Agrimonia On DIY, Photojournalism and Being Metal In A Punk World
The Gothenburg-based quintet on juggling projects and why Gothenburg is one of the best cities for independent rock musicians.
Agrimonia is a Gothenburg-based quintet rooted in the D.I.Y. punk and hardcore community, although its music has slanted more and more metallic since it formed in 2005. The group currently occupies an unusual crossroad of crust, sludge, and post-metal experimentation among other heavy sounds. With members also in bands like Martrydöd, Skitsystem, Miasmal, and At The Gates, that unlikely combination is in good and able hands.
They released an impressive self-titled debut in 2008 and followed with the sprawling, atmospheric, Host of the Winged, in 2010. However, things were pretty quiet in the following few years as the group's vocalist, Christina, struggled to regain her health after a routine medical procedure resulted in serious complications.
When the quintet resurfaced last spring, it was armed with its third album and Southern Lord debut, Rites of Separation. The record is arguably Agrimonia's strongest to date; further refining its vision and reigning in some of the multi-pronged meandering of its predecessor in favor of sharpened, starkly-emotive songs that stick in the brain long after the last track has ended.
We spoke with Christina and guitarist Pontus while the band was visiting friends in Portland and gearing up for its U.S. tour, which kicks off November 12 in Los Angeles. The two provided a glimpse into the inspirations behind their songwriting, the cyclic nature of juggling so many active music projects, and further reason to believe Gothenburg is one of the best places on the planet to be an independent rock musician.
Noisey: Christina, I'd heard that between Host of the Winged and Rites of Separation you underwent a surgical procedure and had a very difficult recovery process. The lyrics on this record seem to grapple with the space between living and suffering. Is that a direct result of this experience?
Christina: There is one song I wrote, "The Battle Fought," that is about my experience and what happened to me. I tend to write a lot about that kind of stuff, so I don't know if it's all necessarily about it or that I like the language and the words, but all of these lyrics were written after everything happened to me, so they are definitely influenced by what happened there. I was in the hospital three different times and there were three different surgical procedures to get me back to normal again, so there was a lot of time in the hospital. Two and a half months the first time. The second time was maybe two weeks, and the third time it was ten days. I had to be on sick leave a lot in between as well. All in all, it took close to two years for everything to get back to normal. It has been a year since my last surgery and I'm pretty much ok now. I have a line in that song, "cutting away my former self," and that's really how I thought about it. I get a little emotional when I talk about it.
Going through something hard like that can make a person feel a lot stronger in the end. This album feels more focused than the last one. Do you think that's part of the reason?
Christina: Yeah, it changed me in a good way too. It wasn't only bad. You find out a lot about yourself and what you want to do with your life when you're almost dying. While I was sick we had to cancel a lot of things we had planned. Southern Lord invited us to the states, but we couldn't go because of my operation. So much had to be put on hold. After that, I became more focused on, "This is what I want."
Outside of the band you work as a photographer. What sort of work do you do?
Christina: Mostly photojournalism for a newspaper-—that's my job I get paid for-—but I like to do artwork for record covers, t-shirts, and that sort of thing. I like to do photo montages; taking different pictures to make a new one and have a meaning and say something with the artwork. Right now I'm thinking of the struggle for equality, feminism; to have an equal world and equal scene. I'm from the punk scene, and even though the punk scene thinks a lot about equality it isn't really there yet. That's one of my themes when I do artwork. I've also done a lot of stuff with the hospital theme lately.
Do you see a lot of dialog about equality in the punk scene [in Sweden] these days, or is it something you struggle to try and communicate with people? Has that experience differed for you playing for punk and metal crowds and in different countries?
Christina: Even though our music is more metal sounding now than punk, we've mostly played punk gigs so it is hard for me to compare to the metal scene. I think the punk scene has gone further. It's talked about a lot in the punk community in zines, at shows, and in collectives. It's a focal point. In Sweden, feminism has gone further than it has in different countries. I also sing in a punk band that has four women [Contorture], where all of our lyrics are focused on that.
Your lyrics are very poetic and very descriptive. How is your work as a photographer and visual artist related to your songwriting?
Christina: I feel like I'm a person that thinks more in pictures than text or writing, actually. I take a lot of inspiration from other artists in photography, music, and film. When you think in pictures you get a more poetic way of writing. I can't explain it. A lot of people say our music sounds like film music, but I don't know what the answer is.
There is a lot of space in Agrimonia songs. Through the course of a 15-minute song, how do you determine which parts you're going to sing over and which parts will remain instrumental?
Christina: It's sort of treating the voice like an instrument. Pontus has ideas of where he wants it when he writes the songs, so it's a collaboration. It works well, even if I haven't heard the music before I write the vocals, but sometimes I like to hear the music first for inspiration and write lyrics that fit the atmosphere and where it is supposed to go. It works both ways, and very well between us.
Pontus: When we write the songs we don't really think about that. It pieces itself together, somehow. The songs are written from the beginning as an instrumental, and then it's instinct.
Everyone in the band also plays in other, very active groups. How do you fit everything together?
Pontus: We kind of work in cycles, and when it comes time to go into "Agrimonia Mode," the other stuff takes a break. Then when you've been in Agrimonia Mode for a year and you do a record, you take a break for half a year and do other stuff.
What is the creative space like for you when you're in Agrimonia Mode?
Pontus: We never really cared about what sound we were supposed to have. We wanted to do something heavy, and I had a bunch of ideas that became these really long, melodic songs, which I guess is the distillation of everything I've listened to in my life. For me, in the other bands I'm in we have a sound we are aiming for and with Agrimonia it's just what happens--I can't really do anything else. It's an emotional catharsis somehow, which is very liberating and important to me, and I think everyone in the band would agree. It's almost like a diary, looking back to places, times, and emotions. It's a soundtrack to my life, or our lives, somehow.
