On a rare tour of the United States, Adam Olenius and Carl von Arbin of Shout Out Louds sat down with QRO. In the conversation, the singer and guitarist talked about their new album Ease My Mind (QRO review), going right from touring Europe to America, visiting America only every four years but being ‘big in Germany,’ their drummer-turned-bookkeeper, going to Spain but not Japan, “butchering the classics,” needing more go-go, and more…
QRO: You guys don’t play America that often…
Adam Olenius: I know…
Carl von Arbin: Every fourth year.
AO: Yeah, and it’s hard to maintain.
You know, it’s quite expensive for us to do the tour, because we’re not doing huge venues.
CVA: It’s so far away.
AO: We were here a lot in the early days, we got tour support – we don’t get that same amount of tour support. To get a visa and all that, it’s tough for bands in our size.
CVA: I guess it’s just easier to go down Europe. We’re part of it.
AO: We really missed it. We talked about that. It felt like yesterday, though, we were here, but still we miss the audience, miss the country, and all the venues. It’s a great country to tour in.
But we need to come more often. It has to do with a lot of different things.
QRO: How has this U.S. tour been so far?
AO: It’s been good. We recognize some faces.
CVA: It’s funny, also, to come back to certain places. Like, we were in D.C. The first time we played there was like in 2005, and that whole area has changed and gentrified.
When you come every fourth year… [laughs] You see the progress. It is a little weird.
AO: We came back in 2004 or something, when we got signed over here, we stayed at friends over Bedford Avenue, that area, had only one coffee shop. It was such different, just the next year…
Just right now, within the band, the vibe and the mood is great. We just came off a European tour that was really, really great. We just still enjoy hanging out together [laughs]. And it’s fun. It feels really great to be back on the road, and play the album.
QRO: You came to America right after playing Europe. Usually, European & American tours are separate – is it at all jarring, touring Europe/America in the same run, with only a few days in-between?
AO: We used to do that. This time, we were pretty tight. We were only home for maybe a week.
We did actually three Swedish shows, so it was kind of like we did a Stockholm show, we had all the friends and families. The next day, almost, we flew over here.
But we wanted sort of to focus it on, rather than spread too much, focus in on these two months of touring, then we have some time off to maybe write some new songs – we will write some new songs for, hopefully, a release in the spring, an EP or something.
We just still enjoy hanging out together.
QRO: That European tour was just Austria/Switzerland/Germany/Sweden – are you all huge in Germanic Central Europe?
CVA: It’s also we have really good spots in Spain and Italy, but it’s so remote.
I think we’re planning to do more of a – ‘cause this was like a mini, just ten days, and so maybe do an extended version in March or something. Then maybe do Spain & Italy.
It’s also closer, Germany & Austria.
AO: We do really well there. It’s good for touring, and we got support there, really, really early, on our first album.
We’ve been there a lot, festivals & stuff. They have a lot of big cities – sometimes, we’ll play a city we didn’t know existed, there’s like six hundred people coming. In the early days it was like that, like university cities.
QRO: Not even a Copenhagen date – or does a Malmö show count as playing Copenhagen?
CVA: You either do, Malmö or Copenhagen. You can’t do back-to-back, each other, because everybody goes over.
AO: There were a couple of Danes on our Malmö show. It’s only a train ride.
CVA: Fifteen minutes.
QRO: How was making Ease My Mind?
CVA: Compared to other albums – every album has their own story, but it had a very natural way of coming to life. It wasn’t forced or anything.
I think a lot had to do with the guy that produced it, Fredrik [Swahn]. We had all the same references. He was a friend, but yet he was someone we knew, but didn’t know well. Because he plays with a bunch of other acts as well. He’s got a lot of energy, charisma… [laughs]
AO: He’s really the most positive guy we ever met, and we needed that. We needed someone to lift us up – not that we were down, we were excited to start the album, but we did a few songs with our old producer in his studio, and we just felt that, there was nothing wrong with him, Johannes [Berglund], who co-produced it…
CVA: That was like going back, sort of.
AO: We just felt like going back to the same spot… The song, we didn’t feel anything.
I remember [laughs], we met the next day, and no one wanted to bring it up, “Yeah, the studio, the song…” Then we agree, ‘We have more energy, we need to reinvent it, feel that sort of vibe.’
And then he came in, Fredrik, drank all our beer in the rehearsal space – he was almost like a conductor, “You play that!” We were almost laughing – he was perfect. We needed someone like that.
Most of the songs, we produced at his small studio in the suburbs. Very basic. We felt more comfortable, no pressure being in that sort of space, rather than doing the Phil Ek record in Seattle (Work – QRO review), in a big, huge studio. We get more relaxed, being in our rehearsal space.
CVA: Also, he isn’t a purist. Friedrich, he’s more like, ‘If it works, it works.’ It doesn’t have to be a thing from the sixties that we’re recording through. It could be…
AO: He’s very open-minded in that way.
CVA: Emotions matter.
AO: He has really nice gear, we used a lot of. We were really specific, what keyboards, and other things to use, to make them very organic and warm. Used a lot of old Hammond organs and stuff, that make that warm sound.
[Producer Fredrik Swahn is] really the most positive guy we ever met, and we needed that.
QRO: How do you replicate that sound on tour?
CVA: In the beginning, you sound like a cover band of yours. [laughs]
You start tweaking, and finding ways.
AO: Find the right sound. We can’t bring all the gear, we can’t bring all those vintage keyboards. We tried to adapt it as much as possible. You don’t have to be so true to the album, I think, after a while.
We heard an old song of ours, we listened to the song “Hard Rain”, ‘cause it came on on a friend’s restaurant, that’s why he played it. “Oh, is that a cowbell here?” You never really go back and listen to your old stuff. You mostly listen to the album you’re making, for 400 million times, and then you stop listening to your stuff.
Shout Out Louds playing “Hard Rain” live at Webster Hall in New York, NY on May 10th, 2013:
A lot of songs were recorded live in the studio, so the transition to live works.
And to have more people singing on stage, like Lars [Skoglund], our new drummer. For every show, it gets better.
QRO: How did it compare with making prior records, this far into your career? Is it easier, or harder?
CVA: It’s harder, because everybody has stuff. You really have to set up, in the schedule, ‘This is just recording time.’ Whereas, where you were 25, you got nothing else going on.
It’s more focused, and we’re making progress, or we want to make progress. It’s more efficient, in a way. But it’s never forced. I guess people just have the drive now, time matters.
AO: And also, maybe, even though it took four years, we released the album, we toured for a year, did a lot of shows.
It’s not harder, but we need to find the vibe and the mood of the album, before. Not that it’s hard to find it, nowadays, but we have to know when to start.
For every album, that’s key, that’s the moment you’re searching for, for every album.
We were really tight, before the band – we were almost like a band, we didn’t play instruments, but we were just hanging out, twenty-four hours a day.
QRO: Is “Ease My Mind” the first song sung primarily by Bebban [Stenborg] since “Blue Headlights”?
AO: Yes. There are duet things – no, on Optica (QRO review), she sings “Hermila”.
She did more singing on this album, which was great, after her Astropol project she did, so I think that was really good for her, to do that.
QRO: You had that solo EP last year…
How does Bebban feel about the song about her “Paola”, and being ‘outed’ as “Paola”?
AO: I mean, it’s about her, but it’s also about Bebban, me, and Carl. It’s about after school, what you decide to do, what your choices, and following your dreams.
That time, when we graduated, when we were eighteen, nineteen. People went different ways, we lived in the suburbs, everybody went their own way, and focused on different things. We were really tight, before the band – we were almost like a band, we didn’t play instruments, but we were just hanging out, twenty-four hours a day. It was a special time, but also choosing different paths. And when you meet old friends now, what do they do?
It’s about her, but, at the same time, it’s also about us, about me.
QRO: You mentioned a new drummer?
AO: Eric [Edman] sort of left the band after the Work album. He played on a few songs on Optica. But the last tour he did was the Work album, 2010, in the U.S.
He got two kids pretty early. Touring wasn’t really… He got tired of that life.
CVA: He’s still a dear friend, and we see him like every week, but he has a steady job, more of a family life.
He loves playing drums, but he has other things going on.
QRO: Yeah, when people get older, get kids…
AO: He’s gonna come and visit us in San Francisco, and so maybe we’ll do a double-drums.
CVA: He’s gonna be on tour for a few days with us.
AO: We’re great friends. He still does our books… [laughs]
CVA: He’s into finance.
QRO: That’s what he does? That’s also a job that does not make for tours…
AO: In between tours and albums, like Carl does a lot of creative graphic design, and I do that as well, but also I do music for others, I write music for other stuff. He couldn’t find a job that would fit, would be flexible.
But at the same time, I think, being away, not ‘bored,’ but I think he just wasn’t happy about it.
[New drummer Lars Skoglund is] great to have in songwriting, too. He really listens more to the songs, as a drummer. He’s great for that.
QRO: What is the name of your drummer now?
AO: Lars Skoglund.
He’s not a ‘member,’ because he plays with Lykke Li a lot, he plays with a lot of Swedish artists, as well. Everybody grabs him, so we have to hold onto him… [laughs]
QRO: I think I was once talking to you about drummers (QRO interview), how it’s hard to find drummers, and you said other guys in a band with a drummer would say he’s no good, because they didn’t want to share him…
AO: [laughs] But everyone knows that he’s great.
He toured the whole Optica album, so he feels like a member. It’s been really long.
QRO: To me, since the last time I saw you was Optica, it doesn’t feel that long…
AO: He listens a lot. He listens – he’s great to have in songwriting, too. He really listens more to the songs, as a drummer. He’s great for that.
Like, if I do something with the melody, he plays along.
QRO: I suppose this set list is focused on Ease My Mind. How hard is it to pick which songs from the new album to play live?
AO: We do play a lot. We have a longer set list.
We decided to play a lot from the new album, because we really like the new album. We play almost half the new album.
CVA: I guess it’s just trying to find a balance, between old and new. Some songs are kind of given that we should play – they just come natural; ‘This is a good live song.’
AO: And have sort of a purpose with the other old songs. To have a diverse set list. We started playing all of them, but we thought, ‘Oh, sounds good, this one we enjoy more than the others.’ It’s just about what we want to do. [laughs]
There’s songs from all the albums. An hour and a half, an hour twenty minutes of good stuff. [laughs]
We love playing “Hard Rain”, but that’s a six, seven-minute song. You have to tweak.
I kind of like doing the same set list, because you get room to improvise more, even though it’s more set. But it all depends, so I don’t have a good answer for that. We mix it up, but we do what we want to do.
There’s songs from all the albums. An hour and a half, an hour twenty minutes of good stuff.
QRO: Are there songs that you’ve forgotten how to play (or can’t play live) – and maybe get a shouted request for?
CVA: Yeah, definitely… Ton of stuff… [laughs]
There are some songs that we haven’t played in years, but we would probably get them after playing them a few times, but we can’t just :: snap :: magic happens!
AO: We’re not Springsteen, play everything. That would be a disaster.
CVA: We have a few that we are gonna play on this tour, and then we can throw in some curveballs. All of sudden, if one keyboard stops working, you kinda need something. You can just improvise.
AO: We did a show in Oslo, and Bebban got sick. Her lung collapsed. She was at the hospital, the emergency room.
I don’t know why we did that show, but we were there – it was almost a South-by-Southwest, but in Norway, to find booking agents & stuff. I played the keys and the guitar, we all tried to play – and it was awful. But I think we got a gig after that… [laughs]
CVA: Butchering the classics… [laughs]
Shout Out Louds’ video for “Porcelain”:
QRO: Where did the idea for the video for “Porcelain” come from?
CVA: We gave a treatment to a bunch of people that we wanted.
‘Cause normally, Ted [Malmros, bassist] does all the videos, but there wasn’t time to do. So we contacted some people.
AO: This young director; she’s pretty new [Nim Kyoung Ran Sundström].
AO: She lived in Tokyo for a while.
It sort of fit, a bit, the lyrics. There was an idea that was sort of similar, with this gang, but she came up with the idea, and it was great.
So she flew over with one camera, and one DOP. It was great.
We talked about having us in the video, “Can’t I sing on one?” Because I really wanted to go to Tokyo…
QRO: [laughs] You just wanted an excuse to go to Tokyo…
AO: Yeah, but it was not in the budget.
QRO: Was it done in Tokyo because of her?
AO: She had friends there. We could probably do it in Stockholm, but it’s a beautiful place. And it gives it a nice vibe.
Shout Out Louds’ video for “Oh Oh”:
QRO: Do you prefer videos that you’re in, or that you’re not in, since it’s a lot easier on your end?
CVA: Not in, at least for me. It’s easier…
AO: We done, the first one for “Oh Oh”, on the album. That was just did ourselves. Literally us four, in the band.
CVA: We rented an Airbnb house in Spain.
AO: And just Ted filmed, and you filmed Ted.
CVA: It felt more like a vacation, or more like a ‘kick off’ for the band.
AO: It was a kick-off. We went down there, did that video, but also planned the tour.
CVA: Coming from Swedish winter, complete darkness. To just see the sun.
It was more for us, maybe. It felt more just like fun. We rented a car, went up in the mountains.
AO: Just fitted the song. It was more like almost a documentary.
CVA: Business and pleasure… [laughs]
Shout Out Louds playing “Tonight I Have To Leave It” at Music Hall In Williamsburg in Brooklyn, NY, on 10/26/07:
QRO: Have you ever thought about bringing back the go-go, for new stuff?
AO: It’s our secret weapon.
I’ve got a friend who lives in Australia, and he was super-drunk, “You’ve got to start playing the go-go again! Put it on the new album!” He was ranting about it for an hour.
And I was also drunk, and was like, “Yeah, I promise man, I promise!” And then I dropped it. Broke the promise…
I love playing it. I only play it on one song.
QRO: Like that famous Saturday Night Live sketch, but instead of cowbell, “Need more go-go!” Especially as they kind of sound similar…
Shout Out Louds playing “Jumbo Jet” at Bowery Ballroom in New York, NY, on 11/2/17: