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Progressive Rock Interviews

Moon Safari

Interviewed by Josh Turner
Interview with Simon Åkesson, Petter Sandström and Johan Westerlund of Moon Safari From 2006
MSJ: For starters, it seems that all the great music these days is coming out of Sweden. Can you shed some light on this phenomenon? Is there something in the drinking water; is it some strange huge coincidence or does it have to do with something much more fundamental? I'd be interested in your opinion.
Johan Westerlund: I think the reason why there are so many good bands coming out of Sweden these days is simply that Swedish musicians in general are like cultural sponges, picking up bits and pieces of every style of music and moulding it into something "new". This is the way it has been in Sweden for decades, but especially today, when the rhythmic and melodic cores in many genres of music seems to have dried up completely. We are the nation of musicians best equipped to mix different styles to make something semi-new. Because we have never had anything really "Swedish" that has had great influence on musicians in this country, we are not locked up in any certain way of thinking about music, and we are not expected to sound any particular way. We can just take the best out of everything and that definitely plays a big part in why Sweden is such a major exporter of music at the present.
MSJ: When I grew up, music class consisted of learning some simple tunes on the recorder, informal singing in the most disorganized choir, and if you wanted to learn an instrument "and" had nothing better to do, you joined the marching band. Those who were more ambitious went out and bought a guitar and sung songs around the campfire. Some of the more proactive parents sent their sons or daughters to piano lessons. I recall wanting to learn the drums and my father saying they were much too noisy to have around the house. In other words, I think it's hard to become a musician around here as the culture isn't completely tuned into it. We're better at making good lip-synchers, posers, and air guitarists. There's a question in all of this… What were your experiences with music in school and what were the opinions of teachers and parents when it came to music?
Johan Westerlund: We have a great school-system, already in the third grade we get to try out a bunch of instruments, not just guitar and piano, but saxophone, flute, drums, trumpet, etc. Then, as you grow older and the musical schooling is more centralised, there is the possibility to move on to electric guitar, bass and such instruments. This schooling is funded by the government and there is not even a requirement that you provide your own instrument as the schools often hold most of the common instruments. You can get this schooling all the way up to when you graduate our version of your high school! It's funny, I started out playing saxophone and Petter played the violin. Should we have pursued those instruments, the Moon Safari sound would probably be more like that of Van Der Graaf Generator or Gentle Giant. (Laughs)

Simon, Anthon and Tobias did take advantage of this schooling all the way up to high school, thus they are also great theoretically and extremely able on their instruments, and it helps a lot in our music-making.


Simon Åkesson: I come from a very musical family. My parents had a vocal group in the 70s named "Dé Våras" who sang vocal jazz and recorded two nice LPs and later my father also became a choir leader. So me and my brothers have learned most of our singing from our parents. We sang a lot in the car when we were travelling somewhere. It could be some Osmond Brothers barbershop-arrangements or just some spirituals but even arrangements by Mr. Gene Puerling, the man behind The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited (My absolutely favourite groups of all time).
MSJ: I really enjoyed your album and would be interested in seeing you perform live. I know this is rather premature to be asking, but do you have any tours or concert dates lined up at the moment?
Petter Sandström: None at the moment, but we are really anxious to perform the songs since we only played live 2 times.


Johan Westerlund: The two times, however, have been huge successes, mainly in the sense that we actually felt that we pulled it off. The million bells and whistles on the album are only about 500,000 on stage, but they are the important 500,000.


Petter Sandström: And, I can easily see a tour poster: Moon Safari - Tourway to Summer, or something just as silly like: Moon Safari - We Moon the World.
MSJ: That's real funny. Speaking of which, how did you come up with the name of the band, Moon Safari?
Johan Westerlund: It was inspired by an old Swedish proverb which roughly translates "If you shoot at the moon, you might just land on the roof."

