Malmö, Sweden-by-way-of-Barcelona collective Case Conrad has followed an unusual, almost anti-music business trajectory that brings their brand of horn-punctuated, folk-and-surf-inflected dream pop to The Evening Muse on Friday, March 28.
According to songwriter and group founder Gustav Haggren, it's not so much a case of the band's plan being "no plan" as it is a mix of like-minded musicians trusting to the universe, encountering epiphanies that show the way forward. Following a trail of clues, if you will.
It was like that before the beginning.
"When I was about 11, there was all of a sudden a guitar in our house, beaten up and with only one string," says Haggren. "I remember playing that string over and over and making up little melodies that I wrote down."
From composing airs on a single string, Haggren progressed to Case Conrad, a band he was forced to form. Learning that his previous group still owed their agency a tour, Haggren joined forces with a group of musicians, including guitarist Robert Johansson, and the defunct Gustav and the Seasick Sailors' final tour morphed into the maiden voyage of a brand-new band.
"It's been the way with us ever since," says Haggren. "We go ahead with whatever comes our way."
This philosophy informed Case Conrad's first U.S. tour three years ago. Landing in New York with just their backpacks, Haggren and Johansson bought a pair of guitars and boarded a Greyhound bus. The duo embarked on the road trip of their lives — the jaunt brought them to Charlotte and the Evening Muse — finally ending up in Los Angeles. Instead of returning to Sweden in the depths of winter, they opted for sunny Barcelona.
In Barcelona, the next phase of Case Conrad emerged. Haggren ran into an old friend, guitarist Per Henrik Adolfsson, whose electronic project Leikko had ground to a halt.
Retaining Johansson, Haggren and Adolfsson joined forces, and Leikko become Case Conrad's second, unplanned LP.
Buying a microphone and a sound card, Case Conrad went from flat to flat in Barcelona, recording the album in bits and pieces over the course of three years. Band members were added, including Vasco Batista (bass) and Petter Bengtsson (drums).
"For a while it felt like we were only going back and forward through town carrying instruments and amps," Haggren recalls. "But slowly, something started to appear."
The result is an integrated oeuvre that belies the chance and happenstance of its origins: A set of organic, cohesive compositions that fuse the bright guitar pop of Soft Swells to the vulnerable urgency of Yo La Tengo, the hushed dynamics of Belle and Sebastian to the cloudy melancholy of '80s cult icons the Chameleons.
Indeed, Leikko's lead single "Copper Thief" could well be the best song the Chameleons never recorded. "It refers to the nightly ghosts who roam the streets of New York and Barcelona," Haggren explains. "Shadows in the dark pushing squeaking trolleys, searching for something valuable."
After Case Conrad weaves its spectral-but-tuneful spell on tour with friends King of Prussia, the band and its sound may evolve once again. Plans are in place for a third album.
Yet, true to form, the future is left to a cosmic roll of the dice.
"After the recording sessions this summer," says Haggren, "we'll just see what happens."