Issue 2021-047: Trettioåriga Kriget Interview and Duo Review
It's not often you get a chance to talk to a band who were founded more than 50 years ago. Sweden's Trettioåriga Kriget ("The Thirty Year War") were founded in 1970 by then teenagers still at high-school. A few years later they released their first album and made a big impression on the Swedish music scene.
With the release of their tenth studio album, Till horisonten, the DPRP's Jerry van Kooten talks with co-founder, bass player and vocalist Stefan Fredin.
When the band started in 1970, from the stories I have read, it looks like it was all trying to find out what you wanted to be. You were still in high school, there were two drummers. Did you have any idea what kind of band you wanted Kriget to be?
For a start we all agreed when we formed the band that we should write all material ourselves. No covers! Also, we wanted the music to be heavy and powerful. That was why we chose the name Trettioåriga Kriget (Thirty Years War).
After Christer Åkerberg joined, you spent a lot of time rehearsing. Did he contribute to the sound that is heard on the first album?
For sure, Christer was a vital part in developing the sound on our first album. His playing was obviously very different from our original guitarist Pocke Öhrström. Pocke's style was more in the psychedelic vein, whereas Chris came more from a blues and heavy rock background. The three of us, Dag, Chris and me, basically spent two years rehearsing for the first album, writing songs and working out arrangements and sound. Very much relying on the power trio concept.
August 1974 saw the release of the first album. How did that change the band? Did you see a difference in touring, venues, audiences? What other bands were you doing shows with? Did you hang out?
Oh, for us it was a big change when the first album came out. Suddenly we found ourselves on national tours, where before we had basically only done a few local gigs. The first album changed everything for us. I don't remember all the bands we were playing with but I remember doing a gig with Kebnekajse.
And for the first big gig in central Stockholm we shared the bill with Neon Rose, one of the first Swedish heavy metal bands. Actually, Nad Sylvan, who now sings with Steve Hackett, told me he was working in the bar at this big club where we played and that he really enjoyed this our first gig in Stockholm.
Otherwise we never really did hang out much with other bands. I don't know why. After shows we mostly went to the hotel to analyse the evening's concert, trying to make it better the next night.
How was the music of Kriget compared to what was going on in Sweden, musically? Did you realise it was something different? Did you do that on purpose?
We knew we were different in Sweden when our first album came out. There was this very political music movement going on called Progg, with two g's. It had more emphasis on lyrics with a straight political message than on the music, like us. Several bands released their records on independent record labels while our first albums were released on CBS (now Sony). We got a lot of criticism for being on a commercial label.
From the very start our goal was to create a hundred percent our own music, including the lyrics, sounding like no one else but us.
Olle played harmonica first but left the music part, to focus on the lyrics. What are his influences? Was it a conscious decision to write mainly in Swedish?
Olle has been with the band since we started out in 1970. First as harmonica player and guitarist, then of course as lyricist. So his influence on the band is huge. Also, Olle and I very much grew up together being neighbours in the 60s and sharing the same tastes in music. For both of us, it all started with The Beatles, of course!
Yes, it was a conscious decision to write mainly in Swedish. Olle thought and still thinks he can express himself much better in his native language than in English.
Besides England, how was interest from other European countries? The first album has a few English lyrics, but having the rest in Swedish, was that a problem?
In those early days, when we released out first album, we almost only played in Sweden and the occasional concert in Denmark. The first album had only Swedish lyrics but it's correct that the CD version has some bonus tracks with English lyrics. (Those were not written by Olle).
Of course, then in 1976, after the release of our second album Krigssång, we did a big tour through Britain. But no other European country showed any interest. There were only some signs from the USA that they sold import copies, because there, we were played now and then on college radio.
With Hej på er the sound changed. More compact song-writing, but a more open and accessible sound. Was that deliberate or more organic?
I think it was both a deliberate and an organic development. We surely felt that after the Krigssång album, with the track Krigssång II taking up all of one side, we could not go any further in that direction. So there was a feeling that we should make an album with shorter and more compact songs without losing our personality.
Even if the songs are shorter, there are still two instrumental tracks on the album. The title track almost made it into the Swedish Top Ten, which felt very strange for us. Still, even today we play quite a few songs from the album in our live set. The album was our biggest seller in Sweden in the 1970s.
