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.


An Interview with Thistle Group’s Claire Mahoney

An Interview with Thistle Group, a.k.a. Claire Mahoney

THISTLE GROUP is comprised of Claire Mahoney, an Auckland, New Zealand-based musical unit of one. I heard her amazing two-song demo on the Stabbies Bandcamp page, and was immediately zonked out to this crude, experimental, multi-dimensional musical lunarscape that’s alternately lulling, jarring and transfixing. Or at least her music inspired me to imagine I was.

Granted, her output to date is the equivalent of one (long) 45rpm single, yet both tracks have been favorites on Dynamite Hemorrhage Radio, and enough of a mystery wrapped in the proverbial riddle that it made sense to go directly to the source to try and piece it all out. I sent Ms. Mahoney a set of questions this month, and she was kind enough to let us all in on how she creates her music.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: On the Thistle Group tape there’s some very pleasant, lo-fidelity layering that connects different parts of the songs/pieces together, which is then interrupted by jarring guitar and vocals. How did you put all of it together, and what can you say about the overall sound & feel you were looking to put out there?

Claire Mahoney: The tape was recorded live from one of the first gigs I played solo. I started making up vague songs from tape loops that a friend and I had made for another project and then playing around with them, often slowing them down and layering guitar and vocals over the top.

I enjoy the wonkiness of overlapping the same loops to create texture and working with everything
falling in and out of time. I see the vocals as adding another texture and use them as an instrument for layering. I try to create movement and contrast by using the warmth of tape loops and fragile vocals with a harsher guitar butting in and breaking it all up. The use of repetition is also an important element for creating an overall sound. Music that I respond to and influences me often
uses repetition and is very simple/primitive in its form.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: When you play live as Thistle Group, what are you packing – simply tapes and a guitar, or is there more that you’re able to do as a solo performer?

Claire Mahoney: I primarily use a reel to reel with tape loops which forms the structure that I build upon. Sometimes I’ll just use that with some vocals over the top, or play the same songs with a guitar or keyboard and some walkmans. I’m used to working with limitations and I don’t like to
over complicating things. It’s also important that it’s able to be adaptable as I hardly own any of my own gear so I’m constantly trying to put something together with what I can find at the time.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: What’s the response been to you as a solo live performer to date?

Claire Mahoney: A friend described the last set I played as feeling like trying to get out of a deep medieval well. I think that’s the best response and most accurate description so far. It always feels like it’s on the verge of falling apart at any moment and sometimes it does. I’m interested in
playing with the notion of failure and navigating a space between something working or not and being okay with it.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Does Thistle Group/Claire Mahoney collaborate with anyone else under that name, or plan to?

Claire Mahoney: I’ve always seen Thistle Group as a primarily solo project but not exclusively. My sister Louise and I played a very off the cuff show together a few months back under Thistle Group. I was tired of playing the same set and I hadn’t had any time to practice so we quickly threw something together using the same songs but really fucking with them. Lou’s got incredible stage presence and one that I find quite unpredictable in a really great way.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Tell us a bit about the groups you’re in and/or have been in previously; which are still active, and which have been documented with vinyl, tapes, online downloads etc.

Claire Mahoney: I moved back to Auckland at the end of 2011 and soon after started It Hurts with
Angeline Chirnside and Beth Ducklingmonster. We were active 2012-2014 and put out a couple of tapes, one on Angeline’s labe Clean Teeth and the other on Albert’s Basement. There’s also a 7” on Soft Abuse. Before that I hadn’t really played or anything apart from having a few jams with friends.

The last few years (until recently) I played drums in Olympus with my pals Pat Kraus and Stefan Neville. Those two had been doing Olympus for years and had put out a record  but it really only became a live band when I joined. It was very casual, we played live maybe a handful of times and often did weirdo covers of our own solo stuff.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Your music’s ended up on Stabbies, who chronicle some pretty intense and interesting juxtapositions of New Zealand experimental and rock-based music. Would love your thoughts on their role in your “scene” and for musicians like yourself.

Claire Mahoney: Stefan has been on board since I started playing with It Hurts. He recorded us numerous times and was always very supportive of what we were doing. When I decided to release the Thistle Group tape he offered to put it on the stabbies bandcamp.

Stabbies has become active again recently with heaps of great stuff going up on the bandcamp page. Lots of it is old material/ friends but he’s just put out a new 7” by Ben Holmes which I highly recommend.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: How much of an ongoing concern is Thistle Group? Are you planning on making music under that name repeatedly, from here on, or was this year’s tape a one-shot deal? If it’s not, where are you taking Thistle Group in the months to come?

Claire Mahoney: I’m slow and do things in my own time when they fit in. I’ve got a bunch of songs that are piling up that I’m going to record over the NZ summer when I get some time off. I’m also planning to do some touring in Japan and maybe Europe in the first half of 2017.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: It’s always a bit of a stretch to ask someone how much their art is “informed” by their surroundings, but I guess some people are and some aren’t. How does Auckland and its environs come into play for you – and/or how does greater New Zealand?

Claire Mahoney: I’m lucky to have some supportive friends here in Auckland. It’s a small scene but most of the time I don’t feel like that’s a problem as we have a larger community all over the world that we’re in touch with. Auckland is where I grew up, it’s my Tūrangawaewae. I can see two volcanoes from my bedroom window and the sea is close by, those things are important to me.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: Why “Thistle Group”?

Claire Mahoney: The name Thistle Group came from something I reading about a group of female artists who had gone under the name Thistle. The writer referred to them as the ‘thistle group’ and for some reason that name stuck with me and felt right for a solo project.

Dynamite Hemorrhage: What does Claire Mahoney do in her non-musical life?

Claire Mahoney: I’m terrible with a routine so I can only think of what’s been happening today. That’s involved changing my car tyre with my elderly neighbour giving instructions, going to work for a few hours and finishing some plan drawings, coming home and having a nap, then spending some time in the garden this evening.

Listen to Thistle Group’s music here.