I first learned of the duo Bremen while flipping through the bins of records for review at Razorcake one afternoon a few years back. It was a copy of their debut self-titled LP on Skrammel, sandwiched among all the usual punk stuff. The Bremen LP stood out among all the gaudy and ugly record covers that surrounded it. The front cover is of two men (I’m assuming it’s them) walking away from the viewer . The overcast sky looms large. With song titles like “A Long Way from Faraway,” “Debris in Orbit,” and “Far Beyond the Depth” I was further intrigued. Not really knowing what to expect I took the album home for review and was more than pleasantly surprised: I was hooked.
Bremen are Jonas Tiljander (Brainbombs, and Brainmen), and Lanchy (Totalitär, Teenage Graves, and Krig i Hudik) working together creating music that upends any notions you may have on what they sound like given their past output. Instead the loud and abrasive way, Bremen go towards cosmic sounds that fit at home with some far off space lounge in an undiscovered galaxy, or could be used as a soundtrack for upscale sci-fi or arthouse horror.
Dark and sometimes soaring, utilizing synths, drums, guitars, and other sounds to create a mood and paint mental imagery for you, the listener. At present have have four albums out (their latest is Enter Silencereleased on Blackest Ever Black), I suggest getting all of them.
Interview was conducted through the magic of e-mail with Jonas.
Something I’m sure a lot of people have asked you from the beginning, but, how did you guys go from playing in bands like Brainbombs and Totalitär to something like Bremen? Your prior two mentioned bands are known for being harsh and agressive, and then you form Bremen, which is something else entirely. How did you arrive at this point?
Speaking for myself I have listened to krautrock, progressive rock, space rock and experimental music since the eighties as well as punk, noise, power electronics, classical, free jazz and lots of other music. So there’s really not a point that I have arrived to, more like a fortunate moment in my life where I happened to have the right gear and find a small studio together with Lanchy. This would be in 2010. Then the music which is closest to my heart got the opportunity to be made. I have played other stuff as well and Lanchy who also played in Totalitär, The Teenage Graves and other bands have for instance played country, blues, rockabilly and pop even. Brainbombs are about raw energy that is created by pouring the ugliest sides of human nature through rock and roll basically. There is, I think, a darkness in Bremen too, but as opposed to with Brainbombs it’s from the observers point of view rather than from the perpetrator. The repetition is apparent in Bremen too. That is a power in it’s own right that we’ve always enjoyed. Brainbombs were formed in 1985 and the main influences back then were Whitehouse, Chrome and James Chance together with Peter Sotos writings. From then on, we’ve resurfaced from time to time to record or (very rarely) play a gig, but we never rehearsed and have never really been an active band. Bremen is more of an ongoing project. Bremen is also the result of our slightly different background and approach to music. I am untrained and have never really learned that much basics on the guitar such as scales and on keyboards I am totally unschooled, I just go for sounds and feelings. Lanchy is more of a trained musician and I think that Bremens sound is partly made from the balance between our slightly different approaches.
How do you go about composing your songs? Is it spontaneous, or do you have an idea in mind?
Lanchy and I meet in the studio every second week and improvise and record songs. Bremen is the music I have in me the whole time. Although I listen to all kinds of more conventional music I have never been very good at doing the straight, verse/refrain-linear kind of music and I have never been inspired with doing that. Semi free improvisation around themes is what inspires me. Spontaneous music. Usually we start jamming, me on keyboard, Lanchy on guitar and sometimes we kind of stumble on a sound or a few notes, without any thoughts on how it should sound. We usually recognize that moment and record it and then we continue working on that base track, mostly improvising around it and sharing ideas. Usually we leave the base track until next time we meet and it will feel fresh and give us new ideas. We record overdubs, sometimes I lay down another guitar or Lanchy does, or either of us play some drums, or bass. Many times the song is finished the next time and we will mix it down and listen to it for a while at home. Maybe there are some small changes but the whole process does not really take more than a few weeks, and a total of maybe six hours studio time. But only about half the songs end up on the final master though because we record a lot of songs.
Is creating music for Bremen more challenging than what you created in your previous bands?
For me, Bremen, just as with Brainbombs, is more about getting the right feeling, the right moment. With Brainbombs that happens when I channel all my frustration, darkness and aggressiveness through my guitar and let it pour out through the amp, with Bremen it’s when I stop thinking about what I am playing completely and I just feel the music without being aware of the constraints of music. By that I mean without thinking about how music “should” be done, but also, without being aware of my own limitations. And since I am not trained on any instrument, especially not keyboards ha ha, I am lucky that the music I like to do is minimalistic and droney in character. So doing music that is challenging per se is mainly limiting my creativity really, I do best when I can just be spontaneous. The process can be challenging sometimes though, when we get an idea how a certain element should sound and not quite are able to get that sound. And Brainbombs can be challenging in that it can be tiresome playing that intense riff with energy for more than five minutes.
By not being musically trained, as you say, I would think that you have no limits to how music should be. Really challenging music comes from somewhere no one has gone before. I would also like to think that as you play and create more over the years, that you naturally break away from all that is expected in music. That really there are no limits, especially when your approach is spontaneous. When I listen to Bremen, I like to think you guys are going to go further and further out there in your sound and what can be done. Is this something that you guys feel as well?
I would say that hopefully we evolve and our next album are a bit different, but we have no agenda to bring it further just for the sake of it. But we are limitless in that we have no expectations from ourselves when we play, and we don’t skip a musical idea just because that’s not how you do it. I think that’s what makes us enjoy recording and that’s what give us our sound. It comes naturally really. Our aim is not to make challenging music, and I don’t think Bremen is very challenging, but we don’t hesitate in doing long drones or noisy stuff among more soft passages just because we would think some listeners wouldn’t enjoy that. And we don´t decide that we will make a record in a given time limit. We just record when we feel we have something worth recording, then after a year we have, perhaps 25 songs and we pick out the ones that are worth release and make up a coherent album. Luckily, we have a label who want to release it.
From your song titles and artwork used in the gatefold of Second Launch, that outer space is your muse. Is this correct? If so, what is it about space that you feel compelled to create music for?
I’ve always loved all things space but it also come naturally for both of us since space perfectly illustrate the feeling of loneliness, death, darkness, coldness, strangeness in our music that we really like and sort of come naturally. I never enjoyed happy music that much and there are no such thing as happy space music. Space make us feel wonder and make us feel small and lost and close to death. That’s whats going on in Bremen´s music.
Can you tell us about the song “Hollow Wave”? It’s one of those songs that takes over the room whenever I hear it, and it certainly has this darkness to it that is alluring.
That’s one of the more spontaneous songs where we just jam around and in this case I came up with this lonely organ sound which turn like a hollow wave. The emptiness and hollowness of that sound immediately inspired us and we recorded everything on the spot. That’s when we both feel that Bremen lives on it’s own and it just happens and these kind of songs are the ones we are most satisfied with. We get caught in the mood right away, especially when it’s, like you describe it, an alluring darkness to it. I wish there were more songs like that happening but it might be too much of the same thing then since we also enjoy a bit variety in our material as well.
What was the inspiration to “Walking The Skies”?
“Walking The Skies” was made in the same way as a lot of our songs, a loop or musical figure on the organ that evoke a certain feeling, in this case a sort of helpless floating in space without any means of influence. Not necessarily a bad thing, it’s rather an ecstatic feeling, hence a lot of delay and reverb and falling tones. We start with an idea, and that idea starts our imagination. But it’s not like we think: this is how it should sound, and try to put that into music. The music comes immediately. The title comes later when we found a title that goes with the feeling of the song.
“Voxnan”, to me, has a mood similar to “Hollow Wave”. Maybe it’s the use of the piano. What is a “voxnan”, and could you please tell us more about this song? Listening to it, I imagine two people in a craft in the farthest reaches of space witnessing something we have no comprehension of due to our limited knowledge.
