The Goner & the "Grass Root Feel of the Whole Thing"

Goner undergroundOne-man folk/psych/drone ensemble The Goner AKA Daniel Westerlund is unquestionably one of my favorite sonic discoveries of 2008. He delivers spiritual music that accompanies dreams, as it organically flows across the sky when you're walking to work and creeps up on you when you least expect it to. It's tempting to place his work along the lines of Hush Arbors and Six Organs of Admittance and although that's true you can also hear his background in the lo-fi scene. We got in touch with Westerlund to learn more about where he's coming from and what's next.

Do you remember when music really caught your attention for the first time?

While growing up I quickly followed my older sisters' footsteps in that I got interested in electronic/danceable and goth music. My sister was in it for the social reasons - her boyfriend at the time was a Dave Gahan-clone and she spent every night out clubbing, but I was interested in the sounds. So while she was out meeting people her eleven year old little brother borrowed the records to his room. And I was deeply into this sort of music for five-six years. But when I heard the Palace Brothers single "Come In" played on MTV's Alternative Nation (the episode was guest-hosted by Belgian artrockers dEUS I remember) I guess we can say it was the first time when music "really caught my attention". "Come In" changed how I listened to music completely, I was in awe of its simplicity, the voice of Will Oldham, the timeless feel of the recording. I sold my record collection immediately to the nearest goth chic and started collecting singer-songwriter, lo-fi and to some degree American folk music. This was in 1993/94 so there was the whole lo-fi scene of the period erupting and having an international impact. At the same time Internet was becoming a household word and I remember being on the Palace Music mailing list trading bootleg cassettes and getting a lot of good recommendations for similar bands and record companies. So not only was "Come In" an eye-opener for me musically but the way these bands released records and interacted was a whole new scene for me. I mean the grass root feel of the whole thing.

Goner live blurWhat did your earliest recordings consist of? How did The Goner come to be?

Well the absolutely first recording I made was probably my own rendition of "The Robots" by Kraftwerk on a really bad-sounding digital synthesizer. I must've been about twelve. Fast forward about sixteen years - past bad lo fi-rock and later Shellac-influenced projects that never amounted to anything substantial - and we end up in and with my present situation and interests. When I started writing and recording music again I hadn't been playing seriously for years. Instead I had been caught up in literature. Publishing books (in 2005 I started the small Eolit Press with a friend) and at the same time trying to write a novel of my own. Running Eolit Press has been and is a lot of fun but it takes a lot of work, and I realised just about a year ago that creatively there is no comparison between editing books and playing music. And not just in the music itself but also with the technology and communities that are available for musicians. With music you don't limit yourself language-wise like you do in writing and publishing as a Swede. Sweden is a very small country and the literary scene seems unable to handle more than one trend (or quality if you like) at a time. So it was important for me to have the The Goner recordings as a sort of limit-free zone. I wanted to find something other than the frustrating slow machinery of releasing books.

Did you have any specific goal in mind when you began recording as The Goner? Do you see any philosophical overtones in what you are doing?

The only goal I had was to launch the H-TRILOGY and see where it led me. When I started I only had material for the first part Halartrallar and a few sketches for the rest. I was still learning the laptop studio while recording Halartrallar and I discovered new toys all the time. Production-wise that first part isn't very good. It doesn't sound that good to me but it was necessary to finish it and get it out in order for me to understand how to get better and what I wanted for the next parts Hind Hand and Haven. For each record I found new things and new doors - that is: new instruments and functions of the studio. You have to be exposed to your limitations if you want to grow.
For Hind Hand I found a bomb shelter that some local graffiti-kids had transformed into a nightly hang-out. It had amazing acoustics so I decided to record some parts of the CD-R there. One afternoon while recording in the shelter - which I named The Drone Hut - I got an audience with some of the aforementioned graffiti -kids and one confused elderly man. They seemed to like the banjo.
Philosophy-wise it is too personal to discuss. There are definitely spiritual aspects of playing repetitive music but recording it has so far been a little too "dry". Hopefully in the future I will be able to be more spontaneous while recording and have more of the improvisational aspects of the instrumental pieces represented on the records.

