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Scream Magazine Interview

by Christian Aupetit

Christian Aupetit: As many people there probably don't know you, can you introduce yourself and the band ?

Stefan Renström: I have played the bass since 1980, when I was 15. During the 80's I played the bass with symphonic act Atlantis, who were pretty good as a matter of fact. Many of the things we experimented with then I have developed in Simon Says. In 1990 I bought two synthesizers and since then keyboards have taken up more and more of my attention. I still feel primarily as a bass player, though. I am 37 and works as a journalist.

Mattias is 28 and have played the drums since he was six. He also is pretty keen on saxophone and has dabbled around with the clarinet, being very influenced by his father's collection of jazz records. He is also the drummer of proggers Valinor's Tree with whom he has cut two records, Kingdom of Sadness and And Then There Is Silence. He repairs trains.

Jonas is 29 and has played the guitar in rock bands since he was 13. He has studied classical guitar in the states and, since he loves and respects all kinds of music, is very popular on the local recording circuit, as a session player. He studies philosophy, works as a chef and constantly changes his address.

Christian Aupetit: Daniel, what is your musical background? I know you often go to India, does it means something special for you to go there ?

Daniel Fäldt: I listen to everything from Burundi folk songs to Whitesnake. I tried to play Jimi Hendrix at the age of nine, then joined a couple of local hard rock acts before joining progressive band Leifs Hyvel and eventually meeting Stefan and joining Simon Says. During the years I have put more and more emphasis on the vocals and less on the guitar. But I have been thinking for quite some time about gathering some musicans to play my acoustic songs. Regarding India; it's a kind of "shock-country" that makes you feel alive on all levels. Im always thinking of when to go back. I am 27 and a student of philosophy and related subjects.

Christian Aupetit: What do you, Stefan, think Daniel brings into the band?

Stefan Renström: Daniel is a very expressive singer who, without really thinking about it, colours almost every syllable he sings in different shades. He also has a very nice warm voice. I think he adds that warmth, and a kind of folkish feel, to our music. The structure of my melodies can be pretty harsh, but he always finds a way to soften it up. His eastern instruments will also be given more space in the future.

Christian Aupetit: What is the origin of the band's name ?

Stefan Renström: 1993, I was in a band called Egg. Our guitarist, Per Lindblom - responsible for many a Crimsonish song - wrote a little ditty about wisdom. He then asked me if I could think of a person representing total knowledge. I immediately thought of the Pillar saint, a man who according to legend left his life and climbed on top of a pillar in the desert, where he remained for the rest of his life and answered peoples' questions about everything. Two weeks later, Per went into university to study literature history. The very first thing they read about was the Pillar saint, and his name turned out to be Simon. I just said "Simon Says" out of the blue. I immediately liked it because it stood for "worth listening to", and also Simon Says is a child's play - so it was both serious and playful. I said "Simon Says, that's what we're gonna call the band!" - because we had discussed changing the name, since there once was a band called Egg. They didn't want the name, but I kept it for the future ...

Christian Aupetit: Why was it so long between Ceinwen and Paradise Square? What did you do during all this time? And what decided you to come back? You told me that you went into more electronic music, and then throw almost all away to do symphonic rock music again but we can hear some "new" sounds in Paradise Square, so this new musical direction was useful somehow ?

Stefan Renström: The answer to these questions are related. It has been seven years, in which I have married, moved, bought a house and got two daughters. The room for music is certainly smaller now than before. After Ceinwen was released Daniel and I put a live Simon Says together to play those songs and also write some new material. Some of it ended up in "White Glove" - the clavinet/piano part and the dreamy middle section. But that particular constellation didn't really click and so we drifted apart and the band was put on ice.

Daniel went to India and I concentrated on my other band, The Moor, where I am the bass player. We recorded Flux and also did two short tours in Germany and Belgium. On tour with The Moor was German poet and video artist Knut Gerwers, he and I decided to make something together. Just keyboards and poetry. I programmed tons of material, some of it was good, some of it was not. The electronica CD was a very inspiring project, but fate had it otherwise: while programming I had also dabbled around with symphonic material, just for fun. In March last year I realised I had enough for a CD. And so there was no stopping it: I had to find Daniel, he was said to be in Benares, India. I eventually reached him and when he returned we started off with Simon Says again.

