In the hip Södermalm district of trendy Stockholm, Labrador can be found on a small side street, just off the pulsating thoroughfare of Sankt Paulsgatan. Though one of the most respected indie labels, you’ll find Labrador’s headquarter unassuming – but then modesty seems to be part of being Swedish. Smaller than an American single-family sized house, the indie pop record label shares the tight space with their distributor, Border Music Distribution, and Iles PR Publicity. A room that’s just big enough to park your compact car in is crammed with an inventory of Sweden’s finest pop music. Adjacent, two casually dressed men sit in front of the computer in an office, working diligently to nurture their beloved 13-year-old label.
On a chilly but refreshing Monday afternoon in late March, QRO visited with the head of Labrador and a prolific musician (Acid House Kings, Club 8, The Legends, Pallers), Johan Angergård, in the Stockholm office. The unofficial king of Sweden (as The Line of Best Fit has labeled Angergård) looked disparate from the crowd of Stockholm that seems to have stepped off from the pages of a fashion magazine. In his well-worn sweater and unkempt hair, Angergård possessed carefree confidence that made him look fashionable in a whole another way. He cares about music – in particular his taste of music and hopes for a world where his taste reigns supreme. While such endeavor may sound pretentious, the man of many hats is anything but – with Swedish politeness, he is honest, helpful, and probably part mad genius. With such characteristics, maybe one day Angergård will conquer the world and everyone will have a Labrador artist in his or her music collection.
QRO: How did Labrador get started, what is your role, and what is its agenda, if any?
Johan Angergård: The Labrador agenda that is just for me to spread my musical taste. I just want to force my musical taste on other people – that’s the whole idea. Actually I didn’t start – now I run the most of the label and the guy out there, who helps out as well – he’s called Christian [Lilja]. And that’s about it, but I didn’t start the label. It was a guy called Bengt Rahm, who started it twelve years ago or thirteen years ago, actually. I got in touch with the label right away because he wanted to release my band, Acid House Kings (QRO mp3 review) on a compilation vinyl. He also wanted to release Club 8 – my other band. And we got to know each other. We had the same taste in music – similar ideas on how to run the record label. An uh – so I got started with it.
Well, about the agenda, I should also say that we only release Swedish bands. So that’s sort of an important thing as well.
QRO: I was just thinking – a lot of my favorite bands are from Sweden.
Do you know why the name Labrador?
JA: I did ask. I asked Bengt number of times why he came up with that name. Either his explanation wasn’t any good, or I just don’t remember it. So there is no real reason why it’s called Labrador.
QRO: He didn’t have a lab?
JA: No, he didn’t. I don’t think he likes dogs very much.
QRO: How did you discover the bands that are signed to Labrador?
JA: In the very beginning, it was mostly bands that come from – I’m from a small town called Åhus in southern Sweden. Most of the bands were either friends of mine or people from the same city, actually. Or I was in the band myself. All the other ones were Acid House Kings, Club 8, Starlet, Leslies, and a band called Modial and another one called Waltz for Debbie. And all these bands were from the same area. I think that’s the reason why I chose those bands.
No, no – that wasn’t the reason, it’s because I really like them. I think the reason was that – it was just a very good scene – this city – Åhus – because back then, the Swedish music scene was quite bad, actually. Besides the Labrador bands, maybe two good bands around or something like that? It was all very lame. [nods his head and laughs] So we were lucky to find a sort of scene of ourselves. It was like we found a scene on our own.
Video of Club 8′s “Western Hospitality”:
QRO: Is it bad if I ask what were some of these “bad” bands?
JA: There wasn’t a proper indie pop scene or maybe there was but just very boring. Few years before Labrador, all the Swedish indie bands were playing some kind of – not like shoegaze bands – but they were like half-hearted attempts to be shoegaze bands. And there were like lots of them. The popular one in Sweden was called Popsicle and they are quite bad, really.
QRO: What is your typical day at Labrador?
JA: [laughs] Well, I come here around 10:00. And I sit in front of the computer, and I sit in front of the computer until 6:00, and I go home. [we laugh] So I think it’s something like that. If someone would look at it – what I’m doing during the day, I’m not sure if it would look that interesting. But I love doing it!
QRO: You’re just emailing and…
JA: Yeah, emailing and listening to music, of course, but that’s about it: emailing, writing stuff, and listening to stuff.
QRO: So it doesn’t sound like running the label is not very consuming. Did it ever affect you negatively?
