Hi Johan, how excited are you about playing Indietracks this year? What do you know about the festival?
Yes it’s going to be great fun. Peter’s been playing there with his and Linas other band Springfactory last year. Well I know it’s a big festival for music lovers who are in to indiepop and various smaller genres. I haven’t had the time to look up on all of the other bands playing; hopefully I will be surprised and discover different new bands.
You haven’t put anything out for a couple of years now but I read recently that you have new songs you are working on. Will you be releasing new material soon?
I really hope so. It’s a long process. We released an EP (#4) back in 2009 and we also released a new song on a small label (Sound of Young Lötkärr Vol 2) last year. We’ve been working on different songs for quite some time now and some of them are pretty much finished. Now its summer and we will probably start to work on the songs when we’ve had our vacation and so.
Tell us more about the songs. What are the ideas behind the music and lyrics?
The ideas behind the music and lyrics are pretty much the same. Depressive and funny at the same time. This time some lyrics lean towards more serious things too.
Labrador have an amazing roster at the moment with Acid House Kings, The Radio Dept., Sambassadeur, Pelle Carlberg. How important are they in promoting Swedish indiepop? Will your new songs be put out by them again?
Labrador is pretty big outside of Sweden. They are one of the biggest indiepop labels in Sweden and they are very good at putting out things in the world. They have helped us by being on their roster to get through to the rest of the world. Apart from that I don’t think you can call it a sound and I like that. AHK and The Radio Dept. have very different approach towards music but it’s always a certain quality to most of the things they put out. Our new album will be out by them if they have the patience to wait for slow guys like us.
Your EPs and album have all been numbered like Led Zeppelin used to. Why did you decide to do that? Will you be giving your releases titles from now on?
I don’t know why we decided on that, the first one we entitled #1 and then it was easy to follow on that concept. We’ve been talking about changing that theme but time will tell.
How do you find it with just two of you in the band? Do you ever get sick of each other on tour or does having a backing band with you help?
Having a backing band does help but we haven’t had that much trouble throughout the year. I think all people tend to get a little crazy when being on a tour because it’s such an intense thing. If you only have that in mind and let people have their space then things will work out fine.
Do you have plans to tour Europe this year?
We don’t. We’ve only been planning this show.
You played recently Huset ved Sjøen festival in Norway. It looked like a unique festival with just nine bands on the bill. How was it? How much will your set differ at Indietracks?
It was a really magic festival. Set in an old Greek temple on a fjord outside of Oslo which was pretty sick and we played on a boat. With the audience standing on land in the temple. There were a lot of good bands playing that day. The setlist from that show will probably be pretty the same, I hope we can cram in some new stuff in there as well and some more old songs.
Will you be staying for the entire weekend? Are you camping or going upmarket and staying a hotel?
We are staying in a hotel and we will be there for the whole festival. Coming up on Friday.
Which bands are you looking forward to seeing the most at the festival?
Edwyn Collins, The Garlands, Jeffrey Lewis, Crystal Stilts.
You have just released your new LP Strange Moosic which also comes in a limited book version. Whose idea was it to release it in that format along with the more conventional CD and vinyl?
I have always dreamt that one day my band would release something like this. Kind of ironic that I finally get to have full size illustrations, guitar tabs lyrics and photos nicely packaged at a time when people predict the end of physical sales, but I guess it’s better late than never. Néman and I started in 2000, and 10 years after our first album, we eventually started our own label and get to get things done our way.
How did you get Mad Men’s Jon Hamm to star in the video for “Tell Me Something I Don’t Know”?
You know, it was very simple, to be honest. Toben Seymour and I sent him the storyboard and the song. He said yes right away and flew to join us in Texas. He was very enthusiastic, I was glad to meet him and impressed by the acting, of course.
What is the story behind the Baby Blue yeti puppet?
I’ve been drawing Baby Blue for years. I had ideas for a feature film with Baby Blue, he’d be running away from home. This video was a first attempt to tell a story with him.
Do you have any other songs in mind as singles from Strange Moosic?
I think “Magician” is the best single; it’s very cinematic I find. My songs are so close to me right now, that it’s hard for me to know what they sound like for the first time when someone hears them on a commercial radio. And that’s what singles are about I feel, those first airplays and what people make of them.
Do you still see Giant as a breakthrough moment? Why was that record so important to the bands career?
It’s a tough question, you know. I guess most of our fans from Mas Cambios and Not on Top started hating Herman Dune when Andre left the band; it coincided with the release of Giant. You know the Brian Jones syndrome, or the “they were better before” attitude that is so common regarding so-called “cult” bands. After we had entirely lost our “devoted” followers, we started doing what we do, writing and recording songs. Weirdly, I never felt better, maybe because the world felt brand new to me, I felt rejuvenated, with healthier expectations than having to maintain a touring status in the indie-rock scene, I started writing songs that were not only meant for the stage, working on different patterns, freed from my brother’s many rules and freed from a scene I felt I had nothing to do with. Néman and I still had the New World to explore better, and that is where we found the energy and the vibe for our music: touring intensively and staying in the USA. Giant opened the doors of America to us, and for some reason it coincided with me feeling more inspired than ever as a writer, so that’s kind of a reason why Giant is important to me.
