There is an exceptional energy to Swedish band Limbo’s eponymous debut album. At one level a folk album, and then at another merging together also elements of rock and world music, it is a breathless combination of Led Zeppelin riffs, French chanson, bossa nova rhythms and gypsy waltzes.

‘Limbo’ is an album that was conceived and recorded in two countries. It was begun as a solo project in 2008 in Edinburgh by guitarist, accordionist, vocalist and group leader Karle Odegaard as he completed his first year as a teacher of English there, and then completed two and a half years later with an eight piece band after he had returned to his native Malmo.

While at one level stridently upbeat, there is also an undercurrent of melancholy to ‘Limbo’ and across tracks such as the devotional and tender ‘Maid’, the breezy ‘Papillion’ and theatrical tale of unrequited love, ‘Dying to Get Over You’. The album has been released on Swedish label Kommun2.

Pennyblackmusic spoke to Karle Odegaard about both the album and his band.

PB: Why did you decide to call your band Limbo? Was it because you are a group that moves around a lot between genres and which is difficult to easily categorise?

KO: I was looking for a simple word, but one that is suggestive as well. Life is a lot about being in different states. If you think about it, we are never really in the moment. We all live in this mix of the past, the present and the future. Writing music is also about being in two different states and in between that gate between reality and fantasy. I think “Limbo “ties in with those thoughts well.

PB: All the tracks are very different from each other. They all switch around a lot from one musical genre to another. Did you set out when you formed the band to consciously do this or is this something that developed naturally?

KO: I think the album is quite consistent in a lot of ways. We were quite rigid when we recorded it. We used the same instruments throughout. We also don’t use synthesisers and those instruments that we did use on the album, such as the violin, the accordion and bass, while very organic at one level, all have a traditional sound.

In terms of genre, we are definitely all over the map, but I think that there is a groove to the record and to the set-up of the band that carries it off. It is not a purposeful strategy to go all over the place. We try to bring it together as much as we can (Laughs).

PB: The album was begun initially in Edinburgh. How many of the songs were written then and how many of them were written once you got back to Sweden?

KO: About half of the songs were written in Edinburgh. I had this small room in my flat in Leith there that I made up to be my music room. I had no band at that stage, and I would spend a lot of my spare time making files of myself and creating a platform to work on for when I got back to Sweden.
Being in Scotland was a very inspirational time for me. It was my first full year in teaching and I was teaching in English which was not my own language. It was a huge challenge. I found it quite rough at moments, but at the same I think that can being the best out of you.

PB: What is your previous background in music? You have played in various other bands, haven’t you?

KO: Yeah, I have. I am 35 now. I have played in bands since I was in my early twenties, and shortly after the end of secondary school in Sweden. Early on I was quite good at sports. I played a lot of tennis and at quite a high, competitive level. Then I changed course and picked up the guitar and started singing. I have never looked back since.

PB: Why did you decide in English rather than Swedish?

KO: I have a tremendous love and respect of the British language and of the Scottish cultural dialect in particular (Laughs). It was quite a natural choice for me. Some people might perhaps say that it is shallower not singing in your own language and that it is like putting on a mask, but for me sometimes you can be more honest when you put on a mask of another foreign language. English is quite deep-rooted. There are more opportunities there for me to be a true reflection of what I am. Sometimes expressing yourself through a second language can be more beneficial.

PB: In your other bands did you sing in English or Swedish?

KO: It has always been English. It is quite common for Swedish bands to sing in English. There are only eight million people in Sweden. People who come from a small language and a small country are often motivated to reach out beyond their narrow borders and English is a language in which you can do that easily. It is quite natural for a lot of people over here to express themselves and especially musically and artistically in English.

PB: Who are the other people in the band?

KO: There is Bjorn Lundgren on bass who is an old friend of mine. On guitar and backing vocals there is Joakim Jonsson who is another very old friend. He played in my previous band Karle’s Constellation as well. Then there is Anders Kaufmann on drums and percussion, Jerger Slagvarker on percussion, Samuel Lundstrom and Sara Nordstrom on violins and Anna Tortensson who plays cello. We also have Susanne Johansson on backing vocals

PB: You also produced and mixed ‘Limbo’. Was this the first time with ‘Limbo’ that you had done producing and mixing?

