Back in October 2012, Skudge opened a new sub-label, Skudge White. Its first record, the simply-titled Fishermen seemed like perfect fodder for Skudge’s usual blackout tactics. For one, nobody had ever heard of Fishermen. And while the EP’s five tracks bore a distinct and striking signature, it didn’t seem an obvious match for any established artist. Sure, plenty of people do brutal industrialism, but at 110 BPM, with fragile chords soaring overheard? Skudge had the perfect hype-generator on its hands, in other words. From the very beginning, though, the world was permitted to know about Fishermen, a fresh project from two Swedish old-timers Martin Skogehall (AKA MRSK), and Thomas Jaldemark (half of Donk Boys and Kretipleti). Since then, two more records have surfaced: the twisted Delirium Tremens EP for Kontra-Musik and December’s under-the-radar Patterns and Paths LP, another for Skudge White. Despite this, next to nothing else has been said about the project. We called up Martin and Thomas to bring us up to speed, and to compile our 189th podcast, an hour of haunting, chord-heavy techno.
It’s been almost ten years since you guys first met online. How did that happen?
Martin Skogehall: It was MySpace, when it was new and fresh. Then we started chatting with MSN, directly.
So you were checking out each others’ music on MySpace?
MS: Yeah, the Swedish scene was kind of small back then, so as soon as you heard something you liked, you’d contact the guy and tell him it was good. I met a lot of friends online that way, but Thomas and me have stuck to each other.
What made you guys want to keep chatting to each other?
Thomas Jaldemark: We have the same music taste, and there’s always stuff you can chat about.
MS: We were talking about equipment. “How did you make that reverb?” Technical stuff, you know.
Do you feel like you’ve learned a lot from one another over the years?
MS: Yeah, Thomas and I, we make music in a kind of different way from each other. I learned a lot working with ambient sounds, and experimenting with different kinds of effects that I didn’t think of myself. I don’t know what you learned from me, Thomas.
TJ: I guess a lot to do with beats. Hi-hats and other percussion. It’s much better for me now than before.
Apart from your music, what do you think has kept you guys together?
MS: I think we’re two very simple people, both of us. We’re not trying to be cool, or something. We’re just two normal Swedish guys, actually. We have the same vision of music, the same vision of darkness, and the same vision on what’s good and bad music.
TJ: The first time we met in person was like meeting an old friend. It was totally natural.
That was only early in 2013, after the success of the first EP, wasn’t it?
MS: Yeah, it was like going on a blind date. [laughs] It was at the railway station in Gothenburg.
How was that, to finally be together in the studio?
MS: I thought it was really fun. It was like, “Ah, you do it like this?” “No, no, no, it’s faster doing it like this.” Seeing how we work; how I use one kind of equalizer and he uses a complete other one.
TJ: I learned a lot that weekend. To get a more immediate response on stuff was good, also.
Why did it take you so long to meet up? It was after what, eight or nine years of friendship?
MS: We didn’t have any excuse to meet. [laughs]
TJ: It’s a big distance. I lived in Malmö before too, so it’s like 500km between Stockholm and Malmö.
MS: No, but I think we were just internet friends and music nerds. All we needed from each other was to get tips on music, or talk about music. And girl problems, weight problems, everything. We didn’t have to meet physically. I’m kind of lazy, so if I don’t have to travel, I don’t do it.
TJ: Yeah, I think we both are pretty lazy.
Just how small is the scene in Sweden that guys as far apart as Stockholm and Gothenburg can know each other and produce together?
MS: I think we’re kind of a small country. Me and Elias from Skudge, we’ve known each other longer than me an Thomas. We also had a group before Skudge. Elias introduced me to a lot of people in Stockholm, because I’m not born here. We keep together here. We’re only nine million people here in Sweden, so if somebody makes good techno music, you know who it is.
Do you like it that way?
MS: Yeah, I like it. It’s like we keep each others’ backs’, in some kind of way. It’s always fun to see, “Oh is Axel Boman playing with Ben Klock? Wow, good for him.” I think everybody’s like that, kind of proud when your countrymen do something good.
