Interview by Adrian Hextall
The Heard was formed out of the ashes of Crucified Barbera when Klara Rönnqvist Fors (guitars, backing vocals), Ida Stenbacka (bass, backing vocals) Nicki (Jannicke) Lindström (drums, backing vocals) decided to keep playing music after their previous band finished in 2016. Bringing in Skinny Kangur from Deathstars and the singer and burlesque artist Pepper Potemkin the new band The Heard brings forth its debut album The Island.
The Island is a distorted and dark release. Brought to life by all five members who bring their own personal nuances to the fore throughout they present a collective vision about a place where reality and mystery meet. The album is a concept piece that lies part way between ghost story, collected memories and a simple sense of mystery. A truly haunted island.
We spoke to Klara and Pepper about the band and the release:
MGM: I’m pretty excited about it. Mik [PR] has sent me the album. He said, “You’re gonna love this. This is right up your street. The sort of thing you listen to.” I said, “Okay. I’ll put this on. Play it.” It was very interesting I thought because the biography piece about the album and the band as well described the sound of heavy riffs, misty songs, dark waters, but it also mentioned a piece about ‘Death Supreme’ as well.
That’s the comment and also the song on the album that drew me in and so making me listen to the rest of it as well. Now, was that description deliberate on your part to draw out that particular track or because there is obviously the death in there as well?
Klara: We actually wrote that description before we even had that song, “Death Supreme.” It’s inspired from John Coltrane’s, “A Love Supreme.”
MGM: Slightly different angle there but yeah. [Laughs]
Klara: It’s very different but it’s still–
Pepper: But it’s Supreme! [Laughs]
Klara: Yeah, exactly. But in one way, still a tribute to it.
Klara: We just took the “Love” and made it to “Death.”
MGM: But because you picked up that piece then before you’d even written anything, when you came to writing that particular song, did that one– then feel that you had to put a little bit more into it then?
Klara: You know, actually it’s weird. That song, we wrote it and then it was a– kind of forgotten about because we started like two days before we were about to enter the studio. We were like, “maybe we should do this song or this song,” and it was like– But we have a Death Supreme. Why not do that one? It’s great.
Klara: And then we were like,”Yeah, it’s great.”
Pepper: Duh. [Laughs]
Klara: “Why don’t we record that one?”
Klara: So we just made it even better.
Pepper: Yeah. Did some last minute changes, kind of.
Pepper: Before we head to studio.
MGM: One of those where it– everything come, it just suddenly worked out. The timing. When to do it.
MGM: When to record it, and then it just flowed.
Klara and Pepper: Yes.
Klara: Exactly. It was the last song we decided to have on the album. And you and me, we were at my house and we did some alternatives–
Klara: For the vocals.
Klara: Like slight melody changes, and then you know, just some touching up to make it perfect. So we put a lot of effort into it, definitely.
MGM: You know, the amount of times I’ve spoken to artists and they’ve said,”You know the song you’ve just picked out, that’s the last one we put on the album.”
Klara and Pepper: [laughs]
MGM: What is it about the last song?
Klara: I don’t know.
MGM: — that you do that suddenly becomes the one that everybody fixates on? It’s weird, isn’t it?
Klara: Yeah, it is. But I think one answer to that question is because it wasn’t as well rehearsed as the other ones. So I think there was a little bit of tension in each and one of us when we recorded it because we didn’t like play it a thousand times in the rehearsal place. Because we didn’t even know we were gonna record it. So–
Pepper: We were kind of on our toes.
Klara: In the studio– We were definitely on our toes. Like,”Okay. I need to get this right. How was this rift and –?”
Klara: So I think that made it good.
MGM: It was really something to sort of latch on to. I thought it was really accessible, you know, the usual phrases to draw you into an album but no, no, no. It’s great. Now, because the album is a concept piece, was it difficult to write?
Pepper: No. [Laughs]
Klara: No, it’s actually something I would like to recommend to anyone who has had like a creative problem like,”I don’t know what to do, what to write.” To have a concept to stick to because it makes it easier–
Pepper: And more interesting, I think too.
Klara: Yeah. Definitely more interesting and–
Pepper: Really build a story.
Klara: It’s a kind of a kick start on your creativity because it opens up so many new like paths into a new work. Like instead of having anything, you limit it to,”Okay. I have– This is my concept.” And then you have like–
Pepper: Everything anyway.
Klara: Everything again.
Klara: But still within whatever path you choose for your concept. For us, I think it’s been great creatively.
Pepper: Yeah, yeah.
MGM: Beause it could have been that point where you’re getting so far through the story, for example. And you know you have to sing about, say this particular chapter. But trying to draw the inspiration from that part of the story ’cause you know now you have to. Could have been the most difficult thing ever because it could have been really dark, really difficult, or almost too light that it would have thrown out the flow of the album.
Klara: Yes, but we’ve chosen the parts we want to tell of course.
MGM: Of course, yes.
