June 18, 2010
"damn it, i'm not even an artist... i'm a whore and the holy ghost."
Eric Berglund is ceo. "I am ceo on so many levels," he says, "it almost makes me blush." With partner in "Silly Crimes" Henning Fürst, Berglund is also one half of Gothenburg, Sweden-based pop duo the Tough Alliance and co-founder of label Sincerely Yours (jj, Air France, the Honeydrips). Nothing to be bashful about there. After two great albums, a vinyl-only instrumental LP, and a handful of superb EPs and singles with TTA, Berglund steps out under the ceo name on his upcoming album White Magic, due June 28 in Europe, June 29 in the U.S., and July 2 in Australia and New Zealand on Modular. (Watch ceo's debut video, for "Come With Me", here.)
Berglund spoke to us over e-mail about his new album, the meaning of life, losing touch with nature, wanting to marry Lady Gaga, and, well, a whole range of topics, from the cosmic to the mundane. The very lengthy interview below appears exactly as he sent it back, with only a few small edits for typos and readability.
Pitchfork: How did the ceo project come about?
EB: well, it was just what had to happen and it felt really natural in the end. for me ceo is just the next chapter of what i began at a young age, what you for some years knew as the tough alliance. but to really answer your question i think i have to go way back and get kind of personal even if i know that i will come across as a pretentious bitch to anxious minds. i have to paint a bigger picture cause it feels crucial to me now to make this as clear as possible. laugh, cheer, or spit or do whatever you have to at it, this is just what i have to do.
so i always had-- though most of the time time paralyzed by confusion and fear-- a very strong sense of hope. it seemed so abstract because it was incomprehensible to me and obscured by my mind and almost everything around me, by everything people call reality. but deep down i always believed in a place where things made sense, where i could really live and not only survive. once in a while it sparked up and two seconds of that illumination was enough to make months of darkness bearable. and naturally for such a long time i just chased that feeling, tried to capture and understand it, but by doing so just pushed it away.
it was really complicated, 'cause that profound hope was mixed up and entwined in a terribly complex web with a lot of dark and destructive desires that also were a part of me. and since i never accepted those dark forces, but feared them and pushed them away-- like i learned when i was a child that i had to to survive-- they only got stronger and also created an opposite pole: this vain belief in purity, order and beauty as a salvation. i just tried to escape or hung around missing my virginity instead of facing what took it and deal with it. instead of accepting it and make it a part of me and by doing so becoming whole and being able to move on.
but as things simply didn't make sense in my mind and as i didn't understand i had to go beyond it, i started dreaming, a dream that only escalated as the years went by and probably had its career high as the tough alliance. a vain but powerful fantasy where hate and innocence could hold hands, where pain and purity had much in common. and as happy as i am today that i really expressed that fantasy, as much it was tearing me apart at the time, it simply didn't make sense and it was bringing me to my knees. and since i had no clue what i did wrong, i often blamed my life situation or the world around me for my pain. and that's the last thing you should do if you want to transcend.
then what seemed to be random things happened in my life situation that more or less forced me to to stop running and hiding, to dare being alone and turning inside. things that made me realize i had to stand alone and sometimes feel lonely in this dimension to be able to leave a lifetime of loneliness behind and find that i can never be lonely if i stick to life. 'cause all loneliness is an illusion. it was really fucking scary at first and this was a tough period, but without me really noticing, the pieces were slowly coming together more and more. and then a while ago it all happened quite rapidly. it was so natural and at the same time so unreal. 'cause although it was so natural to my heart and soul, my mind couldn't understand what happened. my mind couldn't understand that vague thing my heart always believed in really existed. my mind thought it was a fairytale. but suddenly it was so ridiculously obvious that it wasn't. that it isn't. it's for real. yessur.
at the same time though, now when the mind and the darkness that it protects are going down, they're making a hell of a ruckus at times, even fiercer than before. i still do have a lot of destructive forces in my backbone, i still feel really anxious from time to time. it's cool now though, 'cause i have something much stronger caressing them, telling them it's ok, that it's over soon. and i know all too well the different symbols and what they represent inside me to not constantly rise above in the long run. no matter how sharp the feelings of darkness and disorder come, i never doubt anymore. life is too strong inside me. man it's so beautiful. the world used to be like a scary chaos, a whore house, a war zone or just a competition to me. now it is my oyster. yours too by the way. bon appetit!
