A 40 year long electronic adventure: Twice a Man interviewed

J.N. 26/06/2021

Being ahead of their time, too offbeat for mass consumption, some artists became wildly influential without becoming household names. For composers from Stockhausen to Brian Eno and Tangerine Dream, electronic music has provided an opportunity to explore the emotional interior of exterior sounds, and they have earned their reputation as pioneering acts in the scene. 

The electronic music scene has been shaped by bands exploring a wide musical palette, not always on the commercial end, and it resulted in the rise of several new genres in the 1960s and 1970s which set the path for heaps of electronic musicians to come.

Building on the first wave of electronic music, Gothenburg band Cosmic Overdose started at the end of the 1970s, and being the first synthesizer-based band in the Scandinavian scene they quickly built a national reputation. In 1981 when the band did an “exchange” tour with New Order, a new band at the time, the British promoter suggested a name change to Twice a Man, and on December 14th 1981 they did their first gig under their new moniker, supporting New Order at Heaven in London.

Almost 40 years and more than 20 albums later we met up with the pioneers of Swedish electronic music and chat about their early years, almost being signed to legendary Mute Records, and how they sum up a 40-year long music career. And they may have something up their sleeve for a 40th anniversary later this year.

“So, we’re a Goth band now?”

I just have to start to congratulate you. You celebrate 40 years in the scene later this year, something very, very few bands have pulled off, and you’re often called pioneers in the Swedish synth scene.
Dan: We’ve heard that a few times, yes (laugh). But we started playing electronic music already in the 1970s as Cosmic Overdose and were probably one of the first electronic bands in Scandinavia. But there wasn’t any ‘synth scene’ at the time, it hadn’t started yet. There were bands like Tangerine Dream and Kraftwerk, role models for a scene to come, but no one called them synth bands because they came from a completely different background in the German scene.

It wasn’t until the second wave of electronic bands turned up, bands like Cabaret Voltaire, Fad Gadget, Gary Numan, and Suicide, that the scene started to rise when rhythm machines became common in music. All that happened parallel to what we were doing, but we didn’t know about those bands at the time.

It was something of a challenge when we started though because there weren’t any similar bands in Sweden to support live. We played support slots to lots of punk bands, like Ebba Grön [Sweden’s most iconic punk band] and Dag Vag, and when the post-punk scene arrived we toured with Ruhr and Stålfågel and collaborated with Kai Martin in Gothenburg and TT-Reuter in Skåne. But no other band did anything similar to us.

I guess people defined you as a synth band because you used synthesizers quite early, just like many pop bands of the 80s. But did you have any idea what scene you belonged to?
Gasleben: Not at all. People pigeonholed us all the time and it was different for every country. We played at a goth festival at Markthalle in Hamburg and thought “Ok, so we’re a goth band now?” (laugh). But it didn’t really matter to us, we just wanted to play live.

Dan: Genres are a strange thing and we’ve been called quite many different things. We weren’t a typical synth band, that’s for sure, but you also need to understand that the terminology for the synth scene wasn’t invented yet, it was something that happened during the 80s when it suddenly became important to answer the never-ending question, “Is this synth music?”. It’s something still being discussed in online forums and a question that turns up every time Twice a Man is discussed. I don’t feel that we’re a synth band at all (laugh). What is that? We use synthesizers, that’s it.

Jocke: But I can understand the discussion in the 80s, synthesizers were something new and if they dominated your sound, you would be called a synth band whether you wanted it or not. The first record, Music For Girls, is a synthpop album if you ask me, at least one of the poppiest albums we have released.

Looking back on 40 years as a band, is there anything you regret or something that you wish would have turned out different?
Dan: We had some opportunities that didn’t pan out as we would have hoped for, but we were close, like being signed to a major label. That may have helped us reach out to a broader audience internationally. Ingemar [Gasleben’s real name] had a meeting with Daniel Miller, the labelman at Mute Records [Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget, Erasure, etc.].

Gasleben: I had a meeting with him for a full hour and we listened to The Sound of a Goat In a Room just after we had recorded it.

