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By: Ted Magyar
Earlier this year Beardfish released their more than excellent new album +4626-COMFORTZONE on InsideOut Music. Ted Magyar described it as “an album representative of some of the best qualities of modern prog.” and “an album that will not be easily surpassed as the best prog album of the year despite it’s early arrival.” Ted asked founding member Rikard Sjöblom some questions about the new album and more.
(((o))): First of all, would you please explain the concept of +4626-COMFORTZONE? How does that concept play out throughout the album?
Rikard: The +4626 prefix is the area code for Gävle, our home town. We wanted something more than just “comfort zone”, and so when we were travelling around in the USA we saw these road signs, like 1800-BACKPAIN etcetera, so we thought that was a nice concept for an album, since the place you’re born in is like a comfort zone in itself, it helped tie it all together. It’s all intertwined, like with the three parts of The One Inside – I’ve always felt that there’s an inner voice that’s built up around the stuff your parents and family, teachers and friends tell you when you’re growing up. They have a way of seeing the world and they share their views and beliefs with you and even though you want to or not I think their opinions stick with you and it’s almost like a voice speaking to you. A comfort zone is not necessarily a good thing.
Also, speaking of towns, every town is different, they have a vibe, and the vibe of Gävle is sort of “you shouldn’t even try because you won’t be successful” and if you never see another town you think it’s like that everywhere, or worse you’re scared that another place in another part of the world is different or bad… Well, lot’s of different thoughts.
(((o))): A number of the tracks on the new album are narratives. How did you come up with these stories?
Rikard: It usually starts with an idea, it can be something I see on TV or something that happens in my little world that I need to talk about and then I start writing. I usually write lyrics and music at the same time, but I usually finish the musical idea (together with Beardfish) before I write the finished lyrics.
(((o))): There is a track on the new album called ‘If We Must Be Apart (A Love Story Continued)’. How does this continuation of ‘A Love Story’ from your The Sane Day album relate to +4626-COMFORTZONE’s concept?
Rikard: “Everything I do reminds me of everything we used to do…” is a line that the guy in the song says in a letter to his old girlfriend. His comfort zone is with her, I would say.
(((o))): What music was influential for you while creating +4626-COMFORTZONE?
Rikard: I actually think that our own earlier albums were very influential in the writing process. It might sound strange, but I can’t really think of anything else. I know that there’s stuff on here that will remind people of other artists songs though…
(((o))): How do you go about creating an album? Was the creative process for this album different from your approach on previous albums in any significant ways?
Rikard: Songs just come when they come. I usually start writing at home and then I show the new stuff to the other guys and we try it out a little and if it sounds good and everyone’s happy then we continue working on it. When we’ve been playing a certain song for a while it usually spawns new ideas.
(((o))): The sound of Beardfish seems to continually change and evolve from album to album. Do you do things to intentionally push yourselves into uncharted territory?
Rikard: Yeah, we’ve always been that type of band and I think we like that way of doing things, because if we would record the same album over and over I think we wouldn’t have lasted this long.
(((o))): I understand that the mix was done by David Zackrisson instead of you as is usual. How did this come about?
Rikard: I didn’t feel like doing it, I had no fresh ideas for mixing and would hate to do it on auto-pilot, so I asked David and he said: sure! He did things a bit different than I would have, and that’s the beauty of it I think. It sounds great in my opinion!
(((o))): Can you speak on the album art?
Rikard: We had a basic idea for what we wanted, but not at all detailed. When we played in the New Jersey area last time we happened to see some sketches that the son of a friend of ours had made. His name is Jesse Loboda and he makes excellent stuff, so we asked him if he’d be interested in doing the artwork for the new album and just told him some ideas involving someone living on a lonely planet in space with earth in the distance, pretty surreal…
(((o))): What environment do you view as most suitable for listening to this album?
Rikard: In the listener’s comfort zone perhaps, or maybe out of it!
(((o))): Are you planning to play parts of +4626-COMFORTZONE during upcoming shows? If so, what songs from the new album are you looking forward to playing live the most?
Rikard: We did a show yesterday where we actually played the album from start to finish and it felt great, so I’m guessing we’ll be playing a whole lot from it. We’ve been playing ‘Hold On’ live for about a year now and that one is a favourite!
(((o))): I believe you have added keyboard player Martin Borgh to your line-up for live shows. Please speak on how that came about.
Rikard: Robert and I have been playing with Martin in different projects in the past couple of years and he’s a great keyboard player and also a really nice guy so he’s really easy to work with. Plus that he really “gets” the music and has the right spirit for it, he fit right in!
(((o))): Will the addition of Martin Borgh give you the ability to play songs live that you were unable to before with your limited manpower?
Rikard: Not really unable, but it will certainly be helpful in order to play some of the songs more in the fashion which they were recorded… I usually add quite an arsenal of keyboards to certain songs and I can’t help recording keyboards on songs where both David and I are playing guitar, so Martin can play those parts and add his own flavour too of course.
(((o))): Can we expect a live album featuring some of this material in the not too distant future?
Rikard: We actually have a live DVD recorded from ROSfest last year that is in the pipeline for release, but it doesn’t feature Martin so it’s more of a best of the first ten years of Beardfish or something. It’s about time we release a live album…
(((o))): What does the future hold for Beardfish?
Rikard: We’re going on tour with Neal Morse Band throughout Europe in March and after that we have some festival gigs and so on. Then it’s back to writing some new music again!