Pitchfork: The last time we spoke, you and Henning were adamant about keeping the focus on "the expression of the unity TTA" instead of your individual personas. So why go solo?
EB: that's a very complicated and sensitive question. but what the hell, i can't afford to hold back anymore.
i think that partly i wanted people to feel what i tried to express instead of seeing the persons and simple facts that humans so easy fall in love with. but to be honest, i think it was first and foremost for reasons i didn't understand, or didn't want to see maybe. it think that unwanting to talk about our personas came from how complicated and destructive i believe our personas and our relationship was. for me it simply came out of fear. fear of myself, of being rejected, of being alone. so i stuck to my carefully special designed dream, just to be able to stand myself.
and talking about our personas would lead to facing, revealing, and destroying those illusions and i at least wasn't strong enough to do that until a while ago. until that i couldn't tell the world how it was, 'cause i couldn't face it myself, i simply couldn't dissolve that illusion, it was my lifeline. then all of a sudden, because of things that happened in my life situation, mostly inside, the fear slowly started to give way, things started to make sense.
but even though TTA and the forces behind it held me back in many ways and brought me down to my knees so many times, it also actually took me somewhere sometimes and gave a lot of clues. and it was truly a beautiful lifeline. it was simply what was, what i had to do. and you have to accept that sometimes things take time. the advancement of humanity today demands suffering, that's just the way it is.
Pitchfork: You're not completely by yourself on this album, though, are you? I hear a huge variety of strings, percussion, synths, guitars, samples, children's choirs, nature sounds-- I think I might even hear a pan flute. I know you don't like talking about this stuff, but what can you tell me about the making of the album? Was it self-produced? What outside musicians, if any, were involved? What instruments do you play?
EB: i don't like talking about those things 'cause it's so not interesting. it's like talking about a flower. it's infinitely beautiful and makes your whole body tremble. but still there's really nothing to say about it. it's not interesting to the mind 'cause there is nothing to understand. it just is. and that's how music should be. nothing to talk about, nothing to think about, nothing to understand, just a lot to feel. and a lot of people panic about this because they're so identified with the mind. they get so anxious when there is nothing concrete, nothing simple that the mind can grip and control. and i don't want to encourage that.
and that distinguishes music a bit from a lot of other art forms. I mean I sometimes see a point in talking about the lyrics or the videos cause the mind is much more involved there. and i bet you that people who make music or other art that not "just is" will gladly talk about it. so talk to them about those things. damn it, i'm not even an artist, i'm a round kick and a akvileja. i'm a whore and the holy ghost. but whatevz, having said that; it was me and my dear dear friend kendal [Sincerely Yours artist Kendal Johansson]who performed, recorded and produced everything. and ceo can play any instrument. even the guitar.
Pitchfork: You also don't like answering questions about band names. But people usually like to know. So, how did you come up with the name ceo?
EB: the name came to me in a very spiritual moment. i was confused out of my mind at the moment and went out to the ocean and it was a storm and i was listening to delibes [19th-century French composer Léo Delibes]. my mind was spinning and the waves looked mean, the whole world seemed mean. and i felt so endlessly lonely.
but then all of a sudden some clouds parted far out above the ocean and some of those angelic beams shone through. and that somehow made me snap out of the spiral and something weird happened inside. i know it sounds really gay and cliché, but i had a revelation. it was as if life threw me up and down in a whirlwind and a thousand angels whispered ceo, ceo, ceo, ceo, ceo. and then the big waves didn't scare me anymore, they just seemed alive, they were my friends. and that meant so much to me, it said so much.
i'd had the courage to start facing myself and my demons on my own before that, but then i knew i had the courage to face the world on my own. and suddenly it all felt so natural. my only question was what the question was. i am ceo, on so many levels. it's so obvious it almost makes me blush.
Pitchfork: Why all lower-case?
EB: cause it looks good man! plus i developed some kind of aversion to capital letters. ask my psychologist why. i'm pretty sure it'll go away soon though...
Pitchfork: Back to "expression." Because that's what you'd usually rather have people focus on instead of your persona, could you talk a little bit about what you're expressing here? What sort of feelings or experiences do you hope people will take away from your new album?
EB: reality. white magic. life. call it what you want.
Pitchfork: What does the album title White Magic mean to you? Why did you choose it?
EB: it means life and i choose it because i really like life. and plus i like the colour white a lot.
Pitchfork: Will there be remixes for any tracks on the album?
EB: hope so, i don't know too many who could do it though. got any tips?
Pitchfork: The promotional video for White Magic is pretty intense, with lots of stop-motion shots of you running outside looking like a character in Lord of the Flies. Can you tell me anything about how that came about?
EB: well, i wanted to give a feeling of how i actually did feel like for the most of my life up 'til a while ago, instead of expressing the dreams that held me alive. expressing that intense feeling of being hunted just felt crucial to be able to move on for real.
Pitchfork: And then there's the bio on your website. "ceo is the ashanti and ceo is seinfeld," it says. Did you write this yourself? What are you saying here?
EB: that is all you need to know about life. the key to touching joy, to end the illusions of separation. i mean that illusion is still present in my life but the big difference now is that i'm aware of it and can concentrate on overcoming it. and then just being a part of life, as well as everything else existing. 'cause that is the only way to real joy, to live real life. there is a lot of things in this world, a lot of people, animals, plants, objects, space and stuff. but there is only one life. and you have to really feel that to be able to transcend beyond form and end the suffering.
Pitchfork: With TTA, you once sang about wanting to show people "My Hood." On this album you sing about wanting to bring people to your home. What's your place like? What's around you right now?
EB: no i still say hood, just kinda indistinct. my hood is real life, the infinite realm beyond all human illusions. it is the energy that vibrates within every atom of the universe. we are all connected there and it's so beautiful i can't grasp it. it's such a tragedy that large parts of humanity forgot about this. or tries to understand it and by doing so misses the meaning of life.
Pitchfork: A lot of drug imagery pops up on the releases you've been involved in. On "No Mercy", you sing about wanting to smoke crack, a little bit more jokingly it seems like. What role do drugs play in your creativity? Do you take them?
EB: i've done my share but never for artistic reasons, i don't understand how and have a hard time believing drugs can be something constructive. the main part of me doesn't like drugs, but something in me still feels differently, unfortunately. for me they're just a way for my darker parts to get attention, take over and raise hell inside and chaos around me. and when those parts are in control i will do whatever, and i mean whatever, for them. i have put my life in danger so many times i can't count them. i was denying this for a long time, 'cause it was too painful to accept. i'm here though, alive and kicking.
Pitchfork: I can't remember the last time I heard a knife sound on an album before 2010, but this year I've heard it twice, on "No Mercy" and an album by a UK band called These New Puritans. Are you familiar with them?
EB: no, i don't know them, i know very few pop bands from the last years. the only one that i really like except for jj is fleet foxes.
Pitchfork: How does one get the best "knife sound" in a studio?
EB: you just borrow your brother-in-law's katanas [Japanese swords] and learn to swing them the right way.
Pitchfork: The guitar on "Illuminata" reminded my wife of the theme to the old "Beverly Hills 90210." Were you able to watch that show over there in Sweden? What do you think about that comparison?
EB: ha ha yeah, kendal was bugging me about it a lot. i liked it at first 'cause i like that theme a lot but it got kinda annoying when he just went on and on about it for months. 'cause all i was thinking about was slash, my maybe biggest musical inspiration since i was a kid. it is like he sings when he plays, but softer, more sensitive and sharp than a voice could be. i don't understand how that is possible, really, but it is breathtaking.
but yeah i watched the show and i loved it. it was just like where i grew up. i was in a similar gang, the popular ones. and i had gotten the impression that was what it was all about, getting to that position, being on top, best at sports and respected by the ones whose respect everyone wanted. and that was not weird 'cause i was like eleven and no one seemed to think about anything else. but when i was on top, of course i just felt empty and sad. that was probably when i started to question myself and things around me for real. and started dreaming of other things that would leave me in the same place later on, ha ha. man i was so confused back then. i truly believed for a while that i came from another planet and had like a spiritual mission on earth. but i couldn't deal with that at the time, it got too much, i had so much disorder and hate inside. no i don't believe that anymore, i know it. but that 90210 mentality was engraved in me though, i can still feel it glowing from time to time, ha ha.
