Devil’s Interview: Anders Johansson of Diablo Swing Orchestra

After my review of Pandora’s Piñata, DSO’s latest musical offering, I had the opportunity to interview Anders Johansson, their bass player.  Having seen DSO in Germany a few years ago, I was happy that it was Anders for the interview, as he was the most energetic member of the band and really put on a good performance (the photos are mine from that concert).  I thought his answers were thoughtful, funny, extensive, and rather interesting.

With that, here’s the interview.  Enjoy.

Pandora’s Piñata is an excellent album and a great example of what DSO is all about. I found it to be an improvement over the last album, but I’m not sure anything will ever touch The Butcher’s Ballroom. This one is definitely an outstanding effort. That said, thanks for your time.

Where do you find inspiration for the music that is DSO?


AJ – I personally believe inspiration to be available to us at all times, anywhere. One just needs to be attentive enough of everything from our own likes and dislikes to the recognition of the elephant in the room. Neglect nothing. On the one hand, letting the world’s signals be drained through our minds’ polar filters, yet on the other remain open to the questioning of the same. Easier said than done, of course. However, when the proper balance of the two is attained, things truly begin to sparkle! That being said, we pick up a lot of what’s going on out there musically,  in all possible genres. Among the members of Diablo Swing, I know there’s a lot of neu-swing stuff, such as Katzenjammer, and vintage style guitar-based music going around right now. Along with that, most of us do park our cars in the same garage regarding the music we listen to, so to speak, though we all do singly ventures from that, of course. You may have gotten an impression on this topic judging from the songs we played after our shows in Latin America, should you have attended? That sure was a great blend of the above. However, regarding Katzenjammer — I mean, the use of a huge Balalaika with a smug smiling cat on it – what’s not to like when the audio content meets the visible like that? Again with the sparkles over here!

Now, for us, humour and music in combination seems to be a great way of channeling inspiration and ideas into songs. Another way of phrasing the above would be the Diablo Swing Orchestra using music for the defusing of our everyday seriousness. What better way of doing so, than through a blend of styles keeping listeners alert for every upcoming move? That, if anything, retains that openness and attentiveness mentioned earlier. Also, now that we’ve been around as a band for almost ten years, and as human beings for about three times that, we’ve gathered enough material and perspective to express it all, and at the same time appeal to a wide spread of people out there. That being said, some songs we’ve written are even inspired from people’s own letters of experiences that we’ve received, good and bad, of course. The new song Guerrilla Laments discussing the trials and tribulations of being a tiny, individual part of society, is a good example of that; and so we somewhat merge with our listeners these days. So. sparkles in us, sparkles in them!

What role do the media and fan interactions play in the direction that DSO moves in?

AJ – The approach of the last sentences of the answer above, also applies here. Of course our separate perspectives as individuals have changed over the years, through our touring and interacting with both media and listeners, however, mostly through life itself. That, if anything, has changed our cardinal direction. Along with our lives as individuals, our way of lyrical writing, composing, and handling everything from rehearsals, to touring and studio sessions, has morphed into a more well oiled octagon machine, and a more humble one at that. We’re simply more glued together these days than ever before, which helps too. Third album; third chance to apply what’s learned in our common past. That is a toolbox best used with kid gloves though. Light, light touching, remaining open without too harsh conclusions — ”This is how it is, period.”. We’ve experienced enough not to fall into those traps of rigidity, however, we also know what mistakes simply not to remake! Again, the balance of life applied in a band environment.

Also, the orchestra having made some kind of a mark in Latin America during the last couple of years, this too effects our routes of touring, and what we pickup along the way. One just can’t overlook the energy of the people over there. Intoxicating and contagious in a true positive sense, and we can’t wait to go back!

How would you describe your progression as a band from your first album until now?

AJ – As stated before, this is our third full album release, so we’ve had some serious practicing in the matter over the last nine years, and I’d say that this time around we’re more of a homogeneous gathering of folks, as you may see by now. Both regarding how we sound, as well as how we work as individuals in a group, both in and outside of the studio environment. All of us are contributing more to the overall result these days, as opposed to the process of The Butcher’s Ballroom, in which Daniel (Håkansson) did most of the composing. A whole lot has changed since then, though some things seem to stay the same too. Pontus (Mantefors) was already co-producing during our 2005 recordings, which still is the same for today’s process. So every one of us chipping in like that today, is truly noticeable in the finished result, being as vivid as I’d like to say it is. The various personalities of the band represented, as well as our musical backgrounds being of such a wide spread; it’s all there, and audible. That spread is also what I’ve tried to convey using all those colours art directing and drawing the latest art work. We’re simply not just red and black anymore! A whole lot of schatterings and hues in there these days, in a lot of different ways, wouldn’t you agree?

