CITIZEN K
III
(Paraply Records)

 

Near the end of 2009, I had the rare chance to discover a brilliant album by an artist called Citizen K—essentially the work and vision of singer-songwriter, guitarist and general multi-instrumentalist Klas Qvist. And so once again making a strong musical connection courtesy the country of Sweden, that first Citizen K album that signalled the end of the decade, Somewhere Up North made a big impact on my musical and personal identity at that time. When one thinks of Sweden, I personally look back and remember the first of the original progressive rock bands of the 1970s like Bo Hansson with guitarist Kenny Håkannson, Zamla and Peter Bryngelsson’s band Ragnarök to name some of the originals. Although huge in Sweden, pop music sung in English has always taken a back seat in a world dominated by American and British pop giants, the rare exception being ABBA of course. Yet, in coming up with that 2009 breakthru album, Somewhere Up North set Citizen K out on a most unique musical journey, a journey that was, after years of waiting, finally brought to fruition with the long awaited follow up that in 2017 of a double CD called Second Thoughts. Less than a year later, now in early 2018 Citizen K has released a third album, simply called III (as in the Roman numeral 3). As the album credits indicate, Klas performs all the guitars, keys, bass, percussion, lead and backing vocals with key assistance from III co-producer Andreas Holmstedt, who adds in programming and drums on a track along with some effective sound effects on a range of tracks here. Also on hand is Citizen K drumming ace Kim Gunneriusson, Gudmundur Bragason (orchestral arrangements), along with several other contributors. The photography and a&r work of Peter Holmstedt (founder of Swedish music information website Hemifrån) is always excellent as is the album cover painting by his gifted wife Petra Holmstedt.

In the following interview, Klas spoke via email, as they normally do, with mwe3.com founder Robert Silverstein. Lucky for the readers of this interview, in light of of the unique nature of III, as it turned out, the interview goes well into fair detail about the various III album tracks. Most noticable in the upbeat musical vibe on this album is the fondness Klas writes about his muse Annika Larsen, the artist in her own right that Klas sometimes performs with as Larsen-Qvist. The interview also interestingly notes that as a follow up Klas is planning to finally release archival music with an early collaborator to which he adds, “Next thing I’ll do is to release two albums that Gudmundur Bragason and I recorded together in the early 1990s as Agony Street. We didn’t release them back then, simply because there was no label, let alone budget, behind us, so it all just ended there. Now, when you can put anything you want out on ITunes or Spotify or a CD, we simply decided it was the right thing to do.” Even if you discount the fact that Klas was born blind and is blind still, and even more you consider that he has turned out to be among the most informed pop statesmen in Sweden today and, then that his electric guitar work is on par with some of the best players in rock today; consider still that as a collection of indelible pop melodies and timeless rock arrangements, III is a breathtaking music classic of the highest magnitude. www.paraplyrecords.se

 





mwe3.com presents an interview with
CITIZEN K


mwe3
: Your new CD, III opens with an instrumental called “Welcome Abroad”. Does the track serve as an overture of sorts?

Citizen K: Yes it does. I have a soft spot for beginnings like this one.

mwe3: Also the backing vocals on III are excellent. Who are you featuring on backing vocals on the III CD?

Citizen K: The backing vocals are all mine on III except for one track. Andreas Thulin came in and sang some harmonies on “Ocean’s Call”. He also played the Waldhorn (French horn) on “Canceled Flight”.

mwe3: You say that III is more upbeat and even a kind of Fleetwood Mac “Rumours” era influenced say compared with the more free flowing, spatial nature of your 2017 double album Second Thoughts. So is “True Companions” a good example of your upbeat vibe of III? Of course the McCartney influence is pretty clear too. Would you say Citizen A had a strong influence on your music especially post Somewhere Up North?

Citizen K: Yes, I wanted to make something more ‘70s-sounding this time. I think it can be heard especially on “True Companions” where I tried to pay musical homage to both Andrew Gold and Hall & Oates in particular.

