At first glance, using the words “pioneers” or “supergroup” to describe Swedish prog rock outfit Kaipa may seem like overblown praise. Realize the band has existed since 1973 – albeit with an extended break between 1982- 2002 – and boasts affiliations with renowned bands The Flower Kings, Karmakanic and Scar Symmetry, and even the loudest naysayers are bound to show genuine curiosity in the road Kaipa has paved since its inception. The band’s new album, Vittjar, is their next step forward on what has been for keyboardist/vocalist/founder Hans Lundin a long but ultimately satisfying journey. It’s no surprise that Kaipa boasts a special cult status amongst prog rock fans. The band’s activities in the ‘70s were restricted to Scandinavia with all their songs during that period recorded in Swedish, essentially for the “home” audience. It wasn’t until the band split up in 1982 – having released five albums up to that point – that Kaipa gained an international following.
“There were a lot of happy people out there when we decided to release the Notes From The Past album in 2002,” says Lundin, “because we had a 20 year break and nobody was really expecting the band to return.” Kaipa has continued to evolve from album to album regardless of the amount of time between them. Vittjar is the perfect example of this, as it goes well beyond the textbook definition of what makes for progressive rock in this day and age. For all the odd time signatures, syncopated rhythms and instrumental passages that may appear in the songs, there is a prominent folk music influence that can be considered the album’s foundation. From the opener ‘First Distraction’ to the Swedish-sung ‘Vittjar’, the reggae-flavoured ‘Treasure House’ to the up-tempo minuet of ‘The Crowned Hillsides’, it remains an upbeat and completely organic listening experience.
“Those folk influences appear on the very first (self-titled) album from 1975, but it was just in small pieces,” Lundin explains. “On the last three albums I really tried to incorporate it more in the music in a natural way, and not just having a short song with folk influences. I try to make the vocal melodies have that folk feeling even if you don’t recognize it. You might think a track is just an ‘ordinary’ song, but if you listen closely to the melodies you can hear the typical Swedish folk sound.” Seemingly at odds with the warmth of the music, Vittjar was made using several different studios, with the musicians recording their parts separately. As the motor of the band, Lundin called the shots with regards to how the songs were assembled, giving credence to the old school belief that present day technology – no matter how useful it may be in the studio – is no substitute for experience. Lundin is as experienced as they come, having recorded his first single in 1965.
Vittjar ultimately puts Kaipa outside the genre box. Or perhaps the album gives new and true meaning to the “progressive” stamp. It’s a label that Lundin has lived with for years, and he sees no reason to fight it even as Kaipa’s music continues to evolve. “It doesn’t matter what we do, we’ll always be placed in progressive rock,” says Lundin. “When I’m writing songs I actually try to avoid a traditional way of writing and playing progressive rock, but at the same time those elements are a part of me and my history. So, I hope the result is something new and fresh. Of course, the special influence of Swedish folk music helps accomplish that, and I think it grows with every Kaipa album.”