it's being recorded ?

Itīs almost never the same. But the longer youīve been in "the game" the faster, or rather more effective you can work i think. Itīs easier to hear which ideas are good and which is not... Unfortunately the passion you once had is more and more neglected when you work as much as i do. At least for me.... Itīs much harder to burn when composing is ALL that you do. But still i can write good songs i think...

What is your current status and what is your plans for the rest of this year and next year ?

For the moment iīm playing in a musical that i wrote the music for. Judas.

Next big project is composing music for 14 pianos to be played exclusively by actors! Itīs scheduled to have premiere in march 2012. For some reasons i donīt really know of, i have lately been writing a lot of music for people who "canīt play". And almost every time it has been VERY gratifying! I wrote for 10 actors doing a 4 hour mastodont-play at a big theatre here in stockholm. They had very limited, or no musical knowledge at all and they ended up becoming a monster of a band! Absolute terrifying (in a good way). The way i look at it you donīt have to be "able to play", to still play and perform fantastic music! Itīs a big responsibility though for the composer to adopt to each individuals way of expressing them selfs in a language they really donīt know. So you have to sort of create a new language that works both for me, them and the PURPOSE!

And iīm also working on my next album (A Farewell to Brains) which is supposed to be released on AltrOck in 2013. Iīm not sure if i can keep that schedule, but iīm really trying to! About half of the material is ready to record... Itīs my best stuff yet (i hope). Maybe itīs not going to be as dense as Led, i might be too old for that... But i promise: Iīm still taking the hard way up the mountain!  

To wrap up this interview, is there anything you want to add to this interview ?

Check out my cover on magmaīs "malaria" on the album HUR! Hommage a la musique de Christian Vander! Good stuff!

Thank you very much for showing interest in my works! 

Thank you to Simon for this interview

His PA profile is here & his homepage is here

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Mellotron Storm View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 11 2011 at 16:05
He's way too modest but that's never a bad thing i suppose.I have Led Circus and Fat Again and love them both.A very talented and humerous man.
"The wind is slowly tearing her apart"

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 11 2011 at 17:00
I've got most of his stuff now (I'll probably never find a copy of Simon Lonesome... but I'll hopefully be acquring Zombie Hunter very soon!), Fat Again is by far my favorite. I really don't know of anything that sounds quite like his stuff, and he's composed some really great tracks. And Live GangGang is better than he makes it out to be! (Although it was a pain for me to find - I could only find one copy and I paid $30 for it. I wish I'd known about his special offer then! )
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 12 2011 at 19:40

Good interview! He makes a fun read. Glad to hear there should be more from him in the near-ish future.

Maybe I should give Phantom a try if he's offering that deal. Tongue

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Warning: Listening to jazz excessively can cause a laxative effect.
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 12 2011 at 19:57
Originally posted by Mellotron Storm Mellotron Storm wrote:

He's way too modest
yep, he deserves props for his wonderful music.
I can sympathize with his comment about not knowing which people to call and how to promote oneself (in my field, this is what Networking was "invented" for).
So we do our little contribution in the form of reviews and spreading the word about his music, to help promote his wonderful music.

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Direct Link To This Post Posted: November 14 2011 at 10:22
Thanks for kind response! Yes, i can sell "phantom" and "gang-gang" for 5€ each + postage.  If someone wants them to be signed by the artist, fine by me... But "gang.gang" is wrapped in plastic so in that case i have to open it.  I must warn you though: my hand-writing is pretty ugly... you can reach me here or at [email protected]
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