Interview with Amateur Hour

AMATEUR HOUR are a newish, three-person experimental/psych act from Gothenburg,
Sweden whom I’ve been quite excited to stumble upon in recent months.
Their stuff’s not exactly easy to find; you may wish to try illicit means if you can’t come across the records.

I get the same sort of scratchy, lo-fi, intensely enveloping sense of distortion & spacelessness that we heard in Dadamah twenty-plus years ago from them. One track will include ethereal vocals much like Liz Fraser’s from Cocteau Twins; the next might be a formless instrumental that sounds like as if someone’s flipped on a 1940s-era generator & just let it hum in the background.

Someone needed to get to the bottom of the Amateur Hour conundrum, so I nominated myself and set to work. Interview conducted via email in December 2016.

Amateur Hour: Dan Johansson, Hugo Randulv, Julia Bjernelind

Dynamite Hemorrhage: The Amateur Hour album is a beautiful mix of murky, experimentally-tinged pop and a darker, more strange sort of electric folk that could probably be called “psych” for lack of a better term. When the three of you sat down to make music, how did you verbalize what you wanted to sound like?

Hugo: The way i see it, we want to make simple and beautiful pop music. But we
have never rehearsed or written any songs together, so all the music on
the album is either improvised or recorded on its own and then placed
together with other sounds to make it fit into the idea or thing that we
were going for. We rarely talk about how things should sound before we
meet. It’s all pretty much decided the very moment we start recording.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Tracks like “Get Fucked” aren’t really music per se,
but that might be my favorite piece on the album. What were you going
for with that one, and how would you describe how it was made?

Julia: Hugo and Dan had made an instrumental piece they showed me, and they said I
could do anything i wanted with it. It was really dreamy and soothing, still very melancholic and sad. I wrote the lyrics and we just recorded it. That’s how we do with most songs. We try not to think about or talk too much about what we’re doing. I think the lyrics are about alcohol abuse in this one.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: There’s a “Garlands”-era Cocteau Twins feel to some of the tracks, such as “Paradise Lost”, with a lot of swirling synth & multi-tracked, sugary vocals. Is that band an intentional influence – and if not them, whom?

Hugo: Cocteau Twins is definitely a band that have had a big influence on me, at least. I think that kind of dreamy-sounding pop music from some of the bands on 4AD and artists like Julee Cruise and Virginia Astley has had an impact on our sound. Otherwise i guess we draw inspiration from all over the place. From early industrial music and noise to some indiepop music, like the bands on Sarah records.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Julianna Barwick is another (significantly less smudgy/DIY) artist whose music slots in well next to yours (at least I think so), but I suspect you’re going for something a little less ear-friendly on most tracks. Would you agree with the comparison, and if not, who else currently making music would you prefer to align your approach with?

Hugo: I had never heard of Julianna Barwick before, i probably should have though, it sounds great! I totally get the comparison, but i think the thing we do is a little bit more focused on the improvisation and make up stuff as you go kind of work method. Our songs are not so much compositions as it is like a sonic collage made up of stuff we have recorded on different occasions, and then afterwards put into a context.

I wish I could namedrop a bunch of currently working artists that we feel have something in common with. but i honestly can’t think of one. One the other hand, I am not really too up to date with what’s out there…

Dynamite Hemorrhage: I get the sense from various things that are dribbling out & from fanzines like FÖRDÄMNING that there continues to be a pretty deep Swedish musical underground of DIY noisemakers, off-centered rock bands and artists of many strange colors. How true is that for you, living there, and are you content with what’s right there in Gothenburg?

Hugo: I feel that there is a pretty strong, although extremely small, scene in Gothenburg at the moment. But it’s hard to get an outsider’s perspective of it since I know most of the people very well, and play with a handful of the projects that could be tied to this scene. But it continues to inspire and a handful of really, really good releases tend to come out every year so I’m really glad about it.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: How much better or worse is it for you to be making music in Gothenburg as opposed to Stockholm?

Hugo: I don’t know actually, i have been living in Gothenburg for my entire
life and don’t know too much about the scene in over there. But
Gothenburg has always had a very healthy music scene. But the eyes are
mostly set on Stockholm so a lot of the stuff in Gothenburg remains
fairly underground, which is a both good and a bad thing.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Where has Amateur Hour played live so far, and what goes into a live Amateur Hour performance? Your first gig, which is on YouTube,
looks like you did everything from flip on some tapes and sing to play
together in a pretty “standard” guitar/guitar/drums lineup.

Julia: The one on YouTube is actually the only gig we’ve done so far. It was at Folk in Gothenburg; we were the opening act for Neil Hagerty. Since we’re not like a regular rock band that rehearses two times a week, we didn’t really have a repertoire, so we decided in what order we’d play the songs and how some of them could be played live. It was pretty hard with some of them, like Sprängd, that was improvised while we all were really drunk.

We tried not to make it too much like a singer/songwriter gig and not too noisy and wild. Somewhere in between, I guess.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Online I’ve found that “Amateur Hour contains members from Enhet För Fri Musik, Makthaverskan and Westkust”. What can you tell me about those bands – and where does Amateur Hour fall in your lists of musical priorities?

Julia: Hugo has been playing in Makthaverskan since he was 16 I think, and me and
Hugo met during 2010 when we started playing in Westkust. We had always
been talking about making more experimental music together since we’re
both big fans to a lot of post-punk bands like Birthday Party etc, but
nothing really happened. Then Hugo and Dan got to know each other when
Hugo went to Sewer Election (Dan’s band) gigs and started talking. They
formed Enhet För FrI Musik and then they asked me if I wanted to do some
vocals on a new project. And Amateur Hour was created.

Hugo: Yeah, and since both Mathaverskan and Westkust are more traditional “rehearse
and write songs together” kinds of bands, both me and Julia really
enjoyed the freedom of writing songs the way we do in Amateur Hour.
Enhet för fri musik, which consists of me, Dan, Gustaf Dicksson, Sofie
Herner and Matthias Andersson, have a bit of the same working method as
Amateur Hour, but even more chaotic i think.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: You’ve got an album in an edition of 100, a “dub plate” single in an edition of 20, and a tape in an edition of 60. Is that really all you envisioned selling or giving away?

Hugo: Both the LP album and the cassette tape was released on labels closely connected to the band. I run the Forever United label with some friends, and me and Dan are
involved in the the Förlag För Fri Musik label with the rest of Enhet
för fri musik. The 7″ was released on Folk records. I guess we did such a
limited number of records just because it’s cheaper and more convenient
to not have a bunch of records that no one wants lying around your
place. i think there is also a beautiful thing in something that is not
available just through a click with your computer or whatever. It’s done
in a few copies, and that’s that!

Dynamite Hemorrhage: What else do the three of you do to get by and live life? Work, families etc.

Hugo: No one of us get any money at all from the various musical projects we are
involved in, so we have to get by with day jobs or studies…

Dynamite Hemorrhage: It’s only been half a year since your first gig and just a little over that since you started releasing material. Where do you intend to take this project in 2017?

Hugo: We have been doing some recordings  recently and hope to be finished with our second album in 2017.

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