HILLS

22 Nov

HILLS

If Hills didn’t already exist, we’d be well on our way toward inventing them in our minds-eye … and our minds-ear, too. Theirs is an epic, larger-than-life mix of punishing, trance-inducing Halleluhwah-wah-worship and brainstorming astral amplifier assaults, baked inside a crispy crust that forms only atop those who spent their formative years sampling the most grotesque of extreme Swedish riffery.

The second album from the trio is “Master Sleeps,” released earlier this year on Transubstans Records and now, swiftly, sadly, nearly out of print (though you can still find it for just a few spare krona). Befitting the album name, the six-song, thirty-five minute affair displays a mastery of sonic sorcery – if there’s a heavier, better use of flange and gain than on opener “Rise Again,” there’s little doubt that our head would do a very credible Scanners impression should we ever hear it.

And what of the sleep in the album title? As revealed below, the album does feature what is essentially a lullaby … but one suspects there’s more to the “Master Sleeps” story, and Hills are staying tight-lipped. Hills have eyes, but they also have amps, and we couldn’t be more thrilled to feature this interview with the bassist/vocalist/guitarist/organist/flutist and keyboard-king of these Hills, our friend Kalle.

Can you recall what the first riff was that truly captured your attention in your adolescence? What was it about that riff that made such an impression on you? Are you able to pinpoint a moment in your own personal musical evolution where the realization occurred to you that music can be something beyond “just” riffs?

The first thought that occurred to me here was the closing riff in “Suffer the children” by Napalm Death which is kind of strange since I really haven’t listened to that one in a really long time. But that riff is a total killer and combined with the lyrics: “…Who shall it be? Who is the one? Not those who pass on but those dictators divine weaving their deceitful wands” … it still sticks. I was about 13 at the time and that was just the coolest and heaviest thing I had ever heard. I remember being totally shocked when I first heard the album. I did not understand shit. Like, a what-the-fuck-is-going-on feeling, like being overrun by a train or something. I guess the hardest stuff I had heard up to that point must have been some kind of heavy metal or punk like Sex Pistols or whatever … I also remember buying the album because of a guy who went to the same school as me and had his locker next to mine. He had this Napalm Death sticker on his locker and was a really cool guy. He told me his older brother played in a death metal band which was very impressive and seemed kind of dangerous back then. So I bought the album just from seeing that sticker. I ordered the LP directly from Earache and my mother ( ! ) helped out with formulating the letter. Since she taught English in school and my English wasn’t too good back then, I thought it was the appropriate thing to do. I remember we had an argument about the opening of the letter which started out with “Dear Sir …” I remember thinking it sounded too cheesy and not as cool as I would have wanted to present myself at 13. I would have preferred something more like, “Hey man/dude” or, in retrospect, maybe just “Hi” … she won in the end though, mum.

And if I can pinpoint a moment when I realized that music can be something beyond just riffs, it occurred some years later when another friend played me “Hallo Gallo” on his tape recorder on a very late after-party, from a mixtape a guy had made him. He wasn’t exactly sure what he name of the artist was since he just had the cassette left. We sorted it out in the end though. I think he called him up in the middle of the night and played him the song on the phone.

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Did you have any general ambitions for the type of band that you wanted Hills to be when you first started playing together? How have those expectations changed since the beginning, if at all? Did you have experience playing in other bands before Hills, and how did those experiences color the forming of Hills?

To incorporate all the things I love listening to myself and add something of my own on top of all that. I guess this goes for the lot of us as well and apart from that the usual ones: having a good time, maybe do a couple of live shows, making music you would want to listen to yourself and maybe release an LP sometime. I don’t think our expectations have changed either; at least they have not for me. I mean, obviously we have released two albums now and done some shows and all that but that is also what we want to continue doing. Recording stuff, releasing it, then do some shows … We’ve been getting loads of love from all around and people supporting what we do through booking us for shows, buying our LPs, t-shirts and CDs and so on, which really is more than I could ever imagine expectation-wise. That a song that I have made means something to someone else, that is just so cool but so very hard to grasp.