JA: Well, sometimes it can be a little bit stressful. When things aren’t going the way it’s supposed to go. But usually, it’s not that bad. Usually, it’s quite fun. I don’t work super much – it’s like a normal time – 8-9 hrs per day, but I have to be on top of things all the time. So imagine if I had another job, maybe it would be to let go of it, if you go on a holiday and stuff like that.
This summer was I had an email-free week or something, and that probably was the first time in ten years. Usually I have to be on top of things, even if it’s in the middle of the night, you still have to make sure things are happening correctly. Or maybe sometimes, when it doesn’t happen, the way it should be, slightly stressful. Usually, it’s just – quite nice.
QRO: Sounds like it’s a 24/7 job?
JA: Yeah – well, yeah – well – if things need to be done, they need to be done, no matter when it is. Usually, it can be done during the daytime, and I do my recordings in the evenings. I need time for that as well.
QRO: Labrador celebrated its 100th release and commemorated ten years in operation in 2007. There was a compilation album (Labrador 100: A Complete History of Popular Music) – a four-CD Box set with one song from each release, and also a party at Debaser. Could you elaborate?
JA: I think – we just wanted to make something out of the anniversary. Properly, it was ten years, but it was also 100 releases. So it was like a big event. First, we actually thought about doing something very small about it, but then we thought should like have a big booklet and a release that has something from everything. Something that would really represent the first ten years, and I think it’s a very nice introduction to the label. That meant that I had to [makes quotation mark gesture] all the releases we ever done, and I was feeling really proud listening to it. Even the old stuff still sounds good. So I think most of our releases have sort of stood the test of time. It’s a really good experience going through everything.
When we had the party – it was really – very – successful? Because I think there was like 1500 people there. Good to get a little attention for the label. Also I think it’s nice to get a bit of appreciation for it – to actually notice that people do like the label. It’s not only me. There are couple of other people who likes it as well. [we laugh]
QRO: What have been the most memorable moments for Labrador?
JA: [thinks for awhile] Usually, it’s like the next releases are the always the most exciting thing. It’s exciting to hear when you have signed a band and started to hear the master and so on – to see how the progress is being done – I think, and then see how the album turns out. Usually, I mean I’m very happy about the albums. Otherwise, I don’t release them. Actually, it’s happened a couple of times that had to throw away full albums, but usually, that doesn’t happen. So usually, it’s a very pleasant surprise. That is the most exciting thing. And almost kind of amused by following how it goes in the press and so on – to read about the bands. But memorable stuff – I don’t know.
I think the first maybe three or four years – I mean we were very low, low scale – very super indie. We started out releasing 7″ singles in 500 copies and so on. It was quite memorable when – in a way when we released the first The Radio Dept. (QRO interview) album, because that was sort of the first success we had. The album got to the Swedish charts and so on, and it was a big hype and everything. So that was a sort of moment when we felt like we were going from one place to another. But every time there’s a new album, it’s like a new – what’s it called – like highlight – high point – like new – big event.
Video of The Radio Dept.’s “Where Damage Isn’t Already Done” from Lesser Matters (1st album):
QRO: You’ve stated several times in the past interviews that people generally have bad taste in music. What constitutes bad taste or music?
JA: Well, everything that is not my taste in music is bad taste in music so it’s quite simple. [we laugh] But I mean there are degrees of bad taste in music. We have a music contest in Sweden – on TV – which is like super popular.
QRO: Is it Eurovision?
JA: Exactly! Eurovision! That’s really grown to be amazingly bad taste in music. Have you heard the stuff? You would be surprised. I mean now days, it’s just like people who write the songs, where they sing the same word over and over again? Yeah, it’s like – that’s how they do it. The song, which won this year, was called “Popular”, and it goes: “popular – popular – popular -kind of – popular… Then the track that came in second, goes like: “in the club – in the club – in the club – in the club – in the club…” and it goes on like that. That’s quite bad and people like them, and they vote for them. “Oh, I like that one. I remember it.” [we laugh]
Video of Swedish Eurovisino top winner, Eric Saade’s “Popular”:
QRO: So it’s just not in America that people have bad taste in music – it’s everywhere!
JA: In a way, it’s becoming increasingly bad, because people need to remember this song – the first time they hear it.
QRO: I always thought it was the Americans that generally had bad taste in a lot of things.
JA: Maybe it was you who came up with it, and then it spread to the whole world. [laughs]
QRO: I came up with bad taste?
JA: The Americans – yeah. Maybe it’s like the American culture that’s spreading all over the world. So maybe you are right.
QRO: Oh, because of the effect of the American media – because they were the first ones to have maybe the mass media, spreading it with MTV and films – blah, blah, blah…
JA: I mean there a lot of bad culture coming from America. [we laugh] Like MTV now days, with all those TV series they have? I don’t know if you’ve ever seen any of them?
QRO: I don’t have cable, but the few times I’ve caught MTV in other people’s houses, I was wondering where all the music videos were. The MTV I remember was back before all those series – I used to watch 120 Minutes.
JA: Oh yeah, me too.
QRO: I loved that show, and I thought, “Where are all the music videos like that?” So yeah, I don’t watch it. How can they call themselves “Music Television”?
JA: Actually, I heard that they don’t anymore.
QRO: Oh yeah?
JA: Yeah, I think they removed it – quite recently.
QRO: Well, good for them so they’re not being phony. [we laugh]
Obviously the Internet has been a huge help for independent artists and labels, but what other methods has been helpful in getting good music out to those who are oblivious?
JA: Well, of course we work with all kinds of media to get the stuff out. And it seems like film and TV can be quite useful as well. If you have songs in a series that are OK – like for example, when we had song in Grey’s Anatomy, and the scene was actually quite nice – it was just someone driving a car and putting on the radio, and it was The Mary Onettes (QRO album review) – “Lost”. Actually, very nice scene in the TV series, I think. After that, you could immediately notice how that song became very popular. So these kinds of things do have an effect as well.
Video of Grey’s Anatomy with The Mary Onettes:
QRO: I had no idea that song was on that show. I know it from the album, and it’s my favorite Mary Onettes song. So did they contact you to ask for permission?
JA: Yeah. I usually send out records to people who play music – there seem to e quite a lot of them. Obviously, some of them seem to have quite OK taste in music so it’s worth sending out a few things.
QRO: I’m actually really surprised but – I don’t know if you know this show called Gossip Girl? Thy actually have some good music in that show.
JA: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
QRO: It’s not bad. It’s introducing some of these indie bands, even though the show is about rich spoiled New York people.
JA: We actually had a song by The Sound of Arrows on Gossip Girl.
QRO: Do you have some songs in films too?
JA: Yeah, but most of them are like smaller films. I think the biggest one was Sofia Coppola’s film, Marie Antoinette (features three songs by The Radio Dept.).
Video of Marie Antoinette with The Radio Dept.’s “I Don’t Like It Like This”:
QRO: Is there a Stockholm scene like Gothenburg?
JA: No, not really – I wouldn’t say so because people don’t stick together in that way, I don’t think.
JA: They loved it! We had Dan Treacy of Television Personalities – he wrote the liner notes, actually, and they ended up on the promotional copy on the album. And I wanted them to be on the album as well because I’m a big Television Personalities fan. So I thought it was pretty cool. But then I wrote this thing for the press release, and the band really liked it. They said, “Let’s put that on the album instead.” So we did. They really liked it. They didn’t disagree at all.
QRO: What are the new releases coming out?
JA: The next release – that is coming out, which when someone sees this, it’s already out is my own band, Acid House Kings. We haven’t released anything in six years. So for us, it’s a big event. Release two albums every ten years, and it’s called Music Sounds Better With You.
We don’t have many bands singing in Swedish. So far, it’s only been one called [ingenting]. We recently signed a new one called Det Vackra Livet, which are the brothers from The Mary Onettes. And we release that debut album in May. We actually signed another new artist (Amanda Mair) – a sixteen-year-old girl who lives on an island, outside of Stockholm. She’s really amazing – sounds like a mix between Kate Bush and Dusty Springfield. But she hasn’t recorded anything properly yet. Actually, she’ll start recording this Thursday – with Phillip of The Mary Onettes and Det Vackra Livet. It all comes together, you know. He’s also made The Acid House Kings video. He’s really good.
Video of Acid House Kings’ “Would You Say Stop?”:
QRO: Music videos can be costly and down right tedious, but it seems to be essential or rather expected these days – does it make any difference in record sales?
JA: We never do music videos that cost a lot. For a while, we didn’t do that many music videos. There was a little bit of gap where people weren’t showing that much videos that much on TV, and it wasn’t that super big on the Internet either. But now, it seems to be quite useful on the Internet. So yeah, I think it helps a bit. We wouldn’t put huge amounts of money into making videos – because – it would be – really difficult to get that back, I think. But the good thing about videos, nowadays, it’s so simple to make videos – to make it look nice. And also, that it is only this big when people look at it [makes a shape of a small rectangle] – so maybe it actually doesn’t have to look that good. I don’t know. [laughs] I guess more important to have a good idea.
QRO: Yeah – simple, effective idea.
Video of QRO’s interview with Johan Angergård: