It's also why he's been able to forge collaborations with artists around the world: When you have a guy addicted to e-mail, connections are made, studio costs are out the window and files start flying back-and-forth between continents. Despite his success behind-the-scenes with Shapiro, Agebjörn's first music-making love was ambient music. In 2008, a little remarked upon album called Mossebo made its way into the world. Now, in 2011, we have The Mountain Lake, yet another full-length which will likely fly under the radar. That's a shame, as it's a compilation that gathers together some of his best work from the past six years. Following in the melodic ambient tradition of Biosphere and Global Communication, it treads the line between New Age and ambient expertly, never veering off too far to one side.
I read in an interview a few years back that you have a full-time job. Is that still the case or are you doing music full-time now?
I'm actually studying these days, psychology, and I'm also working eight hours per week as an accountant. And I'm a father.
Which is a full-time job in itself.
Yeah, so there's actually not a lot of time to make music, but I make music sometimes on holiday or maybe in the evening after my daughter has gone to sleep. I tried to do it full-time a few years ago, but I actually wasn't much more productive than I am today. I didn't get more ideas because I was working on it full-time, and that's kind of the crucial point for me.
I guess when you go into the studio now, you also probably have to get something done because you don't have the time.
Yeah, I'm usually quite effective. I try to focus a lot on the composition when I'm not in the studio. When I'm just cycling, for instance, I think about what I want to do.
I imagine it also helps, I was reading on your website that you have a list of your top ten drum machine sounds of all-time. You know your palette quite well.
I have those, yeah. But I think it's also important to try to renew yourself. I have a rule that in each track I must use some sounds that I haven't used before. My favorite technique of finding exciting sounds is to record a very high-pitched waveform to tape and then sample it again and then transpose it a few octaves down. When that happens, you get a noise on the tape, a slight sway of the tape, that makes it very warm and analog sounding. You know that Aphex Twin track "Ventolin"? I recorded that high-pitched sound to tape and then sampled it again. It made one of the very warm pad sounds that I use in some tracks.
So you're using this purposely irritating sound to make something really warm and beautiful.
Yeah, it's fantastic what happens when you take it two or three octaves down. I also have tapes from the old Commodore 64, the old computer, I had one of those when I was a kid and you had to store all the games on tapes because they were floppy discs. And these tapes you could actually place into a normal tape recorded because they were the same tapes and when you played it, it sounded like, "EEEEERRRRR, CCCHHHHHH, EEEEERRRR, CCCCCHHHHHHH," like a modem or something. So I actually also used those sounds and transformed them. For example, "Spiral Staircase," the track on the ambient album [The Mountain Lake], the sound there comes from one of those old Commodore 64 tapes.
new dance album was
actually Reply to All."
You mention the ambient album, and when listening to it I have to admit that I didn't realize it was maybe your first love as opposed to the Italo disco-style tracks that you've made with Sally Shapiro. That's probably just because that's gotten quite a bit more press over the years. Am I right in thinking that ambient music was your entry into electronic music? Biosphere and Aphex Twin?
It was the first kind of music that I wanted to create for sure. But if we're speaking about my chronology, then the appreciation for disco came very early, it came like when I was 10 years old. When I was maybe 15, 16 years old, I started to listen to Aphex Twin, Biosphere, and that was also when I started to make music myself. I never saw myself as a writer of pop songs or a disco music producer, I saw myself more as an electronic ambient producer and then I just tried for fun to make a track in 2006, which was "I'll Be By Your Side." That went so well that I felt, wow, I had to develop this style of making music.
It's interesting: Listening to some of the Sally Shapiro material alongside your ambient material, I can hear definite connections. There is a softness in both. Your ambient music, too, is never too experimental. It's quite melodic. Do you see that both are sort of informing one another?
