In an interview right before the release of Superb Birth you declared you wanted to play straight and spontaneous music. The album actually confirmed your intentions. With Think Like a Mountain it seems you returned back to the origins. What is the reason of this change of direction?
Well, if you are an honest musician you have to follow your creative instinct, you have to follow the music that finds a voice in you. For us, RITUAL is certainly a forum where we do the kind music we feel we need to play. And music, like everything, is perpetually changing. And the creative spirit is always changing, finding new paths and perspectives; all you can do is follow it. When we were to make a follow up album to our debut, we had actually been playing elaborate, experimental and structurally quite complicated music together for many years, and we just felt that we wanted to do something different, we needed to explore something that was fresh and new to us. At the time we were very interested in musical simplicity, and so our passion was drawn to more basic song structures and a more straight forward approach. Superb Birth also has a slightly darker energy to it and the songs are more “hard rock” because that is where our muses lead us at that point in time. We just do the songs we need to do; our main concern is not whether they are “progressive” or not. When we made the songs for “Think Like A Mountain” we felt we wanted to do a really varied and dynamic album, where every song would be a world of its own, because we had very diverse artistic ideas that we wanted to realize. Our first album was also very varied and dynamic, and so it may seem like we have “returned to our origins”; in a way, I guess you can say that we have, but on the other hand, the next album may again be something different. Music is a force of nature that is very hard to predict.
In “Infinite Justice” you talk about war. It is a subject you never dealt before, I think. Have you been inspired by Afghanistan war?
This is correct. What happened on the 11th of September 2001 was horrible enough. It felt unreal and really sickening. People die from war, oppression and poverty everyday, but this event was so “up front” in the media, it was live and straight in your face. You saw those towers crumble again and again and again on the TV screen and it was hard to grasp and not to watch. It was mesmerizing in a scary way. Then, the succeeding political events in Afghanistan and especially in Iraq just seemed to prolong the suffering and the confusion. I was fascinated by the fact that the U.S. called their (revenge) operation “Infinite Justice”. This of course makes you wonder: Whose justice? We all want justice on our own terms. Where will this take us? It’s an extremely tough problem to solve. We are in desperate need for good vibes. It will take unselfishness, willingness to compromise, empathy, wisdom and hard work from everybody involved. But the “Infinite Justice” operation showed little of this. The violent approach goes on. So, our song “Infinite Justice” is about the personal frustration and confusion caused by these events.
A curiosity: what do “Breathing” lyrics refer to?
This song went through different versions both musically and lyrically before we came up with the version that ended up on the CD. Originally the song was a quite straight forward emigrant song. I was reading and thinking about people who are forced to leave their home land for an uncertain future in a different environment, a different culture. In Sweden (as in many other European countries) we have some traditional songs from the latter half of the 19th century telling about such events. One can only imagine the amount of despair that these people must have experienced. What did they feel when poverty and famine forced them to sell their houses and homes and when they first saw the ship that was going to take them across an unimaginably vast ocean to a world they knew nothing about? What did they feel when they went aboard that ship and realized that they may never return again. Of course, in other parts of the world people are still forced to leave their home lands and all they know for an uncertain future. These elements are certainly still there in the version on the CD, but the lyrics are perhaps more poetic, dreamy and indeterminable.
Wise after the event, how do you judge your previous albums? If you could, would you change anything particular?
We are very proud of them all. None of them were arbitrarily made. They are all honest and carefully made representations of what we were going through at the time when they were made. On the detail level there is always one or two things that you may feel could have been done differently, but the big picture is right. We don’t regret the big picture we have produced and history shouldn’t be changed afterwards anyway. Naturally, from time to time we do get weary of the old material because we have played the songs for so many years. Today I feel our first album is a very special album, musically very rich and it has a sense of youthful energy. This is why it now has been re-released by our new record label Tempus Fugit/Inside Out. Our second album, Superb Birth, was made when we didn’t have a proper record label, and so the distribution failed and it didn’t reach out. So this album may also be re-released in the near future. To me there are some really strong moments on that album and I feel it deserves a second chance.
What does thinking like a mountain mean for you?
For me, to think like a mountain is to be able to identify with other things other than yourself and other human beings. It is about identifying with the natural world, with nature, with the total environment. In animistic cultures this is crucial and absolutely essential in life. When people don’t identify with the natural environment the community becomes unhealthy. In order to restore balance, the inhabitants and processes of the natural world has to be consulted. In short: The health of the human community is dependent on a good and constant communication with the natural world. The specific phrase “Thinking like a mountain” originates from the book “A Sand County Almanac” (1949) by the American ecologist and wildlife manager Aldo Leopold. He was originally a hunter, but a close confrontation with a dying old wolf (that he himself had just shot) caused a reorientation in his life. What met him was a fierce green fire dying in the wolf's eyes. He writes in a chapter entitled “Thinking like a Mountain” that: “there was something new to me in those eyes, something known only to her and to the mountain. I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunter's paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view. The mountain is of course a metaphor for the wild ecosystem as a whole, as a living presence, with its deer, its wolves and other animals, its clouds, soils and streams.
