In perfect English, the Swede discussed the new record, Our Ill Wills (QRO review), touring from Melbourne to Gothenburg, working with Peter Bjorn & John’s Björn Yttling as a producer, the Stockholm music scene, their Caribbean and Brazilian influences, and getting more recognition outside of Sweden than inside, and much more…
QRO: How has your North American tour been going?
Adam Olenius: Good, really good. We’re better now, on the East Coast. The coasts are great; the small cities are, well… I prefer playing bigger cities.
We had a few troubles in the beginning, with the bus breaking down. But it’s been really good, especially in these past ten days.
QRO: What about New York?
AO: When we play New York on the U.S. tour, it feels like ‘coming home’ a little bit, because we have some many friends in the city. It feels so different from other parts of America. I get along really well with the city.
QRO: How was your last European tour, during the summer?
AO: We did lots of festivals in Europe and in Scandinavia, and we did a German tour – and Switzerland and Austria – for two weeks, just before we got over here. Only like a day and a half home, just time to do laundry, and then…
We were supposed to fly on the fifth, but someone did the wrong booking, so we flew a day earlier, and that’s not very popular around here.
QRO: How does Europe and North America compare, audiences, venues, anything?
AO: There are more venues than in Germany, there’s pretty good venues to choose from. In Sweden, the cities, the big ones, like Gothenburg, Malmö, and Stockholm, one of the big cities, but if you’re going to play in the small cities, sometimes you have to play a club, more sort of ‘indie-disco’, you play one o’clock at night, and people are really drunk…
I like playing venues like this [Music Hall In Williamsburg – QRO venue review], or theaters. Sometimes that’s nice, but I prefer playing over here.
QRO: What about festivals, European vs. American?
AO: I haven’t played that many festivals here yet; I’ve only played Coachella. And Coachella was the cleanest festival I’ve ever been to, the most ‘posh’ festival. It really was so well organized, it was really nice; I liked that. But I mean, Sweden, Germany, the U.K…
QRO: No rain in Southern California…
AO: You’re right – that’s why perhaps.
I like playing festivals; sometimes you feel like it’s kindergarten for bands: you meet other bands, you hang out…
But being on tour, you’re more focused on your own thing. You get a better and better effort every night, you know how to do live shows better. I like those improvements, what happens on a club tour.
QRO: After America, you’re going to be playing Scandinavia, and then London, in November. When you play in Norway or Denmark, is that more of a ‘home’ crowd than say, in the U.K., or do you only get that feeling in Sweden?
AO: A little bit – but still, it’s a new country. Copenhagen’s been great for us, Oslo, Norway’s been okay, too. It feels like coming abroad, no big difference.
QRO: Do you get a different feeling, playing in Stockholm, vs. playing in like Malmö or Gothenburg?
AO: I’m always nervous, playing in Stockholm, ‘cause we’re in front of friends.
We did quite a big show, before we went on tour this fall, and it was the first time that we had the audience on our side. Sometimes, you have to really prove something in your hometown – You cannot be a prophet in your hometown.
That show was really great. It felt like we were really doing the show together with the audience, and together with the city. The city’s so important to us, especially for songwriting.
QRO: You guys have played northern Europe a lot – What about southern Europe, like Spain, France, Italy, etc.?
AO: Yeah, we’ve played a few shows in Spain – the album’s not out there yet; it’s only out in northern Europe, central Europe. But we have a release in Italy and Spain the beginning of next year.
But it’s really good; we get to know these really nice people who book a lot of the bands. They’re really like – I wouldn’t want to say ‘obsessed’, but they’re so passionate in what they’re doing. There’s only a few clubs in Italy where you can play this kind of music, and the guys who work there, it’s their passion.
I did a festival in Spain. I like playing – we played in Portugal as well – I like playing southern Europe. The audience is kind of the same, but the food is good.
QRO: How far up north have you played? How close to the Arctic Circle have you played?
AO: Ooh… Well, the video was shot up north, very close to the Arctic Circle. But that was not a ‘show’…
But there are a few cities we’ve played in northern Sweden as well. That would be nice, though, to play… It’s so cold and dark up there.
QRO: You were in Australia at the end of August. Was that particularly weird?
AO: It’s weird to travel so far away and people know your songs. Same thing here as well.
Australia’s been really good. Especially with flying – I hate flying. As soon as I have to fly for a long time, I’m so happy to– I could be anywhere and be happy and play a show.
