Jönköping’s Club Sputnik is on its feet. For its maiden voyage, the club has brought in one of Sweden’s most respected synth acts, Vision Talk, who are themselves playing their last show. The crowd is in a mood to move, and setting them in motion is the evening’s support act, Train to Spain. A pretty young woman in an Iberian dress is singing a selection of upbeat, original pop songs. Next to her, a sharply-dressed keyboardist intently presses keys, sending catchy hooks through the sound system. On the dancefloor, enthusiastic clubbers move body parts in syncopation with the thumping beat of synthetic drums. Their transition from studio to stage is so natural that it is hard to believe that this is Train to Spain’s first live show as a duo.
A few days after the Sputnik performance, the band’s songwriter and keyboardist, Jonas Rasmusson, is happy with the response but already preparing for the next show. New songs are coming quickly – one had been finished only on the day of the show at Sputnik and was programmed and debuted that evening. The growing body of work shows Rasmusson’s keen ear for catchy synthpop. Take Fences of Freedom, a popular song on mydebaser.com: a bouncy introduction uses classic synth sounds to signal the band’s 1980s influences, before giving way to energetic, thoroughly modern rhythms, fused with a strong, melodic vocal from singer Valeria Hjertberg. It’s classy, polished electropop that doesn’t rely on the fuzz of 8-bit chips or Flying Lizards-style deadpan lines to get your attention.
The duo was brought together by their manager, Kjell Ek. Rasmusson had needed a replacement for the original vocalist, who had moved to Helsinki after recording some early tracks, including a cover of The House of Love’s classic, Shine On. Valerie Hjertberg was born in Russia but moved to Sweden when she was just eight years old. Now grown-up and living in Stockholm, she fit the bill perfectly. Rasmusson maintains a base in the South, but they are able to leverage modern technology to collaborate: vocals are recorded separately and downloaded for mixing by Rasmusson before being released.
One of the things that makes Train to Spain click is the contrast between the vocal style of Hjertberg, who is influenced by mainstream pop artists like Lady Gaga and Pink, and the harder electronic sound created by Rasmusson. The result is more than the combination of its parts, just as the bluesy voice of Alison Moyet married to the analogue synth tones of Vince Clarke made Yazoo something special. The tension can be heard on a song like Return To, in which saws and squares grumble darkly in the synth stem, while Hjertberg sings, “I will be nice”. The fact that Hjertberg is not playing a dark wave role adds a freshness to the material and makes it difficult to locate within a single genre.
The band take their name from a song by The Human League. In The Things That Dreams Are Made Of, Phil Oakey sings, “Take a cruise to China/Or a train to Spain/Go round the world/Again and again”. The line refers to doing things that are pleasurable at a pace that allows them to be enjoyed. It also caught Rasmusson’s ear, because he has travelled and worked in Spain a number of times. He is pleased when music fans recognise the reference, but also likes the resonance of the phrase with his own experience.
The duo now wants to spend more time on stage, refining their songs. A show in Stockholm is behind them. An album is in the pipeline, with a commitment already secured to release a CD in Russia. This train is on the track to big things!