Dungen Talks Häxan

Post Author: Dave Cantor

Without witches, sorcerers and the love of a princess, there wouldn’t be a new Dungen recording.
“Häxan,” the Swedish psych band’s reimagined soundtrack for Lotte Reiniger’s 1926 animated “The Adventures of Prince Achmed,” arrived late last year seemingly embodying the band’s earliest clutch of recordings with sonic flourishes more closely tied to fellow Swedes Träd, Gräs & Stenar than Tame Impala’s limp psychedelia.
For Dungen’s brief U.S. tour beginning March 15, stops in
Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Los Angeles will
feature Gustav Ejstes and his troupe cycling through the film’s score
accompanied by a projection of the 90-year-old movie.
Ejstes, speaking from his home in Sweden, chatted with Impose about how the process for putting together “Häxan” was a unique experience for the band, but that performing together for more than a decade prepared Dungen for the process.
The following has been edited for length and clarity.
The first three albums seem like a unified whole, and the next four sound connected to each other. Where does “Häxan” fit?
It’s something totally new for the band, which has been from the very beginning just me. It’s been my songwriting and my production. It was like that pretty much until the last two records – the one that came out in 2015, “Alas Salk,” was produced and made by a friend of ours called Mattias Glavå. It was the first time since the major-label record in 2002 that I’d worked with another producer. The thing is, we have evolved into more of a live act. The latest record – the score for film – is a collaboration in its own right.
Did you sit down with Wolfgang Zeller’s original score or any of the subsequent versions of the music that’s accompanied “The Adventures of Prince Achmed?”
No, we did not – at least not me. The story is that the bass player, Mattias [Gustavsson], and the guitarist, Reine [Fiske], they came to my home and brought the film. The funny thing is, the guitarist just got this Mellotron. He was like, ‘This is amazing. I can press any key and it seems perfect; it’s so cinematic.’ They came over, and we just watched the film and they played along and showed me some tunes and moods they came up with.
Really the opposite of the process you’d been using for the past 15 years.
Totally, but this film really took the live band into creating new music together. We have been developing that kind of thing during the last 10 years, especially on tour, but to rearrange my songs for playing live. If you heard us live, you’d know there’s a lot of improvisation going on. We like that way of playing, just getting to a certain vibe or mood and just staying there for a while. So, watch a beautiful movie and play along to it? That was pretty easy for us.
Was it tough for you not to write lyrics to any of the music? Or was that alleviated by there being an existing film narrative?
That is maybe the only thing that we decided from the beginning – there shouldn’t be lyrics. We considered the film the main vocal or the main instrument. That’s maybe why when we decided to make a record out of it, it was both good and [bad], because I felt that these are like instrumental versions of songs. But the film is the lead vocal or the lead melody.
It was a bit of a surprise seeing “Häxan” be released a year after “Allas Sak.” There was a five-year break between the previous two albums. What accounts for the quick return to the studio?
It went really, really fast, actually. We performed it with the silent movie – that was in the spring of 2013. And then, did a few shows with it. … It’s also, like, the record before that, “Allas Sak,” was the first record in five years. That break was not on purpose – we all just got into having kids. The time just flew away and we are all involved in tons of other projects. It’s wasn’t like, ‘Let’s have a long break.’ So, when we released “Allas Sak,” we were like, ‘Let’s just keep up the [momentum] now and put out more stuff.’
Keep up with Dungen here.