I called Jonas on the phone and asked him two questions: "Do you want to join the band?" and "Do you own a Les Paul?" And so he had to buy one, ha ha! He only used it for 30 seconds on the CD, the slide part during the piano solo on the title track. Anyway, it's a beautiful guitar ... And yes, I erased almost all of the electronic music, but it may still come out, who knows? As for the "new sounds" I am not that sure ... We had some electronica on Ceinwen ... but maybe the electronic bits on Paradise Square came more from the music of The Moor.

Christian Aupetit: Your music is really into symphonic rock but it is difficult to think of a "70's" band in particular when listening, so your influences are perfectly integrated. Can you tell us how you succeed ... and few words about your influences ?

Stefan Renström: I really love the well known bands: Yes, Camel, ELP, Crimson, Genesis ... but the last years I have been listening more to the Italian bands, like Cherry Five, Goblin and of course Banco. I guess that it's really easy to imitate your idols, you sit at the keyboards and think "now I'm going to play something that sounds like One For The Vine." And you will and the result will not sound very interesting, because you are not Tony Banks and it's 2002, not 1976. I have tried that, so I know (smiles). The songs that pass that test are the ones consisting of things you really never intended to play and of sheer mistakes, your fingers stumbled and suddenly it sounded great! I would say 95 percent of all my music has come like that, out of the blue, but of course it's filtered through my influences.

Christian Aupetit: This new album is a concept, can you briefly tell us the main story ... or do you prefer that each listener makes his own interpretation ?

Stefan Renström: Briefly it's about a man dreaming he is in another world, where religious belief is compulsory. He doesn't feel at home with the beliefs decided for him, though, so he goes off to pursue happiness. First as a religious freebooter, then as a successful business man. Through the story he is confronted with his bad sides and eventually accepts them. I wanted the story to end in a big question mark, so what happens at the end is up to the listener to decide for himself.

Christian Aupetit: When signing for your album, Patrick Becker from Galileo told me that your music is perfectly what he likes in progressive music (strong melodies, great breaks, nice playing ...), so can we consider that Paradise Square is "Paradise Square" for prog lovers ?

Stefan Renström: Well, of course I would really want it to be just that ... one of our objects was to squeeze everything we loved about symphonic rock into one CD. I, for one, wanted it to be the record I always had looked for but never found, the one missing in my own collection. A record with everything at the same time. I think some of the songs came pretty close to that. As for melody, we have always put our emphasis on it, rather than on flash.

Christian Aupetit: I think that Paradise Square has a very positive feeling, which is something very rare in music, and in prog music especially. Usually it is easy to share sad emotions than positive ones, Ceinwen was more on a nostalgic and dramatic feel, in my thought. What do you think of this point of view?

Stefan Renström: It seems to me that some people are of the opinion that "true" art is being made only by suffering artists, because that alone gives the art credibility and thus guarantees quality. That is of course crap. I think they mistake "sad" for "serious". Also the urge to express your anguish, to make people understand you, is a powerful driving force. Everyone wants to be understood, and ultimately loved. I don't think the need for expressing your happiness is as pushy. As for myself I simply write music easier in major keys - on Ceinwen as well. But yes, I guess it's kind of nostalgic and dramatic. Maybe even cynical. It was conceived during a period when I had no control over my situation and felt bitter, frustrated and generally miserable. Strangely enough I thought Ceinwen should have a bright, colourful cover, because that's what I heard in the music at the time. But the cover artist found a completely different angle and because I liked his work I only insisted on the disc being yellow, to save some of that brightness.

I am much more at ease with myself nowadays which surely is reflected in the music. On the other hand I think some of the material on Paradise Square, for instance the two last verses of the title track, are immensely sad, but they are played in a major key. For me, that contrast is what makes it interesting. I've always liked such things since I first heard Simon And Garfunkel's "Silent Night". Mostly, though, I prefer to talk about serious subjects in a humourous way. We did it on "A Bedtime Story" on Ceinwen, and now we do it for a whole CD. Also Paradise Square is a vaudeville, and as such shouldn't be too serious to be taken seriously.

Christian Aupetit: Do you still play with The Moor and why do you need to be in two different bands ?

