Legacy: 
 AV talks with Stefan Strand aka Between Interval

 

Stefan Strand

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Since the age of 14, Swedish composer Stefan Strand has been experimenting with and creating electronic sounds. Initially inspired by video game soundtracks and the German techno scene, it wasn’t long before he was discovering the more expansive soundscapes of artists like Jean Michel Jarre, Robert Rich, Aphex Twin and Pink Floyd. 

In 2003 he created Radio Silence, his first ambient album, and self-released it under the name Between Interval. He knew then that he had found a vast genre that he would come to explore for many years. 

Strand wants his music to be a rewarding and immersive experience for the listener. “I try to create atmospheres and moods with my music. I wouldn’t call it minimalistic, but instead of giving away too much in terms of melodies I aim to incorporate subtle and implicit changes.” 

Since it’s initial release, Radio Silence has been remastered and released on the Spotted Peccary label along with four other releases, Secret Observatory, Autumn Continent, The Edge of a Fairytale and Legacy.

AV:  I know you did (still do?) music for the club scene in the early 2000’s but when was it that you first exposed to ambient or space music and how did that alter your trajectory in terms of your music career?

SS: My first introduction to something even remotely close to ambient music was probably through some of the tracks on “The Wall” and “Wish you were here” albums by Pink Floyd, as a little kid in the 80’s. It most likely laid the foundation for my musical taste to come. You’re right that when I started out composing and producing music on my own back in late 1996, I was going in another direction, entirely focused on club music – just about anything with a 4/4 bassdrum, techno and goa/psy trance in particular, would do the trick. Back in high school around 1999 or 2000, I realized there was a whole genre devoted to beatless atmospheric stuff. The one album that caught my attention first was Aphex Twin’s “Selected Ambient Works vol. 2” – a complete album full of these worlds of dreamy sounds was something new to me and I immediately got hooked. From there, I listened to Steve Roach’s “Dreamtime Return” and a few darker albums by Current 93 and I realized that - hey, this kind of music is able to evoke all kinds of feelings. It can be deep and mysterious, relaxing and comforting, wondrous and uplifting or just plain dark and eerie. It took me another couple of years until I tried to compose some ambient music myself. In 2002 or 2003 I started working on what would become my first ambient album, Radio Silence. When it was done, I guess I kind of felt “at home” in the ambient genre, resulting in the club music side of things growing a lot smaller for me. On my latest album though, “Legacy”, I slipped in some elements of dub techno – a wink from my past - and it’s not unlikely that I’ll keep revisiting those kind of sounds in the future since I still really like it.

 

AV:  What is it about ambient/space music that attracts musicians to it? It doesn’t always seem like it is the cool thing to do or the route to monetary success so it always makes me wonder what attracts and holds musicians in these genres of music.

SS:  The most straightforward answer to this, for me anyway, would probably be that we simply love this kind of music, no matter how little it pays off in terms of money. There’s a sense of wonder attached to ambient and space music that I haven’t been able to find in any other genre. There’s something timeless and primal about it, reaching me at a deeper level than any catchy pop or rock tune has ever done. This kind of music is also quite often featured as soundtracks for movies and video games, so it’s actually not as small and niche as it would seem at first glance. Moreover, this genre attracts many synthesizer enthusiasts, people that really like tweaking machinery and devices making new experimental sounds and noises.

AV:  Were there any ambient musicians out there that you listened to that helped you to really understand what you wanted to do with your own music?

SS:  There are the ones that got me into ambient music in the first place – Aphex Twin and Steve Roach as mentioned earlier. I’d also like to mention Kenji Kawai’s soundtrack to the Ghost in the Shell anime from 1995 – the pictures, music and atmosphere in that movie had a huge impact on me as a teenager and has stayed with me ever since. I re-watch it every now and then and it’s still inspiring. Throughout the years
I’ve discovered so many talented ambient musicians, far too many to mention here. It might be worth stating though, that Between Interval was never intended to be a pure ambient project at first. It was more of an initiative to try new and experimental things with sounds and breaking free from the restraints of club music. That path led me to ambient music.

AV:  How do you feel about the internet, digital delivery of music and music streaming in regards to the music industry in general and your music in particular?

