The album St.Hanshaugen Steel is an homage to the factory bearing the same name. The steel factory, founded by the somewhat evasive Jebsen Brothers, was in operation between 1890 and 1969, and was located on St.Hanshaugen in Oslo, which now is a highly popular residential area, and Sundstøl’s own stomping ground. But rather than the chimes of industry, St.Hanshaugen Steel pays attention to the nuts and bolts that give rise to the whole machine. The title may, of course, also be a reference to Geir Sundstøl’s reputable broad spectrum-treatment of the pedal steel guitar.
While the sound of St.Hanshaugen Steel shares points of continuity with earlier Sundstøl Hubro releases Furulund (2015), Langen Ro (2016) and Brødløs (2018), there are some important departures. A new palette of sound-making devices, from Sundstøl’s hording of synthesizers, has made its quite audible mark.
«Being born in the late sixties, vocoders, Simmons synth drums, and synths in general, sound very modern to me.» Hours of exploration and studies of this “modernity” shine through this otherwise organic music, as does the analog modification of familiar sounds:
«Initially, it startet out as a technical project. I wanted to explore the possibilities of recording pedal steel onto analog tape, at 30 ips, and then slowing it down to 15 ips. Exactly an octave below. There are still traces of that experiment on the album (tracks Smet and Våg), but the exploration turned into songs.»
Another experiment developed into the eclectic track Hoven:
«I fiddled with the pitch controller on my raga box. It slowly evolved into a strange melody. It was still a Hindu melody, but when we added the church-like bass lines and the boys’ choir, it morphed into a multi-religious song.»
Like his first and third album (the sec0ond was recorded at St.Jakob church in Oslo), Sundstøl made the St.Hanshaugen Steel at home, in his Studio Intim. Once again calling upon some of his favourite musical brothers in arms; drummer and percussionist Erland Dahlen, bass players Mats Eilertsen and Jo Berger Myhre, and pianist/keyboardist David Wallumrød.
Although Sundstøl himself handles a vast variety of sometimes “unusual” instruments – he is indeed a collector as well as a composer and musician – the presence of these “usual suspects” is crucial to achieve the Sundstøl musical universe. Erland Dahlen is also often by Sundstøl’s side at live performances. A Duo Extraordinaire.
A unique voice, yet new to this particular universe, is Arve Henriksen, who leaves his personal mark on the opening track, Våg. «I had admired Arve’s lyrical expression for years, and finally I mustered up the confidence to ask him to participate.» Initially, the trumpeter was asked to play on the outro of Våg, but he «got carried away, and added 10 tracks of trumpet and horn. We recorded Våg, thinking half-speed pedal steel, upright bass and 80’s Simmons Drums would be the core of the song. It came out a little more than that.”
Sundstøl describes the further tracks on St.Hanshaugen Steel:
“Lyssky” draws inspiration from spooky British sci-fi as well as pompous, white wig-wearing composers. David takes us on a trembling journey with his Arp synth.
KA is Indian Shankar- and National guitar-Blues. Handheld bells, analogue synths and Norway’s most beloved traditional boys’ choir, Sølvguttene. The thought of their singing in my living room still fills me with awe.
Kløpper: Mats (Eilertsen) sent me a bass line, without any instruction. I found it especially tricky to add the Mini Pops drum machine. Certainly a backwards way of doing things, but valuable. The melodica solo is an homage to the late Augustus Pablo. Pedal steel and National guitar on a bed of dub beats. My Bermuda Triangle.
Hoven: It’s got ethereal organ, Christian church-like bass over a twisted Hindu beat. I play the usual National- and pedal steel guitar, and to top it off, we added the Sølvguttene boys’ choir,. A ‘multi-culti’ song if there ever was one, with a spiritual twist.
Smet: This is quite an eerie mix of cold DX7 synth, electric insects running around Erland’s snare drum, upright bass and Parisian toy pianos. It bears traces of the mentioned technical experiment; recording steel at high speed and then slowing it down.
Omsorg: I don’t write music – I play, make mistakes that sound good, and then try to create something out of that. This track has guitar-o-phone, optigan, steel, national guitar, organ and an upright bass that sounds like an old motor boat. The bass function lies in the harmonica. And the title translates to “care”.
Pøs: 80’s vocoder and Shankar guitar paired with the Wurlitzer Side Man, the world’s first drum machine. This is probably the only track that bears any resemblance to industrial sounds. It has a somewhat old fashioned melody line, like something the great Cornelis Vreeswijk would have sung about a dad working at the factory.
For me, melody is the key. If there’s no melody, or if the melody doesn’t add up, I don’t get it.»