More of a Project than a Band: An Interview with Bjorn Egelius of Abandoned Playground

For my money, it’s hard to top abandoned playgrounds when it comes to creepiness. A single swing swaying back and forth with nobody on it? Add some mist and a set of footprints that just stops, and you have the makings of a pretty spooky trailer, if not the opening scene of a full-on thriller. All of which may be why I was attracted to Abandoned Playground, a hard-rocking band that formed in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2018. Curious to know more, I reached out to bass player Bjorn Egelius to answer a few questions…

How did Abandoned Playground come together?

I’ve known Mikael for fifteen years or so. We both have a long background as musicians. One day Mikael was up in Stockholm and dropped by my place, he asked do you have any songs that I can do vocals on?  We felt it was a really good thing coming out of it.

How would you describe your sound?

A bit heavy with some post-punk influences.

Your most recent single is called “You’re a Dreamer.” Can you say a little about that?

It’s about a person drifting away from you and others close to him/her doing their things with concern for others or themselves for that matter.

I find it interesting that you combine various elements in your music—particularly punk and prog, which used to be perceived as inimical to each other. How did you arrive at that combination?

I have a background as a bass player and founder of a progressive rock band, therhythmisodd, with whom I recorded a couple of albums.  In my younger days I was more into punk and metal.

Mikael also has a background from the punk scene, so I guess it influenced us a bit.

The band consists of you and Mikael Johansson. How do you work together as a team? What is your writing process?

I write the music and and lyrics, Mikael arranges the vocal performance and adjusts the lyrics.

And your recording process?

The music is recorded by me at my “home studio,” shipping it over to Mikael who records the vocal at his end of the woods.  The next step is to hand over the project to Burken (Peter Bjorklund) for the solo guitar.

Finally the programmed drums are replaced with acoustic drumming performed  by Fredrik Gunnarsson.  Usually I rerecord the bass part to make it sit tighter with the drums to make more groovy.

As I mentioned above, I find your band name to be incredibly evocative. What does it mean to you, and how does it reflect what you’re doing with your music?

Funny you’re asking! It has to do with my old recording studio I had for more than 20 years. The landlord needed to take down the building, so my “playground”  had to be abandoned!  🙂

You formed in 2018, so that’s well before the pandemic. How did you weather the early pandemic years as a band?  

Since this has been more of a project than a band (we are actually located in different areas in the country), it was a booster for the project since we had to spend more time at home, which was good for the creativity.

What’s the music scene like in Stockholm?

The music scene in Stockholm is a bit hard, at least for unsigned bands.  The pandemic lockdowns hit a lot of the clubs and bars, of course.

Is there any chance that you’ll play live anytime soon?

Yes, that is something that we feel is really needed. We are planning for it.

Anything else on the horizon?

A new song is coming this later this fall. The name is “it’s a smash hit.”  

Poison Pen Stuff: An Interview with Mike Mosley of Jr. Moz Collective

I started taking notice of songwriter Mike Mosley when I heard Brian Lambert cover his song “Cool Down.” Originally recorded by Mike’s band Junior Mozley, “Cool Down” has a strong 90s indie rock vibe reminiscent of Cracker and the Foo Fighters. Now recording as Jr. Moz Collective, Mike is moving ahead in a similar vein with a new song (available in two different mixes) called “I Won’t Be.” Quick disclaimer: Brian Lambert and I mixed the song, and I provided the art work for both mixes. That said, I’d be a fan of Mike Mosley whether I worked with him or not—and regardless of what his band is called.

To my ears, your music has a strong 90s vibe. Is there a sound you’re consciously going for, or it more like that’s just the kind of sound you naturally make?

Well I’m 46. Graduated high school in ‘93. So, talent shows etc… We played Alive and Teen Spirit and I got to live then. But back then, I was mostly into power pop. Jellyfish, Jason Falkner post-JF, but also the Afghan Whigs, Radiohead. Then I also got heavy into 70’s singer songwriters like James Taylor, J Denver, Jim Croce, Carole King etc. Worked at a cool indie record store, and the older employees exposed me to a ton. But also as a younger teen late ‘80s I got into heavy stuff: Metallica And Justice for All was big to me. Queensryche. All that stuff.