Petter Karlsson was a noticeable improvement on drums. Have you taken steps to find a replacement?

AJ – Yes and yes! Petter sure made a world of a difference regarding his vivid drumming! Fast, lively, never tiring or boring, indeed. I personally think that really gave Pandora’s Piñata that certain twist and twang as well as that true studio-live vibe that a lot of bands try to convey. We were truly lucky there! As you may know, Petter left the band to pursue working on his own separate projects, since he felt he couldn’t contribute as he wished in Diablo Swing. Even if those situations aren’t uncommon for bands, it always stirs up a certain boil in the matter of ”what now?!”. Both in a positive or negative sense that is. Luckily, I pulled some threads back in the town where I grew up, Karlstad (Sweden), and I still have a lot of connections there regarding musicians and graphic design too. My friend and nothing short of an amazing drummer, Martin Magnusson from ”Damien”, tried on a few songs and seemed to enjoy it. He couldn’t find the time to join us though, since he’s in the middle of recording an album right now, but in turn he stated that ”this must be a perfect job for Johan Norbäck of the band Vulkan”. So. Long story short, I contacted Johan, explaining the situation and the circumstances regarding our upcoming Latin American tour, and he was all-in-excited from the very first sentence I received back! Once we’d tried rehearsing with Johan, we were all very relieved. His ingenious ways of witty, yet steady beats, truly amazed me as a bass player and his easy-going attitude, as a new won friend. As of the recent Latin American tour, he’s our all new full time batterista.

What have you learned along the way now that you’ve been performing for a while and have three albums produced?

AJ – Aside from what I’ve stated in answers above, I’d say that the whole process of pre-production has evolved greatly. This third time, we finally were properly rehearsed before entering the studio. We all knew the songs by heart; and there was pre-production material to fall back on, in case of issues presenting themselves while recording. This makes the recording process a much smoother one, which of course also may be heard audio-wise. I mean, that base helps everything from the producer knowing how to handle a certain part of a song, to any possible additional musicians entering our recording sphere in the middle of the process. Being that prepared surely made a significant difference.

Regarding matters on the road, I must admit, everything from handling issues of checking in at airports, to sound checks and shows are all slightly more plumed these days. An example of that, is surely when we reached Caracas, Venezuela, coming from Paris to start off our Latin American tour only a month ago. Customs wouldn’t let us in due to a situation regarding work visas, so we were supposed to be deported back to Paris. According to them, that is. With a margin of 30 minutes however, we managed to make them deport us to Medellin, Colombia, so the tour could continue from there instead. Close call, that one — Phew! Both the reactions from the band members on the matter, as well as how all chipped in to resolve the issue, was a great experience in the middle of the slight panic, indeed. People never stop amazing me. Other than that, the learning process sure is a never ending one…

If you knew at the beginning what you know now, what would you have done differently?

AJ – I can only answer for myself regarding this matter, and personally, the answer has to be a simple one. Admitting to myself that it’s OK not knowing all the answers.

How much of an issue are the language barriers as you attempt to build a global fan base (Mexico comes to mind)?

AJ – Of course there may be frustration in matters of communication, but today’s available tools sure make a world of a difference. In Bogotá, letting Google Translate order the extra eggs on the side, really made the breakfast experience a much greater one (laughs)! Besides that, we were all picking up some useful Spanish and Portuguese to go around, though it sure would help staying a bit longer than two weeks to make that happen… Other than that, again, people are truly amazing in their ways of trying to be understood, and so are we I must add! Gestures, facial expressions, and Spanish with an Italian accent, mixed with Swedish and English can do small wonders actually.

If you could not work in the music industry, what would you most likely be doing instead?

AJ – Most of us have day jobs not concerning music at all, at least not in the sense of the band, and I’m not sure whether those day jobs are dream ones though! Again, I can only answer for myself, and the job as an Art Director for broadcasting motion design sure is a treat. Being creative both at work, and outside can of course be demanding, but I’ve found some ways to work along with that over the years! Resistance is futile! Being able to also do the design work for the band really keeps me open, alert and interested in the matter. Travelling with the band does refill those inspirational voids too, I must admit!

