"It's a think piece about a mid level band struggling with their own limitations in the harsh face of stardom" – Almost Famous.
Lingua are an intriguing band from Sweden. Catching up with the guitarist Misha Sedini it’s clear that despite the complexity and vagaries of their music as a working band they have forged a very straightforward approach to their music and to life in general.
Trebuchet: The name Lingua, what does it mean to you?
Lingua: We were in our twenties when we started this band. We were young, eager and hungry. We were also quite angry, disillusioned and believed everything came in two shades: black or white. We came from and liked to wallow in the latter, so to say. We were also very pretentious.
When we were looking for a name it proved that most short and good names were taken, Tool, Therapy, Fault line, all really good and very unavailable. There was no way we were following that the-longer-the-better-trend so we started looking at other languages. We wanted a name that was short and expressed our approach to music and it was the very expression of it we wanted to capture. So Lingua, which means language and tongue in most Latin based languages, proved to be the best suggestion we'd come up with as music was the "language" we'd chosen to communicate with the world.
Very much has changed over these ten years, black or white grew to shades of every colour, but music is still the way we choose to express ourselves. So besides the fact that we seem to have real difficulties making a long lasting logo for the name, it works just fine. It's like your own name, I've lived with ‘Misha Sedini’ for 31 years now, and it’s hard to picture myself having any other name than this.
Trebuchet: The title All My Rivals are Imaginary Ghosts seems to suggest that as a band you’re competing against rivals of your own creation. Once you realise that your rivals are imaginary ghosts does that mean that you’ll stop competing in the same way?
Lingua: Well, I can't start answering this question without quoting the motion picture Almost Famous: "it's a think piece..". but really, it is.
Our first release, The smell of a life that could have been, was as much an ode to a settlement with teenage angst and the inner fight of getting rid of it and growing up. How do you shake off all that weight that don’t have any conclusions, never got aired and which you still carry around long after your late teens? The album title speaks for itself with this given background.
The new album, All My Rivals are Imaginary Ghosts (the think piece), not only came four years later but most songs on "the smell.." were several years old. So I'd say the personal growth between the lyrics of the two took place over a period of six years. The angst released its grip, we've become families, teachers, travelled and grown as people on-the-way. Life has come in multicolour’s and we figured, why keep wallowing in self pity or rehashing that experience like so many other bands do? That kind of behaviour is the very root to one’s own misery, to hold on to pain and not looking forward.
On our first record, we leaned back and thought that everything would work out for us having landed a deal and all. People would work FOR us now. Obviously that failed. It took some time to realize that it wasn't anyone else’s job but our own. If we wanted it to happen, we had to be the hardest working apples in that whole damn bunch. So most on this sophomore album has been made by us. When we needed help we turned to families and friends. It was very giving and rewarding working this way and it brought us closer to each other.
Anyways, when we were working on this album we noticed that the music was different. It had a more up-front approach and not as introverted as before. We started capturing that in the lyrics and as they kept evolving this title came up, "All my rivals…” it's up to anyone to have it mean what it means for them, but for our thing piece album it means that you are your own worst enemy and the only one really in your way of becoming who you want to be.
The imaginary ghosts are the voices in your head telling you can't do things for various reasons. It only takes an excuse to not do something, actually doing it takes a lot more. I'm not saying this applies to everyone, but for someone with a background like the one presented on "the smell…" this is often everyday life. To think outside the box: we are all created equal and if others can be happy, so can you. I'm not talking about that picture perfect happiness you see in movies, life is never that easy, and life and happiness is not easy. Do you really want it? Well, work for it. Don't cling to the old and worn. That will absolutely not help… and I can rant like this forever.
If there is a competition behind the rivalry of the title I'd say it's the one inside between one’s emotional states.
Trebuchet: Your press release mentioned that this release coincides with turning/nearing 30. Has the choice to release a more intense album been a reaction to reaching what some might think of as a ‘grand old age’ or is it more that with age comes focus?