 In the 90s I didn’t write like songwriters in the 90s but wanted to. So, whatever you call my style, I think it’s finally what I always wanted it to be. Probably has a lot of 90s influence. I still love those 90s Lemonheads albums for instance. 

How long have you been making music? What has your musical journey looked like?

My Dad bartered me out of the line to sign up for football at 12 by promising to buy me a guitar. That worked. At some point trying to write songs rather than learning covers meant more to me. Had a 2 track tascam in ‘94 or so. My late friend Tim, who was older than me by 12 years or so, and I wrote the most Beatley songs we were capable of. Still have that stuff. He passed untimely in ‘15. I still think about him every single day. Every single day. 

I’m curious about the switch from Junior Mozley to Jr. Moz Collective. Is that something you’re okay talking about?

Staff changes basically. That’s happened a few times, but by tying my name to it, it’s mine. But I have the respect of former collaborators to change it slightly names so what we formerly did is ours (mine and former folks I worked with). The “collective” so far is Me, Paul Prater on drums, and you and Brian. Paul and I have known each other since our first band in 6th grade. Great guy. 

As a side note, I love the word “collective.” What’s behind your use of that word in the name of the band?

The “collective” so far is Me, Paul Prater on drums, and you and Brian. Paul and I have known each other since our first band in 6th grade. Great guy. But I’ve worked with a bunch of great musicians, engineers, producers for years. And I’m always open to working with anyone I’ve worked with before. I can’t think of anyone I wouldn’t work with really; but, like for instance some I can’t like Tim who passed away. Anyone else, they know how to find me. Finally though, the cost informs what I’m doing at a particular time. Right now, I’m trying to be a bit more conservative about my music costs for other reasons. 

We were chatting a while back, and you mentioned that you’ve known the drummer on “I Won’t Be” for quite a while. What’s it like to play music with someone you’ve known for so long?

Comforting. We live a street over so that’s easy. But truly is my brother as in our respective parents raised both of us. Paul.

Your lyrics—particularly in “I Won’t Be”—suggest persistence in the face of disappointment. What draws you to this theme?

I know how to write songs a certain way. And it’s all something that has occurred in life. And I of course change themes a bit so it’s not on the nose. But most of my writing is poison pen stuff really.

What informs your songwriting?

Adversity.

I had the good fortune of hearing your album “Pop Salad.” When did you record that one? Was it ever released? What’s the story there?

I had said ‘96. It was ‘98. Recorded at home as a thing for me apart from Tim and I. He probably helped engineer some of it and as I listen an old friend Mike Hollis probably played drums on 2 songs. Also a good fella. In ‘98 as I recall there was nowhere to release anything you made at home. Just gave it to friends. 

How does music fit into your life? In broad terms, why is it important to you?

It’s therapy. I am past the point where Tim and I were enjoying it as in let’s make the coolest chord progression we can and harmonize like crazy and be the Beatles. Tim and I played as a duo a couple times. We did Under the Milky Way, maybe some White Album stuff and our stuff. It was a lot of fun. Now, I don’t know. I gotta get feelings out. That’s how I do it.

Any plans for the future?

As long as I’m upright, I’ll write and record as long as I got issues to deal with. At 46, I wouldn’t have thought that would still be the case. It is though more than ever. So, the Collective is coming hard like a freight train. That’s the plan.

Always Something New: An Interview with Dan Johnson of Age of Infernal

Dan Johnson is a musician based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Performing as Age of Infernal, he has released an album of incredibly tight prog-influenced tracks titled Just for the Hell of It. As the project’s name may suggest, the album strikes an interesting balance between darkness and light. I recently had a chance to talk with Dan about this curious balance as well as the journey that took him away from — and eventually led back to — music.

Your lyrics are ostensibly about magic and madness, but I also get a sense that there’s some social commentary going on, especially with respect to technology and possibly social media. Am I on the right track?

