CITIZEN K
Second Thoughts
(Paraply Records)

 

In my liner notes for the 2017 Citizen K double CD release, Second Thoughts I mention it in the same breath as the famous Beatles 1968 double album, known as "The White Album". Okay, you’re thinking that’s pretty far-fetched but, it has been nearly 50 years since 1968 and you might be in the market for a fresh option by now. Seriously, Citizen K, also known in Sweden as Klas Qvist, gives Sir Paul a run for his money on Second Thoughts. A couple of singles came out prior to the release but that in no way gives the full picture behind Second Thoughts. It has taken a while since the Citizen K breakthrough album, Meet Citizen K in late 2009. Several EP titles followed but, lo and behold, released on CD and DL in early 2017, the 23 track double CD set Second Thoughts is well worth the wait. Refining his position as Sweden’s premier pop maven, Citizen K’s songs and voice are in prime form throughout Second Thoughts. The lyrics are excellent but they’re not printed in the booklet so you’ll have to search online. Despite downplaying his guitar chops, Citizen K’s freboard skills are also proven impeccable as ever and he also adds in all the keyboards. A number of musicians fill in the spaces, including long time CK drummer Kim Gunneriusson and the CD sounds quite well produced for an independent album. Try to find the double CD version as it’s pressed on black vinyl on CD and is incredible with good artwork and liner notes. Fans of Sir Paul, Zombie Colin Blunstone and even Al Stewart will enjoy the Citizen K approach to blending folk and rock into a most appealing progressive sonic wavelength. www.paraplyrecords.se

 






mwe3.com presents a new interview with
CITIZEN K. (aka: Klas Qvist)



mwe3: I can’t believe it’s been 8 years since your 2009 album, Somewhere Up North came out. Who knows where the time goes? How have you and your partner Citizen A been? Are you nearly into spring in Sweden? Here it’s 95 degrees every day for the next six months.

Citizen K: We've been just fine. The weather this spring has been a bit unpredictable, four seasons in one day as Neil and Tim Finn would have put it. Don't know how to translate fahrenheit to celsius and back, but a couple of days ago, the temperature in East Sweden rose to 30 degrees celsius which is unusually hot for May. The last couple of days have been more like October. Did you ever experience the autumn in Sweden? It can be beautiful.

mwe3: The title track, “King Of Second Thoughts”… is that one of the early songs from the album way back in 2011? 2012? So when was “Mind Expander” written? I know you said there were delays in making the double and you even wanted to quit the album at some point? I’m glad that Paraply Records finally put it out and they did a great job and as Peter said they used my liner notes. The 2 CD is pressed as two black CDs which gives it a pretty dramatic effect.

Citizen K: Yeah, and I think the black discs might have caused some trouble too. Some old CD players didn't get it, or some copies might have been badly pressed. "King Of Second Thoughts" is a relatively new song. I wrote it in 2011 and put out the EP the following year, a major mistake in hindsight.

There are some songs on the album that I wrote in the late 1980s and throughout the ‘90s. This project actually started when I went through some old tapes that were either recorded at home or at a friend's 8-track studio while I was still living in Stockholm. The idea was to record proper versions of the songs, just to hear what they would sound like. Initially, I didn't have that many new songs for the project. They came later in the process, almost like punches, fast and hard. (lol) Recording began almost immediately after the release of Somewhere Up North, late 2009. I just couldn't wait. “Mind Expander” is an early one. I wrote it in 2002. Recording of the track went on for ages, somewhere between 2009 and 2016. (lol)

Yes, you're right. I actually considered not releasing the album more than once. I guess it had something to do with the time it took and the stops in-between. At one point, we didn't work for a year. But Paraply always stood behind me and they were never to blame for any delays.

mwe3: I was happy to see you mention the much beloved plant Cannabis Sativa in “Mind Expander”. We have such problems here with the swing to the right. Thanks to Obama, some US states have actually legalized it the way people voted it, legal and available, but in others they’re still arresting Americans. I thought Sweden was supposed to this great liberal bastion! (lol) And you told me people are scared to use it for fear of exposure and government penalty. Floridians are just now in the midst of fighting hard for their cannabis rights.

