A one-man drum army: Tentakel interviewed

J.N. 15/04/2021

Tentakel knows that music is a multisensory experience. The one-man arpeggio-driven psychedelic techno excursion provides an awe-inspiring score when brought onto the stage, and combined with visuals the audience is in for a treat.

With a background in the legendary bands The Exorcist GBG and Uran, Tentakel’s creator Pontus Torstensson started working on his own music while waiting for band members to turn up for an Uran rehearsal, but left alone in the rehearsal space he started to experiment with old analogue synthesizers triggered by his drumming. Seven years and two albums later his latest collaboration, with former Soundtrack of Our Lives frontman Ebbot Lundberg, is taking form, and he’s getting ready to release his third album.

Messed!Up caught Pontus in his studio in Majorna in Gothenburg and had a chat about being a one-man army, his collaboration with Ebbot, and working with guest musicians on his upcoming third album.

The accidental start of Tentakel

You’re quite a busy person and play drums in many bands, like The Exorcist GBG and Uran. Why did Tentakel come about when you already have a lot to do?
Yeah, it’s kind of stupid, isn’t it? (laugh)

Tentakel started for the simple reason that no one turned up when we were supposed to have rehearsed with Uran, it happens at times (laugh). It was only me and a lot of gear, and I started to play on these old analogue synthesizers and triggered them to start the arpeggios when I played the drums. It was just fun to see what I could do with a drum set and synthesizers on my own. After that day I bought trigger mics and a Korg Mono/Poly synthesizer and started working on my own music.

So, it’s all about that specific rehearsal session with Uran when no one turned up and that there happened to be analogue synthesizers in the rehearsal room. But my interest in analogue synthesizers started already when I joined Uran around 2012. To be able to do sounds that you can’t pull out from a guitar sparked a real interest in me.

But you played in many bands before Uran as well?
I had a band called Echodeck with an old friend from Bollnäs, where I come from, but it was a classic band with drums and guitar, and a drum machine. We wanted to create electronic music but didn’t have any synthesizers and used loop pedals to make the guitar sound like one (laugh). A friend of mine who worked as an electrician built lots of custom-made stuff for us, for example some sort of device you could switch on and the guitar would sound like a synthesizer. Echodeck turned out to be some sort of experimental music in the end.

Tentakel started when we split up, and I just immediately liked the feeling to be in control of the whole process of making music. And you don’t need to rehearse (laugh). At least everyone will turn up when you decide on it.

A solo project as a drummer must be a bit challenging. It’s not like being a guitarist or a pianist, the drummer is always the man in the background and rarely interacts with the audience. Isn’t that difficult?
I’ve never planned anything, it was just a try-out, an experiment, where I wanted to find out what I could do with drums that control analogue synthesizers in the studio. And then it just happened like this.

Live shows are challenging, not only because I’m a solo artist but to make everything work out. I’m always a bit stressed about making the technology to work out on stage. But I didn’t plan to play live either, it was just a test because I got a gig and then I had to find a solution on how to make everything to work. I sampled some electronic chords and brought three synthesizers and a set of drums with me – and it sounded like a whole band, and that gave me a boost to continue.

But the whole thing is stupid (laugh). It’s so much easier to have people with me on stage. I don’t know why I do this, it’s just so stressful live. That’s one of the reasons I have guests with me at times.

Wasn’t it difficult to deal with being in the spotlight when you started Tentakel? You must’ve been used to hide in the back all the time.
Yeah, I don’t like when people look at me, that’s why I try to work with visuals live, that people can watch those instead of blaring at me. It’s not really fun to watch me either because I don’t run around on stage with a mic or something, I just sit behind my drums, that’s not very entertaining (laugh).

Today I’m used to it, I’ve played quite much live and people seem to like it, I guess because it’s a bit cool that only one person can create the sound of a band live. But I really hope people like it because of the music, not that I’m a one-man band. I don’t want it to look like an art project.

The latest project you got involved in is with Ebbot [The Soundtrack of Our Lives, Union Carbide, etc.). How did that come about?
That’s a funny story actually. There was this guy running a studio at Pusterviksgatan [street in Gothenburg] but the whole area is being rebuilt and he needed somewhere to stay, and we moved in here together, in this studio – and he happened to record Ebbot’s music. But he never paid his rent and had to move out but Ebbot kept turning up in the studio and just said “Let’s record”, but at the time I didn’t know anything about mixing and mastering (laugh).

