Sleeping/Dreaming/Dying – Interview with Per Nibell from Simply Dead

Simply Dead (sometimes written with “‘s”) is a Swedish electronic project which has released only one album over 20 years ago. And out of the blue “Structure Of Minds” has become one of the most important pieces of music in my life. But except for a few basic informations I knew nothing about Simply Dead, especially that after releasing the CD and one composition for Fluttering Dragon compilation, the project has vanished into thin air. Yet several weeks ago I’ve accidentally found on Youtube their live performance from 2020. What an amazing surprise! I thought it might be a good opportunity to ask them some questions, the subjects that has intrigued me for years. So I think this is the first time I interviewed an artist, first and foremost for myself, to satisfy my own curiosity, but I hope you’ll find something interesting here as well and maybe it would be a nice opportunity to introduce this music to some of you. Ladies and gentlemen, here’s Per Nibell from Simply Dead.

Hi there, how are you doing in these hard times and how’s the current pandemic situation in Sweden?

Well, even if it sucks not to be able to hang out with friends or go to events in the same way as before, I still think that the situation in Sweden is quite ok, because we have not had the same kind of lockdown of our civil society as many other countries around in the world. It will be interesting to see if the vaccine works against the virus and what life will look like after the pandemic has passed.

Let’s talk about Simply Dead’s, specifically the name. What was its origin? Is it a “camouflaged” Mick Hucknall tribute? 🙂

I actually do not really remember exactly how the name Simply Dead came up, but I think it may have been something like that. When I started on my own around 1991, the music I did was very monotonic electronic body music, influenced by bands like Ministry, Die Krupps, Nitzer Ebb and Front 242, so I wanted a suitable band name. And Simply Red was pretty big at the time. The “-s” at the end was something that Xak on Fluttering Dragon added to the record release. We have considered changing the name many times over the years but have not come up with a better name.

How long have you known each other before and how did you guys teamed up for this project?

Janne and I got to know each other in High School through mutual friends shortly after I started Simply Dead and it did not take long before he became involved in the project. Even though we had different musical starting points when we met, we complemented each other, and the personal chemistry was right.

Per, on Discogs there’s an evidence of your “ancient past” musical activity called Bell’s Bottom. Could you shed some light on this band? Was it just a juvenile project of a few school friends or did you have the aspirations to achieve something more in the musical business?

Well, I have played with around 20-25 bands in different musical styles since I was 13, so that band was just me and some friends in my hometown Linköping trying to make some hard rock. I think I was 16 or 17 when playing with them, and I played electric bass, and we were really, really bad ;). We did a couple of gigs, recorded a demo with four songs on and then we dissolved the band after two years.

Bell’s Bottom is labeled as “hard rock”, while Simply Dead’s is an electronic music – there’s a long way from guitars to sequencers, so I’d like to ask you about your beginnings of electronic music fascination.

Well, in the beginning there were quite a lot of electric guitars when creating music with Simply Dead, and I still write a lot of my songs on guitar, but during the years my musical taste has changed, and it have affected the way my music sounds. One big influence was stumbling into ”Selected Ambient Works 2” by Aphex Twin in 1993, an album that really made me rethink how music can sound. ”76:14” by Global Communication, ”Lifeforms” by The Future Sounds of London and ”Substrata” by Biosphere is also three important records from that period that I still listen to quite often.

So your first and only full album, “Structure Of Minds” has been released by Fluttering Dragon in 2000. The thing that always intrigued me was the cover, I mean what the hell is on that picture (my guess is it’s a cut fragment of caligraphed Japanese letter, but I wouldn’t bet on it)

Well, you are almost right: It’s Tibetan, and it’s a handwritten fragment written by a Buddhist monk from Tibet that I met in Sweden during the creation of our album, around 1997. He wrote me the symbols for ”Sleeping”, ”Dreaming” and ”Dying”. Once upon a time this was the working title for the album, but for some reason (that I really can´t remember) we decided to go for the ”Structure of minds” instead. But we thought the symbol was nice, so Janne used it when he designed the sleeve. Nice to hear that you have been really confused about this for all these years!

Fluttering Dragon had a brief (well, ok, it was about 4-5 years so maybe not that brief) moment of glory in the postindustrial microworld in the end of XXth/beginning of the XXIth century. They’ve signed a bunch of CMI refugees as well as a few really good yet then unknown projects (like Northaunt). How did you get in touch with them? Were you satisfied from that cooperation? And above all, did you feel you fit in their roster? I mean I’ve never considered your music as “dark” or “ritual”, or whatever. Dreamy, melancholic, yes, absolutely. But also warm and soothing which stands in opposition to the other FD artists. Did it have any matter to you?

