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Peter Bjärgö - Interview

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Swedish musician, songwriter, artist and producer Peter Bjärgö is active in the music scene for around 30 years. He's best known as the mastermind of the legendary and one of the most influential neoclassical/darkwave/ambient acts ever-existing, Arcana, a band from the golden years of the Cold Meat Industry label era. Peter also has a martial industrial side-project called Sophia and has also recorded one collaborative album with Gustaf Hildebrand. After putting Arcana to rest in the past years, Peter Bjärgö has now channelled his creative energy towards his solo works. In April this year, Peter released his fifth solo album, The Translucency Of Mind's Decay, through the French label Cyclic Law. With this mesmerizing album, Peter Bjärgö takes the first steps into something new, bringing along his signature sound from past projects into a slowly evolving transition to a sonic world beyond his previous achievements. The sound on the new album is more ethnic and rhythmic but still retaining that gloomy and melancholic Peter's trademark signature. These are the first steps to a new horizon he’s ceaselessly crafting for our listening pleasure. Read everything Peter said about the new album, compositions, Arcana, Sophia and many other things in the interview below.

Interview with: Peter Bjärgö
Conducted by: Tomaz
Edited by: Jerneja  

Tomaz: Hi Peter. It's nice to see you returning quite soon with a new album, The Translucency Of Mind's Decay. The album certainly differs from your previous solo works. Is this some kind of a consequence because of pandemic/quarantine?
Peter: Hi. Well, both yes and no. I don’t think that the sound of this album is a result solely of the pandemic. I’d say that it, of course, had some sort of impact on my way of thinking and feeling but the sound and song structures are something that started to grow within me long before. But at the same time, the fear and worry that the pandemic brought must have some sort of impact on our minds. I’m very comfortable being on my own, but having the possibility of hanging out with friends, more or less, removed is a totally different issue. Before this pandemic started last year, I was really looking forward to the planned live performances, and I planned to invite other musicians to play on my album but as things got cancelled and there was no way to travel or meet people, I just locked myself in the studio, like I usually do.

Tomaz: The Translucency Of Mind's Decay is an intriguing title, it can mean many things and can say a lot. How do you explain this title and its deeper meaning?
Peter: The title, for me, sums up a few different things that I’ve been thinking of some last years. One of them being the fact of distorted or faded memories. It’s actually quite scary to realise that part of your "story" is permanently removed from your mind, which is something, that is probably very common if you talk with someone you’ve known for a long time, or look at an old photo and don’t feel any connection to that specific moment. Some other angles of this title are also changed. We change a lot, I most certainly have changed a lot since I was a young boy, almost to the extent that I’m not the same physical person anymore. This is something that can be both good and bad, and as long as these observations bring any form of clarity, you might develop into a better person.

Tomaz: There has been a change in style if we compare it to Animus Retinentia or Structures And Downfall. The album is much more ethnic and neo-classical. In a way, I see it like some kind of a return to your roots, but yet it is darker. How do you see it in this regard?
Peter: In a way, it is an album where I bring in my roots, as some of these songs are reflections or a summary of my history with Arcana, for example. I’ve come to the conclusion that instead of working against my instincts when working with music, which probably is a very common thing, I respect my way of thinking when it comes to working with music. Also, this is something that might be more obvious in my future songs, as I’ll start working with my whole palette of musical techniques, experience and preferences.  I think that having some time away from the projects (Arcana, Sophia) has given me more clarity about where I want to take music in the future.

Tomaz: I guess that many might be interested in how do you write/compose the songs. Where the ideas are born, and how do you translate them into music? What are the main instruments that you use when composing?
Peter: The starting points can be quite different, but usually, I’ll start with either a piano or guitar, just improvising and being very responsive and at the same time open-minded about what I’m playing. For me, it’s quite common that the chords or melodies that I’m playing might change quite a lot when it’s actually becoming a song. I might change the guitar chords to strings or vice versa. Many songs, some of them ending up on this album, started out with me playing the drum (frame drum, darbuka etc) and humming a melody to it. It’s actually a quite meditative way of "writing" music.

Tomaz: How much did this process changed over the years since you are making music for almost 30 years?
Peter: I think that I might have been more primitive in my way of initially start writing music in my earlier years. There are soooo many more thought processes going on now when I sit down and start writing music. This is not necessarily positive, there’s always a risk that the music might be a bit boring when there are too many thoughts, rules or avoidance involved in this process, so I’m actually striving for a more primitive way of writing music, especially in the initial stage, I do think that it’s good to respect both the “thought through” aspect and the primitive way. Other than this, writing music now is something that doesn’t just come out of the blue, there’s quite a lot of work behind it and many, many bad songs that I discard. So I try to stick to some sort of schedule of writing music more or less on a daily basis. This way I’ll at least rise my ratio of finished songs, haha. Also, I do appreciate the journey more than the goal now. This means that writing an album, recording, mixing and doing the artwork is the part that’s rewarding to me. As soon as an album is done, I start thinking of a new album/project.

Tomaz: Now tell me about the lyrics on the new album. From what I understand, it has a lot to do with a certain change. What's the main inspiration for this kind of rather psychological approach?
Peter: Yeah, they are about change and accepting change. Sometimes it can be easy to get stuck in sad or sentimental thought patterns when you always look back to the "better times" but it doesn’t get you anywhere right now, it might teach you a bit about yourself, but it won’t help you move forward. Sometimes it’s good to just cut your losses, and accept where you are now, and start growing from this point. I’ve always been interested in psychology and human nature, and I think that I learn much about myself and my relation to others while deep diving into these matters.