Citizen K: Well, Fear of getting busted, fear of having to register as drug addicts in order to avoid jail sentences, and through registering contribute to the "taylor-made" statistics, fear of being stigmatized. I put it down to a great deal of misinformation among politicians, and their tendency to rely on the above mentioned statistics.

The governments, left, right, up or down, have kept a rather harsh stance from the 1980s and onward, when even the usage was criminalized. But there are quite a few of us smoking it rather than drinking or taking tranquilizers, which are more accepted ways of getting “high” in modern society, in Sweden and elsewhere.

The younger generation don’t seem to care if they have to piss in a bottle every now and then, or so it seems anyway. That was the fear among my age group, you know, someone turning up at school or at work, asking you to pull down your pants and deliver some evidence that you've been smoking it recently. Maybe it was the good old paranoia, maybe not. (lol) The reference to marijuana in the song was more like the psychedelic version of any Scottish folk tune containing the word whisky at least once per song. (lol)

mwe3: Do you have any favorites from Second Thoughts? I’ve seen some favorable album reviews and people who get it seem to get it. I guess your press person is trying to get a write up in Rolling Stone or have they written about you yet? One guy quoted my liner notes comparing it to the White Album. It’s the White Album of progressive pop!

Citizen K: Good comment! No Rolling Stone yet. I think some critics, at least the one in the local paper, were a bit hung up, maybe even irritated, on my obsession with the White Album. To me, it's natural. I've been listening to it almost every day since the mid-seventies. But when a critic sees your influences in a press release, he tends to make fun of you. Same thing last time around when there was this hoax in the press release that Citizen K was the bastard son of several rock legends. It wasn't even my idea to put that in. I was the last to know, and some critics either believed it, which is my theory, or just saw the opportunity to chop a little. (lol)

My favorites vary from day to day. I like "In Holland" because it has a passage that works as a musical tribute to Steve Reich. I like "Our Town". Actually, I'm pretty much into the simpler ones right now. I wanted to make a record that had that 'larger than life' ingredient, because that's what I thought of The White Album for instance, and other albums of the era.

We never set out to do a '60s or ‘70s-sounding record, though. Then we would've had to use eight or maybe sixteen tracks and bounce the whole thing back and forth, because that's how they did it and it effected the sound. Here we simply added tracks until we fell unconscious. (lol) But I didn't want it to sound retro. The idea was to make a fairly contemporary album with the chord changes and arrangements of a ‘60s or ‘70s album. Nobody seems to want to do that anymore.

mwe3: It took me a while to appreciate “Song Of Adjustment” (lol) because I thought it was a punk rock song! But it really captures youthful angst. Did the screaming affect your voice or will you never play it live! (lol)

Citizen K: It's all about youthful angst, you know that sense of not wanting to be where you are etc. I guess I wanted to sneak some discomfort into the coziness, like McCartney when he put "Helter Skelter" on the white one. At some point, actually a while before we started recording the double set, I wanted to make a raw album. "Song Of Adjustment" was the only successful attempt. I lost interest in the whole idea very quickly. The screaming definitely affected my voice for some time, actually to the point where I got worried I might have wrecked it for good. We canceled the rest of the session after that one. (lol) I'd probably end up in the hospital if I tried to make it a concert staple!

mwe3: Peter Holmstedt told me you were blind since birth, but I was always hoping, as I tend to do in my perpetual denial of reality, that you would have had some limited vision as I know you are sight impaired. Great songwriters have been blind right? How did/does your blindness interact with your pop sensibility? Would I be off base to say, being blind can in some artists actually improve the mental acuity and purity of their song and its purpose? I think people might have an even greater affinity for your songs as you over came the odds and got even.

