What if your Saturday night escapades had a soundtrack coupled with the vivid auditory visuals that fit an action flick from the 1980’s? You’d get Night Shift, the debut album of Hortlax Cobra, better known as John Eriksson of the Swedish indie rock trio, Peter Bjorn and John. The album will debut June 4th under Ingrid, a record label formed by Peter Bjorn and John, Lykke Li, Miike Snow and other Swedish artists. Eriksson’s alter ego, Hortlax Cobra, combines three key elements into his latest project: the vocals reminiscent to his work in PBJ, classical contemporary sounds and a fusion of electronica. Percussion is part of Eriksson’s notable talents; however, his role as Hortlax Cobra showcases his versatility to piece together multiple genres in order to craft a melodious story that is both written and produced by him. “I had been playing drums and percussion for all my life and I wanted to see if I could create something listenable on my own,” says Eriksson. The indie crooner sits with Life + Times to discuss his electroacoustic life as Hortlax Cobra.
Life + Times: What motivated you to take on this side project?
Hortlax Cobra: Restlessness and a need to challenge myself. I started doing what I remember doing as a kid, recording skits on a tape recorder and combining heavy metal riffs with the sound of a screaming child. That was fun, but not very listenable. So now, I just try to make music that hopefully someone can enjoy.
L+T: There’s a measure of a 1980’s Miami Vice-esque vibe mixed with popish synths and a dollop of Euro disco with a backdrop of smooth vocals on Night Shift. Did I summarize that accurately?
HC: Pretty good summation. Glad you noticed the Miami Vice flavor. For me, what Jan Hammer and Harold Faltermeyer composed for TV and movies is an equally big cornerstone as records like Miles Davis’, Kind of Blue, The Velvet Underground & Nico and Kraftwerk’s, The Man-Machine. I get goose bombs every time I hear the Miami Vice theme and for me 1984 is when the magic happened. There is no ‘80s retro trend. It´s just a part of the music history and a LinnDrum machine is as classic as a Fender Stratocaster.
L+T: What were your muses in the overall creation of the album?
HC: The muses were the machines and my non-technical side. Most of the stuff is recorded “by hand” since I don’t know how to program stuff. I run the instruments through some crappy guitar amp or via a broken tape-echo and how that sounds is what inspires me to continue. A producer/sound technician in Stockholm really thought I should record the sounds clean and add the weird stuff later, but I can’t do it like that. I rather spend three months trying to clean up the mess I have created. Sometimes it almost feels like archaeology. Another muse was Ingmar Bergman. I hate his movies, but I like the ideas of them. I tried to make the lyrics feel like inner monologues from a theatrical movie.
L+T: You enlisted the help of Pontus Berghe (Thieves Like Us, Holiday for Strings) on the album. How was the experience of collaborating with a fellow drummer?
HC: Pontus is a great drummer, but I hired him because of his magical bass lines. He is like the bastard son of Paul McCartney and Bootsy Collins. He is also blessed with great taste and he can find gold in a bag filled with trash. He can also turn a nice sounding organ into trash and that is something I really value.
L+T: Is there anyone in particular you would like to partner with on song remixes?
HC: I just recently did a remix for Neneh Cherry and The Thing and just to be able to play around with her vocals was fantastic. So, I think I would like to explore other voices in the future. I will never be able to sing as good as Phil Collins anyway. As for other producers, I wish I could have been able to see [J. Dilla] in action, but that will have to wait.
L+T: The electronic and acoustic genres are two ingredients you would not expect to mesh together. Did you find Night Shift a challenge to record based off the differences between the two genres?
HC: I always try to make acoustic instruments to sound like something electronic and vice versa. When we record with Peter Bjorn and John, I try to make my drums sound like a drum machine and I have tried to force Peter to make his guitar sound like a laser beam, but that was impossible. I think the hardest thing for me would be to record a flute that sounds like a flute.
L+T: Night Shift has figurative story from the first song, “Berlin” to the conclusion with “Miami Elevator.” Was this your initial idea or did the original concept just evolve?
HC: I love concepts. The first concept for this album was that I wanted the entire album to be performed on a kids Casio keyboard and the working title for the album was Hortlax Cobra and Casio with a reference to Nina Simone and Piano; but there weren’t enough good drum sounds on that synth. Then, I named all the demos with different cities and some of them stuck. Almost by chance it just happened to become like a miniature electric opera about dizzy nightly thoughts and activities. So, it was an evolving concept…like life itself.