This also connects the 17th century science-fiction writer Cyrano de Bergerac and his book "Le voyage dans la lune" where a Frenchmen travels to the moon in his homemade, solar-powered balloon. Well, on the moon he embarks on all kinds of great adventures. You'll have to read it to understand. It is a lot like our music to be honest…

If you are looking for a space-saving explanation, it might just be that I am a big "Air" fan….?
MSJ: Along the same lines, how did you come up with the name of the album, A Doorway to Summer?
Petter Sandström: I got the title from the Robert Heinlein novel "Door Into Summer" and then just changed the title a little bit. There is a great story within this story that reflects our album. The main character in the book, Dan, has a cat named Pete, and whenever the weather outside their house is not to Pete's liking, he holds Dan responsible for that dreadful snow outside the doors and windows, for the cold Connecticut winter. So he checks his cat doors in the house and then he makes Dan open another door and another door, as he thinks at least one of them must be a doorway to summer.

If you'll search for it long enough, you'll find it, that sort of philosophy. You'll have to read the book to understand.
MSJ: You shared many samples from the album on the Internet. I think this has worked out in your favor and generated a lot of interest. What led to this decision?
Johan Westerlund: The decision to put out one entire song on our homepage instead of snippets from it came about because it's easier to get a grip on a band through a whole song. You can't really grasp a song like "We spin the world" through a 2-minute sound-byte, so we did not see any point in doing that. Tomas also sent out some samples last spring to people he knew in the business, this has helped immensely in establishing contacts within the progressive world.
MSJ: The album seems to follow a loose theme about the seasons and ties this into emotions and relationships. Is this what it's about and if so, can you describe this further?
Petter Sandström: We wanted the album to be like a summer soundtrack, and as far as the lyrics goes, it's easier to write something about love, and feelings that people can relate to, instead of dungeons and dragons.
MSJ: It's interesting you mention that. Being a progressive rock fan, I've been accused of playing dungeons and dragons. To be honest, I wouldn't even know where to start with it. In any case, I'm really fond of your lyrics. Are they abstract in nature or do they deal with the band's own personal experiences?
Petter Sandström: It's a bit of both, but mostly the lyrics do deal with personal observations, thoughts, questions, and not as often answers (laughs!). Although one sometimes covers obvious meanings in metaphors, leaving a little bit to the listeners own imagination so that they can puzzle both the musical and lyrical themes together.
MSJ: The album consists of five tracks. While they aren't carbon copies of each other, they each seem to share the same kind of feel. Was this on purpose and if so, what was the reasoning behind it?
Johan Westerlund: I guess the feel of the album is simply the feeling we had in the band when we started to write it. The spring of 2003 and the summer that followed was the start of Moon Safari, and also the start of a beautiful friendship between the band-members. We just embraced the vibe of the season and suddenly everything we puzzled together had the same basic summer-feel.

Regardless if it was an idea from Petter, Simon, or any one else in the band, the end result was always the same.

It seems that we are, as a band, unable to shake that longing for the concept of summer; we embrace everything that the word implies. It's kind of great actually.
MSJ: Every song is an epic or pretty darn close to it. Why did you choose to stick with this length instead of breaking them down into shorter pieces or wedging shorter songs in between?
Petter Sandström: All the songs we write have this capability of growing out of the budgets frames (laughs). But, we don't aim to write a 20-minute song. We just let the song grow along the way and hope that it finally will blow our minds.

But, we actually cut out two shorter songs called "Lovely Rain" and "The Pillow Express" since they didn't fit into the musical whole the 5 other songs share. We're saving these songs for a rainy day.
MSJ: It sounds like the concept for another album is already coming together. As for this album, all the songs are extraordinary. If I had to choose one, I'd say my favorite is actually the last one, the reprisal of the opening theme, which you call "Beyond the Door". What would you say is your favorite song on the album and why does it make you so proud?
Petter Sandström: I love every one of them, but I guess that "Beyond the Door" has a different mood surrounding it, with all its themes and P's fantastic steel guitar playing the "Doorway" theme. But, the song that turned out the best from the sketch board, I think, is "A Sun of Your Own". That song really blossomed during the recording session.