KO: No, before I came to Britain in 2005, I recorded an album and an EP with Karle’s Constellation which was also folk rock-oriented. I have done quite a lot in past and now have my own home studio. Of course it is very rustic and very primitive compared to a truly professional studio and, say, Abbey Road (Laughs).

I like being able to record and experiment though without someone tapping on the door telling me to finish or that we have run out of money or whatever (Laughs). If we need to spend another hour on an arrangement or something is not working or I am not singing well, we can always stop and come back to it in a few days time. It makes things more relaxed and I think that is really good for the music as well.

PB: You play both accordion and guitar on the album. The accordion is often the central instrument and on tracks like ‘Dying to Get Over You’. How long have you been playing the accordion for?

KO: I started playing the accordion after my first band Loud Silence, who were an alternative rock act, split up in 2003. When my ex wife and I moved to the UK in 2005, we lived in London first of all before moving on to Edinburgh and I brought my accordion with me. We were quite isolated in a lot of ways in London. We didn’t have a lot of friends, so there were a lot of evenings that I would spend with my accordion and a glass of wine. That was when I really learnt how to play it then.

PB: While the sound of the record is strident and upbeat, there is actually a real melancholy to a lot of the lyrics. You have broken up with your wife since you returned to Sweden, and have a new girlfriend now and are going to have a baby in December. How much of all that had an effect on your songwriting?

KO: A huge effect, but I don’t think that comes up much in those songs and in those lyrics on this album. It is a peculiar thing but in the midst of a relationship I can still write songs that sound as if they are break-up songs. I don’t think that you should take that at face value. If you write a song about a break up, it doesn’t necessarily mean that your own relationship is in a catastrophic state. Of course you have apprehensions in any relationship and that can come out in music.

A lot of the songs on the album are quite dark and are about love not working out, but I wrote several of them when my wife and I were still in the midst of our relationship and were still having quite a good time actually. Although sometimes you take inspiration from life, sometimes you can write about the fears and apprehensions that you have even though you are in quite a safe space.

PB: How many of the lyrics of these songs are inspired then by imagination and how many by real life?

KO: The majority are inspired by the imagination. ‘Papillion’, for example, is based on one of my favourite books, the book with same name by Henri Charriere. It is based on his adventures off the coast of South America and in prisons in France in the thirties.

I try to have a narrative as much as I possibly can in my lyrics. I feel that it is testing the listener’s patience if you go for abstract lyrics. The lyrics that I am most happy with will most of the time have a narrative, and a structure and purpose. I more admire writers whom have proper narratives and you can really feel that you are going somewhere with their lyrics.

PB: ‘The Maid’ comes across as masochistic in its line of “I want to be your maid”. Was it meant that way or is it just a song about total devotion?

KO: (Laughs). It is a song about giving yourself up to something bigger than yourself, looking out on the world and seeing all the injustice there and giving yourself up to a higher purpose. I think that it quite a spiritual and religious song.

PB: What about ‘Dying to Get Over You’? That is a song about someone who falls for an actress after seeing her in a play and is then dumped by her for someone else, isn’t it?

KO: It is. It is a lyric that I am really proud of. It takes its inspiration from Jacques Brel in that like a lot of his songs it ends in a passionate outburst. It is a love story about someone who encounters this force who lights up the dark in the sky and who is completely swept away by her. It ends with him throwing himself at the stage where this huge performance is going on, and on a note of total schizophrenic paranoid illusion because as soon as he throws herself at her feet everything vanishes. It becomes as empty as the Marie Celeste.

PB: What are Limbo’s plans for the future? Will you be doing a second album?

KO: I am really hoping for a second album. I have got ten new songs. Most of the band are, however, in their thirties. A lot of them have things going on with their families, and I also have my baby due soon. Our drummer is also doing exams so he has jumped the boat for a bit, although he will be back on board again soon. Things are up in the air, but I I am hoping though that we will start recording a second album in the autumn.

PB: Thank you.

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