Late last year, RAMzine conducted an interview with Norwegian prog rockers Wobbler following the release of their stellar Dwellers of the Deep LP. Given that the interview was so much fun to do, I started nurturing an idea of doing a slightly different type of talk with the group’s bassist Kristian Hultgren and discuss some of the cultural gems and artefacts that mean something to him on a personal and creative level. When I say gems and artefacts, I am of course referring to some of the skilled musician’s favorite films, books, and records that have had either a profound impact on him or simply rocked his world at some point in time and therefore hold value to him. Obviously, a few Wobbler-related questions snuck into the interview as well, but mostly, this is something akin to a conversation between two passionate geeks who share similar interests. And before I forget, please do me the favor of checking the group’s discography out – it is dynamic and exciting (prog) rock of the highest order.
What are you up to these days and what is happening in the Wobbler camp?
K: Hi Jens! The past year’s been quite extraordinary; no concerts and not much band activity. We usually meet up for rehearsals regularly or at least talk/do music in some capacity, but because of the pandemic that’s been harder to do. These days we’re sending around sketches of music to come while also keeping our fingers crossed for the re-opening of society. We’ve got a couple of concerts lined up this year, so we’re excited about that. It’s been a while since we performed. Personally, I’ve just bought a new apartment, so I’m more excited about that right now to be honest.
Let us discuss a few things that are not necessarily related to Wobbler but rather a bunch of nerdy stuff that relates to you as a person, a musician, and a music fan. And then we’ll throw in a couple of Wobbler-related questions towards the end. Sounds cool?
K: That’s great, Shoot!
How have you coped with lockdown? Have you been keeping busy and creative?
K: I think I’ve coped rather well. I’m the sort of person who doesn’t need to be around other people all the time, so 2020 was not that hard. I don’t need public transport to get to work either, so I was spared the whole home-office routine. But I would be lying if I said it hasn’t affected me at all. There’s been a lot of uncertainty (and bleakness, I suppose) covering society in general, you know. I’ve been busy, but I think the creative process did slow down a bit. I guess the pandemic situation got so extensive that it took away a lot of energy that normally would’ve been used in a creative way. Not completely of course, but still. But being a musician, I’m always noodling around with the guitar or bass making music.
Could you recommend us a good read? Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction? What about comic books?
K: I can wholeheartedly recommend the Baroque Cycle by American writer Neal Stephenson. The first time I read it was years ago, but it’s still a trilogy that I want more people to discover. It is a political and scientific 1500-page monster delving into the 17th and 18th centuries. It’s a historical novel that also discusses scientific material and how it shaped 17th and 18th century society. The book provides a very different view of the scientific giants of this time frame. In that sense, it’s an alternative history novel with equal parts fact and fiction. It may sound dreary, but Stephenson’s writing is filled with both drama and comedy as well as action. Highly recommended. Other recommendations would be Skimmer by Swedish author Göran Tunström and of course Sult (Hunger) and Markens Grøde (Growth of the Soil) by Norway’s own Knut Hamsun.
I read both fiction and non-fiction, but probably fiction first and foremost. I can read all sorts, but I do prefer a good mystery with philosophical musings, not in the sense of a crime novel, more that the story is built around a discovery or an “abnormality” that the protagonist(s) must figure out. I also love good sci-fi, which is surprisingly hard to find. Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick are true masters, but I can enjoy hard sci-fi such as James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse just as well. I’m not that into comic books. I love Sandman, The Preacher and Bone, though. I also tried to read The Walking Dead online, but I sort of drifted away from it. Not sure why.
We obviously need to discuss some of our favorite movies too. What are yours? Are you into specific genres? What films from your childhood or teenage years do you still get a kick out of watching nowadays? In case you are wondering, some of my favorites include Angel Heart, Rosemary’s Baby, The Fisher King, The Untouchables (1987), Vertigo, and Ed Wood.