Citizen A has had a profound influence on this record as well as on both Somewhere Up North and Second Thoughts. I wasn’t able to write love songs like these before Annika came into my life. You can definitely say she contributed to the upbeat vibe.

mwe3: Is “Let This Be Love” autobiographical? Is this a kind of modern example of “The Things We Do For Love”? You say 10cc is another influence on III, but the chorus I hear myself say… is very McCartney influenced. Again the backing vocals are great on this track as are the backward guitar loops.

Citizen K: Thanks! Yes, it’s totally autobiographical. I tried to describe what I felt while I was falling in love. The song came much later, though, a decade or so into our relationship. A kind of modern example of “The Things We Do For Love”? Don’t know really. Haven’t studied the lyrics that close, but I’ve always liked the song. Maybe so...

mwe3: The “Toolmaker’s Daughter” is an interesting track with an interesting title and more harmony strewn vocals. You speak of God in this track. What’s your opinion of God as God puts some interesting people, places and things together. Are you a religious person? Is this another track dedicated to Citizen A? What’s the meaning of the Tool Maker in the title? Another amazing guitar based song. How did you layer the guitars in this track? It’s heavy but in this case the heaviness works in favor of the song.

Citizen K: Long story short: In my teens, I was heavily into Christianity. I haven’t practiced organized religion since then, but I think the experiences left permanent marks, positive and negative. I don’t think I stopped believing in God from one day to another. It’s more like putting my faith in the icebox.

The tool-maker in the song is Annika’s father, though I’m not sure he had a formal education with a certificate if ever there is one. His dad was a professional tool maker in America and later in Norway. This was sometime before World War II, but to sing “the tool makers granddaughter” wouldn’t work, even though it may be more truthful.

I added all sorts of guitars on this one; 6-string, 12-string, various rhythm guitars, acoustic and electric. It’s actually one of the first songs Andreas and I worked on in the studio. It came out surprisingly funky. I like that actually. Kim Gunneriusson, the drummer on virtually everything I record, did an incredible job on this one too. I’m also very proud of the passage where I manage to sneak in pieces of both “Hey Joe” (The Hendrix arrangement) and “Hush” (the Deep Purple version) at the same time. Yes, it’s written for Citizen A.

mwe3: “Ocean’s Call” has some interesting metaphors in that the ocean represents a kind of danger. The undertow, drowning and raging sea are some of the comparisons, in this case to love. The 10cc / Bee Gees influence is apparent again. Interesting how the piano takes over at the end with a kind of Renaissance type vibe.

Citizen K: Even this one has a lot to do with Citizen A. She grew up on Sweden’s West Coast. Her parents and siblings still live there and she goes to visit them regularly. I think it began with me saying, sighing actually, “It’s the ocean’s call again” at one point when I knew she was going there for a week. It’s a joke, but semiserious.

I heard the sound of John McVie and Mick Fleetwood in my head as I wrote the song. I actually think that helped me finish the song too, the pure fun of writing the song that Fleetwood Mac never recorded. (lol) But you’re right about the other influences and metaphors too.

mwe3: “Canceled Flight” is a real tear-jerker of a track that falls right in the middle of the album. Did you want to create a kind of soliloquy type track after after the stormy sea of “Ocean’s Call”? The feeling of relinquishing a relationship has never been better expressed. Is this track autobiographical or were you writing for a friend or in third person? Elton fans would love the piano-centric style.

Citizen K: Wow! That’s a compliment! I wasn’t thinking of anyone particular when I wrote the lyrics to this one. I’d had the melody in my head for quite a while, actually playing it every time I sat at the piano. This went on for more than a year. Then one night at home, I simply thought: “Alright, I won’t stop ‘til I’ve come up with a complete set of words to this one, so what to do?” I simply sat down, closed my eyes and visualized. It’s nothing I usually do, but this time it worked. I imagined two people in a tiny room, one of whom, the ‘I’ in the song, did the talking.

