Just before they began their U.S. (and first proper) tour, Adam Olenius of Shout Out Louds talked with QRO. In the conversation, the singer/guitarist discussed putting new album House (QRO review) on hold during the pandemic, working again with producer Björn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn & John), finally getting back to America, being huge in Germany, life in Sweden between disease & war (but still kids & generous state support), cassette album art, making videos where & when they can, and much more…
QRO: How have you been holding up, these last two years?
Adam Olenius: I’ve been doing a lot of work in my studio. The album was almost ready before the pandemic. We were basically doing the last vocal track before all the flights got cancelled, everything got shut down. So, we were just waiting for it to clear out. Mixing the album, we took our time.
Also, I was still in the studio, writing, starting new projects. So, actually, it was not a bad time for me.
QRO: And how is the rest of the band?
AO: They’re great. These past two years, everybody’s been doing a lot of work, outside of music. Carl [von Arbin, guitar] is doing a lot of art books, a lot of packaging profession – he’s been busy as a graphic designer. Ted [Malmros, bass] is doing a lot of editing for films and commercials, so he’s been super-busy. Sometimes, I help him out with music for some project that needs my help. Bebban [Stenborg, vocals/keys], she’s been pretty busy having two kids… [laughs]
Unfortunately, she’s not coming on this U.S. tour. She’s moving at the same time, has lot of commitments that couldn’t be postponed.
We are bringing this younger artist, Nicole Ester, she’s really good, super-talented. Debut artist here from Sweden; she’s gonna join us. She’s gonna fill-in.
QRO: How is the COVID situation in Sweden?
AO: We were pretty open. I think criticized – everybody’s been criticized, how to do things, right or wrong.
Even though we had a lot of deaths, mostly in the elder homes, we did pretty well, in still having some restaurants & places open. Of course, there was no touring whatsoever, all the theaters. So, it’s been really weird, that you can still have almost a full restaurant of people sitting down, but no seated venues, concerts. That’s been a hot topic of debate, of how you can still have a band on stage, and people sitting down, for instance, but that’s not going to happen.
So, it’s been pretty okay, actually, I can still go out. You get drunk super-early. You get drunk by four o’clock, and go home before the bar closes at 8:30, or 7:30? [laughs] So, it was a lot of daytime drinking, and then home by eight, ten, then crash into bed. It was kind of fun.
So, it was tough for, of course, a lot of businesses, especially theater.
That’s a good thing about music – you can drift away…
QRO: How are things in Sweden, with the war? Do you get thrown off by all those blue-and-yellow flags on people’s Twitter bios & the like?…
AO: I don’t know, the same colors – I guess you feel a little bit more connected to the country?
And it’s only two hour flight, only two hours away by airplane. It’s pretty scary, what’s happening. COVID happened, then this happened, so it’s pretty dystopic right now in Europe.
It’s so weird. Pardon my chosen language, but it feels so ‘old’ to have a war, you know? It feels so ancient way, of just going in… It’s so delusional, in a way. That makes it scary, I guess.
QRO: Does Sweden still have its support program for musicians and other artists, have something specific during COVID?
AO: They did a lot of grants, or something similar like that. A lot of artists, who were showing, ‘I missed like 25 shows,’ and so they get money.
But we didn’t have any tour planned, so, for us, it would have been weird, to take a lot of money we didn’t really ‘deserve,’ so to speak.
There was a lot of support. I got a little bit of money, a lot of artist friends got maybe five, ten thousand dollars to survive a little bit. It’s been pretty helpful.
QRO: At least you don’t have to worry about losing your health care…
AO: [laughs] Yeah, exactly.
It’s gonna be great to come over to the U.S. We were over there in 2017, which was a long time ago, which is crazy. Even though you guys had Trump then, a lot of things changed. I’m just looking forward to hanging out with friends, and don’t worry about that sort of thing.
Right now, before leaving on tour, it’s so stressful, with all the stuff. I’m just looking forward to just playing music, and don’t worry about politics for a few weeks, at least.
