For fans of seriously damaged psychedelic excess only: Pärson Sound
by Mats Gustafsson and Lee Jackson

There are certain projects that you somehow think you never be able to pull off. I'm not exactly sure why, but that's how I felt when I first got the idea to try to get in touch with Pärson Sound for an interview. This might strike you as odd since these radical rock practitioners, which appeared in the late '60s at the crossroads of rock weirdness, psychedelic shamanism, jazz and not the least drone experimentalism, are based in Sweden, my own neck of the woods. The only way I can explain this initial trepidation about the project spurms partly from the fact that this communal trance/drone rock ensemble always has struck me as somewhat mysterious and otherworldly, so its fair to think they could be hard to track down.
   Until very recently most people only knew them by name (if even that), as an earlier incarnation of International Harvester, Harvester, and Träd Gräs och Stenar because no Pärson Sound album was ever cut during their all too short existence in the late '60s. Thanks to the fine folks of the Stockholmbased Subliminal Sounds label, the much-discussed archival recordings (various rehearsals and live recordings) finally made it to a beautifully packaged double CD release in 2001. It's no exaggeration to say that the response was overwhelming, and as far as I know just about everyone that was fortunate enough to hear the music was blown away. In the review section of this very publication we described them as "tribal improv/drone rock that you can bury your head under for hours at a time, but it's the mellower, and more minimal asides thrown in along the way that keep it interesting. This one's for fans of seriously damaged psychedelic excess only". Although the repetitious and atonal sound world of Pärson Sound surely isn't everyones' cup of tea, its hard to think of a better time to reach out to the masses as bands like Bardo Pond and Acid Mothers Temple have brought a lot of attention to the genre of late. These talented Swedes were not only about 30 years ahead of their time in the drone rock spectrum; they also let their Swedish roots shine through in these striking aural documents, giving the music a native folk feel and tribal quality that almost all of the contemporary drone rock units lack.
   With the overall, far-reaching goal to bring a revolution against the modern imperialistic era and to take their side in the general clash between Western Culture and Nature, the band might not have been so unique for the time. But the instrumental sonic goods that came out of these political statements can not be denied, and they remain inimitable to this very day. We got in touch with Bo Anders Person, Thomas Mera Gartz and Torbjörn Abelli, three of the founding members of Pärson Sound, via email for the discussion that follows.

Tell us about the start? Who was in the band? Where did you all come from musically speaking?

BP: As I remember it started while I was still attending the composition class in Stockholm. Why try to write these complex structures in notation when you could possibly improvise them? And maybe have more fun in the process! This idea was sort of in the air (ah, well, maybe not the "fun"), there was in fact a regular seminar on the subject. So the idea to form a group with "modern improvised music" as the aim came quite naturally. Arne Ericsson (flute, keyboard) and Urban Yman (bass) were both students attending instrumental classes. I had met Torbjörn Abelli on various concerts in town and I knew he was a student of music history. By now I've forgotten what he played in the group, I just remember that on some occasion I made him buy that Hofner electric bass that was just lying around. And myself, I mostly run the tape loop.
   The music was mainly consisting of various static noisy structures, sometimes with a beat to them. The tape loop contributed much of the noise, but it also made a regular 4/4 beat more or less meaningless. That was Persson sound, the modern music ensemble.
   We were attracted to rock music, but that kind of music was apparently existing in another world. That is, until I met Thomas Tidholm in the spring of 1967. He had recently traveled in the US, been to Berkeley. "You can play the way you are", that way you can sum up these meetings. Thomas was thinking of starting a rock group, and we tried to make use of the people already at hand. We found out that Thomas Gartz, a drummer in one of the best bands in Stockholm at that time, was willing to join for some gigs. Arne switched to cello, Urban to violin, Thomas T. bought an alto sax, I bought an electric guitar and that was Pärson Sound the rock group.

TA: Completing Bo Anders' answer: I was making sounds using that bass guitar, deep scratches, buzzes and bums. (spring -67). Later I learnt a little bit more how to play the bass.

Some of you had academic musical training. Do you think this affected your music? Was the creation of Pärson Sound somehow a reaction towards the atmosphere (and limitations?) at the University?

BP: In a way, yes. But even more it was a reaction against the time, the obvious clash between Western Culture and Nature, the US way of using its industrial strength to bomb North Vietnam "back to the stone age" in the name of Humanity. We wanted to take side, the other side. But things have not changed very much nowadays. It's hard to claim that we made it.

TA: We tried to find an opening in the wall of theories and abstractions, to reach an encounter with profound feelings. Or: We made efforts at playing without thinking.
Initially there was a reaction towards the cultural climate in Stockholm and Sweden — a stiff, narrow-minded culture. With astonishment we discovered we had an audience! Later on an ambition grew out of frustration making psychedelic music, a reaction more towards the atmosphere and limitations of the World and its selfappointed leaders.