Your records often have beautifully designed covers. Do you do all of your own illustrations yourself?
I love drawing. Our albums’ artwork has always been for me a place to display my efforts as an illustrator. Now that I have my own separate life as a graphic artist, with art shows and everything, I still love the idea that someone could get a better insight on my songs with my drawings. Néman has always encouraged me to do so, and it makes me happy.
How much did you enjoy your recent your of Europe? Did you have a standout gig? You were great at a particularly hot and sweaty XOYO.
XOYO was crazy! So hot, but I liked the show. I’m writing from the tour bus, and back to back, we just had the most extreme opposite shows I had ever experienced. Mudbath in former Sovietic air base in Germany, playing for 60,000 dreadlocked punks, Mad Max III style, and yesterday Calvi, in Corsica, playing on the beach at sunset for a couple of thousands of happy people, most of whom seemed to be very beautiful girls to me. Both shows were awesome, with 24 hours of travelling in between.
I’ve always thought of Union Chapel as a special and even mystical venue. How much are you looking forward to playing there when you return to the UK in October?
Union Chapel is awesome! I played there with Herman Dune and my dear friends Jeff and Jack Lewis. I’m a little nervous because Herman Dune plays very loud now, and I know that Union Chapel is a quiet friendly venue, we might have to seriously adapt that night, but we’re usually good at that. I like the fact that the place is meant for spiritual matters, it’s inspiring to me.
Whilst touring extensively, have you had time to write any new songs? Do you ever write whilst you are on the road?
I try to write everyday, but my best songs are often written when I go to my parents place in Sweden, with no phone, no computer at all…
You dropped the ü from your name when André left the band. Wire did a similar thing when their drummer Robert Gotobed was replaced by a drum machine in 1990. Was this your reasoning behind the decision? A break from the past?
Yes. I didn’t feel Herman Dune was over but I wanted to acknowledge André’s departure. Just to be clear. You know, I like, for instance, that there’s The Stooges and Iggy & The Stooges, different line-ups, different names. I have also noticed about The Velvet Underground’s eponymous third album, after they let John Cale go, that people often talk about how good John is, on “The Murder Mystery” or “What Goes On”, because nothing really says that it’s a different line-up.
Are you still in contact with André? Could you ever see a time when he would return to Herman Dune?
André is my brother. I love him and I see him very often. But working with him had become very frustrating for me, and I didn’t become an artist to have to go through all kinds of compromises and rules I hadn’t made mine, in order to create. I usually find reunion shows pathetic, especially when the band was never famous in the first place, but I imagine I could work with him again, under another band name, because I like the sound of our voices together, and he’s a good Sax player.
You played around ten John Peel Sessions when he was still with us. How significant was his support to the band?
Honestly, John Peel meant the world to me. I had never been in a proper recording studio before he let Herman Dune enter the gates of Maida Vale. He taught me how to record, with his team, and he made it possible to tour all over Europe for Herman Dune. I wish I could have really thanked him properly. He was the nicest and the bestest.
There are only two of you in the band. Has it always been a conscious decision to keep the line-up slim and tight?
Ian: We used to have another guitarist, but yes, I would say so. It makes things a lot simpler from a practical point of view. Sound-checks are much quicker! But more importantly I like the directness of two guitars, bass and drums. I’m into making records with lots of overdubs but I see no reason to replicate that in a live setting. At gigs we like to go for the jugular.
Do you ever see the day when you’d get a drummer or expand the line-up in other ways?
Ian: I’m happy without a drummer. We did consider it early on and there are live drums on some of the recordings, but I think the drum machine is more than adequate for our purposes. We’ve played with guests from time to time (Andrew Jarrett of The Groove Farm, Brad San Martin and One Happy Island, Pierre Sparf of Liechtenstein, Rocker) but I can’t see anyone becoming a permanent fixture. Living in different cities we find it difficult to find the time to practice as is.
You’ve played quite a few gigs in continental Europe. How was Madrid Popfest? What sets it aside from the London shows?
Ian: Madrid was amazing! We were treated very well indeed and the whole weekend was superb from start to finish, in every way. It was great to see Spanish bands like Los Autocratas and Zipper. Because it was the first ever Madrid Popfest the atmosphere was very special. There was a sort of unbridled excitement to it all that reminded me of the first Indietracks festival in 2007. It’s hard to compare it to the London edition as they are both great in their own way. I wasn’t at London this year so can’t really comment, but I guess the main difference would be that Madrid was a smaller-scale event with fewer bands.
Pete: Madrid was an incredible event. There was such a sense of togetherness and joy stemming from the fact that the nine organisers had managed to pull off something unique and magical for indiepop in Madrid. The hospitality we were shown all weekend was quite humbling and to be presented with a momento and two chocolates immediately after coming off stage was a lovely touch. I played on the Saturday as well, with The Blanche Hudson Weekend, who got the full dry ice treatment for some reason!
You put out the compilation Popkids of the World Unite! out in October of last year containing b-sides and rarities. Tell us more about that release.