K: I can enjoy a wide range of genres except for rom-coms and the American-military-hero-saves-his-country-and-family-and-the-world-from-the-evil-terrorists action movies, but a good adventure/action movie is always on the table as well as horror and sci-fi. From my childhood, I think the three first Indiana Jones movies and Blade Runner stand out. Rosemary’s Baby is great and The Untouchables as well (I even played the video game – can’t remember the platform, though). A hidden sci-fi horror gem is Event Horizon (ed. note: this is a fantastic piece of work and something akin to Hellraiser in space – very eerie and effective). If I had to choose, I think my overall favourite movie is Blade Runner. It’s just so rich. The plot, the music and the set design swept me away as a child/teenager and still do. The Shining and 2001 – A Space Odyssey are also way up there. A more recent favourite is the TV-series Westworld. I’m probably one of the few people that holds season two in high regard. And hey, I can be a romantic at times too if the movie has depth and character. I remember seeing The English Patient at the local cinema when I was about eighteen years old. I had to wipe a tear from my eye afterwards, but my date called it “a stupid movie”. The relationship didn’t progress beyond that.
What were you like in school and as a teenager? The slightly introverted and geeky type or outgoing and carefree?
K: Ha-ha, both. Slightly introverted, but not necessarily that geeky, somewhat outgoing but not carefree. I enjoyed music, drawing, writing and all things “arty”, but I played basketball on the local team as well. I was a rather keen student, the one to answer all questions from the teacher and getting good grades. I was never particularly popular among the girls, so I withdrew from the whole hormone race to a certain degree and delved into music and books, writing awful poems in the vein of Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Shelley instead of trying to impress them with the adolescent behaviour indulged by my peers. Doing so I discovered other guys (and a couple of girls) with similar interests, especially music. I’ve been told that I seemed too “serious” and aloof for anyone outside my group of friends to dare engage in shenanigans. I discovered Monty Python during those years, so I couldn’t have been that serious, though.
When did your love of music come about, and do you recall what your first encounter with rock music and by extension prog rock was? And your first album purchase was…?
K: That’s a tough question to answer. Thinking back, I get the feeling that music suddenly was there. When I was a kid, I loved to watch classical music featured on television; so, I guess my love for classical music was there even before I noticed it myself. I think my first encounter with rock music was through Marius and Morten (Wobbler’s current and previous guitarists). Marius’ father was a guitar player, so they got me into playing bass and electric music in general. I started playing saxophone in my school’s marching band roughly at the same time. So, music sort of just suddenly happened when I was twelve years old. I could have ended up playing drums, because Morten and Marius gave me the choice between bass and drums (they played guitar, of course). I chose bass because I also wanted to play melodies. Rock music was an extension of meeting them. They were avid AC/DC fans at the time, but I didn’t really catch on to AC/DC for some reason. Then we discovered Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Jethro Tull etc. and it all started rolling. I think Jethro Tull was my and Morten’s first encounter with progressive rock as such, but my first album purchase was a best-of album with The Yardbirds named Good Morning Little School Girl after their big hit. I bought it because Jimmy Page had played in the group, and I probably expected it to sound like Zeppelin. I was a bit disappointed as it was much more sixties rock than Zeppelin.
The seminal moment with respect to my interest in progressive rock was when I put on Close to the Edge at a party in Marius’ father’s house (being a musician he was away a lot and we basically had the house, record player and liquor cabinet to ourselves). I’d heard about Yes but never listened to them. This being before streaming of course, so we had to order CDs or rummage through older relatives’ vinyl collections. I put on Close to the Edge and just couldn’t get a grip on the intro. It was different from everything I’d heard up until then. I just had to turn it off, but I was very intrigued, and I couldn’t let it get the better of me, so I put it on again at the next party and I was floored. Even though I’m sort of “finished” with it, having heard it so many times, it’s still one of the most eye-opening experiences I’ve had musically.
Then there is that thing about favorite records. If I asked you to make two top five lists, one that only includes your five all-time favorite prog albums and one that includes your five overall favorites regardless of genre, could you do that?
K: I suspected something like this would come along. The honest answer is no, it’s impossible, but ok, I’ll try, based on the top of my head right now. The list could look different tomorrow. At least these albums are on my “best of” list together with a bunch of others.
