Being back on business after an 8-year hiatus is not as easy as one may think. Of course, these progsters from Sweden were not made for easy & boring things in life, that’s for sure. I had been expecting their new album all these years so I got the chance and talked with the guitarist/songwriter Ola Andersson about the band’s past, present and future…
ACT band pic

Hi Ola. Welcome back to music industry dude. “Circus Pandemonium” is a delightful album indeed! Kudos!
O: Yeah, thanks! We are extremely proud it!
So, tell us… why did you take such a long break after the astonishing “Silence” in 2006? One would believe that “Silence” could have been the ticket for your success. Instead you vanished for several years. What happened?
O: Actually we started working with album number five around 2008. But after a while we came to a point where each rehearsal was all about remembering what we did last time, we got nowhere, one step forward two steps back. We realized that we were feeling unmotivated, and that we needed to take a short break. It was also a time when so much was happening in our lives. We worked full time, we had begun to start families and we were working on other projects. Then all of a sudden years had passed. But we needed the break. Because once we kicked it up again we were so eager and motivated that our creativity just exploded.
At what point did you decide to return to music industry? How were things? Surely, they were different from what they used to be 8 years ago huh?
O: We were having a big summer party at Hermans place. The day after, in the morning Jerry started talking about an idea that came to him – the next album should be about a circus. It was such a cliché, but also so damned right. If someone should do a record with a circus theme, it should be A.C.T, it’s like made for us. Everybody really liked the idea, and that got us started, it got us excited. All of a sudden we had our next meeting planned and from there it just went by itself.
The music industry was different, absolutely. But we are not reactionary and did not care so much about it. On the contrary we saw many advantages in how the industry had changed. But the companies were grumpy over the change of course, so we decided to start up our own company and release the album ourselves. It would not have been possible for us eight years ago, not so easily at least. We like it so much better now.

Do you think that this 8-year absence has worked for the band’s own benefit or not? Are 8 years enough to make your fans forget all about you? Personally, I was expecting a new album… almost every year after “Silence”, till I realized that for some reason you wanted to stay away… not knowing for how long though.
O: It’s actually like no time have passed. Of course we are older, but once we are up on the stage it’s like it was yesterday. Once the album was out all the fans were back. And every day more are joining. We have the best fans in the world, there’s no doubt, they have been very, very patient, and we hope that the wait was worth it. We think so at least. One thing is for sure, if we had not taken the break, “Circus Pandemonium” wouldn’t have happened.
What does the title “Circus Pandemonium” states? Does it have a largely sense about the world these days?
O: I wish I could say something really clever here, that there is a hidden subtext, and that our circus would be an analogy or metaphor for the situation on earth today. In a way it is, but that was not the intention. No it’s about the chaos at the circus that our story revolves around. For those working at the circus, life is a hell, a travelling chaotic hell and they can’t find a way out of it.
Tell us about the conceptual background of the album and the characters which take part in it.
O: It is about a circus. About a few lost souls who work there and who all struggle with both their inner demons and one external demon – the circus manager. It’s about a tamer with magical abilities, who has talked with animals since he was a child. It’s about a freak who longs for a normal life, a freak everybody is trying to help to escape, but realizing he’s got nowhere to go he always returns. It’s about a tightrope walker who is forced to take bigger and bigger risks. The album begins with the end of the story. When the tormented, alcoholic clown Verdel – who once was considered to be the funniest man alive – rebels and storms the tent during a show. Everybody joins in and it all ends in chaos.
How did you come up with the idea to make a concept album with this specific theme?
O: The theme suits us pretty well. From the beginning it was Jerry’s idea and we just kind of brainstormed around the theme and found lots of fun ideas. Ideas that got us excited and that was pretty much it, how it started. You know, if it makes you excited you know it is right.
On the cover, we kinda see what’s going on behind the scenes of the Circus/world. Headless enslaved people ruled by evil clowns… or what?
O: The front cover shows the manager presenting the chained and terrifying Freak. Although, the freak is the warmest and nicest person in the whole story but he’s a slave.
How does the Japanese bonus track “Scarred” fit the whole concept? If it does… then is it missed from the overall concept we hear or not? What’s with this?
O: “Scarred” is a part of the story.
Are concept albums a challenge to make? Is it harder than working on tracks separately? Do you think that concept albums are for a more specific audience or not?
O: We don’t know, for us things just gets better when we are working around a concept or a theme. It inspires us and gives a lot of ideas.
Where did the recordings take place and who produced, mixed & mastered the album? Are you satisfied with the final outcome?
O: Drums, guitars, bass and most of the vocals was recorded in a studio that share with two friends in Malmö. Henrik Hansson and Joakim Mellberg helped us with micing drums and some of the guitars, otherwise we did all the recordings ourselves. Jerry recorded his parts at home and some of the choirs were recorded at his place as well. Mixing took place at Sunnanå studios in Malmö and was handled by Martin Hedin, Markus Nilsson and the annoying band members themselves. We are extremely proud of the result.