No album was ever cut during your all too short existence in the late '60s. How come?

TMG: Most record companies didn't understand the underground movements at that time in Stockholm. They were all staring with blind eyes to the West and didn't understand a thing on their own backyard — luckily for us and the leftist hippie music to come. Only Mecki Mark Men and Hansson & Karlsson of that time's new wave music made better known records and that thanks to very few persons. It took some time for the "movement labels" to establish and release underground music, and at that time the band already had gone into the Harvester phase.

TA: In fact, Pärson Sound - International Harvester - Harvester is the same group, just developing during two years. After change of name we made two albums, Sov gott Rose-Marie, released '68 and Hemåt '69. But I don't remember we even thought of the possibility making records during the Pärson Sound time.

About 35 years after you called it quits the Stockholm label Subliminal Sounds released the archival recordings that in some circles would be considered the finest release of 2001. How did the the CD come about?

TMG: It was due to the long work made by the man Reine Fiske, much younger than us, who love the music and the social thing we made. He listened to every recording of our music he could find, of course digging our own archives. He had contact with his friend Stefan Kéry who runs the Subliminal Sounds label, and who put some money in the project. Reine himself had to go in some personal financial traps to get the thing through. And the State Council of Art, dep. Phonograms, put in some money too. When he had found the best music, mostly mono recordings of quite bad sound quality, I joined him to make the first generation of cleaning and filtering on my simple studio stuff. He copied the analog tapes to DATs and we worked from them through my 12 band stereo graphic equalizer, maximizer and simple Fostex mixer back to new DATs. Some tunes several times to get them right to the ears. Later Per Gud, the guy who made the most live recordings of Träd, Gräs and Stenar, made a second filtering and final mastering, and I think it's a good one.

You've received massive critical acclaim for the album. Were you surprised by the generous reviews?

TMG: When we were playing the music you hear on the record there wasn't so many people around to bother about it, not even at the Andy Warhol exhibition when we played at The Modern Museum. Later on more people joined the concerts. I am not surprised today — this music wouldn't be possible to do at any other time than at the moment when it was done — as all true music, simple as that. Music that's true to you as a musician is played in the moment of your whole present life, including the society and the cosmos. To really play is to play in the trust of "may the force be with you" and you don't even think about it when you do it. You just play with your whole being, in grace, as Bo Anders likes to say. At that time we happened to discover a simple musical formula for an open minded process and we were not the only ones trying to find such a thing. Other music were much more far out than ours. Our way at that time, thanks to Bo Anders, Terry Riley and others, was to simplify the patterns and connect to the drone of the heart of real and spiritual daily life — even as a road of loud noise.

TA: In the old days we were an odd, freaky underground group playing border-line music with an enthusiastic bunch of friends in the limited audience. Now we find some kind of natural response in surprisingly wide circles — feels like a late acknowledgement, we are very happy!

In the middle of styles as diverse as West Coast psychedelic music, drone and minimalism I think that you still hinted where you come from. To some extent your Swedish roots are evident in these striking aural documents. Do you think I am dreaming things up?

TMG: No, you are not. In our childhood we could hear different kinds of music that don't exist today. Perhaps our parents were old enough to be closer to the old culture of farming, fishing and hard factory work. And perhaps the children heard some old tunes on the radio (only one channel existed). We had some faint remembrances of "people music" and when we listened to the recordings of other peoples' "folk music" (the World Music of that time) we were convinced of the right to use our own roots. Bur these recordings were made before we tried to play some old tunes in the way they "traditionally should be done". That's right, you just hear "the dream".

TA: We had no intentions of forming the Swedish version of psychedelic music but of course our roots were in the backbones (weird picture :-)

There's a haunting, if not even claustrophobic, feel to the album. Were you intentionally looking for these darker sonic realms?

BP: Our intention was to react to the times at hand! I don't think we had the skill to reach for these feelings in a more technical way.

TMG: Not intentionally. This was the time, and you hear it. Perhaps you can understand the long process from simple life outside "the market" into the modern imperialistic era of nuclear bombs and huge capitalistic money manipulations and your own very fife degraded to some "goods" to sell or be thrown away. A big machinery treating all nature as nothing but something to explore, change and sell. Of what's real today we saw some seeds, therefore the darkness. Our future was not hopeful — that's why we tried to make revolution.

TA: I use to describe our group the years 1967-72 as a continuous seminar. When we were touring there were endless discussions on the state of things, culture, politics, Sweden, the World — and the conclusions drawn were not hopeful. But there was no conscious intentions of describing the World by making dark music.

We're curious to hear about your inspiration to blend Terry Riley-ism and native folk influences into a rock context. There are a few contemporary bands (Bardo Pond, Acid Mothers Temple ... ) doing this glacial, super heavy approach today but it was so groundbreaking for the time! Did you realize how new and innovative your music would seem to the audience?

TMG: Well, there were so much new and innovative music around already, so to my mind this was just to connect to the other modern streams going on, but in our special way, in our "dialect". Stones, John Cage, African drumming, Gesang der Jünglinge by Stockhausen, James Brown soul, Balinese gamelang, Jimi Hendrix more than ever, psychedelic free form like John Coltrane and friends, strange sounding clusters from Ligeti, stoned jefferson Airplane etc etc — so what, play to find your own way. A lot of music was far out — but it didn't take so long time to get listeners to all forms — because of what have been said — all of it appears in the context where people already are living — music can sometimes tell before people turn conscious about something.

TA: I don't think we were fully aware to us it was just the only way to do it.

Terry Riley seemed to have played an important role in the formation of Pärson Sound. Could you tell us about his early visits to Stockholm. What was it like to play with him?

BP: I took part in the first Swedish performance of In C and it was absolutely magic! But apart from that we did not play together. We sure met, we had the same friends. He's a charming human being, but I felt too Swedish stiff to get close.

TA: I just met him casually on some occasions, deeply impressed (I was very shy and silent).

Another reference point, which I guess comes from the hypnotic nature of your music, which many people tend to come back to, is Velvet Underground. Do you think this is an accurate comparison?

TMG: Of course, a great band but I don't think we were listening to them to compare with them or to play like them. They were there in New York and made their thing. We made our thing at some other place on Earth. Sometimes — or quite often — things develops in parallel without knowing about each other.

TA: We were at that time now and then compared to Velvet Underground, of course there is a relationship. Also we were ignorant of the fact that similar groups were formed in Germany simultaneously.

How important is repetition in psychedelic music?

TMG: It is suggestive but repetition in itself is not the thing. A dull, stupid and boring machine is also repeating. No one wants to be a machine — so why be one? The thing in this case is a "mood" created by making things over and over again, a shamanistic seance or ritual to put yourself into another awareness.
   You can say that psychedelic is an awareness to do anything, also to repeat a beat or a tone. If you have a very simple pattern to play with it's possible to put conscious attention to every part of it and you can make small changes any time to any part of it — and sometimes "explode" the wheel by leaving all rhythmic repetition into investigating the pure sound you happen to use to study the aspects of "the drone" of all involved. Hopefully this makes you to discover some new sounds, and a couple of new friends. This is like Indian raga music where some few tones are varied in thousands of ways by small changes. Similar in rhythm — you put your interest in different aspects or parts of the rhythmic wheel to discover new aspects, and change them.
   When we happen to play boring music, which of course happens, Torbjörn (the bass player) and I (the drummer) talks about us as "the machine, the engine, the machinists". This is what you can do with a sequencer — and then we are not needed. We are there to put human life to this simple pattern or wheel. And — psychedelic, "expanded", was not a special "style" of music but opened the mind and heart so deeply that it felt like the whole world and empty space is your whole living body — and you don't know why!

TA: Repetition is (my theory) profound to life. The little child learn by repetition, life reproducing itself is repetition, Earth is turning and so on. (Well — the predator in the too small cage in zoo gets stuck in repetition.) Repetition can have a hypnotic effect but I don't think repeating is necessary to make music psychedelic. This is a topic for a good work of research.

I read somewhere that your key phrase was "We, Here and Now!" Care to elaborate?

TMG: There is really no other "place" to do anything. Therefore neither the past, the future or the present exists — but you have some ideas and stories about it like "some thing moving from the past over now into the future" (like this writing of "past" things). Our music was a kind of reaction to these ideas of 'Iinear development' from the "stupid past" to the "brilliant future" of mankind which is just to invent new tools and powers to manipulate the existence of nature and mankind. There is nothing "better" without "worse" — just a "stream of changes". The action you do "now" is how things are "tomorrow" — therefore the thought "pity I did this stupid thing yesterday". "In the eyes of God there is only One Day" as Meister Eckehart put it.

TA: We felt sick and tired of the wide spread opinion that the important things were happening somewhere else to other people. Too many youngsters were longing for London or New York where the real life was in progress. This is to be regarded as an instance of cultural imperialism, to minimize the value of everyone's life. If we thought and talked about our concerts as parties around the center of Universe where the music was the force putting us together, all of us present in this place at this very moment — We, Here and Now — perhaps it could a little bit strengthen the cultural self-reliance of these people for a while...

What was it like to play such relentlessly non-commercial music in Sweden in the late '60s? How would you describe the musical climate of Stockholm era 1966-1968?

