Several breakthrough acts are now creating a vibrant new Gothenburgian underground, a scene with and enduring legacy built on bands from a wide range of genres as The Knife, In Flames, José González, Ace of Base, The Soundtrack of Our Lives and Mickey Dee, the former drummer in Motörhead.
Like those before them, many of the new avant gardists are rooted in the city’s vibrant soundsystem culture, and at the forefront there’s one of the most exciting bands on the Swedish scene in years. With just a few singles in their tote bag Gothenburg music collective Kårp embarked on an amazing journey in 2019, and when they summarize the year they can put a debut album and being nominated for an award for best up and coming act on the list.
Nodding to both electropop, electronica and, as they call it, deathdisco on their debut “Album 1”, a work of soaring imagination, Kårp bring us more than music in their overall artistic formula. Kårp is not only music, it’s a spirit that penetrates everything what you see, hear and experience about the band.
When Messed!Up covered Viva Sounds Festival in Gothenburg we met up with Kårp in their studio and had a chat about having focus on the songs, the mysteriousness surrounding the band and working together as a family. And because of the mysteries of the Kårp family, we keep it secret; only Anna-Maria appears as herself in the interview.
An eventful year for the Kårp family
A band being awarded for best up and coming act at the Manifest Awards with just a few singles on Spotify must have a bright future. Or does it only brings pressure to deliver something extraordinary the next time you release new music?
Anna-Maria: I guess there may be some pressure, maybe we will feel it a bit, but at the same time we’re also great at not letting it bother us too much. That’s our strength, to not get too excited. Music needs time and we use as much time as we need.
Noface: We have this kind of common understanding that everything we do is to focus on the songs and not care about anything else.
In the beginning it was all about releasing singles, and we put out four singles before the album; it was never our intention to release an album, just to release singles. When you have that kind of mindset every song matters, and for us every song were supposed to become the best song ever.
Just ahead of the Manifest Awards we knew there was an album in the pipe and what songs were on it, and at that point we also knew that people liked what we did. With an album it was just going to be even greater songs (laugh). The pressure may come soon instead when we’re writing new songs.
Anna-Maria: If there’s any pressure it’s now. Before Manifest we felt safe in having our library of songs waiting for us and could just continue working on those songs after Manifest. But there may be pressure now when we start working with “Album 2”.
Isn’t that the usual problem; you have your whole life to release the debut album but no time at all to release the second?
Noface: For sure, and that’s why it’s good for us to release singles.
Before ”Album 1” we had lots of songs ready, almost 20 songs if I remember it right that were more or less ready for a release. But the biggest problem with us is not to be creative and come up with new ideas, the problem is to finish the songs (laugh).
But I also think we do have good judgment and release music people like. Just having that in mind wears off some of the pressure.
Anna-Maria: And we’re good at taking care of each other if someone would go through a rough period.
In many reviews you are compared to bands like The Knife and Robyn, and although there may be some references Kårp must have its own identity. How is Kårp different from all those bands you’re being compared to?
Noface: It’s great to be mentioned in the same context as those bands but a difference from The Knife and Robyn is that we have electric guitars that we use to build much of our sound on, and that creates a more organic sound, quite a difference from strictly organized electronic music. Another difference is that this whole rehearsal venue is dominated by hardcore and punk bands and we probably steal a few metal riffs for our songs. And the most obvious difference; Anna-Maria has quite a special voice.
Noface: Of course it’s flattering to be compared to The Knife and to carry that legacy into the future. They also have their roots in Gothenburg.
I just love the thought of cities having their own cultures and traditions, it’s something good, and the scene in Gothenburg is amazingly good at raising bands that end up on the international scene. That’s impressive for being a tiny harbour city in the north and it’s cool to be part of it.
It happens quite often that someone asks how it feels to be compared to those bands and I usually say that we don’t have any ambition to be something completely new, but we’re more than just a band making music and that’s different.
Anna-Maria: We’re just like a family working with everything together and we try hard to catch the spirit of our music and embody it in clothes, the show, the visuals on stage, and on photos; basically in everything surrounding the music.
Noface: There’s a bit of prestige in it, we do it all by ourselves; photo shoots, artwork, videos, social media content and much more but with help from close friends.
