For North Americans who have grown up in a climate of social decline, beleaguered by the persistent attempts of unscrupulous politicians and their corporate backers to sell off society for profit, Sweden sounds less like a progressive, arts-supportive country on a distant continent than it does a super-intelligent nation on another planet altogether – and, considering the wealth of prodigious musical talent it produces, one wonders if its citizens aren’t in fact imbued with extraterrestrial knowledge and abilities. Classic hard rock act Horisont certainly makes a case for it with their new album released today, Odyssey – a loosely conceptual work of prog/rock fusion that depicts a 70s-styled sci-fi epic of humanity’s journey across the stars, and the mysterious alien race that pulls its strings from the shadows. With an arsenal of great songwriting, Horisont launches riff after rocking riff with precision and, rather than wearing ironic smirks in the darkness, they deliver their opus with brilliant grins and genuine enthusiasm for their chosen genre.
Drummer Pontus Jordan sits at the center of Horisont’s time-space continuum, holding court over the infinte beat and occasionally granting we mere mortals an audience with his unassuming excellency to discuss his homeworld – er, country – of Sweden, the creative process behind the new album, and the universal language of rhythm:
FWM: In terms of lifestyle, is music more of a regular thing for everyone, given that music education is free and children grow up playing instruments?
PJ: It most certainly isn’t. If you have an interest in music in Sweden it’s quite easy to get involved. Basically every school, every after-school activity have instruments and people show you how to get started and since the weather here is not outdoors weather more than a few months a year, I don’t know if we said it from the beginning but another Swedish musician, you can either choose between getting a “real job”, being good at sports, or making good music in Sweden. I think it was the singer from Opeth, but that’s not entirely true, it’s exaggerated, but it’s quite a good starting point. If you want to play instruments you have nothing holding you back, there are instruments and rehearsal spaces all over Sweden when you grow up so it’s just you get some friends together and start playing.
FWM: How does that fit with the general quality of life in Sweden, it seems that if everyone is supporting cultural activities and the arts and that’s just part of their experience growing up, then does that translate into a more supportive music scene?
PJ: Yeah, when we were growing up and starting bands, getting a gig wasn’t that hard at all, you just went down to your local school dance or whathaveyou and they had all the gear there, you’d play covers or your own stuff or whatever, it wasn’t hard to get those kinds of non-paying gigs, but to get on a touring circuit it’s more tricky since you have to be 18 and you have to know some people to get gigs and whathaveyou but to get started, to get acquainted with playing in front of a crowd is quite an easy task here I guess.
FWM: It sounds like there is a greater emphasis on live music in general if you’re exposed to it through school regularly; it seems more in North America if the school has the budget for a band then great, and if they have a music program that’s fantastic – but not everybody does. So, would you say that the Swedish are more exposed to metal and rock growing up and culturally than one might expect to find in other countries?
PJ: I’m not sure actually, I haven’t grown up in any other country than Sweden. I know that Sweden, Finland, and Germany are big metal countries I guess, or hard rock, but I think it has to do with the fact that – I blame it or I thank – the weather a lot, because if we were living in let’s say California, there are a thousand other things I’d be doing than spending my afternoons in the rehearsal space with my friends, playing drums! But since it’s raining or snowing or ice on the streets here in the winter or autumn time you’d rather be in a cosy rehearsal space making music I guess.
FWM: So there’s an environmental factor that comes into play.
PJ: A big one, I would say.
FWM: In terms of climate change for northern countries, that’s got to offer a promise of a little bit of relief, if it’s going to be warmer in winter, how do you feel about that?
PJ: That part hasn’t affected us, no. We did do a small European tour during July this year and there was a record heat wave over Germany and actually crowd attendance went down because it was about 40 degrees Celsius – I don’t know the Fahrenheit scale on that –
FWM: It’s okay, we use Celsius in Canada.
PJ: – and it was really hot, in the club; all of the venues weren’t prepared for it, so onstage it must have been 60 degrees Celsius and the audience basically as much, so people were dropping off and going out just to get some air; I guess touring in a state like Nevada would be really painful in the summertime.
FWM: Yes, definitely. In terms of North American audiences, for their introduction to Horisont if they’re not familiar with you guys already, what should we know about this band?
PJ: I’d say we’re basically a classic hard rock band with a lot of twin guitars going on and we just added a Moog synthesizer for this record to fill in melodies and broaden the sound a bit –
FWM: – it’s very spacy.
PJ: Yeah, very or moderately spacy, and high-pitched vocals, a lot of things going on and a lot of playing going on, it’s quite intense music nowadays, it’s evolved into that. The first record is more whathaveyou standard classic blues retro rock and it’s evolved to this, not all through-and-through Can-inspired progressive stuff going on, without it being artsy-fartsy, just the best parts that we like.
FWM: That’s a good nutshell description, I think.
Drummers have sort of a special relationship with music, in that the sound for percussion is a lot more universal – it’s less subject to the differences in tone that you might see with a guitar or bass where you can play with distortion and various other effects – so percussion becomes more of a universal in music. Does that affect your perception, in terms of the role that you play compared to someone who is playing one of those other instruments?
PJ: No, since I’m a drummer I think there’s a huge difference between different drum sounds, and some drum sounds I can’t stand and some I love, and that’s maybe just because I am a drummer and I pay attention to these things. I can understand if the general music-listening population can’t hear a difference between a different snare drum or whatever but for me it plays a big part of why or when I don’t like a band.
FWM: If you were to compare it to language, then drumming is sort of the lingua franca, it’s the language that everybody can understand because the beat, the rhythm –
PJ: Yeah, the beat and the rhythm, but there is also a big, huge difference in how you deliver that beat or rhythm: you get your Keith Moon drummer, who’s all over the place and the tempo goes up and down and you don’t know what’s up and back and forth, and you have your Ian Paice from Deep Purple, who’s more methodic and classically schooled and that puts a different kind of aspect to the music that each band is playing. But I understand that drums are there – it’s a rhythm instrument – and it’s basically there for you to have a pulse to the music, but if you pay attention you’ll hear a world of difference.
FWM: Yeah, there’s definite nuances. Would you think of it as each drummer has his own language, or are they sharing a commonality and each one has a different regional dialect or accent?
PJ: I mean a 4/4 beat is always a 4/4 beat, but you can play it stressed or you can play it sloppy or you can play it like a machine or you can play it with different ghost notes, or whathaveyou, and if you really listen to it, every drummer has got their own language but it’s universal in that way a beat is always a beat, you just colour it how you play it, so yeah, drums are probably the most easy thing to understand and groove along with, I think.
FWM: For soundcheck, it’s always drums first; that says something about the priority.
PJ: Yeah, a standing joke in our band is everybody is allowed to fuck up live and no one will notice but if I make a mistake, people actually notice. Because something is off with the beat. Even though we are not lead instruments, a lot of pressure is on you to deliver the beats – because people, they notice when something is wrong. If you mess up on guitar you can just wing it.
FWM: When you’re playing the opening song on Odyssey – that’s 10 minutes of drumming! – that’s got to be a huge amount of pressure when you know you have that song up next, how do you get through it?
PJ: That one was probably the most tricky one to get on tape, I guess because it’s so many different parts and you can’t really cut in the drum take so you have to do everything in one take I think it took maybe three or four takes to get the drums done so that’s one hour of playing only for that song. And then you have to listen through it, “Did I make any mistakes? Is this good enough? Am I happy with this one?” I had a sheet in front of me with all the different elements of the song, just to remember where I was in the song, basically.
FWM: It’s very involved! Now, you were talking about keeping the beat and how people notice when there isn’t one, how do you react to forms of music that don’t have that, do you find yourself starting to drum, to fill in for the fact that there aren’t any drums, for instance if we were talking about ambient music?
PJ: I think I have a bad habit of always drumming on my knees, so whenever I hear music around then I’m just fiddling around, it’s a really bad habit a lot of people have told me to stop, but I think it’s more or less brain damage or something.
FWM: Actually there was a study recently that said drummers’ brains are different, because of the work that’s involved in keeping time and coordinating all of the different things that you have to do to make that happen.
PJ: Yeah, you have to disconnect all four limbs from each other to make certain beats, so I mean it’s not the easiest instrument to master, but I guess everybody can clap a rhythm if they’re not totally musicless. When we play in Horisont, which is basically the only band I can compare with, I listen to the bass and vocals mainly, I don’t listen that much to the guitars. I need or we need for the bass and drums to be as tight as possible, and then we try to follow what Axel is doing with his vocals so I think that those three elements are the most important for me to hear completely and to make the band “swing”, I guess. And I see the guitars as more of a colouring thing.
FWM: When you’re performing onstage, monitors are always an issue for guitarists and bassists, how does that fit for drummers though, as you said you need to be able to hear what’s going on around you; we don’t often see drummers onstage asking for less or more…
PJ: I always ask for everything as loud as possible, except my own drums, because I hear them good enough as they are, I’m a quite hard-hitting drummer, but mainly I want to hear the bass and the vocals as loud as I can get it, and if I can get some guitar in there too that’s awesome, but if not I’m fine with that.