That’s a good thing about music – you can drift away…
Shout Out Louds’ playing for “Walking In Your Footsteps” at Webster Hall in New York, NY on May 10th, 2013:
QRO: How much have you played in front of live people since COVID began?
AO: We did maybe two or three shows in the fall, so in like October, September, we did an Italian festival, we did the first festival here in Stockholm – there was a bunch of bands. It was like a homecoming show; that was really great. First time indoors, a thousand people, sweaty, it was like the good ol’ days. Then Omicron came, so it got shut down again…
We’ve done, so far, on this album tour, we have done three weekends in Sweden. Just in normal, small clubs, people could dance, no restrictions. So, it’s been back to normal; you easily easy forget about it, especially with the other things going on in the world.
QRO: Is this your first tour post-COVID tour? You said you played a handful of dates…
AO: We’ve done Sweden, now. Cause in Sweden, you tour weekends only, because there’s a lot of shows that are on weekends. We’ve done a smaller Swedish tour. So, this is the second leg on the House tour.
So, yeah, this would probably be the first ‘proper’ tour. And then we do Germany and some other European countries in June, and a bunch of local festivals.
It’s pretty tough now, a lot of bands are still playing. So crazy; it’s hard to get slots now, I think. Especially for us, a smaller indie band, it’s a lot of struggle to get slots on festivals. Right now, we’d say yes to everything – this is a good time to book us…
QRO: Will this American tour be the furthest you’ve toured since COVID? “As far away from Stockholm / As far away as possible”?…
AO: Yeah, definitely… [laughs]
We’ve stayed in the country. We did Italy, like I said, a really nice festival in Turin. This is gonna be so nice, especially being far away, and also different time zone – used to be out of reach…
QRO: Was it even tougher to set up an American tour now, than pre-COVID?
AO: Yeah, we were doing like six, seven months in advance. You were like ‘second hold.’ You don’t have that route to change too much. We did have to postpone the European tour until June instead, so you get that club instead. If you’re not one of the bigger bands, you still have to choose.
We spent a lot of time in the U.S. years ago, and now, especially when we take time between our albums, and do other projects. This run, we play smaller clubs. We still play Music Hall of Williamsburg (QRO venue review), I love that venue. We do believe in smaller clubs; it’s fine.
If there’s a hundred people there, and we have a good time, it’s worth it, totally.
This time, we do it through our own label and distribution. Even though it’s great to really be by your own, but especially in the U.S., which is further away, you need a little bit more support. It’s trickier, this time around.
QRO: And then you’ll be playing a bunch of shows in Germany – are you huge in Germany, like David Hasslehoff?…
AO: [laughs] That would be amazing…
We started off getting good reputation, especially when we were on Capitol Records, all those tours, Kings of Leon, Strokes & stuff, we had a few songs on the radio in Germany. “Tonight I Have To Leave It”, “Fall Hard” was a big radio thing.
Germany, like U.S., has so many big cities, with millions of people, so you can tour a lot in Germany. Super-great venues, culture, lot of great venues. We just felt really welcomed, straightaway. We do really well.
Germany, it’s a good place for us. We’ve focused more on where people want to see us. We do play Italy & Spain sometimes. We love playing in those countries as well, especially at a summer festival.
It’s basically, we go where people want us to go…
Shout Out Louds’ playing for “Tonight I Have To Leave It” at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY on October 26th, 2007:
QRO: Indeed, other than one show in Austria, they’re only in Germany. Is it just that you can’t announce them yet, still working on them?
AO: In Europe, it’s not very common to do club tours during the summer, all the festival season. So, we’re planning on fall to do cities in maybe Italy, London, those cities.
I think we’re focusing on Germany, U.S., Scandinavia at the moment, and then do this stuff. We’d love to do Australia again. We’ll see. I think we’re just figuring out as we go.
QRO: How was making House? You said you made it almost all before COVID?
