My first band must have been as early as 1983 as far as I can gather. We were actually called Guf & Gutterne, believe it or not! I played the drums (badly). I think we were kind of an amateurish pre-teenage punkband. We struggled with a few original songs about subjects like love and pollution. Among the other members, one plays bass with danish singer songwriter Allan Olsen today, another is a chef from what I’ve heard, but had a stint in a band called Elektrisk Jernalder in the early nineties. We didn’t play for very long.
The band did however evolve into Morgan Le Fay around 1984. We played a few shows and went for a clearer post-punk sound, with some very distorted guitar and hilariously pretentious lyrics. I can remember a few song titles like The End and Fragments Of Faith. The band was soon renamed The Morgue and also played a few shows under that name, featuring Nik from On Trial on vocals and metallic percussion – inspired by Einsturzende Neubauten I guess. Distorted bass, drums (no cymbals, hihat or snare, only toms!), a large metal barrel with various nails and garbage on top – and vocals. We were booed off stage and somebody yelled “homos!” at us at our first show. Song titles: Izobel, Depraved and The Wake.
Later, around 1985 I think, we tried to add guitarist Morten Aron (who at that point already played in punkband On Trial) but he didn’t really get the dark and sinister new wave music we were aiming for, so instead we started playing Elvis Presley covers and having fun in a drunken psychobilly band called The Dogs. We did very fast versions of Baby, Let’s Play House, Fever and stuff like that. I wrote a song called I’m The Dog that we did, kind of a slow Cramps inspired blues. A lot of our originals were about this comic book dog universe.
I had borrowed a red hollowbody electric guitar from Aron shortly before that and had started writing songs in the four chords he taught me. The very first one I wrote was called Looking For You, but I didn’t dare play that for anyone at all. I remember it was about the future love I was hoping to find at the time. My toes cringe when I think about it. Eventually, On Trial lost their drummer and bassplayer, so me and Nik joined that band instead. That was the summer of 1986 and I was 15.
In the early days of On Trial we stuck mostly to the ten song set that they had ready when me and Nik joined. It consisted of pretty fast hardcore punk with a mix of danish and english lyrics. Some titles were Hækkesaksmassakren, Getting Nowhere and Make Me Forget. We’d quickly start writing new material and doing quite a lot of covers though. Mostly stuff by The Rolling Stones, Neil Young and The Stooges at first, but that would soon change. Me and Morten Aron developed a healthy interest over the next years in what was then called “sixties acidpunk” and we’d try to convince the others to do covers of stuff like Voices Green And Purple by The Bees, Are You Gonna Be There At The Love In? by The Chocolate Watchband and I’m Gonna Make You Mine by The Shadows Of Knight.
We did our first show in december 1986, playing at our high school (Rødovre Gymnasium) with a lot of other local bands. We had 15 minutes and played four songs – but I’m not sure which ones exactly, probably still quite punky originals. I seem to remember we did one of my own early songs called Beloved She, but I might be wrong. The Dogs played a legendary set as well, mostly a lot of arguing in microphones about what to play, passing a vodka bottle around and not much music. I think both shows still exist on cassette tape somewhere, but I don’t have any of those early recordings anymore – most of mine were thrown out by myself in 1996 in a depressive panic fit. I burned a lot of lyric notebooks as well. A shame some would say, but at the time it felt right. I’ve done that again a few times since then, sometimes I just feel a need to clear away musical and lyrical ideas that are too old to be of any use. Would have been fun to have some of those tapes now though. At least for documentation.
These memories are a bit hazy, so I don’t always remember exactly what order things happened in, but we’d go to a lot of shows together around this time and I still remember a couple of them that were big eye openers for me in shaping my musical tastes. One was The Leather Nun and Sort Sol in a venue called Saltlageret, I think in 1986. Another was The Nomads in Ungdomshuset, probably the year after, but I’m not totally sure. All three bands focused heavily on the sixties period at this time, playing Roky Erickson, Red Crayola and The Sonics covers or at least had a heavy influence audible in their own material. This resulted in a musical curiosity and a burning desire in me to find out about this period. Now, this was before the internet, kids – back then you’d have to go to the library, record stores or ask somebody who might know about it. There was no Google, can you believe it?
