Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Presolar Sands-Evolving Stardust.

Photo by Victor Mengarelli.

In September I was lucky enough to spend a weekend in Oslo which included catching 'White Hills' in a (literally) underground venue-Revolver- near the city centre. First up that night were the very impressive Swedish psych rock band 'The Presolar Sands' consisting of  Jessica Mengarelli (Vocals, Guitar), Charlotta Paulin (Bass, Vocals), Wilhelm Tengdahl (Drums) and Micke Pettersson (Guitar) who have recently released a couple of tracks on Lazy Octopus (1). After the gig they agreed to an interview.
Your first release was in May 2015- how long had you been together beforehand? Had any of you collaborated previously in other bands?
J: We had been playing together for about a year, although me and Wille were playing together in another constellation before that, Wille on drums and me on tambourine, and that´s actually how we met Charlotta as she was on the front row at one of our gigs, being the most radiant person at the party.
C: At that time I was playing in Serious Mysterious and Body.
M: I came around in August 2014. My other band is called Jeremy Irons & the Ratgang Malibus.

What sort of response have you had to the 2 tracks you've released and your live shows?
M: ”Wow it sounds nothing like the 7inch when you play live, in a good way” must be the most common response.
J: I think people have been surprised to see that we are so straight on. We were rehearsing for 8 months before we had our first show, although we talked a lot about our band. I think they probably expected us to be softer.
W: People were very curious about what we had been doing and it felt very exciting to finally show them what we´d been working on. Especially, we notice it when we play live. ”The hype was real, it was worth waiting for” is probably the best compliment I´ve been told.
J: Someone actually thought we were just pretending to be a band.

'The Mad Mackerel' detected echoes of The Stooges, Spacemen 3 and Asteroid #4 in your sound (2)- but how would you describe your music? Did the ideas for The Presolar Sands' sound gradually emerge or did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to create from the start?
J: Those are bands I really love and feel connected to. But we were very clear from the beginning to try not to be defined by a genre. It doesn´t excite me to recreate other peoples music. Of course nothing can be created that hasn´t been done before but I´d rather not go into something new planning exactly how it should be and feel and what it should generate.
M: I just need to ”destroy” the sound so it won´t get into radio charts. You don´t want to be there.. so I just try to make the highest and weirdest noises there is to (not) get there.
W: We sound a bit harder and more noisy now than when we started. This is evident in the new recordings compared to our premiere release. We are a constellation from different backgrounds and our music is very reflected of it. The Presolar Sands sound has evolved into what you hear today, and will probably evolve even more in the future.
Photo by The Presolar Sands.
What is the grassroots rock scene like in Sweden-are there plenty of rock venues and opportunities to play? I saw you in Oslo-do you play a lot outside of Sweden?
M: It sucks. It´s reduced to just have venues in the three biggest cities in Sweden.
J: There are loads of bands and people interested in different kinds of music, but unfortunately I feel that there is not a lot of creativity in getting new exciting venues going. At least Stockholm is playing it a bit safe, following the trends of bigger international movements. I wish there was more of a daring transboundary cultural scene. I guess that´s why we are looking forward to play a lot outside of Sweden, to get in contact with other ways and ideas.
C: Well I think there are quite a few places to play in Stockholm on a grassroot level, I can think of 20 something places. Rest of Sweden I don't know really, but there is at least one place in every city I think. But there should and could really be more! I guess it´s not profitable enough.
W: The scene in Stockholm is really not that limited, however it feels limited, given the crowd that goes to our gigs. It feels like we know all the musicians and music fans within our crowd, so it´ll be the same people who go to the same gigs, which means that you have to watch out a bit to not play too often. You don´t wanna become one of those bands that never leaves Stockholm, who just gets stuck and plays on small venues. That´s why we want to come out and play. To come to Norway feels great, and to get to play in Denmark in a couple of weeks also feels absolutely amazing. And that is exactly what we want. We don´t want to get caught up in Stockholm. Actually, we want to get away from there.

Do you prefer the studio or playing live-which context suits your music best or do the different situations emphasise different aspects?
M: I´m more of a live guy. It´s too much pressure in the studio, it feels like my freedom of playing however I want is taken away from me and the only thing you´ve got left is the technique and the abillity to be on time.
W: The most fun is definitely playing live, but also, while it´s great and all, you can always have those days when you are standing there, backstage, swine nervous and wondering why the hell you have chosen this. But after the gig you always know why.
C: I´d go for live also – any day of the week! It brings another dimension that you can´t get from playing one at a time. (I never recorded live yet though but I´d really love to!)
J: Not to forget is the lonely aspect of pre production that I really enjoy and need. But live is something else. Writing, and building songs up together is like dreaming, while playing a show is like living.