 

SS:  I can’t deny how cool and amazing I think it is to have access to millions of tracks and music through various streaming services at the tip of my finger. Legal streaming services outcompeting music piracy and illegal downloading is a huge step in the right direction. However it comes at a cost – besides the fact that they generate quite little in terms of royalties for the artists, there’s also some kind of mental devaluation of music when
there’s so much available and so much to choose from. At times I have found myself frantically clicking around searching for “the perfect track for this moment”, spending more time searching for music than actually listening to it. At other times I just give up and listen to some auto generated playlist instead. Both these behaviours are pretty new to me, I’m not sure I like it and a good dose of self discipline is needed to discover new music – in particular the kind of tracks and albums that don’t seem very special at first but grow with each listen. They tend to be the best and most timeless ones. I think there’s also a risk that more musicians and labels will be tempted to focus on making shorter catchy standalone single tracks – musical fast food - in order to make it into the popular playlists and toplists to generate more plays. Concept albums and thematic albums, where each track is part of something bigger, might gradually fall into oblivion. This is not a new thing though, and I’m pretty sure there will be enough music enthusiasts left to counteract it.

AV:  Has your day job given you a better understanding of how to market your music, create your own web space and use social media to gain exposure for your music?

SS:  It’s been mutually beneficial I think. I was making my own web sites promoting my music long before I got my current day job as a web developer. In fact, for me music and the internet has always gone hand in hand. When I started out making music in the late 90’s I immediately realized that getting my own web site was vital to spreading the music to listeners around the world. So I made my own first site in 1997. Bringing that experience to my day job has been useful indeed. However, spending so much time in front of a computer at work, has somewhat made me neglect my personal web sites and at the moment they are not as up to date as I’d wish for. When it comes to social media, I do use it but with a healthy dose of skepticism. I don’t post things too often because I don’t want to appear “spammy”. Also, when posting to my followers on Facebook for instance, each post usually only reaches about 10 – 20% of the total number of followers. Unless I pay for it to make it a “promoted” post, which is of course what they want me to do. And a promoted post by default appears a lot more spammy. So that kind of takes the edge off it, I think, and makes it less useful than it could be.

AV:  Your new album came out earlier this year and it is called Legacy. What prompted you to call this new album Legacy?

SS:  I knew quite early on that I wanted a short and powerful album title this time. It’s a consciously ambiguous and multifaceted title. I have a couple of different themes and scenarios going on in my head regarding what this album is about and all of them involves some kind of journey both on a personal level but also on a larger plane considering humanity and the universe and such... but I’d say it’s up to the listeners to make up their own journeys when listening to the music and processing the titles and artwork.

AV:  Tell me about the Between Interval saga and how this latest release is chapter 5 in the ongoing story and what all of these chapters represent to you as one long story you are telling.

SS:  What all my albums have in common, is a vision or a theme of a place or a location in my mind, which I compose a soundtrack for. My albums are intended to act as vehicles taking you away from everyday life, spurring imagination and taking you somewhere else for a moment.

It all started with “Radio Silence”, my first album originally self-released as a download and on black CD-R in 2004, remastered and re-released on Spotted Peccary Music a few years later. I had this clear dystopic vision when composing Radio Silence, trying to create the soundtrack to an imaginary desolate future world where advanced technology has failed and humanity is forced to start over. The world after the apocalypse, perhaps.

Radio Silence was followed by “Secret Observatory”, probably my most true “space music” so far. Secret Observatory is my take on what it would be like if we had telescopes able to pick up not only visions but sounds of distant alien worlds. What kind of mysterious sounds would we be able to hear?

About one year after Secret Observatory was released, “Autumn Continent” emerged. These two albums were composed quite close to each other, at a time when I was really aligned with the creative flow that tend to come and go. Autumn Continent is about that time of the year when the days grow shorter, the colors are changing, the air is crisp and time somehow seems to slow down. It also takes you down below the frozen surface exploring the submerged and hidden spaces deep down in the ocean.