Tomaz: There's always present a huge dose of melancholy in your music. You certainly know how to make this melancholic feeling to be so very evocative. Where does all this melancholy come from?
Peter: This is something that is a part of my personality, I never sit down and write melancholic music on purpose, it’s just something that is a part of my expression. I’ve struggled with depression for years, and I guess it will be like this for the rest of my time, but as things are now, I’m able to handle it and not let it take over my life. I do not consider this an intriguing part of the mind of and musician, it really sucks, I can’t write music when I’m too depressed, and if I do manage to write music, I never let these songs go any further than my hard drive, they are too closely associated with depression.

Tomaz: And what about the cover artwork? It seems that also this tells the story for itself, and where's the connection with the music?
Peter: Normally, when I write music, I get images and colours in my mind that are connected to the music. These travel with me during the whole process of writing an album. So when it’s time to start thinking about the artwork, I usually have a quite good idea of how I want it, and what’s been quite recent, and super important, part of finishing an album is to create these images and colours myself. So I usually sit down and paint manically while listening to the album and just try to interpret my feelings about colours etc onto paper. This is something that turned out to be a very interesting and important part of finishing an album for me. With this particular artwork, I actually struggled a bit and felt that I didn’t really get it together. I had like six different paintings, but I just liked parts of them. And one night when I couldn’t sleep, I came to the conclusion that I’ll rip the paintings apart and put them together as a collage, which turned out to be the artwork I went with.

Tomaz: Your music is greatly appreciated in dark ambient waters, even if it's not really dark ambient. Do you think that this might be because of the label where you release it?
Peter: Well, I am a big fan of ambient music, which shines through at times and coming from that scene (CMI and Cyclic Law). I have many friends that have their own dark ambient bands. There are so many talented and super creative people in this scene.

Tomaz: You are loyal to Cyclic Law for many years now, and I believe that you must be satisfied with the job they do for you? Cyclic Law can be easily compared to the Cold Meat Industry, where you released the stuff in the 90s or some kind of a modern version of it. So, what can you say about this cooperation?
Peter: First and foremost, Fred and I are friends; it was just a very nice and convenient solution having him release my albums. Coming from CMI and especially experiencing the golden era of CMI, it was really difficult finding anything similar.  I definitely have been loyal, but it’s also that I’m not really the kind of person contacting other labels, and I don’t get approached too often either. Perhaps it would be a good "career move" to sign to a bigger label, but with that, the obligations/pressure would grow too, and it’s important for me to feel free with my music. Nowadays, it almost feels like I’m just archiving an album when it’s released, as next month there are other albums coming out and it gets forgotten quite quickly.

Tomaz: Still, you are best known as a mastermind of the cult act Arcana. Is now Arcana put into the grave for real, or can we expect it to be resurrected one day?
Peter: In my mind, I’ve put Arcana in sleep mode for now. It’s been such an important part of my life, and it would be really sad to say that I would never ever do anything with Arcana again. I just felt that I had taken that project as far as I could go at that time. Also, there was some stuff going on that really took away all my inspiration for this project. I’ve got these questions many times, but as I feel now, I’ll keep them on the shelf until the day when I feel that I have my inspiration back for this project. Time will tell…

Tomaz: And what about your martial-industrial project Sophia?
Peter: This is a project that refuses to die, haha. We’re actually working on a new album right now. After every album we’ve done, I have that "never again" feeling, then four to five years later we’re back at it again. But it’s actually really nice to work on the new songs together with the gang.

Tomaz: It's known that you have the past also in metal music. How do you see the connection between these styles? Are you still active in any metal projects?
Peter: I come from the metal scene. I was in some different bands between 88-94 but got out of that scene as I started working with Arcana. I had a brief interaction with the scene in 2007 when we recorded the Tyrant album, but that’s it. I have no clue what’s going on in that scene nowadays.

Tomaz: How it came that you so rarely do any music videos for your songs? I think that it would be great to see a video clip for any of your tracks.
Peter: Actually, my friend Mikael Prey is working on a video for a song from the new album. It was planned to be released with the album but got delayed. It’s actually quite difficult to imagine what a video would be like, as I would hate having a video with my face all over it miming the song. But I really look forward to seeing the realist of Prey’s video; he’s super talented.

Tomaz: In all these years, you released a lot of music, and I wonder which moment in your career as a musician are you the proudest of or that it means the most to you?
Peter: I have many nice memories from my time with Arcana, but some of these memories stick out a bit, like when I lay down on my couch in the studio listening to the mix of Raspail. I was very happy with the result. Also, it was a very warm and loving atmosphere at the last Arcana gig at Wachau church ruins in Leipzig 2018.  It’s a bit difficult picking out certain moments, as there were quite a lot of incredible moments during all these years. I hope that there’ll be more of these in the future…

Tomaz: Who is Peter Bjärgö in private life? What are the things besides music that enthuse you the most?
Peter: Well, I work part-time as a music teacher, which is a really inspiring and interesting job.  Other than that, I’m a family man, with all the obligations involved there. I love cooking vegan/vegetarian food, reading a good book etc. I don’t really hang out with people so much these days, so when I’m not with my family, I’m usually in my studio or at my workbench soldering wires on a new weird music invention, haha.

Tomaz: Thank you, Peter, for taking the time with all of the answers. I could ask you hundreds more things, but there must be a line. Is there anything that you would like to add at the end of this interview?
Peter: Thanks for this interview. I hope people will like the new album and that this damned pandemic will go away, so I’ll be able to get out and start performing again and meeting friends. I really miss it.

Peter Bjärgö links: Official website, Facebook, YouTube.

Peter Bjärgö discography - Bandcamp:
- Peter Bjärgö
- Arcana
- Sophia