In 1970, Lester Bangs received a selection of records from the Finnish Love label. Included were eponymous LPs by Tasavallan Presidenti and Blues Section, as well as Blues Section's Some of Love, Wigwam's Hard 'N Horny (which was originally released with a blank cover, and just the band's name on the label) and Sov Gott von Rose Marie by International Harvester.

Here's what he had to say about Sov Gott:

“Of all the Finnish groups, undoubtedly the strangest is International Harvester. One hesitates to call them a group at all — on the back cover stands a congregation of 20 or 30 people, and the album itself is more a series of sounds than an arranged musical production. The first side lists eleven 'songs,' but many of them are largely silent, featuring odd guitar plunks, mumbled Finnish vocals, and bird calls. But right in the middle of these soporific meanderings lies the thundering 'Ho Chi Minh,' a fierce chant for martial drum and massed female voices which simply repeat the North Vietnamese leader's name over and over again in a wildly insistent rhythm and reminds me of nothing so much as the haunting chants of the choirs on Elektra's classic Music of Bulgaria album.“

“Side two features two long jams for string instruments somewhat reminiscent of early Velvet Underground pieces such as 'Black Angel's Death Song.' They don't build or go anywhere in particular, but the sound itself is quite distinctive, a thick multi-textured modal drone which could make a very effective statement if harnessed properly.”

We must excuse Mr. Bangs for assuming International Harvester were Finnish. When their album came out in 1968, Sweden may have been congratulating itself on its success with film exports, but it wasn't until 1969 that the MNW and Decibel labels were founded and another year before Silence Records began. There was no one in Sweden ready to release Sov Gott. It's surprising to me the album was even reviewed in the States. The Swedish underground recording scene was yet to be acknowledged anywhere outside of Scandinavia. Of the bands with a bearing on this story, only Mecki Mark Men had released an LP prior to International Harvester (one that was, oddly enough, licensed in the U.S. by Mercury's Limelight subsidiary, who would also release its follow-up). The best groups of Sweden before them (and Baby Grandmothers) were post-Beat combos like Shanes, Tages, Hounds and so on, some of whom were making psych moves in reaction to British tongue pressure, but few of them were so brilliant that the world would take notice. What about the Lea Riders Group, you might ask. Well, I defy any non-Swede to have had an inkling of their existence before Greg Shaw wrote about them, long after the fact.

Consequently, there's no way Lester could have known about International Harvester's root band, Pärson Sound. Probably the only American who'd ever heard (or heard of) them was Terry Riley. And that was only because Thomas Tidholm brought Riley a tape of the band when he visited him in Manhattan in the fall of '67. But I digress. Pärson Sound and their grandchild, Träd Gräs Och Stennar, have both been explored (at least to a degree) via reissue boxes. In the former case it was a revelation, since Pärson Sound had never had anything released prior to the 2001 set. In the latter case, the Träd Gräs box filled in some holes in most people's collections, and also added some great newly discovered material (even though it omitted important studio sessions). Now, we get the bridge between these two units, and a nicely thorough job seems to have been done.

Pärson Sound's story is fairly well known. In the spring of 1967, Karl-Birger Blomdahl (music director of the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation) invited Terry Riley to visit Sweden for a month-long residence, after hearing raves about his work from the composer Folke Rabe. Riley wrote two new pieces called “Olson Sound I” and “Olson Sound II” to be performed in Sweden. The SBC, working with the Royal College of Music in Stockholm and children of the Community Music School of Nacka (a suburb west of Stockholm) tried to get the music together, but it just didn't work. When Riley arrived he wrote a new piece, “Olson III,” which was performed along with “In C,” to great acclaim on April 27, 1967 at the Nacka Auditorium. Among those who were involved in these workshops were electronic composer Bo Anders Persson, bassist Torbjörn Abelli and cellist Arne Ericsson, all RCM students at the time.

These three had already been woodshedding in an attempt to fulfill Persson's vision of creating a truly universal music. Along with bassist/electric violinist Urban Yman, they investigated ways to approach this via rock music, without discovering the lost map. The Terry Riley concert gave them a new idea of how to approach things (although some of Persson's work had already been working in a somewhat parallel vein, as can be heard on his '66 solo track on the Pärson Sound set). Thomas Tidholm came into the fold not long after. Ostensibly a journalist and writer associated with the avant-garde Gorilla group, he had interviewed Riley for Swedish National Radio while traveling through the States in 1966. After running into Persson and crew, Tidholm was convinced to pick up the soprano sax again (silent since his days playing trad jazz in high school) and lend words and vocals as well. They were soon joined by drummer Thomas Mera Gartz, who quit Mecki Mark Men after that band's debut album to follow the quixotic path of Pärson Sound. Various other people dropped in and out of proceedings, like drummer Bengt Berger (who would go on to Arbete Och Fritad, Don Cherry's Organic Music Society, Archimedes Badkar, etc.) and saxophonist Kjel Westling (of Spjärnsvallet, Bitter Funeral Beer Band, etc), but the core sextet remained (more or less) constant throughout Pärson Sound's brief lifespan.

How long this lasted is a matter of some speculation. Indeed, the name's evolution, from Pärson Sound to International Harvester to Harvester seems almost arbitrary when you sit down and look at its timeline. There is a defined break before Träd Gräs begins, since Tidholm and Yman depart, but prior to that the lines of demarcation are light and wiggly. Pärson Sound's first gig was at a Stockholm restaurant in September '67, but there are recordings that date back as far as the previous July. The Pärson Sound box also included a track recorded at one of the live sessions for Sov Gott (from August '68), and notes for Remains credit an International Harvester gig which occurs after the first recording session for Harvester's Hemåt LP. This suggests both that historical memory is frangible, and also that the lines between the different phases of this unit's overall trajectory were no more regimented than the contours of their sprawling and dreamy sound.

