Spring is the new winter! Flash back with us to the halcyon days of March 2006, cuz Love Is All's impossibly good Nine Times The Same Song gets a proper nationwide release today. Buy a million copies, and read Alex Wagner's cover feature on the band from F37 after the jumperino.
The gale force winds of Love Is All
By Alex Wagner
At the beginning of the song “Busy Doing Nothing”, it sounds like the vocals are being screamed through a bullhorn—an alarm instead of a chorus—shrill, abbreviated yelps and squeals signaling a call to action or a four-alarm fire (ultimately, it’s both). There’s an unrelenting kick drum that pushes everything else forward, shamelessly ratcheting the whole set up into the stratosphere with no consideration for anything else around it—the rowdy neighbor downstairs staying up crazily late on a weekday, partying his ass off despite the fact that it’s Tuesday. In the middle of this is the saxophone, wailing in delay, hogging the stage like the guest of honor—an instrument that seems so unprecedented in the current horizon of multi-guitar pop rock that it rewinds you to 1987 and Dresden or maybe Birmingham, one of those places you can’t pinpoint on the map anymore but where they played rock songs with instruments like this when you could. But even singling out anything other than the phrase Five movie marathons/ Nine times the same song is damn near impossible because the sound is so wildly distorted that you have to think that maybe it isn’t, actually, and the tape just fell in the sink or got tossed in with the laundry. The front of the case will tell you that the title of the album is, (just like she sang) Nine Times The Same Song (though naturally there are ten songs on it) and the name of the band is Love Is All—and of course, love has nothing to do with any of it.
Fortunately, Love Is All exists very much in the year 2006 and continues to make music in the relatively pinpointable locale of Gothenberg, Sweden: not the biggest city you’ve ever heard of but not the smallest either, a shipping town that has birthed the singer-songwriter of incongruous latinate genealogy, Jose Gonzales, and the zooted-out miiind rock of the Soundtrack Of Our Lives. So far, the band’s collected works range from three 7-inches to one full-length album, which is currently out on the sensational NYC-based mini indie label, What’s Your Rupture—but if the rising tide of holy shitness continues, bigger fish are sure to follow with re-releases stateside and elsewhere. Led by singer Josephine Olausson, the band is made up of Nicholaus Sparding on guitar, Markus Görsch on drums, Johan Lindwall on bass and Frederik Eriksson on sax. All five are near or past the decidedly unfashionable age of 30, although it’s only Sparding, the youngest at 29, who has children—two of them. And while the making of raucous music is a serious endeavor, their day jobs suggest an understanding of the world slightly more mature than your average dog-walking musician: Eriksson cares for the old and sick, Lindwall is a social worker who find jobs for the homeless, and Sparding does work with “young people who don’t have any security at all,” he says. “Who never had any childhood.”
Still, if humanitarian endeavors are the unlikely breadwinners for would-be musicians, then rock criticism has to be somewhere down at the bottom of the list: Görsch has a radio show on Swedish National radio and does occasional music reviews and Olausson spends her days as a freelance music journalist. Neither is remarkably sanguine about their feelings toward their chosen (if not ultimate) profession—says Olausson, “It’s disgusting.” Adds Görsch, “It’s kind of embarrassing.” Then again, he adds, “I don’t think I’d like to be a professional musician because it comes to a point where you have to be prepared to give up on your ideals or your aesthetic ideas just to make enough money to pay your rent. I don’t think I’d like to be a part of the 20th reunion tour of Love Is All when I’m 55.”
Despite this world weariness or perhaps because of it, Love Is All is a band that makes rebellious, intoxicating rock music that manages to sound at once like something from 15 years ago that influenced all the Johnny-come-latelys of today, and an equal-opposite reaction to them. The initial critical dot-to-dots have linked the band to Orange Juice and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and it bears mentioning that they managed to record a Peel session and win the heart of its host before his untimely death—perhaps because Love Is All rocks out in the grand tradition of the bands that Peel championed. But while there are countless bands conjuring a forced nostalgia for the gloriously impossible Time Before Computers, they are full of lip-snarling confidence and effortless shrugs, a certain fuckoffitude. Olausson’s voice, however, with its lilt that might be mitteleuropean or Scadanavian by way of CBGBs, can’t really hit the high notes, can’t really carry a melody, can’t really get any of it quite right—it’s got none of that surefootedness and sneering, but a hyper-enthused “Let’s do it!” whatthefuck!ittude that feels like the hallmark of jagged, imperfect, exciting music.
As the lyricist for the band, most of what Olausson sings about revolves around her own strange ideas and phobias and proclivities towards isolation, but with little of the angst characteristic of a 30 year-old music-journalist-cum-rock-star. On “Ageing Had Never Been His Friend” the topic of getting old and the impotence that comes with age is addressed with I keep/ The one/ I love/ In the freezer with a chorus of Fresh and young!/ Fresh and young! Olausson explains exactly what she meant by cryogenically sealing her boyfriend in song, “That was just like stupid and crazy and scary.” Other phobias, she adds, include outer space: “I hate the fact that there’s nothing out there—it’s something that just terrifies me. We’ve had so many discussions about grasping that.” Adds Görsch, “We’ve been trying to write the ultimate outer space phobia song for quite some time.”
When these personal phobias are exhausted, Olausson often writes about collective frustrations, like a commute on the city tram crowded with people who just won’t shut up. On “Talk Talk Talk”, Olausson sings Please don’t talk to me…/ Please leave me alone! while Sparding and Eriksson sing a chorus of One more time! over and over again, in reference to the frustration of getting caught without a ticket again. While the randomness of these topics (Olausson says sometimes she will just call Görsch for a word, idea, anything to write about) seems a bit featherweight for a quintet that spends their days alternately caring for society’s unwanted or engaged in critical discourse about precisely what they’re making—that is, music—Sparding says that for them, playing is cathartic. “You have this responsibility, you have these tough questions about peoples’ lives. And you have to be aware of that all the time and you need to be watching out when you’re taking care of them. And then you come home and have kids and take care of them, and so when you go to practice you just need to work it out. It’s very therapeutic.” Görsch continues, saying, “There’s frustration and you just need to go aaahhhhh!”
Most Love Is All songs begin with Olausson’s lyrics, which are then taken in hand by Sparding, who constructs a melody around the words, though his initial pass tends to be in the vein of simple, singer-songwriter tunes rather the mayhem that ultimately results. Olausson explains, “Nicky writes a basic melody and then we all destroy it.” Destroying it, as they would have it, means frenetic cowbell knocks to kick off the song, an incessant, knee-jerking bass drum, full rolls on the toms to introduce hysterical chords on the guitar that alternate between jangly hooks and Dick Dale surf guitar, blazing sax passages that scream and wail up and down and all over the place. Not so surprisingly, Görsch says, “It’s like Miles Davis’s Dark Magus: really intense and non-linear, and it goes on and it’s noisy. I was trying to explain what the music we make is and I was like ‘It’s like Dark Magus mixed with the Beach Boys.’”
Still, as much as the notion of irascible kids at play is held aloft by the sheer energy of the five, Love Is All makes songs that have definite direction, and the road they lead you down often ends up being more of a boulevard than a winding street. On “Make Out Fall Out Make Up”, a spare melody progresses into an almost anthemic, lighter-waving march, while “Turn The Radio Off” begins as a 1980’s prom night slow dance number (you can almost see Andrew McCarthy in wide lapels) but crescendos to a swelling chorus that would better fit a “We Are The World” reunion concert than a John Hughes retrospective, with multiple voices crying out I turn the radio off/ Hey world I’ve had enough.
Kevin Pedersen, who runs What’s Your Rupture records, first brought Sparding, Olausson and Görsch over to play a concert at NYU when the band was in its first incarnation as the poppy, 1960’s-influenced band Girlfrendo. On this tour, they played with one of Pedersen’s other bands, Comet Gain, and it was this meeting of the minds that would later play a critical role in the development of Love Is All. When, in 2004, Olausson, Sparding and Görsch decided to create the band (later adding Lindwall and Eriksson), Pederson suggested they enlist Woodie Taylor, the drummer for Comet Gain, to mix their records. “We basically set up this thing where they would record the stuff in their rehearsal room,” says Taylor. “And they would get it as good as they could get it. And then they’d send it in to me on a disc in the post and then I’d just do my stuff, really.” Taylor’s “stuff” includes mixing the record onto quarter-inch tape, an effect that ages the recording and heavily distorts it. “Some people have said that my recordings sound like what it feels like to play live,” explains Taylor. “And coming from the musician angle, I think that’s what I strive to do—to actually convey that kind of energy. And certainly with Love Is All, there’s so much energy.” Görsch says, “I remember the first time we listened to [Woodie’s] mix of ‘Felt Tip Hip Kids’ and it sounded so different from the original. I was playing it for Fredrick in my apartment and he was laughing so hard that he fell on the floor.”
The band will describe the results of Taylor’s mixing as a wall of sound that hits you, full frontal, rather than a polite combination of sax, guitar, bass, vocals and drums. But the cumulative effect of Dark Magus, secret phobias, frenetic drum rolls, hopped-up passages of siren-like call-and-response as heard through the fuzzy wail—for some of us, anyway—is less a forward thrust and more a hurricane whirling counter-clockwise through the living room, sucking up all the furniture and dust and pictures off the mantelpiece, leaving the walls of the room just heaving in the silence that follows.