Lingua: The only choice I made when I wrote my parts for this album was the one that I wanted a challenge and that was to make Lingua's songs shorter, more intense, say the same thing and have the same feel but within three or four minutes rather than six or seven.
We'd been doing the same thing for so many years it felt like filling out a form. Long intro, check. Build it forever, check. Grand finale, check. Don't get me wrong, I still love the old songs, but I needed to write differently in order to evolve and not stagnate. Listen to "Disperse", that song isn't even three minutes and has it all, no compromises. It's a punch in the face and it only needs 17 seconds to get to the chorus. When I wrote that song, it opened up my eyes to a whole new and very fun way to write music. I had to go on that. The end result isn't all like that, but still I feel it's quite far from where we left "the smell..". If that has anything to do with reaching a grand old age (I'm not old!) or getting more focus with age, I don't know. All I know is that I was fed up with the introverted stage act and needed songs to lift the crowd. Both kinds of music has a purpose and is probably even necessary! I just couldn't, at that particular time, keep doing the introvert thing for personal reasons.
Trebuchet: Do you think that it’ll become easier or harder to connect with a younger audience as you get older?
Lingua: I've never felt it was easy to connect with an audience and still don't. No one in this band is that kind of stage leader who connects, we just don't have a Robbie Williams or Henry Rollins in our bunch. We reach out when we can and try to talk to the audience but most times we just shut the hell up and play. It's what we do best.
We chose music as our tool of communication and having only focused on that we never learned to communicate with our audience in any other way than with a "thanks!" or the slightly longer "thank you very much!". Ask me again in ten years. If we keep this new thing going, we might learn a thing or two.
Trebuchet: Why are you wearing boxes on your heads?
Lingua: The boxes are a part of the artwork and have a connection to the title. We did many different types of photos for this album and really wanted to put our faces in the booklet this time to rid the sense of self mythologisation (that can't possibly be a real word). In the end, however the pictures with the boxes on our heads turned out better than the rest.
I like that we have them on. The boxes have come to represent something strong in the artwork concept, it would be hypocritical not to have any boxes on as to signal that we were any different. The boxes, for me, means you are stuck in your perspective of the world. Once you've accepted the harsh reality of being narrow minded in your nature and through understanding that you can actually do something about it. If you don't see how you are like, you can't go to work on yourself. There is a line on "In Mere Defense" that says "I'll keep an eye on myself, a stare in defense". That's how I am as a person, constantly guarding my moves to spot bad behaviour. I am my own ghost buster.
Trebuchet: Most bands with the release of an album, take a few weeks, listen back and go ‘You know, that worked, that didn’t, next time we’re going to more of the good stuff!’ What did you learn from recording All My Rivals… ?
Lingua: If there is one thing we do a lot of in this band, it is talking. At some points we talk more than we play. We talk about the music we love, our own songs, record productions, certain artists and their techniques or just weird instruments and what songs they appear on. We dissect, tear apart, draw conclusions, get inspired, put together our own weird breed of what we've just talked about and out comes… well, music I guess.
We've been at this game for so long now (ten years, seven demos and three albums, including Come Sleep and Rövfitta), We know we'll be wanting to change stuff once it's done even long before the record is finished. For this reason we had an exact schedule for this album. Once you crossed it, it didn't matter how good an idea you had, the time was up.
To answer directly, on this album we learned two things. Firstly, some of the stuff we thought we did wrong on "The smell…" were not exactly wrongs or mistakes from our side. Some songs just don't translate as well to recorded format as others. Other songs work better and grow to such enormous proportions that we don't know how to do them justice live. One of those songs are "Cobalt Sky" which started as a jam and we had a version we played live. That version don't really work anymore once we have the recorded version out there.