It’s also the reason why we wear masks. Anna-Maria is obviously the face of the band because she’s the vocalist but the rest of us is replaceable. It’s not only about the music; the director of the videos is also part of the Kårp family.
Anna-Maria: Or Lazer-Micke who has worked thirty years in the lazer business and is the most experienced lazer dude there is – an amazing person – and he drove from Stockholm to Gothenburg in his van stuffed with lazer gear just to collaborate with us. We went to this old factory to set up his lazer lights when we did our latest video.
Noface: It’s gratifying to be able to explain the idea of Kårp as being mere replaceable representatives of the band, it’s the family or the collective ties that makes the band to work out.
Meaning that you will end up like Ghost and everyone is being replaced by Anna-Maria?
Anna-Maria: I actually dreamt that I kicked everyone out of the band, a bizarre dream because all of you are important (laugh).
Noface: That says a lot about your position in the band (laugh).
Anna-Maria: We wrote a song about it instead (laugh).
More than music
At a basic level it seems we prefer a performance when we have some visuals. There’s no doubt that visuals and the overall band aesthetic add to a performance. In fact, in my former role as a researcher I came across several studies that point out that the crowds give higher ratings when they experienced performances in audiovisual format compared to audio alone.
For Kårp the spirit of the band in photos, in the visuals, in the music or in anything that pours out of the family factory are equally important. However, while most bands and artists outsource much of what’s not music, Kårp try hard to keep control and create their own visual element as much as possible.
”Album 1” drew accolades from music media and it’s also a very experimental album in terms of sounds. I read that you’re much inspired by Aphex Twin, the ultimate experimental band. How much do you experiment when you write songs?
Noface: It may sound a bit repetitive to talk about Kårp as a family, but we describe it kind of good in a press release where we portray Kårp as a junkyard full of half-finished ideas that you can pick up when you need inspiration.
We put everything we do on a server and when you don’t have any ideas you just pick one from the server and continue on it. When you do it like that all ideas have all our imprints on them; everyone is part of every idea.
Anna-Maria: The unexpected is a result of working together just like that and finish songs together.
Noface: The hardest part is to let go of your own ideas though.
Anna-Maria: You want to have done enough before you put it on the server just to point out the direction of what you’re doing, and then you let go of it (laugh). That’s what I like with the process we have, all ideas get attention just because we like what everyone does.
But of course there’s minor fights at times and we team up on two sides, but in the end we find our way back because we do it to create the best song ever.
Noface: Again, the song decides how we should continue our work; you just need to deal with it and not be too stubborn.
But this procedure with an open server where you contribute with your own ideas is great, especially when you’re out of creativity and can borrow ideas from someone else in the band. We meet up at least every Tuesday and experiment with sounds together in the studio. There’s a song when someone is sneezing, but you can’t hear it after we’ve squeezed it through loads of filters and effects, and things like that let us create unique sounds. Let’s say that we love to experiment with sound production and our bodies (laugh).
Anna-Maria: At the new single there’s some sort of a creaking or a crunching sound that I made with my voice, and then we just filtered it a bit to make it into a layer of creaks.
Noface: We were at this church in Gothenburg recently and brought lots of things that we dropped on the floor just to sample the sounds. That’s how Aphex Twin work as well.
Einstürzende Neubauten is another favourite act of mine and they work with similar methods. I actually came to think of them when I was building a shelf recently and had this nail gun powered by a compressor, and that sound we just have to sample, it’s an awesome bass.
If we return to what you said about working with the spirit of the band on stage, on photo, in the music and in everything you do. The overall aesthetic of Kårp is designed to create an aura of mysticism that surrounds the band.
Anna-Maria: We do it like that to not limit Kårp to be just a band that makes music, we really want Kårp to come in many shapes and configurations, different forms of expressions, and being open for influences.
Noface: That’s how we develop as a band. Just like Anna-Maria pointed out, it’s not all about the music, it’s about everything surrounding the band, and for that you need to be open for influences. We have our own light show and had to learn from the ground up how to program stage lights, we really didn’t know a shit about it when we started. That’s when you involve friends who help you out, and then they’ll get assimilated into the Kårp machinery just like the Borg’s in Star Trek (laugh). Kårp can take any shape it wants.
Anna-Maria: In that sense we’re like a small factory.