Many of your songs are inspired by the great power of Mother Nature. What importance does the Nature have in your music and in your life?
Nature is life. We are nature. In every moment we are totally dependent on other beings and wonderful natural processes with whom we have evolved through millions and millions of years. You can only hold your breath for a couple of minutes; you need to inhale the air constantly produced by the living planet, or else your life stops. Inside our bodies there are micro organisms doing vital work for us, we don’t even need to think about it. If they stop doing their work, our life ends. To acknowledge this is to realize what it really means to live life. Humans produce culture, but we are as much nature as salmon, lake water, giraffes, clouds, bacteria and wood lands. This is a fact, no matter what we think. When we die, the natural world carefully takes care of every single part of us and the energy released in the process is used to drive the very same amazing processes that make life possible. This goes on and on. Further more, the natural environments possess a timeless beauty that generally makes us feel good and relaxed. To me, this is what makes life meaningful, fun and magical. If we look for trust, meaning, true harmony, a sense of “home”, beauty, this is where we should start looking: in the natural world. But today, we’re generally too urbanized and too caught up in our social affairs and careers that we forget this. We only see what the human brain produces. This creates an unhealthy human feedback and we become anthropocentric. To most of us, nature is just a backdrop that doesn’t need our serious attention. Few of us get to experience the natural world with our own senses on a regular basis. So we forget. And when we collectively forget we cause damage, not only in the natural environment, but also inside our private selves. We have everything to gain from starting to identify with the natural world again. To me, playing music with Ritual is sometimes a ritual, where I can work the sense of loss and separation I feel from not having enough Nature in my life. This shines through in most of our lyrics.
In your last album there is once again a song inspired by a novel by the Finnish writer Tove Jansson: what does attract you in this writer?
The novels of Tove Jansson have a certain mood to them. They are very rich and have many layers. They are funny, melancholic, mysterious, thrilling. The characters living in Moomin Valley are very unique and sometimes they seem to behave in odd ways, but at the same time it is very easy to identify with them. Sometimes they’re like archetypes of human characteristic features. There is something of the “Hemulen” or the “Fillydjonk” in all of us. I always hear a certain music in my head when I read those books. As a band we thought it would be exciting to try to realize that music. The song “Moomin Took My Head” is actually not inspired by a specific Tove Jansson story. Rather it is about the very inspiration itself, the inspiration she gave us and inspiration in general. It is a song to honor the memory of Tove Jansson, who passed away in 2001.
What do you think you have in common with other Swedish Progressive Rock bands? And what do you think is your distinctive factor?
This is a very tough question to answer. I’m afraid I have to say that I’m not extremely familiar with the music of other Swedish progressive bands or with the new progressive genre in general. Of course I have heard The Flower Kings, Kaipa, and other bands but I don’t listen to that music regularly. We supported The Flower Kings in London last year, and so we got to see and hear them live again, and it was just great. But I’m not a “prog fan” in particular. I don’t know this for certain, but maybe this is true for the other bands as well. I mean, perhaps we don’t listen too much to what the other bands are doing. That would explain why the bands are so different in between them. The Flower Kings are very different from Anekdoten, Anekdoten are very different from Ritual, and so on. Maybe the common thing is a passion to make interesting music and that most of us have listened to bands like Yes, Crimson or Gentle Giant. For Ritual’s part, I think two distinctive factors are the folk- and ethnic influences and the voice of Patrik Lundström.
In ten years you just released three albums; is there ever been a moment you thought to split up the band?
No, never. Patrik, Johan and I have been playing together since 1988. Jon joined us in 1993. We’ve been playing together for so many years and we have been through so much together. We’re like family now. But we don’t want to haste things. And we all have other jobs and projects outside Ritual; Patrik and Johan have children. In fact, Ritual is very much a non-profit hobby band; it is something we never have earned any money from (we try to cover the costs). So economically, it is hobby band, but musically and artistically it is what we care the most for. Ritual is where our common heart is. The good thing about this is that we can do exactly what we want to do and we can follow our own inspiration.
The most beautiful remembrance of these ten years linked to Ritual.
Another tough question. There are so many memories. The most magical moments of course are those moments when you feel you have accomplished something you feel really good about, like when you get to hear a new song come to life in the studio, or when we have played a good and inspired concert. Apart from this we have had a lot of fun on the tours we’ve made. If I had not been in Ritual I wouldn’t have seen as many European countries that I have. One special moment that comes to mind, was when Jon, Johan and myself played excerpts from the Yes song “Awaken” at Patrik’s wedding. A friend of the group played guitar. We put drums and amplifiers on the choir stand and Jon played the big church organ. Patrik and his wife knew nothing about this, it was a complete surprise. The sound was quite powerful and overwhelming in that big church. That was quite a beautiful moment.
Since you all have other musical experiences: what does it mean for you to be part of Ritual, musically and humanly speaking?
Like I mentioned before, Ritual is family. We are in fact four very different characters leading different lives, but we have this common vision which results in Ritual music. Ritual is a forum for a certain musical expression. It is not always easy economically or practically, but the need to create something together is always there. This makes my life richer.