I had these two Tentakel riffs that I didn’t know what to do with and Ebbot came up with melodies for them, and just like that we’d done two songs together. At the moment I’m recording his next album but in between, in the breaks, we do something together. I’m recording other bands as well today, at least it’s a bit of economic compensation for not being able to play gigs at the moment.

Third album with guest appearances

Born in Ortisei, Italy, acclaimed Italian disco producer Giorgio Moroder was one of the first people to own a Moog 3 synthesizer and quickly became the architect of synthesized melodies, making electro and techno many years ahead of its time. On the back of his legacy, Tentakel grew an interest in analogue sounds and “the dark energy” of techno music.

Continuing on his synth arpeggio-driven journey Tentakel gets ready for releasing his third album, but this time it will be different and entail collaborations with guest musicians playing “normal” instruments.

It’s difficult to pin down what type of music Tentakel does. Everyone seems to have their own definition on what you do.
I don’t know myself. What people hear is what Tentakel is, and people seem to hear different types of music. I never planned for how it should sound or what Tentakel would become, it sounds like it does because I have drums, sequencers and analogue synthesizers. Some say it’s techno, others say it’s metal even if it’s only electronic music, and I like that people hear different types of music. I wouldn’t like to be labeled at all because it would only create some sort of pressure on me to do the type of music people would expect me to do.

When Tentakel started I only had one synthesizer and something was wrong with it because you couldn’t change the chords, just the key, it had its own life. I do understand if it may have been a bit boring to listen to it (laugh). That’s different today, I bought a new synthesizer.

I’m also quite limited in what I can do when I’m stuck behind the drums and because of that I try to create polyrhythmic electronic riffs that won’t get too boring to listen to for a while. It adds a bit of trance or techno feeling when the riffs just continue over and over again. I just love the dark energy in techno.

But where did your interest in analogue synthesizers and sounds start?
I’ve always listened to electronic music like Giorgio Moroder, although I have quite a wide taste in music. It was more important when I was young to stick to one type of music and I started with hard rock, changed to hip hop and then started to listen to grunge, but today I listen to whatever sounds good. But I like the sound of analogue synthesizers and that you can do things you can’t do with guitars or many other instruments.

It’s four years since the release of “TwoFace” and you announced on Instagram that you work on your third album at the moment. What can you tell us about it?
It’s almost done, just some small things left to do, and I think it’s another step in how my music has evolved. The first record was about me discovering what was possible to do with only drums and synthesizers, that’s what I recorded. On the second record, I had learned how the gear worked out and could work with the arrangements a lot more. The next album will have other instruments on it, not only synth arpeggios and drums throughout the whole record.

I want the new record to be more diverse and not built on these endless arpeggio riffs, but it will automatically be a lot different because I’ve invited guest musicians and let them do whatever they want to do at the songs. It should sound a bit different when many people contribute to the songs and it’s not only me working with drums and synthesizers.

It would be boring to have a third record like that because it will sound just like what I’ve already done on two records and I would get tired of doing it a third time. With guests it will be a fresh take on the Tentakel sound.

Does it mean that you will have lots of guest musicians on stage as well?
I haven’t given it a thought yet, that’s something I have to deal with later when it’s possible to play live again. But it would be too many people, maybe I’ll just bring a sampler (laugh).

If an opportunity opens up after the summer and it will be possible to tour again, is it something you plan to do?
I just have to get the album ready for a release first. Ulf Andersson, the manager of The Exorcist, will help me book Tentakel gigs as well. I’m also supposed to do a few gigs with Ebbot but I don’t know if it will be with his music or if it will be Ebbot and Tentakel doing something together – I don’t even know what we’re calling our project or even if it is a new project. I would like to see it as Ebbot being featured on two Tentakel songs on my upcoming record but we haven’t really talked about it yet.

We did a gig at Plan B in Malmö and he just played whatever he felt for onstage, and he also brought a friend playing sitar. We hadn’t really rehearsed anything and were just jamming. Usually I don’t do jam sessions because I’m dependent on the synth arpeggios, but that show turned out quite good in the end, it was fun to do.

Uran don’t play live often at all, the last time was at Roadburn in 2019. We’re used to playing in front of 1 000 at most but it was something like 5 000 in the audience at the show. Nobody really knew anything about Uran, it’s not a huge band at all outside Sweden, and there we were twelve idiots on stage all dressed in white (laugh), an amazing live experience.

I really hope shows will come back in the fall. It’s the only way to earn any money at all, especially for me who’s living off what I do, and I’m also used to play with lots of bands every year. Fingers crossed!

Photographers: Krichan Wihlborg and Richard Bloom.
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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.