You have released the album on your own in Europe & US. In Japan, it came out through Marquee. How did that occur? Weren’t you satisfied with any label offers or you just wanted to have the total control of it?
O: Yes, control was the main reason and the labels attitude towards changes in the business was another. But Marquee/Avalon was as happy as always and they were also sincerely interested in releasing the album.
How have things changed on the label’s part during the last years? Are they better or worse today?
O: I don’t know to be honest, but my impression is that they are a bit grumpy and bitter. That’s why we decided to do this on our own in Europe and USA. Maybe I’m just generalizing, we have not talked to that many labels.
Is it better for each band to go on its own? We even see that a band/artist can fund his own album through funding platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo etc. Is that what the future holds for music? If you have fans that can support you and fund you then you go on. If not, then you stay home! As easy as that!
O: It is definitely more work. But if you are willing to sacrifice the time it is worth it and it is fun. You learn a lot, not only about the music industry, but about running your own company, accounting, marketing and writing invoices and contracts. It is good knowledge to have in life. But the number one argument is that you have full control over you own product, you see where money is going and you see where money is coming in. And you have the right to do whatever you want to with the product. Of course you can’t do everything yourself, you need to find partners, but at least you choose them yourself. I am absolutely not against labels. I know for sure that there are lots of labels out there today that have adapted and become more transparent.
What are your expectations for this album?
O: That those who listen to it love it as much as we do. That people think it stands out from the mass, that it both feels and sounds different from anything else they have ever heard, that it is something new and fresh. That’s the way we look at it anyway and we hope our vision has broken through. If the album sells really well, that is just a bonus. But so far it is looking really good.
Will there be any video for any of the tracks? If yes, for which one?
O: Yes, there will! We have not really decided which tracks though. But we might do a few of them.
Apart from the live show that it will take place in your home town, are there any other plans for a tour or specific live shows around Europe?
O: We actually have a couple of shows planned in Sweden, and more are coming in. The only show booked outside Sweden so far is Holland, the Headway festival. We are all working full time so it’s hard to go on any longer tours in Europe. But we are looking at different options and hopefully we will be able to do some shows around Europe later this year. At least that is what we are aiming at.
So, once again I guess you have to define your music style. How would you describe it to someone who hasn’t heard you before?
O: Like a really good book or movie it is full of surprises, twist and turns. It is complex but also fun and easy. It is without any borders, there are no rules. The music is layered, you can listen to it many times and still find new things. In all that mess we always keep a really strong focus on the melodies, they are number one – always!
It’s time for the Weird Questions!!! How did you come up with the name A.C.T and what do the initials mean?
O: It’s a secret! Sorry. (i.n.: Damn! I know! But I gave it a shot!)
Which is the weirdest prog rock/metal album of all time, the most commercial one and the most technical one?
O: The most commercial must be something with Pink Floyd. The most technical? Does Meshuggah or The Dillinger Escape Plan counts? Well, I love them and they are pretty technical. Gentle Giant, UK and Planet X has some pretty complex stuff as well. Weird: Most prog is weird…
How do you see the “free downloading issue” of our time? In a world where people easily download music for free and hardly pay for it what can we do in order to change things? Is it different now that you can see things on the inside?
O: A complex issue and I’ll rather not get into it. But if the intention is to make money, you need to be a business man – or a business woman of course. And a creative business person can find new ways, and he or she can see opportunities where other sees a falling industry.
Which one do you prefer: Vinyl, CD or Mp3 and why?
O: The all have pros and cons.
Is music art? Or it used to be? How can those mainstream hit songs we repeatedly hear on the internet, radio & TV be taken as music art?
O: Music is art, entertainment and business. Sometimes it is more of one than the other, but nothing is really wrong here and in the end it’s all about personal taste. If you are good at making music that hits exactly what most people really like, well, then you have a talent. Also, even if music is considered to be completely business and entertainment it could be art in a different context.
How important is music for the human soul? Is its existence valuable & essential for the human souls?
O: I have tried to run away from it many times, but it just keeps coming back.
Rock stars, Pop stars & Porn Stars… do people need ‘em or they’re just part of the show biz which creates fake & blank idols?
O: If it were not for artists like Prince, Nuno Bettencourt and Marty Friedman I wouldn’t be playing guitar today. I wanted to become one of them. For me, the Idols were extremely important, they gave me something concrete to target my goals against. I wanted to be as cool and talented as they were.
Imagine that your wife/girlfriend is selling your whole album-collection just to buy an expensive ring for herself. How would you react?
O: I would be impressed, steal the ring, sell it and buy a new guitar instead.
We’ve finally come to an end. Thx for this interview Ola. Wish you the best for the future. Close this interview in your own words…
O: Take it easy!