Ian: We planned it for a while. Ever since we did the Frosty Cat Songs LP in 2006 we’ve released nothing but singles on many different labels and mostly as limited editions. It just seemed like a nice idea to collect them all.
Pete: It feels like a proper LP in that the songs are sequenced to fit together in that order, rather than being chronological. The only song that hadn’t been released before was our Jonathan Richman cover, which was earmarked for a Fortuna Pop! compilation. It seemed the right time to do compile the tracks.
Can we expect an album of new material anytime soon?
Ian: We’re just finishing a couple of tracks for an expanded edition of The Knitwear Generation EP (originally released this year on Fika) that’s coming out on Susy Records. After that we’ve promised ourselves a little bit of a break from gigging so we can concentrate on recording our second album. I’ve had some of the songs written for about 4 years now, so it’s about time we got them on tape! I think they’re my best songs yet. We’ll see!
How much did you enjoy playing Read and Shout recently? How important do you think having a tight knit indiepop scene in London is for these charity events?
Ian: It was an honour to be invited, and a great bill. I read a review of it that trashed most of the bands – us in particular – in a really mean-spirited way. Given that the bands played for free to support a great cause I found that deeply troubling, but there we go. Hats off to Matt for organising the day. I definitely think it’s important to have a tight knit community – all the time, not just for charity events.
Pete: It was an event we were proud to put our name to and to support. The Sweet Nothings spelt things out in song: “So be careful what you wish for/And remember what they did/Remember how they tore this land in two/They might tell you different stories but they’re still the same old Tories/And they’ll *always* put the bankers before you”. It’s just as important – maybe more important given the likely effect of cuts on people’s lives in the poorer areas of the country – to have a tight knit community outside London to organise and support voices of protest.
You recorded a split 7” with The Blanche Hudson Weekend on Odd Box Records for their Singles Club. What’s the story behind “Get Cleansed!”?
Ian: Typically for a Horowitz song the lyric is a bit oblique, but it’s sort of about embracing your flaws. “Dear former friends and lovers/I hope this letter finds you well/You said it’s not the fact of falling/But the beauty in the way you fell” It’s biblical shit man! We were delighted when Trev agreed to release it.
Speaking of Odd Box, you’re playing their Weekender on 8th May. What do you have in store for your set?
Ian: I’d like to sneak some new songs in there. But otherwise expect a lot of loud noise!
Miguel, you joined the band by replying to an 18 month old advert by Andrew for band members. Can you tell us more about that?
Miguel: I had just arrived in Glasgow and was looking for people to form a band. I didn’t know anyone here so I just scoured the records shops for adverts. I was surprised that there were not more indiepop or non-mainstream indie proposals. Back then, I thought everyone in Glasgow was like Jim Reid or Caesar. Andrew’s ad was the only one that seemed interesting to me. I found it by chance well underneath a bunch of posters and ads. His had long been covered by adverts put up by people who are probably famous now. Apparently he had given up trying to form a band by then, but thankfully he changed his mind.
You released your debut LP Living and Growing at the end of last year. How has reception to the album been?
Andrew: Although we promoted the album more widely, the reception has mainly been from the indiepop community, with listeners, bloggers and DJs (at least those who have made their feelings known) almost universally heralding Living and Growing as one of the best albums of 2010. We were fairly confident that the album would be well received but I have to admit to being really thrilled at just how highly people think of it. We would ideally like it if everyone got a chance to listen to us but, then again, it’s nice to know the possibility exists that word will gradually spread.
Miguel: I think it’s been a great reception in general. We have received very good feedback from many different sources from different countries. It makes me happy to see that we have not disappointed those who have somehow followed the band through the years, since out first single. As Andrew says, practically all the reception came from the indiepop scene, the mainstream media has kept either disliking or simply ignoring us, but we did not expect anything else really.
The Scottish Arts Council funded the album. They’ve got a great history of funding albums from Camera Obscura to Butcher Boy as well as funding Scottish bands to play SXSW. How vital were they in getting the album released?
Miguel: In brief, this album would have never been released without this funding. Not at that moment at least. I am sure this has been the case for many, probably the most, of the bands that have released records in Scotland thanks to their help. So it’s easy to get an idea of how the cuts in the SAAC, Creative Scotland nowadays, will impact on the Scottish music scene.
Andrew: Had we not been funded, we may have eventually got round to releasing an album but it wouldn’t have sounded as good. I think we would have ended up doing it on the cheap which would have been a shame.
Where was the LP recorded and who produced it? How long did it take to write and record?
Andrew: It was recorded at CaVa by Brian McNeill and we produced it with him. Brian made recording an album really enjoyable and gave us loads of ideas – yet still made the album sound like us. It’s testament to his skills that we managed to record, mix and master the album in 7 10-hour days. One benefit of not having much time was that we didn’t get a chance to over elaborate the arrangements.
Miguel: Working with Brian was great, he got straight-away what we wanted and what we didn’t. He really captured the sound of the band. It was pretty tight indeed but we managed to record it in a week. That would probably have not been possible working with someone else or somewhere else. CaVa is a superb studio where many of our favourite albums were recorded, so it was a real treat to get to record there. However I remember us talking about this before going into studio and we all agreed we didn’t actually want to sound like any of these records. We were slightly concerned about the possibility of not getting to capture the intensity and brightness of our live sets, but these fears quickly vanished I really think that we accomplished what we intended.