Absolutely, you’re along the right track with regards to the lyrics. I had the intention not to make anything too explicit, or obvious, in regards to the meaning behind the words generally (although I’m sure most people would get the gist of what I’m talking about if they were to have a read through the lyrics!). I’ve always quite liked things to be as open to interpretation as possible. The first track on the album ‘Conjurers of Magick’ is possibly the most explicit in what the lyrics are getting at, and of course technology, and all of its unintended or unaccounted for side effects, is part of what that song is talking about, and also something that’s playing a big part in the world right now. Social media also comes into it! I suppose even more generally, that song is about oppression. 

There are many interesting and exciting things going on in the world, but in amongst it all, one can’t help but wonder sometimes if the incessant driving towards convenience isn’t actually making things worse, in many ways, for the planet and all of the species that live on it. 

Most of the other tracks are coming from more of an introspective place. So there’s all this stuff going on in the world, and it’s easy to look outwardly and blame all of your problems on other people, but what happens when we look at ourselves, and how we are acting, interacting, reacting to what’s happening in the outside (of our own heads) world?

Am I a model citizen, or father, or partner, or neighbour (etc)? Am I even a ‘good’ person? The answer to most of these things for me is NO, so that tells me that there’s a lot of work to be done on a personal level first and foremost!

That said, I feel like your songs fall comfortably in a tradition of what might be considered socially-conscious prog rock. I’m thinking about bands like Pink Floyd, Rush, Genesis, and maybe even King Crimson—bands that are interested in what’s going on behind the curtain, as it were. Do you feel an affinity with bands like these? What attracts you to them, both in terms of lyrics and music?

Yes! I love Pink Floyd, and King Crimson. Genesis too, although mostly there earlier stuff has been of interest to me. Rush I am not overly familiar with somehow, I’m not quite sure how that happened (or didn’t happen!). I think lyrically, in my view, Roger Waters is just so good! Whether or not you agree with him politically or not, there’s no denying the heartfelt and pure, honest truth (in regards to his own experience, that is) that he manages to put across through his words. Musically, Dave Gilmour was probably my first ‘favourite’ guitar player! I spent many an hour back in the day trying to imitate old Dave, haha! King Crimson I’d say is more of a musical inspiration too, Bob Fripp is such a unique guitarist and composer, its no wonder he’s played on records for just about everyone! And then the 80’s line up with Fripp, Adrian Belew, Tony Levin and Bill Bruford, is like another band altogether. I love tracks like ‘frame by frame’ from this period/lineup. 

There’s obviously something dark about your songs — the project is called Age of Infernal, after all! But there’s also some humor. How do you balance the two, and why do you think it’s important to do so?

I think one has to maintain some amount of humour in the face of life, and all it can throw at you! When humour, or the ability to laugh at oneself, or the hardships of life etc. is gone, you’re possibly getting into hellish territory! Of course it’s necessary to look at things in a serious context sometimes, and some things really aren’t funny, so there has to be some amount of balance between the two perspectives.   

What was the recording process like forJust for the Hell of It

The recording process was pretty tricky actually. Everything apart from bass and vocals was recorded on my little laptop, using Logic Pro. 

The guitars were tracked at home with an amp (Blackstar HT-5), and mic. It was a case of trying to be ready, so as when a window of opportunity appeared at home, I’d quickly get the stuff set up and record as many parts as I could in the time I had free. It was also a case of hoping that the neighbours wouldn’t come banging my door down and tell me to shut up, haha! 

With the bass, I’d recorded some tracks with my guitar and octave pedal, and then sent those to my friend John, and he’d interpret my parts and record them with a real bass.

The vocals were recorded with Guillaume, who done the mixing and mastering too. He had me down to his home studio and the vocals were all recorded over three days. That was a great experience for a couple of reasons; it was good for me to get out of my own comfort zone, and actually feel like I was almost a ‘professional’ for a few days, and; the gear that I was singing through I believe was about 8-10 grands worth! So that was possibly a one off, as I’m not sure if I’ll ever be singing through that standard of equipment again!

All in all, it was a process of learning. I’m over the moon that I was able to get it together, and come out of it with something I can be relatively happy with.

I was actually surprised to see in your Bandcamp notes that the drums on the album are programmed. How did you get them to sound so live? 

