Johannasvisions: What would you say is the biggest difference from the previous album?
Alexander Pettersen: I guess you could call it “the evil twin”…
The follow-up to The South’s 2013 album “The Further Inside You Go…” is a more demanding affair, but also an even more rewarding one. It opens with the 11 minute song, No Escape/Don’t Let Go, a track that is quite a departure for the band.
We’re no longer in the southern parts of the USA (well, not all the time anyway) it sounds like an Alan Parsons produced english band from around 1973. It swirls and changes its course as we listen, and this is something that we will encounter on the following songs as well. It starts off with gentle guitar and vocal, the sound is very delicate. The vocals are repeated and doubled, we get a subtle choir. The mood gets darker, but at about 2:40 into the song the drums and electric guitar lifts us up. The Keyboard echoes the melody. The pedal steel comes in, but it has no country-twang, it is airy and elegant. What a great start!
JV: The country-sound is all but gone, is this a conscious choice or did it “just happen”?
AP: It is not something we decided, it is a natural progression for us, I think.
I write the songs I do, the only decision-making concerns choosing songs for the record, and the way we put them together to form a complete album.
This time I wanted to do something new, something else than before. And we did, we managed to pull off something special, something “more” than we’ve done before. I think we have succeeded in this, especially on the tracks, 1,2/3,5 and 6.
Desert Sounds takes us into more familiar territory, to the breezy Californian coast line. It starts off with a strumming acoustic guitar and then a beautiful melody hovers over the acoustic. The guitar is doubled and the keyboard fills in. It is a very finely arranged intro to the track, Glimpse of what we had. The South is in no hurry, they take their time and it builds up wonderfully. I see it as one song.
The second part of the track has a more up-beat melody, but the lyrics are filled with longing for past times and are bittersweet in tone. The electric guitar in the song is an Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead mix, but new and fresh and not retro in feel at all. The bass is subtly restrained and incredibly well played.
Glimpse of what we had (Spotify):
Now, The South takes us for a ride into, well, “The South” as in the musical landscape of the Southern US. They give us a superb Muscle Shoals sounding song, We Got Lucky. A lover reassure his girlfriend that all will be all right and we believe him. The track has some very fine horn arrangements (by Bendik Brænne) and both The Band and Little Feat would have been proud to include it in their catalogue.
Then we’re back on the road, we get a rousing boogie/Texas shuffle in the raw, Psb6u-blues. A steady “motor rhythm” of an accord on el-guitar lays the foundation, and we get a playful guitar that’s just “all over the place” above the steady beat. And then more guitar and keyboard. It reminds me of driving or taking the train, traveling. The vocal starts at 3:35(!) and it is no sweet blues, it is aggressive and insisting. It ends in a wild crescendo and I long to see it in a live setting. It is just fabulous, so far this is my favorite song on the record along with the last track, …The Further Out You Get.
The South – Psb6u-blues (audio with pictures from the recording of the album):
… The Further Out You Get(the song) is a rock symphony, but not in a pretentious way. It is a masterpiece in understatement and unfulfilled emotion that bursts open over 13 minutes. It starts with an American sounding intro, but we are soon transported back over the Atlantic again. It is strange how well a Gilmoure like guitar fits together with an Allman Brothers sounding guitar (and drums). The pedal steel is prominent but mixed with the angelic choir and the organic keys, it reaches an almost gospel quality. At 5:05 the song shifts, the beat is faster and we get some twangy double guitars, almost psychedelic. The drums keep a frenetic pace and a soft piano plays a weary melody over it. Then the organ kicks in and the band really lifts us towards a climax. This is the most complex I’ve heard The South…Suddenly we get some darker doubled guitars, still the pace is fast! Very quick drums under slow and heavy guitar solos. The organ bubbles in and out of the soundscapes, yes, this is a full picture painted with sound.
…then at 10:20 we start to land, it has been a journey. It sounds like a hymn and the lyrics tells us that storyteller is: “So tired you won’t understand, (but) no more head in the sand” and : “It’s easy to lose track the further out you get.” Sad but also uplifting in a strange way. …and Alexander Pettersen has become as seriously good singer!
AP: When we choose the tracks and their order, you arrange some sort of trip.
If you do it good and you’re lucky, you manage to set up “a journey” that people recognize and will be a part of.
This is an old-fashioned album. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the parts are pretty damn good!
This is the best album made by The South and the best album I’ve heard so far in 2014.
The South is Alexander Pettersen, guitars and vocal, Stian Lundberg on drums, Pål Brekkås on bass, Stein Spjelkavik guitar, piano, Hammond B3 and vocal, Sander Stedenfeldt Olsen on piano, Hammond B3 and vocal and Terje Uv on guitar and pedal steel. Ida Jenshus and Bent Sæther guests. Bendik Brænne and Hans Friis Foyn are the horn section.
