Johan Lange (Synthesizer, Piano, Programming, Percussions, Backing Vocals) and Emanuel Åström (Vocals) from Agent Side Grinder
AGENT SIDE GRINDER released their sixth album ‘Jack Vegas’ (the name of the album Jack Vegas derives from a Swedish low-stake slot machines) on May 4 on Progress Productions. We caught up with Johan and Emanuel to discuss band’s new album, creative process, changes in the industry and future.
“The idea that a very loosely defined dream will keep you going through misery is fascinating”
Reflections of Darkness [RoD]: In April AGENT SIDE GRINDER had several shows in Scandinavia. Did you play new songs? Are you satisfied with the audience response?
Johan: Yes, we played three songs from the new album, ‘Waiting Room’, ‘Bloodless’ and ‘Madeleine’. We will hopefully introduce more songs from ‘Jack Vegas’ for the autumn round of the tour. We were more than happy with the response. This was actually the first time we did a proper tour in Scandinavia and it seems we are getting a bigger and bigger audience for every album up here.
RoD: When working on a new record, is it a collaborative effort or does one person take the lead?
Johan: I normally write our music and also program the beats etc., so it’s natural I spend more time in our studio, but I would definitely say it’s a collaborative effort. We rehearse the songs quite intensely and work together on the conceptual ideas. And Emanuel and I shared the lyrics duties on this one.
RoD: AGENT SIDE GRINDER is 18 years now; how does your creative process differ from album to album?
Johan: On our first albums, the songs were born out of improvisation and triggered by happy accidents while jamming. In later years, I would say it’s more traditional songwriting. But our music usually stems from a simple riff or melody I come up with, which we tweak and turn into a song.
RoD: ‘Jack Vegas’ is a reaction to the situation in Europe. What are your thoughts on the future? Is there a light in the darkness?
Emanuel: Hope is one thing, we’re all hoping for the light. But the album is neither hopeful nor dystopian, it’s just a reflection. Of course, it’s not neutral, but it doesn’t make assumptions either.
RoD: In your sixth album you explore the initial ‘American Dream’, a dream of liberty, equality, and justice. Is appealing to that ideal a form of escapism or, maybe, a rebellion in your latest work?
Emanuel: We’re not really subscribing to the idea of the ‘American Dream’, we’re just using it as a vessel for storytelling. Just like the beat-era poets did, just like ‘Suicide’ did. The idea that a very loosely defined dream will keep you going through misery is fascinating, but not always accurate. We’re exploring that.
RoD: What is your favourite song on the album?
Johan: Probably ‘Decipher’ and ‘Waiting Room’.
Emanuel: I don’t want to do favourites, but ‘Waiting Room’ definitely tied the album together. And ‘Jack Vegas’ sums it up.
RoD: The artwork for the album cover is amazing. Did you have some artistic vision on how to represent the “thought patterns of a person teetering the edge of insanity” before you contacted Swedish artist and designer Andreas Rehnberg?
Emanuel: This was Andreas’ own idea and we just went along for the ride. We sent him a lot of beatnik art as a starting point and from there he took on. But we chose him because he has a very tactile, multi-discipline, way of working. Just like us. The result is really a story in its own right.
RoD: Lately, there have been a lot of discussions about the changes in the music industry. Some artists say the audience does not need full-length albums, so they prefer singles and EPs. What is your perspective?
Emanuel: There’s always some kind of power struggle between strategy and artistry. For us, the full-length format is the most complete way to tell a story, of getting a message through. This is the entire puzzle, and we wouldn’t have it any other way - but it’s always okay to enjoy it one piece at a time. Maybe the next story arc is shorter, who knows.
RoD: What is the band’s greatest accomplishment so far?
Johan: Probably to have been able to release six full-length albums, totally independent and with full artistic freedom. I’m really proud of our discography.
RoD: What are your further plans for 2023?
Johan: A couple of festivals this summer, then we’ll bring ‘Jack Vegas’ out on a European tour this fall. And we’re doing this big concert in Stockholm October 14. It takes places at Södra Teatern, a legendary theatre, and will put on a spectacular ASG show with extra lights, sound and guests.
All Pictures by Haris Mlivic