Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gustav Haggren and Helena Arlock come to America

Gustav Haggren and Helena Arlock saved up last autumn in Sweden working three jobs to tour the United States. They landed in New Jersey in early February and planned to travel the east coast through New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, North and South Carolina. Before heading to Canada in April they will play three shows in Wilmington; The Juggling Gypsy on April 5th, Folks Café April 6th and Port City Java on April 7th.
Back home in Sweden Gustav plays with a six piece band The Seasick Sailors, music that is described as melodic indie-rock, but is contemporary and smooth. He is twenty two years old, never toured the U.S. before and plays guitar with a specially designed artificial hand since he was born without a right hand.
Once landing they encountered freezing weather that quickly reminded them of home. Their plan was to buy a car in which to travel but hasn’t panned out yet. Their first show was in Ithaca, New York in which Gustav took in his first American breakfast and was none too happy.
They are befriended by a couple who drive them to Clinton before continuing on to Boston. Before leaving they play a radio station at Ithaca College. Pictures are taken with a cell phone and uploaded later to the Internet, Gustav lying in the deep snow, his head covered by a large black hood.
Once in Clinton they purchase hats and gloves to combat the cold weather. They stay at the house of Nick and Jennifer who operate Melodic Revolution where Gustav and Helena will perform. Helena will make her first appearance as a solo artist. Gustav is proud.
In Clinton they try out things like Burritos, Subs and, of course, pizza. Nick showed them a store in which to buy Hummus, Bulgur, Yogurt and other vegetarian goods. In town Gustav receives his first masque ever, a good thing as the cold air is hard on his skin. Walking down Main Street a man approaches to sell Gustav a flashlight with a radio in it.
The Valentine’s Day show is cancelled due to heavy snow, the worst since 1992. They depart by train and head to Albany without a clue as where to stay. They find a cheap Econo Lodge that reeks of urine and vomit but it suffices since they’ve been running around in the cold for hours. The lodgings improve greatly the next day when the owner of their next show, Ralph at the Bayou Café, helps out.
Hanging out with Ralph’s business partner John leads to another gig perhaps. John wants to hire them to play three ABBA songs for a friend but doesn’t believe that Gustav doesn’t k know the song ‘Fernando.’
Latte, broken fingernails, aching backs, one dollar buses, disgusting hotel food, ABBA, Russian, Fat Tuesday, hangovers, doggy bags…..notes from the road.
Onwards to Hudson Valley Community College which happened after meeting a professor of psychology. The professor invited them to play and talk about their adventures so far, teaching the students there’s more to Sweden than ABBA and that polar bears do not freely walk the street..
On to Washington, D.C. where they sit idle in traffic for nearly eight hours. Once in the city they have breakfast and go open-mic hunting. It is almost March and the city is a welcome visit. Staying at a house with musicians and a studio they perform at IOTA and make new friends. Gustav spends the day buying a pair of shoes, walking a lot of miles and sees the White House. There is talk of going to Texas and Gustav is tired from travel and constant drinking.
Travel is greatly aided by generous new friends and lodgings from strangers who let them pass out on couches. They perform several songs at a pirate radio station called CPR, sharing the studio with the band These United States. At Wonderland they play together with Rose and The Great White Jenkins. Concerns about how to get from Catskill the next day with no buses, no trains. Car rentals are expensive because they are not 25. It will become a source of frustration with Gustav. Then there’s the library to visit, to print Map Quest directions.
There are more stays at new found friend’s homes and American breakfast’s to turn down since they don’t eat meat. Gustav jokes that he won’t break the ten years as vegetarian for good manners. It’s time to leave the Catskills for Connecticut, renting a smelly and expensive Ford Focus and later wishing to have taken the bus. Arriving, the two are greeted with orange juice and a college radio station.
Driving north to Kingston, which is close to Woodstock, the pair seems happy. They meet Paul who appears to be old enough to have been around during the first Woodstock. He says that Gustav and Helena look like two people he knows; Magnolia and Valentine and that he once sold a painting to Stockholm and wondered if they’d seen it. They shake their heads, thanking him.
Returning the car to the rental agency it’s a short wait before another train station. While eating disgusting food at a Mickey D’s Gustav sells a record to an employee. The employee saw their instruments and was determined to buy a record. At the train station it’s a two hour wait and some lyrics are written. Then, north again.
It’s March 6, 2007, cold as hell and it’s a day off. Gustav has coffee and thinks about the four shows in a row coming up. There’s many after that. The tour is really expanding and he is enjoying it. He types a quote from a travel friend, Alina by St. Augustine, into a computer:
“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page”
The road has carried Gustav and Helena a long way, creating music and recording five demos in Maine at Brown Dog Studios and recording a live show back in Clinton. They played The Bitter End in New York City, do laundry and a little sight seeing, cruising around the big apple with friend Linus who is half Swedish, half Korean and raised in Australia but born in Helsingborg. Imagine. Arriving at a guesthouse in Queens, Gustav meets a guy who left Gustav’s hometown in Sweden at the age of three.
It really is a small world.

How long before coming to the U.S did you plan to tour?
6 months or so. I and Helena must have sent out around 500 emails to different venues on the east coast. We explained to the venues that we were traveling on our own small budget.

Were there a lot of dates set up prior to arriving?
Yeah, I guess we had 15 shows scheduled when we came but that expanded quickly. We met people and they set us up for more gigs and so on…after a while we had to turn down offers because there simply were no days available. That’s kind of cool.

How long before you bought a car here in the states to use? Was that the plan all along?
Well, we tried to buy a car from DAY 1 and I still don’t have a car. You don’t want to get me started on this; I’m still pissed off about the whole thing. We can’t buy a car because we can’t get insurance…we can’t get insurance because we’re not US residents…we can’t afford renting a car since we’re under 25 years old.

Jake Melnyk said you were using a Greyhound bus to tour.

Yeah, sometimes that, sometimes AMTRAK. We’ve been lucky getting a couple of rides actually. We got a ride from Troy, New York to Washington, DC then a ride back to Catskill, New York. Helena is carrying a huge cello so we can’t fit in all kinds of cars.

How much of a culture shock has it been?
All these food commercials...eat this, eat that, grease, triple pork and so on…I don’t know…the sad thing is that it hasn’t been much of a culture shock since Sweden is losing its own culture and is becoming more and more Americanized. We’ve seen a lot of snow so it has felt like home.

Have people been generous and curious about the shows?
Oh yeah. We’ve met amazing people. We played this show and we were suppose to sleep on couches at the place and these two women were driving home then they turned back to get us. We got a king-size bed! One great part about this trip has been meeting all of these amazing musicians that I would never have heard over in Sweden.

How many shows so far? Too hectic?
Let’s see…according to my Sonic Bids we’ve played 25 shows since we arrived 6 weeks ago so that’s not too bad. Its’ been hectic but not too hectic. It’s been a great ride.

Did you like the invite to speak at the college? What types of things did you discuss?
Oh, yeah, that was really cool. We talked about putting yourself out there, give up your apartment, work 7 days a week just to be able to challenge yourself and the things you love to do. Then we discussed my view on Americans…they laughed when I said we picked the East coast because I thought they were smarter…haha.

Has there been any impromptu gigs?
Oh yeah, open mics, gigs booked the same day as we played, private parties, studio sessions.

What has been your impression of Americans, the culture, the hustle and bustle of the cities?
I’ve met so many kind and inspiring people so there are a lot of good impressions. What is interesting is that I haven’t met a single person that seems to agree with this country’s politics. New York City has a great pulse that just hits you walking down the streets at night. It seems like everyone is trying to make it big here which is kind of funny. I’ve met actors, opera singers, burlesque performers, midnight saxophone players etc...I love it, I really do. I really like the multicultural feel to it as well; you can find extraordinary food for cheap money.

Are you homesick or just enjoying yourself completely?
Well, I gave up my home so no, I don’t feel homesick at all. It feels like I’m only in the beginning of something great that is going to change everything.

What types of things have you done to save money? Besides the library to print maps, what other resources have come in handy?
Gorgeous friends. Text messaging on Wal-Mart phones...cooking Swedish dishes for people who let us stay at their houses…long walks…doggy bags…Subway – eat half for lunch and the other for dinner…we saved two stray cats today, I hope that will save some of my bad karma and give me some good. We call them Seymour and See Less since one of them can open only one of his eyes (Seymour) but the other can’t open any of them (See Less). I thought I was going out tonight but I’m cat-sitting. Hopefully we can find them an all-American home tomorrow.


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