Pitchfork: There's a Swedish-language song at the end of this album. From what I could look up, kids usually sing it at the end of the school year, right? What does this song mean to you and why did you like it for an album closer? Did you sing this when you were a child?
EB: it's a hymn actually but yeah, i sung it every year until i graduated but didn't understand how much it meant to me and how profound it is in every aspect until a couple of years ago. i was lying on my bed, watching a tree outside and was so scared and sad and confused. i didn't know where to go in my mind, it seemed like there really was no place left. And then all of a sudden, apparently from nowhere, I started humming that melody and I was shaking and had tears falling down my cheeks instantly. And I think I hummed, shook and cried for like two hours. and then there was just calm. just the sight and the sound of the tree swaying, the leaves trembling, seagulls flying by screaming. there were no thoughts, just peace. and i knew i had to record it, it felt so fucking important.
Pitchfork: Do you have plans to tour on this album? How will you recreate it onstage?
EB: yeah! you'll see, i hope.
i just wish that i could somehow feel that people wanted to feel ceo in that way before i started planning it. 'cause i can do it on my own, i'm ceo all the time, on stage though the point is that people come and feel with me.
Pitchfork: Can we expect the Tough Alliance to record together again? Have you broken up, or is ceo just a temporary side project?
EB: you can't expect anything and you shouldn't be thinking about it, i mean even i don't think about it.
we haven't broken up though, there are no final decisions. what makes people think you could even make such a decision? the only thing you can know and what you should think about is what happens right now. and right now we don't work together. right now we play soccer together. you're welcome to watch if you wanna see us together and have yourself some nostalgia. in annedal, gothenburg, every sunday.
yesterday TTA was my life, without limits, and today ceo is. the future is not my home anymore. and i have never done a side project and never will, i have one life and everything in it is my main bitch.
Pitchfork: Your songs talk a lot about reality, about honesty, about finding something transcendent within yourself. "I've finally touched life," you sing at one point. Any advice for the rest of us?
EB: come with me...nah just kidding.
no seriously, that's so individual and i could talk about this for days, it's kind of hard to conclude here. but some basic things for me are things that humanity has known since ages; to practice techniques of non-thinking, to practice love for life and forgiving for yourself and other bastards. to end bad habits and maybe talk to someone with perspective. but above all to start believing in something bigger than you but accepting you can't understand it. and just close your eyes, let go and feel life inside your body and around. then everything else will be come naturally, then life, love or whatever you wanna call it will take care of you and work through you.
the way to finding life is never easy. i mean it's fucking hard kind of work to question yourself and everything around you all the time, but that is what you have to do. 'cause your mind is sick, people around you are sick, this society is sick, humanity is sick. and you have to accept that and forgive to be able to rise above. and when you're finally there it's so easy, so tauntingly obvious.
the most important thing for me though was finding my way back to nature and spending as much time as possible there. nature is such a beautiful and easily accessed portal to the realm beyond, the place where we all belong. the scent of the honeysuckles or the ocean, the sound of the wind in the trees or a blackbird singing, the sight of squirrels working or an ocean of snow-covered trees. often the shock of it makes me cry, just like when i saw joakim after he came home from america. the mind cries in despair 'cause it tries but just can't comprehend what happens inside, can't comprehend the sensation of life. that's why it can be bitter and not just sweet. but the heart just flies and sings 'cause it touches life.
nature was so important to me when i was a kid, but somewhere i lost touch with it and it feels so fucking weird now, so fucking sick. i used to be alone a lot, my father was travelling much and my mother worked all the time. so i spent a lot of my time just walking around the fields and forests around our house. learning different bird songs and collecting flowers for my mother. that was my home then and i didn't even think about it 'cause it was so natural. then my mind and the world around caught up with me and i was led astray, i lost my home.
sometimes it seems like madness, complete madness, that i don't spend all my time in nature. but i think that's because i'm not really one with life yet.
i want to be able to be at peace in every situation, no matter where i am or what i do - waking up on a tuesday morning in stockholm, looking out over the andes, sitting kidnapped in a basement in berlin, enjoying champagne on a terrace in monaco. those situations could just be like different clothes or whatever superficial. i know it is possible. you just have to focus on what is really happening, in your body or outside, and not what your mind is saying about it. i can be watering all my plants and not do anything else, just looking at and listening to the water, seeing the plants for real, how they absorb the water. or when i play tennis and get so into it that you rise above the mind. that's what i love about sports, you just play, the mind is gone for a while, you go beyond the illusions of time and space and just do. it's like singing or...whatever really. it's just easier doing it without practice in some situations.