As I remember it, Xak from Fluttering Dragon wrote me a letter after our first demo was reviewed in Side Line Magazine and asked us if we were interested to release a CD on Fluttering Dragon. I guess the fact that Jan had been a live singer with In Slaughter Natives was a factor in this. We actually had no clue what Fluttering Dragon was all about, but he seemed to be a really passionate and nice guy. Some of the material was already recorded so we went into the studio and wrote songs and a year later the CD was released. Simply Deads music was quite different to the other artist released on the label so I remember that many of the album reviews focused more on the absence of dark and ritual music than what actual is on the album. But we have never cared that much about reviews anyway.

As far as I remember, in the flyers and catalogues Simply Dead’s was advertised as: “a project by In Slaughter Natives singer”. Personally I don’t think it was a fair description, but again: did this description have any importance to you or were you just happy that you managed to release the album above all?

I think that was a misconception that formed. When we released the album, it felt relevant to mention that Janne had sung with In Slaugher Natives and released a CD with his industrial project Nymph Faithest, but in retrospect I think it may have led to completely different expectations of the audience. I’m not entirely sure all ISN´s fans appreciate what Simply Dead does…

I remember the statement in the booklet: “Adapting to a world of science where trivial procedures control the mind we believe the individual’s ability of perception has declined. With blinkers put on limiting the view the joys of life are becoming harder to achieve and experience is bound to routine. We believe that the recorded material only is the very core of the musical experience. The total impression comes with time and space and then evolves into a living organism.”. Could you elaborate on that? Was it an expression of disappointment in the power of human mind at the turn of the century?

In a way nothing has changed, the same is still true. It’s the way that life, moods, norms and rules of culture hinder your own ability to experience, judge and learn from a blank slate. We’re all biased in some ways. And context, where and how you experience, will always affect the level of immersion. In the end it will always be subjective to each listener.

What was your own state (“structure”) of mind back then, while recording the album?

Confusion and despair! It was a period in my life when most things were marked by a great deal of uncertainty regarding family, work and friends. But the music was a safe place where it was possible to find peace of mind.

A couple of years ago I started to do my own music, on a rather amateur-ish level, so there’s nothing really to talk about, but one thing I’ve learned is that asking the artists about their inspiration while making music is rather pointless, because no musician thinks about other artist while creating the sounds and if they’re any inspirations, they’re one hundred percent subconscious. So I’ll rephrase the question: do you rememebr the artists/albums you’ve listened the most while composing “Structure Of Minds”?

You may not hear it but when I started writing songs, I listened quite a bit to bands like Portishead, Massive Attack and Everything But The Girl. Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, The Orb, Underworld and Depeche Mode were also played a lot in my stereo during these days. And while Janne was more into the industrial and dark ambient scene, we both appreciated music with more progressively dreamy/meditative elements.

I’m not sure exactly, but I stumbled upon the info that the female vocal samples in “Blind” are by Bjork, so I just wanted to confirm: was it Bjork?

Part of the song is based on a short sample of her, but when it came time to release the album, we asked a Japanese singer (Shoko Nishigaki) who Janne worked on in a completely different project, to record the same phrases. In general,” Blind” is a pretty good example of how I use contrasts in music, something I almost always return to in Simply Dead. I like when harsh sounds are mixed with soft, and in “Blind” the speech synthesis in the verses is mixed with the sweet female voice in the choruses.

Why didn’t “Wormwood” find its place on “Structure Of Minds”? it is goddamn amazing and I have a strange feeling that this track was composed in – more or less – the same time as the ones for “Structure Of Minds”?

Thanks! “Wormwood” is one of my favorite songs and it was made shortly after “Structure of minds” was released. I wrote it pretty quickly after Fluttering Dragon announced that they wanted to have us on the compilation album “Temple Of KiloWatts”.

“The Triumph Of The Will” is possibly my favourite track of the album. It is like a fragment of American history floating in space through lost radio communications. But… gen. MacArthur, dr King, JFK… and this title which brings obvious, somehow different connotations. What’s the story behind this composition?

“The Triumph Of The Will” was my very first attempt to write some ”serious” electronic music and that song became the starting point for the whole album. I wrote it in early 1996 and after the music was in place, I just dragged a lot of samples from various sources into the song to see what happened. I remember that the song was vaguely inspired by the album ”Chill Out” by The KLF and we have used a lot of spoken samples since then. The title was something else then, and it was Jans idea to give it a more sinister name, in contrast to its musical content with is very soft and nice.