Then there were The Fuzztones. They were one of the instigators as well. Aron picked up some albums on a holiday in Greece as I recall. Lysergic Emanations, Live In Europe and Leave Your Mind At Home. I remember many times in his cellar waking up hungover after a party, listening to records that he had picked up somewhere. I remember taking trips to Malmø and Helsingborg, Sweden to hunt for records that were extremely difficult to find in Copenhagen. We’d gasp at the monstrous screams of The Sonics, flip over the rocking monotony of The Seeds and look puzzled at each other over The 13th Floor Elevators Bull Of The Woods. It took us some time to appreciate that last album, but now it’s one of my absolute favourites. Next was Nuggets, Pebbles, Highs In The MidSixties and all those comps. We weren’t really in the financial league for buying originals, and we didn’t have any idea where to look so those were mostly reissues – but there were a few original LP’s I found in that late eighties period that I still have in my collection.
On Trial’s music was very diverse in the whole late eighties period, actually I think it wasn’t until ’92-’93 that we started to settle on a defined sound. We’d try out different styles and our setlist would change a lot from gig to gig. We’d go through writing slightly funky upbeat rap-rock, moody and poppy stadium ballads and doing rather moronic garagepunk covers like Shape Of Things To Come, The Witch, Strychnine or Be Forewarned by Macabre, we even tried adding a keyboard player and wrote some hypnotic new wave postpunk songs like the one called “Structure”. Sometimes we’d do old The Dogs material, sometimes we’d play Hendrix’s Hey Joe or Search And Destroy from Rawpower, even Jumping Jack Flash and Gimme Shelter by the Stones, sometimes we’d just smoke a joint and jam in one chord for twenty minutes…we were very much a confused rehearsal room type band who didn’t play live much and couldn’t really agree with eachother on what to do.
Around ’89 a small label amazingly agreed to do an album with us and we argued a lot both within the band and with the label people over what style and songs to present on that LP. Covers were out of the question and most of our originals seemed kind of old and/or too skizo at that point. The result, 1990’s “Like This…” (we wanted to call it Life’s A Bitch, but the label vetoed) on Snog Rock Records is a bad case of “inexperienced band in a large modern studio and no idea what to do about it”. We tried to be a bit hip and upbeat and wrote a bunch of songs in a LA hardrock style, inspired by Guns’N’Roses and stuff like that. Yes, we were very young and I guess we hoped for a commercial breakthrough. None of us really enjoy listening to the album today, but I remember a 2 track tape reel we recorded with demos not long before the album, that consisted of our live material, including a lot of covers, which was really good and perfectly crappy sounding. We should have released that instead, but the label didn’t like the idea.
Looking back today, I think the whole experience is an important explanation as to why On Trial evolved as we did after that. We felt like losers and were quite disillusioned with the whole music business thing. Luckily, we didn’t stop experimenting with styles and sounds, writing a lot of songs and recording a lot of demos along the way – and still also argued quite a lot. We really did have very diverse musical tastes among the five of us. There’s a demo from around ’92 I think, which has us trying a kind of Seattle-Grunge thing, but it also includes an 8-minute heavy sludge journey in E-minor called Heavy Levitation. That one had some backwards guitars and stuff like that, sound effects, strange voices…Another demo, which was even a bit earlier had some seriously extended stoned jamming we called Death Of A Dinosaur, clearly inspired by Sabbath, Hawkwind and smoking a lot of bong. We were starting to get more and more un-commercial, hopelessly experimental and heavily psychedelic. Some of us were very interested in acid, mushrooms and related mystical philosophy, weed culture and a slacker type lifestyle.
The rehearsal we had at this point (from ’93 I think) was pretty strange, there was nothing but red lights and a fan that had a lot of toiletpaper and coloured confetti stuck on it. Small, claustrophobic room, shaped like a teardrop or a comic book textbubble, low ceiling, sort of an atmosphere like in an aquarium. There was a reason for the word Underwater in the title of our next album, we talked about getting that feeling when we played a lot. We’d take turns taking the bicycle ride to Christiania to get some grass, fiddle with wahwah pedals and wrote songs like Into The Void which later ended up on the Head Entrance album. We’d play that song a lot in this period, often unbelievably out of our heads. We also started molding together our cover of The 13th Floor Elevators’ Slip Inside This House around this time and collectively felt we were beginning to find our own sound and do our own thing. The red light was always on, the fan was always going and a steady stream of spliffs were being passed around. I’m getting a dejavu flashback right now just thinking about it. My ears are buzzing with long forgotten riffs…wah, wah, wah, wah….aaaaaaaaaah, nice times.
