Tak­ing in­spi­ra­tion from an idyl­lic child­hood and friend­ships left be­hind, Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly’s fourth al­bum takes the lis­tener on an emo­tional and nos­tal­gic jour­ney. The for­mer Beard­fish and cur­rent Big Big Trainer tells Prog more…

Prog - - Contents - Words: Dom Law­son Lisa Mark­lund Im­ages:

Rikard Sjöblom pon­ders child­hood in­no­cence and mem­ory on his new al­bum, Friend­ship.

You never know what a good rum­mage will un­earth. Be­ing the help­ful soul that he is, Rikard Sjöblom was as­sist­ing his par­ents with a house move when he stum­bled upon a stack of old pho­tos. Among them was one par­tic­u­lar snap that im­me­di­ately trig­gered a flood of child­hood mem­o­ries in the Gungfly man’s mind. You can see the photo on the cover of Sjöblom’s new al­bum, Friend­ship (below right): there he is, the young Swede, perched on top of a per­ilous-look­ing tree­house, peer­ing down and sur­vey­ing the world below.

“My un­cle took the pic­ture. I ac­tu­ally re­mem­ber star­ing down at him from that an­gle,” he notes. “The tree­house was in the woods be­hind my par­ents’ place, where

I grew up. I was ac­tu­ally on top of the god­damn thing!

I can’t be­lieve they even let us build it be­cause it was pretty high up in the trees.

We built like four or five tree­houses and that was one of the big­ger ones, or one of the higher ones at least. It was prob­a­bly seven or eight me­tres up in the air. You were stand­ing with­out a rail­ing or any­thing so it was kind of in­sane!”

The way he de­scribes it, Sjöblom’s child­hood was idyl­lic. Grow­ing up in a small vil­lage just out­side the also fairly small town of Gävle in Swe­den, his for­ma­tive years were a blur of long sum­mers spent out­doors and a real sense of free­dom. Most im­por­tantly, Sjöblom had nu­mer­ous close friends of a sim­i­lar age and spent count­less hours in their com­pany. On dis­cov­er­ing the afore­men­tioned photo, his first thought was to won­der how, as the decades drifted by, those in­cred­i­bly close friend­ships had even­tu­ally faded away.

“Where we lived, it was just a small vil­lage and I think there were three or four fam­i­lies that had kids the same age, so we’d all hang out ev­ery day and get up to no good, as kids do,” Sjöblom re­calls. “I started think­ing about all these friends that you grow up with and all of a sud­den you lose touch with them, which has al­ways been a weird thing to me. You’re the best of friends and then the next day, you’re gone from each other’s lives. You know ev­ery­thing about each other and then sud­denly there is noth­ing there any­more. It’s very strange.”

As with most of the records Sjöblom has re­leased over the years, both as a solo artist and formerly with the much-missed Beard­fish, there is a strong air of both melan­choly and op­ti­mism writ­ten through Friend­ship, Sjöblom’s new full-length en­deav­our. The melan­choly seems to come from that gen­tle sense of loss, when once closely linked lives split apart and cher­ished child­hood al­lies van­ish into the ether.

“For my own part, I don’t think I felt that way at the time that it hap­pened. It’s more about look­ing back at it. Peo­ple go some­where else and you don’t keep track of each other any­more. Of course, Face­book helps with stuff like that these days, but you still lose that spe­cial con­nec­tion that you had with that per­son, even though it’s al­ways gonna be there in a strange kind of way. It’s a weird sen­sa­tion. Think­ing about that spawned sev­eral songs, even be­fore this record. I guess I’m stuck in the past!”

One of the new al­bum’s most af­fect­ing and suc­cinct mo­ments, They Fade is the clos­est that Sjöblom comes to di­rectly ad­dress­ing the feel­ings con­jured by that pho­to­graphic glimpse of times long gone.

“It’s the first song that I wrote for the al­bum,” he ex­plains. “It was more in­spired by the photo than any of the other songs. I started think­ing about this friend that I built the tree­house with, and then for some rea­son I started think­ing about two other friends too, who weren’t even in­volved with it. Ba­si­cally, there were some re­ally im­por­tant events in life that hap­pened to me, with these three friends, so I wrote the song about the three of them, even though they didn’t have any­thing to do with each other. One of my close friends from when I was young, he died af­ter we lost touch. He drowned, ac­tu­ally, when he was only 13 years old, which was a re­ally tough thing for me. Up un­til that point I had this feel­ing that I was kind of im­mor­tal, you know? That’s how you feel as a kid. Then sud­denly, one of my clos­est friends drowns, so it was a re­ally weird thing to go through. That song has been wait­ing to be writ­ten for quite some time, I guess.”