Johan Westerlund: To play, it must be "We Spin the World" and to just listen to it's "A Sun of Your Own".
MSJ: I have a couple curiosities to ask about the songs… That harmonica sequence in "Doorway" is very down-to-earth and personable. It reminds me of the serene soundtracks I heard in movies from the seventies. It's a very clever passage. What inspired it?
Petter Sandström: On the old demo version of the song, we had a strings mellotron playing that thing. But, while we were in the studio we pictured someone sitting by a lake on a summer's day with a blade of grass between the toes, playing that harmonica melody. It brings a nice mood to the song. It invites the listener to this summer soundscape.
MSJ: I agree. I think you really captured that mood. What's that sound bite towards the end of the song? It sounds like Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Is that what this is?
Petter Sandström: Yes, it's good ol' Martin.
MSJ: Within the lyrics to this song, you hint that the doorway is the passage to your heart. Can you embellish upon this metaphor?
Petter Sandström: You know, with an open heart and an open mind I believe we can travel places. If you really want to learn and understand, you must have an open heart, and people must understand our music. So open your hearts everyone!!! (laughs)
MSJ: "Dance Across the Ocean" speaks in riddles? What's that one about and what's the "mad, mad world" you reference?
Petter Sandström: It's a world gone topsy-turvy, kind of a political satire. Picture John Cleese in the Dennis Moore sketch. Probably our funniest song on the album in a cruel kind of way.
MSJ: I can't help, but think, that "A Sun of Your Own" is about children or at least about growing up? Tell me more about this one.
Petter Sandström: Since this song mainly is Simon's baby, I remember when he started working on it he said: "I'm goin to need the best lyrics you've ever written on this one." (Laughs) But, me and Johan did our best. (I laugh)

You know the first line of the song really gives it away. "The world is a lonely playground when the carnival is leaving town". That feeling, a lonely child with no one in his world, and then comes the doorway lyrical theme (as well as the melody), "Find the open doors". There is someone out there for all of us, but we won't find them sitting in a sofa.


Johan Westerlund: It could also be that because we wrote lyrics to Simon, who in many ways still thinks and views the world in a wonderfully childlike way, the child-theme was inevitable. If you knew Simon like we do, you would see a real free spirit and someone who definitely paints the picture of his life day-by-day.
MSJ: "We Spin the World" is probably my favorite strictly from a lyrical standpoint. I get the impression it's about being a free spirit. Is this the case?
Petter Sandström: Basically, that's the case, you know, forming a schedule for yourself, but sloping it somewhere along the way and start living in the moment.

Started writing on this one when I was thinking about some friends I grew up with, and spent all the time with. Now 10 years or so later all we do is really say hello to each other, but still they're a part of you. And, on one hand, you got this we're all one and the same, black and white, red and yellow, we're all human beings, but there still is a racial problem all around the globe. I come to think of something a neo-Nazi-racist said in a newspaper here in Sweden some years ago: "I want to move to a country where they don't accept immigrants."

Clever guy! I'll bet he will scratch his arms off when he finds out that Africa is the origin of man.

That's some of the lyrical themes in this one, and Johan brought much depth to the lyrics as well.
MSJ: "Spinning" can also be about taking a political point of view and putting a twist on it. I get the impression there is some of this going on under the surface. Does the song have anything to do with that?
Petter Sandström: Well, in parts it's about criticizing others while the critique mainly should be pointed to oneself and also about realizing this very fact and finding out that the world is a lonely place without someone there to lend a hand, helping to spin the world. The "spinning" references works in a kind of milder way than in "Dance Across the Ocean" (Obviously!). There's much going on beneath the surface in this song.
MSJ: While it works and can sort of be an "in" joke because you're Swedish, whoever sings the line "jokes to the crowd" mispronounces the word "jokes" and the line sounds more like "yokes to the crowd", which is kind of like throwing eggs at your audience. Just thought I'd give you the heads up on this, so you can have a witty response to the next guy who asks. Was this intentional and has there been any discussion over it? Don't worry, it took me a few listens and a double-take of the liner notes to even discover the discrepancy.
Petter Sandström: Dammit, I did sing that! (Laughs) Of course I'd like nothing else than to throw eggs at the audience, before they do anyway. Actually, it's all about effects. We wanted a John Lennon effect on the vocals of the verses. It does this thing to your voice. It actually sounds like I lisp as well. But, the effect is so damn cool it has to be there.