If I’m not mistaken, in other compositions we can find a lot of samples from the old sci-fi movies? Do you like these flicks? Do you have any favourites in that genre?

There are so many great films in this genre so it’s very hard to pick some favorites, but I just love the overall atmosphere in these films and how they reflect the Cold War paranoia. When we made the album, we used Jan´s eight-track machine and used two tracks for the music and six tracks filled with sounds from different sci-fi- movies from the 60´s. Then we mixed them live until we were happy with the result. There were a lot of happy accidents that happened during the making of the album, for example there is a sound from jazz trumpet that fits perfectly towards the end of ”Threads of Destiny”. If you listen closely you will find that some of the film samples turns up several times on the album. We still work like this both in the studio and live.

The Internet was still in its infancy back when the album was released. Did you have any info about the reception of the album worldwide?

We received mixed reviews and feedback from different parts of the world, mostly Europe. Some reviewers thought we were promising, while others did not understand at all and thought we were complete rubbish. I still have a pile of letters from various fanzines and radio stations at home and I know that our first demo was played on radio stations in Belgium, France and Sweden. There were also some emails from various shady types who wanted to cooperate with them, including a bunch of Romanian right-wing idiots who thought we shared their view of the world…

After that you went on hiatus for almost two decades. What was the reason for that decision?

We have never shut down Simply Dead, but for various reasons we became less productive for quite a few years. It was probably not until around 2013 that the inspiration to make new music with Simply Dead came back and since we had no expectations or deadlines, we allowed ourselves to take our time.

Were you active musically during that 20 years?

Absolutely! Janne started a fairly successful punk band that he sang with and I played for a couple of years with a metal band. For me, there have also been some recording jobs and remixes by other artists.

And now it seems Simply Dead’s is alive again. Do you treat this, let’s say “reunion” seriously or is it just another reason (I didn’t want to say “excuse” 🙂 ) to hang out more and treat it as a opportunity to make new sounds, without any commitments?

We have never felt that we have had anyone more than ourselves to take into account when we do things with Simply Dead, but it can be good to have a reason to get started. In the autumn of 2016, Janne organized a festival in our hometown Linköping and then we took the opportunity to play a shorter set to test if it was still fun. Since then, we have played live a couple of times.

One of the symptoms that Simply Dead’s is alive was a live performance from Hörsalen, Norrköping, which can be found on Youtube. Was it a one-time performance or you’d like to play live more (of course when the current situation will – hopefully – be normal again)?

No, we have played live a couple of times in the recent years and the difference this time was that there was no audience on site. On the other hand, we usually are very concentrated on the music we make, so we are definitely not the world’s best band at interacting with the audience. The difference was that I had rearranged the songs so that they flow together into a single composition. Some of the old material had also had some new sounds added, especially more rhythm instruments.

Those new tracks, I have to admit they’re really awesome, but are they indeed “new” or are these sounds from the old times, but didn’t make it for the album?

No, we did not have much material left after the recording of “Structure of Minds”, so half of the songs we played in Norrköping are new songs.

This question is cliche, but – especially in your case – unavoidable: any plans for a new album? I can’t say how happy I would be…:)

Since the gig in Norrköping was quite good, our plan is to release the recording from Hörsalen as a live record. Hopefully it will be able to listen to in a couple of weeks, on February 14th , if everything goes according to our plan. More material will be released by Simply Dead further on, but when this will happen, I just can’t say.

What do you do for a living, guys?

After previously working with different jobs, we actually work at the same workplace since last year. We are both communication officers at Linköping University.

Do you still follow what’s going on in the ambient/postindustrial scene? What’s your favourite music from the last year or two?

I actually do not have a clue of what is happening in ambient or postindustrial music today. I try to listen to things in other musical genres to keep my mind clean.

“Structure Of Minds” is from 2000. You’re 20 years older now – how do you see the album today? You’re still satisfied from the final effect? Would you change something if you’d have such an opportunity?

Well, it is a rather uneven record that has a strange ability to sound different depending on what mood I am in at the moment. I find it interesting that some of the songs that are almost 25 years old still sounds quite good today.

Ok, that would be everything. Thank you for this interview, it’s been an honour to me. Last words are yours.

Thank you, it has been really fun to answer all those questions from someone who actually took the time and effort to listen and think about our music. I myself have also really had to think through what actually happened at that time.

4 responses to “Sleeping/Dreaming/Dying – Interview with Per Nibell from Simply Dead

  1. Pingback: Simply Dead – Alive | Santa Sangre·

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