Dungen with Mia Doi Tod at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Tuesday (October 11). $13.50. 416-532-1598. Rating: NNNNN
Even before the recent North American release of Dungen's brilliant third album, Ta Det Lugnt (Kemado), the buzz on Gustav Ejstes's Swedish folk-psych project was reaching critical mass.
Music journalists on both sides of the Atlantic struggled to describe what appeared to be a new Scandinavian folk-rock hybrid that sounded no more like anything by the Hives than it did ABBA. How strange.
Meanwhile, know-it-all clerks in hipster record shops were split on how to correct their customer's pronunciation of the group's name. Some insisted it should sound like a holding cell in a medieval castle, while others maintained it's more like cow feces. (Actually, Ejstes says it's "doo-yen.")
Even the album's title was an intriguing mystery that some took it upon themselves to solve. Yet the direct translation to "grab the calm" just inspired more questions than it answered. What could it mean?
"Grab the calm?" roars Ejstes from a stop in Portland, like he's just heard the punchline to the funniest joke ever written. "It sounds like what you do after the storm! I haven't heard that, but it's very good. If you do a direct translation of Ta Det Lugnt, I guess that's what you'd get, but it's really just Swedish for 'take it easy.'
"But I'm happy to say that people over here seem to be very accepting of my decision to sing in Swedish. It's my language and the way I express myself best. I can't even imagine how my songs would sound translated - they'd probably lose all their meaning."
As for Dungen's entrancing mix of traditional Swedish folkloric elements and heavily amped pounding, well, that goes back to the late 60s. At the time, Sweden experienced a hippie folk movement, which can be heard on the recordings of Älgamas Trädgård, International Harvester and Träd Gräs och Stenar.
"Yes, there are some great Swedish groups from that period, and many interesting things being done," admits Ejstes, adding, "but that's only part of my long musical journey. During the making of Ta Det Lugnt, I was listening to a lot of New York hiphop and also the Aphex Twin's Selected Ambient Works, Vol. 2."
The folk aspect comes naturally to Ejstes, whose father is celebrated folk fiddler Lars-Olof Ejstes. In fact, at the time of recording Ta Det Lugnt, the young Ejstes was working on his fiddling technique with Jonny Soling at the respected Malung Folk School - and thinking seriously about hanging up his rock and roll shoes for good.
"We released our second album on a major label in Sweden, and there was a lot of hype that followed," he explains. "I had some issues with the people around me and some er... personal issues as well that I'd rather not discuss. I didn't want to be a pop star, and at the time, I didn't even know what kind of music I wanted to make any more. So I decided I would take a break and concentrate on folk music exclusively.
"For two years I stayed in school, developing my violin skills. I really didn't think I would ever return to rock music again. I actually started making Ta Det Lugnt just for myself, beginning with the beats and then adding the different instruments myself as I went. It was partly out of my frustration with what had happened before, but as I continued there was a feeling of joy as well."
Ta Det Lugnt may have begun as a personal project, but Ejstes says he's happy to hear that each person he talks to comes away from the music with a very different impression.
"Some tell me it's very dark, while others say it's uplifting. That's cool. Music should be open to the listener's interpretation."