Echoes Podcast: Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren

Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren's Imaginary Electronic Road Trip

Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ӧgren are two Swedish musicians with different backgrounds. But they have converged to create an ambient tone poem of electronic music called We Never Came to the White Sea. Agebjörn is a well-known musician with his solo albums and a dance project he has with his wife Mikael Ogren  Johannn Agebjorn at Synthscalled Sally Shapiro. Mikael Ӧgren is lesser known, but he’s been into electronic music since he was a child. I talked to them on Skype from Mikael Ӧgren’s studio in Lund, Sweden.

There aren’t many musicians who can create unconventional, non-commercial music who can and make a living at it. So a lot of them have day jobs. But Johan Agebjörn & Mikael Ӧgren might have the most unusual careers.

“I’m Johan Agebjörn. I’m a psychologist and I’m also a musician,” Agebjörn affirmed.

“My name is Mikael Ögren and I am an ordained priest in the Church of Sweden, nowadays.”

Most of Johann Agebjorn’s patients probably don’t know that he has made dance hits with Sally Shapiro or creates electronic music when he isn’t investigating the circuitry of their psyches. Likewise, Mikael Ӧgren’s parishioners are not aware that he’s traded in pipe organs for synthesizers. Talking to him on Skype, the wall behind him is covered in synthesizers, his own electronic church.

“I’m living the dream, to be honest,” Ögren admits, “Because I always dreamt about having a nice big collection of synthesizers.”

Mikael Ӧgren was into synthesizers long before he became an ordained priest.  “I was six years old when my, my father worked at a factory,” he recalls, “And one occasion, he brought me home to one of his colleagues, who had his small flat packed with analog synthesizers. And I don’t know what touched me, what grabbed me, but maybe it was all those lights and all those faders and sliders, and the sounds that it could generate, so I was just stunned.  And then when I was seven, I got my first record. It was Jean-Michel Jarre Oxygene.

Jean-Michel Jarre’s Oxygene launched him into rhythmic electronic music right when techno and raves were burgeoning. Ögren spent the 90s as a club kid, but five years ago, he moved from the acid house to the Lord’s house. But he brought his synthesizers with him and happened to move into the same building as Johan Agebjörn.

“We live just five meters from each other, so that’s how we started. We just bumped into each other,” Agebjörn revealed.

“I just recently moved in like five years ago,” continues Ögren.  “II think I was listening to Paul van Dyk “Love Stimulation,” or something else, very dancy, trancy thing.  And then Johann just passed by and reacted to it, ‘Oh, do you know that guy?’ ‘Yeah!’ And we, we find out that we really shared this interest for ambient music.”

Their first recording together was a remix of “Aurora” by Tommy ’86.

“Aurora” led them to their new album, We Never Came to the White Sea. The CD is based around a road trip to Karelia, a land that used to be part of Finland, but was annexed by Russia in 1721. Using locations across the land, they created a chilled ambient dreamscape.

Yet, for all the evocative, place setting titles like “Relentless Rain Over Ladoga” and “Four Hours to Karhumaki”, the album is a fiction, or possibly in the Swedish church, even a lie?

“About the the Karelia trip, we actually have one thing we need to reveal here,” Agebjörn confesses. “We’ve never been to Russia, Karelia, neither of us. I have a lot of interest in Russian Karelia because my relatives on my father’s side come from there. I will go there this summer. I’ve just received the Russian visa, then we will film the visual part to this road movie soundtrack. So we launched this as a soundtrack to a road movie, but we actually haven’t filmed the road movie.”

So on “Sleepless on the Kostomuksha-Petrozavodsk Night Train” there was no train ride. “Not so far,” Agebjörn laughs.

However, if there was no train, where did the station sounds come from? “They are actually from Karelia, it’s a sample I discovered from the net,” Agebjörn confirmed.

Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren’s road trip is purely fictional but they insist they tried to get inside the landscapes of their imaginary soundtrack, most of which was born inside their studios.

“This track, “Motor Stop, 6km to Suoyarvi,” Agebjörn bursts out. “Yeah. Yeah, it’s interesting because in that, in that track there’s actually the sound, It sounds like a howling wolf in some way, but it’s actually a bird called…”

“Islom,”  leaps in Ögren. 

And that bird I don’t think even exists in Karelia,” Agebjörn explains.  “But it really made something with atmosphere. It really completed the picture of the Motor Stop, I mean the vast nature, the great loneliness we could imagine you could experience.”

Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren’s real life occupations don’t slip into their music in an overt way, but it pops up sometimes. “Usually when we start beginning working on tracks, we save them as, with working names,” Ögren explained. “One of them we actually named ‘The Priest With The Shrink.”

But Mikael Ögren sees a spiritual unity in their music that’s compatible with his religious beliefs. And he still goes out clubbing on occasion. “I don’t think there’s a conflict between my faith and going out dancing to, to dance music, to trance music and clubbing at all, because on the contrary, I think it’s about embracing life.” professes Ögren. “It’s about opening up because when you’re dancing, you’re releasing a lot of energy and you open up to receive some things that you normally don’t receive. It’s about losing control and to surrender. So when I dance, I open up for a higher state of consciousness and to a relationship with God that’s normally hard to do when you’re in your daily life.”

Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren’s We Never Came to the White Sea doesn’t document a real road trip, but it does take you on a trip of your own imagining. That’s why it was an Echoes CD of the Month back in May. Johan Agebjörn and Mikael Ögren’s We Never Came to the White Sea is out on Spotted Peccary Records.

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