Dungen finds audience with psychedelic music


October 7, 2005


With a father who is a violinist and a music teacher and a family home in a 17th century farmhouse in the small village of Lanna in Vastergotland, Sweden, it's hardly surprising that Gustav Ejstes grew up with a deep knowledge of and love for mysterious Swedish folk music.

What's more unusual are the facts that as a teenager, Ejstes became enamored of American groups such as Public Enemy and N.W.A, and that as a twentysomething, in between milking the family's cows, he began applying what he learned while emulating those hip-hop acts in a home studio in his grandmother's basement via an ethereal "psychfolkrock" band called Dungen.

"When I discovered the samples on those hip-hop records, it seemed like what I had always been looking for," Ejstes said as his band made its way across the country on its first full-fledged American tour, following its debut performance in Chicago at the Intonation Festival last July. "But the thing with the computers and the samplers that I got fed up with is that I missed the live [performance] part. So I started to learn how to play all the instruments and make some sort of instrumental music that was very groove-oriented."

Dungen -- pronounced "dune-yen" and translated as "the grove" -- made its recorded debut with an impressive indie album called "Stadsvandringar" ("City Walks") in 2002. The ambitious double album "Ta Det Lugnt" ("Take It Easy") followed last year. On both releases, Ejstes sang and played nearly all of the instruments, including electric and acoustic guitars, bass, drums, keyboards, fiddle and flute. While his trippy sounds and his solo virtuosity bring to mind England's similarly psychedelic Bevis Frond -- as well as a long list of '60s heroes from the Incredible String Band to the Jefferson Airplane to Jimi Hendrix -- there is hardly a hint of Dr. Dre or Chuck D.


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    Then again, psychedelia, as Ejstes says, is in the ear of the beholder.

    "Recently, I have been listening to a lot of early-'90s stuff like Gang Starr Blacksheep and A Tribe Called Quest, and I'm getting inspired from it. It's probably far away from what we are doing, but it's just good music that I find psychedelic.

    "I think there is a lot of music that people don't see as psychedelic that I see as psychedelic, but it is music that makes you forget about everything for a while and takes you away. If it's a good song, it has a psychedelic effect on you. If you like Italian disco and you really like that and get off on it, I guess that's psychedelic to you. If you feel a love for something and get feelings from something like music or art or even eating with people, life is psychedelic in itself."

    Dungen's music alternately transports the listener to the outer reaches of the galaxy via full-throttle electric freak-outs and the darkest corners of the forest via bucolic acoustic reveries. Issued on his friend's Subliminal Sounds label, Ejstes' first two albums didn't win a huge following at home in Sweden, but Dungen began to build a fan base in the United States as listeners traded its songs on the Internet. The music seems all the more exotic to American listeners by virtue of the fact that Ejstes sings only in Swedish.

    "It's not a problem to me, because the people who come and see our shows think of the vocals as just one part of it -- a texture in the music. I don't think that words are so important to people, not in our music at least."

    But what, exactly, is the artist singing about?

    "A lot of personal stuff," Ejstes said, laughing. "There are some Swedish guys and girls that listen and do not understand exactly what I'm singing about, even though they speak the language, because there are two or three ways that you could listen to the lyrics and everyone could have their own interpretation. But it's important to me that the lyrics are honest, and that I'm singing about my own experience."

    Onstage, Ejstes has recruited several Swedish mates to flesh out Dungen's spacey, free-flowing grooves.

    "I did the recordings in Sweden and wanted to release them, and at that point, I had never been too interested in doing live shows," he said. "But since there were people asking for it, we set up this band. Now, sometimes I'm recording by myself and sometimes with the band. But onstage, we do a lot of improvisations; we want to keep it fresh and up to date."

    Nevertheless, Ejstes remains Dungen's driving force and sole songwriter.

    "I do music, and when I choose songs for an album, there is a lot of music that I put away and only the best part is left, and I do judge what are my best parts," he said when asked how he knows he's written a good song. "It's difficult, and I don't always know how I know. I have an idea for a song, and if I get it done in a good way, I guess I just feel it."



    Since her death at age 32 in 1974, Cass Elliot has been reduced to a punch line. Having come close to fulfilling her desire to become "the most famous fat girl who ever lived," thanks to the gorgeous harmonies she loaned the Mamas and the Papas and the central role she played in the California music scene of the '60s, the singer died from a heart attack aggravated by her weight (the official cause of death) or by her depression-fueled drug abuse (the real reason, clouded by the obfuscation of well-meaning friends, according to biographer Eddi Fiegel).

    A ham sandwich had nothing to do with it; there was one beside her bed, but it hadn't been touched. Unfortunately, the former Ellen Naomi Cohen suffered such sizist indignities throughout her sad, short life, as Fiegel's Dream A Little Dream of Me: The Life of Cass Elliot reveals.

    Thoroughly researched, colorfully written and powered by a critical appreciation of Elliot's music -- especially her vastly overrated solo recordings -- the book stands out from the never-ending slew of '60s hagiographies, and with any justice, it will spur an overdue reassessment of Elliot's musical legacy.

    Meanwhile, if all you know is "California Dreamin'," the best-of compilation "Dream A Little Dream: The Cass Elliot Collection" is a strong introduction to one of the best and brassiest voices in '60s pop. Even better, though harder to find: 1968's "Dream A Little Dream" and 1969's "Bubblegum, Lemonade and ... Something for Mama."