We react on what is going on in our ”modern world,” all these things that needs a response and to channel that energy and sometimes desperation into music. To be angry can also be inspiring.
Synth trio Twice a Man have been a fixture in Sweden’s new wave scene since the dawn of the punk era in the late 70s. Kicking off their career in progressive and ambient projects, the original duo of Karl Gasleben and Dan Sönderqvist bonded over the changing landscape and formed Cosmic Overdose in 1978. Reacting primarily to the world around them, Cosmic Overdose combined fiery punk ethics with art-rock flourishes, eventually evolving into Twice a Man in 1981. Embracing the synthesizer and constantly evolving their sound to incorporate natural samples and ambient passages while still retaining their political sensibilities, Twice a Man have released 21 records, and show no signs of slowing down. From dark minimal synth and new wave classics to commissioned video game soundtracks, the band have left no stone unturned, and remain a cult favorite whose work can still be heard in clubs to date.
We had the pleasure of chatting with Karl Gasleben, Dan Söderqvist, and Jocke Söderqvist about Twice a Man’s illustrious career, their future endeavors, and the circle of influence.
Can you tell us about your early days? How did Cosmic Overdose come together?
Karl: Cosmic Overdose was a project where we took our ambient spine from our earlier bands (Dan in Älgarnas Trädgård and me in Anna Själv Tredje) and tried to develop it into vocal-based short stories. We were inspired by the energy in the punk movement and the sounds from synthesizers. There were no plan of becoming a synth band. We just did follow the flow and ended up where the music took us. Cosmic Overdose is afflicted with the epithet of being the first synth band in Sweden although we used a guitar as one of the sound sources. But as some of the fans said that the guitar sounded almost like a synth with all the effects on it.
Dan: Karl and I met the first time in school 1969. We made some ambient tapes together in the early 70s. Our first bands, as Karl mentions, had their origin in psych and minimalistic music. Both bands were instrumental with long improvised pieces. The atmosphere among people changed a lot in the middle of the 70s, from the dreamy hippie times to a new much harder society. The dream of peace and love was over and the neo liberal/conservative forces were strong. People struggle to make a living and the music reflects that. There is a strong social aspect in the punk movement and it’s music and we could not go on gazing at our navels. I visited Karl at the end of-77. We listened to Bowie’s Low, Wire’s Pink Flag and other new music and discussed to form a small band with only us on synth and guitar and out of necessity a rhythm machine as a drummer. That became the start of Cosmic Overdose. Little did we know that there were other bands working in the same direction.
40 years is quite a long and impressive career – congratulations! Can you share some highlights over your time together?
Jocke: I’ve been a part of the band in two periods 1983-1986 and 2013-? I was very young in the first period and a highlight for me was to suddenly face a bigger audience and work professionally with both composing and giving concerts. We made many really good live performances in the early 80s. From 2013 a highlight for me has been how our political views and thoughts about life and the future have been implemented in our music without losing the wonderful mystery that music should be.
Karl: The answers to this question could maybe be found in the book Songs for Sunken Memories. But we never wrote it. Some memories floats up to the surface when we sit in the studio together, others are forever forgotten. In a way there are two kinds; the more personal ones with nice concerts, exciting meetings, best dinners and so on. And those which put more fire to our way of making music. These where often connected to new technical equipment for doing music. Like when the personal computer appeared with Digital performer and Opcodes Vision. Prophet 5, DX7, Emulator II, Absynth, Reason and more.
Dan: I agree, that is one way to put it, although Twice a Man has never worked in a vacuum. We were and still are connected to the music scene that develop around us and we also have many impressions from other artistic expressions. The years between 1983-85 we were a very good live band and played a lot in northern European and there are many memories connected to that period. A fine anecdote is to be served tea by a young whimsical Elizabeth Frazer back stage in Rotterdam. Another highlight was the first time we made theatre music for The Royal Dramatic Theatre and Ingmar Bergman was in the audience, liking the performance. For artistic achievements it is hard to pick a winner among 21 albums, several multimedia performances, 20+ theatre plays, exhibitions, dance performances, computer games etc… One thing that I am proud of is that we still are curious and that we always try to develop our expressions.
Can you tell us how your songs come together – do you produce demos, or do things come together organically? How has your writing process changed over the years?
Karl: In the ancient times, when we started, the only way to hear a composition was to play it together. Then the computer was born and our process did change with it. At the same time we got an 8-track recorder. We were still sitting together most of the time but we did make our efforts one at the time too. When the sound recording crawled into the computer and the soft synths appeared it was easier to take the compositions from our studio and work elsewhere in a more solitary way. And after that meet and put bits and pieces together. Nowadays we meet in the studio and compose most of the stuff together when we are in the same environment. This happens 6 or 7 times a year as we live in different locations. (Dan in France during the winter, Gothenburg during summer, Jocke in Stockholm and Gasleben in the woods north of Gothenburg – 50 meters from the studio).
We record and make demo mixes and then we send the files to Daniel Kaufeldt (our fourth member in a way) who does the final mix and add some additional synths. We also do some compositions, ”the old fashion way,” playing together and improvise the way to a new piece; for example the album “Cocoon” and the song “Black” from Presence are made likethat.
Aside from other musical artists – what else inspires you to create?
Karl: Nature, dreaming, small wonders, other peoples thoughts, moving and static visual arts and moods from the environment.