Any evoked feeling or imagination that comes from listening to music is always right, since it is a personal experience. I like your picture and that could describe some other songs too. As for “Voxnan”, it is a specific Scandinavian dark and melancholic atmosphere that came out of the guitar riff which in turn evoked the piano notes and the organ. Voxnan is a river which runs through the province of Hälsingland were we are from originally and the title evoke the feeling of a slowly moving, timeless river through the landscape of hills and dark woods of spruce and pines. This melancholic atmosphere are found in a lot of Swedish music, way back in early folk music of the region, via the late jazz pianist Jan Johansson to the current rock act Dungen. It is something we’ve grown up with I think. Personally it evokes the feeling of nature as an uncontrollable force and also the feeling of loneliness in a vast nature (or space) since one cannot fully comprehend this force. I think it has a lot to do with this particular landscape in the southern part of northern Sweden which is rather sparsely populated as well. So your description is accurate really: two people in a craft floating slowly on the river Voxnan through empty dark woods, witnessing a dark, mysterious nature (space) and feeling a sort of melancholic loneliness since they cannot comprehend what they see. There is also an example in this song of the improvisational nature of Bremen, ha, ha, ha. About nine minutes into the song something unexpected happens with the echo stompbox which makes the guitar slowly fade away. In anger Lanchy strikes the string one last time and suddenly the sound returns and Voxnan can go on for a couple of minutes. We thought this dramatic little turn made sense to the song and let it be.
“Laika” has a different vibe than most of your other material. It has a mid 1960s to mid 1970s idea of galactic jazz. What ideas did you have in mind when this piece was put together?
I made a hammond bass loop upon which Lanchy laid a few chords on the guitar. Then I improvised some organ on top of that and added some synth effects. Many songs are built like this with me playing different keyboards and Lanchy adding bass and guitar but I also add guitars quite often, as well as bass and drums which we take turns playing. Laika was done in one occasion. Our early songs often starts with some kind of loop which we improvise over and I guess we were more melodic then and started leaning towards more drone stuff later on. However the new album has more melodic songs than Second Launch. Laika differs, and unfortunately, a one time stroke of luck. It just happened. Of course there are strong influences like the ones you mentioned and also of Bo Hansson I think but it’s the kind of influences you carry with you all the time. When the song was finished we thought of Laika floating alone in space, hence the title and the distant dog barking in the end.
Who is Leslie Smith, and why name a song after them?
The title is just a hint on me using the Leslie on the organ. We just made the name up to give an impression of some real person we wanted to tribute
“Bastogne” on your first album is an amazing piece. So much emotion is in the music. The piano sounds somewhat sad and resolute, while the guitar gives off a feeling of a new beginning. It’s a very cinematic song. It sounds like something you would hear towards the end of a 1970s sci-fi film. Has anyone approached Bremen about scoring a movie?
I had read a captivating story about the world war two battle of Bastogne and had those empty piano chords in my mind to catch the feeling of the Bastogne forest just after the battle. Silent and filled with dead soldiers, frozen stiff in the cold winter night. We would be honoured if any of our songs would be used in a score but have not been approached with any offer. I guess our music tends to be cinematic. We often picture ourselves different scenes when we play I guess. Or after a track has been laid down. That is often how we come up with the titles also.
If you could score a soundtrack to any movie, which one would it be, and why?
Lanchy thought of Taxi Driver because of the dark, slow and brooding feeling throughout the movie. I would like something like Moon by Duncan Jones since it matches our soundtrack of the slow paced emptiness of space.
Has Bremen performed in front of an audience, or is this strictly a studio project?
We did one short gig shortly before the first album came out. We did a long version of “Far Beyond The Depth” and got positive response in reviews and from the audience. If we were to do more gigs it would be a bit different and more downscaled than on the albums. The drone things would be possible perhaps. No, it is a studio project since we’re more into the creative process itself and to sink into it without any distractions. But someday we might do another gig. At least we’ve had offers.
Have you begun work on a new album?
Since we sent the master of Eclipsed to BEB this spring we have continued recording as usual. Since this album is delayed (due to the pressing plant) it will at least take another year before any new album, we have plenty of time to record and pick out tracks worthy of release. Eclipsed will be out finally in January. After that we will put together at least one digital album that will be for sale exclusively on our Bandcamp site.