Ever wanted to find out what inspired a particular song?
Was it based on personal experience or simply passive observation?
What happened in the recording studio or on stage to make one song sound different from the rest?
These are just some of the question bands and musicians attempt to answer in Line 'em Up - the newest page of The Power Of Metal.Dk.
This is where your favourite bands comment on their albums, track by track, because as someone once said, “Ideas are the building blocks of ideas”.
Line'em Up with Per Schelander, bass player in Astrakhan
Here’s a chance for you to tell our readers about your new album: "Retrospective".
But could you please start off by introducing the readers to the band?
Astrakhan started as an idea between me and my brother. We had a Christmas tradition that we met at his place and wrote a song together. Back then we didn't think about genres, direction or anything - we just wrote whatever out of the pure joy of being creative and write music. We wrote samba, reggae, rock etc. After a couple of years we started to talk about writing in some kind of direction because the writing process between us was so simple and fun, compared some other writing situations we've been in. We decided to write 10 songs and make an album. We wrote the songs pretty fast but had a hard time finding a singer who matched the songs. On top of that we both became very busy with other bands and projects. In the autumn of 2012 we booked a good studio and recorded drums, bass and keyboards. In the spring of 2013 we met Alex Lycke and with his voice everything fell in place. He recorded his parts fast and everyone felt so good about the whole thing we decided to make it a band.
Astrakhan, a city in Russia. Is that the origin of the band's name... or?
Astrakhan – ell its not. To be honest we didn't know that it was the name of a city! We were throwing names around and someone mention astrakhan - like the apple. Then we added a H and it looked better so we decided on that. When everything was set we hade some reactions from people that lived there or where born there.
Could you please give us some info on the album: Where did you record the album and who has produced and mixed it?
Astrakhan – We recorded drums, bass and keyboards and BAM studios like you did back in the day. Everyone together and then we did 2-3 takes on every song and kept the best overall take. Nowadays it feels important to bring back the idea of actually capture an atmosphere and vibe on "tape" instead of a perfect take played by one single instrument. It was an easy decision to have Marcus Jidell coming in and play guitar and he recorded his parts in his studio. He also recorded and produced the vocals and by then he was so deeply involved and we shared the same idea how it should be mixed and sound so he did the mixing as well. Flutes, percussion, trombone and some extra things where recorded here and there in different studios or in my apartment.
And now onto your new album track-by-track, what inspired you, and what do what to express with this song etc.
01. Under The Sun Part 1
Astrakhan – We decided from the start that the album should start and end with the same song made in different version. We knew from the start how the album should be build and decided on a few things before we actually had the songs. I had the bass riff and the first version was only played on bass and acoustic guitar. But the, we share a love for rhodes, wurlitzer and electric pianos in general so we tried it out and it was a lot better. Jörgen got the vocal melody when he was out biking early one day and the songs is all about capturing those short seconds in life where you have some kind of experience that you actually understand life and everything is crystal clear. I had those moments like three times in my life but they only last for seconds and then you're back on earth again, struggling with all those questions about life, death, relations etc.
02. Shadow of the Light
Astrakhan – This song wasn't supposed to be on the album. We already had all the 10 songs written but we continued to write from time to time just because we like to write music together. If it was easy before this one was really quick. We decided that we should see each other one night and write a song. I wrote the riff in my head while driving to the studio. Jörgen had a chord progression he showed me and riff and chords matched each other perfectly. Two hours later we left the studio with every part written and demoed. Then we had some really good reactions on the song so we kept it and it turned out great. Lyrics came as easy as the song. I think I wrote the basic lyric and melody in exactly 5:32 minutes...
Astrakhan – Jörgen basically wrote everything in his head before we sat down with an instrument and sorted everything out. It has this big riff and rhythm and called for lyrics with words to match the music. We used some quotes from famous people and politicians as lyrics and filled in the blanks with our own words. The thing is that propaganda in general is just words to make yourself or anything appear bigger and better than they actually are. That's why we ended the song with Martin Luther Kings speech that end with "all men are created equal". No matter who you are or what you have done in your prime years - in the end we're just the same, have the same basic needs and really created equal. The rest of it is just smoke and mirrors.
