There are aliens living among us, and they go by the name of the Harvey Steel show
“It’s all about the bass,” somebody once sang, but not if you’re the Harvey Steel show that is. If you were ever of the opinion that The Beatles trip through Strawberry Fields Forever in order to catch the Magical Mystery Tour was a kaleidoscopic world filled with magical musical goodness, then you would most certainly be right. By taking a leaf out of the four lads from Merseyside’s bumper book of song writing, the Harvey Steel show reveal a fondness for psychedelic flavoured music, but that is only one part of their story.
If one takes the time to listen to the band’s debut album ‘Full Double Rainbow!’ you will hear a wider variety of influences, with blues, jazz and soul heavily involved, but also the above referenced psychedelic influence(s) that sucks in 60s and 70s pop and rock, as well as flirtations with noise rock and indie of the 80s and 90s. However, the creativity net is cast even wider by taking in a variety of artists, beat poets of a certain era, films, surrealism and the human emotions concerned with happiness that also fuels the colour, as well as the darkness, found in the compositions of the Harvey Steel show.
The broad range of sources when it comes to the music of the Harvey Steel show is down to an obvious passion for music, but also one that extends to art in general as pretty much all band members add their individual take on things by applying the knowledge and expertise gained from more relevant subjects studied at university of visual arts and sound design, to less relevant, but no doubt adding to the interesting box of weirdness that is the Harvey Steel show, via computer science and even further afield organic agronomy!
With their ‘Full Double Rainbow!’ long player adding a huge splash of colour to a corner of Norway where the general colour scheme is often on the autumnal side, the Harvey Steel show aim to liven things up with an eclectic sound and surreal visuals all the way from planet Jupiter. Yes, that’s right, planet Jupiter as these are no ordinary citizens of Norway!
“It is complicated, but the Harvey Steel show really do descend from Jupiter. But we, as performers here in our reality, are playing the role as a band migrating from a parallel version of Jupiter.”
This is the opening explanation from all-round band leader, Thomas Bergsten, of the Harvey Steel show regarding the very notion that all concerned with the band really have teleported from planet Jupiter to live with the inhabitants on planet Earth. By doing this, the Harvey Steel show attempt to offer their interpretation of this thing known as rock ‘n’ roll, which saw Elvis Presley travelling at some speed in the opposite direction in a pink Cadillac apparently! Further explanation is definitely called for here.
“It springs out of the idea of different realities,” continues Thomas, “and in some version of this whole thing, there is a band that came from (a parallel version of) Jupiter where they used to tour with their cosmic show and spread joy and love with music. The Elvis Presley obsession is part of the idea that when the Harvey Steel show landed on Earth they went through a lot of music to try to get their sound to make sense on Earth, and Elvis was a huge name in rock history. Also, he did run away from Earth to get away from people, and the Harvey Steel show did run into him while touring. That part of ‘Speed of Light’ [song on ‘Full Double Rainbow!’] is a true story.”
It seems that art and music go hand in hand when it comes to the visuals and music of the Harvey Steel show would you agree?
“I got this idea that there COULD be a possibility for one art. I think there is way too much thinking around what things should be defined as. I kept hearing, ‘But is it art or music?’ while studying art, and I can’t seem to see why theatre and music can’t be art. Well, we all know that music is art, theatre is art, but when people use the term ART we automatically think about visual arts and that is really strange to me. I am going for this totality where everything is allowed but not necessary.”
With the already mentioned array of influences inspiring the sounds of the Harvey Steel show that reads like a long shopping list once Thomas Bergsten passes said information onto Famous Last Words (FLW), the actual writing and recording processes for the album, ‘Full Double Rainbow!’, started out solely with Bergsten writing and recording some songs in a cabin in the woods, owned by his father-in-law that doubles up as a small recording studio. Despite making a solitary start with the songs that would later fill the band’s debut record, Bergsten came to the conclusion that the songs would benefit from a full band line up, and therefore made the decision to call on a few musicians that he has some previous history with.
“‘Full Double Rainbow!’ was recorded in a cabin in Beito [Norway] during three days in June,” says Bergsten. “We did some overdubs in my living room and in Lommedalen Kirke [church]. After we had recorded the basic tracks, we focused mostly on the vocals since Red Velvet, aka Kristine Marie Aasvang, joined the band full time.”
How long did the whole process take in terms of writing and recording the album ‘Full Double Rainbow!’?
“Well, all the songs were written, and we had been playing most of them for at least a year already. The basic recording process took three days, so it was pretty quick! Seven out of nine songs are actually first takes! [For example] ‘More Acid (Less Kool-Aid)’ is a first take and a later take pieced together. The drum sound on the end was pretty bad, before Eystein Hopland was finally able to fix it in the mix. Also, we used at least fifteen takes on ‘Devil Town’ one morning. I spent a good half year mixing and doing small changes, before we finally took those versions and got them mixed and mastered by Eystein Hopland, which involved four days including mastering.”
Did you encounter any problems when recording the album or was the whole recording experience a relatively smooth process?