Noface: Just like that, a small factory. That’s a great way to explain how we work.
Anna-Maria: And it also explains how we are as individual. Your thoughts wander off when you listen to your own music and I can be like “Those sounds remind me about space” or “I can see a planet passing by when I hear this sound”. There’s a lot of images in what we do and that’s why we have to embody our music in a way that it looks like that, we owe it to the music.
But doing it all DIY works out to a certain point I guess. When you get more attention more people want to book you and fans want new music and videos, especially after the attention you got with the Manifest Awards. How is the discussion on getting help with parts of the DIY process?
Anna-Maria: But we’re in this position, strangely enough, where people ask us for collaborations, we don’t need to do anything. Suddenly Lazer-Micke phones us because he heard us on radio and thought “Shit, I have to work with these guys, their music is made for lazers”, and he found a phone number.
Noface: That’s a luxury we enjoy at the moment. We’ve had three or four video directors contacting us because they really like our image, they love the opportunities to visualize it, and then you need to meet up for a chat and listen to their ideas. We’re control freaks and need to have a perfect match before we start working together.
But we are so grateful for it, and that it always happens at a very good point in time. But you’re right about the work, it’s pretty insane,
Anna-Maria: Maybe it wasn’t a massive increase after Manifest but it gets more and more with time.
Noface: What’s great is that people from all across the world reach out to us.
Anna-Maria: There was someone from Sibiria just recently who wanted us to send autographs. Isn’t that just amazing? I don’t even know how he found us.
Noface: It’s people from Eastern Europe, India, South America and a lot from the US. At the moment we’re building an infrastructure for Kårp and when it’s done we can outsource parts of it. That’s how we did it with our label Jubel, they care for our bookings while we focus on the fun parts.
And then you don’t need to keep control of all non-creative work such as, just like you said, bookings but also lots of administration?
Anna-Maria: Exactly, because we don’t really see the fun in it.
Noface: On the other, you still get a bit disappointed about things, like how fees are negotiated. We would love to have it all in our family but it’s not possible.
About the mysticism surrounding the band; how much is it part of a consciously created strategy just to get people interested? What I mean is that on the first band photos no one had masks.
Anna-Maria: At the beginning we were influenced of many different things and didn’t made any conscious choice about how we were being portrayed, but I think it was just something that came with how the band developed.
Noface: It all started with an interest in music and then it developed in a direction where we are today. I have played in many bands, non-electronic bands, and with electronic music a new world of music and opportunities opened up for me, especially the limits of what you can do changed. People wouldn’t like an indie pop band performing in space masks, nobody would take you for serious, but as an electronic act you’re not limited to what you’re allowed to do.
Expect the unexpected
If you allow yourself to do an outlook for the future; rumours say that “Album 2” is in the works. But how’s your thought on releasing the next album? I guess you learned from your debut album that it was great promotion for the album to just release singles for a while.
Noface: I don’t think you should expect a second album that soon.
Anna-Maria: No, that’s not possible, we really need more time for it.
Noface: And we also see albums as a summary of an era of our music.
Anna-Maria: Just like a period of consistency where many ideas are realized in a certain way, and that takes time. Usually we work with several songs simultaneously and when they’re all done it will be an album, it’s more fun to work like that.
Noface: We can’t tell you too much about it but we will release music in unexpected ways in the future (laugh). There’s several songs coming out next year and in time there will be an album, but we can’t say when it’s going to happen.
Prepare for music being released in unexpected ways that is connected to our idea of the whole process as an art project.
And touring? You have toured Sweden quite much at this point and maybe it’s time to get out on the European touring circuit, especially Germany where the electronic scene is huge.
Noface: It’s all up to you, didn’t you say you will fix it? (laugh)
Of course we want to get out of Sweden and if you consider where we have fans we already feel that we have an international audience.
Anna-Maria: I’m starting to feel a bit rude. People really want us to come play their countries and they write “Please, can’t you come and play here soon?” and we don’t have an answer to it yet.
Noface: But we’re in touch with an American label, I can’t say which, and there’s a plan to get out on the circuit soon. And of course we want to play Germany. I’m part German and have lived in Berlin, and I just love the German electronic scene. We just have to come to Germany, it’s just a matter of time.
Photographer: Krichan Wihlborg