I recently caught you at London Popfest. How much are you looking forward to playing NYC Popfest? Which bands are you looking forward to seeing the most?
Andrew: We’re really pleased to be playing and, having never been outside of Europe in my life, I’m personally over the moon to get to visit NYC. I love a couple of songs by Days so I’ll be watching them to hear more.
Miguel: I can’t wait to the NYC Popfest, it will be our first gig in the U.S., out of Europe actually, and we have long wanted to go there to play, so we are really excited about it. I am looking forward to seeing Days and The Sunny Street; also, Gold-Bears, Tiny Fireflies, Betty and the Werewolves and The Specific Heats. I think the bill is excellent.
What other gigs do you have lined up for the remainder of 2011?
Miguel: We have been playing steadily since June last year, before and after the release of Living and Growing, both in the UK and abroad. Apart from the NYC Popfest, we will be playing in Copenhagen and Hamburg in May. After that, we plan to take a break from live shows and concentrate in new material on which we are currently working.
And finally, Andrew, did you mum really think you were gay because you listened to Morrissey?
Andrew: I don’t actually know. She did once say to me that she would be happy with whatever sexuality I turned out to be, but perhaps she said that to all her children.
Colm and Bentley used to be in Language of Flowers, so how did the band get together?
Ben: Just an advert on Gumtree or somewhere. I was in another band that never rehearsed or gigged so was looking for something else to do. Bentley sent me a demo of an instrumental of “Cottonopolis” and I thought it was the best thing I’d ever heard.
Where does the bands name come from? Did you take it from the song of the same name?
Colm: I always loved Nancy Sinatra’s cover of Stonewall Jackson’s “Help Stamp Out Loneliness” and was gonna use it for a club night that me and Tara from Language of Flowers were gonna do. It was similar to Jarvis Cocker’s old night Little Stabs at Happiness. I think Ben stole it for a night in Manchester that he did with Andy Rourke and then it seemed too good to pass up on when we wanted to have another band on the go after Language of Flowers split up.
You’ve just released your debut LP on Where It’s At Is Where You Are. How did you get to know John Jervis?
Ben: He came to our first ever UK gig at HDIF in Brixton. We recorded it ourselves in bits and pieces over about a year.
Colm: I was a bit suspicious of John at first, as I had been obsessed by getting hold of Shrag’s “Pregnancy Scene” 7″. I met him at ATP and drunkenly promised to make sure I got one. His eyes were in the back of his head at the time, so wasn’t surprised not to receive it. The thing about John is that he has turned out to almost be my guardian angel and has really looked after me going through a really bad time. If anyone else ever did him wrong I would happily hack them to death with his unsold copies of WIAIWYA 015 and WIAIWYA 024. Whatever they are.
The album has a real sheen to it that would sound perfect on the radio. Who produced the LP?
Ben: Woodie Taylor mostly, with other bits by Martin Coogan, Yves Altana, Craig Gannon and Bentley.
You’ve just released “Record Shop” as a single. Have you decided which other songs will be singles?
Ben: Well we’ve had two singles – “Torvill & Dean” and “Pacific Trash Vortex”, but not sure if we’re gonna release any album tracks as singles – probably something new
You were my absolute standout band at London Popfest. How important do you think these Popfest’s are to supporting indiepop music?
Colm: I’ve only been to the London ones, we couldn’t afford to go over to the New York one even though we were asked. They do seem a good thing and having been following this scene for too many years, it is good to have something going on in so many different places.
You played Indietracks in 2009 and you’ll be back for this year’s festival. What are you looking forward to the most at the festival? What other gigs do you have coming up in support of the album?
Colm: I’m looking forward to kidnapping Dan from Pocketbooks/Full Fathom Down again and handcuffing him again to my hotel bed and force feeding him cheap vodka. That was my highlight. The other highlight was being thrown against a radiator by Bentley in the same room and banging my head against the very same handcuffs from the previous night. After Indietracks we will be playing all the same places that we played before. Hamburg and hopefully New York at some point.
Ben: My highlights from last time were eating the pains’ rider ham and playing Bentley’s “what’s your best dinner?” game (I think the winner was the Teeside delicacy parmo). Next time I’m looking forward to drinking under a train, drinking on a train that goes nowhere and seeing that whole roast pig.
“Cottonopolis + Promises”
A ‘Dear John’ letter to our beloved city of Manchester – a city sadly trapped between sentimentality and hipsterism.
It’s about a woman in LA who puts billboards up of herself all over the show. It’s kind of an indie version of the Bros classic ‘When Will I Be Famous?’
Stalkers, blow-jobs and quite possibly murder-suicide.
“The Ghost With a Hammer in His Hand”
A bizarre love triangle between Joseph, Mary and God …. and Jimmy Wilde. So not really a triangle after all.
A ‘once bitten, twice shy’ ex-lover won’t be fooled again into being filmed on some shitty Eumig Super 8 whilst performing sexual favours in pub beer garden. True story.