Yeah, I think so. In the beginning it was important for me to see it as completely separate projects because otherwise I wouldn't have been able to make it sound different than the ambient stuff, but after a while I realized that a lot of my way of producing—like using a lot of reverb—is in both. And I'm also actively trying to cross-pollinate the two genres. Like, for example, my remix for Glass Candy, "The Chameleon," is a mash-up between ambient and disco and also the track "Take Me Home" is also a bit disco-influenced.
I think it's a combination of things. One thing is that both Sally and I felt that we wanted to widen our way of making music. So that's why I started to collaborate with a lot of other artists, both producers and singers, and Sally has also been collaborating on one or two tracks with other artists as well. But then also we still make some tracks together, so there are like three or four tracks on the new album that Sally is singing on. The other part of it is that Sally is so resistant to doing interviews. She has a lot, but she never really enjoys it, and we had to find some way to release music without having this pressure to talk to press. So I think she wanted to take one step back.
Collaboration-wise, you work with a lot of people outside of Sweden. You've used the internet, just because of your geography, to connect with people. Would you say that's been a huge help?
Yeah, the working title for my new dance album was actually Reply to All because there were often so many people involved on the tracks that I'd always have to use this Reply to All function on e-mail. I think the new album was recorded in like 15, 20 or 30 cities, and yet I've only traveled within Sweden and once to Finland to work on it myself. So yeah, I haven't met all the people I have made music with. It's really fantastic to be able to do this. I'm able to do it and at the same time I'm able to be a good father. I don't have to travel for weeks away from home. That's quite important for me: to not lose this time in my life when I'm a father.
You're based in Lund. Did you grow up there?
I grew up in a small city called Lidköping. Well, actually it's the fifth biggest city in Sweden, but we don't really have big cities. I think that's why I learned to like listening to music rather than clubby music because there weren't that many good clubs. I think there were like two rave parties there in my childhood, so I've been very much of a home listener, following what's happening on the internet.
As far as Italo, how did you get into that? Was that something you bought at a local record store or did someone introduce it to you?
Yeah, it was a classmate of mine who gave me a mixtape when I was ten years old. I was hooked immediately. Before that I'd only been listening to mainstream pop music, like Swedish artists like Roxette and Europe. So then I spent all my money to buy Italo disco compilations in the local record shop.
Did they have quite a selection or was it just mass-market compilations?
Have you heard of the German label ZYX? They actually invented Italo disco with their The Best of Italo Disco compilations. I think they were the ones who brought it to Germany and also to Scandinavia, and those were the ones that I bought. In the beginning, I actually didn't even realize it was a genre of music, I thought it was a group called "Italo Disco." I was like, "Wow, they have a lot of singers in this group!" I finally realized, "Oh, it's a genre of music."
You said when you were 16, you started to get introduced to different sorts of electronic music. How did you come to that?
I heard it on the radio, on specialty shows. There was this MTV program, Party Zone, and also Chill Out Zone, which was in the middle of the night. I think Chill Out Zone was supposed to be a program that you watched after you had been to the club, but I went to sleep and I set my alarm clock to [go off in] the middle of the night so that I could watch it. [laughs] It was there that I saw music videos by The Future Sound of London and Aphex Twin and Biosphere, with those very suggestive visuals. I can still remember how big of an effect it had on me. It felt like a whole mysterious world that I didn't know anything about.
Ambient music often rides a pretty thin line between a New Age-y feel and "serious" ambient music. Is this something on your mind when you're making things in the studio? To not make things too fluffy? Or, do you just go with the flow and not try to think about it too much?
That's a good question. The record label that's releasing The Mountain Lake, their older stuff, is even more New Age than my album. Their releases even sometimes end up in that category for the US Grammies. In Sweden, it's usually looked down upon. I don't think there is any scene for New Age in that sense like there is in the USA. Of course I can feel that sometimes something is a bit too cheesy, but I try to just follow my instincts and my heart. I think that both my disco music and my ambient music can be seen by some people as quite cheesy. I wouldn't be doing it if it wasn't honest, though. In the rest of the world, the rest of the time, you have to follow rules. In music, you can make your own rules. No one can tell you what's wrong and what's good.