Life in Eskilstuna: An Interview With David Wenngren of Library Tapes
Based in Sweden, but internationally respected, Library Tapes is an experimental/ambient/neo-classical project formed in 2004 by musicians David Wenngren and Per Jardsell. Though Jardsell left the project in 2006, Wenngren has continued to tour, compose, and release albums under the Library Tapes name. His work has received high-rated reviews from Pitchfork and other respectable music resources, and he continues to move forward into new realms of experimentation, ambience, and nostalgia.
A few months ago, our friend, cover artist, and sometimes-designer, Jacob van Loon, made a video of his process for a painting titled ‘Madison & Kohlhase.’
Perhaps inspired by whim, or something less perceptible, Jacob chose a song by Library Tapes to accompany his composition. Based on the relative success of the video, and Jacob’s friendly interaction with David Wenngren (the man behind Library Tapes), I decided to use the opportunity to get in touch with Wenngren to talk about Library Tapes, the auspices of post-rock, and life in Sweden.
(It’s best to listen to some songs by Library Tapes while you read through the conversation.)
Benjamin van Loon: Who are you, where do you live, and what do you do?
Library Tapes: I’m a musician that lives in the middle of Sweden in a city called Eskilstuna. My main project is Library Tapes, but I also have a few other projects on the side. For Library Tapes, I use the piano and often have people adding various instruments, mostly strings. I guess you could call what I do “experimental neo-classical music.”
BVL: What made you decide on experimental neo-classical as a musical medium?
LT: It wasn’t really a decision, it just happened. Library Tapes started out as a duo. The first album was mainly influenced by early A Silver MT. Zion albums and other post-rock. The fact that we were just two people left us with lots of limitations which, to be honest, was probably was a good thing. Our setting was just piano and guitars. If we could have sounded like any of the bands that we were influenced by, I think we would have ended up with an album without any identity.
Per [Jardsell] left Library Tapes during the second album as he started studies in another city. Since I only know how to play the piano, I made an album of solo piano after that, but for my fourth album I wanted to try something different. I made a few piano pieces that I sent to Peter Broderick and Danny Norbury. They added more instruments to those songs which then resulted in the album A Summer Beneath The Trees.
Since then I’ve released one more album as Library Tapes and many other albums with different projects. I’m currently completing the sixth Library Tapes album which will hopefully be released later this year.
BVL: I know this is a big point of contention among music writers and afficionados, but what are your thoughts on post rock per se? Is it a movement? I know that GSY!BE and Silver Mt. Zion were earlier representatives of the genre – what are your thoughts on its present form?
LT: I still love those early albums by Mogwai, Godspeed and Silver MT. Zion, etc., but I pretty much lost interest in post-rock a few years ago. To me, it’s all started to sound the same. Once there’s a new genre and there’s a few bands starting to get lots of attention like Mogwai and Explosions In The Sky have had there will alway be a lot of bands that wants to sound exactly like them. There’s nothing wrong with being influenced by something of course but it’s important to take influences from a lot of different places to create something new and exciting.
BVL: What exactly is post-rock?
LT: I believe the definition is a setting of instruments used in a rock band, but played differently. However many bands that’s using a different setting than guitar, bass and drums have been called post-rock as well. Some people even Library Tapes ‘post-rock’ in the beginning. I suppose that had something to do with the structure of our songs. We used slow build ups with epic climaxes for some of the tracks on our first album, and I guess that’s what most people think of when they think of post-rock.
BVL: Discussions of the genre aside, do you think we’re living in a ‘post-rock’ age? In other words, is rock dead?
LT: No, I don’t think so. People listen more to songs rather than albums these days and pop and rock have always been about writing good songs. Post-rock and similar genres might demand bit more patience from the listeners, and of course, with the Internet, it’s really easy to get access to lots of new music. I think this has resulted in a lot more people finding much more music than they did before, but nobody is really listening to it the same way. There’s so many great albums out there that require repeated listens before you really get into them. I suppose it’s easier to just download a new album rather than spending time on something that’s not giving you what you want, right there and then. It’s all a bit sad, really. Many artists who are trying to make an album that will be interesting – even after many years; they end up being overlooked.
BVL: Tell me about the name, ‘Library Tapes.’ Is there a story behind it?
LT: There is. It’s not an amazing story though. We had a name we weren’t really happy with and after playing a show at the library we were talking about Bob Dylan’s basement tapes. So Library Tapes came out of that conversation. Almost eight years later I’m still happy with the name, so it was pretty good decision.
BVL: The music of Library Tapes has a definite feel. How might you describe this feeling, and is there a particular emotion you are channeling or trying to arouse when you’re making this music?
LT: The first two albums focused a lot on melancholia and nostalgia. I think there is a bit more light in some of the songs on the later recordings. There’s also been a lot of use of lo-fi field recordings to evoke that dusty old feeling you mention. The next Library Tapes album might be the first one I do without any field recordings at all.
BVL: What do you use to collect your field recordings? What are some places you’ve visited to collect those sounds?
LT: I’ve recorded to mini disc and dictaphones but I’ll use anything, really. I will record anywhere there are sounds. Most of the time, I process the sounds as well, so there’s rarely any trace of the original source in the final mix.
BVL: What are some of the bands and musicians you’ve been into lately?
LT: Lately, I’ve been making a lot of music myself and I tend not to listen to too much music during that time. In the last few weeks, I’ve been catching up on a few albums from last year though and I really like Julianna Barwick’s album, The Magic Place. She’s got an amazing voice that she loops and mixes with various instruments, though I’d say her music is mainly about her voice.
BVL: Tell me a little bit about life in Sweden.
LT: I live in a city called Eskilstuna. There are about 100,000 people living here. It’s a pretty normal size for a Swedish city. There wasn’t much happening here when I moved here but I’m trying to change that. We recently started organizing shows and there’s plans about starting up a film club, as well. If you want to do things like this, it’s pretty good to live in Sweden because there is often funding available. I’m really excited about this and I hope we’ll be able to do a few shows every month this year.
Besides that, I mainly spend my time making music and touring. I’m also working on my first novel, which is pretty much finished now. I just need to do some more editing on it.
BVL: What is your novel about?
LT: It’s a bit hard to explain, but it contains three different stories. One is a diary of me writing the book and how my girlfriend reacts to it. I wrote it in six days and I mainly just sat writing all day for all six of those days. My girlfriend didn’t know what I was doing and got more and more curious about it. Then, the main story is about a musician who wants to be a writer, and the third story is the actual book he’s working on. I hope that makes sense.
BVL: So what should we be looking for form you in the future?
LT: Most likely I’ll have a new Library Tapes album out this year. Probably some releases with other projects as well and hopefully a lot of touring supporting all the new albums.
[Wenngren is currently crowdsourcing some of the pieces for the next Library Tapes album. Check out the event here and see how you can become a part of the process.]
That’s a great video- visually, acoustically.