A Club 18-30’s romance turns awry when a Northern Irish girl unsuspectingly becomes a drugs mule. Don’t ask.
This one’s all about falling in love with someone whose main characteristics all point towards them being a member of the un-dead.
“Me, Sola & C”
A kitchen-sink Othello. A girl is convinced by her ‘friend’ that her man is a cheat. Tragedy and Martini Vermouth ensue.
Forget vinyl – audio cassettes were the best format. This is an ode to an ode – the original ode being The Smiths’ ‘Rubber Ring’.
It’s about taking loads of ketamine, jumping in the Bridgewater Canal on a hot summer’s day, forgetting how to swim and not giving two fucks.
Scratch n’ Sniff.
A glorious anthem for the sexually repressed sun-kissed swingers from Cheshire set.
You first used the Butcher Boy title as a pen name when submitting poetry to newspapers. I’ve always assumed you took name from the 1917 Buster Keaton short film. Why did that appeal to you?
The band name mostly came from the Patrick McCabe book, to be honest… I read it when I was 18 and it really moved me – very funny, but very sad too. That said, I had the film at the back of my mind too – though mostly for the Fatty Arbuckle connection!
I first became aware of your music in 2007 at How Does It Feel to Be Loved? who released your first two albums. The new LP is due to come out on the Damaged Goods label. How did the change come about?
After we released React Or Die Ian Watson, who runs HDIF, and I had a talk about the band and the label… we’d been fortunate to have a lot of good press with the record but we hadn’t really been able to do anything with it. It was partly down to us – we’ve all got work commitments and can’t play many shows – and partly down to a lack of a substantial promotional budget for HDIF. Ian said we could release another record on HIDF – but the problems we’d had with React Or Die would happen again. Ian suggested we have a look around and see what options were available – and we were very lucky to find a new home with Damaged Goods.
Tell us more about the forthcoming new album. In terms of the sound, is it much of a departure from Profit In Your Poetry and React Or Die?
I was thinking about this question today and I think it is! After React Or Die we wrote a score for a film called Chick’s Day, and we performed it at the Glasgow Film Theatre last June. I had an idea we would never go back to it – that it would only ever exist for the people who were there – but I loved the challenge of doing it, and the discipline that was involved, and we ended up taking some of the strands from that work and have used them for this record. So we have a few instrumental pieces… a few themes! The last song on the record is an instrumental called “Every Other Saturday” and I think it’s the best song we’ve ever recorded. It’s certainly the one I’m most proud of.
Can we expect a new dancefloor hits like “Carve a Pattern”? It’s one of my favourite records to play at the club.
I hope there are at least a couple! The first single from the record is going to be a song called “Imperial” and I think that should fit the brief.
I really enjoyed the video for “A Better Ghost” from your last album. It was partly film at the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall in Glasgow. Who filmed it and will there be more promotional videos for the new LP?
It was filmed by a friend of a friend called Jerry Kelly… I sketched out a story that fleshed out what the song was about and I asked my friends Keith and Alison to be in it. It was a lot of fun to do, I’d definitely like to do more! We were asked last year by a chap called Bryan O’Neil if our song “This Kiss Will Marry Us” could be used on a film Bryan was making… we agreed to a swap! We’ve let Bryan use the song and Bryan is going to make a video for us in return… I’ve given Bryan free rein to do whatever he likes with any song from the new record!
At the end of the last year you organised your own Christmas Fayre at Mitchell Library. Is the closure of many libraries throughout the UK something you feel passionately about? How did the Fayre itself go?
It’d be a brave frontman of an indiepop band who said he didn’t care about library closures! The Fayre was really good fun – it was difficult to organise but the library staff were incredibly helpful to us and our friend Jude did a fantastic job of making sure everything in the Fayre itself went to plan.
I’m writing this the day after you’ve been announced as part of Indietracks 2011. How excited are you about playing the festival again?
We’re very excited! We played in 2009 and had a fantastic time – and this time we’ll have the opportunity to hang around and enjoy the rest of the festival too. We’ve had a bit of a run getting up to speed with our new songs – depending on the mood and the weather we’ll do our very best!
Is there anyway fans can get there hands on the elusive The Eighteenth Emergency EP?
The physical copies are long gone… I don’t even have one! We pressed about 200, and they were only on sale at the Glasgow café shows we did in 2007. The four songs are on iTunes though!
You used to run the legendary National Pop League in Glasgow. Is there a time when you could ever see bringing it back?
I miss the NPL a lot – especially on days like today in Glasgow, when it’s sunny and it’s blowy. I made some fantastic friends through it, and sometimes I feel guilty about it ending. But in the end, it was the right thing to do – it’s right that its history and I would never go back to it. I still DJ from time to time around Glasgow – I had a small NPL side project called Little League, and I tend to put on three or four of these a year. These are good fun… I was absolutely dedicated to the NPL and it was run with military precision but the Little Leagues are a little looser… I’m able to make the odd mistake with it!
There’s been a gap of 6 years between Sing Along With Acid House Kings and Music Sounds Better With You. I read that it was due to be released in 2008. What happened along the way?
