Don’t Panic!

Swedish synth-pop ensemble Vogon Poetry have been delivering fine electronic moments since 2012, demonstrating a particular flair for combining engaging tunes with sci-fi themes. Consisting of Roger Tell, Daniel Önnerby and John Andersson, the trio have previously cited the likes of IAMX, Yazoo, S.P.O.C.K. and Elegant Machinery as influences, but there’s something undeniably unique about Vogon Poetry’s style, a quality which tends towards uplifting, euphoric electropop.

2018’s Life, the Universe and Everything album (see The Electricity Club review previously) offered up the excellent ‘Dangers In Space’, the brooding ‘The Upside Down’ and the Jarre-esque melodies of ‘Heart Of Gold’. More recently, 2020’s Deep Thought (see TEC review) saw Vogon Poetry deliver some more reflective, engaging compositions care of the evocative ‘Exposed Thoughts’ and the downbeat ‘Changes’.

More recently, Vogon Poetry unleashed the excellent ‘Atomic Skies’, a dynamic slice of sample-laden video game-inspired electropop that signposted a fresh direction for the band.

Vogon Poetry are also an effective live combo, as they demonstrated during an inspired performance at 2019’s Artefaktor 3 event in London.

The Electricity Club caught up with the Vogon Poetry boys to discuss the electronic outfit’s evolution over the years and their plans for the future…

How did Vogon Poetry originally come together? What were your individual musical backgrounds prior to forming the band?

Daniel and Roger worked together back when the band formed in 2012. There was a party at work where a music competition was held and Roger and Daniel was in the same group writing the first ever Vogon Poetry track, although the name Vogon Poetry was not decided back then.

When we had written the contribution, we realised that we needed someone who actually could sing. We knew John from the gym we all were training at and we also knew he could sing, although he was not that into electronic music. We asked him and since he loves to perform and didn’t really mind what kind of music, we got him onboard for the evening. It turned out to be really fun and all of us enjoyed both writing the song and performing it, so we decided to continue and see where things might take us. In the band, Roger and Daniel have a history in electronic bands such as 60 Degrees and Plastic Planet and both are into the electronic genre, while John is more into country. John has previously competed both in The Voice and X Factor. He is also part of a troubadour duo performing frequently.

What is the typical process for writing and recording material?

Since Roger writes most of the music and lyrics, he usually bring a complete song with lyrics when we get together for a vocal recording session. Those sessions usually include beer and JD. During them, we sculpt the melody together and John puts his twist on to it how he would like to sing it. We also always compose the vocal layers during those sessions.

The process for writing the songs is that music always comes before lyrics. Usually, they develop from different pieces of soundscapes, bass, snippets of melodies and grows from there. The lyrics then are usually written after having given the song some time to mature. Lyrics are quite often written during vacation times where the mind has the time to wander, whilst the music from the beginning usually was written during work-related travels, but now more is a way of relaxation when creativity strikes.

What sort of equipment does the band use in the studio?

We are not at all interested in equipment, synthesizers or such things. We choose the easiest way of working as long as we think it sounds good and that is always software. We use a whole lot of software synthesizers together with Logic and that’s really it. This mainly become the way since music were composed during travels, but we are really not interested in hardware equipment and we don’t have the patience to work with all that.

Obviously there’s a heavy Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy theme running through much of Vogon Poetry’s releases. What is it about Douglas Adam’s quirky Sci-Fi story that compels Vogon Poetry to revisit it again and again?

Well, we are Sci-Fi geeks, so we have covered a lot of different Science fiction themes throughout the years. Everything from Battlestar Galactica, Dune, Firefly, Alien, Stranger Things and more but the HHGTTG universe I think we love because of its crazy humour. We are a bit like that in the band as well, so it fits very well with our live performance being more of a happy experience where you can both laugh, jump and singalong. We are not at all the difficult dark electro act when we play live. Rather the opposite, although quite a few of our songs deals with darker topics.

How did Covid-19 affect Vogon Poetry’s activities?

Mainly it was playing live that was affected by Covid-19. We released our fourth album during the pandemic but could, of course, not celebrate it the way we first intended to with a live concert and release party. We instead live-streamed a complete concert from Roger’s living room with the closest friends in the sofa and the rest of the world on link. It actually worked very well but was of course not the same thing as a live concert. We had to wait another seven months for that to happen.

The Electric Passion EP (see TEC review previously) was an unusual collaborative project as both Vogon Poetry and Electric Cowboys produced their own versions of the songs separately. What was the genesis of that collaboration and what are your thoughts on collaborations in general?

We had previously played live together with Electric City Cowboys and they are such amazing guys so when we released our single ‘Exposed Thoughts’ we asked them if they wanted to do a remix and they did. A great one too. When we then had our song ‘Passion’ ready for remixing, we asked them again if they wanted to take a shot at it. They came back with the suggestion to remix one of each other’s tracks and during these conversations the idea of actually releasing it as a collaboration was born.