Was the 2002 reunion meant to be for the long term? Olle joined as well. How did that happen?
After five albums and extensive touring during the 70s I guess we were all really exhausted. That's why we decided to split the band in 1981.
During the 1980s I made one solo album and some solo singles under the name Fredin Comp. As usual, Olle wrote the lyrics and he also published the first of many books. Dag worked as a producer and engineer to many Swedish artists and bands in his own studio. Christer worked with his own blues rock band called George T Rolin Band. Robert had his own cover band and also worked a bit with Roine Stolt. Mats had a synth duo called Tredje Mannen with our old friend and TK co-founder, guitarist Pocke Öhrström. And of course we also started families and had kids.
However, our albums continued to sell, and not only in Sweden. In 1996 we had a complete reunion at a progressive rock festival in Stockholm. After that we rehearsed some new songs intended for a Best of album. While in the studio we realised that we were actually working on a new album, which not long after became Elden av år. I have to say that credits should go to Olle for being the driving force behind the reunion.
Did you decide to write new material right away?
Yes. When we rehearsed for the reunion in 1996 we wrote a new song because we we did not want to play live without at least one new song. Then when we started seriously to rehearse in 2001 and began working on some more new songs.
2004 saw you go to ProgDay in the USA. You've played Sweden Rock, Baja Prog in Mexico, NEARfest, and places all over Europe and South America and even Japan. Does that confirm a place in musical history for the band?
You know, when we released our come-back album Elden av år in 2004, we really did not know if anyone would be interested. So having had all this feedback and a tremendous reception, it honestly far exceeded any of our expectations. I really don't know about our place in musical history. We just feel very honoured and grateful for everything.
Founding a band in 1970 and having success, then life happens, then re-uniting and then the band has success again. That must be special.
In a way it's strange that I am still playing in a band that I was a founding member of in high school at 17! This second reunion phase, or as we ourselves call it the bonus round, have been more fun than the first round in the 70s. Probably because we are older and more relaxed.
At the same time, it's more back to how it felt when we formed the band. Just having fun and not thinking about a career and such stuff.
This reunion is now lasting longer than the first lifespan of the band. How does that feel?
That's true. But as you know, the older you get the faster time flies. So this bonus round still does not feel as long as the first one did in the 70s. We were working so hard back then, touring so much and making five albums in six years.
There were some English lyrics before but the previous album was completely in English. Was there a specific reason for that?
I think we just wanted to try that. That is, I wanted to try it. Olle did not. However, we never had done an album with English lyrics, and by this time we realised that we had quite a few listeners that did not understand Swedish. We wanted to do something for them. However, with this new album, Till horisonten, we are back to Swedish lyrics again. Olle feels that he is back on his home ground. And honestly, I think we all feel the same.
What are your influences these days when writing songs?
Influences nowadays are more like moods, atmospheres and general feelings. Of course also nature is a big inspiration.
Spoken like a true Swede! Has the influence changed over the years?
For sure! In the early days we were obviously very influenced and inspired by the big classic progressive rock bands like King Crimson, Yes and Pink Floyd. I have to admit that I still listen very much to the classic prog bands from the 70s. And of course The Beatles. Also classical music a lot. And yes I do listen to contemporary prog as well. Especially the newer Swedish bands like Opeth, Anekdoten and The Flower Kings.
What do you think of the new album when comparing it to the previous ones, Seaside Air and Efter Efter?
I think in some ways this new album is more similar to our early albums, in that it has more emphasis on our playing than on the previous two albums. There are very few over-dubs made. The core trio of guitar, bass and drums were all recorded live together in the studio.
Thank you very much for the interview. Congratulations on the release of your tenth studio album. I hope I get to see you play live one day!
Trettioåriga Kriget — Till horisonten
Swedish band Trettioåriga Kriget are a bit of a legend. Their 1974 debut made a big impression, and even won international interest. Their first two albums are still regarded as highlights in the history of progressive rock.
After five studio albums, the musical style had changed considerably, and the band quit. Life happened. But the band reunited in 2004 and have been releasing albums at certain intervals. This month sees the release of their tenth studio album.
Till horisonten is an album full of guitar-driven symphonic prog. No excessiveness or gimmicks; music written from the heart and cleverly arranged. The wonderful track Vägen till horisonten started out as a jam, which is an exemplar of the organic feel to this album.
