The Mountain Lake:  
AV Talks with Johan Agebjorn

 

Johan Agebjorn

Visit Johan's website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mountain Lake

Mossebo

Cassablanca Nights

AV:  Do you remember when it was that you first started to take an interest in electronic music? Who were some of the first artists that you listened to and what was it about their music that caught your attention? 

JA:  I think it started when a classmate of mine gave me a mixtape with italo disco (a style of 80s disco coming from Italy) when I was 10 years old. Until then I had mostly listened to Swedish mainstream pop like Europe and Roxette. There was something about electronic sounds that grabbed me, a clearness of the sounds. A few years later I discovered ambient music (Biosphere, Future Sound of London, Aphex Twin) through specialty shows on the radio and MTV Europe's Chill Out Zone. I spent all my pocket money on buying CDs from these artists and Pet Shop Boys, The KLF, Moby, Kraftwerk etc. 

AV:  When did you start composing music of your own and what style of music did you choose to begin with? Why? 

JA:  I have some tapes from when I was a child, playing the piano and singing my own songs. My mum noticed that I tried to imitate the English language before I was taught English in school. So I tried to make pop songs, but when I was maybe 15-16 years old I turned to more instrumental forms of electronic music, techno and ambient, reflecting the music I was listening to at the time. By then I also bought myself my first music computer (an Atari) and a sampler. For a long time I only made instrumental music because it gave me bigger possibilities to be experimental. I more and more turned to rhythmic electronic ambient music as my main genre. But since 2006 I've been making pop music again (very much in the 80s disco style) since I love it as well.

AV:  Did you have to make an investment in equipment and software to get things rolling? What were some of the essential pieces of equipment and software that you had to have to begin to create and record your music?

JA:  Yes, that was why it took until I was 27 years old before I started to release my music. When I was 19, my Atari died, and before that I had already felt that my set-up was too limited (Atari + sampler + Yamaha keyboard). Since I was a poor student, I stopped making music until 2003 (when I was 25), when I realized that the processing power of home computers had increased so much that you could record to hard disk, add effects, and even use software synthesizers in the computer. So in 2004 I bought my Macintosh G4 "Jürgen" which I still use to make music on. I rely on a lot of samples, especially waveforms sampled from old tapes, to create an analog, slightly swaying sound of a lot of instruments.

For example I recorded the high-frequency sound of Aphex Twin's "Ventolin" to tape, sampled it, and transposed it down a few octaves, which created a warm pad sound. I mainly use Reason but I think 60-70% of the sounds are samples.

AV:  How easy is it for musicians such as yourself to do all of their recording at home these days with computer based digital equipment and software? 

JA:  Quite easy, I'd say. The difficult part is to find a way to use the software in a way that nobody else does!

AV:  Did you always intend to release your music for sale when you first started to record? Was that your goal?

JA:  Yes, since I was a teenager a goal was to release one proper album on a proper label.

AV:  Tell me about your interest in ambient music and what you like about it.

JA:  I like the feeling of being surrounded by a magical landscape, or soundscape. I like the experimentation it allows and that you can use all kinds of sounds (trains, computer game samples, whatever) and transform them if you want. You can make tracks which are one minute long or fifteen minutes long. It's a kind of freedom that you don't have in pop music.

AV:  Has the inclusion of your music on several compilation albums helped you to gain recognition as a composer?

JA:  It's difficult to know! When tracks are posted on blogs or other kinds of online stuff, it's quite common that I get some kind of feedback from listeners. That hardly ever happens with compilation albums, but maybe it's just because the step from listening to something online and posting a shout to a Facebook page or something is probably pretty small.

AV:  Has your study of psychology changed the way that you approach your musical compositions? If so in what ways?

JA:  I think it has helped me understand what I'm expressing with my music, which is still difficult to put words to. I think that I'm thinking a bit differently now about what music means to people and why people have so diverse tastes in music. This is very abstract, and I don't have any simple answers, I'm just thinking about it a lot, how music can almost be some kind of therapy, a way to cope with feelings.