We met Daniel at a Fad Gadget concert and he knew who we were, and Dan booked me for a meeting with him in London. I remember sitting in the lobby with two of their staff and they were listening to bags full of tapes, maybe just a minute of each, and most ended up in the trash, but they had a small box with the text “To Daniel” on it.

I had to wait more than an hour because Depeche Mode turned up for a meeting, but when they left we sat down and listened to the full record together. We didn’t really convince him to sign us, but he helped us out and booked us for meetings with other labels, but when we met them they wondered “Why didn’t Daniel want to sign them?” (laugh).

Dan: We were also an exchange band with New Order and supported them the first time they played in Sweden and Norway 1981, but as Cosmic Overdose. It was some sort of a union thing that New Order had to have an exchange band to be allowed to play in Sweden (laugh), and then they picked Cosmic Overdose.

Peter Hook [former New Order bassist] who mixed our live shows liked us and wanted to connect us with their label, Factory, but nothing happened.

But we also supported them in England, in London and Hastings, and our promoter wanted us to change name because Cosmic Overdose was too much of a hippie name, but they never understood that we were ironic (laugh). One of their suggestions was Twice a Man and it felt ok, and our first gig as Twice a Man was at Heaven in London on December 14th 1981 with New Order. That’s why we celebrate 40 years. It would have been a few more years if you count the Cosmic Overdose years as well.

When you consider opportunities like that, a lot could have been different. If Mute would have signed us in 1983 just when Depeche Mode were about to break big, we may have played support slots for them, and then you don’t know what could’ve happened.

Gasleben: But it’s opportunities that didn’t happen, not mistakes on our side. It was close but at the same time, we had to face the challenge of quite many other great bands.

Jocke: Wasn’t it the same when we released From a Northern Shore? When those songs were at their hottest and we played live quite much we had lots of problems releasing the record. A record label wanted to release it but changed their mind and it took us half a year longer to get it out, and then it was too late.

The idea was to have the record out when we played some bigger venues in Holland, Belgium and Germany. We got quite much media attention at the time, but we couldn’t get the record out. That was very frustrating.

Gasleben: That whole story is a mess. We did a song called “Here She Comes”, a bonus track on From a Northern Shore that wasn’t supposed to be on the album, but when we’re in the studio to record the album the label guy on Roadrunner says “I want all songs to sound like that”. But we didn’t want that. In the deal we’ve signed with the label they promised us full creative control, it was in the contract, and now they wanted to take control of how we would sound. That was weird for us.

We didn’t do it of course but Roadrunner owed the studio a lot of money but didn’t want to pay, and we couldn’t get the tapes. In the end we got a loan from the bank and could bail it out.

Jocke: But that was half a year later, a bit late considering the tour we did.

I was just about to come to media attention. How was it in Sweden? TV and radio were the important channels for all bands at the time but I can’t find much recordings with Twice a Man in their archives.
Jocke: It wasn’t much TV at all. The only show I remember is Guldslipsen, a music show in the 80s.

Dan: Radio broadcasted a few of our shows, for instance from Melkweg in Amsterdam and a few shows in Gothenburg. But that’s it.

You need to remember that everything was different in the 80s. In Sweden, we had two TV channels and three radio channels, and to get your music on there was really tough but would often lead to a national breakthrough. That’s where people got all their information, and if it was on TV it must be good. But playing abroad was even harder. Very few Swedish bands, save for ABBA, played outside Scandinavia.

Gasleben: When we played in Amsterdam in the early 1980s someone said “I know two Swedish bands and it’s ABBA and Twice a Man” (laugh).

Dan: UK bands dominated the scene completely, you couldn’t compete, they were the cool bands. Swedish bands could at best play in Oslo and Copenhagen, but that was it. Just imagine how rare it was when we played in Amsterdam at the time. It’s a lot different today although the UK still dominates the scene in Europe.

Gasleben: It was also quite expensive to play abroad and difficult to cross borders. Remember that this was before Sweden was a member of the European Union. You had to bring a pile of documents with you to every border control (laugh).