With that in mind, we chose 15 songs to record. A lot, and possibly a bit too many but we wanted a chance to choose songs and cut out the ones that didn't work out. 14 songs were recorded. 14 were kept. We learned that we are worthless at killing our darlings. We probably should have left out a song or two but nowadays with most people listening to music in their iPod's or similar equipment, we just figured people could do that themselves and pick out their favourite tracks and leave the rest on their hard drives. After all, with the given statistics, we only release albums every four years so Lingua's faithful listeners deserved a double album.
Trebuchet: The music is very diverse and seems to hint at a harder sound for future releases, with All My Rivals… are you testing the waters or is this a concerted direction for the band?
Lingua: The direction for "All my rivals…" grew slowly, very organically and foremost naturally. I think I'd be jinxing things by saying we have a given direction for the next album. That's how I work, if I say a given direction out loud I immediately want to go the opposite. I need to feel I have full freedom to go any way I want with my music, even if the direction is fully set. Elusive, yet functioning.
Trebuchet: Lyrically the songs seem fairly accusative… what or who makes you angry?
Lingua: I wrote four of the songs for this album, Thomas wrote the rest. I can't speak for his lyrics, and don't much like to talk about mine either. They have, according to me, great points and are well written. That said I don't like taking away the freedom of interpretation by explaining them in detail.
I got angrier when I was younger, I don't get that mad anymore. The world is a harsh place to live in and some handle it better than others. Geographically I won the lottery by being born in Sweden. We have it great here, too great I’d say. Some take the freedom and peace for granted as they don't have to fight for it. Myself included.
Sweden, like most countries in the Western world can thank their wellness to the third world countries but the climate in Europe these last ten years has been so cold that when these countries start to crumble and seek help here, they want to close the gates to the Western kingdom. I think that's narrow-minded, selfish and utterly wrong. Borders make me angry. We are one world and one people now. It was several hundred years ago that we lived worlds apart. But for some reason, some people want to go back to that place in time. I believe fear is the trigger. But there's no need to be scared, remember what Bill Hicks said: "Life is just a ride". Clearly, I live in Sweden.
Trebuchet: Do you aim your performances as a way of satisfying yourselves or is it designed to satisfy an audience?
Lingua: If you see us live, or watch any of the clips on YouTube, you can clearly see that we are doing it for ourselves. I’d love to be more outgoing, but that's just the way we are. Sometimes we are really explosive live, mostly when we are mad. If the sound is shit or the organizers are assholes or we've just had a bad week we tend to take that aggression out on stage. The crowd usually likes those gigs. We, on the other hand, like the gigs when it sounds great and we play things right. Quite boring visually, but eargasms for those who know the songs. I think stage acting has gone a bit too far these days. Everybody wants to bleed more than the others and be the most ferocious act there is on stage. That used to impress me too, and sometimes still does but if you look at bands from the seventies or sixties, they did some awesome gigs just by standing on the same place the whole gig. Mick Jagger is all over the place but Keith Richards is the cool one. I think the music sometimes is forgotten and that's a shame. So I’m trying to let the songs do more of the talking, but sometimes it's just gets too groovy to stand still.
Trebuchet: Your music seems like a release for you, what sort of reactions do you get in Sweden versus abroad?
Lingua: What’s so wonderful about Swedish rock and metal is that it isn't all that appreciated here. people seem to believe that the Swedish live scene must be great because of all those fantastic bands we've produced over the years, but the reason we have such great bands is because we don't really have a scene for harder rock so most bands just rehearse their whole careers and spend so much time down in their bunkers that they make more thought though music and have loads of time perfecting it. It’s inevitable. If we had a better scene, more time would be spent touring and less writing and recording. It’s a harsh truth.
With that said reactions from abroad are by far more frequent and uplifting. Right now there is a great deal of Russians reaching out to us, and that's quite new to us and I’d love to go there and play sometime. Otherwise it's France and Germany that generate most sales and tour wishes. We appreciate everyone who takes time to writes us and thank us for the music. We still do this for us and always will. But we want to reach out and when we do, when we get the letters, its sheer magic.
