We could play the “we were first” card here, but we're not going to (though we already did in effect). We found the Tough Alliance―which is most definitely one of the most defining groups of this generation and decade―a few years ago and have been hooked ever since. The audiophile/music snob's boy band has unleashed numerous drop dead gorgeous singles; their label, Sincerely Yours, has pumped out a formidable amount of pristine pop in the most secretive way possible; and now, one half of TTA, ceo, a.k.a. Eric Berglund, has released an impressive solo album that simultaneously hones in the aggressive beauty of TTA's records while expanding upon the catchy hook mechanism the band utilizes to hijack your ear.
Why do we bring all of this up, you ask? Because we scored an exclusive interview with Eric himself to discuss ceo's White Magic!
Alright―Anthem will make it official: ceo is one of the ten most significant acts to hit us in the aughts. We would be lost without ceo, Eric, TTA, Sincerely Yours, and, apparently, the cold north! “Illuminata” from White Magic is the dictionary definition of a perfect pop song. Period.
Before even listening to the album, three things struck me in a big way: Firstly, your name is ceo, which is a very severe yet anonymous moniker; secondly, the title, White Magic, is an inverse of a common term; and thirdly, the artwork looks like some sort of sorcerer's séance. Where does this all come from and what does it mean?
It comes from inside. Everything is about doing my best to let you know what I feel. Even if it's things that I am not happy to be feeling. I just follow my impulses and let my inner [self] express the things that my mind don't understand. I could but don't want to analyze them, not even now when it's done. The mind ruins so much if you wanna be real, if you wanna follow your heart. You lose so much when you make it into thoughts and words. You become careful and anxious. That's why I have to create art, you know? And I feel I have to let it be that deep, to not try and take it down to make it conceivable to the mind, 'cause it isn't.
ceo is not for the mind.
You ask what these details mean and I can't explain that without leaving so much out. They mean different things on different levels. On one level it just looks and sounds great. Meaning is a concept based on the mind and it's only by going beyond it that you can find what truly matters. Meaning that is a feeling rather than a explanation. A feeling of belonging, a feeling that life makes sense, that you don't have to understand it. 'Cause you can't. I've felt all that and I hope you can feel the same thing through ceo.
Musically, the record is quite cheerful and sunny, yet there's an underlying darkness to the lyrics. What drives you to make songs that embody such juxtaposition and dichotomy?
That's 'cause I always felt really shattered inside, I guess. I still do at times. And I feel a very sharp urge to express that―it feels extremely important somehow. I believe it's only by expressing a life that you can make a difference. And all of it, no matter how weird, shallow, complex, or dark it may seem. And how hard it seems to get it across.
I feel a lot of artists have things to say but lose it by trying to intensify themselves to make the expression sharper and easier to get across. And, of course, it makes people feel something but it doesn't make sense in the end 'cause it's one dimensional; it's incomplete, it's black and white, and it just confuses people in the end. They try to get rid of the contradictions, like they are politicians or something. But real people are usually full of contradictions and shit 'cause this is a fucked up world at the moment.
All eight songs have quite a lot of orchestration and layered arrangement to them. How do this lusciousness add to the overarching theme you have in mind?
This may sound snobbish or pretentious to anxious ears but I gotta say how I feel 'cause that's what ceo is about. What I do is a feeling, a whole―it shouldn't be thought about or taken apart 'cause then you miss the point. The music is a portal but the point is the big picture. Plus, it bores the hell out of me to talk about music.
I just wanna feel it. Musicians love to talk about music. I'm not a musician. Fuck, I'm not even an artist. I'm alive.
The last thing I wanna do is encouraging the destructive desires to simplify life and become obsessed by the details you find. The desires to separate and rationalize life and thereby miss out on it. It's because of those desires that the world has become what it now is. It's quite natural that humanity has problems with handling the mind if you look at it with a bigger perspective. The human is still a self-absorbed reckless teenager. But it's time for some evolution now, I feel. Life is so much bigger than the facts and mechanisms the mind can grasp. Please give it a chance. I know it's really hard work to challenge the spectacle often referred to as reality, but we have to. 'Cause peace is beyond that; real life is beyond that. It's not a myth, it's not a fantasy. I know that now, on all levels.
There are some pretty bizarre vocal samples scattered throughout the LP. Some you can't really understand, some you can (a child says what sounds like “Is this fluoride?” at the end of “Illuminata”). Where do you get these from? How do they tie into the music?
Ha ha―it's “is this real life?” I get them from everywhere, I never rest from finding pieces to complete this damn puzzle.
There's something very hip-hop about a lot of your music. The way you deliver lyrics and your diction, for example. A lot of your material is really beat-oriented, too. I get the impression you're a fan… tell me how this ties into your own output.
Thank you, thanks a lot. Well, a lot of rappers seem to be sincere about what they feel, even if it makes them idiots to a lot of people. And I feel so much playfulness and joy in what, for example, Weezy, Nicki, and Gucci do. They just flow, don't think too much, and so it is real.
What was the recording process like for White Magic? Did you work with others? Where was the studio? Did you use some weird instruments?
I worked with my dear friend Kendal Johansson on recording and producing. And two lovely girls―a violinist and a cellist. On tellus. Yeah, the computer is quite a weird instrument? And the piano as well.
I love the “Prologue” video you put out. It has this very ominous, almost frightening vibe to it. What does it represent to you?
Oh, that is really nice to hear―thank you. It represents my life situation―what I thought was life until a while ago. My mind still tries to convince me it is at times, but I know how it goes now. I can deal with it. I was running, praying, hiding, exploding, running, praying, bla bla bla. I was so fucking scared. Of the world, but first and foremost of myself. I didn't understand that so I projected my emotions (which I couldn't even identify as fear at the time) on the world instead. I just called it disgust or hate. But of course I just hurt myself. And it came to a point where it just had to end, or I would end. And it felt really important somehow to express this 'cause I have a feeling someone else may be in the same situation. I would surely have wanted to hear about it, that's what I know.
I also really enjoy the video for “Come With Me.” Two things really stick out to me in it―the stuffed Totoro and the faux guitar solo at the end of it. The whole thing is absolutely beautiful, but I'm especially curious about those two things.
Well, he was my friend when I stopped leaning on dreams and other people, when I dared facing myself. He's still in my bed, I just don't squeeze him that tightly anymore. It's not faux, man―it's just slowed down so it looks weird! I played it, I promise you!
What was the catalyst that drove you to compose, record, and produce this full-length? Any big events in your life? Any triumphs or downfalls?
Wow. Well, yep, my whole “life” is the catalyst. The process started way back, driven by a profound and sharp belief in life. It's just that for a long time it was co-driven by destructive desires produced by fear, anxiety, and loneliness. And those opposites mixed up and created a chaos inside and I was so far from going beyond it and flying free. I was so busy dreaming about something better or trying to understand it and by doing so only pushing it further away. I was also giving in to the destruction. All in all I was simply busy trying to stay above the surface, not going insane. The time around TTA was probably the climax of that breakneck rollercoaster ride between hope and despair. And it seemed at the time like it would never end. But a vague sense of something inconceivable, something beyond beauty, showed the way ahead in the end. And that's what it's all about for me, what is now ceo, what for a while was TTA, and before that just Eric. The belief in and struggle for real life, beyond all the nonsense the mind can grasp. Where things make sense, where you can really live and not only survive. And by daring to leave the fantasy that TTA mainly was and face myself and my darkest fears I have slowly come a long way. I'm not there yet―I still feel a lot of anxiety, especially in realtion to society. But the moments beyond space and time―where my heart beats calmly―always takes me through the darkness quite easily nowadays. Love is never ever all obscured anymore.
Is ceo a one-off project of yours or are you going to continue to work under the moniker? If so, what are your plans for the future?
Well, I don't wanna think about those things, I wanna be here and now, which is the only place and time where I can create something real. The future used to be my all, 'cause the now scared the shit out of me. But you can't live in future―you can only dream. And I'm pretty done with dreaming. So let's just let the future become now and see what it's like then?