FWM: With the lyrical focus of Odyssey being sort of a conceptual sci-fi, humanity’s voyage in space and these shadowy aliens and their influence, just in general where would you say musicians fit with modern sci-fi?
PJ: Modern sci-fi, not that much. This album started out as your typical Horisont album, we wrote a couple of songs that we thought sounded good and then we started to write the main track “Odyssey”, and as it evolved, so did the lyrics and I guess when the lyrics were starting to get done for that one we all thought maybe we should do something more than just have one 10-minute track that’s quite spacy sci-fi, maybe we should do an entire record that more or less intertwined with each other, so we had a guy from Gothenburg [Henrik Jacobsen] here to, we told him we want a cover that looks sort of like classic 70s sci-fi poster and he came up with the cover that we used and we thought that fit perfectly with the song “Odyssey”, and after that we started to write lyrics to match the main song and I guess every song except two or three has something to do with each other so that’s basically how we got that done.
FWM: It’s interesting how it came together, I’m always interested in the creative process.
PJ: Yeah, “Odyssey” started as a joke on a tour last November, I think it was Tom who just said, it would be fun to write a 10-minute song and we said, yeah, actually it would be quite fun because we had a lot of riffs just laying around, and one day I think it was Axel came up with the lead part for the synth and we started jamming on that and someone said, remember this riff or remember that riff, and we started just welding everything together and without us knowing we had almost 10 minutes 30 seconds of music in one song – and the joke became real.
FWM: Just threw it all in there, and there it was.
PJ: Yeah I think it had the working title, “the backpack song”, because we always put riffs we don’t use in our backpack so to speak, so it was something that we just tossed together.
FWM: And for you, approaching the rhythmic aspect of it, did you do anything different because of the themes that you were working with, did you want to be changing things at all?
PJ: Yeah, we had a lot of parts where we all play the same melodies and percussive rhythms and I had some ideas to make them sound interesting, or as I thought sounded interesting, it’s a lot of basic drumming actually, but it’s just more. I had three albums to do whatever I wanted, I mean I always do, but for this one the guys said let’s just go all out, play as much solos and drum fills as we can, to make this a fun song to play and vocally interesting for the audience.
FWM: Listening to the whole album, there are certain songs that draw you in and certain songs that just feel like filler but that doesn’t seem to happen with this album, you’re consistently paying attention through the whole thing.
PJ: That was the main thing with this album, we sat down and said let’s take our time with this, let’s not have anyone tell us to produce anything or get something done at a specific time: I think when we entered the studio we had over 15 songs to choose from. We actually threw away three or four of them just because we thought they weren’t good enough. So we took our time and we took over a month doing the vocals and the harmonies just to make this one as good as we can possibly do.
FWM: It sounds great, it definitely shows the effort that went into it. Did you have anything that you wanted to add, in terms of things that drummers don’t usually get to talk about in interviews, is there one thing that no one ever thinks to mention but should?
PJ: No, on the contrary, the most famous rock-and-rollers of our time is actually drummers. They’re the funniest and most spectacular characters, like you have Keith Moon, and you have John Bonham, Ginger Baker – those three alone could take on any lead guitarist they want and kick their asses I guess. I don’t know, listen to more drums and play more drums, and get better at drums.
FWM: Actually that’s a good question for any drummers who might be reading the interview, is there anyone that you consider a seminal influence, someone that everyone should study that person’s drumming?
PJ: Yeah, for me it’s always been Ian Paice from Deep Purple, I consider him to be one of the most perfected drummers in rock terms, I don’t know what else he can do but in regards of timing and swing and technique, playing the right stuff at the right places, he is, in my book, the all-time best so if you’re into rock and roll drumming you should definitely check out Deep Purple and Ian Paice and the stuff he does, because I’m never going to be that good and few people are, he’s number one for me.
FWM: When are you guys touring in North America?
PJ: Hopefully as soon as possible. We haven’t got the chance or the opportunity or the request; we had some half-requests, but it’s quite a journey to come over there and do a do-it-yourself tour, it’s an investment in time and money, but our goal, and the reason why we started this band, was touring, and now we’ve toured Europe, up and down, a lot of times, and obviously we want to come over to North America very soon to play for you guys because it’s been like a childhood dream, I guess all European bands dream of coming to America.
FWM: Which is funny, because I think all North American bands dream about going to Europe.
PJ: Yeah, that’s the case, you always want what you don’t have and for us playing America is like something almost religious because you dream of going down certain highways and playing certain cities that’s meant a lot, for us, in our musical careers, you know cities like Detroit, which produced so many good musicians, and New York, and L.A., and whathaveyou, so for us yeah, we want to get over there as soon as possible.