Niklas: Well, for us, it’s not that long actually. It was five years between our first and second albums and then another five years between the second and the third. When it only took us three years to record and release our fourth album Sing Along With Acid House Kings, that was some kind of creative outburst. A record we will never beat.
Still, the original plan was to release the album in 2008 or at least 2009. But, we suddenly felt we were going the wrong way. Acid House Kings have always been about pop melodies, nothing more, nothing less. The album we scrapped in 2008 was a less melodic, a tad darker than we wanted. And, maybe more importantly, not good enough. Some time in 2010 we suddenly felt we had a classic three-minute-pop-song-five-songs-on-side-A-five-songs-on-side-B-every-song-is-a-single type of album on the way. After that, we were actually quite fast.
Johan: I listened a lot to French pop music from the 60’s last year and I think that really inspired me to start working with Acid House Kings again. Rhythms have become increasingly important to me over the last years – nine out of ten songs I write start with the rhythms – and I think people like Serge Gainsbourg opened my eyes for new ways of combing that with straightforward pop songs. I know a lot of people think Sing Along With Acid House Kings and Music Sounds Better With You sounds almost identical, but I feel there’s a quite big difference. Music Sounds Better With You is more advance of course.
“Would You Say Stop?” is one of our favourite releases this year. It’s a tremendous pop song. What are your hopes for it? I noticed it was available as the Free Song of the Day on Amazon. Does chart success mean a lot to the group in these years of declining record sales?
Julia: I am so happy that you like it. “Would You Say Stop?” is actually one of my favourites as well. Our hope is that as many as possible will hear it and love it. I am one of those people who still listen to songs and records that I loved 5 – 10 years ago. If this song still would be played in 5 – 10 years I would be euphoric. Amazon has a lot of customers (me included) and a chart success therefore means a great deal.
It’s also got a sad penguin video which I’ve not been able to stop watching. What were the ideas behind it?
Niklas: Well, that was more or less the idea: Julia as a sad penguin. It’s really difficult to make videos that are worth watching, especially when you don’t have a gigantic budget. You need a simple, visual idea and the penguin outfit was ours. Philip Ekström, who directed the video, did a great job. I think it’s beautiful, funny and a little sad. I still watch it myself. I think the video captures Acid House Kings more than any other video we’ve made.
Joakim doesn’t appear in the promo video or on the album cover. Has he left the band?
Niklas: He hasn’t left the band in some dramatic way or so. We live in Stockholm and he lives in the south of Sweden, so this time around he wasn’t around for the recordings. He wasn’t involved in Mondays Are Like Tuesdays and Tuesdays Are Like Wednesdays (2002), but he played on Sing Along With Acid House Kings (2005). An on and off relationship, I guess. Maybe his back for our sixth album some time in 2018…
How did your live comeback at Debaser in Stockholm go on 8th April? Were there a few creases to iron out or did you manage to hit your groove straight away considering you’ve not played live together for 5 years?
Julia: The energy was high and it was straight up awesome. We had a slew of loyal fans that literally sang there hearts out to very word. There was also a lot of dancing.
How is the current live line-up of the band shaped? I noticed on a recent Swedish TV performance there were 7 of you. Will that be the line-up to tour the LP?
Julia: The band consists of me, Johan and Niklas and four lovely friends. To be honest we can not perform a concert without them. They are the best! Hopefully all of us will tour together in the future.
Although Julia is primarily the lead singer, sometimes vocal duties are split. How is that decided? Do you do different takes in the studio and see which vocalist would best suit a particular song, capturing the right feel?
Niklas: We have an unwritten rule that says I sing half of the songs and Julia sings half of the songs. We always decide before entering the studio who is going to sing it. Often the choice comes very naturally.
Do you have any plans to play European festivals this summer? Are you familiar with Indietracks Festival in the UK?
Julia: We don’t know yet. Some festivals have contacted us but we haven’t really decided yet. I have not been at the Indietracks Festival yet, but hopefully one day!
Moving on, Johan, what’s happening with Club 8 at the moment? Can we expect anything soon? I loved The People’s Record from last year.
Johan: We’ll have a new album out next year. I’ve been writing quite a lot of new Club 8 songs this year and we have about twelve songs that we both feel are really great. But we haven’t started doing proper recordings and versions yet, so I’m sure a lot of them will fall off as we start recording after the summer. It’s taking some new interesting directions and I’m not sure how it’ll sound in the end. It’ll be a more experimental, darker and more electronic album than The People’s Record I think. But who knows…
What’s happening with all of your other side projects at the moment? Are they on hold until the promotional run of Music Sounds Better With You is over with?
Johan: We actually finished the debut album with Pallers yesterday. Or maybe it’s 99,9% finished. It turned absolutely amazing if I may say so, it has a very three dimensional sound which I really love. We’ve only released two singles before. Three if you count our Christmas single “Arctic Hymn”. The album will be out late September I think.
Is the Acid House Kings home for you? Does it feel like going on holiday when you play with your other bands, being able to explore different musical avenues that might not necessarily fit within the Acid House Kings style?