Fifteen to twenty minutes later I, was able to write down the lyrics. With only one or two minor adjustments, what you hear is what I imagined when I sat in the dark. Yes, you’re right about cooling it down after an intense set of songs. This one is like the last track on Side 1 for me. If we ever do a vinyl version of III, Side 1 will end with “Canceled Flight”

mwe3: “How Are You Going To Handle It” is a bit of sweet relief after the intensity of the two previous tracks. Proves that being alone can be rewarding. At least you keep your sense of humor. I love the Bee Gees break after the Lennon-ish middle break. Back on your feet and with the knowledge that things could have been so much worse.

Citizen K: Well, it describes what has happened to me a couple of times when I’m just about to wake up. It’s almost like an astral experience, a light version of “locked-in syndrome”. You simply can’t move, talk or scream for that matter, and even though it lasts for a split second, it can be the worst split second in your life. That’s what the song is about. But I added some stuff to it to make it sound more like a story. We overdubbed some weird things, the radio noise being one, turning it into, I guess, a 10cc-ish track. I’m very proud of this one.

mwe3: How did you decide to combine “Radio Classic” with the subtitle “No More Songs About Jetplanes Please”? Were you thinking of a specific song or person when you wrote this track? Is the key line ‘what goes up must come down”? Like a hit record ? The track is filled with music business double entredres. The guitar break is brilliant too with the auto tune type voice box conclusion and your spoken word part...

Citizen K: I was listening to BBC Radio 2 one morning when the Peter, Paul & Mary version of the John Denver song “Leaving On A Jetplane” came on. I thought then and there that this was the worst piece of music ever, and instead of throwing my coffee, or tea or whatever it was, into the kitchen wall, I thought: “OK, I’m gonna write an anti to it one day”, and so I did. I decided to concentrate on the person who’s being rejected or abandoned rather than the high-flying singer-songwriter type. Then, much later actually, having written “What goes up must come down”, I thought of what happened to John Denver, that it may not be the best move in the world to include that in the song, but what the heck.

mwe3: Is “Once You Had” about growing up or facing reality? It’s a sad track but you were able to cloak the sentiment with a ray of hope. I like the Hank Marvin inspired guitar break in the middle. Are those guitar lines played in octaves? I really like the way you pair guitar leads played with harmonies. How do you compose guitar solos in songs?

Citizen K: “Once You Had” is actually one of the last songs I wrote for III, quite a while after we went to work on the album. I think it was at Annika’s one night when a melody and a couple of chords came almost simultaneously. The lyric was written just after I’d heard about someone, could be someone I knew vaguely or something I heard on the radio, who had reunited with his high school sweetheart after many years, and I thought it was beautiful. It’s never too late. That’s what the song is about.

The Hank Marvin-like part of the solo is just me playing solo, no octaves or anything, just some echo. Don’t know exactly what I imagined, actually. Could be that I wanted to add some country flavor without playing a pedal steel. My solos are always pretty much arranged when it’s time to record them. I’m not that good at improvising. It just makes me nervous. (lol)

mwe3: So is “Piano In The Rain” is the centerpiece of III, would you say? Love the thunder at the crack of the track. Is there a metaphor between an abandoned piano and an abandoned person, pet or soul and another metaphor for not only a piano but also a musical style or tradition fighting for posterity? The guitars came crashing in the end. Perfect, never to be forgotten…

Citizen K: You’re absolutely right about the metaphors, but I didn’t think that much about it while I was writing the song. But the line: “We played it quite often, at least once everyday” could very easily be a metaphor for making love. I’ve also heard about people simply dumping their pianos somewhere outside, after realizing there just was no space for it and that they wouldn’t get enough money for it. I’ve always found that disgusting. And what does one think having just done it?