AO: I was away for almost six months in Australia, with my family, visiting my girlfriend’s family & stuff. It was amazing, just to be really far away. I found a studio to work in, and wrote a lot of songs.
When I got back from that trip, we started seeing each other Tuesday nights, I remember specifically. We started playing songs I wrote, once a week, over a lot of beers. Going back to playing with a drum machine again, so we had more of a free set-up.
Bebban wasn’t with us, that much, because she had a baby. It was basically Carl, Ted and I, and two guitars, and bass, and a drum machine. Created a little bit more of a minimalistic, I don’t know, Joy Division set-up, post-punk, maybe. We really liked the way it sounded in our rehearsal, with more like a sharper, darker sound, in a way. We just liked that landscape.
We just saw each other on Tuesday nights, and wrote those songs. As soon as we were ready, we just booked a studio with Björn, and it was recorded in two weeks.
And I remember, [Peter Bjorn & John – QRO spotlight on] were about to go on tour, bags packed, and they had to cancel.
QRO: How was working with producer Björn Yttling again?
AO: It was great.
When he did our second album (Our Ill Wills – QRO review), and he did a few songs on our debut (Howl Howl Gaff Gaff), as well, he was on his way up [as a producer,] and we were on our way up, unsure about how to do things. Now, we are more experienced, both as musicians and how we want things. And he as well.
Without discussing too much, we just right away knew how we wanted to sound. I remember, Björn and I sat and listened to a lot of Robert Smith house demos, that he released a year ago, two years ago on Spotify, home recording demos. Even though it didn’t end up that way on the album, we were into these drum machine, beats, and working a lot with harmonies & melodies on top of basically these little beats and my guitars.
And he also helped me with the writing on this album as well. Not lyrics, but more like choosing what melodies I wrote, arranging it. I really enjoyed working with him.
Without discussing too much, we just right away knew how we wanted to sound.
QRO: Did you have to delay releasing House until you could tour behind it?
AO: Definitely, yeah. The same way, we got a little bit, not ‘lazy,’ but we put the album on hold, sort of forgot about it.
And then, we were ready to go, we were like, ‘Shit, we need to do the hard part! We need to do videos,’ and our manager was like, ‘Shit, we need to find a label, now!’ She was pretty stressful, even though there was tons of time.
But, absolutely, we did postpone it, because we didn’t feel there was any use, if we couldn’t be touring. Because we’re sort of an old school band in that way, that we need to do shows.
Especially for album-oriented artists like us, one album is a chapter in your life. You do it, you tour, you sort of bring bundled memories around that album. So, it’s different from a pop artist who has singles…
QRO: Or if you’re some legacy artist who can just tour whenever…
It’s funny, I was talking with a friend of mine, a Swedish band, The Hives (QRO spotlight on), they haven’t put out any new music in like ten, fifteen years, and they can still headline a huge tour.
That’s their strength, as a live artist, and they can do it forever, because they do it so well. And I think that’s pretty cool.
You can do one album, and if you’re fast at producing & writing, you could have one album during COVID, and then have one ready to go. But I think for us, that has at least three years between albums, I think we want to treat it as good as possible, treat it more, like I said, like a chapter in our career.
QRO: And why does the cover art for House look like the factory shipping label or something?
AO: [laughs] Carl was the one that finished the album.
I found this old cassette, it was like Pet Shop Boys or Sade, and if you take the cassette, if you take the cover art and fold it out, I love how there’s a bar code, there’s titles are on the side. We were influenced by that layout.
We just wanted it to have different logos, or own little label. We were also a little bit influenced by the fanzine, and all those xeroxed magazines…
QRO: You said that Bebban wasn’t there when you were making the initial parts of House, butit seemed like there was more of Bebban singing lead vocals – was that intentional, or just something that happened?
AO: She came into the studio, and didn’t have much to play, so maybe she was like, ‘Okay, I could that. I could sing that.’ And she felt more comfortable doing vocals now.
