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Music has been a part Axel's life for a long time. Before getting into electronic music he was involved in the Stockholm punk scene, handling vocals and playing guitar in various outfits. The dreamy repetetiveness associated with the Field may seem worlds apart from guitar based chaos, but the punk approach to music still resounds in his work ethics.
— Yes, I still like things gritty and not so polished. I'm that kind of person who don't like to get stuck with details, fiddling with automation curves and things like that. The only thing that has changed is really the equipment I use. As for my way of working, it is not structured at all. I can't force myself being creative, I must feel for it. My studio is located in my apartment, which is perfect for my needs. When inspiration strikes I can start working immediately.
How did the leap from punk to electronic music look like?
— I got hooked on electronic music when I heard Little Fluffy Clouds by the Orb. Hearing Daft Punk on MTV was also a real eye-opener. A Roland drum machine, a TR-505, which previously only functioned as a simple rhythm machine accompanying me when I played the guitar, all of a sudden got more seriously used by me. A friend of mine had a couple of crappy old synths and using this equipment we started experimenting with electronic music in a more dedicated way. Then I discovered the sequencer software Buzztracker, developed by a Finnish guy. I used that program extensively for a long period of time, but nowadays the Octatrack has more or less replaced it completely. On Looping State of Mind, my latest record, it served as the main sequencer and sound source. I also use it when I play live. The Machinedrum has been with me for a long time as well.
Listening to the Field is like being on an evening train blazing through the countryside. The experience is both comforting and hypnotic, something that has been representative for all the Field releases since his debut 12” Things Keep Falling Down. It is quite common for music to be described as ”warm”, but in the case of Axel Willner it is completely justified.
— This warmth you speak of probably has to do with the material I choose to sample. It often has that characteristic, you could call it a kind of a softness. When I find a song I like, I listen to it several times and locate a few, particularly interesting, milliseconds which I sample and loop.
The titles of your albums seem to convey notions of transcendence. Looping state of mind, From here we go sublime and so on. Is this, so to speak, a conscious move?
— Almost all my song or album titles have something to do with what went on in my life at the time of writing. The title Looping state of mind for example; it reflects the way I felt when I worked on the album. It was my third major release and I felt pressured by myself. There was some angst involved during the whole process and my brain just wouldn't shut off. The same thoughts just kept appearing over and over again. It was indeed a looping state of mind.
Before becoming a full time musician and relocating to Berlin, Axel worked in Stockholm at Systembolaget, the state-controlled chain of liquor stores in Sweden. The choice of profession was logical given his fascination for good food and good drinks.
— Cooking is, apart from music, one of my biggest interests. In fact, almost the biggest one. That is one of the reasons why I liked working at Systembolaget, as I got to learn a lot about wine and beer. Music is actually rather similar to food and cooking. Adding one little ingredient can make a big difference when cooking and the same applies when making music. Making a the Field song is a bit like making a risotto. You stir and stir and stir and after a while you are done.
Any certain beer you want to recommend?
— It depends on the occasion, but a favorite of mine is Sierra Nevada, a beer from California. After moving to Berlin I discovered Jever, a German beer which I can highly recommend.
The archetypical live gig for electronic musicians usually looks like this: a person bent over a laptop or some gear, concentrating on the devices. This used to be the way the Field performed as well, but since a couple of years he has been joined by other musicians on stage. Together with friends Dan Enkvist on bass and synth and Jesper Skarin on drums, Axel is once again performing in a band setting.
— I grew tired of getting on the stage all by myself. It got pretty lonely and I liked playing in bands. Also, I have never really liked when all attention in a room gets directed towards me. As a kid I disliked talking in front of the class and that is, in a way, still the case today.
Have your way of producing changed since you started to play live with a band?
— When we gig, we play material from both old and new releases. To adapt my older songs to the band setting I have to strip them of content so live drums, synths and bass can be added. My second and third album were made after I started playing live with the band. The third album in particular was made with a live setting in mind, all tracks were kind of minimalistic from the start and then we added live instruments in a studio in Köln. The recording sessions were very traditional, kind of recording a real band. My next album will probably be made the same way.
Are you already under way with recording your next album?
— Not really. Looping State of Mind was released not that long ago and I have this philosophy that it is perfect to release an album every other year. It's not too long between the releases for you to get forgotten and they're not too close so people get tired of you. The Field is not Axel's only output. He has been involved in an impressive range of side projects, whose expressions range from mellow guitar based ambient to more free form electronica. Loops of your heart is maybe his best known side project, where reverb-laden drones are mixed with beautiful soundscapes. The debut album was released on the Kompakt label early 2012. But there is more to come from other side projects. Maybe.
— With the guys from my live band I have another band called Black Fog. That project is heavily inspired by old horror film sound tracks, you know the kind of music made by composers such as John Carpenter and the likes. This summer we recorded four songs when I was in Stockholm. We haven't decided yet if we are going to release them. We'll see I guess.
You grew up in Stockholm and now you live in Berlin. Have the two cities influenced your music?
— When I moved to Berlin I met a lot of new people and saw new places. That was inspirational. But nowadays I'm not really involved in the club scene, or any scene for that matter. Actually, I was more up to date when I lived in Stockholm. Also, since two years I'm a father and that makes you shift priorities so to speak.
Photo by Lars Borges