Johan: I’m on holiday with Acid House Kings! It’s such a rare thing that we get together and make and album that it feels a bit like time off from other bands. But at the same time, it’s a home as well. We’ve been playing since I first learned to play guitar, its family and it’s something I keep returning to.
Many of your songs tend to be snappy 3 minutes and all of your albums are around 30 minutes. Most of my favourite LPs tend to be that length. I think it can capture a band wonderfully, like a snapshot of a group at a certain time. Is that your ideal? To get your message across crystallised within a perfect pop song?
Johan: I love 3 minutes pop songs and albums with 10 tracks. For pop albums, it’s the perfect length. But I don’t really have an ideal, because it depends on what kind of music I’m making. Sometimes album should be more like long stories, with completely different passages and episodes that spans over a long time. The Pallers album has 10 songs and it not super long – its 40 minutes – but it’s a completely different build up. There’s light and shorter instrumental pieces, dark suggestive noisy drone ambient, 7 minutes slow pop songs… there’s even music you can dance to. At least if you’re OK with slow dancing…. anyway, this is just as much my ideal as the 10 hits and 3 minute pop songs we’re doing with Acid House Kings.
Despite breaking the mould a couple of LPs ago, will you be reverting to your original 10 year plan to release an album every 5 years? Was that inspired by Felt who released 10 albums and 10 singles in 10 years?
Johan: Yep, we stole their plan and adjusted it to Acid House Kings and we might very well do it again!
How did Chariots of Tuna become Onward Chariots?
Onward Chariots was born at the end of 2008. We had a band called the Infinite Orchestra that played these elaborate, theatrical compositions. But I wondered what would happen if I pulled out a couple of shamelessly melodic songs I’d written a while ago, wrote some new songs with an indiepop focus, learned to sing with a sweet, gentle voice, and asked these great players from the Infinite Orchestra to record with me. I did, and they bravely agreed! Dan, our drummer, was starting to get interested in home recording, and so we got together in his tiny Brooklyn studio and recorded two songs in a couple of hours, using the old-fashioned way where everyone plays their parts at the same time. Those two songs were to become “War Hero” and “Save Me Maryann”. We never guessed that these home recordings would go so far!
Tell us about your new single “Save Me Maryann”. We hear it’s going to be released on limited-edition white vinyl!
I started writing “Save Me Maryann” after meeting a wonderful Norwegian girl named Marianne while visiting Bayreuth, Germany. I was travelling around Europe on my own, and after I had to leave Bayreuth and continue the journey I really missed her, and I kept calling her from various places in Germany… the whole experience was quite lonely and intense and I began to write this impossibly complicated song. It uses all sorts of musical and lyrical tricks to try to be as exciting as possible all the time – it took months to work it out. Unfortunately I couldn’t really sing and play the song without making a mess out of it, and it took the talents of Dan, Shawn, and Rus to make the song make such sense in Onward Chariots!
Do you have plans to release an album on Elefant next year?
It’s funny – that’s something we’ve barely thought about. Certainly Elefant has been absolutely excellent so far, and of course we’d love to do more with them! But right now we just want to focus on recording new material that builds and improves on what we’ve done before; it honestly seems that when we put our hearts into our music, people find it. Our other next goal is to get back to the UK, and also this time to visit our new friends in Spain!
Does each band member bring something different musically to the group?
Rus, our bassist, is an expert on modern jazz and says he rarely listens to rock music. When playing with Onward Chariots, he simply tries to imagine what would fit with what’s happening around him. He happens to also have a fantastic melodic sense, an amazingly dry sense of humour, and a collection of hip-hop from the Dirty South. Shawn, our guitarist, knows hip hop and classic soul music backwards and forwards – he is a contributor to rapgenius.com – and, as he plays bass in much of the rest of his life, he brings a tasteful restraint to his guitar parts. Dan, our drummer and sometime guitarist, records and produces all the group’s music, and as such is heavily involved in creating the band’s aesthetic. Keith, our touring drummer, is a recent transplant from Austin, Texas, where he played with more country bands than you could shake a stick it, even if you were inclined to shaking sticks at country bands.
I started out as a classical pianist and composer, transitioned to the world of punk, and then gradually discovered the joys of making gentler music. I’m a music nerd and when I hear music I like, whether it’s The Beatles, Sonic Youth or Puccini, I take it apart and try to figure out how it works, and then I wish I’d started a band like that. Right now I’m listening a lot to The Drums and wondering how it would be to write songs that played singing off of repeated melodic keyboard or guitar lines. And “Seven Miles Away” was inspired by an obsession with The Pains of Being Pure at Heart. And listening to groups like Peter, Bjorn and John helped inspire the creation of the band.
You lodged a fund raising appeal to help pay for your flights to play at Indietracks this year. Did you enjoy the festival?
Even after our fundraiser, the trip to the UK still cost us gobs and gobs of money, but it was worth it. We felt incredibly fortunate to take part in an amazing, DIY festival where we met so many pleasant and talented people. For a new band like us to get to play at Indietracks, to drive around England and Scotland and play for appreciative audiences in places like Glasgow, Nottingham, and London, was a complete dream come true – completely unreal – and we can’t wait to come back to the UK!