Stefan Renström: I do, but The Moor never rehearses, seldom gigs and hardly plays live nowadays, so it's not that burdening. We are going to record our third record now, though. I guess I need something which is the total opposite from Simon Says - straight, moody, scary, anguished and mostly, almost totally improvised. Furthermore, in Simon Says I have close to complete control - and as much responsibility. In The Moor, I'm just the bass player. Oh, yeah, and occasional keyboard player. And I also played some percussion. And flute. Hmm ... anyway, it's great fun, and Kenneth does all the dirty work (smiles).

Christian Aupetit: Have you some plan to tour with Simon Says?

Stefan Renström: Not right now, no. We are in the middle of restructuring the band - Nils Stenström is coming back into the fold as guitarist/keyboardist - we need two keyboard players live and the extra guitar now and then. Then there are rehearsals coming up, and then we'll see.

Christian Aupetit: Do you plan to record a new Simon Says album before 2009?

Stefan Renström: Ha ha, you really got me there! Yes, we have been discussing what direction we should go from here. The restructuring of Simon Says from a project to a band is part of the idea for another record. Before 2008. Perhaps.

Christian Aupetit: Is Ceinwen still available and where can we find it?

Stefan Renström: It's practically out of print, but I am thinking of remastering it and releasing it again.

Christian Aupetit: Few words "in french please" that you want to say to your French fans and future listeners ?

Stefan Renström: Merci mille foix, tout le trois! No, sorry, both my jokes and my French really suck. One thing I hopefully CAN make myself understood with in French is one thing I really mean: C'est gents comme vous qui fait la toute difference.

by Bjoern Noersterud

Scream Magazine: Congratulations to a great prog album. Can you start by telling a bit how the band started, how long you have played and so on?

Stefan Renström: Thank you. In the beginning of the 90's I lived in Stockholm and discovered that there were prog bands popping up just about everywhere. There wasn't just Landberk, Änglagård and Anekdoten but also a whole bunch of other, lesser known but at least as exciting groups. I was the bass player in a band called Egg, we sounded a bit like Crimson and a bit like Van der Graaf. But above all Egg was a curious and creative band who refused to know it's limitations. I thought the band had a huge potential and wanted us to record a CD, but the others weren't too keen. Finally I decided to leave the band and start a new one and it was to be called Simon Says. In '94 I moved to my hometown Falköping, where there - in spite of being a town of only 16,000 inhabitants - are many bands of really high standard. I started asking around for a good singer and everyone's answer was the same: Daniel Fäldt. I made contact, we talked, he auditioned and that was it. We were to run the band as a project, him and me being the core. As drummer we picked Ola Johansson, with whom I had played pop music earlier. Nils Stenström, guitar player from the same band was also willing to contribute. We recorded Ceinwen to and fro during '94 and '95, when we had some spare time. After the CD was released Nils moved and Ola got the boot. Daniel and I had to recreate the band, but unfortunately that line up was not quite right and a year later we put Simon Says on ice. Last year I discovered, though, that there was material for a new record and made contact with Daniel again. Jonas, who plays guitar on Paradise Square, was an obvious choice, I knew him since before and also that he was into progressive rock. Mattias, who played with us after Ceinwen, was the solution when the drummer who was supposed to play on the record didn't make it. As a matter of fact Mattias got only a four day notice and did a wonderful job. Today he is just the person for being Simon Says' permanent drummer.

Scream Magazine: Simon Says has released one album before, how does it sound compared to Paradise Square?

Stefan Renström: Ceinwen is a bit more raw, perhaps ... not as sophisticated as Paradise Square turned out to be. It "sprawls" a bit more. Many find it uneven but I am fond of offering many varied expressions. My friend Kenneth, who produced Ceinwen, sometimes says that Paradise Square holds what Ceinwen promises. That's probably adequate.

Scream Magazine: Sources of inspiration?

Stefan Renström: I would like to say the songs themselves are the greatest inspiration. I write music in two ways - either wholly improvised or wholly through stubbornness. All the songs but one on Ceinwen and four of the songs on Paradise Square are improvisations, they were written more or less in real time. All we did to them afterwards was really just about arranging. The other songs were laboured forth during months of hard work - but it's also those songs I am most satisfied with. But of course you'll hear, especially on the latter, that we like Genesis and Yes, I can't deny that and I don't feel the need to do it either, you really can have worse models than that.

But I still think that when it all comes around it's the songs themselves that decide how they want to be, we always try to listen to what this and that idea demands as it's surrounding. It feels like the finished music is already there somewhere, we stumble over it, or over a little piece of it, and in the latter case have to try to find the next piece and the next and the next. That the end result has been "filtered" through our musical taste is quite in order, I couldn't have been more personal than this in any case.

Scream Magazine: Have you played many gigs?

Stefan Renström: No. After Ceinwen we turned down everything but two free gigs for benevolent purposes. Now we are recording and hasn't had the time to rehearse live material.

Scream Magazine: Why Galileo Records?

Stefan Renström In February I sent a number of demos to different labels. Patrick Becker at Galileo wasn't the first to show interest, but he sure was the most eager - he sent me two or three mails a day for two weeks or so. That enthusiasm plus the fact that I was recommended to choose him was decisive. He also has a good reputation among other Galileo bands.

Scream Magazine: What do you think of the prog scene of today? Bands like Flower Kings and Spock's Beard?

Stefan Renström: I'm not the right person to answer that question, I have heard way too little of the new bands. Flower Kings seem to be very solid craftsmen. Spock's Beard I haven't heard at all, nor Transatlantic. But just the fact that there are progressive bands who can sell decently in the 2000's is fantastic, when you think about it.

Scream Magazine: And what about bands like Anekdoten, Landberk and Änglagård?

Stefan Renström: I liked Vemod a lot when it was released, Anekdoten has a wonderful ability to create tension, to be a bit "dangerous" and they are good improvisers who listen effectively to each other. Regrettably I lost them somewhat on the next album. Landberk I think grew better and better for every record, you could hear them developing fast. I like their Talk Talk-period the most. As for Änglagård, though, I am a bit ambivalent. But you can't be anything but impressed by their workmanship and sometimes, like in "Kung Bore", I think they really had something there.

Scream Magazine: Are there any tour plans ahead?

Stefan Renström: Of course we want to play live. There has been some tour offers from certain people, but we have to lay low for a while. We are currently restructuring the band. We need to be two more when playing live - and so Nils Stenström is coming back, both on guitar and keyboards and then we have to solve the bass problem. When that is done we will start writing new material and rehearse. After that, if we are satisfied with how we sound, a tour might be realised.

Scream Magazine: Can you say something of the story, the concept of Paradise Square?

Stefan Renström: For years I looked for a theme to write music around, but all who appealed to me were either already taken or too difficult. Finally I found a picture in a drawer, a photo my wife convinced me to take when we were in Oxford once. A street with terraced houses and cars, in front of them a dirty demolition site and at the very front that sign: "Paradise Square". I started thinking about that name. What was Paradise Square? Who visited it? What did you trade? Finally I realised it had to be a cult centre, like Mekka or the Church of St. Peter. And then it was pretty obvious the concept should be religion - and that I had to write the story myself. It ended up being about how diffcult it might be to grasp religions, how hard they are to understand and how you can react to them. Paradise Square is basically about a person dreaming he is in a world where religious faith is compulsory. But the stipulated faith does not fit him and he tries to find a faith of his own to put his trust into. First by being a spiritual "freebooter", then through money. My wife was right when she said I should find use for the picture if I shot it. It is the same that we used for the cover ...

Scream Magazine: How do you think the next album will sound?

Stefan Renström: We are currently recording music for Kalevala, a triple CD where a whole bunch of bands interpret the Finnish national epic. Then we will focus on where to take our music. Daniel and I has talked a bit about what direction to choose, but we'll see where the wind blows. The only thing we know is that we are going to write music for a new record during this autumn. Then we'll see.

Scream Magazine: Have you signed for a lot of albums on Galileo?

Stefan Renström: No. We have a three year contract for Paradise Square, but really no other obligations from either part. But Patrick seems to be satisfied and we are satisfied with him.

Scream Magazine: What are your views on the ongoing debate about however progressive rock is progressive or not?

Stefan Renström: I am fed up with that quasi-debate, it has added the genre nothing but a lot of crap. Progressive or not? That depends on how you look at that word. If you use it to describe how a particular band sounds I think it's a great word, not many will misunderstand. But if you use it only as an adjective and furthermore choose only to see the resemblance to the old bands and not what has happened to the music along the way, well, in that case many of the new bands are more regressive than progressive. I don't care, good music never grows too old. And new, good songs will always move the genre forward, regardless if they're "progressive" or not.

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Last Updated 8/25/03