The Spacious Mind has presented their mystical daydreams in the form of genre-defying music for almost 15 years now, but despite this considerable length of time they’re still right on one of those well-hidden tracks towards sonic perfection. Their unique blend of psychedelia, krautrock and spacerock is densely intertwined with pictures of forest-clad wilderness and cosmos. The latter is best illustrated in the band’s most quite and subtle moments, which are characterized by an impressive ocean of barren emptiness.


The wonderfully repetitious soundscapes can at first seem to be glacial if not even static, but it’s really all a gentle breeze of details that one after another are moved a tiny bit further from where we currently are situated. The endless view might strike some as monotonous but the more you allow yourself to absorb the more beauty, power and energy will come to the surface. This is particularly evident when the calm of the beautiful landscape transforms into time-bending sections that are bursting with unequalled galactic frenzy and spiraling intensity.   


It’s no foolhardy assumption that The Spacious Mind are influenced by the early Krautrock movement, but just as with some of the finest contemporaries they shape their hallucinatory mantras of phased guitars, electronics and sounds into something all their own. It’s an inspiring and captivating place to pay a visit and in order to further try to spread the gospel about their brilliant work Mats Gustafsson got in touch with Jens Unosson, one of the original band members, for the chat that follows.


Do you remember when music really caught your attention for the first time?


If I was to give it some thought I could probably come up with earlier sound experiences, but the two that immediately come to mind are a reading light and Nationalteatern. We had this lamp with four spiral springs on its sides, and if you drew a pen up and down along these springs they created a great huge singing monotonous sound, which had me endlessly fascinated. We had several lamps constructed like this, but it was only one that had this really cool sound. As for Nationalteatern, I used to play their 'Kåldolmar & kalsipper', and later on 'Luffarrock' as well, for hours on end, usually tucked away under a blanket with headphones on. Amazing record, I still play it regularly. The crush on 'Sjörövar-Jenny' has sort of eased-off though.


What was it like to grow up in the relatively small village of Lövånger in the northern part of Sweden? Did you feel like you were allowed to be different? Could it in some ways even be easier to do your own thing in a small society?

Looking back on it now, my childhood appears very safe and protected, but of course it didn't strike me as such then. Since it's such a small place with a total population of just above 700 people, though it was a couple hundred more when I grew up, every kid in school had a rather distinct identity - you knew everyone, or at least who they were, who their parents and brothers and sisters were. Everyone had their role and was seen, and while there obviously were hierarchies I do think that the overall environment was more secure and peaceful than most bigger places could offer. When I in my early teens started to drift towards something different than the mainstream culture it really didn't come off as something special or odd, since my identity was already well established. It was never a problem that I all of a sudden had opinions and clothes that often differed when compared to those of my classmates, and listened to the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane when the others thought that White Lion was the hippest thing around. The risk of reducing and simplifying people to stereotypes is probably much greater when you're surrounded with lots of folks and thus become more or less forced to perceive them based on how they look, instead of what they are. Admittedly, I had already been following my own path whenever I found a reason to do so, and this made things easier later on as well. Those who were most outspoken and horrified over the way I looked were actually some narrow-minded adults. They're probably still having a hard time with me.

So, I do think that it in many ways can be easier to be somewhat deviant in smaller places, if for nothing else there are so few folks around that the grouping thing doesn't happen as easily. You learn to live and hang out with others despite the individual differences. This said, Lövånger like most small places has an obvious lack of bohemian counterculture tradition, so you don't have much to look for locally. I spent lots of time in the library, ordering books not found on the shelves, on the subjects of political movements, psychedelic music, hippies.


Do you think that growing up in Lövånger in any way has had an influence on your music?


As for its influence on me as a musician I'd have to say that it's probably rather limited - but it has obviously affected me as a human being, and I'm certain some of that comes through in the music though I can't point to one specific thing here. Foreign reviewers often say that they hear the Northern wilderness in our music, or something that suits their idea of what that might be. I'm pleased to hear that, but it's not something we strive for when creating new stuff, and I don't hear or receive or perceive our music along those lines when we're playing either. Certain epical pictures might be conjured if I listen to our records, because I listen to these in a different way than I do to the music when in the midst of creating it. Anyway, I often think I hear specific influences in other people's music, like the area people grew up in or currently live in, so in the end I guess it's up to the listener - what you're able to hear, or perhaps what you want to hear in there.

Tell us about the start. How did you all meet and what made you decide to do music together?

