Some musicians possess more than just charisma and talent. They’re mysterious to a level where they gain attention because people are curious. Some of them make people whisper about deals with the devil and conspiracy theories; some become legends grapping our attention and drawing us into their dark and hidden lives; and some are labeled mysterious because they’re not up for bantering or social media promotion.
There’s obviously a long and storied history to musical anonymity and mysteriousness, but in the current age of information overload, we as music consumers are so used to having access to a full personal profile of any public figure that a little mystery behind the music can be refreshing.
Gothenburg three-piece The Exorcist GBG and the mysterious characters with fictional names like Vesslan [the Weasel], Osynlige Mann [Invisible Man] and Tentakel [Tentacle], have earned themselves a reputation as being “unidentifiable” and “mysterious”. But it’s nothing like that, not at all.
When Vesslan, Osynlige Mann and Tentakel played Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg we brought them into our interview sofa and chat about their reputation, improvised music and intense live shows.
Mysterious? “We’re just not that much for bantering”
Welcome to Reeperbahn Festival. I know you played Roadburn both with The Exorcist and Uran earlier this year. How was that?
Tentakel: Yeah, we played the same day as Uran actually.
Osynlige Mann: Two gigs on the same day, at daytime with Exorcist and Uran in the evening. Uran was the last band to play and we were like paralyzed by how may that turned up for the show (laughs).
Osynlige Mann: To wrap up a metal festival with Uran which is a bit off the metal scene was something special, but it worked out amazingly good. It was something different; all of us had white clothes, and had all these bright white lights on stage.
Tentakel: Most people haven’t heard about us at all and there were all kinds of people there. It must been shocking to see all that, really fun for us.
Exorcist GBG have the roots in the mystical music movement led by Uran GBG and you’re often portrayed as characters with mysterious names like Vesslan, Osynlige Mann and Tentakel. Was it just a fun thing from the beginning that got its own life after a while?
Osynlige Mann: We just wanted to tour as a three-piece somewhere around seven years ago because in Uran we’re thirteen people and it wasn’t easy to get people together.
Tentakel: We usually rehearse just before gigs with Uran but never all of us at the same time, it’s quite many people to get together and usually it’s just a few of us.
Osynlige Mann: I think our first gig [as The Exorcist GBG] was in an industrial underground venue in Gothenburg, and if I remember right we just had one song, maybe two, but it was enough for an hour-long jam session. It was instant success (laughs).
Vesslan: Didn’t we play two songs, “Hero” and “Venus”? Many think it was our best gig ever.
Tentakel: And two songs was a one-hour show. Maybe we had our peak then?
Vesslan: About being mysterious; we’re actually not that much for bantering, actually we don’t say anything at all. I think that’s why people find us mysterious, we just play and don’t say a shit (laughs).
Tentakel: But it was unintentional although we haven’t tried to change that reputation either.
Music, and the whole industry, is very open today; you can find everything about anyone online. It’s more fun when there’s almost nothing to read about a band because people will beat one’s brains over it. There are loads of rumors about Uran and rarely anything is true.
Tentakel: As I said, this reputation of being a mysterious band is nothing we created, I would say it’s more about that we have done nothing to promote ourselves.
It seems like this whole underground movement has its roots in Uran GBG. Loads of bands have connections to Uran, just like The Exorcist, Tentakel and Fontän. Is Uran the power source for all these bands?
Osynlige Mann: Uran don’t really exist, it’s just an underground project that never fades away (laughs). People like Uran and continue to book us for gigs but it’s not that we meet and rehearse together that often, and never all together.
But all bands that are related to Uran, and the whole genre of music they represent, are on the same label, Höga Nord Rekords. What impact have Höga Nord had on popularizing this genre of music?
Osynlige Mann: They obviously made it popular enough to get listeners. The Uran record came out already in 2009 on a small Austrian label, we were already tired of it when it was released. Several years later Mattias at Höga Nord wanted to re-release it on vinyl – the first release was on CD – and that gained some attention and Uran became a bit popular. After that everything changed.
Tentakel: Höga Nord has put out lots of projects that never would get a chance to release records otherwise. I’m sure that no one would have heard of any of these bands without Mattias and Höga Nord.
Osynlige Mann: He has basically signed all Uran’s side projects including us.
Intense live shows: ”You can’t get that intensity on record”
It’s basically impossible to pin down what type of music The Exorcist do, it’s music that “didn’t exist” before Exorcist created it. To make it even more complex, many of their songs just exist in the moment it’s being created because it’s improvised.
As pioneered in the 1950s by musicians breaking the rules of jazz and composition, free improvisation is still as difficult as it ever was. There are people that hear it once and think “Never again!” and for many of the musicians, the process of making the music is as important as the results.
For The Exorcist improvisation is the key to everything they do. Above all, their music should be experienced live rather than on record.
It’s almost impossible to describe the music of The Exorcist GBG, everyone has their own label for it, but krautrock and funk are usually in there. How would you describe what you do?
Osynlige Mann: Already from the beginning we wanted to create something that didn’t already exist, music we were missing, and because there was a musical gap we had to fill it. But we never thought anyone would like it (laughs).