As far as playing in bands goes, I have done it since about the above mentioned purchase of “Harmony Corruption” – everything from death metal to garage outfits. The last band I played in before Hills was also what led me to want to form Hills. I got tired of just playing the same “plain old songs” with no room for improvisation anywhere. The last thing I wanted was another “job,” so to speak, and that´s what it felt like in the end, performing the same set list over and over again like an idiot. Don’t get me wrong: I really like to listen to conventional (conventional meaning predefined/tight songs all the time, verse/bridge/refrain – you know what I’m getting at) music – I just did not want to play it myself anymore.  I wanted to find a platform where I could incorporate everything that was interesting to me somehow and of course meet like-minded people and do just anything. It was never about the shows but always about the music, the rehearsing/meditative part of it and recording for me, and that still is the most important part. Then if people like what we do, that is just great but we would be doing it anyhow. I think the current constellation of Hills is great. A quartet consisting of friends that sometimes (lately, very seldom) lend a helping hand to other friends for live shows.

Much as we adore the self-titled Hills debut, “Master Sleeps” seems to be a bit of a quantum leap forward, at least in the impossible-to-define category of “aura” – the album just has a stronger, more defined feel to it than its predecessor. Did it feel this way to you when you were recording “Master Sleeps”? How do you feel about the album now that some time has passed since its recording – or do you think about it at all?

I totally agree with you here. There is always a first album and I’m still content with the first one, but of course in retrospect there are some details I would change – the mastering for the LP for example. But without saying too much about it, I guess it’s OK for a first album. “Master Sleeps” is a whole other story which is quite easy to hear just from listening the production. Thing is for the first LP I knew what I wanted sound-wise but not how to get there production-wise. And for the guy that helped us out, this kind of music was a totally new thing for him, which meant we had arguments about the overall sound and so on. The second time we knew exactly how to get what we wanted production-wise, plus we had played together for an even longer time finding more our “own” sound and thus the whole album sounds a lot better. I still feel very proud about “Master Sleeps” and what we achieved there; I think it’s a cool album.

Is there a particular meaning or reference point for the title of the album and its titular, penultimate track, “Master Sleeps”? And what can you tell us about the source for the albums artwork? Which album artwork has made a particular impression on you in the past few years?

Well, yes, there is, but I won’t bore you with details around that. As far as artwork goes, it’s the same guy that made both the album covers, Marcus Ivarsson, a very talented artist and friend of ours. We had an idea to try to make the cover look classic in a jazzy kind of way (Miles, Coltrane and Marcus had this book with geological pictures which he wanted to use for the matter. I think it turned out nice. It says very little about the content on the vinyl, though, which maybe is a good thing … I don´t know.

I really like the Gnod/White Hills split artwork and also everything I have seen with the Heads – they really know what they are doing both musically and visually.

Perhaps the song we’re most fascinated by on “Master Sleeps” is “Claras Vaggvisa” – what can you tell us about the origin of this song? Are we hearing children’s voices, subtly, beneath the organ?

Well, thank you.

That song is a song I made for my daughter when she was first born. I had this Philicorda organ I had bought at home and kept it in the bedroom and sometimes when she was having trouble sleeping I tried to drone her to sleep, mainly just holding one or two keys on the organ pressed down. It kind of worked from time to time and then during one of those sessions at home it evolved into this melody. And since the whole organ thing was only a means to get her to feel calm and fall asleep from the beginning, the title just felt kind of given, with the title simply translating into “Lullaby for Clara.” And yes, her voice is on there, too.

Take a look at the photo attached – it’s a random stack of CD’s sitting on my desk. If you had to listen to one of the albums seen in this photo, which one would it be and why?

The photo is kind of blurry so I can not really make out what all of them say. There are some easy ones like Hendrix live somewhere and Dylan Covers from MOjO and then I saw Voivod’s “War and Pain,” so I guess it would have to be that then, because I have listened far too little to them but always liked what I’ve heard. If you would have had Manilla Road´s “Crystal Logic” on there I would have chosen that one instead because it has the “Necropolis” track on it and that song totally rules. I don’t know why but I somehow came to think of them talking about Voivod, though they have very little in common from my understanding. Dwarr is another awesome metal dude. We are covering one of his songs at the moment, so there you go. There is a CD which only seems to say Victor on the photo – I would listen to that one, too. I would like to know what Victor has to tell me.

What music have you been listening to lately? If push comes to shove, what is your favorite White Hills song and why?

I listen to David Crosby’s “If I Could Only remember My Name” LP almost once a week. Then I had a Black Sabbath revival again and they are the best. Then Psychic Ills’ “Mirror Eye” and Dwarr and a bit of Hellhammer. A friend sent me some “rare” (how can anything called rare be available on the internet?) live footage of Canned Heat doing “On the Road Again” and, by God, that song is a masterpiece. Plus also The Residents doing a cover of “Jailhouse Rock,” which was very slow and disturbing, plus I’ve been listening to “His Latest Flame” by the King himself – no comments needed. I also saw some random clip my sister sent me simply titled “The World’s Worst Rapper,” which was kind of cool. Always John and Alice Coltrane. Dave Pike Set.

And White Hills, I’d have to say “Paradise,” because of the sheer heaviness.

Do you feel that playing the type of music you play in Hills can put you in a meditative state? What is your experience with trance-inducing music? Are you of the opinion that creating music can have a positive impact on other areas of your life and work?

There are a lot of things that can put you in a “meditative state” and for me our music definitely is one of them, especially during rehearsals and most often live shows as well, when everything is working out. The thing with “states” are that they are never alike though, so there is no predefined state to chase, if you know what I mean. The state just is whatever it is at the moment. We are simply trying to do what people all over the world have done since forever: keeping the rhythm/not mess up too bad and giving ourselves and whoever might be watching an experience (at least slightly) out of the ordinary. And I am totally sure that music has a positive impact on my life and everything I do. Most of it evolves around music somehow, it seems. Be it listening to the stereo at home or headphones at work, singing/playing with my kid – it is almost always present in some form.

Martin Luther King, Jr. (who loved At the Gates, from what we hear), once said the following:

“Normal fear protects us; abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare; abnormal fear constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. Our problem is not to be rid of fear but, rather to harness and master it.”  

Your thoughts?

As I understand it, he categorizes fear into different levels. One “normal” and another “abnormal,” and I kind of get that part, but I don’t agree with him at all. I would just say that there is the awareness of/as fear and then it is described as “normal” or “abnormal.” When that fear arises, whatever it may be related to – a thought, something occurring, a feeling – we have a couple of choices: To indulge the fear through making a whole story around it or acting on it, like I feel afraid because so and so did so and now I´m going to or whatever … or to replace the fear with another feeling, maybe a positive one or a positive thought or something. To simply avoid it through denying it or through some other means … or to just rest as the awareness/basis of the fear and then see that the fear is no more normal or abnormal than any other perception that arises in our awareness. It undoes/resolves itself simply through the relaxation of our “mind.” There is nothing to hold on to, there is only awareness.

This does not mean that we go into some empty kind of “state” where nothing can affect us, but rather we experience everything fully but we do not get caught up in it. Through this method, simply resting with all occurring perceptions as often as we remember, we will see that no matter what arises, it is nothing to hold on to and whatever we perceive, we perceive because of our own awareness. There is no solidity anywhere, even parts of science agrees here – quantum physics for example. We are all just aware basic space experiencing itself through self-knowing awareness. There is nothing to understand or elaborate with; there is just awareness as all the perceptions. Which then means that all perceptions, no matter what they are, are totally equal, in that they all arise as/in/through the same basic space. This is kind of hard to get using our cause and effect programmed brain and way of describing the world, but think of it like this: that what is looking/the awareness is always totally unaffected by the perceptions whatever they are. That which contains cause and effect and can operate within it but is not affected by it, that which is always constant in ALL experience, what sees in dreams and so on … I´m not talking about nihilism, either.

It´s non duality dude 😉

As far as fear as a motivator goes … well, I don’t know. It apparently works to make us progress in some areas but I think one has to ask oneself whether that progress has been of benefit for the totality of humanity or just part of it. I think he is definitely on to something with the “harnessing and mastering” part, but I must disagree with him again and  say that there is no one needing to harness or master anything which has never existed in its own right outside awareness. Awareness is the basis and there, everything undoes itself – we do not have to do anything …. And finally, I would like to add that it’s love and compassion that should motivate us to improve our individual and collective welfare, not fear. I’m sorry if I blabbered away there … but I really liked the question.

What’s next for Hills?

We will carry on doing what we do and start to record the new album soon as planned and we´re playing in Copenhagen again Friday, which I’m really looking forward to – it’s always awesome. Hopefully it will be a hell of a show. Also, we are looking for someone to re-release both of the vinyls since they are sold out, so if anyone is interested in that they can just get in touch. Also, thank you, Ryan, for this interview and for giving to us of your precious time. Cheers!

Hills

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2 Responses to “HILLS”

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  1. ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE « Revolt of the Apes - November 28, 2011

    […] those paying attention, over the last few weeks we’ve had the pleasure of exploring earth (Hills), wind, (uhhhh … Wind) and fire (Magdalena Solis). We could not be more excited to now explore […]

  2. STRANGE FORCES | Revolt of the Apes - August 7, 2013

    […] amplified exploration equipment that serves to propel favorites of ours like Electric Moon or Hills, let there be no mistake – Strange Forces sound like Strange […]

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