You’ve probably got the question on what keeps you going many times, and I read a recent interview where you say, Dan, that it’s hard to find the same energy today that you had as young. But you still continue to release records. How do you work with music today to find the creative joy in what you do?
Dan: Let’s say it depends on who you talk to, we’re quite different (laugh). I’ve reflected on it quite much this weekend when we have listened to our older recordings and I’m still not sure. Gasleben can’t stop, that’s a fact (laugh).

Gasleben: I still find it super interesting to explore new sounds, and new technology has made it even easier to work with music. Anna [Öberg, musician and wife. Read our interview with her] thinks I’m nuts at times because I often have my iPad at the breakfast table when I’m having my morning coffee, just to be able to work with sounds. And when I find something interesting I run down to the studio – it’s down there [pointing] – and start working. For me, new music today often starts with the iPad.

New technology has made it more interesting because you can create new sounds much easier. I have a sound library that I’ve used the last 15 years and if I don’t find any new sounds I use it, but on our latest album The Other Side of the Mirror I worked a lot with apeSoft [music software] on the iPad. When I play live with Anna’s band I only have a keyboard and the iPad on stage.

Dan: But the band has also had an important social function. We’ve always had fun doing things together.

Gasleben: That’s probably the reason we’re all here this weekend, we have missed each other because the pandemic stopped us from meeting up.

Jocke: We also fit together well as a band, like pieces in a puzzle.

Gasleben: And that’s because we’re good at different things. If anyone comes up with an idea we know it will be better when we all have worked on it.

Jocke: We talked about creative joy a few days ago, and for me it is when you can’t stop listening to something you’ve done yourself. That sort of creative euphoria is what keeps me going, to have created something out of nothing, and something you like to listen to yourself.

Techno-leaps and lost music

For all musicians growing up in the 70s and 80s, music production was a “mechanical craft”. Recording music required loads of creativity to push the machines’ limited capacity to the max, especially if you wanted to do it DIY when you couldn’t afford expensive studio costs. And touring; that’s a long story of carrying heaps of documents with you to every border you crossed and having an extra van just to bring all the gear you needed.

Today’s electronic bands will rig on and off their set in thirty minutes, just bringing a laptop/iPad and a keyboard, yesterday’s electronic bands needed five hours just to get things going and a few hours to rig off before driving to the next venue in another city. Music technology has changed on an unprecedented scale and has made music production and touring a lot easier; and international partnerships and trade treaties, like the European Union, have put an end to endless hours spent at the borders just to get that important stamp that allow you into the country.

For Twice a Man, the music has evolved and changed several times over the course of 22 albums because of a curiosity in experimenting with new sonic landscapes, but also due to new music technology. But these “techno-leaps” also came with drawbacks: it made it difficult to recreate and play older songs live today.

If you look back on 40 years as Twice a Man you have been quite a productive band. You have released 22 studio albums in 40 years, and that doesn’t consider your theatrical works.
Dan: It sounds like a lot but it’s a huge difference depending on what period you look at. The Sound of a Goat In a Room took us three weeks to do, Clouds three years (laugh).

Jocke: When we have discussed on what to do for our 40th anniversary we’ve listened to a lot of older records. I joined the band when the recordings of The Sound of a Goat In a Room had started, in February 1983, and when we recently listened to a live recording from Melkweg in Amsterdam just half a year later, we played From a Northern Shore, the next record. I don’t know how we did it (laugh).

Dan: But it was different in 1980s because we were young and had the energy to release a record almost every year, and it was basically an album-touring-album-touring life style. But it changed when we started doing theatre music. When we did Macbeth in 1986 it opened up new opportunities for us, and just like that we had two parallel projects to run. From the mid-90s we haven’t toured much at all.

The last years we’ve worked more with co-producers. Daniel Kaufeldt has been involved in our latest releases, he mixed both Presence and The Other Side of the Mirror, and released them on his own label. He has done an amazing work with our music and is like a fourth member on those records.

I’ve listened quite much on your latest album The Other Side of the Mirror and find it very dark, maybe the darkest music you’ve ever released.
Dan: Most records reflect what happens around us. Presence, the first album with Jocke back in the band, is a representation of the presence we live in, and the next album, Cocoon, is about our inside and how we progress as humans, not by an outer force but from ourselves. The Other Side of the Mirror is our stand-off with capitalism (laugh).