What is the role of jazz and swing music in Sweden, and why do you include that style in your music?

AJ – I’d love to say that the role of jazz & swing in Sweden is more than any other sub-culture, but I’m afraid it isn’t. There are a lot of tiny jazz clubs going on over here, and some are even rather famous, such as Fasching & The Glenn Miller Café in Stockholm, as well as Nefertiti in Gothenburg, but other than that, one has to make do with the occasional rockabilly eve at the local club Debaser (Stockholm). Of course there are passionate souls arranging swing dancing and events around all kinds of music and world culture too, but they’re not that frequent unfortunately. I guess this kind of explains our not being able to settle a home-based crowd of followers either for that matter! I for one, love to go to London or other sub-culture flowering cities not far from Stockholm, to experience everything from ”Quantic And His Combo Barbaro” to the occasional ”Tremolo Beerguts” show, but those are rare experiences indeed!

What are you doing to support the next generation of young musicians in Sweden or anywhere else?

AJ – Again, since we’re more established outside our own geographic community, those topics are seldom brought to light from people over here. From overseas though, we receive a great many questions and statements regarding our music, playing styles and equipment. Often very flattering ones too! Answering everything from lovely, nerdy questions about string thickness to broader ones regarding the blend of mixes, sure is our true pleasure. Listeners seem to notice our passion in the matters, and so we’re all mirroring ourselves in that. It sure feels great to be part of those young musicians’ inspirational spheres! Some even mail us tabs of our own songs, which are made with such perfection, that they come to a lot of use for our own tour rehearsals even! This guy in particular comes to mind, Anthony Charles Dickenson. When I had to practice the walking bass lines of the song, Voodoo Mon Amour, I used Anthony’s own YouTube recordings to get all those notes in there!

How involved are the band members in each others’ lives outside of the band?

AJ – The Diablo Swing Orchestra being a full time job on top of our full time jobs (!), we call each other and meet up rather often. Well, not all of us, since we’re divided into three Swedish cities, but I and Daniel (Håkansson) live rather close to each other here in Stockholm. We seldom meet without there being some kind of a band thing to discuss though (laughs)! New technology helps socially too. During the pre-production process of Pandora’s Piñata, we could finally do a lot of the work in our home environments instead of in rehearsal rooms situated far outside the Stockholm City centre. This way, attending recordings a short while now and then, was far more attainable than before. I remember Pontus spending most waking hours at Daniel’s place though!

Of course, we all have our more private lives aside from the band too, since there are families to be created and grocery shopping to be handled. All of that obviously has its own musical melodies at that! Who knows though, maybe the planets will align in the future, and we’ll have the whole band live in the same city at least? Now, that would be something.

What individual projects are members of the band pursuing?

AJ – Aside from our all new drummer Johan Norbäck’s great progressive project of Alice In Chains-meets-a-tad-of-Tool, called ”Vulkan”, Johannes (Bergion) has a really interesting string project going too. It’s called ”Von Thord”. You should definitely check out the video for their song ”Wedding Night”, as well as Vulkan’s song ”Elaborinth” (see links below). I myself, is in a forever continuing venture of merging vintage Colombian ”Cali” funk with jazz, digging up old 45s and playing bass on top of that. I’m sure that’ll transport into something more produced later on too.

Von Thord — Wedding Night:

Vulkan — Elaborinth

Have you already begun to plan for the next album?

AJ – Yes indeed! I know for a fact that Daniel has some evil low end riffs going on over at the Håkansson Residence! I’d like to something like ”Stay tuned!”, but that sounds really silly! (laughs)

Where would you most like to travel to for a show, and why that location?

AJ – I guess people are expecting something like the H.R. Giger Bar in St. Germain here? Well, no, though that would be something! While growing up, I always was this die-hard 311 fan. Especially because of P-nut’s colourful bass lines, but also judging from their vast blend of musical styles, just as we do today, really. Attending what seems to be one of their astounding 311 cruises in the Caribbean, sure would be an experience of rank! I mean, people are dancing like crazy even at our venue shows in Latin America, so I’m sure the outside tropic cruise climate would add another layer on top of that indeed! Heat and crowds sure does something to us all.

Thanks again for your time and we hope to see you on tour soon in the US!

AJ – Well, we’re the ones to be thanking you really! And, yes, we sure are looking forward to touring the US soon enough, though the paper work for playing the states sure is an exercise in itself! Now. Stay attentive, be playful, keep curious!

 I hear the sound in a METAL way.



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