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InterviewsSettle into the COMFORTZONE - an interview with Rikard Sjöblom of Beardfish

Posted on Sunday, December 28 2014 @ 09:12:28 CST by Steven Reid
Progressive Rock

Hello…hello…? Is that +4626 COMFORTZONE?? Can you help me…?

It would appear they can; that's Beardfish we're talking about, as they launch their new album, the rather oddly titled +4626 COMFORTZONE. Rikard Sjöblom mans the phones to tell us all about an album which stretches the Beardfish sound, while satisfying their fans' desire to also nod to their past. Sea of Tranquility's Steven Reid dials the digits to find out more…

Rikard, this isn't often the question I ask first, however I have to begin by discovering why you've chosen to call your new album '+4626 COMFORTZONE'? Are you hoping to open your own Beardfish helpline?

Haha! No, but you're right about it referring to a phone number (not a real number though, sorry!) with +4626 being the area code for my hometown Gävle, which the album deals with quite a lot – a hometown being somewhat of a comfort zone in itself, it's home, you know!

As you've eluded to, the album appears to centre round coming from a small town where a very conservative attitude to life exists. Was that an intentional theme, or something that naturally evolved as the songs came together?

I wouldn't call it conservative, more that I've always felt a negative vibe here. There's a lot of good elements too, but there's a mentality of, "You shouldn't try because you won't be successful" or "Know your place" etc… I noticed after writing lyrics for a couple of the songs that they were dealing with Gävle, or my experience of Gävle rather. This is the only town I've ever lived in, BUT I have travelled a lot and I've seen many towns so I know that there are different vibes in different places.

The lyrics to the song 'Ode To The Rock n Roller' particularly intrigued me. Can you elaborate please?

I thought it would be quite funny to write a song about a musician in a cover band who freaks out in the middle of like a Creedence [Clearwater Revival] song and goes into Stravinsky or something. It didn't turn out as funny as I thought though, it became more of a criticising piece on how musicians are treated these days. People want something to stomp their feet to while they drink their beer and preferably something they know so that's where cover bands come into the picture. It's sort of depressing to earn more from playing someone else's music than your own…

And I'm also interested to find out more about the three part, recurring 'The One Inside…' songs 'Noise In The Background', 'My Companion Through Life' and 'Relief'. Can you describe the journey taken across these songs?

I started writing the second part and it was basically just acoustic guitar and vocals. Pretty soon the idea came to have another part that would return later in the album with the same main theme but played in a different way, harder or edgier or something… The lyrics were all there basically so it was just a case of finding another vibe and we did. The intro for the album just sort of popped up in my head one day so I recorded it at home - the spoken words were actually recorded in memos on the iPhone, haha!

So, coming from a place and time where individuality and free thinking aren't exactly encouraged, I'm very keen to know how a progressive, ever evolving band like Beardfish can emerge from such a place…?

We all love music to an obscene amount and Robert and Magnus grew up with bands like Camel, Yes and Ekseption. I found prog thanks to an older friend who thought I would like it, he gave me 'In The Court Of The Crimson King' and a while later I was hooked, for life probably!

Talking of "progression", yet again Beardfish have moved forward in terms of sound with this latest album. How easy or difficult is it to continually grow as a band and yet keep everything essentially Beardfish?

Around the 'Mammoth' album the entire band started to become very vocal about how the songs should sound and even though I start out writing the material at home everyone is very present in arranging the material these days. This has been a good thing, although it's been the source of a lot of fights during rehearsals, haha! We always go wherever we feel like musically and as long as the four of us are OK with it we're good to go!

Often bands are criticised by their fans for changing their sound and moving on musically, however that something that's never appeared to be a problem for Beardfish. Why do you think your fans are so accepting of the band trying new things and determinedly not repeating yourselves?