AV:  Why did you create Husmus Media? Has your little label been able to do what  you had hoped it would do when you started it?

JA:  Yes, my goal was just to get some of my music down to a physical format, to a form that will last a bit longer than the unpleasant (in my opinion) format of mp3 files. I never sent any of the releases to reviewers, I just wanted it available for myself and for the closest circle of listeners (which weren't many in 2006), but I plan to re-release my piano album one day now when I'm a bit more established.

AV:  How did you first connect with Lotuspike/Spotted Peccary music and why did you decide to release your music in the U.S. through them?

JA:  My friend Stefan Strand (a.k.a. Between Interval) recommended me to send a demo to Lotuspike, since he thought my music would fit there. He was signed to Spotted Peccary, but at the time, Lotuspike wasn't connected to that label. Lotuspike showed interest in it and I thought why not. Then Lotuspike became sort-of a sublabel of Spotted Peccary and so I and Stefan became label mates.

AV:  Tell me about your latest album The Mountain Lake and what kind of music listeners can expect from it.

JA:  "The Mountain Lake" is a collection of mostly instrumental electronic ambient music from the last five years or so. Apart from ambient, there are musical influences from Detroit electro, 80s disco and a bit of Tibetan Buddhist music.

AV:  How does The Mountain Lake compare to your other release Mossebo from 2008? Similar? New direction?

JA:  I'd say they are quite similar, but on Mossebo, half of the tracks featured Lisa Barra on vocals, whereas she only sings on one track on The Mountain Lake, which is more instrumental on the whole. But some of the tracks on The Mountain Lake are older than some of the tracks on Mossebo, so I wouldn't speak of a new direction, I'd rather view the two releases as two chapters of the same story - hence the artwork is also very similar.

Ben Cox from Lotuspike Records has this to say about Joahn:

Our connection with Johan originates from his friend Stefan Strand, who is perhaps better known as Between Interval (on the Spotted Peccary "Wanderings" imprint). Stefan introduced us to Johan, who sent us a demo that led to the release of his solo ambient debut Mossebo. On Mossebo we worked with Johan to select songs from his original recordings; I mastered the release, and Jeff and Daniel did the package artwork. For The Mountain Lake, Johan selected the tracks and again I mastered and Daniel did the artwork. 

As to the material on The Mountain Lake, the music is a blend of ambience and rhythmic electronics. Not a pure "drift/float" ambient style, as it incorporates some more overtly electronic tones and grooves, but definitely not a dance record either (though Johan is no stranger to that scene, as you can clearly tell by the tendencies here and from his discography elsewhere, both solo and with Sally Shapiro). There are several collaborations and guest artists (including a remix from Steve Moore) on The Mountain Lake as well. 

And of course, beyond the material itself, we also really enjoy working with Johan, who is a total pro in his approach to the music and all aspects of the process.

AV:  You also work in a style of music that is labeled as "neo-italo disco. Tell me about what kind of music this is and why is it that you enjoy working in this genre.

JA:  Well since italo disco was the first style of music I had a deep, long-lived appreciation for, and a nerdy interest in, there's a lot of nostalgia involved with working in the genre. I'd say I'm on the whole a very nostalgic person, not just when it comes to music. Italo disco also can be a lot of good things at the same time: danceable, poppy, melancholic, atmospheric. I think my ambient music and my disco music have the melancholic and the atmospheric vibes in common.

AV:  How did you and Sally Shapiro start working together?

JA:  She was a close friend of mine and after a while - actually not until after a few years - we discovered that we had the same appreciation for 80s disco music. I also discovered that she had a very italo disco-sounding voice. So when I had written the italo disco track "I'll Be By Your Side" I asked her to sing on it. She did, and the result was so good that we made a whole album...and then a second one.

AV:  Is it difficult for you to go back and forth between ambient music and disco music when you are composing? Tell me about the elements that are shared between these two styles and how they cross over between each other when you are composing music. 

