What is it about Swedish bands that without obvious aim to please leaves you captivated and dying for more? For The Sounds, the infectiously catchy punk pop that abounds from their upcoming album, Dying to Say This to You (due 2006), derives from a quintet whose lead vocalist, Maja Ivarsson, happens to resemble a blonde ambition of Blondie’s Deborah Harry.
The group, originally from the southern town of Helsingborg, Sweden, met in high school in 1998. Their debut, Living in America (2003), shot to #4 on the Swedish charts with “Hit Me” circulating MTV North. One week into the release, they were noticed by New Line Records.
The band lined up only three American shows for '05 in order to prepare us for the complete and total rock & roll domination they have lined up for '06. I sat down for a chat with Sounds’ bassist Johan Bengtsson and keyboardist Jesper Anderberg before their third and final US show at Hiro in New York to discuss their upcoming project, their affinity for confined spaces and thriving under pressure.
T: When was the last time you were in New York?
JB/JA: Two months ago when we recorded our last album.
T: Your new album, Dying to Say This to You, what’s the story behind that?
JA: We went on tour the end of last summer and we needed some time off and eventually we kind of got pretty bored with it. It’s nice to have some time off when you’re kind of lost and don’t know what to do. We built a studio in our hometown.
JB: It started I think in January. Started to build a studio and started writing a little bit and then more and more. Eventually we wrote everyday – like 10 hours a day.
JA: We didn’t do anything else.
JB: Yeah, that’s what we did for a few months, just spent time in the studio. We even slept there…
JA: For two weeks because we didn’t have a lock on the door.
JB: There were no bars on the windows and they wouldn’t be installing them until two weeks later. So we’re like, ‘Fuck, we’re moving in anyway.’
JA: It was really cold during the winter. Then we went to the US first in March to meet producers. We ended up with Jeff Saltzman (producer for The Killers), and we didn’t have that many songs.
JB: We had like four.
JA: Yeah, we had like four or five. So everybody was kind of, ‘You got to have a record ready by the beginning of May’.
JB: We were like, “This can’t be done”.
JA: And then we had a month. “We can’t do that”. We actually wrote “Queen of Apology” right after we went off the flight. Right after, we went to the studio to write that song. And after that three of us got sick, so we asked for two weeks. We had fevers, we didn’t do anything, we were mad at each other – grumpy because we felt like we couldn’t make it. And then after that we wrote “Tony the Beat”, “Running Out of Turbo”, wrote “Ego”…we wrote all of the songs just before we went on the plane for the US. Like that.
JB: We recorded the album in San Francisco in the bay area, around there, in different studios. The main studio was called 880, which was just a big, huge, enormous studio. Green Day recorded their album there. But we ended up in a back room in a real small, tiny room. We hooked up our own computer and started writing there again instead of using this enormous space…
JA: We were drinking…
JB: I don’t think it matters if you have this enormous studio. I just get nervous. You want to get into this confined space and it’d just be weird.
T: Is that how you prefer to work? Do you work better under deadlines?
JB: Yes, we need some pressure on us. Then we’d go out and get drunk…No. What we need is “Dude, you got to sit down and finish this”. Then we’re like, “Oh, ok”.
JA: Sometimes when we’re recording we have so much time. The first thing we do is start sleeping or watching TV. We need 10 days to get to it. That’s probably best because I didn’t put down the last things I did on the record [until] days before everything started mixing.
T: How long did the entire process take?
JB: The actual recording was close to three months. That’s a long time.
JA: The writing was four, almost five months.
T: “Night After Night” – that’s a beautiful song. Anything specific that inspired that?
JB: Thank you. Actually, it started out as a full setting rock song. That’s actually the first song that we wrote for the album. The rock version of it that’s also on the album, but it’s a bonus track. We were listening at the studio at 880 and we were going like, “We need a slower song. We need something to balance out the album”, so it shouldn’t be all straight through uptown bulk…and I think it was in the middle of May we were just playing it on the piano and I was sitting in the control room with the producer like, “This is awesome, this song”. And he’s like, “Record it! Record it!” And we just put up mics and we started recording pianos.
JA: In the middle of the night.
JB: It was all that sudden mix, that impulsive “Hit it” - it was really really quick. Then we built the entire track around the piano. We had the track already, so we had all the melodies. Even the drums were added afterwards…
It’s just that sudden moment where we’re like, “Ok, let’s do it. Let’s do it now”.
JA: That’s why I think it’s got the right feeling to it because it’s not perfectly done. It’s not polished at all. We could have done that if we needed to, but if we would have done that it would have sucked. But now you can sometimes feel the icicles feeling.
JB: You can feel the closeness and intensity.
T: Was it like that with your last album?
JB: No, not at all because the whole process was totally different. On the first album we started out with those songs, writing them over a really long period. We played them for people to get their reactions, to kind of change stuff. So the songs were worked on for several years because it was our debut album.
JA: We needed people, friends of ours, to come in and listen to the songs we made with their views. After a while we had been listening to these songs on and on for like half a year and you get kind of sick and your whole brain can’t hear anything different. Then you have to take in someone else.