Pitchfork: Do you feel like you've found what you're looking for now?
EB: yeah, i truly have. a profound sense of belonging that will always stay with me no matter what happens. a feeling that everything is alright, no matter what happens. a feeling i had only dreamt of until a while ago. i'm not saying that i feel that all the time, there is still a lot of bad patterns left in me. but believe me, i won't stop until i am fully one with that feeling of peace with what is.
Pitchfork: I've been listening to some Saint Etienne reissues lately. I know Air France have said Saint Etienne were just huge for them, and I think I see a similar influence in TTA albums. What role, if any, has Saint Etienne's music played in your life?
EB: they have a wonderful sense for pop songs and i listen to some of them from time to time. but that's all, they can't shake my world, never could. it's too cool, too unreal and too conservative. though i remember being in love with sarah when i was like fourteen but that was only because she was beautiful.
Pitchfork: I read an interview the other day where Nicki Minaj said she loves Enya. How about you?
EB: i love nicki so much! i would marry her right away, we'd have so much fun. i know she has a heart of gold.
and i had only heard like three songs by enya when i was younger when people started saying to me that we sounded like enya. so then i remembered those songs i listened to them and liked them a lot. her music. so i listened to a couple other songs but they weren't that good so i just stuck to the three that i like. and there is a fourth i realized just now, i really like the lord of the rings song as well!
Pitchfork: Bummer that Lil Wayne is in prison, right? It seems like you guys share a certain sensibility with Young Money. Is that fair to say?
EB: i guess that is just the way it is and i'm sure it will lead to good things in the end. that boy has so much in him, so much more than the amazing things he's already given the world. maybe it will be good for him to get a break from the circus, it sure would have for me at least.
i don't know what sensibility means but i think that we feel a connection with them. not only because they are like a gang that seems to have fun and are so fucking brilliant at what they do but because they seem to say what they really feel. or like my mother said when we listened to steady mobbin' and some other tracks in the car the other day, "wow, it's just so damn...full of go!".
i truly believe there is something deeply wrong with people who can't appreciate rap music. or people who can't appreciate pop music for that matter. or house or whatevz. there is so much to life if you just leave your illusions of who you are or have to be behind.
Pitchfork: Is Wayne somebody you'd like to work with someday? Drake? Nicki Minaj?
EB: maybe nicki or wayne yeah. drake no, even though i like him. but my dream is rihanna, she's the only one i wanna sing with.
Pitchfork: jj recorded a cover of Jeremiah's "Birthday Sex" to celebrate your new solo album. What do you like about that song?
EB: ha ha, it was to celebrate my actual birthday. it was one of the finest moments of my life. i hadn't reminded them 'cause i'm so uncomfortable with being celebrated and i didn't think they would remember. and i came to the white house and they were in the studio and told me to sit on the couch and they put on that track. and when i heard the lyrics and realized what was up i was so touched that i just broke down. and then when it came to the part "...where you want your gift" they pointed at a bag standing on a table and i opened it and there was the armand de brignac, the blanc de blancs. it was the most astonishing item i had ever seen produced by humans. and then i got a breathtaking rainstick from kendal and we recorded it instantly. man oh man..
Pitchfork: Curious: How do you feel about Justin Bieber?
EB: i don't know who it is and i have a feeling and i don't need to?
Pitchfork: What about Lady Gaga? Where do you stand on her versus Ke$ha? You seem like someone who might have an opinion.
EB: ke$ha i've never heard of but let me tell you one beautiful thing - i have only seen lady gaga in real life. i had never seen her or really heard her music but one of my friends and my mother had talked about her and i had an idea what she was like. then i missed a ferry in sydney and was sitting on the pier, a little mad and really thirsty when a yacht suddenly came and stopped at the pier. and out came a woman with 25 cm heels and the tightest thing i ever saw anyone wear, a star spangled banner dress. her and her four bodyguards walked by me and it was only me around but she looked as if she was walking down the red carpet. and i thought to myself this must be be lady gaga. who the fuck would it be otherwise? it was surreal. then the same night my friend told me she was in town. and i never saw her since so i have only seen her for real and that is so incomprehensibly beautiful when you think about who she is and the world we're in.
i fell a little bit in love then 'cause she seemed so real in the surreality so i listened to some of her songs and fell a little out of love. maybe if we married and i wrote her songs it would all be perfect. dunno really, i'm confused. she has a nice voice.