Citizen K: And Terry Gibbs, the lady who sang "Somebody's Knockin'", remember her? I think she was blind too. I have no idea how the blindness effected my pop sensibility. I think that's a question only those who've had one foot in each world can answer. The only thing I can say about it is that my options in my most formative years, childhood and youth that is, were limited. For me, there was no biking, no football, but I actually learned the skateboard and the roller-skates, believe it or not. But the only time I didn't need to worry about whether or not I'd be approved by others, was when I played, alone or in groups. I felt kind of safe and I still think it's that way to some extent. To me, music was always a safety zone.

And people's affinity? I hope affinity is a result of the music being what it is and not so much for the guy behind it and his struggles, you know? Music kind of got the most of me at a very early age and I'd be stupid not to hang on in there. And it has saved my life a number of times.

mwe3: What are the procedures in Sweden for someone with vision impairment to use online resources including emails? Are they coming up with new technologies in that area? I think I remember in Stockholm they have sounds that help people cross the streets.

Citizen K: That's right. There are ticking crossings, but not always. Crossing the street can sometimes be an adventure, but that's what the stick is for, the white one, you know, to signal roadblocks etc. and to tell others that a blind person is trying to navigate through heavy traffic. Everyday life has become easier in some ways and more difficult in others.

I have a feeling that Sweden, at least for periods of time, might be at the forefront when it comes to developing technologies that make it easier for me and others to handle computers as well as dealing with everyday life… sometimes the two intertwine, but as soon as I say that, I might offend a couple of very adventurous visionaries in America and elsewhere.

mwe3: The title track has a great chorus "If I were you, I’d find somebody new"... What was the direct inspiration for the song “King Of Second Thoughts”?

Citizen K: Thank you! I wanted to make my Jimmy Webb meets The Association and The Left Banke song. I've been listening like mad to Birthday, The Association album of 1968 and I think it must have affected my writing at the time.

mwe3: “Empty Chair” is another classic song. You were speaking on your Facebook page about all the great artists who were recently and are current dying. Was there one who pushed it over the edge? Bowie? Squire? Emerson? Chris Cornell? It is stark, is there any Swedishness in that song? ABBA could do it justice.

Citizen K
: Thanks… It's about my dad. He passed away in 1993 and the song came a couple of years later without a warning. I guess the song was my great moment of sorrow. I couldn't deal with the loss in any other way. I was completely stone-faced at the funeral, to tell you the truth. The reaction came later. Yeah, it has some Swedish, maybe Nordic starkness to it. I'm a huge Abba fan.

It was written and recorded years before the most recent-mass-check-outs among artists, beginning with Bowie… It all just reminds you that you're reaching a point in time when anything can happen quite suddenly to either: your friends, your next of kin, your favorite singer or yourself.

mwe3: What brought on “In Holland”? I did go there once in July 1979. It was very flat with lots of canals in Amsterdam and short rain bursts. Is that song autobiographical? Did the Beach Boys album Holland have an influence? Did you like that album? I know you’re a big Dennis Wilson fan and did a great version of his song “Barbara” a few years back. Were you influenced by bands from Holland like Kayak and Earth and Fire?

Citizen K: July 1979? My parents and my brother went there in August the same year. I didn't go with them, actually. No, it's not autobiographical. But I've dreamed about Holland a number of times as the song says. I love the Beach Boys’ album. I think you can still hear it in the song. The record worked as a soundtrack to how I imagined Holland when I was a kid, but I guess it was more California than anything else, (lol) "The California Saga" and all that. I've heard some of Kayak's albums, but it never quite stuck, actually. But I think I might have one Kayak album somewhere in my record collection. Don't think I've ever heard Earth And Fire.

mwe3: “Wasps And Cars” is very Brian Wilson-esque in my humble opinion (IMHO). Does it speak about society’s ills, even more so in 2017. Does it also blend in some prog rock styles? Backwards vocal tracks too? Lol Then it becomes Quicksilver before… you go Gregorian on us by way of revisiting the Cannabis problems (in drinks, crowded bars). You like to present snapshots of real life in pop metaphors?

