You don’t get too far into the Swedish music scene without coming across Christian Gabel. As well as drumming with indie legends Bob Hund, the producer and musician has been involved in a dizzying number of projects over the years, including 1900. 1900 is Gabel’s instrumental, tape-recorded solo work. He released a debut album under the name back in 2009 and now he’s back with a follow-up LP, Tekno. We met him for a chat ahead of the release.
So the first 1900 album came out seven years ago. What made you decide that now is the right time to come back to the project?
Well, at first I felt for a pretty long time that I didn’t want to do any more 1900 albums at all. It felt like that was a one-off project with that album and I just didn’t feel like doing it all over again. It was quite hard doing it, working with those old tape recorders; they break down, and you have to be patient. So I just didn’t feel like it, and I had a lot of other things to do. I was playing with Bob Hund and working on a different solo album that I released a few years ago. But a year and a half ago I took out the old tape recorders and started playing with them, and I just realised that I missed the sound of tape, and I just wanted to try and do it again. And I had a few songs that felt like they could be 1900 songs, so I started recording again.
You’re in Bob Hund and you have so many other musical projects. What kind of specific creative space is the 1900 for you, what do you get from it that you don’t necessarily get from other projects, what distinguishes it from your other work?
What I’ve realised about myself is that I need some specific boundaries when I start to do something. If I just sit down and start recording music, and I can do anything I want, I can’t really find a reason to do anything. So when I recorded the first 1900 album, that was the first time I had started to record music on my own. And I started just because someone gave me a tape recorder, and I thought it would be cool to try and make music with this old tape machine. Usually I have some sort of ideology, some specific idea for a project and what I want to do with it. For the 1900, it’s of course the technical limitations of a tape recorder that sparks my creativity. The sound of the instruments hitting the tape and the specific way the tape manipulates the sound. That is what I get from doing music under the 1900 moniker. I feel that it’s music that I’ve always played on my own. I’ve played the piano since I was very young. I’m not a sad person, but when I make music it has a tendency to sound pretty low-key and sad. So it feels like my own music, when I record 1900 songs.
So recording on tape is creatively beneficial in a way, because it gives you a set platform to work off, it narrows down the options open to you?
Exactly. I’m kind of fond of a French writer called Georges Perec, part of a literary movement that worked with limitations. He wrote an entire novel in French without using the letter ‘E’ [his 1969 novel La Disparition]. His idea with that, and the other rules he made for himself, is that within those limitations the artist can be most free. It you can do anything, I think it’s pretty hard to just sit down and do anything at all. So I like the limitations.
Apart from just recording on tape, how does the actual process of a 1900 track work? How does it begin and how does it reach its conclusion?
It always starts with a track on tape. I choose the basic instrument that I feel is the base of the song, and when I get that right on tape I put it in the computer and I start overdubbing with other instruments. Sometimes I re-record the other instruments back to tape and then put the back in the computer, so it takes quite a while. You always get problems with pitch, it often sounds pretty out of tune, and I kind of like that actually. But that’s the problem you get when you record on tape. Even tempo-wise, it tends to move up and down. So you can get a few problems with that when you’re trying to overdub but you have to work a bit harder to resolve that. That’s the thing with those old tape machines, they sometimes don’t want to cooperate.
So what’s changed in the creative process of the project between the first record and this one? Have you seen, heard or done anything that has brought new influences to this record?
Well, I haven’t been very good at making follow-up recordings to different projects that I have had. I make a record a record under a name then I usually move on to another project.
Do you find it more interesting to move onto something new instead?
Well, it’s perhaps a bit more interesting, but it’s also just the way it’s been. I feel a lot for something while during the period it’s happening and then I just want to move onto something else. This is one of the rare occasions where I’ve gone back to a formula I’ve used and made a follow-up. The easy way to say it is that for the first time I didn’t think at all about how I was going to make this different from the first. I just started recording and I didn’t care about that. It’s going to be different, as it’s almost been eight years since the last record. I had a picture in my mind that this was perhaps going to be a bit more experimental, but when I listen to it now it’s a bit clearer than the first record. I think the songs are a bit more clear cut.
Do you think that having the eight year gap helped, that you approach it almost like a new first album? Because when you record albums quickly after one another, you’re almost reacting to your previous album with your new one, which isn’t the case here?
Yeah. Actually, the only difficulty I had when I wanted to start recording is that the first album has a reputation. When I first released it, it got a few reviews and people seemed to like it. But during the past seven, eight years it has lived on in a way that it was pretty difficult to imagine. It’s almost like it was more popular two years ago than when I released it. So that was a big difficulty, because when I recorded the first one I did that myself and I didn’t think that anyone would hear it, I didn’t think that anyone would be interested in this type of music. So I have gained an audience since then, and so it was a bit tricky going into recording knowing that somebody’s actually going to listen to this, because I didn’t think that with the last one. But when I start recording I don’t really care about that, you get lost in the process.
It’s more something that you think about before and after recording, but not so much during the actual process.
Yeah, that’s pretty much why I had time just before starting. Because I was getting questions, ‘When are you going to record something else?’, and I felt a bit uneasy. But when I started those thoughts disappeared.
Now that the record’s done, have you any plans for what you’re going to do with it? Have you ideas for live shows?
I’ve had one live show with the 1900, and that was cancelled, so I’ve never actually played it live. I’ve never really felt like playing live with the 1900, it doesn’t feel to me like music that would gain something from being played live. But we actually started rehearsing it and it sounds pretty good, so maybe we will play live in future. But I don’t really have time to do that, and I think it’s more music that you can listen to at home by yourself.
As it’s non-conventional music in some ways, would you have some kind of non-conventional ideas for performing it live, or doing some kind of audience-project with it?
Well, when we rehearsed for the show that got cancelled, we were working on ideas for visual projections on stage. Because just seeing a few people fiddling on piano or guitar, for me, wouldn’t be interesting. So if I did a live show it would have to be something more than just me sitting there playing the music. I’m not sure what that would be at this stage. But for the time being, I don’t really feel like it and I don’t have the time.
And just to wrap it up a fairly straight question; What made you choose the name 1900?
When I recorded the first album, I started recording songs and I had working titles for the songs. And it was party the way it sounded of course, but I took names of people and situations, and I realised that everything I’m inspired by was from the 1900s. So I just thought that it was a suitable name. It became apparent that was what it was about. I think the name went well with how it sounded, the sounds you get from the tape machine. It sounds like the turn of the century, so I thought it went well with the project.
Tekno is out now, and there will be a release party for the album tonight at Scalateatern.
Words: Austin Maloney