JA:  I almost always know from the beginning if something is going to be a disco track or an ambient track, since the disco music I make has a very traditional pop structure, whereas the ambient music is more experimental and slow moving. Like I said they have the melancholic harmonies and a lot of reverb in common though. In the beginning I felt that it was important to keep the two projects separated from each other, but during the last few years I've let them pollinate each other sometimes. For example my remix of Glass Candy's "The Chameleon" (included on The Mountain Lake) which is an ambient-ish remix of a disco track, or "Take Me Home", or "The Stones Are Blasted" (also on The Mountain Lake), which I later reworked into a track called "Casablanca Nights" included on my latest disco album.

AV:  When you are working with Sally Shapiro are you strictly the composer? What other roles do you play when working on a Sally Shapiro project release?  

JA:  I'm the composer and producer, sometimes together with other people. Sometimes I also sing backing vocals. Then I take care of all contacts with record labels, designers and so on because Sally is quite uninterested in all that.

AV:  Do you enjoy doing remixes of existing songs? When you do a remix of a song what are you trying to accomplish with the remixed version of the song?  

JA:  I usually think it's more interesting to compose than to remix, but a few times a year I can get inspired by some track and get some idea for how I could make it sound different. I try to bring out the beauty of the song while applying my own way of producing.  

AV:  Do you enjoy wearing the producer hat when it comes to the work you do with Sally Shapiro? What is it that you are responsible for when you are the producer of a project instead of just the composer?  

JA:  I certainly enjoy producing more than singing...but lately I've started to feel that what I really enjoy is composing. So I'm nowadays often working together with other producers (for example Lovelock and Le Prix) and focusing on the composition part. In the end I usually get a lot of ideas related to the production anyway.  

AV:  What are some of your inspirations for the music that appears on The Mountain Lake? Describe the process you go through to take the inspirations that you get about where an album is headed and then make them happen in your music as you compose it and record it. 

JA:  It can be so different. "The Stones Are Blasted" started with a chord sequence and a melody in my head. "Zero Gravitation" started by playing around with a string sound. "Swimming Through The Blue Lagoon" started with waking up in the middle of the night with a memory of a combination of tones. "Take Me Home" started with a vocal sample that I built up the whole track around. After I have an idea to start with, I work with the composition and production at the same time until it's finished.

AV:  Do you see the Internet as a help for musicians to get their music out to not only local audiences but worldwide audiences as well? In what ways has it taken your music further than it would have gotten without the Internet?  

JA:  It's difficult to imagine getting the music "out there" without the Internet today. For the Sally Shapiro project, MP3 blogs were crucial to create an interest and getting us signed to record labels. But non-commercial subgenres of music also existed before the Internet, so maybe it would have found its way anyway.  

AV:  Any thoughts as to where your music is headed next or what you'd like to experiment with in terms of styles?  

JA:  I'm already working on a few new ambient and disco tracks, but another thing I would like to do is to experiment more with involving the piano. I had a period when I composed for the piano a lot - the tracks included on the piano album on Husmus Media - and I would like to combine that with what I've been doing the latest years and see where it takes me. 

AV:  What is it that you would like to pass along to your daughter Siri in terms of what music has meant to you and what it might mean to her in the future? 

JA:  I just want her to experience the joy in music and sounds. We sing songs together and play the piano, sometimes we play around with the sampler. (That's good for me too, because I need more of a playful approach to music sometimes.) But I don't want to put expectations on her to put a lot of effort in it. We don't come from families where everyone is a musician. If she would later rather play soccer or something then that's fine with me.  

AV:  Any final thoughts you'd like to share with the readers of AV about your music or some of your personal philosophies that have shaped how you approach music and life in general? 

JA:  That's a good question. I guess for both life in general and making music I think: Allow yourself to be influenced by others, because a lot
of people have come up with a lot of incredibly smart things, but don't accept anything without reflecting and putting truths into question.

AV:  Well Johan I do thank you for taking the time to talk to me and share some of your thoughts with my readers here at Ambient Visions. I hope that you are successful in all the things you'd like to do and try and that your music will be around for a long time.