Klara: And that’s the advantage you have of being the mastermind, the god of your own creation. You can choose.
MGM: There are gaps that people then can fill in themselves as they go along?
Klara: Yes, definitely. I would say this album is– it’s not a novel. It’s more like short stories from a place with the characters within that place. So–
MGM: I’ve been trying to piece it together in my head. In the first few tracks, you can kind of see the concept of where you’re going to, then there’s the actual journey to get there. You can hear the boat, you hear the sirens calling out to you as you approach the island and then you’re on the island.
MGM: And that sort of it almost takes you to the first half way point on the album. And you think,”Okay. It’s a clear path that I’m following here.” Then it gets a little bit darker. Then it gets a little bit messed up as well.
Klara: Just like life. [Laugh] But you know that if you compare it to literature, those are like the sidetracks, the supporting characters. When you develop the story, you get to know more about the neighbor and that’s when the story broadens out. That’s what happens then.
MGM: As far as the concept has concerned itself, there’s a lot in the description about opposites. So everything you mentioned that relates to it, there’s always either side in the equation.
Klara: Yeah, it’s very dualistic. Definitely.
MGM: Where did that come from?
Klara: I think it’s basic human nature.
Klara: To have the dark and the light. The good and the evil. I think it’s within most. Religions within like all of us, I think. There are opposites.
Pepper: A human thing.
Klara: Yeah, it’s definitely human nature. So it’s natural to try to see both sides.
MGM: Both sides of it. Yes. Every argument, even on a coin.
Klara: Yeah, exactly.
Pepper: Yeah, for sure.
MGM: Some of the tracks give you a real change of pace as well. Take Sirens, it really smooths things down. Is that because you thought there was a need for a break or it was just a better way of telling that particular story?
Klara: We actually recorded that song with– We have released it in another version. Drums, electric… like a heavy distorted sound. It’s good but we loved that song and we thought this could be even better, greater with another arrangement.
So Skinny (Jonas “Skinny Disco” Kangur) did this beautiful arrangement with the acoustic guitar. And I got my hands on the mellotron which was something I had never played one before. But it was love at first sight.
Pepper: Amazing. Yeah.
Klara: It was like,”Okay. Leave it now.” [Laughs] And it was really fun to explore the mellotron and to put that on that track. To do something different, not like a steady drum beat but just to have this sort of pulse.
Pepper: Yeah. The heartbeat.
Klara: Yeah, it’s more like a heartbeat.
MGM: The best thing I can relate it to and it would explain why what you are saying now, it’s like an old Hammer horror movie. That atmospheric sound that you used to get in the old Peter Cushing movies.
Pepper: Absolutely. I remember me singing, recording that particular song. I was picturing kind of like floating underwater, drowning, with the hair all over, like–
Klara: You were actually lying down on the floor, some parts.
Pepper: Big pillow and all–
Klara: Soften up.
Pepper: Like,”This is weird.” [Laughs]
MGM: Did it work?
Pepper: Yeah. Yeah. It worked. I’m very pleased with the results. Really loved it for sure. But I think it was fun because we challenged ourselves in many ways.
Klara: Bringing in instruments we haven’t used before like the mellotron. A lot of acoustic parts. Well maybe not a lot but some acoustic guitar parts and you singing this very soft voice.
Pepper: Yes. Very–
Klara: It was hard but it sounded great in the end and for Ida with the bass. Like,”No, you can’t play that hard. You need to soften up.” It was kind of– It was almost therapy for us. Like, “No, don’t be hard. Don’t be tough. Be soft.”
Pepper: Yeah. Breathe. [Laughs]
Klara: It was hard. But I think it was important that the album turned out that way because as you said it’s so much about opposites so we need it to have the hard songs. But also the soft ones. Not just as an idea but also it needs to be heard in the music that it’s soft and hard.
MGM: Speaking of which let’s talk about Revenge Song as well.
MGM: Because that’s then absolutely the opposite.
MGM: Even the lyrics. you’ve got e.g. “Hang ’em high whilst you burn ’em alive.” Contrast that with “Death Supreme” which has a dreamlike feel to it because of the musicality. This is the one that pulled me in because of the lyrical content.
There’s got to be a story behind this?
Klara: Well, yeah. It’s inspired by the “#MeToo” movement for sure. Like women being called out as witches. But actually, they’re not and they’re finally getting wrong–
Pepper: Wrongly accused.
Klara: Yeah. Revenge on the ones that sentenced them to e.g. feel shame.
MGM: Why do you think that’s now become visible? Why do you feel people have felt comfortable now coming forward? Is it because there is just a general shift in momentum due to the volume of people?
Klara: I think volume has a great part in it.
Klara: I think that’s important to– I mean there’s always been loud, cool, obnoxious women claiming their space. But they haven’t– I mean, it’s not like anyone’s listening. But when there’s plenty of them–
Pepper: Yeah. There’s more voices.
Klara: — When it’s, “Oh, shit. It’s my mother. It’s my daughter. It’s my sister. It’s everyone. Okay. Now, I need to listen.”
MGM: All of a sudden it’s somebody you know. As opposed to just something on the news.
Pepper: Yeah. Now we need to listen and we need to do something.
MGM: Can you already see a shift happening? Is it changing?
Pepper: Yeah, slowly. Yeah.
Klara: It’s hard to say but I– No matter the backlashes of the movement, I think it’s great. It happened. And it’s– I’m really happy… it’s a weird word to use when it comes to horrible stuff like this, but I’m very satisfied that it has opened up so many people’s eyes.
To this day you can still get questions, “How can you rock so hard when you have your period? [Laughs]
Klara: I mean weird questions like that. It’s like,”What?!” [Laughs]
MGM: What about inspirations then for the actual album itself? I mean one of the ones I picked up on was something like say, “The Wicker Man,” where you’ve got that whole island community and you’ve got the solitary person heading out to it as well. I mean do things like that factor in?
Klara: Except for music, I think for me a big inspiration is literature. Like a Swedish author called John Ajvide Lindqvist.
Pepper: Yeah, definitely.
Klara: He’s a big inspiration. He wrote this book that also became a movie. It’s called, “Let the Right One In.” He is brilliant. His books are amazing.
His books and his storytelling is amazing and it’s been a huge inspiration for the album. For his way of describing like places and characters.
MGM: But also being able to take a classic theme and make it wholly not really about that, but it still is.
Klara: Yeah. Yes.
MGM: So that’s one of the key things for the album.
Pepper: Yeah, and also movies, other musical–
Klara: And horror movies I think.
Pepper: Yeah, horror movies, of course.
Klara: Definitely. Like the aesthetics of horror movies. It’s–
Pepper: Really old.
Klara: Yeah, but it’s so cozy.
MGM: Filled with world-class. Yeah.
Klara: Yeah. I mean it’s weird to say it’s ‘cozy.’ But you know.
Pepper: Yeah, but dark gloomy cozy, you can say. [Laughs]
Klara: Or– But be a little bit scared of–
Pepper: Yeah. It gives you the creeps but still you want to know more about it.
Klara: Yes, exactly.
Pepper: It’s dangerous but maybe it’s good and then it’s both. Ah, yeah.
MGM: The final track has got them returning or the ability to return to the island. Technically, you know, with the horror movies and those mysterious stories, the ability to return is often never there because they never manage to leave. And you always assume going through the entire story that the last thing they’ll get off and you hope and then of course, it never does happen. Here, you actually got your characters able to go back again. It’s a continuous thing, which was a huge surprise for me.
Klara: The last song is actually– It’s kind of a metaphor for a lost love or a broken relationship. It’s leaving the island– It’s at first, you come to the island and it’s summer and the island is in bloom and it’s beautiful, and–
Pepper: Like the new found love kind of, yeah.
Klara: Yeah. And then it’s fall. It starts to get dark and that winter’s coming and–
Pepper: It’s getting boring.
MGM: So I’ve had enough now. I’m going, yeah.
Klara: Yeah, yeah. Ta-ta! Yeah, yeah.
MGM: — that’s more like Spring. Yeah. [Laughs]
Pepper: Find another island. [Laughs]
Klara: But you never know, maybe we come back. Spring is coming back next year so who knows?
Pepper: Yeah. [Laughs]
MGM: But that is true again with relationships, isn’t it? Where you do have that fall– fall out moment almost and when you can, can return. So to be a bit– The fact that you’ve got that at the end of the song. I think it’s a great finish because it was a surprise. I expected you to go very dark and very, “Oh, really?” by the end, but no. There’s hope and everything in that last song.
Klara: Yeah, yeah.
Pepper: You just close on your doors. [Laughs]
Klara: With the concept, the idea working with the concept is good and I’m still kind of in love with The Island. So it’s–
Pepper: There’s a lot of stories I believe, I think I know I have them in me.
Klara: Yes. Yes.
Pepper: All of us do.
“The Island” revolves around the characters and places on this mysterious island. It is a concept album where the listener becomes acquainted with an island that is located somewhere between dream and reality, a place with room for both the ordinary and the supernatural. An island filled with both love and sorrow, where vitality and death live side by side.
“A Death Supreme” tells the story of a female writer who moves out to the island in hope for a better life. But her past catches on and instead of becoming an ugly corpse she chooses “a death supreme.” The music and its harmonies reflect the beautiful but troubled soul.
In the deep, dark waters of the Baltic Sea there is an island. A very peculiar island. At first glance, it might seem beautiful and peaceful, idyllic even, but the island’s seductive powers are not all they seem.
The album is out now!
“The Island” track listing:
01. The Island
02. A Death Supreme
03. Tower Of Silence
06. Caller Of The Storms
07. Revenge Song
08. Queen Scarlet
09. Crystal Lake
10. Leaving The Island