What’s different on The Other Side of the Mirror is that Ingemar has done all groundwork, the basic ideas, as well as writing the lyrics for all songs. It wasn’t the same collectively crafted record as Presence. When we had discussions on how to work on his ideas we decided to make it really dark, like having bombastic drums and dark basslines, and we struggled to get to the point where we were satisfied with the end result.

I feel it could have been more than it is. We listened to it together yesterday and I wanted to have a more organic sound and less electronic drums. But that’s something for the next record (laugh).

Like you say, your records are quite different and you explore a wide sonic palette over 22 albums. Have you ever categorized your records in periods?
Dan: Most definitely but just between us in the band. Music For Girls and Works On Yellow are our synthpop era, but when Mats Almegård wrote a book about Works On Yellow last year, I realized that it’s much more than synthpop. You wouldn’t have reflected on it like that hadn’t it been for someone from the outside writing a book about it.

Another example is the period with The Sound of a Goat In a Room, From a Northern Shore and Slow Swirl, Jocke’s first period in the band; that was by far our best live period.

Gasleben: It’s from that period you can find TV performances on YouTube. We had just returned from a tour in Europe and headed off to record a show for national TV in Gothenburg, and rigged our stuff kind of quick, played a few songs and rigged off. And then they asked “Don’t you want to do it again?” (laugh).

Jocke: They had planned a full day for us and thought we wanted to do lots of retakes but we did it on one take (laugh).

Gasleben: But that was how good we were as a band at the time. We had toured Europe and played shows almost every day, and when you do it like that you will have really tight band that work well together on stage.

But new technology must have changed a lot for you? Back in the 80s the early samplers were very expensive and you had to bring so much gear on tour. Today you just need a laptop.
Jocke: It’s a gigantic change. I was in the band just for a few years in the 80s and returned in 2013, and touring is something completely different today. We had to bring loads of heavy gear with us in the 80s and it probably took about five hours to rig the set, two hours to rig off and then you had to drive 300km to another city to play the next day. Today, you have a keyboard and two laptops and you’re done in 30 minutes.

Dan: It was a completely different world. We also had to sit together while we worked on the music. Today, you stay where you live and send stems for the rest in the band to work on.

Jocke: And we had to play much of the music live. The technology that would allow us to have backing tracks wasn’t that developed yet, but we had a drum machine. It was hard labour, like being a jazz musician (laugh).

Gasleben: It was very much about finding shortcuts on how to optimize the use of the technology, almost beyond its capacity.

There’s a song called “Across the Ocean” on which we wanted to use the sound of a whale. At the time samplers were super expensive and would cost something like 50 000€ and of course we couldn’t afford it, but I worked at Annedals Music Store in Gothenburg and we sold a digital delay that could sample a few seconds. When we worked on the song I phoned people who bought those delays from the store and asked if we could borrow it (laugh).

We had to work with several samples because we needed the whale sound in different keys, and when we recorded it later all the three of us were lying on the floor to start the delays at exactly the right moment in the song (laugh).

Dan: And that was just three or four different keys, but they were important for the song.

Gasleben: When we released it as a twelve-inch later we could actually afford to buy a sampler, and just like that it was much easier to work with electronic music.

But considering this huge leap in music technology since you started, is it possible to recreate older songs today?
Dan: No, that leap made it hard to work with older music because you need the original gear to work on the songs. It happened several times. For instance, when we didn’t have an Emulator II [sampler] anymore, the whole Works On Yellow album disappeared. We need it to work with the songs on the album. It’s just something we’ve lost.

We have discussed how to recreate some of our older songs when we celebrate in the fall, and if it’s possible to do it, because we have tapes left and can recreate some music but it’s a massive job to do it. Those tapes need to be baked before we can work on the music, the quality is just too bad, and that takes a lot of time.

Some older songs have been recreated, when we had our 15th anniversary in mid-90s Ingemar fixed a few, and when we played live for the first time after Jocke returned, in Amsterdam 2014, we played ”Decay” from Music For Girls and ”Tribal Ways” from Slow Swirl and some songs off From A Northern Shore. But it’s a lot of work to do it.