The Spacious Mind was formed as a duo somewhere around August-September 1991, by myself and Anders Sundbom. Anders was from Lövånger as well and we'd been in the same class since kindergarten. The reason for him being the one I started off with was that he had a rather free, open mind, and also because his older brother had a keyboard we could use. Initially we were completely electronic, but the only existing documentation of this brief phase is the track 'Druid Two' on a West Side sampler. Unfortunately I don't have a copy of the original demos I made myself of 'Druid Two' and another one called 'Children Of The Rainbow', since I gave the original recordings to West Side boss Jocke Wallström. The music we made at our rehearsal space was way more intense and massive, a complete wall of sound that was floating around forever and ever. I still like 'Druid Two' in its released version though, it really doesn't sound like anything else, and for a first off venture by two 17 year olds I'd say it holds up pretty well.

However, this first line-up only lasted until the spring of 1992, but during the previous months we'd made loads of detailed plans for films and other things that would accompany our live performances. When I began looking into actually making a gig happen, Anders wasn't really up to it anymore, so at that point I forged on by myself, recording new stuff on a four-track I had borrowed from Henrik Oja. Nothing came out of this since the tape recorder ate the tape before I'd even mixed it properly. We're now approaching summer 1992, and a local festival, Trästockfestivalen, was about to happen. Both Henrik and myself were on the staff for this, and I wanted to play and asked Henrik to help me out. We rehearsed once or twice, but the only part that we'd actually given some form was the intro. We played one piece for slightly less than half an hour, and I'm guessing it was a pretty abstract sound we came up with. For a long while Henrik played on the guitar with a plastic flower, somewhere between a clumsy pick and a bow. Nevertheless the audience responded well, and we were pretty thrilled to do something more.

A few months later we were rehearsing for a second gig at a local café. Before long we realized that we needed more hands than we had between us to make full use of the sounds we had lined-up. The first person we called was David Johansson, drummer in Vilhelm Fort, which was Henrik's main band at the time, and had him play marimba, cymbals, and kick drum played with sticks. Later Thomas Brännström, also of Vilhelm Fort, came aboard as well, though I'm unsure of whether he made any of the few rehearsals, or if he just joined us for the show. In any event he spent the entire gig blowing bubbles in a bucket filled with water, miced-out with tons of delay on it.

Afterwards it was obvious that this was the line-up that would form the band The Spacious Mind, as opposed to the project of the same name. A much shorter version of the piece from the café gig made its way onto another West Side sampler, and we sent a copy of it to Garageland Records in Umeå which by reply gave us a contract for the first CD, eventually recorded in the spring of 1993 and released in November that year.

Since then there have been some line-up changes along the way, but this was the beginning and all four of us are still in the band. That it came together like this was a pretty natural thing, since we all knew each other already and it was much easier to pick folks you were around anyway.

The Spacious Mind appeared at a time when indie music from Umeå and Skellefteå was quite popular and somewhat hip in southern Sweden. Was it possible for you guys to ride on that wave or did you see it as problematic to be placed alongside the more pop-oriented bands on the A West Side Fabrication imprint? Personally that was the way I heard about you for the first time.

I've never felt that we were perceived as being part of the West Side stable in any way. To us it was basically just an opportunity to get on record. I'm sure our contributions may have caused some confusion amongst the indie-crowd, but at the same time we've also helped spreading these discs to a much wider audience.

We never did belong to that Skellefteå/Umeå 'scene' that aroused in the eyes of the media during 1992-95 or so. Henrik and Mårten were in Garp, David in Popundret and later on Backfish, LO played, and possibly still does, in Stardog, and we rehearsed in the same building as all the other local bands, but we were still very much playing our own field.

What would you like the listeners to hear in your music?


I'd rather say that I hope they're hearing what they came to hear, and that they hear something more as well while they're at it. I can't really get used to the thought that there are people out there buying our records and really listening to them in the same way that I listen to music; that our music in some way is part of other people's lives and that they've taken it to their hearts. By that I don't mean that the music isn't worthy its audience, it's just that this situation is slightly surreal to me.

Tell us about the first album. How do you feel it stands the test of time?

Well, the first record is by far the most ambitious one we've made; we put down a lot of time and energy to give shape to every single detail found on there. There are things happening in the background all over the record which are barely audible, but which we spent days forming to perfection, or as close to it as possible with the equipment we used. Many of these extras weren't made on proper, or classical, instruments, but rather on sound making devices that we'd built ourselves. I haven't listened to that record in ages, but as I recall I'm rather pleased with it, perhaps most of all because it doesn't really sound like anything else. I said the same thing about 'Druid Two', and I do think that's an important quality in a world of soundalikes.

Do you consider the Spacious Mind to be a band that plays psychedelic music? How would you define psychedelia?