We talked about the first time you met in person, but why did you suddenly decide to collaborate after so many years of friendship?
MS: I was into my MRSK thing, and I wanted to do something new; something darker, or more experimental. Thomas felt the same way. So one day he just sent me a melody with a kick drum. And I just thought, “Damn, that’s just what I want to do.” I added some stuff to the track, and then we had our first track, “Anchor Buoy.” I think that was the start. We found each other at the right time.
Do you find it frustrating, having to wait for other person to respond, rather than just having them there with you?
MS: Yeah, sometimes. I might send Thomas 11 versions of a track, and he says, “No, a little stronger with the melody,” “No, it’s too strong now.” “No, change this sound.” If we were sitting in the same studio we could figure that out much faster.
TJ: It takes some extra work sometimes, but we get there eventually.
Martin, when you’re working on a track, what do you feel Thomas can add to it that you couldn’t achieve yourself?
MS: I often ask Thomas, “Could you add some of that darkly-industrial-harbour-evil sound?” He’s very good at those atmospheres.
TJ: I’ve always experimented with that kind of sounds, so I know how to do it. That’s maybe why.
And Thomas, why do you send tracks to Martin?
TJ: Often, I feel satisfied, but it’s not good enough. And then I send it over to Martin and he’s like, “Yeah, I want to add that and that.” Often it’s almost-finished tracks, then Martin always makes the hi-hats and stuff much better than me.
MS: I almost always delete all of his drums. [laughs]
TJ: You bastard. [laughs]
MS: I have a kind of fetish with the beats and drum sounds. I’m a kind of control freak when it comes to the beats. And Thomas is a control freak when it comes to the atmospheres.
Do you ever have disagreements on how a track should proceed?
MS: I think it happens sometimes, but we usually have a compromise.
TJ: But it’s not often.
MS: Because if I don’t like something Thomas made, he can have the song to himself for his own project, and if I make something he doesn’t like, I can make an MRSK or a Smell The Flesh track with it.
Now that you’ve met, do you think you’ll get together for another weekend in the future?
MS: We have plans to meet up this year and get a live set together. We both have the equipment; we just have to make it work.
What gear are you planning to use for that?
TJ: I have a Machinedrum, and Martin has an Octatrack, and think we’ll have some kind of bass synths and pedals, and stuff like that. It’s pretty much just a sketch so far, so we need to meet up and decide what we’re going to do.
MS: Distortion pedals and reverb pedals. A lot of guitar pedals, I hope. They have a really nice sound to them.
Why do a live show, rather than just DJ?
TJ: It’s more fun to play live. I think that, actually. I played live with my previous project, Donk Boys, and it was always, always fun. The DJ gigs are not the same for me.
MS: I think as a group, it’s more natural to be playing live than to have two DJs standing there. Of course we’d love to have DJ gigs as well, but when we DJ, he plays a song, then I play a song, then he plays a song. So when we play live, with machines, it would be more working together, at the same time.
What was the album process like, compared to just making singles?
MS: The thing is, we had about 20 songs to choose from. The intro, “Greenhorn,” is actually a very old track, it’s from the early days. So we felt naturally like we both loved that song, so that was the intro. So we had that one, and we just kept on making tracks. When we had twenty, Skudge and we chose 12 favorites and then we started the puzzling around. You know, “Each side of the vinyl should have a good variety.”
Did either of you have an idea of what you wanted the album to sound like before you started to make it?
TJ: I think we had like seven, eight tracks in the beginning and then we felt like we found a sound there, and we wanted to continue with that and make more of that stuff.
MS: You know, the theme of our music is to be at sea. Quite early, we wanted to make the album like a journey — under the water, over the water, on lost islands, in submarines. So Patterns and Paths is the perfect title for the album, it’s like being in different parts of the ocean and the sea. We have images in our mind. When I start a track and send it to Thomas, it might be named, “Trapped Under Ice” or, “No Oxygen in a Submarine,” or something like that, and then he understands what kind of sound I’m after; what kind of feeling we want to create.
Having that Fishermen theme, does it make the music-making process easier? To have an image and just construct it?