Johan Westerlund: I guess the yolks on us then!
MSJ: For the record, I like it in there. Anyhow, who are those children playing in this song and where was that recorded?
Petter Sandström: That's a nice sample from the Bodin laboratory.
MSJ: I really like the line "Someone borrowed something blue, heaven's losing 0 for 2". It's very poetic and clever, but I'm curious, what does it mean?
Johan Westerlund: The entire thing,
"Someone borrowed something blue, heaven's losing 0 - 2, winter's old when spring is new, grace let sunshine warm our frozen hearts and in time you will? Three times a charm when love is a part of everything you will? ", is just something I scribbled down, which later seemed to fit Petters' lyrical concept for the song. When it's sung at that place in the song, it just works.
MSJ: I'd say you're being modest and qualify that as an understatement… Onto the last, in "Beyond the Door" it seems like something has happened. What is it?
Petter Sandström: We've come full circle now. The journey to the goal is complete. The lyrics on this one is more like keynotes, filling in the blanks for the listener. It's about chasing your dreams, because they're always on the run. Do it now, tomorrow it might be to late, that sort of thing. It is also about being miserably in love, the lines "The love you were searching for far and wide, was always waiting there right by your side", it's kind of a "I'm right here!" statement. And then, after the reprise of the Doorway chorus, we invite the listener "Beyond the Door."
MSJ: There is another sound bite that surfaces. Is it the same as the first?
Johan Westerlund: "…and the pursuit of happiness" quite the puzzler, ey?
MSJ: Was it difficult or natural to work in all those reoccurring themes and tie back to earlier songs?
Petter Sandström: It comes natural for us, as the songs grew, they naturally came together. We didn't even see it coming. Because the lyrics are all tied together, it's natural for the melodies to do so as well.
MSJ: Let's talk about some influences that jump out at me… Instrumentally and lyrically, I hear the Flower Kings. Vocally, it's none other than The Beatles. Did I just name your two biggest influences?


Petter Sandström: We all have our different influences. I have the entire Flower Kings and The Beatles catalog in my collection. So of course you'll get inspired by them, but I think the common influence we all share is the love of The Beatles. And Simon is a sucker for the Hi-Lo's. He has barely heard Genesis, Rush, Marillion, King Crimson. I wonder if he even knows he's playing in a prog band. (laughs) But he actually discovered that Bob Morse in the Hi-Lo's has a nephew playing progressive rock, namely Neal Morse. That's just wonderful.


Johan Westerlund: Yes is of course a big influence, as well as Genesis, but that's just stating the obvious I guess…any prog band without those two as influences is probably lying.
MSJ: In general, tell me about any other significant influences you might have.
Petter Sandström: It's a long list, but I grew up listening to The Beatles, 10CC, Supertramp & Bruce Springsteen. So there might be some bits and pieces from them put into the Moon Safari sound.

Right now I'm into a Jethro Tull period. Ian Anderson is a pure genius.
MSJ: You're all so very skilled on your instruments, but you also use a lot of terrific vocal harmonies. Can you give me an idea of how your song writing process works and how you come up with all these flowing passages and top-notch harmonies?
Johan Westerlund: We write the melodies first and we let them set the tone for the lyrics. It all comes naturally. Luckily, we have never had to think about how everything fits together. We often have too many ideas. That is often the biggest problem, to find room for everything, but somehow we manage to pull it off.


Simon Åkesson: We love harmonies and beautiful chords so we try to find the best chords to every melody. It could sometimes be just nice and easy pop harmonies but we also try to find other ways of harmonizing with not only influences from other progressive rock bands. I have listened a lot to jazz and classical music so I have many influences from the Swedish pop jazz pianist Lars Jansson and from modern classical composers like John Rutter and Debussy.

When it comes to the choir arrangements my biggest influence is Gene Puerlings and his vocal groups The Hi-Lo's and The Singers Unlimited but I also listen a lot to Take 6 and other vocal groups(who also are inspired by Puerling).

