The Evolution Of The Concretes
"No one wanted to sing, for starters, but me, so I did that," recalls
Victoria Bergsman, the soft-spoken, gently-crooning singer from genius
Swedish pop-band The Concretes, harking back to the band's beginnings in
mid-'90s Stockholm. "We wanted to have a band because all the
boys we knew had bands, so we wanted to show them that we could have a
band, too. So, we started The Concretes, us three girls."
They may've been born into the world as three teenaged girls Bergsman
as singer, Maria Eriksson on guitar, Lisa Milberg on drums but The
Concretes have grown and grown in the seven years since. These days,
there are eight people in the band, and a ninth-member/fifth-Beatle type
always floating around. Live shows regularly find a dozen people on
stage, and they've even played a whole show as an 18-piece. Their
sprawling sound is beautifully displayed on their debut self-titled set,
an utterly gorgeous mixtures of Velvety twang, girl-group grooves, and
romantic film music. Issued in Sweden last year, it was far and away my
favorite record of 2003, and it's recently been let loose upon the
world at large.
Whilst it's The Concretes' debut album proper, it was preceded by
another longplaying disc, 2000's Boyoubetterunow, which was a
compilation of their first releases, two 10-inch records. Recorded with
newly roped-in members on bass, organ, trumpet, and mandolin, these were the
foray into the studio for all of
them. "I was afraid of the microphones, the drums, and all the sound.
Everyone was afraid, I guess," Bergsman remembers.
How did she calm herself down? "I had a whisky," she deadpans. "And then we just sat and talked about it. Sometimes, you have too much respect for things,
like the recording studio. We all had too much respect, and we had to
break that down."
Given the growing nature of the band, discussion has become the thing
they're most familiar with. "We spend more time talking, and
having meetings, than we actually do rehearsing," offers organist Per
Nyström. "There's so much planning of everything, and every decision
must be discussed."
"We always talk everything over," Bergsman concurs. "Sometimes, for 10
hours. Most meetings seem to take five hours, even though we'd like to do
them in one. It's always like that; it goes on, because everyone has to
have their say. And that means, sometimes, up to 12 people. It's very
Such democracy meant that in the leadup to recording their first proper
album, the band together and with their producer Jari Haapalainen talked over their intentions at great length. They played record after
record, talked of old-soul recording techniques, vintage film-music
scores, and Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, and dreamed of bringing in a
harp to add romantic flourish. "We all agreed that we wanted quite a
big sound, and that's why we have all those strings and horns and
things,” Nyström says. "That was the main idea, creating a big record."
Whilst such grand orchestrations seem like the perfect product of an
eight-piece band, there are still moments where their more frail
beginnings linger, with Bergsman's beautiful murmurings so often
compared to Hope Sandoval backed by lonesome piano or a gentle acoustic strums. "When we started out we were very sparse, and you can still
hear some of that," the singer says. "But the songs on the latest
album, they needed that big sound, those other instruments. 'Say
Something New,' it needed to be explosive, and 'Warm Night,' it needed to
All this grand symphonic sound has, in turn, influenced their
live shows. The Concretes' live shows, currently split mostly between Sweden and the UK, have become celebrated spectacles, and, with the nervousness of their beginnings forgotten, they've started to become a more dynamic outfit. "We started out as a really, really quiet band," Nyström offers. "But, since, with our live shows, we've tended to make more and more noise each time we play. Everybody plays a little bit more loud, and a little bit less careful now." Anthony Carew [Friday, October 29, 2004]