Gasleben: Yeah, I have From a Northern Shore on a multitracker in the studio and recreated some of the songs to our 15th anniversary, but it was a lot of work to make those backing tracks. Let’s see if we have the energy to do it to the fall.

Pride and glory: “We have achieved a lot”

When Twice a Man first set out as Cosmic Overdose, reaching a level where you could “brag” about a 40-year long career (and a bit if you add the Cosmic Overdose years) seemed unimaginable. Over the past 40 years, they’ve had more success than most bands would achieve despite not being signed to a major label. Working at The Royal Dramatic Theatre, Dramaten, parallel to their band career made their repertoire broader and influenced their own live shows. But did their music career turned out as they wanted? The answer is simply: much better.

After a 40 year long career, do you feel that you’ve reached the ambitions you had?
Dan: Yes, we can’t be disappointed because we have achieved a lot. Few bands have released 22 albums plus making music to several plays at Dramaten. That’s something we take great pride in.

Sure, financially it would probably have been different if we would have been signed to a major label like Mute, especially in the 80s, but I can’t say I’m disappointed, not at all. We have worked with such a wide range of music which made it even more interesting.

Gasleben: Not having a major label also gave us creative control and music-wise we’ve changed a lot over the years. A record like Agricultural Beauty may never have been allowed to be released by a label because it’s quite different. They would probably have pushed us in a certain direction and wouldn’t have liked how we evolved as a band.

Having our own studio – we built it quite early – also made it a lot easier to work with music. You never had any pressures on keeping deadlines in the studio because you were running out of money. This way it has been a lot calmer, far from the stress you would’ve had if you were on a label

We also have dedicated fans, you happen to get that if you’ve been around for 40 years (laugh). For instance, the Driftwood album came with lots of weird performances because we experimented a bit. It wasn’t a traditional music show, it was a performance show where we had eight spruces and 50 kilos of cabbage on stage. But the audience was expecting a normal live show and got that instead (laugh).

A few years ago I was walking down Andra Långgatan [pub street in Gothenburg] and a man in my age stopped me and said “I just have to tell that I was at the Driftwood tour and didn’t understand anything, but last year something happened and now it makes sense to me” – thirty years later (laugh).

Dan: You also have to keep in mind that because we got quite much attention as some sort of electronic music pioneers in Sweden doors opened to make music for theatres, and that made us evolve as a band as we fused music live shows with theatrical performances. We could experiment much more.

And it wasn’t only that you made music for theatre plays, you also worked with Dramaten. That’s a far as you can come in the theatre scene in Sweden. It must have been a quite different way to work with music and I guess you had to deal with other types of issues concerning creative control.
Dan: It was very different but we were lucky to work with Wilhelm Carlsson at Dramaten and he really liked what we did and gave us quite much freedom.

What was most interesting was to learn how the hierarchy worked out – and it was quite a hierarchy. Theatres are multi-art places and it involves different types of creators, and the real challenge was to make it all work out together and to understand what role or position music had in this hierarchy of things. We wanted to experiment quite much but actors are rarely experimental which made it quite a challenge, but a lot of fun.

Jocke: I remember Macbeth really well and how much space the music was allowed to have. We did the music parallel to the rehearsals and I remember that the actors complained that the music was too loud. “Can’t you turn down the volume a bit”, and when I turned it off they said “Fine, keep it that way” (laugh). That was a challenge (laugh).

What’s left for you to do? Ten more albums?
Dan: (laugh) It depends on who you ask. Ingemar recently released his solo project [Spare Parts For The Offspring as Gasleben & Electric Friends] because the rest of us are a bit too slow (laugh).

But no, it has been hard to work together the last year because of the pandemic. Although it’s easy to work on your own today, we need to meet up as well to make it work out in the end.

What’s left to do? I would probably say that there are a few things I would like to improve. I’m very happy with many of the records we have released but s few things can be done better, like the last album The Other Side of the Mirror where we didn’t reach that organic sound that I wanted. But it means we still have things to achieve.

At the moment we don’t have any ideas on what to do next, let’s see what happens with our anniversary first and what we do.

Photographer: Krichan Wihlborg
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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.