JB: It was like an open bar of fresh perspective…
JB: Because you live so closely to the songs you can’t really step out and get a perspective because you feel, ”Ok, we’re stuck. Is this good, or is this not good?” You’re like, losing your mind and you don’t know. You’re like, “this might be the worst album ever made” and then the next day like, “Yes! This is so awesome.”
JA: That’s how we still feel. I feel it still when I listen to the album, some days I feel like, “Fuck – this is the worst album we’ve ever done.” And sometimes I feel like this album is so fucking good I want us to do this again. That’s only because we’ve been so devoted and dedicated to the work and you don’t have any distance to it anymore so that’s why you need other people to tell you that it’s good…or bad.
T: What’s the dynamic like with the rest of your band? Is it like a song-writing collective or is there a dominant force and the rest sort of contribute?
JB: We all write
JA: But then on this record, it was more me, Felix and Johan who took the initiative to really start doing stuff.
JB: Everyone’s involved in the process some way.
T: How would you describe yourselves? How would you prefer to be described?
JA: This is a hard question.
JB: Good one.
JA: Yeah that’s a good one, but a hard one. It’s like labeling yourself a little bit. I want people to kind of grow with us as a band. When you find your artist which you really like you kind of follow the artist while the art is growing you’re growing with them.
I want fans to know our age when we are 50. People listen to us and it gets them happy, they don’t think about their problems anymore. And that’s the feeling that we want to deliver. I don’t know how to label it anymore.
T: Yes, you can’t label yourselves in one sentence. But if you had to, if someone wanted to know what kind of band you are in passing…
JA: [To Johan] Go ahead, break the punchline.
JB: I don’t know.
T: What are you listening to now?
JA: Oh, yeah, Journey. I actually bought the DVD. I don’t know why. I like Journey and U2, especially since an ex-girlfriend made us start listening to it.
I like, of course, “Don’t Stop Believing”. That’s actually our intro song.
JB: We discovered that in LA a few days ago. Just five minutes before the show, we were like, “We need some song to put on.” He said, “Come here”. It totally worked.
JA: I kind of like those cheesy love songs, like open arms and lights. Some bands look cheesy but somewhere you can still feel…
JB: …the passion.
JA: Yeah, they’re so happy about what they’re doing…
JB: They’re like an honest band. It’s like some weird [sincerity] that’s conveyed there.
JA: Yeah, they seem to have fun and that’s what we have too. It doesn’t [matter] what kind of music you do as long as you can tell that the people who play it really enjoy it and the audience loves it, it doesn’t really matter.
T: In your magazine spreads you’re obviously very fashionable. Like your music, do you have any wardrobe influences?
JA: We’re kind of open-minded in a way.
JB: We kind of look at people on the street and we’re like, “Wow, that’s cool.”
JA: We don’t have a dress-code or anything. You can wear what you want. But it’s not like on photo shoots we wear stuff that someone tells us to wear. Never. As long as we’re comfortable with what we wear ourselves. And clothes – that’s not the big issue in a band like this. It’s the music that’s kind of important to us so we don’t really care about fashion.
JB: Obviously we do as persons but not as a collective group of people. It’s not like we’re trying to convey a message within the group like we’re going to have this sort of look…
It’s not like we come together in the morning and [say] “So, what kind of look do we need for today?”
It’s not happening.
JA: Fashion, sure, it’s fun. But we wear what we want. To be honest, we actually look great when we wear what we want. So it doesn’t really matter.
JB: That’s our statement.
JA: Yeah, that’s our statement.
JB: “So…what’s your band about?”
JA: “We look great in whatever we wear. And we sound good in whatever we play.”
As I stammered into Hiro Ballroom to await openers, Shiny Toy Guns, the crowd already appeared to be a promising gridlock. With oriental lanterns and ruby lighting, the mood was set within the venue’s swank-and-charm mystique. Once the band took stage, a huge curtain of mist (made out of what my friend hilariously called “bad stuff”) permeated the air through a giant dragon’s head above the stage and contained a slight odor one could only wonder. However, Shiny Toy Guns – although a bit stiff in person - wooed and rawked out with their share of electro-pop, despite technical difficulties and a tough-loving crowd.
After much anticipation, teal light beams and none other than Steve Perry’s jolt of “Don’t Stop Believin’” pierced the night. I caught myself lip-synching along and reminiscing about the last time I heard the song in college when… before I knew it, they were on: one-two-three-four-five. The Sounds took their places, launching the familiar high notes of “Song With A Mission” followed by “Queen of Apology”. By the time the band arrived at the anthem-like “Living in America”, the crowd became a hysterical synchronized unit with two attempts at crowd-surfing and one sighting of a lighter at the forefront of Maja’s waist. As Johan took center-stage on bass, the crowd couldn’t help but root. Maja also fulfilled her part as rock muse with finger flipping, cigarette tossing and a heaping helping of “Night After Night” (the bonus rock version), thick enough to glaze a patched wound. With an invasion of such merciless flare, I could only be thankful to be standing on a step with leverage to a view.
The Sounds will release Dying To Say This To You in March of '06. A full-scale tour of the US is in the works as well. We'll let you know as soon as we hear more, as this band is NOT to be missed.