“Piano In The Rain” was recorded only days after it was written. I think you can still hear it. Gudmundur Bragason, an old friend of mine who came in towards the end of the recordings to co-produce a little, suggested we added the sound of a thunderstorm to the track and so we did.

mwe3: So I had to check to see if “Beasts Of England” wasn’t my itunes flipping to a Richard Thompson era Fairport Convention instrumental track! Why did you call it “Beasts Of England” and it also has some additional motifs from your other songs like “Piano”… Are you thinking or knowing that music lovers will one day recognize your gifts as a pop instrumental composer? Nice mellotron flutes sound too…

Citizen K: I needed an "inbetweener", so I took a couple of themes and hooks from all over the record. “Beasts Of England” was the first thing that came to my mind, simply because I thought the song had something very English to it. I got it from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm”. “Beasts Of England” is the name of the song the animals sing in order to work up some fighting spirit among themselves.

I love short instrumentals, you know. They are very important too, because they give the listeners some time to breathe or time to do whatever they want to in the middle of all the info coming their way. Maybe I should consider making an album or an EP of just instrumentals. Is that a good idea?

mwe3: “And You Danced All Night” is another centerpiece track on the III album. Were you able to attend a Beach Boys concert ever? I don’t know if they played Sweden in recent years. You seemed to putting all the cooperative components together. Love songs, the surf, chicks, Maharishi, and more. So why close it with California, goodbye?

Citizen K: The Beach Boys were here in 2012 while on their reunion tour, only months before Mike Love decided he needed the stage for himself. Or something in that style… Annika and I were there, just as the song says, and she danced for two and a half straight hours, and that made me love her even more. There’s a photo of us in the III booklet, taken during the concert. Around the same time as I was writing and recording “You Danced All Night”, I was listening to a very good podcast run by Karina Longworth called You Must Remember This, basically the history of Hollywood. Heard of it? In the podcast, there was a series on Charles Manson. I think “California Goodbye” was my way of saying: “Yeah, I know about the dark stuff too… Manson, Altamont, Anton Lavey, not to mention all the strange things that went on in the ‘70s, stuff that The Eagles mentioned on the Hotel California song and album”. There’s a California girl living here in Borås and her views on her old home state seem a lot more apocalyptic than your average Beach Boys song.

mwe3: “After The Fact” is subtitled “Encore”. Brilliant coming after “And You Danced All Night” so after the SoCal sunshine it’s back to the timeless Euro beat or the culmination of a great album?

Citizen K: It’s my way of saying to Annika: “You and only you will have the encore”. “After The Fact” was actually the first song we recorded for III. The guitars, the organ and the bass you hear are the very first things we did, almost as if to see if this works at all.

It was my first day at PGA Studios. I still hadn’t finished Second Thoughts, so it was actually a bit strange: “Should I do this at all? Maybe I should wait a while” etc.

mwe3: So what’s next Klas? Can you let us in on future games and plans you might have this year? So by my recollection, you’ve made three brilliant Citizen K albums in the last 9 years. I think there’s no stopping the greatness you’re bringing to pop-rock fans and instrumental fans.

Citizen K: I don’t know actually. Next thing I’ll do is to release two albums that Gudmundur Bragason and I recorded together in the early 1990s as Agony Street. We didn’t release them back then, simply because there was no label, let alone budget, behind us, so it all just ended there. Now, when you can put anything you want out on i-tunes or Spotify or a CD, we simply decided it was the right thing to do. And it’s great since we’re making music together again after more than two decades of nothing. So there might even be a third Agony Street album coming out.

Don’t know what will happen to Citizen K, though. I’ve written a couple of new songs, but I think they might end up on an album I’m planning to record as Larsen-Qvist. It’s Annika and I. We’ve played some gigs together recently for which both she and I have written some songs, mixing them with rare covers of The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones, YES and The Incredible String Band to mention a few. If III takes off beyond expectations, then I might do another Citizen K album. Who knows...

 

Photos courtesy of Peter Holmstedt at Hemifrån



 

 
   
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