Pitchfork: What else have you been listening to lately?
EB: just various random songs that i like. kanye, TI, guns n' roses, beatles, donnis, paganini, kendal, drake, arvo pärt, rihanna, nicki minaj, abba, gucci mane, jj, quasimoto, cocteau twins, charles ives...
Pitchfork: When I hear American bands like MGMT or these new guys from Massachusetts called Dom, I can't help but think they share a similar attitude to the Tough Alliance, to jj, to ceo. They're as earnest as they are cynical about it all, you know? Other people don't seem to agree with me, though. What do you think? Do you pay attention to those bands?
EB: i don't find myself cynical at all compared to what i see of the rest of the world. it's just that i had, and to some extent still have, a terribly disharmonious piece somewhere deep inside. buried deep a long time ago. a piece that i didn't want to and couldn't connect with for a long time and therefore could do nothing about. a piece that in the past often has created mayhem in and around me and sometimes just expressed itself in form of hate, frustration, and maybe cynicism. but like i said, it's not that isolated anymore, not that disharmonious. i'm reaching it, trying to give it the love it never got. and the rest of me is the direct opposite of cynical i believe.
and when it comes to those other bands i don't know them and i don't think i want to cause i only listen to what my friends like and give me. and none of my friends have given me songs by those bands and i don't find it worth the risk trying to find out. humanity in general and popular culture in particular used to make me anxious, depressed or hateful. so a couple of years ago i just started avoiding magazines, tv, radio and above all, internet. i just felt that to be able to move on and give life the chance it deserves, i had to get rid of things holding me back. i have a feeling i could handle it now though, i just don't see what it could give me. and i sure don't have time for it.
Pitchfork: There was an incident here in the U.S. where the show "South Park" tried to depict the Prophet Muhammad and then they got censored. It reminded me of when the Tough Alliance put a Muslim religious vocal on your album A New Chance and then had to take it off for the international release. Do you feel muzzled at all?
EB: i did. at the time i was ashamed that i was scared. scared because of various threats from people, in letters as well as from people coming to the hq but also from warnings from people around me. this world is sad sometimes, so much hate and fear. it's ok though, love will prevail in the end.
but at the same time, to be honest, i felt i had nothing to prove with having it on the international release. i didn't want to have it on here just for the sake of it, i had already expressed what i had to express and that will live on in eternity.
Pitchfork: Are there any other artists you're working with these days that we should look out for? Any new production or remix jobs?
EB: yeah but you'll know about them when the time is ready. people want the future, like maniacs, like there isn't enough in the now. come on man! i recognize it perfectly now cause i've been there a lot and still am from time to time, almost tearing myself apart. cause your mind can go there like a lost soul and look for kicks but your heart can never be there, life can never be in the future. so please let's try to be here, let's try to be now. we could have so much fun!
Pitchfork: You're going out of town after Sunday, right? What do you have planned? [Note: These interview questions were sent several weeks ago.]
EB: prague to film a video with my friends marcus and fredrik and a lot of other people, then meet jj and swirl around in rome for a couple of days, then terracina, cavriago, milano and torino. then go to the garda lake for a couple of days with joakim to visit my dear friends there. being there is like a dream, it is like a fantasy world, so unreal. and me and joakim is like an adventure dream team. then last but not least, paris.
Pitchfork: Anything else I've forgotten to ask you about that you'd like to discuss?
EB: yeah a whole lot but this is fine for now. arrividerci!
"Goes over the top and stays there to very nice effect."
-- David Carr, The New York Times
"I wasn't fully convinced. But I was interested."
-- Rob Walker, The New York Times
"...as Marc Hogan wrote in Spin..."
-- Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
-- David Carr, The New York Times
"I wasn't fully convinced. But I was interested."
-- Rob Walker, The New York Times
"...as Marc Hogan wrote in Spin..."
-- Maureen Dowd, The New York Times
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