BP: We soon gained a small crowd of followers. They were essential for the music. If everyone had turned away nothing would have happened. We also, in 1968, got a sponsored tour from Rikskonserter, touring the northern part of Sweden. That sure helped us a lot.

TMG: There were many things going on compared to some years before, and I guess all different records and concerts we listened to, the growing awareness of the world as a whole planet (through the Vietnam war, the third world and the imperialism and the visit to the moon), the revolutionary thoughts expressed in May '68 in Paris, by hippies and Anti War movements, this created a mixture of new meetings in not only music but all arts. You could mix anything, there were nothing "high" or "low" as in traditional arts. Art could also be a situation or an action. And you had some ideas about "the people" as the real world to care about. As said, the control of the commercial companies and authorities were for a moment left behind so there was some freedom to make real experiments. And often a few persons started, and many joined after some time. One shall not forget Miss Marijuana. All of it made the ground for a Movement.

Did you guys get to play live a lot? How was the Pärson Sound received by audiences at the time? Any interesting gig stories?

TMG: First of all there weren't so many people listening except occasionally, some liked it and some were offended and said we made this noise just because we could not play. And for the youngsters who only know about "pop music" our music first seemed from another planet, but they understood the energy. Some contacts among "arty" people made it possible to make the first tours, as Bo Anders mentioned. "If you remember anything you weren't there" as hippies say. Once after a gig in Gothenburg we would sign our names for a fan, and after he could only read "Pärson Sound" written in six different handwritings.

TA: One of the very first tours (to Lund in Skåne) we stopped for a cup of coffee on our way home. Some young boys asked for autographs and we wrote our names, a little bit surprised. After we understood — we had rented a trailer, that had been used by the Kinks and their name was still on the side of the trailer. The boys thought we were the Kinks.

Could you tell us about your involvement with International Harvester and Träd, Gräs och Stenar, and how these bands differed from the Pärson Sound?

TMG: Bo Anders, Torbjörn and me play in Träd, Gräs och Stenar, the continuation of Pärson Sound. Pärson were the lively meeting and experiment, Harvester some kind of establishing the musical form and ideology, and Träd, Gräs och Stenar were the hard working group trying to practice some of the ideas.

TA: As I said before, PS - IH - H was a continuous development, just changing name. But when Thomas Tidholm left Harvester summer 69 it was like we had to form a new group with a new name — TGS. To us the distinction was very important even if our audience felt it was the same group reformed. As a matter of fact — three of the original members are still remaining.

Träd, Gräs och Stenar plays the occasional gig in Sweden. Any chance to catch Pärson Sound live again? Any more releases in the pipeline?

TMG: There will be no more gigs in the name of Pärson Sound. No one have the intention to even try to reach these levels. Reine Fiske has an idea to make a compilation of early Bo Anders recordings.

TA: No more Pärson Sound live — TGS is the natural continuation, the transmitter of the tradition. I think Reine has found the most interesting recordings but you can never tell. The two live-LP:s (TALL: Djungelns lag and Mors mors) will be released, we hope this fall/winter. I would like to see some marvelous recordings of Arbete & Fritid released — wild improvisations from late 70's (Thomas Mera and I were members of Arbete & Fritid for some years). But that's another story...

Dreams for the future?

TA: In my opinion we have a lot more music to find and to give — more gigs until we can't go on any longer

TMG: The return of the oppressed (including nature and animals) — and some more fun and far out gigs.

Pärson Sound was interviewed by Mats Gustafsson and Lee Jackson during the fall of 2002.

Pärson Sound Pärson Sound (1967-68) 2CD (till'indien/Subliminal Sounds) 2001
International Harvester Sov gott Rose-Marie LP (Love Records) 1968, CD reissued on Silence Records in 2001
Harvester Hemåt LP (Decibel) 1969, reissued on CD by Silence in 2001
Träd, Gräs och Stenar S/t LP (Decibel) 1970, reissued on CD by Silence/resource, 1995
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Djungelns lag LP (Tall) 1971)
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Rock för kropp och själ LP (Silence) 1972
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Mors Mors LP (Tall) 1972
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Gärdet 12.6.1970 CD (till'indien/Subliminal Sounds) 1996
Träd, Gräs och Stenar Ajn Schvajn Draj CD (Silence) 2002

Solo albums/records with main responsibility of group member/s:
Bo Anders Persson Proteinimperialism LP (Wergo) 1967
Thomas Mera Gartz Sånger LP (Silence) 1975
Hot Boys Varma smörgåsar LP (Silence) 1973
Bröderna Lönn Säg det i toner... LP (Musiklaget) 1980
Thomas Mera Gartz Luftsånger / Cloudsongs LP (Silence) 1984
Thomas Tidholm Obevakade ögonblick LP (Silence) 1985

Published in The Broken Face Issue Nr 15 january 2003

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