The vocals are an important part of the sound-what sort of subject matter are you engaging with lyrically?
J: I tend to write a lot about everything's finiteness. And usually that comes with the vision of an infinite state on a bigger scale, though not in a religious way but rather in a scientific sense, the fact that we are stardust and that nothing in the world can ever be created or destroyed fascinates me a lot. I also write about corruption. Corruption of the mind caused by desire or destructive patterns.

What are your plans for the next year? An album on the horizon at all?  
W: We have a new EP which we will release within a close future, that we recorded this summer. Next year we have plans for an album and to go on a larger tour.

 Who would you cite as influences both as people and musicians?
C: Nina Simone, she had to fight unbelievably hard to do what she wanted musically and in her personal life. She didn´t care if she went against the grain, she was a radical, (she was even pro violence when it came to stop the racism and attacks against black people). She was also a fucking brilliant pianist and singer (obviously). Her playing was hard and wild and dead confident. And most important, she seemed completely free on stage.
J: Well the music of the 60s and 70s has become such a big part of my identity that it must effect everything I do musically. I admire bands who try to stay out of a genre, that pushes boundaries and take influences from different contexts. I find that in people like Syd Barrett and in the music of Sonic Youth and  Soundtrack of our Lives. I look up to musicians that seem sympathetic and honest, like Ty Segall, Iggy Pop, Graham Coxon...
M: Fred Sonic Smith, Slash and people who plays really loud guitars.
W: I grew up with the lovely mix of indie pop / rock and garage. Radiohead, The Strokes, Nirvana and the Swedish band Broder Daniel were present throughout my youth. I am inspired by artists who don´t care what others think and just go their own way.

and what current bands are you excited by?
J: Black Market Karma, Quilt, The Wands, Dead Skeletons, Ty Segall and Dungen.
C: Hanged man. I love everything about that band; its kind of eerie childish weirdness, its vocals, the lyrics, the darkness, I could go on and on..
W: The best new band right now is Moon City Boys. Otherwise, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and the Swedish band Solen are always exiting! And I´m stoked to hear the new Dungen and Libertines record!
M: Sleep, always Sleep.

Big thanks to The Presolar Sands for their time and answers.

Tuesday, 1 September 2015


As we head into autumn the thoughts of many anarchists in the south of England turn to the Anarchist Bookfair, being held this year at Central St Martin's near Kings Cross Station, a highlight in the anarchist calendar for many. One of the regular stalls at the Bookfair intrigues some, confuses others and annoys a few so it seemed a good idea to find out a little bit more about the Catholic Worker Movement and why they align themselves with anarchism. I contacted Scott Albrecht for an interview and he kindly agreed.
Q: Scott, most anarchists haven't heard of The Catholic Worker Movement, and the word 'Catholic' isn't great PR at the moment. Can you tell us a bit about it. How did it start, what are its values, what does it do?

The Catholic Worker was started on May Day 1933 by Dorothy Day, a former communist, and Peter Maurin, a learned man of the road. They decided they wanted to explode 'the dynamite of Catholic social teaching', ideas such as Distributism, Subsidiarity, Unions, Voluntary Poverty, Non-violence (although the catholic church as you rightly suggest has been violent, in the last century violence has had its primary roots within the nation state). Dorothy Day promoted pacifism, in fact immediately after the bombing of Pearl Harbour the headline of The Catholic Worker Newspaper claimed “We are still Pacifists” The Catholic Worker lost 70,000 readers.  

Within the Catholic Worker Movement are Houses of Hospitality for those who have been made destitute by government policy.  I live at The Catholic Worker Farm where we empower women and children who have fled internal and external conflicts, human trafficking, bonded servitude, FGM and domestic violence. We offer 23 of them food, shelter and clothing to start.  Then we offer therapies, Psycho, Group and Dance. We help them get solicitors, GP’s and dental work, put their children into school and generally support them as we share the same dignity.

But it doesn't stop there.  We engage with the State, non-violently. Many of us have criminal records, I have four! I've been in jail over a dozen times. We’ve poured litres and litres of red paint on Government property, dug graves, blockaded and marched against Climate Change, Nuclear Weapons and all of the invasions. We have engaged with the DSEi Arms Fair, the MoD, Northwood Military Headquarters, The Home and Foreign Offices, MI5, and still keep on 'ploughing'.

Oh yeah,we also Dumpster Dive and grow organic vegetables!  

Q: I first came across you at the Anarchist Bookfair in London, maybe about 10 years ago, where you had a stall. I remember you saying that you had a crucifix on it to express the idea that you don't follow a god who wants to dominate. Are the Catholic Workers inherently anarchist-or is that your take on it? Can Christianity be anarchist? Do you really see a similarity between the teachings of Jesus and anarchism?