We did actually five cities in Australia, and it was really, really great. Unfortunately Bebban [Stenborg, singer/keyboardist] wasn’t with us. Her lung collapsed, so she had to stay in a hospital for ten days in Oslo. So I had a friend who knew the songs and she did a really great job for us.
QRO: When you last played New York (QRO live review), your accordion was broken, thanks to the transatlantic flight. How do you make sure that you don’t lose your equipment or get it broken, when flying?
AO: Pray to God…
Every time, when you come to an airport, you wait for those… That’s why we have these multi-colored cases; you see them.
On our first U.S. tour, we just got the instruments, I think, two hours before the show. We’ve been lucky; that is such a big deal if it happens, when you think about that.
AO: Yeah, it was stolen.
We did a tour with them – they were supporting our tour in Germany – and Daniel [Värjö], the guitarist, is still looking for that guitar. So we were in a guitar center, a body shop in Los Angeles, and we found one that looked really close to it. We texted him the serial number and everything; it wasn’t that one. So he’s still hunting it down.
We all play vintage stuff, so it’s personal.
QRO: Even ‘vintage accordion’?
AO: I think so; I don’t know.
[Bebban] bought that in a store somewhere. I can’t remember where she bought it – it was just there one day.
QRO: What’s it been like, now that Our Ill Wills is out?
AO: It’s been really… I’ll have to think about that.
It was really good to put it out in Sweden, ‘cause they’ve been waiting for so long, for the record, and everyone was really excited. So that felt really good.
And I was nervous, releasing it, but it’s been really good, so far. I think us, as a band, is kind of more serious?
We’re thinking more about how much we need to tour, and take care of us, and see that we don’t get tired of being away too much, and really the whole ‘nurture’. Try to plan as well as possible, and have a break here so everyone can do something different. We really want to put out some more records.
I think taking more care of us is probably the big difference. Live, everything, that, no, that’s the same as always. Just a little bit better.
QRO: When you were making it, was there any fear of a ‘sophomore jinx’? You know, the second Strokes album kind of thing…
AO: Actually, I didn’t think about that, especially not when we were recording, which was really nice. It’s more when journalists ask me the question that I think about that. I was so happy about the album, during the studio, that it works. To accomplish that was really great.
No, this time around has been even better for us. Our debut album, we got a lot attention – but not as much as The Strokes… So I think we just took another step. I’m happy now; this is exactly how I wanted this to go.
QRO: How was making Our Ill Wills different than making Howl Howl Gaff Gaff [their first record]?
AO: More involvement with everyone in the band, and also lots of hard work, living alone with your aches and arrangements. It was more personal this time. There were a few songs that I really needed to work alone with, for a while, and in the studio, I was working a lot with Björn, alone.
But on the other hand, it felt this really ‘collective’ feeling, especially on songs like “Hard Rain”, “South America”, “Tonight I Have To Leave It.” It’s both; it’s hard to… Bebban and Carl [von Arbin, guitarist] contributed more with the music this time, especially Bebban…
QRO: I noticed she had more singing, including “Blue Headlights”, which was entirely her own song. Was there any particular reason for that?
AO: No, it was just the right time. It took her a while to do that. Singing in front of a microphone takes a lot; she was very shy in the beginning, now she sings.
We always wanted to have more; Carl and Ted [Malmros, bassist] are singing more, especially live, more harmonies.
QRO: With “Normandie” and “South America”, there seemed to be more of a ‘geographical’ tilt to Our Ill Wills. Is that just coincidence?
AO: I don’t know. I promised not to write about touring, on the second album, and I didn’t, but there’s some…
But the thing is,
QRO: Why the cowbell? Or whatever that thing is on “Tonight I Have To Leave It”?
AO: A ‘gogo’. I remember I thought a gogo, with Björn, we were both influenced by house and electronic music, and also music– Björn played me music from the Caribbean; there’s lots of Caribbean roots in London. That kind of music, they play in English, but they use a lot of things like that.
And also, I’ve been to Brazil, and I really like that kind of music as well. I had an ex-girlfriend who lived there. Her dad played all those instruments. I wish he could play on this one
We did a bossanova version of “Shut Your Eyes” from the first album; it was a b-side. He couldn’t play.
QRO: Do you have any new, post-Ill Wills material?
QRO: Do you play any of it live?
AO: No. It’s still on my computer… If we have time, between soundchecks, we’ll try writing new songs.
We already have a few ideas we wrote so far. I wrote a few ones this summer, so we’ll see. Maybe we’ll do an EP or something. Depends how, when we want our music come out. It’s gonna sound different, so maybe as a transition…
QRO: Is it at all weird, having the album come out in April in Sweden, but it only came out in September in America?
