As ringmaster of 29-person pop-monster I’m From Barcelona, Emmanuel Lundgren usually has a lot on his plate. So it was almost no surprise—almost—that when Paste rang, the Swede was in the middle of cleaning up Malaysia.
Of course, there was a sensible explanation. “We call our practice
space Malaysia because we have a big wallpaper of palm trees and
stuff,” he said. “A lot of times people get confused to see our tour
schedule and there's ‘Departure from Malaysia.'"
Confusion allayed, Lundgren left behind his janitorial duties for a while to shed some light behind his goals with I’m From Barcelona, why its sound was revamped for new album Who Killed Harry Houdini? (out Oct. 14 stateside) and how punk attitudes, Yes and Queen, detailed autobiographies, chaos, restraint and fingernails have all helped the band along its path.
Paste: The new album features a number of songs about escape and looking toward the future, wondering how to escape an unavoidable life path. How did those themes come about?
Lundgren: Sometimes, I think for other people it's easily to see a theme. It was through talking to people that I discovered that there was a childhood theme on the first album. It took a while for me to see that. So I guess it will take a while for me to see the big picture of this album as well. But you might be right there, that there's some kind of 30-years crisis thing going on. Usually I say that I didn't have any 30-years crisis. Maybe I disguised it in songs. I guess what also has a big influence is having a nice way to compare your own small problems with others’ biographies. I like to read about crazy people, like Houdini for example. If you read about his everyday life you get exhausted just reading about it. And then suddenly your own problems, they don't seem so big anymore. And I guess I have looked into some people lives through books and some of the songs are definitely offshoots of that.
Paste: Before I'm From Barcelona, you were in a band called Valley Days that was a little darker. Do you find different meaning in making music that’s exuberant and ecstatic than in more somber songs?
Lundgren: For me it was like, music's always—and this is dumb and simple—but it's an expression of how you feel. And I guess I like to take those feelings and maybe put some distortion on them. Maybe if I feel sad the songs become very sad. And if I'm happy they tend to become very happy. But both when I was in the band you mentioned before, when the songs were a bit melancholy, I would also search for a way to include the nights out with friends, when you have a laugh as well. Because when you're sad you're not sad everyday, you know. I felt that this is a bit too black and white. Suddenly, I wrote the songs that became Let Me Introduce My Friends. I was over on the other side in a way and the songs were almost all happy. So this is my try to combine, in a way mix up the emotions a bit, on the new record. I wanted still to have some of the euphoric side, but also include some things that I'd been doing long before I'm From Barcelona and try to mix it all together.
Paste: I think it shows that the album is a bit less, as you say, euphoric. But on the other side of that, your live shows have always been so wild and fun. Will that change as the music does?
Lundgren: I want us to be passionate on stage, whether it's happiness or sadness. If we can express pain in the same way that we have expressed joy on stage, I think it could be very emotional. And I think it will be intense anyway. Maybe not all handclaps, you know. But the whole thing, making music, is always kind of experimental. You never know before how people will take things. So when we go on tour it will be interesting to see how it works out.
Paste: Is it hard ever to show as much restraint in shows as you’re able to in recordings?
Lundgren: Strangely enough, for me the point with this band has never been the numbers—that we are a lot of people. It hasn't been the main thing, the number. For everybody else, it's the most important thing about our band. They usually react to that. But the focus from my point of view has been the friendship part and the music. And I guess because the most important thing for me is the music, it's not a goal in itself to have to sound like a lot of people...
Then, of course, it's always a bit different live. I can't see the point of duplicating the sound of the album completely into a live sound. I think you listen to the album a lot at home in your headphones. Then it's a special sound on the album. And when we come together live, sometimes the chaotic side of our band has to show. It would be unnatural to have the same sort of restraint. I don't think we have the same discipline live. We try to have it, but sometimes you just have to let some things happen as well. Maybe we have been more disciplined now because this album is a bit more disciplined than the first one. We've had a chance to spill out all of our emotions and be a bit punk, a bit of a punk rock attitude. But it's not necessarily the same instrument that does the same part on the recording. That's not so important for me, and I think it can be fun for the audience as well, to hear different expressions of songs than what they've heard on the record. If they want to hear the record, they can put it on at home, you know? It would be silly if we just played that the same way.
Paste: What do you mean when you say "punk attitude"?
Lundgren: I guess I mean that we have a bit of a "do whatever you want" attitude. We've had that a lot. If you want to quit playing and go have a beer, do it, as long as you're not the drummer or the bassist. We have a lot of personal freedom live, I think. That has been very important through the whole process of doing that album. I've been a professional musician for a long time and it's easy to fall into almost a very unsound thinking, a professional thinking. You tend to forget why you picked up the guitar in the first place. And I think that the first album for me was the feeling of joy and freedom to do the sorts of songs that you know have been before but what the hell, you know, I do them anyway. For me that was a very, very necessary process to go through and it's been very liberating for a lot of people as well, to pick up a saxophone when you haven't picked up a saxophone for 10 years, stuff like that. It's been very necessary for me. And now we can try to build on that base, and try to improve a bit, to break it all down and build it up again.