Dorothy Day taught that we believe in “the Anarchism of Kropotkin”  It is at the heart of all we do.  We are not a Registered Charities, and take no government funding.  We are trying to build something 'new in the shell of the old'.  Something with human proportion, with human need at the centre. Zones of liberation.

Many christians are unaware that the earliest christians were pacifists and had a anarchist orientation towards the state.  It wasn't until the Edict of Toleration in 324CE that Christianity was made legal.  Prior to that, the state kicked the shit out of christians for not worshipping Caesar, the State and not joining the military.  To be radical can mean to go back to one's roots.  Christians need to go back and read early christian history.

Jesus taught that the “Archons” (rulers) lord their authority over others and make their presence felt.  He taught that If one wants to lead. one should become a slave of all.  He gets on his knees before the crucifixion and washes his friend's feet, a role typically reserved in that culture for women or slaves.  There are many passages in the Old Testament that forbid the establishment of a kingship; whilst all the other nations worshipped them.  In the earliest passages, from Genesis, the Rabbi’s are claiming that all humans are created in the “Image of God”. Quite a radical perspective since all of the other surrounding religions taught that the King alone is the Image of God.     

Q: The dominant expression of the Catholic Church has historically been reactionary, patriarchal and often on the side of the oppressor, the antithesis of anarchism-how do you see yourself in relation to that Church?

I see myself as a challenge to that church. While I may believe in its Dogmas, I believe we must challenge injustice in the church as well. The church is always the last to change. It’s moves to pay a just wage, to stop pedophile priests are reactionary. Like any institution, it reacts slowly and largely under pressure. The truth is though that we expect more from those who talk the talk but don't walk the walk.  

However the church is a voluntary association, unlike the State. It gives honour to the role of conscience. The state couldn't care less. It needs us to remain sedated, support violence or live in fear.

Q: You have been arrested a few times for anti-state/anti-militarist activity- can you tell us more about that? Does christian anarchism emphasise anti-militarism? 

I was conned into the military at an early age.  The recruitment officers were wining and dining me.  Prositituting themselves in order to score me.  I was young and believed in the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  We had the fear of a Russian nuclear attack hanging over our heads as children.  Having become a christian while in the military, I was then confronted with a new doctrine, “Love your Enemies”!  This hit me hard and I went to my commanding officer and said that I would refuse to take direct orders, work on F111 Fighter planes, load Nukes, the lot. 

I now understand that the discipline, sense of community, orientation towards a higher goal has been the catalyst for my activism now.  Those values (experienced in the armed forces) are still there, just redirected to enrich human life, not to destroy it.   
Every Christian Anarchist I know is a Pacifist.    

Q: You have spent a lot of years in activism and engaged with social issues-how have you managed to avoid burn out and becoming jaded?

Im not so sure that I've avoided burn out completely. I have been tired and the responsibilities of the farm are immense.  Prayer and trying to allow a revolution of the heart are equally important to me.  What's it all about if we create utopia and yet know that we are feeling like crap inside?  I have an old black punk shirt that says, “ all anarchists are pretty” Id like to think so. 

One of the issues I have though hard on in terms of Direct Action is this. When we close down the gates at Northwood Military Headquarters, do the military not use that as an opportunity to increase their mobility and focus?  If we could stop one bomb from dropping on Iraq, a friend said, it’ll have been worth it.  The problem is, as I see it, If we could stop them from dropping one bomb, the military would still be largely effective.  They either thrive on adversity or ignore it.  

So where does that leave us?  Symbolic actions have the power inherent in them to move consciousness. Think of the hammering of the Berlin Wall.  The Prophet Isaiah said, “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks and study war no more.” I like that, weapons into agricultural implements so that we can feed people.       

Q: What thinkers, writers etc do you find interesting and inspiring? 

I enjoy reading Chris Hedges, Jacque Ellul, Tolstoy, Ched Myers, Naomi Klein and Noam Chomsky, who was willing to Skype us during our Christian Anarchist Conference last year, but he couldn't get into his office!

Q: What do you think is the most important lesson christianity can learn from anarchism, and vice versa?

That together we’re stronger.  Anarchist can teach christians from their own texts, cause we are largely illiterate!  While christians don't have a monopoly on it, christians can share their thoughts on the primacy of Love and its power to move immovable objects. I believe in Ghandi’s Truth Force and Jesus’ 'The truth will set us free', but we need to understand reality first, on its own terms.  Then we need to embrace and bare the burden of it.  Only then can we change the course of it.