I recently caught up with Maja Ivarsson (lead vocalist for The Sounds), in anticipation of two upcoming shows in New York (at Music Hall of Williamsburg SOLD OUT TONIGHT and Webster Hall 4/10) and one in DC (at 9:30 Club 4/12). I’ve been listening to the band since their first record dropped in the US roughly ten years ago, and while I’ve seen plenty of musicians come and go from the spotlight in the decade between then and now, The Sounds have really held impressively steady. I talked to Maja about what it’s been like to pursue music professionally over the last fifteen years or so, and about changes she and the band have experienced since the beginning, so sit back, relax, and get ready to talk hangovers, hair color and kidulthood. HERE WE GO:
Where are you guys right now?
In Portland. We played in Seattle last night.
Nice! And how’s the rest of the tour been?
Canada was a little interesting; we’d just gotten in from Copenhagen, and half of our equipment got stuck in Chicago during the layover. So when we came to Vancouver we had to borrow a lot of things; we didn’t want to cancel the show because of something like that, so we tried to pull it off. It was definitely a little weird to start off that way, but it was still a good show. And last night was great! Sold out show, good crowd…really good.
That’s great! Layovers are always terrifying for that reason, though.
Yeah, this one we had twenty-eight bags or something, so we knew something wasn’t going to show up. I’ve learned over the years to always bring a carry-on with my stage clothes and makeup.
Good thinking. And I’m glad everything’s a little more settled for you guys now! Is there anyplace in particular that you’re especially looking forward to playing?
Well, we’ve always had a really big following in California, and we have a big Latin following as well; we’re going to Mexico, so that’s going to be good fun. In general, though, we’re just really psyched to be playing all over the US, because you guys have always treated us so well over these last…ten years? For us it’s always been good fun to be here, we love it.
Yeah, it’s insane that it’s been this long for you guys already! I recently went home, and my mom is sort of trying to clear out my childhood bedroom and make it into a civilized guest room, so she’s kind of asked me to clean out all my shit, and I came across Living In America! I can still remember buying that at Tower Records, you know, when Tower Records was still a thing.
So funny! Me and the guitarist were talking about it the other day when we were rehearsing for the tour; we’ve seen so many bands coming and going, and we’re still here! It’s crazy! Then when we went to get some lunch, the guy behind the counter said, “Oh, you guys are playing here tonight? That’s so cool, I’ve been listening to your music since high school!” It’s like, shit, that means I’m pretty old, too, I guess! [Laughs] It is quite weird but cool, too, to be able to still do this and have such a big fan base. We love each other, enjoy playing music with each other and hanging out together, so it’s cool.
Well obviously to have your level of success over the years is the ultimate dream, but if you were to go back in time to the start of it all, where did you think you’d be at this moment? Would you have guessed even remotely that it would be so big?
Honestly, I don’t even think I thought I’d be alive at this time! [Laughs] So I’m surprised that I’m still around, alive and kicking and feeling good; I was a bit of a wild child growing up, so I wasn’t really planning on getting past thirty. [Laughs]
Yet here you are! And so how has your show preparation or “regimen” sort of changed, then? Because if you had told me ten years ago that I would have a gym membership and be eating kale on a regular basis at this stage in my life, I’d have said “JUST SHOOT ME NOW, GET IT OVER WITH!” Obviously we aren’t super old, but you do start to feel things like hangovers a lot more.
Absolutely. I’m just starting to realize that I can’t drink as I used to, but I still try. [Laughs] Like last night I tried really hard, and it didn’t really work out. I should also start going to the gym, but I’ve never really been into working out. Now it’s sort of starting to show, though; I used to be able to party all night, eat whatever I wanted and never really work out, and nobody would really notice. So I’m just sort of starting to realize I’m not in my twenties anymore. This job (if you can call it that), though…you’re almost ALLOWED to sort of be a kid (even though you’re supposed to be a grown-up), which suits me very well; you know, my mother still helps me out with my bills (I mean, I pay for them, but she’s the one taking care of it), and that’s a little embarrassing, but I’m never really home, and so I never learned how to BE an adult, which is both sad and fun.
I mean, I think that’s the dream, though; anyone who’s telling you that’s sad is probably just pissed that they don’t have that.
Yeah, maybe it’s just me; I think it’s a little tragic in a way, never having to grow up…
Well, there’s still time. [Laughs]
Yeah, I’ll enjoy it while I can. But when you start out that young…I mean, we were teenagers when we started the band, and we never really thought we might be doing this for another fifteen years. In the beginning, we lived every day like it’d be our last.