Some of the other groups you and your band members are in have a more straightforward sound, but Agrimonia is a real blend of different kinds of music. What you're saying about it being a "soundtrack to my life," is interesting. People don't usually think in linear patterns, they think of everything in one time. Is that the same for you in hearing all of the sounds?
Pontus: Yeah, that's it, actually. I really don't think in rational terms with the music. It is very abstract, and it is more like a mode that I go into, and I disconnect myself from reality. I try not to overthink it and not analyze it. I try to go to Goth feeling, because that's usually what's worked so far. A lot of times with lyrics, when we're playing together in one space, we're trying to grab what Christina feels and add that layer, inspired by the music. So far it's really been working out to not overthink as far as the creative process. Recording is another thing….
So when you get home from this tour will you go back into Agrimonia Mode?
Pontus: We're [Pontus and Bjorn] doing a record with Miasmal, and then it will be very much Agrimonia Mode because we haven't done much new stuff since the new record. Our plan for the next year is to write new songs for another album. We won't set a time to get it done--we hope it will happen by itself. This record came out in May, and we've done some summer festivals and things, but this is the first tour we've done in support of this album. We're going to tour Europe next, and when we get back we will get back into the creative process.
It's got to be hard to juggle all of these tours with different bands too, but it's probably really nice to have so many outlets for your creativity.
Pontus: We all keep busy all the time, but it doesn't mean we're less focused on Agrimonia. I sometimes need to take a mental break from it and do something else so I can be fresh when we get back to that mode, but it keeps it interesting, definitely. Also, my job right now is recording other people's bands and working as an engineer, which has been inspiring in a way. It keeps your ears fresh to hear different peoples' approach to music and recording, which I feel is important. I'm always listening to a lot of new music, and that keeps me going somehow. You can learn a lot from working with other [musicians] outside of your own groups. It's a different social context. You can see how people work together and realize their creative ideas. It's very rewarding in that sense.
Do you mostly work in Gothenburg, or do you travel to work with different bands?
Pontus: It's all in Gothenburg. There's a very creative atmosphere here. There's a lot going on, and a lot of different shows. I am from Gothenburg, but I lived in Norway for five years and just moved back a couple of months ago—-and I'm glad I did. Gothenburg's atmosphere is inspiring. There are a lot of people creating something.
Is there a lot of crossover at shows between people who are into heavy music and people who aren't?
Pontus: Definitely. It's part of what makes Gothenburg great. A lot of different people come out, and the shows are arranged by people from different backgrounds. Pretty much everything is about the atmosphere and the music. You like what you like, and there is no division. To a certain degree there will always be divisions, but I think there are less in Gothenburg than in other places.
I'd imagine that's really good for a band like Agrimonia, which has sounds from a lot of metal and punk subcultures that used to be more separate than they are now.
Pontus: We're pretty much all from a punk background. We've done a lot of punk shows and a lot of metal ones. It will be interesting to see where we end up on this tour. I don't care about it as long as people come out and enjoy what we're doing, but we definitely have a punk approach and try to keep it real.
You can't really "unlearn" punk once you have it.
Pontus: To me, it's a way of how you see things, how you work with people, and how you see people. Peace, love, and equality--all that stuff. To me, it's a way of seeing things in life.
Agrimonia on Tour
11/12/2013 Complex - Glendale, CA w/ Take Over And Destroy, Ancestors
11/13/2013 Oakland Metro - Oakland, CA w/ Take Over And Destroy, Embers, Augurs
11/14/2013 Alibi - Arcata, CA w/ Take Over And Destroy
11/15/2013 Branx - Portland, OR w/ Take Over And Destroy, Eight Bells, Night Nurse
11/16/2013 Highline - Seattle, WA w/ Tragedy, Take Over And Destroy, Death Raid
11/17/2013 Shredder - Boise, ID w/ Take Over And Destroy, Hatchet, Exmortus
11/18/2013 Bar Deluxe - Salt Lake City, UT w/ SubRosa, Take Over And Destroy
11/19/2013 3 Kings - Denver, CO w/ Take Over And Destroy, Wayfarer, Weaponizer
11/20/2013 Duffy's - Lincoln, NE w/ Take Over And Destroy, Scaphe, Vickers
11/21/2013 Fubar - St. Louis, MO w/ Take Over And Destroy, Enabler, Black Fast
11/22/2013 Cobra Lounge - Chicago, IL Take Over And Destroy, Enabler, Moral Void
11/23/2013 Now That's Class - Cleveland, OH w/ Take Over And Destroy, Locktender
11/24/2013 Howler's - Pittsburgh, PA w/ Take Over And Destroy, Wrathcobra, Wrought Iron
11/25/2013 Saint Vitus Bar - Brooklyn, NY w/ Take Over And Destroy, Sannhet
11/26/2013 Black Cat - Washington DC w/ Take Over And Destroy
11/27/2013 Pinhook - Durham, NC w/ Take Over And Destroy, City of Medicine
11/29/2013 Siberia - New Orleans, LA w/ Take Over And Destroy, Sumerian, DIAB
11/30/2013 Mango's - Houston, TX w/ Take Over And Destroy
12/01/2013 Red 7 - Austin, TX w/ Take Over And Destroy
12/03/2013 Launch Pad - Albuquerque, NM w/ Take Over And Destroy, Hanta, Laminectomy
12/04/2013 Rhythm Room - Phoenix, AZ w/ Take Over And Destroy, Cave Dweller
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