In ’93 I also got my hands on a four track cassette machine that changed my life a lot, a Fostex X-30 Multitracker. I bought it second hand for 1500,- DKK. It was my third machine, the first was a Tascam which was really hard to get a good guitar sound with, the second was an X-15, which was better but kind of limited. The X-30 was what was really happening for me. I still have it and it works ok, but it has always been a bit temperamental. I just love the distortion it makes and I think I must have made maybe a thousand songs on that machine. The best of those from the ’93-’96 period have later been released under the name Pandemonica on three vinyl albums and a 12″ EP. This was also the machine we started recording the second On Trial album on. At this point, we really felt that studios were a waste of time, we couldn’t find anybody who understood what we wanted to do and most of the recordings we did in studios ended up sounding wrong to our ears. Slick, overproduced or just plain wrong. Seventy Kilometers Of Underwater Nothingness, Kaptain was released in ’95, but recorded over more than a year before that in that strange bubbly room I mentioned earlier, in a haze of weedsmoke and echoed wahwah sounds. We printed 600 cd’s, got our shit together a bit and slowly things started happening for us again.
Soon after S.K.U.N.K was released we were contacted by Ralph Rjeily who wanted to book us from his little agency office. He also became our soundman and hooked us up with the driver nicknamed Sporten. We’re still working with both of them. Around the same time we’d got a deal with a small danish vinyl-only label called Helicopter and started recording our next album Head Entrance. That one was done on an 8-track half inch machine in a large stonewalled room beneath a parking lot, pretty much recorded live with only a few overdubs. Some people still think this is On Trial’s best album. While it’s certainly not exactly “good sound quality”, it’s still clear enough for most people with an open mind to enjoy it and when I listened to it lately, I thought the chemistry of the band, the songs and the sound makes it obvious that it’s something very special.
The year after, the album was picked up by German metal label SPV for a European cd-release. This meant quite a lot of touring in the coming years. Germany, Switzerland, Holland, Belgium. I think it’s fair to estimate we played around 500 gigs in this period. The most fun tours were the ones we did with swedish labelmates Mother Superior as I remember it, but it was also mostly quite rough, a lot of waking up hungover on cold concrete floors and a lot of coughing and feeling sick in the van with another 15 gigs to do and stuff like that. Slowly we were building an audience in places like Hannover, Köln, Bern, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Bremen, most of them being potsmokers and record collectors like us – which mostly meant we sold a hell of a lot of merch. This whole touring period was later documented with the release of a double live LP of walkman recordings called Psychedelic Freakout Party. We still couldn’t really make any money touring in our home country though. We were largely ignored by the Danish media and it was basically mostly a struggle for us.
Around ’98 Ralph got us a recording deal with british label Delerium, finally we were getting our studio time financed, although the recording budgets we had would probably make you laugh. First we did an EP of obscure covers called Head and after that an album called New Day Rising. These were done in real studios by ourselves, although by this time we’d established working methods that were quite out of control and made it impossible for us to do a modern, slick and polished production. We’d always prefer a little (actually a lot, even) microphone bleeding to capture the feeling of playing live when we did the basic tracks. Often we would record vocals with the cheapest microphones and even “ruin” them further by running them through my Fostex machine, we’d also found out that digital studio effects were useless, so instead we’d use crappy guitar pedals and an old Roland tape echo/spring reverb for everything. We’d also indulge a little too much sometimes. I remember mixing some of New Day Rising on a speed rush, which almost but not quite fucked the whole thing up.
We played Roskilde Festival in ’98 and ’99, although both times for very few people as we were scheduled pretty early. The ’99 gig was also Aron’s last with On Trial, as he felt tired of the touring and the general circus of being in a band. I also think he felt his family was more important, which was surely understandable to me, but it also started me thinking about doing other things on my own. For a long time by now I’d been writing songs on my 4 track and as they were not always obvious as On Trial material I booked a studio for a week in the fall of ’99 and recorded what was to become the first Baby Woodrose album Blows Your Mind. A little earlier, I’d had a crazy summer of living in our rehearsal room, working with the X-30 almost everyday, doing a shitload of songs, which pretty much formed the basis of the next bunch of albums I’d do – not only Blows Your Mind, but also Blinded By The Sun, the Spids Nøgenhat album and even some of the stuff that ended up on Money For Soul.
That summer, I had something like an artistic breakthrough or whatever you wanna call it. I really started to look at my own songwriting a lot differently anyway. Instead of trying to come up with words that could be hooklines or melodies that were good, I started thinking that any phrase was valid and totally relevant. If I could think of it, it was mine. I didn’t worry if it had been used before, if it was original or even brilliant. It didn’t matter – I could always discard the idea later if I didn’t like it particularly or if it sounded too much like something else, the important thing was following each little spark all the way through to see what was hiding in there. I started deliberately re-using songtitles and even phrases from my own favourite songs, I stole riffs from old records and turned them around or added something, made them my own. This is still very much the way I write. My stuff has always been quite personal really, but after that summer I stopped trying to obscure it and basically just started to say flat out what I wanted to say.