Psychedelia as a musical genre or established form is one thing, and considering how vast and encompassing that definition is I think most of what we've done can be classified as such. The true psychedelic experience, which of course can be music related, is something else; moments where the mind becomes loose and free enough to not feel or acknowledge boundaries, which brings an incredible openness and closeness to...larger things. Cosmic kinship. To have this mixed-up with something so commercialized, exploited, and trite as "rock music" is completely, well, wrong! True psychedelic music can be a guide, or even gateway, to these experiences, but I don't want to speculate if we can be of that function or service to anyone. To say that we're a psychedelic rock band is much easier and something I find both convenient and true, if categorizing is necessary.

If you’d have to choose one of your releases, which one would it be? How come?

Probably the live one. It was a special gig at a special place, and so far the best manifestation of the group mind...which when working can be pretty powerful. It's either this or the first one.

All your outings have been released by relatively small labels without any greater chances for promotion. Do you feel this has been a problem?


Initially we were very pleased just being given the opportunity to release a record. We had a feeling of being rather isolated, musically speaking, especially in Sweden, and never really expected a label to show interest. Of course, both the first and second CD did much better than we ever could've imagined - they sold in decent numbers, got great reviews. Also, we happened to tap into the Euro psych/spacerock boom, taking place at the time. Magazines like Freakbeat, Ptolemaic Terrascope, Crohinga Well, and others, all had some sort of peak during the early 90's, and there were lotsa local radio shows across Europe playing bands like Dead Flowers, Magic Mushroom Band, Dr Brown, Omnia Opera, and our stuff went across well with that audience. There were also lots of festivals and basically just a happening scene. We landed head-first in all that pretty much immediately after ‘Cosmic Minds At Play’ was released, and it wasn't until 1996-97 when this scene more or less collapsed, coinciding with the fading of our original enthusiasm, that we came to understand that we'd reached out very well to this tiny circle, but not at all to the rest of the world.


When ‘The Mind Of A Brother’ eventually was released in 1999 on Delerium, which to our standards was a pretty big label, we were expecting more and better promotion and greater sales, but instead the opposite came true. Delerium had some successful years behind them with a number of acts, but were more and more focusing on their biggest name, Porcupine Tree, which didn't lead to any major promotion of our new album. And, as I said, meanwhile this Euro scene had come to an end, and we found ourselves with lesser sales, fewer gigs, and just a generally low feeling within the band.

So, yes, in a way it has been a problem being on smaller labels. I'm convinced that there is a larger audience for us, but a number of drawbacks - not label-related only - have stopped us from spreading our music the way we could have with better luck and timing.

Is this one of the reasons behind starting Goddamn I'm A Countryman Records and releasing your albums on your own label?


Yeah, you could say that. When we regained a sort of band lust in 2001 we thought it would be a simple thing to increase sales, and also the number of gigs, if we did it on our own. We found ourselves a good Euro distributor almost immediately, but after that it wasn't an easy ride at all! Some mail-order businesses buy anything we put out, but we're not talking large quantities by any means.

During our period of non-activity, as it were, a new scene of sorts was born and blossomed, especially in the USA, and for one reason or the other we were pretty much stranded by the wayside, despite having much more, in my opinion, in common with these new happenings than we ever had with the Euro spacerock-scene. So, in short the old crowd, or audience, was no longer and the new one didn't know we existed...not the best circumstances for running a record label.

Other reasons for selling so few records and getting even fewer gigs are all these rumours going around that we don't want to come out and play, or even that we're hard to get in touch with. There's an interview with Steven Wilson on the net where the interviewer suggests us as a warm-up act, and Steven replies that we're interesting but lacking in ambition and only really want to hang out on our farm in the woods - hence being a crappy warm-up band!

And of course, another rather important detail that helps to explain our stagnation is my laziness and lack of interest, really. I certainly don't have the drive anymore to deal with these things. Obviously there are plenty of dealers and distributors to get in touch with, and arranging tours could be made as well, but I'm not the one to do it. What Steven said in that interview wasn't true then, but for me personally it is now! Henrik, however, is much more into making things happen, with setting up a website and finding new ways to get our stuff out to people.

In 2002 you released the live CD, ‘Live Volume One: Do Your Own Thing But Don't Touch Ours’. If you ask me I feel it does one hell of a great job in describing exactly what it is that makes you so exciting in the live setting. What do you think makes a band work live?