Citizen K: I guess so, yeah. Very strange tune, isn't it? I really don't understand it myself. But I wanted it to sound like one of my dreams, the one where anything can happen anytime, the one where somebody replies: "well, it's not exactly 5/4" when you ask what time it is etc. I used to have tunes of those dreams when I was younger. I regret I didn't write them down. (lol) Society's ills sneak into the lyrics, because you become more and more aware of them as you get older. I also like the chaos factor in a song: You can't exactly say what's happening, but when the song is over, you have experienced something. That's what I wanted to achieve here.

mwe3: Why are the instrumentals so short, the one following “Wasps” is called “Dutch Coffee”, is great… Are you an underrated guitarist in fact? Sounds like you are further developing the guitar sound that was so great on Somewhere Up North” . “Dutch Coffee”? I’ll take some more of that.

Citizen K: Don't know. It just happened. I simply didn't want the instrumentals to be that long. “Dutch Coffee” is an existing name for half hot chocolate and half coffee, I think. But if you go to a coffee shop in Amsterdam, it might mean something totally different. I just needed a title and that one just came up. Well, I think we didn't take enough time to work on the guitar sounds and the riffs on Up North. I'd like to think I'm underrated, but I'm also a slow guitarist. Very slow. This is the top of my ability, I tell you.

mwe3: “So This Is Life (I Didn’t Know)” is a central track right? Is that like Psych Rock (as in psychological, as opposed to Psych-edelic). Lol But you reference The Beach Boys in the song, another West Coast reference with its Association-like Bachrach-ism. Is that fair? No way I’m getting around it… lol One of my favorite end times song is Pekka Pohjola’s song “No Way Out”. I was the first one to put that song on a CD in 1987. Also the ending of “This Is Life” sounds like a Swedish prog interlude ala Bo Hansson!

Citizen K: The new meaning of psyche-rock is hereby official! I'm all for it. It might be a central track of sorts, yeah. But I never thought of it as a single or anything. We just fooled around at the end, trying to make it sound like a smokey jazz club downstairs, you know. I actually considered adding some fake beatnik poetry to that section, but it never happened. Haven't heard that much of Bo Hansson's music actually, only a couple of tracks from his take on Lord Of The Rings. Same thing with Pekka Pohjola. I was much more a pop head than a fusion or prog head in those days. My introduction to heavier music came through the early Pink Floyd albums, the Doors and then some of the other California bands.

mwe3: “When Birds Fly South” sounds like CSN&Y. Did you write it with them in mind? Sweden still glorifies that great American music culture of the 1960s and early 70s. Seems like the whole world stood still for us all, with the ending of the Vietnam war. It was beautiful I tell you.

Citizen K: "Birds Fly South" along with "Rest Your Head" is actually the oldest song on the album. In the late 1980s, I was very much into CSN&Y and I was also, I think, one of only a handful of people here in Sweden who knew of Dan Fogelberg and Seals & Crofts. Yes, you can say I wrote that one with CSN&Y in mind. But that song almost wrote itself.

mwe3: “Something Truly Magic” is folk rock or country music? McCartney-esque and also that Holland era Beach Boys. Do you younger ones think it’s funny that us 63 year olds all want to go back to late 1973 again! ’74 was better! Who’s playing harp on that one?

Citizen K: I wanna go back there too and I turned 50 last year. I play the harp. It's my musical tribute to John Sebastian. Lyrically, it's a tribute to Citizen A.

mwe3: But my real favorite on Second Thoughts is “Cheated”. Is that song about the music business? Tell us about the way you build your guitar figures on that song? Sounds like Lennon during Double Fantasy. Am I reading your mind? It also mentions the media fascination with all the destruction and also the lies of the Cannabis detractors. Tell us about your guitar solo in that song. Is it Clapton-esque? I remember the great guitar solos of the late ‘60s! That’s how old I am! Lol Capital steals fire at its apex…

Citizen K: The guitar solo is actually my friend Jens Ekelin. His contribution is the oldest on the record. As early as in 2003, Tobias Walka, my producer and bass player on this album, drummer Kim and I did a rough demo of the song. It was just after the US invasion of Iraq, and the second verse reflects my feelings at the time, that war is consumerism. The first verse could be about the cynical side of the music industry.

