Say it with me: Ungdomskulen. Can’t you picture 100,000 Brazilian teenagers in a soccer arena chanting that? I assume that’s what everyone on earth does when they come up with a band name.
Of course the name makes perfect sense to the three guys in the group, since it’s the word for the Norwegian version of middle school. It’d be like naming a US band Kindergarten, only Americans and Germans would have any idea what that was supposed to mean (I was going to call dibs on that but I just checked and there are 6 bands on Myspace named Kindergarten, and one in Italy, which ruins my point, but whatever).
In many ways it’s the most apt name for them as well, not just because of their playfulness and sense of humor, but because the elusiveness of pronunciation musically and socially mirrors their attitude as a band. Defining what they sound like is as hard as getting my fat American lips around the Norwegian syllables. They’re somehow both funky and hard-core, but not in an Infectious Grooves way. At times they blur like Battles or Don Caballero, except for the clever catchy vocals which fall in between Fu Manchu stoner-rock moaning and dance-punk chanting. And then other times they just crank out chesty metal solos, though never for more than a minute or two. Maybe I’m overthinking this—they’re just your average hilariously badass heavy-disco math-krautrock collection of telepathic space knights. Ungdomskulen. It’s easy once you try it a few times. AND THEY’RE GONNA BE AT RED AND THE BLACK THIS FRIDAY. SO, NATURALLY WE GOT ON THE PHONE WITH THEM.
but first, cheeeeeeeck this out:
Kristian Stockhaus: Sorry I was late calling, we were watching America’s Funniest Home videos and it was too funny to stop watching.
BYT: Where are you guys at right now, Charlotte?
Kristian Stockhaus: Yeah, Charlotte. I think…
BYT: You sure?
KS: Yes for sure. We’ve just been here a couple of hours actually. We’re playing tomorrow I guess. Right now we’re just watching TV. And we’re going out for pasta later on.
BYT: Is this your first tour in the States?
KS: This is our second tour. We did a short one in October or something. This is our first longer tour.
BYT: How do the shows over here compare to shows on a European tour?
KS: Well I think we’re at the stage of our, let’s use this ugly word, career, that people aren’t really familiar with us most places we go. So basically you have to win the audience over every night. So that’s the same. I think the people who are more interested and more open-minded about music tend to get excited more easily about our stuff. So bigger cities who are used to having all kinds of bands coming, that’s easier than smaller cities. So at this stage it’s the same. Though sometimes if we play really late, or at a house party, those shows tend to be really extraordinary.
BYT: Those are always the best kind of shows. Are you playing any basements on this tour?
KS: Well we’re playing a house party here in Charlotte. We’re really looking forward to that. Kegs. Kegs of Budweiser.
BYT: It’s not like a frat party is it?
KS: I hope not! If it is maybe we will have to fight! Isn’t there a lot of fighting? At frat parties? I don’t know. I’ve seen the movies. We just saw this movie, Sandy White? Something like that. It’s not a Disney movie, but it’s like a Disney movie.
BYT: Snow White?
KS: It’s like a remake of Snow White. It’s pretty good actually. She gets kicked out of Alpha Beta Omega or whatchamacallit, and she has to live with these seven dorks. It’s perfect. Everyone likes a happy ending right?
BYT: That’s what I prefer. I hate depressing endings. So can I ask you a couple of really ignorant questions about Norway?
KS: Yeah, sure.
BYT: I don’t know much about it, but I’ve heard that it’s a bit easier to live there working as an artist.
KS: We have gotten a lot of funding from the government. It makes stuff a lot easier. We can go on tour. We get cash back. I think recently we got, ten, or fifteen thousand (Euros I presume) from the government. That’s really cool. I think it’s mostly common in Scandinavia. For us it means we can come over here and play shows more.
BYT: It must have been helpful since it took, what, three years for you all to write and record the new album? [Cry-Baby]
KS: It did help. But it wasn’t really focused writing, like we sat down and wrote everything and spent three years recording. It’s more like we were really into making songs and practicing. We’re not really career focused, we just play, you know? Then we got picked up by a label and things started to happen. We’re not really good at promoting, selling, ourselves.
BYT: You don’t do that?
KS: You know, you have these artists around with business cards? That’s not us, so, things have to go a bit slowly. We’re really shy. We not all outgoing about profiling ourselves. I think that if people want to tag along and listen to our stuff and be a part of it, that’s excellent! We’re not going to force it down their throats.
BYT: No street teams or on-stage smoke machines?
KS: Well, sometimes. We played in Ireland yesterday and the club had a smoke machine. But we didn’t bring our own.
BYT: I’m surprised, because I haven’t seen you all live yet, but based on the album cover I was expecting maybe you guys dressed up in armor on a Stonehenge set?
What was the thought behind that? Does it mean anything?
KS: It’s sort of your contemporary anti-hero type thing. The slime is like he’s just fought with aliens or something. So like a metaphor for a penis, with the green slime, and he’s like a sex-fighting soldier. But also he’s wearing average alternative indie-rock clothes. It has a lot of meanings. And the title, Cry-Baby, could mean that he’s telling the alien that he killed that he’s sorry…we had all these ideas. We also have hidden stuff in there if you look really carefully, referencing other records that we really like. It’s very thought out. I guess that makes us look like dorks. Not exactly your average heavy metal band.
BYT: Do you feel any affinity for that scene? You all are musically in between a lot of genres, indie-rock and metal for two. Do you play shows with all different kinds of bands?
KS: We’ve played a lot with other indie bands, and electronic acts. But we’ve never been embraced by the heavy-metal community. I don’t know why. We had some reviews in England by Kerrang and Rock Sound that gave us 9/10 or something. We’re not really into hard rock, even though we sort of play it. We’re more into, you know, everything. We’re not rock dudes at all, we don’t have pipe-jeans and long hair. But when the rock people like what we do, we get really proud. It might be because we don’t have that metal image, and image is so important in metal, they go hand-in-hand. We’re confusing them.
BYT: And that’s the last thing you want to do is confuse heavy metal fans, because they get angry, and then they burn down your van. In that video you guys made last year for Batman [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IWM13lBzy8 ] you all were wearing some great metal parody outfits. How did that video come about?
KS: The new Macs come with this photo program, you know it has a camera built in, you can take pictures with a fish-eye lens and stuff. Basically we turned on that program and filmed ourselves, then we filmed the screen with a shitty camera. We filmed everything in my room.
BYT: So that’s you guys in your underwear? Sweet. Well, sadly I have to bring it up and try to pronounce your name. Is it, Un-dongs-gollen? Is that close?
KS: Pretty close.
BYT: It’s pretty cool in my opinion to give yourselves a Norwegian name that is somewhat hard to say, like “This is us, deal with it!”
KS: Well we were thinking that it really made sense to us having that name. And the label was like, “Yeah but you know that nobody will be able to pronounce it or remember it.” And we were like, “Oh well.” It’s just a name. It’s just our name.