Mount Liberation Unlimited is formed of Stockholm duo Tom Lagerman and Niklas Janzon, life-long friends who grew up together sharing a musical journey. With pretty much identical experiences -including classical training, music schools and many a band – it’s no surprise both Tom and Niklas have developed a strong love and connection to live jamming when it comes to producing their own brand of electronic music. Describing it as ’exploring the crossover landscape between human groove and electronic synchronization’, it’s the human aspect that holds strong to their identity and seems to have followed through in the fun, trippy and downright weird visuals in their music videos.
Following the meteoric success of the mighty ‘Clinton Space Funk‘ on their debut Astro Travelling Through Life EP, MLU have finally brought out their much-anticipated follow-up, Trail to Life Goes Up EP. We caught up with the funk-fusers to find out more about their recording habits and their precious gear that gives them their much loved sound.
First of all congratulations on the news of your imminent EP. A year is quite a long gap between releases these days, especially for new artists. Has it been a long wait for you, or very planned and deliberate?
Thanks! Yeah, it took a bit longer than expected, but it’s not really anything we’ve been stressing about to be honest. Super proud to release this EP now, and really happy with how it turned out. I think our production process is pretty slow compared to other producers, and we really like to take the time to contemplate the music before we conclude the content and context of upcoming releases. So definitely not a deliberate market strategy. It’s been well worth the wait and we’re super excited to see what people think of it now!
Looking back to the beginning of MLU, what was your musical schooling before coming together and how has that been channelled into MLU?
Well, actually we met when we were both attending a music themed high school in Stockholm. Tom played electric guitar and Niklas was the star drummer of the school that everyone wanted to play with, haha. Nah, but I guess we’ve both got pretty indepth knowledge of those instruments and are pretty aware of stuff like harmony, rhythm and basic musical theory. We became friends through a band that Tom started just after graduation, and that led to a deeper friendship which included many early mornings on dancefloors across the world, which could be seen as our only formal education in dance music.
Obviously our musical background is incorporated in everything we do with MLU. It’s a very important cornerstone of the whole project. Especially with the live set, but of course also in our productions. It’s pretty sweet to be able to record acoustic drums or know some basic harmonies on the guitar or keyboard. But as much as that feedbacks positively it can also work against us in many ways. Sometimes it feels like we lack the ability to think and produce like that of the untaught techno mind that knows how to make an interesting song with just a kick drum.
More than knowing how to play an instrument though, we think one of the more important things that we’ve used from playing in traditional bands is the ability to work like a group and really play with each other. Jamming, rehearsing and playing gigs all teach you how to communicate musically without words, a skill we use a lot when putting together and playing the live set.
Do you each bring something different to the table, based on your different technical and theoretical knowledge?
Generally, Tom might do more of the harmonies and Niklas more of the rhythmic stuff. But to be honest, that might as well just be bullshit, haha. Tom is often found recording a crappy tambourine or clave and Niklas picking out weird midi chords. In regard to what we just said about the untaught mind, it can be quite refreshing to go out of your comfort zone when creating music.
Talk us through your current studio set-up, both as a space and what equipment is there.
We’re located in a gritty old shelter in the south of Stockholm, where a bunch of punk and death metal bands rehearse. It’s a lovely creative environment without windows or fresh air. Setup wise, we have quite a lot of outboard gear, not a lot of ridiculously expensive machinery though. A few nice keyboards, a drum kit, decent monitors and some fun percussion. We don’t believe it’s necessary to own a heap of expensive hyped up gear when we can make killer strings and basslines with our Casio Tonebank that Tom found in his apartments recycling station. That being said, we do love hardware, but think it’s more about actually creating something unique out of what you have and trying to find your own musical language with that piece, instead of longing for a generic piece of overpriced gear that someone on a forum has told you that you need to own in order to make the world’s best kick drum.
Do you have personal favourites in your current set-up?
Nah, we don’t play favourites, haha.
If you could add or change anything to your setup, what would it be?
A Patchbay!! It sucks having to reach behind the rack everytime we want to use our new spring reverb, haha. If anyone knows how to hook up a Patchbay, please email us at: email@example.com
Is there a bit of kit whose sentimental worth far outweighs its practical uses?
Tom has a thing for unpractically big and heavy electrical organs. He keeps on buying them on flea markets and make his parents keep them at their house since we don’t have any more room in our studio. We have this one that he bought last year and slaughtered a bit. He removed the whole body and the footpedals and shit, and took out the spring reverb and mounted it on the side of the organ so you can slam it while playing. It’s pretty great for sound effects! But no, not really essential. It would be nice of us to maybe stop blaming our studio room for lacking space and start blaming the organs instead.
Is there any difference in your live set up to the studio one?
Yes. It’s two totally different things for us. In the studio we work more in a session based manner, letting things grow kind of organically piece by piece instead of having everything running at once. It would be nice to have everything hooked up at once like we have when performing live. But to be honest the live/studio dichotomy doesn’t really bother us as we strive for different purposes and sounds in each category.
You’ve said in a previous interviews that when you perform, you don’t like making things too safe and predictable for yourself. Do you think this sense of the unknown creates an energy in your playing and in the audience that you don’t get through over-rehearsed live sets?
Yeah, of course. We don’t think anyone, no matter if you’re performing or listening/dancing, really enjoys these pre-recorded-super-predictable-live-sets, where there’s no room for improvisation or spontaneity. It’s so amazing when you can share these unique, time-restricted moments with people that seem to really enjoy what you’re doing at that very moment and feed from the energy that it gives you. It becomes very synergetical, where the crowd gets off to your music, and we off from the crowd.
That said, we do actually rehearse quite a lot, and we’re way too nervous to do a 100% improvised live set at this stage, haha. But that also has a lot to do with us believing in performing “songs” when we play live, rather than MLU being a kind of hardware-based live jam where all is left to chance.
Do you stay true to this spontaneous philosophy when it comes to laying down material in the studio?
We definitely don’t make any planning in the studio, it all happens very, very spontaneously in there.
Are any particular rituals you go through before you head into the studio? Do you like to have a particular context or destination in mind before starting a jam?
No, not really. A lot of producers often say they imagine a certain space or dancefloor when creating music, but we don’t really envision anything bigger than to make good music when we’re in the studio.
Away from the dancefloor, what other forms of music do you draw inspiration from?
An interest for music, in the broadest sense of the word brought us to this project, so our inspirational sources has definitely not narrowed down since that to only include music made for dancefloors. It varies from week to week, but whatever makes us groove, feel or think is a varitable source of inspiration. Kamasi Washington and Miles Davis has been on repeat for the last weeks.
Are there places you go to reset your mental hardware in between studio time?
We go to work. Only to realize that we’d rather go back to the studio, haha.
Looking at your new EP, were you conscious of changing your sound in comparison to your first? If so, what caused this shift?
To be honest, every label that has contacted us since our first EP implied that they wanted to release a “Clinton Space Funk no. 2” in one way or another. Something that we are totally uninterested in. This is of course not the ground that we built this record on, but it just states the fact that we have a really broad view of what MLU is and will be. For us this was never a conscious decision as to change our sound. For us our sound is many things, and this is what came out this time and what felt like an honest sequel to our first record.
Did Francis Inferno Orchestra and Fantastic Man play much of a creative role as label heads?
Not directly, but as we said, unlike other labels they never asked us to compromise our sound and gave us creative freedom which is really worth a lot! Well, actually, with the artwork and stuff they have definitely played a creative role, where they created a bridge between the music and the label. Not least since the artwork now feels very much attached to the sounds for us!
Were there any pieces of kit particularly instrumental in the making of Trail To Life Goes Up, or did you try out any new techniques, styles or approaches?
No, not really. But our friend Sherman played the protagonist/antagonist role in shaping a lot of the sound for this record.
Finally, following the new EP, what else have you got planned in the coming months? Any more releases or appearances to look out for?
Looking forward to hiding back in the studio after a few weeks of doing the live set, and then back to rehearsing for more live sets. We’re really excited for the future, it looks very much like fun!