Dan: Well put, it summons it up pretty well. If I would elaborate a little; I think the basic inspirations for Twice a Man are in the landscapes of our childhood. Brought up in a sometimes desolate, cold and during winter, a dark environment forms the being experiencing it. These natural melancholic moods inspire not only the music, but it becomes a part of your soul. The Swedish society’s in some ways socialistic experiment during the 60s and 70s has also formed us, I believe, to think in a more collective and empathetic way. We react on what is going on in our ”modern world,” all these things that needs a response and to channel that energy and sometimes desperation into music. To be angry can also be inspiring. Through the work in making music for theatre we learned how to make a good working process when starting a new project. This involves a lot of reading and research, to find inspirations not only from nature and society, but also from other artistic expressions. Some artists have been very important in our development; Andrei Tarkovsky, Marcel Duchamp, John Cage, Aldous Huxley to mention a few. Artists that have been groundbreaking and had a vision beyond their contemporaries, changing the way we experience the world.
I’ve always loved “Across the Ocean.” with its message and especially the way it builds with the drum patterns and whale samples – always get a nice reaction when I DJ that track in NYC. Can you tell us more about that track in particular – and how the world around us inspires Twice a Man?
Dan: (Nice to hear that “Across the Ocean” is played in NY clubs :). Much has been answered already above about our inspiration from our childhood landscapes, nature etc. We were invited to make a sound track for an exhibition about whales and dolphins at Kulturhuset in Stockholm. Digital sampling just became available in those years and we could sample whale sounds and be able to ”play” on them. The creation of the whale bass sound was made with 4 digital echo unites, as I remember, each playing one note. Later, when we got the Emulator 2, using sampling became much easier and changed the sound of Twice a Man. We made a lot of field recordings and samples from our surroundings, best illustrated perhaps in the environmental album Driftwood from 1988.
For the latest Songs of Future Memories compilation, what inspired the track selections? Was it difficult to choose favorites?
The idea to make a compilation came from our German record label Dependent with the saying that there is a need for a teaser of the band’s work. Or for us to make ”The young person’s guide to Twice a Man.” Early we decided to not include our soundtrack-based work, like theatre music, but to concentrate the collection out of the 14 song-albums. To put the collection together was not a big problem. Decisions were made by the three of us with advice from the record company, friends, and fans. Since we still work together and have the same taste in music it was quite easy to come up with a list of songs. There are some obvious choices that could not be missed, especially from the 80s. Since we basically are an album band we normally spend a lot of time selecting songs in an order where they benefit each other in a good way. Some of the songs on the compilation may sound even better if you listen to them on the album they originate from. But for us this work has given us a bird’s eye view of the drawer of our work in the past.
For the gear heads – what tools/synths/etc. do you use to record these days?
Karl: Mainly software-based synths and guitar. Our main DAW is Logic, but Reason and Ableton are also involved sometimes. We use the Logic synths a lot, especially Alchemy, but also Animoog Z, Synthmaster 2, Thor, and the favorite, Absynth by Brian Clevinger. The last year we also have been using his Plasmonic synth.
It is a shame that Native Instruments do not support the Absynth any more. We will soon have our own funeral feast to honour all the great work this synth have made for us. Ipad synths is another big sound bouquet in our work. Apardillo, Factory, SynthScaper, Cyclop, Nave, Thor and others, all through AUM with FX busses. A big part of the sounds on the album Cocoon where made on an Ipad.
In our studio we also have a bunch of hardware synths. (Wasp, MS 20, 2600 (Behringer) Pro one (Behringer), JD800, DX7, AN1X, BasStation. But these days we mainly sample sound for them to put in Logic sampler.
Twice a Man has bounced between more electronic/wave/techno material but has also done quite a bit of ambient work – can you tell us a bit about the ambient material and what inspires that?
Karl: We have done a lot of theatre music for The Royal Dramatic Theatre and other theaters in Sweden. And when you do that kind of ambient music there is a script to be inspired from. Setting musical emotions to words by Almqvist, Kushner, Shakespeare, Norén, Lorca (and many others). To get inspired then it is easy.
Working with ambient music from our own spring is something we did in our early bands Älgarnas Trädgård and Anna Själv Tredje. So it is in our spine really. Inspiration floats around us and every sound you here in the daily life is a composition if you treat it the right way. When you stand in the forest you don’t need drums to perceive the musical emotions. And when you talk to the wind you just have to filter out the sounds you need from the universe. And in the voices of the environment noise there is a lot of threads to pick up. An urban city could be a fantastic ambient concert if you listen to it in that way.
What does a Twice a Man concert look like in 2023? How often do you play live?
Karl: Back in the days a Twice a Man concert had a lot of visual ingredients like scenography, performance, dance, and happenings around us when we played the music. In the 80s it could take hours to build the set before we went on stage. In these days we do not get that option, because nowadays we mostly get booked in festivals where you just have a small time frame to put up the gear. So now we present ourself more as a ”normal” band. Maybe that’s why we don’t play that much live anymore. Our wish is to present a visual performance.
Any plans to tour the US?
Karl: Of course we would like to come and perform in US. But we are musicians/composers so we need someone to help us organise a tour. But that person has not appeared yet. Suggestions are appreciated?
What’s next for the band? Any plans to record a new album?
Dan: During the work to produce Songs of Future Memories we recorded two new songs, “Lotus” and “Dahlia.” We were very pleased with them and the working process worked out well too. So, we decided to continue creating new songs for a future album. At this moment, summer ’23, we have 5-7 new songs that will be the basic tracks for this new album. As we want to work in the same room and not only send files through internet, the process will take some time, but we are in a good way.
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