Where their mid-70s albums were fiercer with youthful naivety, this breathes the lives of experienced musicians who have certainly not been mellowed by time. A 60s attitude, in a 70s prog sound, with 80s and 90s influences, within current-day production standards.
Looking at the song titles you'll realise that the vocals are in Swedish. Even before I started learning this language I didn't have a problem listening to languages I didn't know, but I know that some people don't like it. Voices full of life and experience, add that personal layer.
Influences come from many directions. In the past, Focus and Rush have been mentioned. A long guitar solo in Vägen till horisonten with organ layers, brings back flashes of early 1970s blues rock, only to change into a symphonic Camel or Renaissance section, and then onto a 1990s prog sound. It then builds towards a beautiful Pink Floyd sound, and closes in a 1980s prog-driven style.
While a Beatles influence can be heard in some of the song writing, there are a lot of other influences shining through without a clear name-tag. This is to be expected of a band with such a long history, hearing and seeing many bands come and go. It's fair to say that they have been an influence to many bands in the prog rock scene of today.
What I also love about this album is that I regularly forget which of the songs I am listening to. There is a flow that makes it feel like a unit, a single concept (which I don't think it is, but you never know). It's not just the consistency of the song writing, arranging, and production, there is a lot going on, a variety of moods, and oh those melodies that just pick you up and take you away.
A beautiful album with so many things to discover. Soothing and exciting at the same time.
Sad as it may seem, the fingers at the palms of your hands should just about be enough to count the number of prog bands that started in 1974 (or earlier) and that still continue to release new material. Kansas, Ange, Le Orme, Eloy, Hawkwind, New Trolls, Uriah Heep... (I know, I am cheating a bit, omitting the prog solo artists, but still). Even fewer of these bands manage to maintain the quality of new material at the same level as they produced in 70s - 80s.
Trettioariga Kriget is one of those veteran bands that are not satisfied by simply making a “last farewell” album. Their records of the 21st century opened a new page for the band. TK is no longer experimenting with near-avant-rock structures or quasi-disco rhythms. Ever since Elden Av Ar (2004), their approach has become progressively more focused and succinct, while maintaining the ever-present Scandinavian music flavour; that Nordic sfumato, well-known to all fans familiar with works by Anglagard and White Willow. The point is, that above all, Trettioariga Kriget were one of the first to try these scabrous, moist, folk-influenced chords and progressions in rock music, back in 70ies.
Anyway, Till horisonten is far from being a nostalgic album, speaking of nothing but long-forgotten heroic deeds. It is an extremely well-composed and self-sufficient record, definitely my favourite, along with Efter efter (2011) and Hej på er (1974), if not their best.
What strikes me, is that the same line-up, which lived through all the ups and downs of the five-decade career, is responsible for writing, arranging and performing the music now in 2020 - 2021. Is there a fountain of youth somewhere in Sweden? While every musician on the record deserves nothing but high praises, it is Stefan Fredin, one of the unsung heroes of bass guitar, who is the crucial creative force. It does seem unfair that his skills and creative energy have been left largely unnoticed by the prog mainstream, not to speak of the larger rock audience. Without showing off his skills, Fredin can hold the pulse with a few notes and solid finger attack. His phrases are precise, always groovy and dynamic.
This album has no throwaway tracks, but the cornerstone songs do deserve a couple of extra words.
In Memoriam's first section serves as a self-tribute to TK's 70s sound, with over-driven guitars and nervous falsetto, before the music imperceptibly flows to newer, mellower Kriget. This track sets the mood for the rest of the album; managing to be groovy, melancholic and pompous all at once.
Listening to Staden, I can't help thinking that post-Blackwater Park Opeth owes a lot more to Trettioariga Kriget, than to Yes or Genesis. Till en van (To a friend) is a bitter-sweet track, elegant and beautiful, evoking memories of Camel in their later years.
Vägen till horisonten and Till horisonten, although being two separate tracks, are an emotional pinnacle of the album and a musical maelstrom of Mellotron, elegant guitars and tricky rhythms. Great vocals by Robert Zima, also. I am in awe.
Till Horisonten is a rare gem of maturity, beauty and wisdom. I fail to imagine who could release something in order to kick this record out of my Top 10 for 2021.