Our songwriting process works out about like this: Someone has a main idea of a song, It could be some verses, chorus or some theme. Then Johan or Petter add the lyrics then we arrange it in the Moon Safari style with chords, some groove idea or riff. Later we add some instrumental parts, intro, themes, solo parts and of course some vocal parts if we havn't come up with them yet. And when almost everything is done I start to work with the choir arrangements and sometimes we have to change the intrumental harmonies because of an idea that I come up with while working with the choir arrangements. Then the song is created. But we often needs to change many things if we realize that it's too many new parts in the song or if some part is too short or not used enough. We always want to come full circle in every song and we sure had a lot of work with "We spin the world"
MSJ: Will there be another album and if so, will it go in a totally different direction?
Petter Sandström: There will be one major change; the next album will probably have 6 tracks! I think the next one will rock some more, in a "Dance Across..." kind of way.


Johan Westerlund: The sound will probably have matured, as it should. I don't think, however, that we will lose our way… most of the stuff on the next one will probably have it roots from the same time-period as the first one. We're really backed up at the moment, but there is no reason to complain. Some might even call it a luxury…
MSJ: When did you decide you wanted to become a singer and join a band?
Petter Sandström: At the same time Johan decided to become a bassist in a band.
MSJ: How did the harmonica become your instrument and is there anything else that you play?
Petter Sandström: I got a harmonica as a Christmas gift from my father last Christmas, so I haven't played it that long. I mainly play guitar and I do so live, but in the studio Anthon just wouldn't let me finger on the strings (that b**tard), but that was probably for the best since he is an incredible guitarist. I will have my girlfriend teach me to play flute, so that might show up on a Moon Safari album someday.
MSJ: How did you meet the other members of your band? What's their story?
Johan Westerlund: We grew up in the same town and we started hanging out because we liked the same kind of music. In a small town like Skelleftea everybody knows everybody so I guess in away we knew each other.
MSJ: In the credits, I see Simon Lundin as a guest musician. Is there any relation to Kaipa's Hans Lundin?
Johan Westerlund: Not that we know of. He's another local musician who just stumbled into the studio one day. Great guy!
MSJ: Who is 'P'?
Petter Sandström: His real name is Anders Pettersson and he plays in bands such as The Perishers and Deportees. Great guy!
MSJ: How did you guys wind up working with Tomas Bodin?
Petter Sandström: When it came to mixing our first demo, me and Johan sent an email to every single professional musician in Sweden… He was the only one who answered! We made him an offer he couldn't refuse, involving horses' heads and the local mob. (Laughs!)

Skellefteå aint no picnic I should tell you! (More laughter)
MSJ: What's his involvement in the album?
Johan Westerlund: He is our spiritual guide, the guru from "Doorway"; he's been a great inspiration both before we met him and even a bigger one during the recording of the album. Can't really thank him enough. Without him telling us we had something good going on, we would probably play Creedence covers at the local pubs! Every band should have someone like him.
MSJ: Can you tell me about a Spinal Tap moment that you may have experienced in your brief career so far as musicians? This would be something humorous that occurred while putting this band together or during the course of your recording sessions in the studio.
Johan Westerlund: One time when me and Simon were alone in the studio we couldn't get the click track going (we did not have that much experience with recording back then) so we decided that we would record our own!

Said and done, we chose an appropriate sound on the midi-synth and pressed play. The idea was that Simon would punch the key on the piano while I would sit beside him keeping a steady beat. (Already a match made in hell.)

This all worked really well, at least we thought so anyway… but then, after an hour or so, when we decided that we had enough click-track to suit our needs we stopped the supposed recording and realised to our absolute horror that we, of course, had forgotten to push "Record", thus recording nothing but silence! That's an hour we'll never see again…

Here's the punch-line: A few months later we were in the studio going through an old folder marked "Moon Safari" when we came across this one song that we could not remember having recorded called "Bobby's Revenge" .

We listened to it, but it was completely blank. Initially stumped by this phenomena, it soon fell in to place…. it was me and Simon's attempt on a human click-track!
Apparently Simon had decided, in a moment of absolute genius, to save our disastrous venture into the world of dots and digits as "Bobby's Revenge". Go Figure!