Anyway, Jens, who was in my band at the time, added this lead guitar to the song, and we simply forgot about it all for a number of years. Then one day, when it came time to pick songs for Second Thoughts, Tobias reminded me, simply by putting on the track in the studio. What you hear on the album is all re-recorded parts, but the solo of 2003 is mixed in, simply since we couldn't get Jens to either come to the studio or re-record the guitar solo at his home studio. Pure laziness, in other words. But we asked him if we could use the old solo first, of course. "If it works for you, it works for me", was his only answer to that one. I just wanted to make a highly melodic solo. Claptonesque? Yes, maybe or Gilmouresque.

Don't remember much about the other guitar parts on that song, other than I wanted it to sound thick, orchestral and chorus-like without using a chorus, just layers of overdubs. One part follows Walka's bass lines, another has that jingle-jangle quality to it. The only thing I can say about Double Fantasy is that it's part of a major trauma in my life, since I bought it only two days before Lennon got shot. But I understand your comparison and you may be right. I loved the guitar work between Lennon and Earl Slick on that album.

mwe3: “Rest Your Head” is another one of the songs that has a great guitar solo in it. The sentiment is pure love songs. (Not silly) right?

Citizen K: Spot on!

mwe3: “(This Is) Our Town” is about your town? At least there’s one place left to go… again some great guitar leads on that track.

Citizen K: Michael Carlson does the solo on that one. It was actually written and recorded for one of Peter Holmstedt's compilations, but we re-recorded some things on it and remixed it for the album. Yes, it's probably the only song I've written about my hometown, so far.

mwe3: Is your song “The Band In The Attic” a testament to bad apartment acoustics and the people upstairs who practice ballet? So the sleepless nights resulted in medical conditions with side effects leading seeking out a way to get rid of the curse! Another great guitar solo though, two of them in fact with the second one quite psychedelic. Do you write out your guitar solos and do you have a songbook yet?

Citizen K: That's how I would describe it anyway. My solos are always more or less worked out. I'm not a very improvisational guy on the guitar, not while the tape is rolling. I often hear a basic idea for a solo before studio time. No songbook yet, I'm afraid.

Don't know what that one is about, actually. It's more a case of the story handling me than the other way around. But you’re right about the testament thing. It's getting harder and harder to find a quiet spot. That might be the reason behind people losing it. The mind can only handle a certain amount of information at a time, and if you just keep adding more and more info… sights, sounds, sensations etc, you're in trouble. It's no surprise that people hit a wall.

mwe3: “Citizen K’s Dream” closes the double CD set. Was it a good dream?

Citizen K: It really was, unfortunately not one I had that many times. But I dreamed of flying, without airplanes or anything, a couple of times and those dreams were just magical. You just flew away from people who treated you like dirt at school, attacks from approaching swans, anything.

mwe3: “Citizen K’s Dream” sounds like a cross between Paul Simon and Ralph McTell. Does Citizen A play flutes on that song? It’s a great song to close out a great album, you should be proud of Second Thoughts and can’t wait to hear the new CDs only don’t keep us waiting six years if possible!

Citizen K: Yes, that's Annika playing the flutes. She added harmonies too. I love the reversed guitar at the end of it. You can almost smell the treetops there, right?

Half of the next album is mixed. The rest of the work on it is pretty much smooth sailing in the word's most positive sense. It won't even take a year till you have it…


Photos used by kind permission of: Jens Eliasson, Anders Engström, Peter Holmstedt, Per-Olof Svensson, Johan Valkonen and Tobias Walka.


 

 
   
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