The Remains box contains five LPs. The first is International Harvester's 1968 Sov Gott Rose Marie, the second is Harvester's 1969 Hemåt, the other three contain various chunks of material, recorded between April 1968 (rehearsal material from the band's Asogatan rehearsal space that really must have been done as Pärson Sound) and June 1969 (as part of the Vita Bergen park session for Hemåt). Two of the tracks have been released previously, as bonus CD stretchers, but the bulk of the material is new to everyone except the band. And it is fucking great.

Sov Gott Rose Marie is, as Bangs noted, made up of two very distinct sides. The first has shorter pieces, some of them in a primitive style reminiscent of the Godz or even a less lyric-oriented version of the Fugs (both of whom are known to have had major impacts on Tidholm during his American sojourns). By all reports, the name International Harvester was chosen for its political implications, both as a brand of tractor and as a large multi-national capitalist engine of commerce and destruction. This version of the band was different from its earlier incarnation also in the fact that they now totally replaced the tape recorder loops of early Pärson Sound material with riffs they would lock into and repeat until finished. This tact is especially apparent on the longer selections on side two. Presumably some of these were based on themes invented with Pärson Sound, but which were now being explored with more overt rock aktion. And as with many other musicians on the European scene in '68, International Harvester were also keen on incorporating traditional Swedish folk music into their sonic mix. This tendency was generally viewed as a prole-friendly form move, but it was also an element that combined neatly with new ruralist trends sweeping across the international underground in the cruel dawn that followed 1967's brilliant sunset. Hippies across the globe were heading “back to the land.”

The “modernization” of city centers was a huge thing in the 1960s. In the U.S. a lot of it was a byproduct of the final stages of the interstate highway system begun under Eisenhower. In Europe, some cities were still rebuilding from bombing destruction in the Second World War. And the impulse to update downtown real estate became a fever even in cities that had not been damaged. Stockholm was one of the places where demolition seemed particularly arbitrary, and one assumes this is was among the factors that drove International Harvester to play outdoors as often as they did. It also shapes how one should hear Sov Gott.

The second side, with slowly evolving masses of riff-murk and psychedelic stasis (definitely in the same mode as the early Velvets) is most obviously an extension of the thread first explored with Pärson Sound, but the first side's use of folk and traditional melodies, as well as its repurposing of the violin attack from droney to folky, are indicative of major form renovations. Meanwhile, the overt politicism of “Ho Chi Minh” (which was the first part of chant I used to hear all the time at anti-war rallies, usually done as “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh/Viet Cong are gonna win), and also “The Runcorn Report on Western Progress” (which is presented as a threnody for Nature) represent new elements, and are very 1968 (if you catch my drift). When you combine these thematic shifts with the concept of replacing machine-made repetition-gestures with human-made ones, International Harvester emerges as a much more organic and instinctual creative-engine than its immediate predecessor had been.

How exactly the transformation to Harvester occurred is not something people seem to agree on. When I first heard these records, in the mid-1980s, the general opinion was that the band had shortened its handle in reaction to legal pressure (either real or anticipated) from the corporation of the same name. As likely as that sounds, I've now also heard that it was just a matter of how to lay-out the name on the cover of the album, Hemåt. Whatever the case, the earliest recordings credited to Harvester were recorded in November 1968, and the final ones in June 1969. I don't think I've seen any poster anywhere using the shortened name either, so the distinction between these two bands may be entirely illusory.

Hemåt (Harvest) was recorded by the same sextet as Sov Gott, with some assistance from Ulla Berglund (who would also record with Träd Gräs) and saxophonist Kjell Westling (who'd worked with Pärson Sound). Released on the newly created Decibel label (which would also release the first Träd Gräs LP), Hemåt was another step away from the band's original root-work. Comparisons to NY primitivists like the Godz remain cogent, and the cover of “Everybody (Needs Somebody to Love)” reminds me of one of the Bay Area's ballroom bands operating inside the Airplane's instrumental tradition. But the overall feel points ever more clearly in the rural psych direction in which Träd Gräs would head. The music is more pointedly loose and monotonous (I mean that in a good way) than it would become when the band next transmuted, but (unlike some of my peers) I have long considered Hemåt as a pinnacle moment for the Swedish underground. The balance of freak elements is perfect, and while form is obviously a larger part of the picture than it once was, there is no sense that the transition is being made for commercial reasons. It's just evolution. And very groovy evolution at that.

The live material that makes up the bulk of Remains is great. Most of the tracks are long and juiced, although there are also shorter pieces that recall experiments the crew did early in their journey. You can definitely hear the roots of Träd Gräs in their riff approach, but the music on this set is definitely less polished and feels much more spontaneous in all ways.

Soon after the last of these tapes was made, Thomas Tidholm would leave, eventually forming the Hot Boys with some of his old comrades. Urban Ymen would join Kjell Westling (among others) in the Gorilla-associated band, Gunder Hägg. The remaining quartet (along with fellow travelers) were the core of Träd Gräs Och Stennar, still probably the best-known psych band from Sweden. But it's great that this material is now available and packaged so nicely. This band was much more than a stepping stone to Träd Gräs. Their existence, while brief, represents an entire early step in the creation of the Swedish underground as we know it. That it sounds fucking amazing is just a bonus.

Byron Coley, March 2018