The drums… I had some help from my old drummer and friend Tam, and also the drummer function in Logic Pro! Anyone using logic will know what I’m talking about there. Basically I would use the drummer function to get things started off, and then when Tam was involved he’d get into the parts and make them more fitting to the riffs or whatever of each song/parts of songs. We ran out of time for Tam to finish off, so I done a bit of that myself too. But I think it’s really the logic drummer that enabled this whole thing to happen, without that I may have been struggling to get most of the songs together! I did actually play some real bongos and tambourine on the track ‘Disillusionment’ myself, those were also recorded in Guillaume’s home studio. 

I understand that you took a break from music for a while and then returned to it. Why did you take a break, and what led you to come back? How does it feel to be making music again?

It feels really amazing to be creative again, if a little frustrating with the time constraints! There are many reasons why I took a break from music, and it wasn’t necessarily by choice that I spent as long as I did (probably the best part of eight years or so!) without playing the guitar or writing. My band had basically fallen apart, and during the course of that my partner fell pregnant with our second son, so it became clear that I’d have to step up to the plate and get a real job again, so as to provide for my family. The band break led to some (musical) depression, and generally my involvement with, and enthusiasm for music eventually whittled down to nothing. I didn’t actually listen to much music during most of that time either, or not intentionally anyway. Of course I heard things on the radio, or if I was somewhere that music was playing etc, but I went from listening to music every day to barely listening to anything! 

I’m not exactly sure how or why the urge to play and write came back. I’d began to dabble in learning about writing fugues for piano (after rereading a book which had sparked some interest), and after a while I had developed a bit of a creative buzz within myself again. That led me to pick up my guitar and see if I could come up with anything that felt fresh and good to me, and basically that was the start of the process of writing what became the album. 

You liven Edinburgh. What’s the music scene like there? Any bands I should look for if I’m ever in town?

I have to be honest and say that I don’t get out much to see live music at this point, so I can’t really answer this question! I’m not sure there’s an Edinburgh music ’scene’, so to speak, but there may well be, and I just don’t know about it, haha! I’m currently looking for a drummer with the view to getting a band together and playing live again, so maybe I’ll be more enlightened in that respect soon enough (if I manage to get a band together, that is!)

I know it can be tough being an indie musician. What keeps you going?  

I guess what keeps any musician, or indeed creative people generally going, is the potential that there’s always something new to be created.

There’s something really cool about how many amazingly good bands/artists/creative people you can find nowadays (perhaps that’s one of the the upsides to social media!). In the past, a lot of guys will have had practically no means to get there creations ‘out there’, whereas now one only needs a laptop with an audio interface, and boom, you have a basic studio at your fingertips! On the other end of it, it can be a bit difficult to self promote, certainly I’ve felt that myself recently while trying to do a bit of online promo! You don’t want to annoy people, but also you don’t want your album/ep/single (which you’ve likely spent a lot of time and energy, and perhaps even money, on) to disappear into relative nothingness! It can feel like a precarious rope to tread. I’ve been trying to maintain the point of view of; if ANYBODY is listening, or has listened, than that’s a win! Any feedback received from fellow musicians and creative people is also helpful, and I’ve found a really good group of folks on twitter who are all in the same or similar boats, so that’s been good finding like-minded people that are happy to engage and give each other little bits of feedback etc…

To put it another way, why does indie music matter? 

It matters because; anything that someone has poured their heart and soul, time and effort into, is worthwhile. Just because you’re perhaps not going to hit number one in the charts, doesn’t mean that what you’re creating is worthless. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s worth MORE, haha! It’s the creative endeavour, and process, that for me is the important part of it. I think that’s something I’ll always try to keep in mind.

What’s on the horizon for you?

Currently I’m working on a collaboration for a track with an artist I met on twitter, We Have Divine Fire. I’m looking forward to getting that done. Then I will be working on some new material for the next Age of Infernal project (which right now I have no idea what it’ll be!). Also there’s another couple of collabs in the pipeline for later in the year. I have some acoustic songs, old and new, which I’d like to get together as an album or an ep at some point too, although that may not be done/released under the Age of Infernal name… 

Plenty to be getting cracked on with when time and brain allows it! 

Interview by Marc Schuster