It’s been almost 10 years since a whole generation of teenagers started saying a word that only nerds and fat guys who worked at records stores cared about previously: ‘garage‘. Two attractive young bands came out with colorful, fresh sounding albums and suddenly it was everywhere. Every review seemed to be about it, every cute black haired girl with too much eye-makeup pretended she understood it, and even that kid who had a Dashboard Confessional button sometimes wished he had grown up there, despite how cold and scary it sounds unless it’s referring to a Bikini Team. Wait that’s the wrong word, the word I was thinking of is Sweden.
Now it’s commonplace to think of Sweden as a metro-accessible branch of the UK music scene, but when the Soundtrack of Our Lives record Behind the Music came out on the heels of massive success of groups like the Hives, it was like a missive from another world. It literally made no sense to record buyers at the time, which of course meant some of us fell utterly in love with the whole enterprise, starting with the enigmatic name of both album and band whose awkward cliche seemed like a deeply ironic but somehow profound parody of something. Then we saw the video for the single:
They didn’t sound (and lead singer Ebbot Lundberg didn’t act) like any typical garage rock band of the time, which, don’t get me wrong, I LOVED typical garage bands of that time, but Ebbot’s intense otherworldly polite fury was in a whole different tenor than the polka dot Sonics rip-off Cavestomp-bound pentatonic slew. It was relaxed, swinging, layered, warm and rich with harmonies and subtle keyboard touches…plus Ebbots voice and lyrics never tried too hard to do anything, which like Billy Zoom’s smile managed to be more unsettling than 100 bland gyrating Iggy/Mick imitations. Also he looked like a Viking.
What we didn’t know was the TSOOL was actually just very relaxed about the whole thing. They didn’t know there was supposed to be a Swedish garage rock invasion happening internationally–they’d been putting out records for 7 years, and many of them were members of one of Sweden’s premier psych-bands in the 80s, Union Carbide Productions. They just put out a record, maybe a bit more danceable than cosmic, but still just a good record that they liked. But it hit garage fans new and old like a brilliant heckler at a club dropping a well-timed smirking ORLY–it undermined the whole hackneyed show.
Since then TSOOL’s records haven’t been as orignal and stirring, that is until 2009 when they came back into their element by pulling out all the stops on epicness with ‘Communion’– cramming late-60s prog fantasies with mid-90s brit-pop crooning onto two fat-stuffed discs. Communion (and the new EP Immaculate Convergence which you can get for free DL from Yep Rock if you buy Communion pluggity pluggity) answers the un-begged question ‘what if Oasis were literate and worshiped Love rather than the Beatles and also were Vikings?’ In honor of their total domination of DC today (playing at the Black Cat and earlier at the House Of Sweden acoustically) we spoke to Ebbot on the phone last week about bandwagon-riders, the current state of Swedish music and begging Ian MacKaye for a record deal.
BYT: So you are in the studio right now in Sweden?
Ebbot Lundberg: Yes, doing some new songs.
BYT: Speaking of the studio, I was just listening to Immaculate Convergence (their new EP). It seems a little different than some of the stuff that was on Communion, more acoustic guitars. Were those tracks outtakes from Communion or was it all brand new stuff?
EL: Sort of? Some from way back, and some stuff that we just kind of wanted to get rid of. At least two of the songs are brand new, but the others are older stuff we have been working on. We had a lot of songs that were unfinished or that we just didn’t have time to finish
BYT: Ok. It seems weird to think that some of the tracks could have been outtakes from Communion, given how much material is on the old double record there. Was it the kind of process where a whole lot of material was recorded and then you sort of pieced through it to see what fit, or was there a plan all along?
EL: We just felt that these songs didn’t really ft in anywhere, so this is what we did to keep things going. We are probably going to add another 4 songs when we get back for the tour. We haven’t really done any singles from Communion.
BYT: It seems like on Communion, less so on the new EP, there is a return to the overt psychedelia of the records before the Behind the Music record. Am I right about that? Did you try to deliberately try to get back to your “freak out” roots?
EL: Well, I don’t know. I think we felt like we were trying to go in a different direction. Yes, maybe that’s so. I think that this is the most epic one. This is the kind of album that I would play for anyone who wants to hear our music. I love all the albums, but it just happened like that. You just kind of record whatever and some songs and some albums just turn out more rockier, or more psychedelic than others. There are no big plans, but I think after playing for a while and after touring for at least five years in a row, we kind just felt that like we should take a break and start all over again. So, Communion was a result of that, which is a good thing obviously.
BYT: Lyrically though, it seemed that it had more of those high minded and philosophical themes that weren’t as prevalent on Origin and Behind the Music. Do you think that audiences are more or less receptive to that kind of high-minded concept album? Using the word “reality” in a song now in a global recession– are people more receptive to that, or less, than 10 years ago?
EL: I hope so. You make up the songs that you want to hear in your head, but often the lyrics go with the music that coincides with it. The words just kind of come into your mind and go with the flow, or particular feeling, or section, or whatever. But I would certainly say, and I can’t speak for everybody, but you say or do the things that always existed there and then if people are actually interested in that and catch the wave, then that is good. I think you always get influence from what is going on around you. I think listening to Origin, which was during the worst Bush period and during the invasion of Iraq, I think that it caused a kind of stress that affected the album. Now, it’s more like a laid back thing. It feels more positive I would say; it has a more positive vibe.