The next chapter in the Between Interval saga is told in “The Edge of a Fairytale”, my take on mythological characters and places, old stories, myths and lost worlds. It was composed in a time when I found it quite amusing to read about various conspiracy theories and “alternative” history stuff, like Atlantis, Agartha, planet Nibiru and similar. So I made a quite dark and mysterious album with this theme and all these “what if?”-thoughts going on in my head.

That brings us to the latest chapter, “Legacy”. A journey that in a way, with it’s electronic cyber ambient, rhythmic and melodic elements, connects back to Radio Silence. It has a similar dystopic vibe, a desolate sci-fi adventure taking place somewhere in the vastness of the universe.

AV:  What do you like about composing music and are there any things in your life that you draw on for the inspiration for the music you write?

SS:  I like to create something from scratch that is completely mine, generated out of my mind and which I am in complete control of. I realize I might sound like a control freak saying this, and maybe it’s one of the reasons why I have made so few collaborations with other artists. I guess I’m a bit of an introvert – I do a lot of thinking but I’m not always that good at expressing myself in words. Music is a fantastic way to be able to express myself in a non verbal fashion. This also means that releasing new music to the public is like putting a piece of my innermost nature out there, which is both fantastic and scary at the same time! Anything can be my inspiration – other music of course, soundtracks, the sound of a distant train or an airplane, birds singing and wind howling, a thought provoking book or even rumours on the internet about lost and hidden worlds... anything!

AV:  What made you decide to release Legacy on a limited edition vinyl? Do you still see vinyl as being an important aspect of the music industry going forward and was it difficult to edit down your album to the time constraints of the vinyl disc?

SS:  Putting Legacy out on vinyl is something special – not only does this album break eight years of silence, it also marks my 20 years as a musician and is a milestone for me in that sense. It’s the first vinyl release ever for the label, Spotted Peccary Music, so I’m really glad and thankful to them for making this possible. It was not a straightforward and obvious decision though - there’s a cost involved on a whole other level compared to CD and digital only releases, which of course needed careful consideration. From my point of view I really hope that it sells enough for SPM to at least break even and recover their expenses, so that we may see more vinyl releases in the future from other artists as well. Then there are other aspects, like vinyl needing special mastering, test pressings etc, and like you mentioned there are physical limitations in the format that forced me to edit down the album to a shorter length. I guess the expression “kill your darlings” sums it up pretty well. I edited out one full length track as well as the short outro piece. Moreover I had to shorten two tracks slightly in order to fit everything into 22 minutes per side. All in all it was a new but pretty enjoyable experience for me even though it was difficult. I’m really happy with how it turned out and I’d like to consider the vinyl version a condensed and more focused version of the Legacy album. It also comes with a download code for the extended digital version so listeners getting the vinyl won’t miss out on any music. I don’t see the vinyl format as vital to the music industry, but it does add a really nice physical touch in contrast to the digital world of today, and it symbolizes a little bit of extra work, effort, love and devotion going into a project which I think both artists and listeners appreciate.

AV:  How did you hook up with Spotted Peccary records and how instrumental were they in getting your music out here in the U.S.? Do you work closely with them in regards to the mastering process or the marketing work that has to be done?

SS:  I had a friend of mine listen to a demo of Secret Observatory and he said something like “hey, I know a record label releasing stuff similar to this”, referring to Spotted Peccary Music. So I listened to some of the music they had released back then, particularly “Sleeping on the Edge of the World” by David Helpling and “The Storm” by Michael Stearns and I thought I’d be in really good company releasing my music with them. So I sent a demo CD-R, it must have been back in 2004 or so, and after some time I got a really nice and positive reply that set everything in motion. The mastering part is taken care of by Howard Givens so I’m not too involved in that, except for the final part when Howard sends me his work for approval. I’ve always been very happy with the outcome of it. When it comes to marketing they have their channels of communication and I have mine, so I guess we help each other out in reaching a broader audience. All in all I deeply respect Spotted Peccary Music – never have they asked me to change or edit any of my music (except when it comes to the physical limitations of the vinyl format) which has kept my artistic integrity 100% intact.

AV:  It was great talking to you Stefan. I do wish you a lot of success doing exactly what it is that makes you a happy person. We've enjoyed your musical efforts here at Ambient Visions and hope to hear more of your sonic explorations in the coming years.