When it comes to that repetitive aspect of what you do I am curious to know if that is something you intentionally strive for or something that just happens.

It differs from song to song. Surely when you start moulding a looped beat you're pretty much certain of what's going to happen. And I like that way of doing music. To start with the rhythm and continue upwards. For Haven I bought a bodhran drum and I had a lot of fun just banging away on it and then adding stuff. But occasionally the repetition just kicks in unintentionally while recording. For example the second and slower part of "Field Ceremony" happened that way. And on most songs on Hind Hand I just pressed record and started playing with whatever instrument I had in my hands. I strive to co-operate with the random factors and "mistakes" as much as I can, since recording at home on your laptop is usually a pretty rational process.

Goner - HalartrallarYou mention that you previously were really into writing.  Do you see your songs as stories or is it purely music? The reason I am asking is since I often feel that your music (also the instrumental tracks) tells a story.

It's very hard to release something on record and perceive it as purely music. Even if I would have untitled songs and just blank or no covers at all the music will be interpreted in whatever context it is in. So to some degree there's always a story. But I have no problem with this. And when it comes to the instrumental tracks I like the play between song title and music. I like to throw the listener (and myself) in a certain direction. The title of the track is often with me as a starting point during the recording process.

What do you want people to experience from your music?

A very hard question to answer. Certainly I have ideas for each song of what I want the emotional range to include. But it is so intangible and volatile and it differs from day to day. And I think it could be dangerous to verbalize your thoughts on this too much.

I'm going to throw out a few words/bands that come to mind while listening to your music and feel free to comment:

Repetition   Yes I am interested in applying repetitive structures to droney/ambient sounds. I like that mix very much. Creating danceable music with instruments from the psychedelic rockband formula or with only acoustic instruments is something I'd like to do more of. I like the feeling of the repetitive rhythm or riff in my feet while doing whatever I want with the guitar or microphone through a thousand or more effect pedals...

Appalachian folk   "Appalachian" is a real buzzword with me. Not only musically speaking but also the topography. And I haven't even been there, mind you. I have a friend living in rural Alabama and hopefully he will invite me over soon... I bought my five string banjo with the intention of learning to play old timey and bluegrass material the way it should be played. But being a very restless person I couldn't bother learning the exact finger-picking technique, now I just play it and tune it the way I want. I think that the process of recording the H-TRILOGY has taught me to have a more relaxed relationship with musical instruments than before in that I am more interested in the sound of the instrument rather than the tradition of the instrument. So for example a lot of the drumming you hear on the CD-Rs is just me banging away on the skin of the banjo....

Goner graffitiPsychedelia   I use the word "psychedelia" as a synonym of "eclectic". Layer upon layer. Through music blogs such as Mutant Sounds you can expose yourself to a whole world of forgotten psychedelic music, in the traditional sense of the word, but really it's the music blog scene of today taken as a whole that is truly psychedelic. Endless sound exploration. It is as invigorating as it is scary!

Six Organs of Admittance   One of the few bands that I have been really interested in following in the last five-six years. And as with many artists the first releases are the most interesting. A release I have been playing over and over this year is the amazing The Snowbringer Cult out on Students of Decay. Part of its appeal for me is that it brings to mind some of the early work of Ben Chasny. It's the esoteric feel of the recording. The cheap recording equipment. It sounds otherworldly.

Drone  For all my devoted listening hours to drone music I haven't been comfortable in working fully with drone myself. I haven't felt confident doing it. Maybe because I have spent most of life writing songs but also because I have lacked a proper studio/rehearsal space where I could turn up the volume.

What is the future of the Goner?

Well, it's been a lot of fun inviting other musicians than myself to the recordings and just recently playing the first proper gig (with Thorbjörn Skoglund on bass and Johan Knudsen on acoustic guitar). We received a lot of nice feedback after playing live so the next step is to set up a good rehearsal studio and then invite more musicians to the line-up in order to do more gigs. And I hope to find a record company to discuss a proper release. Self-promoting and self-releasing is quite tiresome in the long run.