BYT: I agree with that and I can definitely hear that. I also wanted to ask about the atmosphere when Behind the Music came out. To go back a little bit, at the time it was right at the cusp of this mania for Swedish rock bands. When it was released, certainly you guys had been around for al long time…
EL: Yes, and the reception was nothing. It took about 2 or 3 years for it to actually get to people. After the 2nd album we just felt like doing something more aggressive, going back to that, and more rockier, but it kind of got bad reviews when it came out in Sweden. Then suddenly England started to pay attention to the album and it got a little hype, then it went to America and got a little hype. But, I don’t know, it was an album we enjoyed making. It took a while for it to spread, I think. Like the first album it was a slow process. We weren’t always lucky with the labels and what not. Maybe we had made some stupid touring mistakes, like touring with the wrong bands and stuff like that.
BYT: I was working in a record store when that album came out, and as soon as I heard it on the store speakers, I knew there was a huge difference and that it was miles above the albums that were being hyped on encaps everywhere at the time as part of this garage rock revival.
EL: We kind of got caught up in that. That was not the idea at all, it just happened at the same time. It was kind of weird. Maybe my old band Union Carbide Productions might have been part of that but…it was kind of like a bull running through all of Sweden, I would say. We were totally outside of that whole thing, I think we were more of a classical rock or pop band that had kind of a garage thing going on too. I don’t know, we just kept getting involved with that scene. Hey, what can you do about it…
BYT: Were there bands at the time in Sweden that you particularly felt that were coming out of the woodwork to be a part of that wave and wear skinny ties or dress in 60’s robes?
EL: I mean, there were a lot of bands trying to jump on the wagon [pause] I don’t know what happened to them.
EL: I just feel sorry for a band called Seal the Bullet. They were supporting us on the first or second tour we did. They were one of the best bands from Scandinavia, but they just had some really band luck with companies. But, they are still around and they are doing a new album. So, I just want to push some people to them, you know. Anyway I don’t even remember how it happened, I just remember how the Hives had their comic book concept, and that worked obviously, but I don’t really remember….
BYT: Certainly, like you said, a lot of those guys aren’t around anymore, but how has the music scene in general changed now that the rage for really any Swedish band has died down? Is there still a robust scene?
EL: In a sense. It is actually, thank God. I’ve been trying to find these bands and maybe sort of help them out because I love getting a hold of great music. Like you said about buying records yourself, you are trying to find those interesting things outside of Sweden, and inside I’m still really into that thing, so there are definitely a lot of really cool bands but they are sometimes hard to find. I’m trying to push for them, all the time.
BYT: You are playing two shows in D.C., one at the House of Sweden and One at he Black Cat on the same day, where was the impetus behind playing at the House of Sweden?
EL: [Laughs] It’s really fun. I don’t know, we’ve done it like three or four times, but every time we do it we feel like we did when we were playing punk a long time ago, in a school or whatever. I love that feeling. They try to get into it. For them it is a surprise because they are all polite because we are all Swedish. So we just do it for fun. For them it’s obviously a big deal because it is something different in their boring lives with their boring jobs. [Laughs]
BYT: So it’s like being at cocktail party with a creepy costume on?
EL: I’ll tell you, there is always something weird happening at those parties. Mostly you meet up with old actors, like Bond figures, or really beautiful women, or Bergman actors, so it is always interesting.
BYT: It’s not the kind of show you put on a big rock club…
EL: No, not really. It’s just us kind of standing around a piano, playing guitar, trying to sound like the Everly Brothers [Laughs] Even if it is acoustic, we are always loud.
BYT: Communion, and even in this new EP, it is kind of moving towards kind of a folky direction with a little more acoustic guitars and sort of quieter songs, but live you’re still doing more of the big stage spectacle like you have done in the past?
EL: Well, I mean we always try to make it feel organic and improvise as much as we can. We don’t try to be boring– it has to have some sort of nerve. There are a lot of songs that we often change around in the set all the time so it’s interesting for ourselves as well. Hopefully it will be a good show. Most of the shows we have done in D.C., have been great. DC has always bee a huge influence on me, when we were younger and into skateboards, so yeah. We like to give something back!
BYT: We’ll be happy to accept. I knew Union Carbide Productions was punk rock, but I didn’t realize that you guys were influenced by D.C. hardcore at all.
EL: I would say a lot! I think we were one of the biggest fans, me and the guitar player from Carbide. We were fanatics at the time. We were like “Wow, 8 whole songs on a 7 inch! That’s so cool.” We thought that was so cool. We never finished collecting the whole catalog actually. I was speaking to someone from D.C. the other day and I had mentioned this. We even went, I think Patrick did, he went to visit DC, and met Ian and Jeff in ’83 and tried to get a record deal. But we never finished.
BYT: Ha! If I see Ian around I’ll tell him to come to the show so you can get all the records you need.
EL: Thanks! Is it snowing in D.C.?
BYT: Oh yeah, it snowed all last week. We are completely shut down.
EL: Oh dear. Well I was hoping there was none. There is so much snow here, I just want to get away from it.
BYT: Hopefully it will be nice and warm when you guys get here.
And it is! You know what they say, the first Swedish acid-pop band to play in DC is the first sign of spring.