04. Higher Ground
Astrakhan – Higher Ground deals with the ups and downs in life. We sat down and discussed the lyrics one day and came to the conclusion that we all had our own idea what it was all about. For someone it dealt with hope and for someone else it was a story of where you really tried hard to get out of a negative spin but no matter what you did, you didn't manage to break it and reach the "higher ground". When you're out of words for breaking this downward spiral we used music and that's where the outro comes in and make you feel that you actually can fly. The vibe of the songs starts to transcends already in the solo, which is a killer and really shows how good Marcus is as a guitar player. The phrases and melodies really go hand in hand with the whole intention of the song - to go from a soft whisper to a roar and everything in between.
05. No Name Lane
Astrakhan – If "Higher Ground" deals with the ups and downs in life, "No Name Lane" is just dealing with the downside in life. I was deeply depressed for some years and I wrote the lyrics when I was on my way out of the darkness. I probably wouldn't had find my way out if it wasn't for people around me who kind of disturbed me being depressed. They kept doing this even if I did my best to get rid of them. I had the piano melody lying around for years before and tried it in different version. But it never felt right until I showed it to Jörgen who found the right way to play it and make it work in a song.
06. Extreme Media Makeover
Astrakhan – The most complex song on the album and my personal favourite. It contains layers of vocals, flutes, percussion, trombone, grand piano etc. The orchestra part in the middle is just magical! The background vocals are sung by Maria Rådsten (MISTH).
07. Long Gone Generation
Astrakhan – The main riff is written by Anders Lundström from House of Shakira. Me and him tried to make something out of it but got stuck somewhere. The minute me and Jörgen sat down with it it took off and became what it is today. I wrote the first version of the lyrics when I visited Zanzibar based around traditions and what to do with your life. Then I saw a documentary about arranged marriages and became very angry how stupid traditions just keeps on going even if not that many likes them. I hate these statements of "this is how we do it here, we have always done it this way" and so on. That's one of the reason why we threw in a fretless bass and moog solo - because it's not the tradition in a rock band.
08. Modern Original Sin
Astrakhan – This song is in some ways more like a piece of art or a installation than a "song". I was foolin' around with a riff I really liked but I couldn't make it fly. Every time that happens me I change something dramatically. I may be sound, instrument or whatever. In this case it was the tempo. I thought like "what if I just drop the tempo by 50 bpm?". All of a sudden, the riff made sense and became Marcus favourite riff. When the riff became that slow and heavy I thought that the rest of it should be really twisted and odd with heavy and dark lyrics. The last lines sums up the whole vibe of the song - "I'm scared of everything, I hold my breath and sing...".
09. State of Mind
Astrakhan – This is actually a really old riff made by me for House of Shakira. Again, It was just lying around until Jörgen find the solution of how to use it. Then he came up with the really odd harmonies on the chorus and we worked for weeks to find a vocal line that would fit but it seemed impossible to find anything that sounded natural. Then this guitar melody came up and it was just perfect. The whole song has a strong motion forward, exploring the will to try unconventional solutions in life and music. The last piano part was recorded in a church when we where there recording for another project. Jörgen came up with the idea on spot, did one take and said afterwards that "I hope you got it because I don't think I will be able to play the same thing again".
10. Under the Sun Part 2
Astrakhan – Just the ending song, sums up the whole album and catches the vibe of grandpa telling a story about life.
Tell us a bit about the artwork – who made it etc. and how important do you feel it is to have a cool artwork?
Astrakhan – Artwork is really important. With this album everything was important. We said from the start that the lyrics and music should work together and filling in the blanks of each other. Same thing with artwork - it has to go with the vibe of the album. Theres Stephansdotter Björk was an obvious choice for me to take the band pics. I met her during my years with Pain of Salvation and she always made everyone look so good! The picture on the cover is taken by me during a walk by the lake near my place. I had never seen ice that spiky on a tree before and fifteen minutes later it had melted so it was really one of those moments. The artwork and booklet is made by Russian who I got to know during the years with House of Shakira. I understood on the spot what I was talking about and what kind of vibe I wanted to have on the album.
Any last words you want to round this interview off with?
Astrakhan – I'm really proud of this record as it became just as good as I could only dream about. The next 2 months we are busy with other projects as I will go touring with Royal Hunt again and Alex has the leading role in Jesus Christ Superstar playing in Finland right now. We are booking shows in Sweden and Finland and will start playing live again in May.
Kenn Jensen, February 2014