Vesslan: It’s just the music we want to listen to, that’s what we aim for.
But there’s quite a difference sound-wise between “I” and “II”. How would you say that you have evolved musically between albums?
Vesslan: We have developed as human beings over time, especially our techniques and knowledge about technology.
Tentakel: Exorcist are a band built on improvisation and we’ve always jammed a lot together. We used to play a lot at the underground club King George at home, and just improvised through most of the sets.
Osynlige Mann: We recorded eight hours of music to the album, just played it through and recorded it.
Our first album was DIY and we recorded it in some sort of industrial facility and had to run between different rooms when we recorded stuff. That whole process was nothing but confusing and we needed almost a year and half to mix and master the record.
When we were about to record the second album we wanted it to sound extravagant and lush, and we wanted to record it in a real studio with a producer. In the end we did it all in the Music A Matic studio in Gothenburg.
The producer didn’t really produced anything but it was great to have someone you could tell “We want it to sound like this” and he was like “Sure, no problem”.
Vesslan: Most of the songs were just jam sessions anyway, techno jam sessions (laughs).
The point is that he worked really quick and made it all work out on the limited time we had.
Osynlige Mann: It’s a great producer, I know him well. He recorded the first two or three Håkan Hellström records [major Swedish artist], but ended up in a conflict with basically everyone because he sold his part of the copyrights on E-bay and turned into some kind of persona non grata in the whole music industry. And that’s something we like because we’re not Håkan Hellström fans at all.
But isn’t The Exorcist a live experience rather than something you listen to on record?
Tentakel: Of course you can listen to the records but it’s more intense live. The record is just for promotion.
Osynlige Mann: Having a record out is a necessity to get people to come out for our shows. Without it no one would know who we are.
Vesslan: But it’s impossible to catch the live atmosphere, you can’t really get that intensity on record. In the studio we compensate by recording layers but it doesn’t add up to the live experience.
Osynlige Mann: In the studio we create an illusion of something that doesn’t really exist.
My experience of your live shows is that some sort of psychedelic atmosphere emerges after a while and people are caught in a trance-like state after a few songs.
Vesslan: Yeah, the audience usually starts dancing after a few songs wherever we play, and it’s kind of fun to have that impact on people.
First time we played Stockholm people were standing with crossed arms but when we returned they finally got it, “Hey, it’s danceable”, and there was a dance party (laughs).
Osynlige Mann: But it’s what we always wanted, music without feeling is pointless. It should be sinister and cool and dangerous and funky, all at the same time (laughs).
Considering that Reeperbahn Festival is a showcase festival where you are supposed to show off in front of booking labels, record labels, agencies etc., does it mean that the next step is a European tour?
Tentakel: We already have a booking label in Berlin, Swamp Booking run by an Italian. He’s doing all he can to get us out in Europe and we have been out for a few one-off’s.
Is it different to play out of Sweden?
Tentakel: Above all it’s more fun to not play in Sweden.
Osynlige Mann: We’ve played too bloody much in Sweden and people should be tired of us.
Vesslan: What we really should do is to play Italy because I really think the Italians would like what we do considering that they have bands like Goblin.
Osynlige Mann: The only time we have buzzed for a gig was when Goblin played in Gothenburg and we just had to get a support slot. Goblin are special to us, a band we have listened to for years.
Vesslan: But we also discussed that and reached the point where we won’t do support slots anymore.
But if you do a European tour you will probably get more attention and have to deal with more meet-and-greets with fans. It can be difficult to keep your mysterious approach. How would you deal with that situation?
Osynlige Mann: We haven’t really thought of it to be honest but it’s ok, interviews are almost fun (laughs). But dealing with social media and how we should promote us on there is just not our thing. It’s not what we are and we’re just happy that it works out anyway.
We do have Instagram and post stuff at times although not very often, and maybe not the most serious photos. People don’t want to know how we look like anyway.
Tentakel: Let the music speak for itself, that’s most important.
Osynlige Mann: Exactly! It’s more fun that people listen to our music than they’re interested in what we wear or how we look like. And our audience is not really like that either. I don’t even know if we have an audience.
Speaking of your fans; how would you describe them?
Vesslan: In Stockholm it’s hipsters coming out for our shows, in Gothenburg it’s much different.
Osynlige Mann: Most of our fans in Gothenburg are junkies, drug addicts, and rockers, especially the Uran audience is like that. It’s a lot of freaks that haven’t been on shows for fifteen years and suddenly turn up at our shows.
When Uran played once there was this old dude who loomed up to us after the show and said “I haven’t been on a gig since 1972 when I was at Hawkwind but this was way better” (laughs).
After Reeperbahn Festival it’s back to the studio, record an EP and head out on a European tour then?
Osynlige Mann: If we plant the rumor it will happen. We almost have a tour planned.
But tours need a tour name. What would it be?
Vesslan: Yeah, maybe that’s something we should have given a thought (laughs).
Tentakel: Why not call it ”III”?
Osynlige Mann: ”III”? People will think we’re some sort of a phone operator. Let’s give it a thought, shall we?
The Exorcist GBG pages