1) Yes – Close to the Edge
2) Banco Del Mutuo Soccorso – Io Sono Nato Libero
3) Cherry Five – Cherry Five
4) King Crimson – Islands
5) Anthony Phillips – The Geese and the Ghost
1) The English Baroque Soloists & John Eliot Gardiner – Messiah (1983)
2) OM – Advaitic Songs
3) Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister
4) Blue Öyster Cult – Secret Treaties
5) Sparklehorse – It’s a Wonderful Life
Yes or King Crimson – and why?
K: Ah…well. Yes and King Crimson (KC) are so different in terms of feel and output that it feels weird to juxtapose them. Their members are some of the most well-known musicians in what would become the progressive rock nobility. I want to say Yes because I discovered them before KC and because their music has this angelic, otherworldly quality that no other band possesses. However, I want to say KC because of their punch, rawness, and fragility. KC is the most varied of the two and I’ve got Islands on my top five list above. Nevertheless, I have to say Yes because at their best they can take you “out of time” through music if that makes sense. KC is more rooted and earthy. I’ve always wanted to be more than a mere human being, so I’ll go with the flow of consciousness and become one with the universe for a bit.
What about your favourite Norwegian prog bands? Who are they? Any acts that appeal to you immensely?
K: This may come as a surprise, but I don’t listen to “prog” that much. These days it’s mainly classical and stoner/doom bands that get my attention, but I do enjoy Norwegian classics like Popol Ace and Høst. I also like bands like Ring Van Möbius and Arabs in Aspic on the current scene. I’ll avoid mentioning bands and artists in my own musical circle or proximity out of modesty and fear of getting beaten up if I forget someone. A recent discovery is Kryptograf, playing a sort of old school heavy rock ala Black Sabbath but with progressive leanings. Kings of the Valley, Hedvig Mollestad Trio and Motorpsycho also need to be mentioned. There are so many bands that one could classify as “progressive” in Norway these days that it’s almost impossible to keep track. Besides, anyone reading Wobbler interviews have probably picked up that we find the term “progressive” somewhat inane, making it even harder to answer your question.
Needless to say, we need to cover your guilty musical pleasures too. Myself, I fucking love ABBA and the Bee Gees, so I am kind of hoping for something much worse than that here ha-ha.
K: Ha-ha, well, I really don’t think ABBA deserve to be on anyone’s guilty pleasure list. Their music is so well crafted and filled with clever hooks. I’m sure I have more on my list, but I’ll highlight one album that I’ve not encountered any person liking besides myself. In 1979, the powers that be decided that the 1967 musical Hair should become a motion picture. I absolutely abhor musicals in general; I don’t care if Oklahoma, West Side Story and Chess are considered masterpieces. Musicals is the kind of musical theatre that makes my skin crawl – give me Baroque operas and oratorios any day. Having said that, the soundtrack from Hair is so great and transcends the rather forgettable movie. I discovered it among my mother’s vinyl records when I was a kid and it really, really stuck. Especially Wilbur Bascomb’s bass playing. He plays some of the best basslines I’ve ever heard on any record. He even plays slap in a fashion I can enjoy, sparsely and just to accentuate certain notes instead of the horrendous over-the-top thumbing that’s been in fashion since the early eighties. But it’s not just him; the arrangements, the vocals etc. are all great. The funny thing is that it’s just this recording. The actual music on the recording of the 1967 musical is not good at all.
Additionally, for a progressive rock fan, I guess my love for Jackson Five’s ‘I Want You Back’ and the more recent ‘Cross the Delta’ from the French DJ group C2C’s album Tetra will raise a suspicious eyebrow.
How do you feel about live albums? Personally, I am a sucker for those, the best thing obviously being a show where I was present when it was recorded. How about you?
K: Live albums can go both ways for me. I can enjoy live albums where the artist plays the material differently from the studio version. For instance, I love Genesis but the live album from 1973 sounds exactly like the recorded material. They play magnificently of course, but it doesn’t come across as something different and “in the moment”. And then you have albums like Made in Japan by Deep Purple brimming with a live feeling. There’s a bad note here and there, unexpected volume differences etc., but it sounds much more rooted in the time and place of recording.
Of course, it doesn’t have to be either of the above, but I tend to not seek out live albums in general.
Speaking from your own personal experience, what would you say are the best and worst aspects of touring and being on the road? Is that hour-or-hour-and-a-half on stage worth all the travelling and planning and all of that?