The liveband version of Baby Woodrose went through several stages before I settled on a line-up. I remember one early rehearsal summer of 2000 that had Anders Stub who now plays drums in On Trial and his old bandmate Sölvi Blöndal who also used to be in Mother Superior with him. While being lots of fun on a personal level, it didn’t really work out musically. A year later we had the first go with the current line-up which was just great from the first count in. The record took a long time to get released because I couldn’t really find a label that was interested and eventually decided to release it myself in September 2001 – the event also marked the very first show we did. The album got surprisingly great reviews from all around the world and our first show had a really decent crowd, it seemed there was an audience and a streetlevel hype going on even before the record, so shortly after our debut we signed a contract with Bad Afro. This resulted in loads of releases – a live album recorded at danish garage festival Gutter Island in 2002, our second album Money For Soul from 2003, a covers album called Dropout in 2004, split singles with The Defectors and Sweatmaster and even a collaboration with danish beat legend Peter Belli.
A project with me singing danish lyrics had been going on for some time at that point. The band named Spids Nøgenhat (after the danish botanical name for the funny little mushroom known as Liberty Cap) was a sideproject involving the two On Trial guitarists, Aron and The Hobbit. We’d played some strange shows in the last half of the nineties, improvising flowing and floating guitar music with loads of echo on the vocals and I had written a handful of songs based around the lifestyle, slang phrases and musical taste of guitarist The Hobbit. Many of the songs were about or inspired by magic mushrooms (hvad har du taget idag, min ven?) homemade lightshow projectors (du må hellere skrue ned for blusset, inden glasset springer) hippie LP’s (hvorfor er der ikke nogen ting nogen steder?) and tape echo machines (så giv dog slip menneske, før det er for sent og alting vender tilbage) but could easily be interpreted on a broader level. We decided to round off that era with the recording and release of an album with some of those songs in 2001. The result is still my absolute favourite among my own work.
In On Trial, we’d started working on the Blinded By The Sun album around the same time. We did a small tour of Texas in 2000 plus a really extended european tour together with Nebula in 2001 and eventually finished the album for release in 2002 on Molten, which was basically Delerium with a new name. Included in the contract was a live album and a bunch of covers that resulted in the CD bonus version of our earlier Head EP. The Live album was recorded at my last show as a drummer for On Trial at Loppen, Christiania in July 2003. Me and Anders (aka Riky Woodrose aka The Moody Guru) felt it was time to move on – we could probably have continued with both bands if it wasn’t for the fact that Baby Woodrose was getting really busy by then. We had opened Roskilde Festival’s Orange Stage in 2003, playing for an audience of 40.000 and had recently released our second album Money For Soul, which got a lot of airplay on national radio. We were lucky to win an award, play live on TV and basically started selling a fair amount of records.
What makes a success? What makes the difference? What made Money For Soul happen like it did? I’ve thought about it a lot and I still don’t know. Was it the songs? The biggest hit from that album was undoubtedly Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, which wasn’t even chosen as a single in the first place and in fact was an idea I originally discarded and never finished for the first album. Was it the production? Most of it was recorded through a cheap Behringer pre-amp and we used microphones which weren’t exactly high profile either. Maybe it made a difference that we used Protools (or Amateur Tools as we pro’s call it) much more than we like to generally. It seems to me that the record buyers expect all records to sound alike these days. Was it the promotion? Bad Afro’s PR budget was ridiculous at the time, we had money for stickers and posters and that was it basically, but truth be told, the stickers DID look really great. Maybe it’s just a question of timing – or a coincidence? Maybe the powers that be (the gods, radio station executives, whatever…) just decided we’d been doing it long enough to deserve a piece of the cake?
We toured most of europe and played every little shithole in our home country in those years. All the stupid little summer festivals filled with smallminded people who’d expect us to play all our hits. Mostly we didn’t though, we liked to do new stuff and tried to look ahead and get ready for our next thing. For the first time in our lives we were making money doing what we’ve always loved, playing music, but we really spent a lot of that money recording Love Comes Down during 2005, which was released the year after. For the first time there was a heavy load of expectations for something we did and the album wasn’t easy for us to do, we ended up making a record that satisfied our key audience, blew off most of the people who we felt we couldn’t really count on anyway, but didn’t win us a larger audience either. Today we feel like we’re almost back where we started, but with much greater possibilities and a lot more experience. As a direct reaction to the whole thing we’ve been through, we did the Dragontears album, which was released recently, on a small budget, within a very limited time in the studio, featuring quite experimental and heavily psychedelic music.