Stefan, it’s been three years since your last album “Challenges”. The world has changed since then. How have you experienced the last few years?
“Challenges” was released just at the onset of the pandemic and thus, physical distribution was halted practically overnight. Like everyone else, we had no idea when things would go back to normal but we kept writing during 2020 and 2021 albeit at a slower speed. Since virtually all my gig bookings fell through, I started teaching piano and doing session work online which is something I keep up to this day.
Your new album “High And Dry” is again a flawless West Coast AOR album, which would also have cut a good figure in 1981. Did you have a specific concept in mind for the album or did it come about naturally after collecting a number of songs?
Thank you very much! The writing for “High and Dry” spans over a bit more than two years which is similar to what happened on “Challenges”. In both cases, we tried to find a unified concept somewhere midway through the projects.
How long did you work on the album and where was it recorded?
Everything on “High and Dry” was done remotely. Writing, arranging, recording, mixing and mastering. All musicians did their own parts in their own respective bedroom studios. It’s a very convenient way of working even if I miss being in the same room as the other musicians. One could wish for a way to record together in real time over the internet. But we’ll probably have to wait for that piece of technology.
Which guest musicians did you invite to the recordings?
Peter Olofsson played drums on some of the tunes, Christian Thomsen sang backing vocals on one tune, Göran Turborn, Fredrik Lundgren, Johan Viksten and Sven Larsson all provided lead guitar on various tunes. These are some of our favorite musicians and they all did a fantastic job as usual!
Stefan, how much did the COVID pandemic influence the recording process?
We were already used to remote recording from “Challenges” so it wasn’t a big deal. The only problem we needed to solve was how to record drums because we were doing that in a rehearsal space and at the beginning of the pandemic it just wasn’t possible. “If We Could Be Together” was the first song with 100% programmed drums. Since then we’ve developed a way to play virtual drums realistically. Most of the other tracks on “High and Dry” are made that way.
What were your sources of inspiration while writting the new songs?
Anything can be an inspiration. It’s often another tune, a line from a book or movie, or something that someone said. Even something from the news can become a subject for a tune. It’s not so much about reflecting some idea, it’s more about the words themselves and what they could mean in another context. A case in point is “Tears of Isolation” which can be thought of as being about a lockdown but is really just a feeling of isolation in a relationship.
“High And Dry” has become a diverse album. Slick AOR rockers alternate with smooth ballads. Hand on heart, do you have a favorite song on the album?
“Hold On” came out the best in my opinion.
Stefan, where does your love for West Coast music come from? What excites you about this music that had its peak 40 years ago?
My parents were big fans at the time so I got to hear a lot of albums in the genre. I’m not excited by the genre as a whole, rather about individual albums and tracks.
Which artists have particularly influenced you?
Talking purely West Coast, anything produced by David Foster, Jay Graydon and a handful more. Especially the “crossover” albums, i.e. when Foster produced The Tubes and Chicago or Jay Graydon produced Al Jarreau and Marc Jordan. Musical meetings are interesting. Steely Dan, Toto and The Doobie Brothers are other obvious influences on State Cows.
As for outside music, I’m a big fan of everything from The Beatles to progressive rock like Yes and ELP to jazz like Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly to classical music like Ravel and Hindemith. If you like it you like it, no matter what genre.
Your love of Steely Dan directly contributed to the formation of State Cows. Are Steely Dan still an important influence for your music?
Yes, they are and will always be a huge inspiration. Steely Dan is one of those truly unique bands with a sound completely of their own. Also being a duo might have set the blueprint for how we work now.
What characterises a perfect West Coast song for you?
Sophisticated harmonies, high level performances, clear arrangements, great solos. Jeff Porcaro on the drums.
Your music is characterised by sophisticated arrangements, the right feeling for refined melodies and musicality. Would you describe yourselves as perfectionists?
Not really. We spend time making sure that the music and lyrics feel solid. If the structure of a song doesn’t hold up, we work until it’s finished. We also make sure that the arrangement and feel are great. But we don’t sweat performances or mixes for hours and hours. Perfect only exists in the ideal world. The only thing that counts for me is if people can get some kind of excitement out of the music.
Stefan, let’s talk about your beginnings: How did Daniel and you meet?
We met at the Piteå School of Music back in 2001 when we were classmates.
As exchange students in Los Angeles you met many legends of West Coast AOR like David Foster, Jay Graydon and Jay Gruska. Did that encourage you to form a West Coast group yourself?
Yes, all of them were instrumental in helping us make the decision to put State Cows together. David Foster took time out from a mixing session just to show us around the premises, Jay Graydon invited me for dinner on my birthday and Jay Gruska (thanks to Ian Eales, who guided us around L.A. most of the time) showed us his studio and wrote some dedicated messages to us on a couple of CDs. In general, everyone was very friendly and helpful. It felt like a great music community and I think ultimately that was the defining moment that made us think we should be in this somehow.
The State Cows have now been around for over ten years. How would you describe your development from your self-titled debut to your fourth album “High And Dry”?
It’s very hard to say while being in the thick of it. Probably, fans will have a better grasp of how our sound has changed over time. I hope we’ve gotten better!
Sweden has been known for its vibrant music scene for decades. Is there also a distinct West Coast AOR scene?
Not that I’m aware of but there’s a large number of very dedicated Swedish West Coast fans!
In recent years, more and more groups have appeared that have dedicated themselves to the smooth Californian sound, such as Young Gun Silver Fox from England and Dawn Patrol from the Netherlands. Do you feel part of a European West Coast music scene?
I wish I could say, haha. It’s great that new bands like Young Gun Silver Fox and others can reach a wider audience. This will help acclimatize people to a smoother sound. It would be great if harmony made a comeback in modern music. There’s so much powerful emotion in harmony.
What’s next, Stefan? Will there be a tour for the new album and can we maybe see you on German stages soon?
There’s no tour planned for the album. Big tours have become all but impossible post-Covid. I will be doing a mini tour on the island of Crete mid July with jazz violinist Maria Manousaki and there’s a bunch of gigs being booked which is a great relief from the last couple of years.
Stefan, thank you very much for the interview!
Thank you very much for this, Thomas!