MS: I think it goes both ways. It’s like with my other project, Smell the Flesh. It’s like, “Damn, do I always have to make dark music now?” And with Fishermen I thought, “Damn, do we always have to make songs about the ocean?” But you know, Fishermen can go on vacations as well. They can go to the mountains, or to the Bahamas. So it’s easy when you think like that, but if you make another album it might be a concept where a ship just wrecked at a lost island and it’s just voodoo people everywhere.
So if Fishermen can go on vacation, should we expect the next album to be filled with “Coma Cat”-type xylophones? [laughs]
TJ: Bossa Nova!
MS: We’re actually working on some new tracks that are kind of different. You can hear it’s Fishermen, but I think elements of nature will always be in our tracks. And the dark, industrial sounds. But the name Fishermen doesn’t mean it always has to be about fishing and the water.
Yeah, because you came up with the name pretty casually, didn’t you? It wasn’t a labored decision.
MS: The first track Thomas sent me, “Anchor Buoy,” was called “Fishermen’s Friend.” I named it something else, and then we just started calling the tracks different fish names.
Why did you originally call it that, Thomas?
TJ: I think my throat was really bad that day, so I had to eat Fishermen’s Friend. It’s as simple as that. [laughs]
MS: I was really into the series Deadliest Catch, where they’re out fishing after king crabs. I love that show. “Greenhorn” is from that series; “Anchor Buoy” is from that series. I watched that a lot when we started, and I feel those guys are really hard, tough guys. I have anxiety a lot, so I was always thinking, “God damn, how do they do it?” You know, fishing in the Russian sea in the middle of the night, waves bigger that skyscrapers, and getting a panic attack out there. It would be terrible. And then I would take that feeling and make a track.
How does that anxiety affect you in terms of touring and playing live shows?
MS: I haven’t been touring, or played live gigs for a long time. But I’m going to treatment for it right now. I’m an old rock drummer, so I’ve been playing rock ‘n’ roll all my life. But something happened back in 2006 — I was in an accident — and after that my soul turned on me. It’s post-traumatic stress syndrome. I was worried, but now I’m not, because I have control over it. What I’m worried about now is, I’m used to sitting behind a drum kit, but when you’re going to bring machines into the game, that’s what I’m worried about.
To return to “Deadliest Catch,” do you think your music properly conveys that horror of being in the Russian sea?
MS: I think so, in the beginning. I think so now as well. You know, working in a big factory or working with dangerous stuff. “Isopod” is being chased by a big whale or something. I tried to make a dramatic theme for the track. I think with Fishermen, that’s what both of us are trying to do: bring drama to electronic music.
To my ears, the tracks also have a very unique sound, in a technical sense. Why is that?
MS: We’re not going by any rules. “A kick drum has to have a compressor on it.” Fuck that. “You need to EQ that sound.” Fuck that. If it sounds good, it sounds good, you know? I think we just got rid of all the rules that we had in our minds before, and then the music becomes more innovative and sounds different from everything else.
TJ: Yeah, we can break the rules that we already know. The bass and the kick drums, they don’t have to be super-fat, as long as the track is good.
MS: But in the track “Get None” on our album, the kick is really, really fat, so we can do something really out of proportion, too. So if we want to have a hard clap, we do a really, really hard clap. Like Mike-Tyson-slaps-a-child clap. [laughs]
So it’s important to keep your sound moving forward?
TJ: I think it comes naturally. We always want to keep moving forward, because if you get stale, it just gets boring. We always experiment with stuff, so we’re going forward all the time.
MS: A new thing we’re trying out now is to make longer tracks. But not monotonous tracks, just long tracks with a lot of variety — about ten minutes or so. We have a track we’re working on right now, that we’ve been working on very long, we call it “The Whale,” because it’s so big. So we have to conquer that whale, just like Moby Dick.
Tell me about the mix.
MS: It’s not a classic DJ dance floor mix. It’s really travel-at-sea, in different kinds of weather. Stormy, calm, under water, above water — so the mix is stories from the sea. That’s the theme. We did it over the internet, making different parts. Maybe Thomas mixed three tracks, and I added three tracks, and so on. But we had that in mind when we made the mix. We really wanted to do something really special.