K: For me, the worst is if our planning fails. Either because we’ve overlooked something or because we end up trapped in events outside our control. That, and travelling with equipment on planes and carrying it through endless airport terminals and transportation in general. Being a mid-sized band in a small genre doesn’t get you roadies or management so we must cater for ourselves (up to eight people including extra musicians and a sound technician). It may sound like an adventure, and kind of is, but when you’ve done it a lot under less ideal circumstances it can also become a chore. Another aspect is the equipment provided by the venues, especially in the keyboard department. We need a minimum of criteria to be met to be able to play our best. We always make it work, but especially when playing festivals you must compromise – it’s a part of the game for all bands.
However, there’s nearly always a silver lining and being on the road with your music and your friends is very exciting ninety percent of the time, at least for me. I like when things go according to plan, so when travelling I must stress down and just let it unfold. Every problem can be solved. And then of course when we’re on stage performing it can be the best experience in the world. It keeps getting better actually. I think we’ve reached a point where we can enjoy ourselves even when other factors are somewhat demanding.
What would you deem the defining moment in Wobbler’s career so far? And what does 2021/2022 hold for you guys?
K: I think each of our three “periods” have defining moments. The first one is obviously playing at the NEAR-fest festival in 2005. I think it made us all feel that we could accomplish something as a live band. Until then we’d just sort of noodled around and thankfully managed to record an album, but we didn’t really consider us part of the music scene. The next milestone was when Andreas joined in 2009/2010 and the release of Rites at Dawn. We suddenly had a vocalist making lyrics and vocal lines as well as playing guitar. Without him joining we probably would have ended up as a purely instrumental band. A defining moment for us was Rites at Dawn as well as the first concert we did with Andreas in 2011 at the Terra Incognita festival in Quebec. His entrance in Wobbler is what made the band what it is today. Overall, I’d pick Andreas joining us as the most defining moment in our career. Finally, the release of From Silence to Somewhere (2017) six years after Rites at Dawn. I think many fans and listeners thought we’d split, even though the years in between saw us gigging in Germany, Italy, Sweden and Canada. The reception we got after Silence was great and we realised that we’d made a successful transition from our early period.
2021 and beyond will see us picking up the pace after the pandemic. We’re slowly making plans for gigs. We have some scheduled for 2021 and 2022, but it’s hard to make plans these days as it is for every other band. We’re also working on new material, but it’s too early to say when a new album will be forthcoming. Our fans (and fans-to-be) should stay tuned for exciting news regarding our old albums and the word “re-release” in the not-so-distant future.
Just out of curiosity, if people ask what Wobbler sound like, what do you tell them?
K: Ha-ha, ahh…I tell them that we sound like music they never knew they needed. I guess it depends on who’s asking. If it’s a person who is already part of the genre, I usually make a reference to similar bands, but I don’t know many bands that are quite like Wobbler either. We’re obviously “retro-oriented” or whatever you may call it, but that’s mainly gear wise and how we approach recording and sound. We think we have more to offer than being lumped into the retro-prog category. So, while I understand why some are adamant that we’re die-hard retro heads, I will encourage them to look a little deeper and find the, I don’t know, essence of the song or just enjoy the melodies and music. Wobbler has always been about light and shade, hard and mellow, the majestic and the low-key etc.
To newcomers I usually try to convey that we’re a rock band with extra everything, so to speak. It’s great to talk to people hearing us for the first time who’s not versed in the prog genre as they tend to focus more on the music than placing us on the genre map. I especially find this to be the case among the younger crowd.
Do you guys hang out in your spare time or is Wobbler the place where you meet, if that makes sense? Do you socialize a lot outside of the group?
K: Most of us have been friends for a long time so we try to keep up outside of the band as well. I think we all want to see each other more than we do, though. For some of us life also consists of children and family obligations, and it can be hard to combine this with free time and hanging out with friends. That goes for all people, regardless of whether a band is involved or not. And the last year and a half has made leisure time even harder to enjoy with friends. Some of us live quite a distance away as well, but yes, we try.
Thanks once again for your time, Kristian. Talking to you is always a huge pleasure!
K: No problem. Great to expand on themes not necessarily covered in a purely band-related interview.