We also had these discussions together with Niclas Blyh, label manager for pbhedia, who thought it was a great idea. We took it one step further and decided to actually release a vinyl EP where we have both the original tracks as well as the remixes. We think that collaborations between smaller bands is a good thing. It brings the audiences of both bands together and is a way for people to discover new bands. Also, it’s great fun.

‘Tankar’ marked the first time that Vogon Poetry had released a song in Swedish. Roger, you’re on record as stating that it was one of the most challenging songs to write. Can you talk a little about this track?

Well, we had been thinking about writing a track in Swedish for some time, but I didn’t really dare to dive into it since I felt that if I write something in Swedish I want something that I can feel proud of and I guess I felt that it was easier to get away with things writing in English for some reason. If I were to write in Swedish I also didn’t want to write a Sci-Fi story but rather a song that meant something and was important for me. I think the result came out better than I hoped for and I think it’s one of my better lyrics.

John, how did it feel being able to sing in Swedish with ‘Tankar’? Also, what are your thoughts on that in comparison to singing in English (as with most VP songs)?

For me it doesn’t really matter if I sing in English, Swedish or in my native tongue “Skånska”. I think it’s easier to reach a larger audience through English lyrics but sometimes you just have to chuck the listeners with one or perhaps even two Swedish songs…

Vogon Poetry tend to use a lot of samples taken from films to enhance the mood of some songs. The likes of ‘Dangers In Space’ and ’The Nightflyer’ being good examples. How tough is it to source the right samples and how long do you work on weaving them into a song?

It’s so different. Sometimes it’s movies or TV shows I watch where I identify samples I really feel would fit perfect in a song and I then write the lyrics after having applied the samples. Sometimes I write the lyrics about a movie and then want to add samples to give the song an added layer. That usually takes longer because then I need to find samples that goes well with the lyrics and fits with the feeling of the track, so that sometimes takes quite some time.

I have always enjoyed samples in songs and to be able to identify them and be taken straight into the movie they come from, so I guess that’s also why I like to incorporate them into our songs.

The album Deep Thought (see TEC review) offers up some surprisingly quieter moments from Vogon Poetry, particularly the emotive ‘Exposed Thoughts’. What was the inspiration to go for a more reflective angle on those songs?

Yes, there are a few tracks on Deep Thought that are deep (no pun intended), so the title was actually for several reasons a very good fit for this album. Songs like ‘Exposed Thoughts’, ‘Changes’ and ‘Tankar’ deals with everyday life and the challenges it brings. Also, the period when Deep Thought was written was for me (Roger) a tough period in life and that definitely spilled over in my lyrics and also I think in some of the music. You mentioned ‘Exposed Thoughts’ as an example and that song was dedicated to my wife and the strength she possesses. It’s my tribute to her and how much she means helping me overcome the challenges we face.

Daniel, you’re pretty much the band’s in-house graphic designer. How do you approach designing artwork for the various releases?

The artwork should reinforce the music which makes it fairly simple when it comes to singles like ‘Atomic Skies’. But the tricky part is making album covers that should reflect all the music on an album. Most of the time we brainstorm many ideas – often nerdy and Sci-Fi-related – and all of a sudden something sticks and we run with it. Overthinking is not our thing.

How is the Swedish electronic scene doing? How would you compare the Swedish scene to the UK scene?

I think the Swedish scene is quite vibrant when it comes to creating good music. There are quite a few really active bands. It’s a bit like if you are into this kind of music, the probability that you also are active as a musician is higher than if you were listening to mainstream music. I’m not sure if this is the case in the UK. There are a lot of bands there as well and when we have played in UK we have really enjoyed both the bands we have watched and the audiences when we played for sure.

I think it’s a bigger difference if you compare the Swedish scene to the German. Last weekend when we played at NCN Festival outside Leipzig the audience really went all in and it felt as though the scene is a lot larger and active there.

Science fiction is a vital part of the Vogon Poetry DNA and there’s obviously a love for a lot of the classic films. Are there any films or similar that have struck a chord with you in recent years?

Does 1986 count as recent? Well, there are a few TV shows that we do love. For example, Stranger Things and The Expanse. The remake of Battlestar Galactica, which is a bit older, is one of our absolute favourites too. When it comes to movies it’s a bit harder. The Martian was excellent although it’s almost not Sci-Fi any more. Upgrade was really good too. Now we aim to see the new Dune movie of course. We hope it’s ok since we did a tribute to it on the last album. Also, we hope the upcoming Matrix movie will be good.

You’ve just released ‘Atomic Skies’, which appears to start off a new chapter in Vogon Poetry’s story. How do you see the band’s activities developing in 2021?

I guess the biggest change from the past 1.5 years is that we can play live again. We are and will probably never be a band that play live very frequently. Life is a bit too filled with everything else, but we do love to play live and we just returned from Germany and will visit the south of Sweden in October and play together with another Swedish band called Cold Connection.

We are of course also working on new songs and have a few already recorded but we haven’t decided on when, how and what the next release will look like yet. Also, there might be more collaborations coming so we are keeping busy.