Especially on “Sky and I [(Himlen)]” – I didn’t ‘fool’ her, but I had her sing unison with me, in a higher octave than she’s normally comfortable singing, and I took away my voice to see how that sounded. And it was so amazing. That came after. I was planning on singing that song with her, but it sounded so fragile, a little bit more pop, in away? I found it interesting.
I think, maybe, if you compare it to the other album, Ease My Mind (QRO review), which is more layered, there’s a lot of her singing maybe more, but it’s more specific, more precise. I think the whole ‘dogma’ with the album, every instrument is hearable, and we didn’t want it too much layered.
Especially, there’s a few keyboard sounds on there, an arpeggio or if it’s a keyboard, you hear it when it gets played. That’s also the way I wanted to mix it.
Shout Out Louds’ video for “As Far Away As Possible”:
QRO: Did you make the video for “As Far Away As Possible” while making the record?
AO: I wanna say yes [laughs], but we were in the studio to maybe do overdub stuff, and Ted came up with the idea. Like, ‘Let’s do it in here, cause this is where we spend’ – it was kind of interesting to see, a band just moving into the studio.
I think the video was supposed to be done the next day. We had other ideas, and we were like, ‘Fuck it.’ I remember, [Ted,] I think he was editing maybe at the same time, after each shoot.
But we were really comfortable. This is where we hang out, so let’s make it feel real.
QRO: Were those real things you do while making a record, like playing Uno or Bebban sleeping on the couch?
AO: Uno, no, sleeping, definitely…
We could do a long jam in the rehearsal space, and she could doze off for like fifteen minutes. She’s been falling asleep while we snare drum. That was precise.
Uno, no. We can talk. We still really enjoy hanging out.
There’s still really a great vibe in the band now. Even though Bebban isn’t doing this run, there’s still that energy. As soon as that goes away, we’ll quit this.
Shout Out Louds’ video for “My Companion”:
QRO: Did you also make the video for “My Companion” while in studio, or after?
AO: We did that a few weeks before the album release.
Ted & I, we went out in the woods, out in the country, and just walked around. And had a little bit in the studio. We just had these little ideas, and just put them together.
Those little, more like advertisement clips, where I’m sitting, talking on the phone, more like a studio thing.
QRO: Yes, they’re all individual?
AO: We did that, actually, a year ago.
I had the idea, I saw this old commercial, like Calvin Klein or something. And I just love the awkward commercial ads. So, we just did a bunch of those sort of shoots, and they were so useful to whatever. I just overdubbed them in my studio. It was fun to do those.
Shout Out Louds’ video for “Sky and I (Himlen)”:
QRO: But then Bebban got to star in the video for “Sky and I (Himlen)”…
QRO: Where did you get a taxi – did one of your become a cabbie during the lockdown?…
AO: [laughs] I wish. Bebban was like, ‘Maybe I should do this? I don’t have any money right now…’ Especially with having kids and no job…
It’s actually Ted’s car, and we put a taxi sign on it.
It was freezing outside, and we just had to run in & out of the cab. She was driving around.
I wish we had more friends or people coming in & out of the cab, actually. It would be fun to have people on the record, like Björn, drummers, but it turned out nice. It fit Bebban, her persona.
QRO: And were you all just driving around, or were any of those actually taking people to places that they needed to go?
AO: I don’t know. I was only there for my shoots, because I was away. Maybe a few?
I think they saw friends on the street and jumped in… [laughs]
Shout Out Louds’ video for “Sky and I (Himlen) (Almost Heaven remix)”:
QRO: And whose home movie was made into the video for the remix of “Sky and I (Himlen)”?
AO: I think Ted just found something that he did in, I think in Hawaii, or Morocco. I think he was on a trip with his son. It fitted really well with the dreamy thing. It was Ted.
He’s so great. Wherever he goes, he films stuff. We’ve been using a lot of his personal material in movies, in videos, and then remade them. That’s his stock footage, from his library.
Shout Out Louds’ playing for “Jumbo Jet” at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY on November 2nd, 2017: