Truly psychedelic acid folk comes in a variety of shades and colors, although very, very few can match Swedish duo Us and Them in terms of taking the ideals for which we loved that blend in the first place, and then transporting them into a whole new direction. The first time I heard the band, courtesy of their first Fruits de Mer release, it felt like rediscovering the entire era all over again. But only the good bits, which is why readers are promptly directed towards Summerisle - Song from the Wicker Man, an EP comprising three songs from the legendary Brit horror movie, and encapsulating all the mood and momentum the genre has ever epitomized.
Multi-instrumentalist Anders Håkanson joins Goldmine to discuss the life and times of Us and Them.
GM: Tell us how Us and Them came together.
AH: I have played in bands since I was a kid on different levels. But beginning around 2005/2006, I didn’t find rehearsing a few times a week to be fun any more. I have always been more fond of writing songs and arranging them, which is when I had an idea of developing my interest for a more stripped music in the vein of British folk, baroque pop and the softer psychedelia.
This kind of music was a bit hard to find room for in the band I played with at the time, so I asked my girlfriend Britt (now wife) to help out.
GM: Did she have ny musical experience?
AH: No, she worked as an actress but didn’t have any experience of recording music. But we tried to play Roy Harper’s “Another Day,” and a few songs I had written, and we both thought it worked real well. I think that it’s a good combination, my fanatical interest in music and Britts fresh view of things, and her interest in communicating through her voice.
GM: “Another Day” became your first single, didn’t it?
AH: We recorded four songs. Three of our own, and a cover of “Another Day.” We did a CD-EP, and got enough encouragement to continue. We did two more CD-EP’s, all with one cover song and three of our own songs. Then we did a CD album with four new songs and two out of four from every EP.
GM: What would you say are your musical influences? You mentioned British folk, baroque pop... and
AH: It is hard to know which artists have influenced our sound most. We listen to a lot of music, and it’s easier for other people to hear what inspire us. But here are some great favorites of ours: British folk rock like Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Pentangle. I would also think that Bert Jansch solo records had a big impact on me, especially those he made during the Pentangle era.
Other favorites are Vashti Bunyan, Duncan Browne, Tim Buckley and Kate Bush. I have also a soft spot for the more melodic progressive rock like Genesis, Jethro Tull and Strawbs. Both Britt and I are very found of Magna Carta’s first four records. But we are also found of a lot of pop music like Belle and Sebastian, Essex Green, the Smiths... we could go on for a long time.
GM: How do you choose your covers?
AH: There’s no special method. Almost every week, I come up with a proposal to Britt that ’’we must do a cover version of this fantastic song’’. Sometimes she doesn’t think it suits us, and sometimes I discover that we can’t come up with something interesting enough to make it worthwhile.
But the songs we cover are the ones with a direct tune and some kind of tension in it. Maybe we look for how we could reinforce something that is not so obvious in the song. Sometimes there could be a song that has good potential. That was the case with the Tudor Lodge song “Home to Stay” on the Julia Dream EP.
“At the first listening, I fell for the direct and straightforward melody, and then some other arrangements of the song popped up in my head. I think the song was a bit of a rough diamond.
GM: What’s next? A new Us and Them album?
AH: Making an album would be a dream and the logical step after a couple of EP’s and compilation records. I guess we will make contact with a few labels that possibly could have interest in our type of music, and hope for the best.
A prodigious writer, fierce music lover and longtime record collector, Dave Thompson is the author of over 100 books, including Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 8th Edition” as well as Goldmine’s “Record Album Price Guide 7th Edition , both of which are published via Krause Publications and are available at www.krausebooks.com