Lost and Found:
Image courtesy of WFMU
An Interview with Kasvot Växt's Georg Guomundrson
by Jason Gross
There are many albums that are more heard about than actually heard, but Kasvot Växt's í rokk is even more obscure than almost anything else I've run across. I will admit to not even having heard the whole of it myself, but as a devoted listener to a particular community radio station in upstate New York in the late 1980's, I was well tuned in when a few songs from it briefly rode the top of the charts of that tiny self-obsessed corner of the world. I'm pretty sure they were all played from the same taped copy of the album. The music wans't as mercurial as Magma (who sang in their own made-up langauge) and only slightly more mysterious than Horsebox or The Residents but there was something that was unique, appealing and alien about them that made them unforgettable nevertheless.
Back when I used to regularly keep a blank cassette in the stereo, I was able to snag a copy of the song that the DJ pronounced "Skillpad Skyer," which I played over and over until the tape stretched and warped, and it eventually disappeared with a box of other cassettes I had when I moved out of an attic apartment a decade after.
Years later, amid mp3 blogs and a gazillion questionable reissue labels, I hoped again and again that this magical little piece of ultra-obscure music would surface on SOME obscure website, but no such luck (so far). Information beyond the band members' names was scant, and it was likewise unclear what languages they're singing in. In a somewhat apocryphal-sounding blog post, even the normally reliable WFMU doesn't offer up much concrete about the quartet, let alone mp3s.
Finally though, through the magic of MySpace, I was able to track down a lead. More specifically, I was able to track down Georg Guomundrson, now working as a civil servant in Bergen, Norway, who seemed almost completely mortified to hear from me and to revisit a part of his life he'd long since put behind him.
Though declining in advance to speak of the Nine Cubes, the allegedly Project MKUltra-like research unit attached to the facility where Kasvot Växt came together, he reluctantly but politely agreed to answer some questions about the band he played in while in his early 20's.
Georg's enthusiasm for recalling that period of his life never seemed to rise, and his brief answers required frequent prodding on my part, as if this beloved and mysterious album were merely an embarrassing interlude from his adolescence. Sometimes, he was so terse as to seem angry (and to make me feel self-conscious about pursuing our dialogue) but at other times, Georg recalled surprising details that made me thrilled to have contacted him. Our exchange took place over the course of several weeks last winter, when the northern daylight in Norway was nearly nonexistent, and I tried to remember what the album sounded like. Alas, it was no use asking Georg for a copy of the album, as you'll see in the interview.
Not long after we concluded our conversation, Georg deleted his MySpace account altogether, though not before sending me a cordial note, thanking me for my interest, and encouraging me to publish a transcript. "Thank you yes," he wrote. "But also no." English was not his first language but, as I learned, language barriers were a built-in part of Kasvot Växt's history.
PSF: How did you come to play in Kasvot Växt?
GG: It came from a job in the summer, that is all. I was done with university studies and needed a job. I was picked because I placed well in math. So, that was how I got the job, and I met them there.
PSF: Without getting into the Cubes project, what was the job like?
GG: It was a research facility in Greenland, though I wasn't a scientist, and we never really could leave because there was really nowhere to go. There was a town with a bar, but we were not welcome there. That was just where we worked. My job involved numbers from the research that I had to keep in my head. But when we were done with all the working, sometimes we would just play music.
PSF: And you worked with the other musicians?
GG: We all worked there though we didn't all work together. It is too complicated to explain- yes, in different ways we were all working (together) you could say. But it was something that we were to be doing there for the job, and the music did not have anything to do with that. I really don't think I knew any of them in some ways. Horst and I both were Icelandic so we could speak easily, but Cleif was also a strange one. Jules was very friendly. But they did not speak Icelandic and I did not speak their tongues. But we did music together. That is what we did instead of speaking- it was our tongue, so to speak.
PSF: How did you work out the music if you didn't speak the same language?
GG: Music is language. But we also had the numbers from our research which was a way to count. That is how some of the songs were written, through the number systems. But that is only the music. Honestly, I did not ever know what Cleif and Jules were singing. We would play and then take turns with the wording.
PSF: So you never discussed the lyrics?
GG: No. This was just something that was happening that summer, but nothing serious. I am surprised I even remember it.
PSF: Did you have influences?
GG: No. There was no beer and definitely not drugs on our research site.
PSF: Sorry, I actually meant to ask if were there musical influences that you had personally or that you shared with the other members of the band?
GG: No, we did not talk of that.
PSF: Are you and Horst brothers, or is it just a coincidence that you have the same last name?
GG: No, we are actually cousins through our mothers, but we only learned of that later, perhaps 10 years ago now. There was also a time (when) we felt like brothers, maybe, but that was also later. It is hard to say. Our last names are the same because the first names of our fathers are the same. This is how we Icelandics make names.
PSF: Did you all have instruments with you at the site?
GG: There were instruments, yes. I had an acoustical guitar, though I did not ever play it in the band. Cleif had the drum, and also a drumming machine, but he was not what you (would) call a drummer. There was also a keyboard there at the work- I think it was in a closet maybe. But also, some of the parts were made with electric boxes that were there, they made noise. He (Cleif) had to take them with him when we left at summer's end. I should not be telling you that, but it is now enough passed for that. He was the one who was serious about that.
PSF: How did the album come to be recorded in Stavanger (Norway)?
GG: That is where we went when the project was done, for the finishing-up part. Jules was from there, I think, and when we were let out, we went and stayed at where he was staying, with his girlfriend. When we realized (Cleif) had brought his sound boxes with him, we decided we should record the music. Heidl's friend, (who) was was a graduate student in sound at the university, found (how) to borrow a recorder and tape from the department.
PSF: And how did the album actually come out?
GG: That was him (Cleif) also. I don't know the job he had there but I think it might have had more money than ours. He insisted for us to make it, and found that Frode that put it out. But I think Cleif might have paid them. We did not get paid.
PSF: Do you know how many copies of the album there were made?
GG: I can't say that. I saw the boxes when he brought them back and helped carry them in during the rain. I would guess between 200 and 500. I am not certain I have a copy. If I do, it's with my parents. I have no need to listen to that.
PSF: When did you break up?
GG: I do not know if we were ever together really! I was in Stavanger four months. That was when I really learned Norwegian. But then I moved to Bergen. We never played anything after the record. The record was just to record the songs from when we were at the facility. They were not songs that we wanted to be hits. It was what we did. We just made up those songs. Like throwing darts.
PSF: Did you keep writing songs after that?
GG: Please understand- I did not write songs though we all wrote our songs. They were just music that came from us. I left my guitar at my parents' house but got it back when my son was born to play it for him. But I did not get back the Kasvot Växt album from their closet. That should say (something) to you!
PSF: Did you stay in touch with the other three members?
GG: Not really. Maybe cards for the holidays. Horst I would see more often, because we were both Icelandic but stayed in Norway. He stayed in better touch. You have probably heard of Cleif. He is very shut down now. Not here. He told me that [Cleif] was not speaking, though still sometimes made tapes with boxes. Maybe the same boxes from the project. He was the most enthusiastic. Now he does not speak. And he does not sing.
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