The child of two music teachers, music has always been a dominant part of Hannes Ferm’s life. From Norrbotten in Sweden’s far north, he and his band, HOLY, first emerged from the ever-productive Umeå music scene a couple of years ago. Ferm released a debut album, Stabs, in 2015, and that record’s release roughly coincided with his move to Stockholm. And Stockholm is where he spent two years working on what would become the follow-up, HOLY’s album All These Worlds Are Yours. All These Worlds Are Yours sees Ferm drench his musical world in colour, a rich, majestically structured psychedelic adventure that follows in the tradition of dramatic high-concept work of David Bowie and Pink Floyd from the 60’s and 70’s. We met Ferm to find out how he made it.
What kind of time period was All These Worlds Are Yours written over? You started the first songs back in the Umeå days, right?
Some of the songs began when I was writing songs for Stabs, back to 2014 and 2015 I guess. But only fragments of what they were then that remain in the songs now: they have been re-birthed over that time period. But I’ve been writing All These Worlds Are Yours since before Stabs was released. But for the recording process, I think I started making demos in 2016, and then started recording them in Studio Cobra at Odenplan in 2017.
You were working there for a while as well right?
Yeah, I started working there after I started recording there, after I started working on the album. They needed someone to work there as a studio technician now and again. But the writing process kind of melted together with the recording process, because I rewrote stuff so many times during recording. I rewrote whole parts of songs, removed parts, changed melodies, whatever.
Given the amount of time it took to put this together, even the recording took most of a year, would you say you’re quite obsessed with how you want everything to sound? Think through every detail to its maximum?
I was at the time, because I’ve realised that if you want something to sound the way it does in your head, it takes a long time. It’s almost impossible to even accomplish. I had to confront reality with the way the songs sounded in my head.
Do you get a very vivid image of the whole song in your head, when ideas come to you? A lot of songwriters say they just get an idea for a melody or a riff and work from there. It seems like you get a much detailed picture?
At the time I did, because I was so into the process while making the songs. I was writing all the time, even when I wasn’t in the studio, when I was just lying in bed and couldn’t sleep, I was writing then as well. I would get very obsessed by these tiny little things in the mixes, or the way I phrased the words, or melodies, or if something wasn’t in key enough. It got to be a little much at times.
Does it feel like there’s a point where you have to say it’s done?
Yeah, I think it did. Even when we sent off the mixes to mastering, I went back to the studio to mix stuff [again], because there was stuff that came up in the mastering that I didn’t like in the mix, and then I had to send the mix again to the mastering studio.
Is there a part of you that could still go back and mess around with it now?
Yeah, sure. But it got to a point where I realised that if I changed it, it wouldn’t get better, it would just get different. Mentally for me now, that album is now very far away, even though it’s being released now.
Because now it’s done, you’ve finally put a full stop there.
Yeah, exactly. And that feels good, I’m glad it’s out and that it’s been well-received as well.
You played and wrote everything yourself on this record, is that a part of you trying to capture that sound in your head? Do you feel like you can only get it if you try and interpret it yourself?
I think when recording this album that I realised it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s easy to criticise yourself as well, when you play everything on an album, there’s always something that can be done better and you have no-one else to blame but yourself. I’ve actually started recording the next album, I started in the first week of February, and my live drummer plays on the recording as well. It got into my head so much, All These Worlds Are Yours, I realised that it’s good to have other people to play with, so you don’t get so, just to have other perspectives. And be able to distance yourself from the recording process. So I don’t feel like I have to play everything. When I recorded that album, of course there’s going to be people that are better than me at playing whatever instruments. But the logistics of the whole thing [play a role]: [when playing everything himself] if I want to change a part, no one’s going to be mad or get offended this way. But on the next one I want to collaborate more.
Talking about the relationship between All These Worlds Are Yours and Stabs. A lot of people when writing about the new record have tended to portray Stabs as the garage rock album and then ATWAY as the rich, psychedelic one. But I think if you listen to the songwriting on Stabs, it’s loose, fluid songwriting, it’s not straight verse-chorus guitar rock. That kind of songwriting style I think has carried over onto the new album, but has been beefed up, made more colourful, made more rich, made more detailed. Would you agree with that? What would you say is the relationship between the two records?
Yeah, definitely. Stabs feels a lot like a sketch maybe, for All These Worlds Are Yours.
