The Amazing: The Underwhelming Virtues of Success
They have toured the world, played on David Letterman and been hailed by critics and fans – but they’re not impressed.
The Amazing released their new album, Picture You, last week, which has already earned the Swedish band high acclaim, both at home and internationally.
Of their title track and lead single, Pitchfork wrote, “‘Picture You’ shows the Amazing retaining their intimate allure even as their sound gets blown up to big-screen proportions—and grants this modest band the opportunity to embrace their haughty name as truth in advertising.”
The deeper irony, however, is how unassuming a band the Amazing actually is – something that becomes all too clear when talking to the frontman and songwriter Christopher Gunrup.
Even if he thinks it’s great that so many people appreciate the music, Gunrup notes that reviews doesn’t mean anything to him.
“To be honest, I don’t care about reviews,” he says. “I don’t make music for the sake of others. And most reviews are full of nonsense – there’s a lot of namedropping going on, with references to bands I’ve never heard of.
“Actually, it’s more fun with criticism. I’d rather have a bad review than an average one – then they at least think something for real. For the last album we got a bad review from the Swedish newspaper Metro, and that was very entertaining. Alexis in the band immediately put it on his fridge.”
Together with fellow members Reine Fiske, Fredrik Swahn, Moussa Fadera and Alexis Benson, Gunrup has led the band for six years.
They’ve released two previous full-length albums - The Amazing (2009) and Gentle Stream (2011). The music, often described as psychedelic rock or prog-rock, dreamily expands into panoramic soundscapes, with songs that rarely last fewer than five minutes. But Gunrup is neither pleased with genre designations.
Speaking of a label presentation about the band, Gunrup comments on the claim that the band would play psychedelic music and says, “I hate the word. I have no relationship to psychedelic music or prog-rock.”
“That came out a bit wrong,” he corrects. “What I mean is that I don’t understand that kind of music. I’ve never listened to prog-rock or psychedelic rock. I also think that many people use these terms to make it easier for themselves to explain the music. And then it’s partly Reines fault too. Now that he has played in [Swedish psyche-rockers] Dungen, he has that music in him, and when he plays it sounds a bit more like prog. That makes it easier for others to attribute this to the whole band.
For recording Picture You, the band got a bigger budget than before, which also led to their decision to record in the famous Atlantis Studios in Stockholm. They spent three intense days in the studio finishing all the basics of the songs.
“At first, I felt a little nervous of recording at Atlantis, but it disappeared as soon as we got there,” he says.
“This was the first time we had rehearsed a little bit before the recording, and that made the process more focused than previous times. But we never really know how the songs are gonna end up before we record. I come in with ready-made ideas and then we just play. If it feels good, we go on and then those songs become a little bit longer. If it doesn’t feel good we just stop.”
While they were working on the album, filmmaker Kristian Bengtsson also shot a mini-documentary about the band, where we follow the band during the recording sessions. But Christopher Gunrup hasn’t seen the film himself yet.
“It’s probably really nice,” he says, “but I assume that we sound like idiots. I don’t have the courage to watch it.”
In the documentary, we also get access to Gunrup’s own thoughts on the emotions contained in their music. Here he often returns to the term “floating” and believes that his music should feel a bit like ”transportation” – like “flying.”
He says, “That was the only thing I could rephrase concerning the emotion I wanted to capture on this album. Early in the process we gave the songs working titles like ‘The Car Song’ and ‘The Bicycle Song’. I wanted to find a feeling of fluidity.”
Speaking of his own inspirations, Gunrup mentions bands like The Cure, My Bloody Valentine, Bob Dylan and Neil Young, but still feels that these musicians haven’t influenced music in any direct way.
Explaining that the music just comes to him, he says, ”I’m pretty good at knowing what I want, and how to convey this to the others. That’s pretty weird I guess, but I always have a pretty good idea of how I want my music to sound.”
Gunrup and the band probably qualify as one of the more productive musicians around – to make three albums in five years is a tall order for most acts. And there doesn’t seem to be an end to his creativity either – most of the next album is already finished.
“Writing music is pretty easy. The hard part is if you feel that you repeat yourself,” he says.
“Therefore, I always try to work with a specific detail on every new album. On this album, for example, I wanted to have two pedals connected to the organ – one with echo chorus and one wah-wah pedal. It creates this sweeping feeling that you can hear on the song ‘Picture You.’ It’s so ridiculous that there are no limits to it! I guess no one else really cares, but for me it was important.”
The Amazing have already earned great success internationally – far more than at home, in fact.
Two years ago they performed on David Letterman, which can be seen as a major achievement for a Swedish rock band. Gunrup says he doesn’t feel any disappointment about the fact that the band has received more attention abroad than in Sweden. He says that he’s completely uninterested in Swedish music, and that the American music industry is more varied and more open to different musical styles.
“In Sweden, everything is so politically correct,” he says. “Everyone knows everyone and at the same time most artists worry a lot about what will happen to them – whether they will succeed or not. It’s fun to get the attention abroad, which also means that we can go there and play. Even if I don’t really want to.”
And though he enjoys the travel, performance is not something that attracts the cantankerous frontman.
He believes that every gig is just an “unsuccessful attempt to recreate the feeling from the recording,” and that this is something that affects the music in a negative way. He also claims that he´s not comfortable in the role as an artist, and can’t see the point in people ”just standing there and staring at me.”
“The best solution,” he says, “would be if we could set up some beds with attached headphones, so that people could lie down and listen to the album instead. That would be a much better experience for everyone. Another thing would be to live stream the process of mixing the album. That could also work.”
Gunrup does admit that live shows are the only way for him to make a living out of music, so it’s something that he has to deal with. ”The others in the band think it’s funny,” he says.
Despite this, most of the band members, including himself, still have day jobs at the moment.
“It is what it is,” he says. “We’ll just keep making music, and see what happens.”
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