“It was [relatively] smooth and cosy!” is the swift reply from Bergsten. “Since I engineered and produced the record myself, we had no overhanging economic pressure, and that is a very good thing! When the clock isn’t ticking, it’s really a blessing. Having said that, my computer, with all of the tracks ready to bring to the final mixing, crashed two days before, which was the same day we took the cover photos. Luckily, I was able to boot it one last time to save the files! I did have backups of the files but, you know, these were just clean and fresh ones.”
Ah, the cover photos! A trip back in time as well as one into the future it would seem? What was the inspiration for the album cover, and who was responsible for the artwork?
“The idea for the album cover was a «last supper» kind of thing that we all wanted to do,” answers Bergsten in response to the album cover. “Eva Rosa Hollup took the pictures and Christopher Owe did the cover design. Yellow Spectral Starr, aka Mari Lassen-Bergsten Kamsvaag, was responsible for the costumes. Blue Cosmic Storm, aka Øyvind Heilo, made that epic rainbow cake! We also made his living room look like a Jupiterian birthday party. I drew the double rainbow that is on the back cover of the vinyl and front cover of the MC. It was very much a group effort. Boatswain Sea Bass, aka Anders Eddie Jacobsen, was trying hard to keep his fish head hat on!”
Taking a cake knife to divide the inner contents of ‘Full Double Rainbow!’, FLW considers it worthwhile to ask Bergsten if there any songs from the album that are particular favourites right now?
“I think ‘More Acid (Less Kool-Aid)’ turned out very good, and it is really fun to play since it’s different every time. ‘Devil Town’ might be my favourite song, but I am very happy with all the songs.”
The songs ‘More or Less’, ‘Standing On The Corner’ and ‘Devil Town’ from ‘Full Double Rainbow!’ have appealed greatly to the ears of FLW so far. Therefore, can you provide some details as to the meanings of these three songs?
“Well, the words to ‘More or Less’ were written when I heard the Robert Wyatt song ‘Blues in Bob Minor’. It was initially called ‘Blues in Bob Major’, and when I think about it, that’s a great title and I don’t know why I changed it! It is basically a message telling people to stop fighting and «take the train to happy town», and as you can hear, happy town is pretty funky!
“‘Standing On The Corner’ is a simple little tune about a guy who waits around on the corner of the street for that special girl. Sadly he (spoiler alert) gets killed by a train before she passes by. Wasted days!
“‘Devil Town’ is inspired by the movie Quiet Earth, but only the first line though. The lyrics are co-written by Morkel O, aka Michael Goksøyr, a great wordsmith and inspiration! It is a gospel style ballad that is set in an alternative reality where Jesus is a vampire killer and the story is seen through the eyes of Judas, who doesn’t know this Jesus character but realises that he is a good guy.”
After a full rundown of ‘Full Double Rainbow!’, Thomas Bergsten continues the discussion by informing FLW that he doesn’t believe in the very industry that the Harvey Steel show find themselves situated in. With FLW pressing for further information regarding the mechanisms of this industry in question, Bergsten gives the honest reply, “but I do believe in the music! There is a lot of good new music still hidden, as well as out in the open”, which really sums up the Harvey Steel show because there aren’t many others willing or capable of producing the results that they have by combining visual arts with music, and to the daring extent of opening up their (Jupiter) souls without fear of being sectioned by those less willing to lower their barriers. So believe in the music they most certainly do, as the Harvey Steel show reveal their determination to push on with their weird and wonderful outlook on life and music by focusing on two new releases set for next year.
“We recorded a couple songs in Athletic Sound studios in September, and are planning on releasing an album from that session in March 2016, with a single before that as well. In February, we are doing another session in that same studio and that is going to be released as a different album later in 2016. Both releases are part of a project entitled ol’ Drakes travelling medicine show. We also plan to play as much as possible live, and have as much fun and spread as much joy as possible! We have a new drummer now, Liquid Thyme Keeper, who is played by Tore Ljøkelsøy. Sneaky turned human and is enjoying human life.”
Catch the ‘Full Double Rainbow!’ with the Harvey Steel show right now!
(Photography courtesy of the Harvey Steel show and Eva Rosa Hollup)
I think there is way too much thinking around what things should be defined as. I kept hearing, 'But is it art or music?'"
Thomas Bergsten, the Harvey Steel show
FLW - From the Tapes
The conspiracy theorists will love this! Thomas Bergsten of the Harvey Steel show informed Famous Last Words (FLW) that Elvis left the building for a new life on planet Jupiter!
“When Elvis left Earth in his pink Cadillac spaceship, he was on his way to Jupiter. He wanted to hide his identity, so he greeted people with “Hello I’m Jack”. This new persona worked for him, and he felt he was close to starting a new and better life in space.
When I passed him on my drive down the Milky Way, I just knew it had to be him…from all the stories I’d heard…I just knew…He sang in his majestic, angelic voice “I’ve got a sweet little woman, I’ve got the speed of light.”
I take it he was into speed…and fast cars. After this, Elvis headed for Jupiter where he joined the Harvey Steel show for three gigs before morphing into a living album cover.”
(To find out more about Elvis’ trip to Jupiter, head to the Harvey Steel show’s ‘Full Double Rainbow!’)