If you’ve fol­lowed Sjöblom’s ca­reer for any length of time, you’ll have no­ticed that he is one of those mu­si­cians that seems patho­log­i­cally un­able to stop mak­ing mu­sic. Beard­fish fans barely

“One thing that in­flu­enced me is that I love how Greg Spaw­ton and Dave Long­don are able to por­tray a sit­u­a­tion re­ally well. Their sto­ry­telling is just re­mark­able.”

had a mo­ment to mourn the demise of their favourite band when their leader came hurtling out of the traps with On Her Jour­ney To The Sun: tech­ni­cally, the third Gungfly al­bum, but ar­guably the first to present the whole thing as some­thing more than an eclec­tic side project. Friend­ship is un­doubt­edly the next step in that evo­lu­tion­ary stroll and sounds even more like the work of a liv­ing, breath­ing prog rock band than its melod­i­cally rich and in­tri­cate pre­de­ces­sor.

“I know what you mean and I guess that’s a good thing!” Sjöblom laughs. “I think that Gungfly is al­ways a solo project, re­ally, no mat­ter how I try to turn it around in dif­fer­ent vari­a­tions. It’s al­ways been that way but there’s still this re­ally good con­nec­tion within the live band, as we call it. I’ve known Pet­ter [Dia­mant, drums] and Ras­mus [Dia­mant, bass] for many years, since we went to mu­sic school, and we’ve been play­ing to­gether for so long now. They don’t mind it be­ing this way, or at least that’s what they tell me! It’s just that Gungfly has al­ways been my get­away, to do ex­actly what I want. Then I have the for­tu­nate sit­u­a­tion where there are mu­si­cians that like to play this mu­sic to­gether with me, in a live sit­u­a­tion.”

Do you ever miss the slightly more in­tense band ca­ma­raderie that you had in Beard­fish?

“Well, I do some­times re­gret that this is not a band in that sense, even though I like this sit­u­a­tion, too! But sure, I do miss the style we had with Beard­fish and how we did things. Even though I wrote all of the songs there as well, there was still that garage band feel­ing. That’s been kind of lost these days, but I don’t think it would work, to start a new band like that for me right now.”

In con­trast with the first few Gungfly records, which were point­edly less progin­clined than the mu­sic Sjöblom was mak­ing with Beard­fish at the same time, Friend­ship ex­u­ber­antly goes the whole prog hog. Epics like the multi-faceted, Floyd-tinged ti­tle track and the gor­geous, ex­pan­sive If You Fall, Pt. 2

(as you might imag­ine, the se­quel to If You Fall, Pt. 1 from On Her Jour­ney To The Sun) show­case a re­fined up­dat­ing of Sjöblom’s trade­mark blend of tra­di­tional and es­o­teric prog tropes. You may also de­tect the oc­ca­sional nod to

Big Big Train, the now-leg­endary UK prog­gers that Sjöblom joined in 2014. The two projects have plenty of clear mu­si­cal wa­ter be­tween them, of course, but the Swede ea­gerly sings his Bri­tish band­mates’ praises and ac­knowl­edges the ef­fect their mu­sic has had on his own.

“Oh, ab­so­lutely,” Sjöblom nods. “One thing that in­flu­enced me quite a bit is that I love how Greg [Spaw­ton] and Dave [Long­don] are able to por­tray a sit­u­a­tion re­ally well. I love their sto­ry­telling. It’s just re­mark­able, and that’s the thing that caught me when I was learn­ing the songs, the first time I went over to play with them. I think it was Sum­moned By Bells from English Elec­tric that re­ally caught me. Also, I think they made me find a way to lay back a lit­tle in the mu­sic. I think they in­flu­enced me in that way, be­cause I can be a lit­tle in-your-face with my song­writ­ing!

I’m not hold­ing back too much, but I’ve learned I can back away ev­ery now and then.”

The best part of 30 years have passed since Rikard Sjöblom stood on top of that tree­house, but he’s still en­joy­ing a life full of ex­pe­ri­ences, friend­ship and free­dom. As he ex­cit­edly notes, 2019 looks like it will be one of his busiest years yet, with ten­ta­tive plans for a full Eu­ro­pean Gungfly tour and, just maybe, a sur­prise per­for­mance at one of the UK’s big­gest his­tor­i­cal tourist at­trac­tions.

“Since I have this con­nec­tion with Big Big Train, I re­ally do want to in­clude Eng­land on ev­ery tour I do be­cause I love be­ing there,” he con­cludes. “And not just in Lon­don! We went there with Beard­fish a few times, but I’ve re­ally grown to ap­pre­ci­ate the coun­try­side in Eng­land. I love trav­el­ling around. It’s a beau­ti­ful land­scape. Maybe we could play a show at Stone­henge? That would be very cool.”

Friend­ship is out now via In­sid­eOut.

See www.rikard­ for more in­for­ma­tion.

“Peo­ple go some­where else and you don’t keep track of each other. Of course, Face­book helps with stuff like that, but you still lose that spe­cial con­nec­tion that you had with that per­son.”



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