Right. Well, and obviously you’ve had plenty of time to work up a large repertoire of songs, so are there any that you especially love to play live? Clearly there are hits that everyone loves, but are there any that you prefer?
Well I mean, I think it’s important to remember that I’m not playing shows for me; I’m there to entertain the audience, not to entertain myself. Having said that, there are certain songs I’d rather not play, but I know that if I were to go see a band, I’d like to hear all those old songs as well, because that’s how you discovered the band in the first place and those are the ones you like. But for me personally, I think it’s always fun to be able to play a couple new songs. It’s hard because we have five albums, and some songs we just have to play, but it’s nice to be able to change it up a little bit and play some of the new stuff to see what kind of reaction you get from the crowd. But yeah, bottom line is that I’m there to entertain them, not myself. It’s good fun to be able to do both, though.
And so when you’re writing new material, what does the process generally look like? Has it changed at all since you first started out?
It has changed a little bit, but it really depends on the song and the record. It’s really nice to have all of us be able to be creative, though (and I think this is part of the reason that it’s been the same band members since day one), and I think we’ve all gotten better at songwriting over the years.
That’s great! Well, while we’re on the subject of change, I’ve been stalking your Instagram; do you still have the new hair color? Because you were very blonde for a long time, and now it’s a little bit darker.
Yeah [laughs] I mean, I have been bleaching my hair since high school (maybe even junior high), so I wasn’t really sure what kind of hair color I had, you know? The roots grow out really fast, so I thought I’d let them grow out a bit and try to color the rest of my hair to match. It’s a little weird, but right now I’m really happy with it; it feels good! It’s weird when something as simple as hair color can interest so many people.
Yeah, I guess it’s like when you get very sunburned and people feel the need to remind you of it every five seconds, as if you weren’t aware of it. Those superficial points of interest.
[Laughs] Yeah. It’s good to change it up every now and then, though. I might go back to being platinum, but for now this feels good, and I need to grow up a bit.
You’re right, it’s good to shake things up occasionally. But I think it looks really good, SO CONGRATULATIONS!
[Laughs] Thank you!
You’re very welcome. Okay, so NOW I have a couple of questions for you based very loosely on your album titles, so bear with me. For the first one, Living In America, what is the best part and worst part about living in America? Because you have lived here before, correct?
You know, I love America, I really do. (I have an American boyfriend who says I’m more American than he is, that’s how much I love it.) But it is sad when you think about some of the bigger issues, like healthcare and things like that. In this country, you really do need to have money to enjoy it, and that’s just not the case in Sweden; we’ve got a bigger, better social security situation. But it’s so different, you know? It’s such a big continent; Texas is so different from Maine, Hawaii’s so different from Alaska, and that’s a nice thing. I also think Americans are very generous people; it might help being a Swedish girl, but everyone I’ve met here has been so cool and nice to us. I love it here.
Good answer! [Laughs] And for the most recent one, Weekend, what would an ideal weekend look like for you if you didn’t have any obligations?
Well, what we do is pretty much like having a weekend every day of the week, but a really good weekend would be spending time with my boyfriend, almost kind of like old farts; we’d go out for dinner and come home and watch an episode of True Detective. [Laughs] Something like that.
I fully support that. I mean, I’m not out playing shows every night, but I do have events to go to pretty regularly, and a lot of the time I’d just rather be at home in bed eating takeout, watching Netflix. Okay, and for the next question (based on Dying to Say This to You), is there anything you’re dying to say right now? (You probably already said it by now if you were dying to or not…)
[Laughs] Exactly! Umm…no, I’m not really dying to say anything right now. I’m a little hungover, so my brain isn’t working. I guess I’m dying to say, “Don’t get me any whiskey tonight.” [Laughs] That’s what I’m dying to say.
Okay, we’ll make a note of that. [Laughs] Okay, well on the flip-side of that (based on Something to Die For), what are you dying FOR right now? Maybe to not be hungover?
[Laughs] Actually, this is crazy, but even after this many years I always just want to soundcheck, play the show, play the new songs…I just really want to be up on stage. I still really, really love it. I really do. So I’m dying to play the show tonight. It’s going to be awesome.
And the New York and DC shows are bound to be EQUALLY awesome, so be sure to grab tickets and/or grab a date who’s got an extra. In the meantime, be sure to follow The Sounds on Facebook and Twitter for all the latest news.