AO: Well, this time is so much better than last time – that was two years. Anything’s better than that.
And we’re releasing a single this week in the U.K., and we’re releasing in Japan right now.
QRO: What was Björn Yttling like as a producer?
AO: Stubborn. But then again, it was very good that he was that way, ‘cause we’re five people, we’re such a slow democracy in the band sometimes, no one wants to hurt no one’s feelings, and he’s very direct, “No, do that, do that, that sounds fucking awful…”
He came in early in the recording process, when a few songs were not really done yet. We shared the same ideas, which was really good, so this time around, I could really trust him more, as a producer. For the first time, he didn’t know about how I wanted to sound. But we talked a lot about how we wanted it to sound, and it actually came out that way.
He did “Seagull” on the first record – he only did three songs, “Seagull”, “A Track and a Train”, and “Oh, Sweetheart” – and I sent him the melody, ‘Doo-da-doo, doo-da-doo, doo-da-doo’, the flute thing, and the beat I made, and just told him over the phone, “This is how I want this to sound,” and we talked about the arrangement. And the next day, or it was a week later, I came into the studio, and it sounded exactly like that. I had a conversation with him over the phone; told him I wanted it to be like a house track, pop band’s remix or something.
QRO: It seems like there’s a lot of crossover between Swedish acts like you, Peter Björn & John, The Concretes, and others. How tight-knit is the whole Stockholm music scene?
AO: For bands like us that travel outside Sweden it’s quite tight, especially if you’ve had more experiences. In Stockholm, The Concretes, Peter Björn and John, and a few other bands that really meet a lot, and we’ll see each other’s shows, go to the same kind of bars.
Malmö’s in the south. That’s more of a hip-hop, more of a… That’s where the Swedish reggae comes from. The southern, tropical… The west coast, Gothenburg, where bands like the Tough Alliance, Alex Face, a really good scene, too.
What I like about the Swedish scene, overall, is there’s a lot of genres colliding. People dare to mix the guilty pleasures with the interesting productions, stuff like that. Sometimes I think the Canadian scene can feel a little bit, can feel the same sometimes.
QRO: It seems like, in the past year, with [Peter Björn and John’s] “Young Folks” and now “Tonight I Have To Leave It”, there’s been a kind of ‘Swedish Invasion’ into the America, and comparing that to the Canadian one. How has that affected Stockholm and the Swedish music scene, now that there’s more success?
AO: It’s great for bands at home. They try out, try to do the same.
But people back home didn’t know what we were doing outside. I don’t think people know how big Peter Björn and John are. There’s more stuff written about local artists.
One of the biggest Swedish artists in Sweden did one show in New York, and they said, “Oh, he’s in New York, every record company wants him!” Still, he’s doing pretty well, great in Sweden, but hasn’t outside of Sweden.
QRO: Are there particular venues in Stockholm that are ‘quintessential’?
AO: Yeah, this place called ‘Debaser’. That opened, actually, the same year when we started. It was five years ago, that was kind of the beginning of that pop/rock scene in Stockholm, more venues and clubs. I would say Debaser is kind of a legendary club – and it’s only five years old, which is weird.
Not my favorite venue, but I think that the club helped a lot.
QRO: You say, like comparing with Canada, does Sweden give any state support to its musicians, the way Canada does?
AO: We haven’t gotten a single krona, but everyone is getting that. You can get tour support, rehearsal spaces. You can start your own music community, and maybe get some money to buy a drum kit or something. So that’s really good.
QRO: What was making the video for “Tonight I Have To Leave It” like?
AO: It was this beautiful ship, down in Stockholm, by the water. People trained on the ship. We had to do it in the middle of the night, because they were supposed to come back and have classes. It was so great.
The idea of that video was actually –
It would be so nice.
[The ship] is very close to Eric’s [Edman, drummer] apartment; you can actually see it from his window. But they just repainted it, and just wrote big letters on the side. That was just a week after; so it was really good that we finished shooting.
QRO: Just a couple of weeks ago, you played on The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. What was that like?
AO: I don’t know – I like doing those things. I like going behind the studio and see how it works. I just like seeing how people work.
I would like to have a job, to go see other people work. Just hang around, see how they work it, see what they’re doing, if they have a special code… I can write about professions. That would be cool for me.
QRO: A lot of musicians have been having visa issues lately, trying to get into the United States or Canada. Has it been difficult for you?
AO: We have visas through our record label, so Merge deals with that.