Let me first of all state that we're a very uneven live act, which of course has a lot to do with the heavy reliance on improvisation. But if we're all getting ourselves together on the same level during a gig it often turns out pretty good. Through the years we've learned about each other’s styles and developed our own ideas and details based on what the others do and don't do. There are definitely invisible ties between us on stage and on good nights these ties turn into strong, solid rope. We might still fall down the cliff but we're going together! During less inspired evenings it may turn into something else completely, with five or six soloists never finding their way home...which still can be interesting but also a rather odd thing to witness, or so I'd guess. With the odd but extremely embarrassing exception I don't think you can fail too severely with the type of shows we do. Jerry Garcia said 'I appreciate a good try', and I agree with that.

Tell us about Terrastock. What was it like to play in London and Boston?

I don't remember too much about London. There were far less folks in attendance than expected, and we couldn't stay for the whole event either, which turned our killer late Sunday slot into a less thrilling Saturday 3PM deal. I wasn't all that pleased with the gig myself, but luckily most of the audience thought otherwise. In Boston I got to hear a bit of the gig, and it actually sounded pretty good after all. Best thing happening was meeting lotsa people I'd been in touch with for years but never met face to face before, like Tom Rapp. Playing with him felt better than our own gig, too.

The Boston Terrastock was way different for us. For a start we stayed there for two weeks and could afford to spend some time checking out the city. Me being a record collector/dealer definitely had no problem having lots of free time to hunt down record stores and thrifts, something which isn't nearly as fun to do in London.

The festival itself came across as being better organized, with a bigger and more varied audience, and our set felt really good. I haven't heard the recording of it though. Again, one of the nicest things about the event was meeting friends from around the world. I spent a day hanging out with Tom Rapp and his family, and he played me a new song, which he didn't perform at the festival. I rate his music very highly, so that was a pretty big deal for me.

Care to tell us about the infamous gig the day after Terrastock in Boston. What happened?

Well...for a start there was hardly an audience at all, and those that were there mostly hadn't heard of us before. It was an Amnesty event supporting a free Tibet, and the bands playing before us were, as far as I could tell, local acts that hadn't been at it for very long. We didn't really know who to talk to as for sound check and stuff, but we had at least forwarded a list of what equipment we required, amongst which were a good drum kit, electric piano and/or organ. We borrowed some stuff from Abunai!, but when I saw their mini-keyboard, which Kris assured me had a great organ sound, I said no thanks, thinking that whatever the arranger came up with would have to be better. Kris, by the way, joined us for theremin, something I wish he could've done during better circumstances since he was great. Anyway, as we started setting up on stage a super high-tech keyboard was provided. Excellent I thought and plugged it in. No band had a sound check so all amps had rather wayward settings and it was a pretty loose situation overall to say the least - and not in a good way. This being the day after Terrastock we felt really on though, and didn't give it much thought, just saying ' hey, let's play in e-minor' without ever discussing songs or build-up.

As soon as we got going we realized the drums were a disaster, sounding like wet cardboard. I managed to find an organ sound on the keyboard but it had this super bizarre touch-sensitive thing going on and was absolutely impossible to play on - and I mean that literally.  Not only that, it was also tuned in some weirdo way, and the guy who owned it had already left. I could never figure out to edit anything on this monster, so eventually I had to do with the three notes I found that did fit what the others were playing, and also vainly trying to control the touch sensitivity with a volume pedal.

Ok... we couldn't hear each other at all on stage and after we've been noodling around for a bit never going anywhere, we started getting a bit frustrated, as it really did sound like extreme crap and we hit on the idea of playing some old tunes instead of just jamming aimlessly; the only problem being that LO, one of our guitarists, had never heard any of these songs. After this it rapidly got worse and worse, so we soon got off stage. By far the worst gig we've ever done.

What’s coming round the bend?

We have some recorded material for a new album that needs to be sorted out, and we also have a few offers to do albums on a bunch of other labels - we'll see what comes out of that. We've been invited to play at the upcoming Terrastock in Providence, and with some luck we'll be able to do some more gigs while we're over anyway. We've talked loosely about doing something with both the No Neck Blues Band and Sunburned Hand Of The Man.

We'll also be releasing some band-related stuff soon. I have a new album in the works and I think there's a Moon Trotskij on the horizon as well.

Dreams for the feature?


Quite a few...right now though I'm mostly dreaming about bigger things, far from the world of rock 'n roll. This last year has been a rough ride for me personally, but for the band it's been pretty successful, with the release of a new CD, a bunch of CD-Rs, a US tour and more. Hopefully we'll see more of this happening in 2006. Perhaps we can provide the soundtrack for the Destruction of the Western Mind and Capitalism, and when that's done we'll be part of the Renaissance of Good Things. 


by Mats Gustafsson


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