Trebuchet: Your guitar style seems to be a great mix of At the Drive In, Tool and even parts of Fugazi. While there seem to be nods to modern Indie for me the heart of your sound is some of the more Hardcore acts of the late 90s? Do those bands still get you going?
Lingua: Oh my god, I must be the most boring person to talk about guitars with. I know very little about them usually abuse them. It’s not an easy task being my guitar. I use a line6 flextone II top that I bought some eight years ago or so and plug it in to a 4×12" Marshall Jcm800. I bought it used in '97 so I don't really know its exact age. Line6 have done far better amps since then and I’ve been thinking about going back to Marshall tops (I played on a Valvestate for ages), but laziness has stopped that from happening yet.
When we record, I use Thomas' Marshall Jcm900 for that extra treble which the line6 don't reach. Guitar wise I have a Les Paul Studio which I use when we play in E or drop D. it's my fanciest guitar. I have a Japanese made Telecaster with a humbucker on it for the songs in drop B because drop B don't really work on a Les Paul, it gets too muddy. The Telecaster brings out the tones far better and with a guitar used only for those songs I can put a thicker string on it for the low B so it holds the tone better. It’s like a 7-string without the low E.
Then there's the Ibanez road star II that I bought real cheap from Jocke of Facedown, General Surgery and Nice Idiot when he needed cash for a trip abroad about nine years ago. It looks like something Richard Clayderman would have used if he were a guitarist but the sound is fantastic and I use it on "To All Borders" which has a peculiar tuning. It goes, from top to bottom: D, A, D, A, A, D. The tuning of my guitars give away my passion for the album "Superunknown" by Soundgarden. That album has six or seven tunings for the fifteen songs on it. Amazing tracks every single one of them.
Which brings me to inspirations. Except for Fugazi, which I just haven't listened to and therefore don't know that much about, all of those bands and genres have probably had an effect on my guitar style. But as far guitarist that have inspired me I must say that some few words spoken by John Frusciante in the mid 90's have had the most effect on me. He said that a great guitarist doesn't need great and expensive gear to make his distinctive sound; he needs to be able to pick anything up, plug it into anything and be able to do the most of it. I liked that, to me it meant that I could do great stuff with my head and the gear I already had rather than accumulating a lot of gear and depend on that. I wasn't the richest kid around and it builds my self esteem in music tremendously. It has helped me ever since not to be envious of guys like Joe Satriani or bands like Dream Theatre. They’re talented in their way, but I find more soul in Iggy and the Stooges because they did so much more with so little.
I also found great inspiration in Billy Howerdale and a Perfect Circle's "Thirteenth Step". The guy wrote most of the album and except for the single and three more songs, it's a really ambient album where the guitars work as landscapers rather than riff machines. For a guitarist to write such an album, I am impressed. He didn't write riffs and then had everybody else in the band enhance them by doing their thing, he really wrote the songs as a whole. I guess that in some way inspired me to use a lot more alternative instrumentation on this album and dare to use Zulu chants.
And these are just a few examples. I constantly search for new music to listen to and don't like becoming too nostalgic about music, even if I still listen to some of my old favourites from time to time. I want new and fresh or at least old and fresh for my ears. It's everything from the Black Metal Jazz of Shining to the Indian beats of Kishore Kumar to the roaring rock n roll of the Jim Jones Revue to the straight mans rock of Huey Lewis & The News. I love all of that stuff and get a kick out of hearing things I could have never dreamt of creating. It pushes me to push my limits and be freer in my own songwriting.
Trebuchet: Finally, any tour plans?
Lingua: We’ve been trying to go on the road for years and all we can say about that is that no one will be happier to get out there than us when it finally happens. Just remember that we do this as a hobby and have kids, full time jobs and other responsibilities outside of the music so it's a bit more difficult than just throwing some gear in a car and hitting fifth gear. But we'll try to throw as much live clips on YouTube as possible to compensate for that 'til we get on the road. And for your readers with a bit of organizing skills: book the show and the band will come, ha-ha!