But we had a friend, who helps out a little bit, here and there, and when we were coming from Vancouver, back to Seattle, his name was on a piece of paper that we got paid, like for food, and they were giving him such a hard time. They yelled at him, “Go back! Pack your bags!” He stood there, at six o’clock in the morning, with the bags; I felt so sorry for him. And then they were like, “Okay, you can go.” They were such assholes.
Of course, he should have paid his taxes, but they were treating him more like he was a criminal. It was so unnecessary to do that; just be nice, and we’ll be nice back.
QRO: Is it easy, playing anywhere in the E.U.?
AO: Yeah. I mean, Switzerland – they’re not in the E.U., so we had to pay a lot of taxes for the merchandise, and the instruments as well. It was weird.
QRO: Has the dollar’s drop against the krona [Swedish currency] affected your tour in America?
AO: We get paid in dollars here, so it doesn’t really matter. The Swedish krona’s a lot stronger here, so using your Swedish money here is really good, like buying stuff. So I bought stuff that I could buy, like camera and stuff. And the food’s really cheap.
QRO: How did the band all meet?
AO: We went to the same school, actually, high school. I actually went to kindergarten with Ted. But it was more after school, we’d hang out, and we went to clubs, and we found out we had the same interest in music.
I’d been in a few other bands, and finally gave that up, ‘cause I was in art school, graphic design school, and I just wanted to focus on that. Then [Ted] turns to me, and says, “Let’s start a band,” and we had the same taste in music. He showed me all the Elephant Six records, Neutral Milk Hotel, those sort of bands, and I really liked that. And I was into a lot of British music then; we borrowed each other’s CD’s.
It was Carl, Ted, and a drum machine, in the beginning, practicing. It took a while, ‘cause no one knew how to play any instruments. I knew guitar, and Carl knew a little bit. But still, it was really, really starting all over again.
It was in this neighborhood, a little bit north of Stockholm. And we called Eric, and then Bebban, and we were all like, “This is good.”
QRO: It seems like a lot of Swedish bands have that male-female vocals, like you guys, or “Young Folks”. Is that just happenstance?
AO: No, yeah, just happens. But you’re right, The Cardigans, and Wannadies have the same thing.
QRO: Is it because Sweden is more egalitarian between the sexes?
AO: It is, you know, you’re right. Bebban is a great friend; we just wanted some diversity.
QRO: When does a Swedish band decide to start singing in English?
AO: The friends I have who sing in Swedish, they grew up with Swedish music. My dad played a lot of Beatles and Mo-town when I was a kid.
Sweden has been very open to that music. During the fifties, especially, the rock ‘n’ roll scene, a lot of those bands over here came over there and played. Also jazz, so many recordings with jazz artists from North America came ashore. So that culture of looking outside of Sweden is very common. And just, for us, it wasn’t really an option, to sing in Swedish.
I’d like to do an EP or an album in Swedish. I’m gonna do that. I have a few songs, actually. When I find the right time.
QRO: Are there any songs you really like playing live?
AO: I like to play “Hard Rain”. It’s very monotone, but a lot of things happening. Me and Carl get a chance to play guitar really loud. Really loud guitars, that’s always fun. I don’t think the other ones really like that.
All the new songs are great to play.
QRO: Are there any songs you don’t like playing live, or just don’t play anymore?
AO: I remember, “100°” was quite a big hit in Sweden, was played a lot on radio. We got so tired of it, so we didn’t play it at all on our first U.S. tour. So that’s a song I feel really great to play now.
But not really – I like them all.
QRO: There’s nothing you can’t because how they’re arranged on the record?
AO: No, that worked out actually. Bebban was so frightened, “Am I able to do this?” and everything, but it worked really well.
QRO: What cities have you really liked playing in?
AO: I like New York, Berlin, Melbourne… We’ll be in Austin, which sounds great.
QRO: Is there any other places that you haven’t been that you want to?
AO: We were on way to South America last year, but it wouldn’t work out, with the great distances. But that would have been cool. I would like to play with local artists, whole different genre, big whole percussion…
QRO: Do you have a favorite tour story?
AO: On this trip, you remember the strange things.
All those kind of weird things.
Going to after-parties with local people, seeing how they live, I like those kind of things. The level, kind of size we are now, it’s a really good place; I love it. Because we get a lot contact with the audience, get to meet them a lot afterwards.
Shout Out Louds playing "Tonight I Have To Leave It" live @ Music Hall In Williamsburg, Brooklyn, NY, on October 26th, 2007: