• Bryon Harris

Vargen - Exclusive Interview

Vargen ('The Wolf' in Swedish) is the stage and recording name of singer-songwriter Reine Johansson. After receiving international recognition for his and fellow singer Mia Rosengren's translations on 'Tänk inte efter (Don't Think Twice - Bob Dylan in Swedish),' Vargen recorded all nine tracks from the album in English. The band also recorded two new songs "One Too Many Mornings" and "Abandoned." Love." Musically, the songs vary between Americana, country, and rock. Vargen aimed for a timeless sound on Dylan's songs. To hold the album together conceptually, they focused on the universal themes love, loss, leaving and longing. Love / Leave - 11 Songs of Bob Dylan will be released worldwide on vinyl and CD on Friday June 5.

For fans who have never heard your music, can you pick three words to describe it?! If three words just aren't enough then tell us more!!

Timeless is the first word that comes to mind. Guitarist Dan Kristensen and fellow singer Mia Rosengren are the next things I think of.

When you are writing a song, where do you draw inspiration from? Or what topics do you like to sing about?

My life, other people's lives, made-up lives, topics inspired by things that upset me; it could be from the news or me just waking up the wrong side of bed. I'm having the most fun when I'm working on a story-telling song, there's nothing personal that gets in the way. You've managed to keep the story-telling tradition alive. In Sweden it was huge till the pop boom in the 60's and almost entirely vanished from airplay since the 80's. It's a shame, my experience from our live shows is that people really enjoy to listen to a story and not just 'emotional' stuff that rhymes.

Okay, this a fun question. When you are not doing music, what else do you enjoy doing?

Okay, boring answer: listening to music. Nah, I read a lot too, right now 'Where the Crawdads Sing' by Delia Owens. I'm very fond of comics, my childhood dream was to become a cartoonist. Favs are Sandman, Watchmen and the novel 'Black Hole' by Charles Burns. I still paint or draw in my spare-time.

Can you tell us what song you've written that is the most emotional and describe the meaning behind it?

Since there's not so much original work out there, I'll have to take one from the forth-coming album. It's a song that I work on now, and I Think it will be one of Vargen's finest moments. I tried to put all the opposite emotions of loss, love, despair and hope into one song. Then I'm fascinated by the guilt and sin aspect in Christianity, so I threw in a bit of that too. Musically, we'll either arrange it as, say, 'Blind Willie McTell' by Dylan, or a bit more up-tempo if we want to make it a single, but then I'll have to drop a coupla verses as well, and I'm not really up for that at this moment. If you have the place for it, here comes an exclusive work in progress lyric of 'Like a Bird of Prey'.


Now all the days have closed their curtains

all the days lie / were then and there

All the things I took for certain

now have vanished in the air

I’m in need for a twist or something

that can show me the way / Lord knows I’m far astray

An’ the night comes closing in

Just like a bird of prey

From the first day that I met you

There was no doubt in my mind I knew I’d never forget you

Or put you behind

But now I follow you to the station

As you leave this place of decay

It’s a mean and final situation

And it hits just like a bird of prey

I watch a young she-hawk hover

over meadows wide and plain

To discover a mate, a lover

or more likely, something to slay I recall a scene – when we were were wild and free / when my heart was wild and free

But then suddenly was swept away

When your love struck down on me

Just like a bird of prey

Lovers within the gates of Eden

All’s new and nothing’s wrong

No wisdom, all freedom

We knew nothing of the snake’s tongue

Crawled up on my backseat

We pushed the sky and heaven away

An outcast’s flesh, death and meat

And yeah, we dug in just like birds of prey

I hear the children playing

Their laughter and their tears

N’ a young man in all his glory sayin’

“No hesitation, no hate, no fear”

All flesh is grass and it’s withering

And its flowers fade away

Now the night comes closing in

Like a bird of prey

What was the first song or piece you ever wrote!?

Bad Moon Rising. No kidding. I was eleven and I was excited about this perfect melody I just wrote, cried out to my mom, 'Hey, I think I really got something here!' She heard it, petted my shoulder and said, 'Sorry, but John Fogerty has stolen this song from you and already recorded it with his band, Write a new one.' And I've been trying ever since.

What is your dream gig? Is there a gig that you really want that would be the ultimate show for you?

Short answer: KEXP or a US national TV live appearance. Long answer: This is not just for this time of the Covid-19 situation, but I feel almost every gig is or has been a dream gig for me. I played about 1500 gigs through the years, a lot of them for elderly people and elderly communities, and the positivity and feedback I get from these gigs always fills me with energy. When the full-band plays larger venues the stakes are higher and the pay-off gives you great self-confidence (and great income). At theatre venues it's often hard to connect with everyone in the audience. It's a whole different approach of the stage appearance, to direct and give a bit of choreography to the band so a 1,5 hours show will get a flow. So sometimes, less is more.

Are you working on any new material right now or what's in the works for the upcoming year?

Yeah, I hope to release an album of original work next year. It'll have a bit bluesier and rawer approach than 'Love/Leave'. Imagine a blend of Creedence, Crazy Horse and early Dire Straits. Working title: 'Melancholy Wolfboys'. Including a cover of Mark Lanegan/Duke Garwood's 'I Am the Wolf',

Tell us where fans can access your music.

Watch on Youtube

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