“Necessary medications”. An interview with Arcana
by Gabriel Szünder
On the 12th of September 2009, the Swedish group ARCANA played for the second time in Brasov. Although Peter Bjärgö, founder of the band, recently released his first solo album, the concert wasn’t part of any promotional tour. It was an exclusive show, played for a rather small number of connoisseurs, who gathered at the Reduta hall. After the show, the musicians of ARCANA were not only happy to talk to the fans, but three members of the band – the lovely Cecilia Bjärgö, a very high spirited Stefan Eriksson and Peter himself – offered us an interview in which they spoke freely about sometimes surprising matters. I don’t think, Peter Bjärgö in particular had so much to say about heavy metal music in any of his recent interviews[i].
This is not your first time playing in Brasov. It seemed to me tonight that playing here has a special meaning to you. Is this true?
Ia Bjärgö: Oh, it is lovely! The first time we were here last year, we just fell in love with the city. It was really beautiful and the people were so nice. We became really close friends to Doru and Andrea and when they invited us back we couldn’t say no.
You are not a heavily touring band as I understand. Would you like to do sometimes a really big world tour, with 30-40 concerts? You could do a DVD about it?
Peter Bjärgö: I don’t think that’s gonna work out, because… First of all, I think it’s better to have a couple of exclusive shows. I mean, we could do a one week tour or something like that but that would be six dates or something. I don’t know… I have a difficult time performing live. I don’t know… it’s a hard time. And then, all of us have jobs and children… To me, ARCANA is sitting in the studio and making music and then all of a sudden I’m on a stage, in front of a couple of hundred of people and it’s a bit awkward. But sometimes, like tonight, it’s magical actually.
Stefan Eriksson (mocking the McDonald’s commercial): I’m lovin’ it!
That’s also the impression I got tonight, this magical atmosphere. It was also very intimate, so I guess you have very good relationships with one another.
SE (laughing): Most of the time…
IB: We are like a little family actually. We meet very often, we party together, we meet with the kids, make music together, just hang out… But then sometimes we hate each other and just tell the other ones to fuck off. But still… we love each other and that’s maybe because we only do a few shows each year. On tour we would kill each other.
PB: A long tour, it would be too frustrating, it would be too much. But of course, if you look upon it as a job, then… it can be a job. I don’t know if I would still like it as much.
But you obviously don’t look upon it as a job.
PB: No, of course not. I do this because I want to, not because of other reasons.
IB: We want to give the audience something special and if you are on tour for two or three months it isn’t special for the fans anymore. We came here tonight… we weren’t here for 15 or 16 months, but still, it’s like it was yesterday. It was amazing to see all the people, and that is what we like to have, to have an intimate feeling with the audience.
SE: Every gig should be special.
The music you are playing is obviously not rock music in the traditional sense. Yet it has an appeal to rock fans – even tonight there were some metal fans in the audience, you could see it by their T-shirts – and then, Peter, you yourself have some rock and punk background. How do you see the relationship between the music of ARCANA and more traditional rock music?
PB: First of all, the luxury of being thirty plus is skipping all the ideas about being “metal” or “dark wave” or “synth” or being whatever. I listen to whatever I like and I think that everyone my age, and above, has the same feeling. So when I meet metal people today, there’s no problem. I know what they are listening to, and they can enjoy ARCANA too. Actually, I am surprised how well ARCANA is received on the metal scene.
So you don’t think rock music is dead, ARCANA is not about that?
PB: Of course not!
IB: You do like heavy metal music.
PB: Yes. It’s actually hard to take off the clothes you’ve been wearing for such a long time.
Do you feel you have something in common with progressive black metal bands like ARCTURUS or BORKNAGAR?
PB: Actually, I have no idea. I stopped listening to metal in ‘93, then I picked it up again a couple of years ago.
So, what are you listening to these days, metal wise?
PB: It would be CELTIC FROST.
Amongst your MySpace friends I found Karl Willets from BOLT THROWER. What’s the relation there?
PB: He is an old, good friend of mine.
IB: And he’s a really nice guy.
Could you see ARCANA performing with BOLT THROWER on the same stage?
SE (laughing): That would be cool actually!
PB: I could easily see myself working with them. But the important thing is that we are close friends.
You said somewhere that your music, the whole concept of the band is “based on the romantic image we all have about the middle ages”…
PB: The thing is that everybody was asking me if I was referring to the Middle Ages and I said that’s not correct because our idea of the Middle Ages, or medieval times, is often distorted…
IB: It’s actually a romantic idea…
PB: Yes, a romantic idea about how things were done. It was not as glamorous as we think. I don’t live in a medieval fantasy world. Not at all.
Peter, do you see your different musical projects as sides of your personality or are they different things for different audiences?
