Face to face with Christoffer Lundquist. Pt. 5: “That was the best musical moment of my life!
Päron guards the yard
K: Which brings us to the next step: “Junk”, the opera. What was the initial idea behind it? Was it the joy to write long music pieces like you did in your younger years? What was the kick?
C: It was many different things. The main driving force was “Let’s do something that is a really bad idea“.
K: You were bored already?
C: No, not bored. Well, Brainpool’s career was changing from “the only thing that we did in our lives“ to something that was more of a hobby project to feed your soul. And when it changed into that direction, you want to try stuff, go out of your own experience and do new things. Also in the indie world in the ’90s, not only in Sweden but all over the world, there was a right and a wrong in music. This was very clear. There was a black and white and there were important journalists telling you which is good and bad. All of this was so ridiculous and annoying. We were for a long time very right in the journalists’ eyes. Everything we did was perfect. Then, out of sudden it was… woops… everything was ridiculous instead. Because that’s how it works. They bring you up and then they tear you down. We wanted to try to actually provoke all those people: “Let’s do a rock opera. They cannot like rock operas, it’s impossible“. The worst genre. Everyone hates rock operas, let’s make one!
K: Did you want to check how much power you had?
C: It’s not serious; it was more like a joke. That’s the thing. But at the same time it was very serious. We also had the idea that, okay, we had now been artists, touring, recording all the time. We were getting away from that, we’re not going to do that in the future. Can we do music that can live without us actually performing it? That was a bit of a theoretical idea, let’s try this. Also, that’s a bit difficult to explain… When you think in the context of the whole piece for music, rather than pop music, it changes the way you approach music tremendously. It’s more profound than you hear on the record because it’s basically just songs anyway. So it sounds the same but you think so differently. All of a sudden, things become possible that are not possible when you make a pop album with eleven pop songs. You can all of a sudden do anything! You can pretend, you can sing in different voices, it’s a great sense of freedom. That was also the inspiration, so we could open up and have a lot of fun.
K: What is the plot of “Junk”? The reason I ask this is that you told me you’re not a lyrics guy. But when you write an opera, you want to transport some story. So you need to dig deeper with your lyrics…
C: That’s also a bit two-sided because there is a definite message in “Junk” which is important to us. At the same time, it’s not that we think we are preachers that should tell the world how to behave or something. It’s not that serious. But at the same time, it comes from the bottom of our hearts. So the subject is: In the ’90s, I think it got to do with the change in the Western world that started in the ’70s, ’80s towards some more neo-liberalist society where money and economics were considered to be the only reality and all the other values cannot ever compete with money. And we felt this growing and coming stronger and stronger. It frustrated us. But we didn’t know what it was, what the reason was. We didn’t even know what the manifestation of this was. But we felt it. We talked about it a lot. We were unhappy in this new world, sort of. We saw around us how people got more and more egocentric, they only wanted to promote themselves, have a career but didn’t care about others anymore. They wanted to get away with all the taxes so they could keep all their money, they didn’t care for the poor or the weak. It was this development. And that is the theme. The theme is consumerism. A satire of a consumer society. A satire how people can spend a whole working life doing something that is actually very bad. You spend all your talent and all your energy doing something that is really, really pointless or even bad. Because you are making a career for yourself. You’re earning money and you’re boosting your ego and you become successful, but what you are actually doing is making the world a worse place. And that is sort of the overall idea.
K: Was that the reason why you went to the USA with this idea, because this is the center of this development?
C: Yeah, I mean, it’s in the American society for sure. But this was also totally random. I recorded with an American singer-songwriter called Justin Winokur and I did an album with him and he was a Brainpool fan, so when we did “Junk”, I sent it to him and he gave it to his friend which happened to be the director who since then had worked on “Junk”. So it was totally random, luck, incredible.
K: When you wrote the opera, did you have in your mind to bring it live on a stage later or was it only meant to be a CD production?
C: I think the idea was, we make the CD, and someone makes the play. We cannot do that, we cannot make a stage production or anything. And we also thought that, okay, it’s a serious subject but we don’t feel like serious people, so it should also be jokey and flippant. If someone is going to be inspired by the message, it’s more likely that he feels it by a jokey attitude than a preachy attitude.
K: How did it feel to give the stage production out of your hands then? Because then there was somebody who’s going one step further with your personal project?
C: It was great, it was fantastic. We went to L.A. to see it when they put it up for the first time. By then, we had only spoken to this guy and sent emails so we didn’t really know what to expect…
K: You trusted him fully?