I'm not sure, I never really thought about it… I think a lot of people thought we went too far into prog-metal land on 'The Void', then again a lot of people loved it too. The most important thing, at least for me, has always been that we stay true to what we want to do within the band. It's always nice if people like it and continue to listen to our albums and come to our shows, but I'd rather play what's in my heart to a smaller crowd than do something half-hearted just to please someone else…

Previously it's always been you who has mixed the Beardfish albums, however this time guitarist David Zackrinsson handled that side of things. Why decide to change?

I didn't feel like doing it this time because I didn't really have any fresh ideas and also had a lot of other stuff going on at the time – basically I would have hated to do it on auto-pilot… I thought that David was the best choice if I wasn't gonna do it so I asked him and he was really keen on it. Turned out great, in my opinion!

How did this alter the sound and approach of the album? And were there any surprises in the final result?

It's a bit dirtier than for example the 'Sleeping' albums or 'Mammoth' in my opinion, but that could also be credited to the production we did. I hate to use the word modern, because I don't think it sounds modern, but it's mixed a bit different from what I would have done, not at all in a bad way – just different. David was able to get a lot of great low end that I've always had a difficult time luring out of Robert's bass for instance. His mix is probably a bit more direct and in-your-face than mine would have been. I love it!

Will there be a "fight" between you and David to mix the next album?

Of course! We've already talked to the guys at UFC and they're gonna let us use the octagon to battle it out prior to the recording of 'Beardfish 9', haha!!!

Between 'The Void' and '+4626 COMFORTZONE' Beardfish have played numerous festivals such as RosFest. How much did you enjoy these occasions?

RosFest was amazing, and also the Progressive Nation At Sea this year! It's great with the festivals because you get to hang out, listen to some great bands, meet some great people, drink some great beer and play - hopefully - great shows! We haven't played Night of Prog yet… we will though in 2015!

Can it sometimes be a challenge to win over new audiences with a technically intricate sound when you're also often playing shortened sets?

I think so, but we always try to form our sets after the length – so if we know we're only playing 40 minutes or something we try to just go out and give the audience the absolute "best of" in a compressed format!

You've recently been announced as the opening act on Neal Morse's 2015 tour of Europe. You must be delighted to be given such an exciting opportunity?

Yes, of course! We had a great time when we opened for Flying Colours on their European tour in 2012 and every time Mike Portnoy or Neal Morse comes knocking we automatically say "YES!".

I believe for the live shows you'll be adding keyboard player Martin Borgh to the line-up. Tell us about Martin please and why did you decide to bring him into the set-up?

Martin is a friend of ours who happens to be a great keyboardist. Robert and I have been playing a lot with him in the past couple of years and we asked him a while back if he would be interested to join us for some live shows and he was really keen on it. The main idea was because I play a lot of guitar on stage on certain songs, we're missing keyboards and Martin was the perfect fit for filling up that space. Then when we started rehearsing it felt great to have an extra pair of hands on the songs where I play keys too, so we just keep on throwing songs at him, haha!

Will Martin just be a live addition to the band?

We don't know yet!

The two disc limited edition version of the album comes with a selection of bonuses called 'The Early Years - Outtakes and Demos'. What can fans expect to find on this intriguingly titled extra disc?

It's a compilation that I made about three years ago, planned for release by the band and then when the record label heard it they really wanted to use it on the limited edition of the new album. It's recordings between 2002 and 2006 basically, but we also added our Christmas song, "…And Terry Takes The X-mas Route" from 2007 on it because it deserves its place on a disc! The other material ranges from unreleased songs - including the very first real recordings we made - outtakes from the "Sleeping in Traffic" era to demos around "The Sane Day". Lots of unheard songs!

How much did you enjoy revisiting your early material to piece this part of the release together?

It's been a while now since it was put together in 2012, but I remember having a fun time listening to the stuff. Mainly I heard a band trying to find their way in there, and there's also some really nice stuff!

So other than the Morse tour, do you have any other live dates lined up to support the album?

Night of Prog in Germany, we're also working on booking some more shows, but nothing at the moment, no!

And what else does the future have in store for Beardfish?

Music, music, music! Live shows, recordings, you name it!

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