You can kind of see a skeleton of All These Worlds Are Yours in Stabs.
That’s a nice way of seeing it. I haven’t listened through Stabs since I releases it, as I’ve been trying to really distance myself from that album. But looking at it as a sketch is a good way of looking at it.
And since then you’ve had two more years of experience in working with music, with music recording techniques?
Yeah. That definitely was a big thing with All These Worlds Are Yours. I learned so much with the process, in terms of songwriting and working in Studio Cobra specifically as well. I don’t have to put so much effort into it as I did before, to create what I hear in my head.
David Bowie is a very clear inspiration on the new record, one of the songs you picked out in an earlier interview was the Sweet Thing/ Candidate/ Sweet Thing medley from Diamond Dogs, which is a very written-in-character record. That’s something you said you also did on ATWAY, what attracts you to that style of songwriting?
It’s easier to have some kind of framework to work within. However you look at it, songs are always going to be fiction in some way, and working from a character’s perspective makes you work more consciously with that fact, that you don’t need to be in it in a certain way.
You took the title from the book All These Worlds Are Yours [All These Worlds Are Yours: The Scientific Search for Alien Life, a book by Jon Willis about the exploring the realistic possibility of alien life], where did you come across that book?
I got it for my birthday, my little sister gave it to me. The book’s about scientific research into alien life. I liked the sound of the title, more than it having anything to do with the record. It’s not the book in itself, but the title can be a way of understanding how the record works, it commutes between different worlds. You have all these different soundscapes within the same songs. But I want it to be something that’s inviting to the listener, rather than something that is just weird. I want it to be warm as well.
You spoke a lot about the city and the hardness of the city in the press releases for this record, so is using this alien vocabulary a good metaphor for expressing that urban alienation.
Yeah, it’s a good metaphor for not feeling like you’re a part of a structure.
Speaking of your references and things, you’re someone who references a lot of things from outside music as influences, you mentioned the Japanese Kiyohome legend in an earlier interview and you’re studying at [Stockholm art school] Gerleborgsskolan, so you have lots of interests outside of music. So how do they play into writing music? Would you say they only work on a subconscious level, or would you ever take an idea from say the art world and try and translate that into music?
Those two things are at times very separate from each other. But when it comes to inspiration sources, I think say a sculpture can be as inspiring to me as anything. Studying art really gives you time and space to explore these different things, whatever they can be. I think it definitely reflects on the aesthetic of the music as well. But I never work with music when I’m doing art. They’re two different worlds to me, but two different worlds that can inspire each other.
The lyrics on the record are often buried really deeply in the mix, so it can be hard to make them out. But you get the feeling of significance from them, they’re not just there to blend into the sound, there’s meaning in there. So what is your lyric-writing process and what were you trying to capture in them on the record?
I wanted them not to be too psychedelic, but to have a foothold in everyday life as well. The album at times can be so floaty and out there in some ways, so I wanted the lyrics to have a foothold in reality. I always write lyrics as I write the song, words that rhythmically fit in, but then I rewrote them in the studio process. It’s different for every song, but there are recurring impressions between the songs.
Even though these are really long, complex songs, a lot still have sharp, bright melodies. Was it important for you to make sure it had those, to hook the listener in?
All the melodies and simple hooks, I think every song is kind of built around that, even if it appears kind of fragmented or whatever. It is important, I love those pop things as well.
Has it been a challenge to bring this record to life live, as you wrote it all yourself in the studio?
Yeah, because one of the things I wanted to get away from initially was that kind of live band feeling. To get away from that format. So to get it back to that again has been hard, haha. The first time we played it was when we supported the Thee Oh Sees, and then the songs weren’t even done, and we had nine people in the band. And I thought ‘ok, this is going to need so many people to play it live’. But that’s not necessarily true, and the live thing is always going to be different from the recording. Now the live band is five people, and we rehearsed the new stuff for half a year almost. It’s heavy rehearsing those songs, kind of tiresome at times. But we feel we’ve got it together now. Everyone in the band has to do more work I guess.
To wrap it up, for this record you looked back to these classic psychedelic records of the past, these totems of musical history. Looking into the future, how would you like this record to be viewed in ten years’ time?
I hope people will still like it still, haha. I don’t know, I haven’t really thought about it. I hope I will be able to look back on it and think ‘I did what I could’!
Main Photo: Marcus Wilen