C: Yeah yeah, yeah, we told him, “Do what you like! Fantastic that you want to do it, go ahead!“, like that. Really. And then we went over expecting nothing. It could be the worst thing ever, basically. And at the first song, I started to cry, because it was so different. The music, the feel of the music was different and the director had found meaning in every word, in every note, in every change in the music. For him, there was meaning in all of it. Of course, there was already when we did it but not consciously. That was fantastic to see how, “Okay, this eye, this little look here” and exactly in that part of the music you understand the peoples’ relationships and the dancing shows, this dynamic here etc etc. It was incredible to watch it! And then we became a little bit more involved with the production as well. I’m going to work with him when we get to NY now. So we going to go to some theatre and have some actors and work on some parts of the story then.
K: Is the play still running at the moment?
C: No, it’s not running, but the project is still ongoing. The director is as committed as ever and his plan is to make it the biggest thing…
C: Yeah yeah yeah, that’s his idea! In his mind, there’s no doubt. And he is at the same time building his own career because he is a little over 30, I think. He is the assistant director on Broadway there and doing this and that… But his main goal is “Junk”. It’s incredible how things like this happen. You get another person who connects with your ideas so much!
J: And he knows and feels this…
C: Yeah yeah yeah, everything! It’s also another example that the communication of the consciousness is just “wow”! This one person connects so strongly! He is gay, so he has read a lot of his own life into the story and added something like a gay rights element into it which has become an important part of it and was never… I’m talking so much because this is so crazy! There was a mistake in the lyrics. The Japanese name Kioko, we thought it was a female name, but it is a male name. Or the other way around. And that made him think that this was about being queer, gay.
J: He found his own way!
C: Yeah! That was his entrance into this. He created a totally new character that was sort of playing above the story and being a commentator which is like a gay geisha ghost that he created out of this thing. And it is called Kioko and it has two genders.
K: I watched a performance of you, Magnus and Helena, promoting “Junk” on stage. How did it come to this?
C: The thing is, we started and then we worked kind of on and off for two years and then we lost steam because it was difficult to keep up the energy and people had no money, and their lives were difficult because they didn’t have an income from their music anymore and they needed to find other jobs. It was a rough time! So we lost steam in working on “Junk”, we worked more and more rarely, it became difficult, we lost the energy. But then, another of those incredible things: A guy working on the Malmö festival, they have a festival every summer, he came to us and said, “Oh, shouldn’t you play with a symphony orchestra?“ We said, “Okay we have an opera, we can write it for the orchestra in around half a year.” – “Yes, good idea!”, and we just pretended because we didn’t have anything. Then we quickly finished the record and I wrote the symphony arrangements and everything and we had this one concert with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra and that was when Magnus and Helena were with us. So we performed the whole thing once. For me, that was the best musical moment of my life. It felt totally natural with a symphony orchestra. It was crazy!
K: For most musicians, it is a big challenge to write music for orchestras. Same for you?
C: Yeah yeah yeah. I approached that the same way I always do it: I said, I can do it and then I tried. I had no idea how to do it!
J: Well, you’re a genius…
C: No… I had bad judgment, so I go into things I’m not capable of. I did it a couple of times earlier on Brainpool records and another records. But this was of course much bigger. What I did with “Junk” was that I say, “Okay, I write the arrangements but if I’m going to hand out the scores to a whole orchestra, I need a filter to make sure that the scores are correct.” I realized that it’s just going to be stupid if I do it alone. So I had the main violin guy, he plays the violins on every record here, he corrected my arrangements: “Okay, oboe should be written like this“ etc. All the little information that you have in the score how to play the music: Now it’s dramatic, now it’s loud,
now it’s short and so on. He put that in because I don’t know the signs. So that’s how I did it.
K: Was this the same approach when you had to write the arrangements to NOTP? It’s actually quite similar.
C: Yeah yeah yeah. Sure. And that was roughly around the same period because most of the arrangements we wrote when we were supposed to do NOTP the first time.
C: Yeah. So we did five arrangements then and I think, maybe three we kept when we actually did the Proms. So they were in the drawer. But you’re right, it is the same style, yes.
Tomorrow on TDR: Face to face with Christoffer Lundquist. Pt. 6: “You’re ruining my favorite song!”
“That was the best musical moment of my life”: Christoffer, Helena and Magnus performing “Junk”
More about Junk: A Rock Opera
Even more “Junk” videos: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL8H2xYlbXDUdgnryJsmAubtFZD3jHModj
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