You know how people always say "You had to be there?" Well in our case it is more like "You have to know Simon." A guy that chooses to name nothingness "Bobby's Revenge" is one crazy cat, and a guy who'll surely make you laugh when you are within ten feet of him. He's brilliant! That's about as "Spinal tap" as we have gotten so far…
MSJ: That's a real good one. To switch gears again, I'd like to find out about your current musical tastes… What's the last CD that you purchased?
Johan Westerlund: I buy records all the time. The last ones I bought are Roine Stolt's - Wall Street Voodoo, Neal Morse - ?, Van Morrison - Tupelo Honey, Van Morrison - Veedon Fleece, Cat Stevens - Tea for the Tillerman, and Stevie Wonder's new one.


Petter Sandström: Black Bonzo-Black Bonzo
MSJ: I didn't realize Stevie had a new one. I'll have to check it out… Along the same lines, what's the last concert that you attended as a fan?
Petter Sandström: I saw Jamie Cullum with my girlfriend this summer in Stockholm. He was great!


Johan Westerlund: Yes.
MSJ: I'd like to find out some of your favorites… What is your favorite album of all-time? Is there any CD or tape for that matter that you've worn out?
Petter Sandström: I got to make a top five on this one: Genesis - Selling England by the Pound, Bruce Springsteen - Born To Run, The Beatles - Magical Mystery Tour, Yes - Close to the Edge, Rush - A Farewell To Kings.


Johan Westerlund: The Who-Quadrophenia, Pink Floyd -The Wall, CSN- CSN, Genesis - Selling England… Marillion - Clutching at Straws.
MSJ: All good ones, but if you had to choose, who is your all-time favorite band?
Petter Sandström: The Beatles.


Johan Westerlund: Pink Floyd.
MSJ: Let's talk about some favorites that aren't necessarily related to music… What is your favorite movie?
Petter Sandström: As for the album question I have to make a top five here as well: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars-The Empire Strikes Back, Goodfellas, Contact, Almost Famous.


Johan Westerlund: Groundhog day maybe or anything by Tim Burton…
MSJ: Again, great selections. What is your favorite TV show?
Petter Sandström: I don't follow any series or so, I mainly watch football. But when The Simpsons come on I watch it. Oh, and "24" is also brilliant. I just got the season 2 box on DVD, I eat the episodes.


Johan Westerlund: The Sopranos.
MSJ: Petter just named my favorite show, which is "24". If you like that, be sure to check out "Lost". I too wait till they come on DVD. I eagerly await the new seasons... Do either of you have a favorite book?
Petter Sandström: The "Foundation" trilogy by Isaac Asimov is brilliant. "The Da Vinci Code" was something else as well.


Johan Westerlund: 1984.
MSJ: We share a lot of the same favorites, but here's an opportunity to pick something different. Are you a sports fan and if so, who's your favorite team?
Petter Sandström: My team in the NHL is Philadelphia Flyers now that Peter Forsberg plays there, in football it's Manchester United.


Johan Westerlund: CRIF (Editorial comment: I'm told this is a local hockey team).
MSJ: I like to ask this question, because it helps me to identify with the artist, but do you have any pets?
Petter Sandström: Just dustrats, but Simon has cats and dogs and probably some dustrats too. (Laughs)
MSJ: I know it's early in the game, but hopefully there's more than just me who's out there. Before we wrap up, is there anything you'd like to say to your fans (or fan, that being me) at this time?
Johan Westerlund: To quote Simon: We'll go for a ride on the rainbow in our summer sleigh made of grass!
MSJ: That sums it up nicely. Even if this wasn't a debut, I'd be saying you've done an excellent job. The fact that this is the band's first release is staggering. I think it will appeal to anybody who is a fan of The Flower King's or knows good progressive rock for that matter. I think it will also appeal to fans of The Beatles as well, so it will certainly be accessible to the commercial crowd too. You've constructed some elegant songs and all the singing is very impressive. I'm sure you'll acquire a lot of fans with this one. It's just a matter of how long it takes to be discovered. I'm eager to see what you have in store for us next and it would be great to see you perform this material live someday. In any case, good luck with whatever else you have planned! I'll be waiting for it.
Petter Sandström: Thank you very much for the kind words. Hopefully we'll blow you away with the next album; we want a 5 star review dammit! (Laughs) (Editorial Note: Josh has never given a 5 star review to anything, but Moon Safari came close. In addition, since tastes drastically differ, we don't post scores on this site.)
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