You also played at the Athens Popfest this year. Do you prefer playing festivals to your own shows in Brooklyn?
We’ve been lucky to start this group in an era when it’s so easy to share music across the world. We love playing shows and we have indeed been known to play here in New York, but it’s honestly a lot more exciting to our music has made it to places like the UK, Brazil, Spain, and the Phillippines than to find out someone’s listening to it down the street.
We love playing Popfests because they give us an excuse to visit new places, because they feature bands we’re eager to see, and because we meet lots of nice people. We will be playing at the much closer Popfest! New England this weekend. After that, we’re going to focus on recording new songs and continuing to see what friends we can make internationally thanks to the Elefant single and our video. My goal right now is to find someone to help with European booking!
The last MJ Hibbett & the Validators release was the B-side compilation Forest Moon of Enderby. How did you come to choose these 13 songs from your vast catalogue?
We asked the following questions of all candidates: Is it currently available on a CD album? Does it only feature me? Is it a cover version? Does it concern itself with Christmas? If the answer to all four was “NO” then it got on – and if the only “YES” was to question two we stuck in on Hibbett’s Superstore, the additional album that comes on the CD extras which features, in the words of the Validators “all that rubbish you did without us.”
Do you have plans to put your cover of Allo Darlin’s “Dreaming” on any future releases? We think it’s awesome.
Thanks very much – I absolutely bloody love the Allo Darlin’ album, so recording that was an absolute joy! We do plan to do a whole album collecting up our covers some time (I am nothing if not tidy minded about my back catalogue) and “Dreaming” will definitely be on it. It’ll be a while yet before we do it though, there’s a big queue of things to get out of the way first!
Are you currently writing new material for your next studio album?
At the moment I’m working on the sequel to Dinosaur Planet, but there are a couple of possible Vlads songs seeping out. I don’t really have a “writing process” as such, I usually get an idea at the most inconvenient moment possible and then desperately rush to scribble it down, get it to demo stage within the next couple of days, and then spend several years tinkering with the lyrics. I put huge amounts of effort into getting the words exactly right… and then tend to record it in one or two takes!
You embarked on a tour promoting your “rock opera” Dinosaur Planet in August. How did you come up with the storyline?
I saw someone doing a terrible one-man version “War of the Worlds” once, thought “I could do better than that!” and decided to dig out this very vague idea I had for a science fiction blockbuster. All I had for a story was an astronomer whose Grandad was a disgraced archaeologist, and the rest of it gradually emerged through a combination of the “writing process” above and me thinking “What would be the coolest thing that could happen next?”
What plans do you have for the forthcoming shows across November and early 2011?
We’ve got all the travel and accommodation already booked for most of the remaining tour dates and so we’re basically planning to have efficiently, reasonably price travel to a range of venues where we hope to give a well rehearsed performance (with admittedly a bit of me dicking around) of a show we’ve come to thoroughly enjoy, before having a few more drinks and retiring. Don’t worry though – next year the Validators will be touring Dinosaur Planet and so we’ll be back to exploding venues, getting arrested on Autobahns and lock-in gigs 100 miles away from the nearest city!
You’ve been doing Totally Acoustic for a little while now. What was the idea behind putting on only acoustic gigs?
A few years ago I happened to do a few gigs in a row where the PA was so rubbish it was better not to use it and found myself suddenly liberated from soundchecks, dodgy PAs, shit sound and soundmen. It’s so much more fun to play without the artificial encumbrances of normal venues, the fact that there’s nothing between you and the audiences reminds everyone that you’re all in the same room, and it’s surprisingly easy to do – acoustic guitars are designed to be the right volume to go with the human voice, and the size of rooms you can do this sort of thing in are more than adequate to contain my audiences! Our last one of the year is Tuesday 21st December when we’ve got Andy Pocketbooks and Chris T-T playing. Next year I’m planning to do another run around March time.
You also run the Artists Against Success label. How did that come about and do you have any upcoming releases?
AAS was originally a way for me to get a couple of other people – Mr M Whitaker and Mr R Fleay – to help me put out a single. We had so much fun doing that (mostly due to our regular Board Meetings in the pub) that we decided to carry on and help other people put records out too. That was fantastic for several years, but then various life changes (not least my move to London, out of range of Board Meetings) made it less practical so we decided to jack it in while we were ahead. Now AAS is mostly back to its original function – putting out my records! Thus the next thing we release will be the next Validators album, the soundtrack for Dinosaur Planet.
Lastly, how’s your annual Christmas song coming along? We hear you’re making a stop motion animation video!
Yes, I spent all day yesterday moving tiny cardboard figures in very, very small increments, it did my head in! It looks lovely though, so hopefully it’ll be worth it. The song’s called “The 29th Day of December” and it’s a bit more traditional, less poppy, than previous years’ songs. It’s all about the day when you can finally relax and enjoy the time off work, once all the Christmas business is concluded, and I’m getting people to record their own voices for a mass choir. It should be out a couple of weeks before Christmas, along with a re-release for ALL of our Christmas songs on the bandcamp site called either Tipples and Nibbles or A Christmas Buffet from MJ Hibbett & the Validators. I told you there was a big queue of stuff to get released!