I feel that this is an album that asks the listener to invest a bit more into it, more than they’ve had to before.
When we had to split this album into two separate releases, we had to make a few choices.
What songs work together? What type of album should it be? and so on.
With the material we had already recorded, we put together an album that felt coherent and had a good flow. We had saved some of my favorite tracks for this second album (“the evil twin”). The previous album was “easier” and this one is a bit more heavy or darker, but at the same time more giving if you take your time and listen.
– Alexander Pettersen
JV: The sound, especially on the first track, have elements that sound like Alan Parsons/Pink Floyd
AP: The sound is bit on both sides of the Atlantic this time, I agree. 🙂
It was not a conscious attempt to sound like anyone else, but we do get some english vibes ourselves, yeah.
JV: What about the title track, …The Further Out You Get, could you elaborate a bit about it? It is my favorite song on the record. I like the “psychedelic vibes” of the guitar sound on some parts of the song (from 5:11) I also love the drums, very cool with that frenetic pace behind those slower double guitars! …and, yes, that organic organ sound at the end of the track, wonderful.
AP: The title track is the one I’ve spent most time to get right. There were a lot of stuff that had to fit together. The Instrumental part was especially challenging and something that we had never done before, at least not that extreme. It is something completely different trying to be interesting for 5-6 minutes when you don’t have the lyrics “to lean on”.
I took an early mix of the song home to listen to, out of the studio, I just started laughing.
Looking at it now, I think it is my favorite track on the album as well.
Alexander also told us that the producer Bent Sæther (Motorpsycho) now knows them better. When he started producing them (on the second album) he gave them songs to listen to, to get into a mood, to grasp what he was looking for. Not so much this time. It all felt much more natural, he knows what they like, who they are and what they’re trying to convey.
“This album sounds like we want to sound”
Track 1,2,3 and 5 are recorded at Ocean Sound in Giske again, while track 4 and 6 are recorded over two days at Brygga Studio in January this year. Bent Sæther has been a producer in both studios.
AP: The album is mostly done live in the studio. But, we have worked a bit different on some songs. For instance, the intro (and outro) to the first track, No escape/Don’t let go is recorded independently and then spliced together. This is new to us, we haven’t worked that way very often.
Desert Sounds that flows into Glimpse of what we had is done in one take, and yes, it is indeed one song.
The same can be said about Psb6u-blues, only the vocals was added afterwards. Actually I think it was a first take…
It’s an energy song. Musically we’ve tried to set a strict framework, and then let the song open up in other ways, it has a completely different dynamic than what we normally do. Also a favorite of mine.
Stein started with a guitar, puts it down and run to the Mellotron for the verse/chorus/verse, then he ran back for his guitar part on the long instrumental section, in one take! Only the acoustic guitar, vocals and a few synths are added afterwards, the rest is all live.
I think that the second song Desert Sounds/Glimpse of what we had would have fitted nicely on Jonathan Wilson’s latest album, Fanfare, you seem to operate in the same landscape, so to speak. By the way, I read somewhere that he had bought Alan Parsons mixing desk from THe Dark Side of the Moon period, just sayin’…
AP: Absolutely! Laura Marling – Once I was an Eagle, Midlake – Antiphone and Trummor og Orgel – Reflections from a watery world, those are my favorites at the moment. I just listened to Lykke Li’s latest album, very promising.
1. England – Dark Side of the moon, just a hint of it
2. California – The Dead, Jonathan Wilson and a little CSN&Y
3. Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Muscle Shoals (We got lucky) and some boogie/Texas shuffle
This could have been all over the place, but it is not. It feels very much as one album. Any thoughts about this?
I feel our identity manifests itself in the way we play, and that we manage to bind songs from slightly different genres together in a unified sound.
JV: Is the band the same as before? Have the roles in the band been altered?
Ap: Exactly the same as the previous two albums. There’s more pedal steel than ever, but less country-sound. Stein plays more keyboard and I play more electric guitar. But no major changes.
Alexander Pettersen: We are doing a few festivals this summer and some shows, Steinkjerfestivalen, Kanonrock, Vikedal Rootsfestival, Tydal, Palace grill, Langesund and Notodden Bluesfestival among others…
Then we plan to do a little tour in august/september. If somebody wants us to play, we will try to come.
I sometimes think of some of the songs:
This will be great live, to let it be free and get a life of its own.
JV: We look forward to see you live again with this new and exciting material!
– Hallgeir (all photos by me on several concerts the last two years)