PB: I see them as necessary medications. I need to do a lot of different things. If I would force everything into one project, it would be too much, because I have so many ideas. So I make different projects for different ideas. No one would enjoy ARCANA if I would force everything into it….
IB (laughing): I would not enjoy my husband if he had only ARCANA, believe me!
PB: I need a lot of different outlets for music, otherwise I would get crazy.
So that’s why you did a solo album now?
PB: Yeah. At the beginning, I thought in my mind I was writing another ARCANA album. All of a sudden, I realized I got a different sound, I got a different approach, a different attitude. I also realized that all the songs were based on me, me doing my vocals, me doing everything. So, it didn’t feel like a collaboration for the whole band. So, due to the respect for the other members and due to the respect to myself, I released it as a solo album.
You said before that you don’t like if your music is described as “medieval”…
PB: No, everyone can describe it as they like.
Yes, but it’s not exactly correct in your opinion.
PB: No, it’s not what I’m trying to reach.
OK, but would you say that your music has some mystical element to it?
PB: I have only one rule in making music, I make music that I myself like to hear.
IB: But that’s a double standard, because you never listen to your music!
PB: While I’m making it, I listen to it a lot.
IB: Once the album is released, he never listens to his music, never.
Do you, Ia?
IB: Of course, I listen to it all the time! I love my husband, I love his voice, for 12 years now… So, yes, I listen to it.
SE: Groupie, that’s what you are!
IB (laughing): Yes, I am a groupie. But seriously, he’s getting tired of his music, I am not, I listen to it.
Again, I want to ask you about this mystical element because some songs titles, certain metaphors you use in your lyrics suggest a mystical background.
PB: There might be one… I want people to interpret the songs themselves. For me, it’s a sort of an experiment, to see how they perceive and how they understand the songs and how they later describe the music to me. I have my own ideas, my philosophy behind the lyrics.
So, there is philosophy behind the lyrics, you just don’t want to speak about it. You want people to interpret it themselves…
PB: Yes. I always had that mentality, always.
Still, could you give me some clues?
PB: Well, let’s take Raspail. It’s a sort of discovery journey into a sort of childhood feeling.
IB: And of course, as always, in the last years Peter and I were very much into environmental issues about the pollution of the world. So, a lot of the lyrics have to do with how people actually act in the world today…
SE: And how they should act.
IB: How they should act and how they do act, because humankind is sick. Maybe it’s mystical for the fans, for us it’s not. When Peter writes lyrics, when I write lyrics, when Stefan writes lyrics… we are all very open in interviews about these lyrics, if it’s environmental, if it’s about cruelty towards animals, or if it’s about love, death or whatever…
PB: If you’re talking about mystic stuff as in [Aleister] Crowley, occult stuff, I’ve been studying that for a long time, but that’s something personal. I have my own ideas about this stuff and that’s nothing I want share with anyone else. Not even with my wife actually.
When you sing “Our guilt we can no longer hide”, is this about what you talked before, about the environmental damage?
IB: It’s from Abrakt, a lyric Peter wrote. But I figured it as being environmental, because you can’t hide what you’ve done with the world, because the world is going under. So, you can’t hide the guilt.
PB: The guilt is that we have been so greedy. Everyone is living for the moment and just taking, everybody for himself, and in the end that’s not gonna hold up.
“So come with me through the storm / see the other side of common sense”. What is on other side of common sense?
PB: Another point of view.
No deeper intuition?
PB: Common sense, what does it actually mean… You don’t hit children…
IB: You don’t kick animals…
PB: But sooner or later you got to question what other people do. And the only way to evolve is to question yourself.
Apparently we have time for one more question. Let’s finish with an easy one. Tell me about your future projects, Peter?
PB: I have a lot of ideas for the new ARCANA album. Soon there will be two years since the last. I have millions of ideas. Too many ideas, too little time.
Another solo album perhaps?
PB: Yes, because now I got the taste for it.
IB (peaking into my notes): I saw that you had a question about Ingmar Bergman.
It’s more like a personal curiosity. I am such a big Bergman fan and you are coming from Sweden, so I am curious if and in what way is he an inspiration to you?
PB: I love Ingmar Bergman. I can’t point out how he plays a part in my music, but in a way, yes, actually, he does play a part, because he is a part of my personality.
IB: He was misanthropic. And also very dark. We were actually at Gotland when he died. We were one hour from his house when he died. We were about to go there actually, to see how it looked and then we saw on the news that he died. We knew there were going to be journalists everywhere… Ingmar Bergman, he has been a part of everybody’s life in Sweden in the last 50 years.
Well, that was really interesting. Thank you for the interview and I hope we will see you again soon.
IB: We hope to be back next year again!