As part of the D.C. Punk Archive’s one-year anniversary celebrations, on October 25, 2015, renowned photographer Glen E. Friedman appeared at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library. Alec MacKaye interviewed Friedman. The photographer also took questions from the audience.
If you ask Dennis Lyxzen what he feels his late, great, future-punk band Refused’s greatest accomplishment was, he might say something like, “the greatest accomplishment was that we – in Sweden, ’93 to ’97, we toured and toured and toured, and we built a movement in Sweden of bands, of people that are still active today, still playing music. I think that was our greatest accomplishment: that we managed to become something that meant a lot to people in Sweden at that time. The touring we did in ’95, ’96 around ‘Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent,’ that was when it really meant something. People came out and people were really excited. And we were building something new, you know? Not only Refused, but a bunch of our friends – we built a hardcore scene in the ’90s that got kind of big in Sweden. All these cities that we played – people showed up. It was really cool. We built something, for real. And 15 years later you go on tour and play Terminal 5 in New York for 5,000 people, two nights in a row.”
Two years after playing those reunion shows and nearly a quarter-century after beginning Refused, Lyxzen was on the road again, hitting up D.C. and playing the nondescript rock club DC9 with his current band, INVSN, which sounds nothing like Refused. The closest point of reference for INVSN would be something like the Cure.
The ‘VSN will be too glossy and shiny for many – particularly in its recorded form, particularly upon the first couple of listens, particularly for those who only listen to Refused-style spastic arena punk-metal – but INVSN’s 2013 eponymous album grew steadily upon me as I did my duty by listening to it repeatedly. INVSN purveys pure pop replete with memorable hooks that stick where they should (in your brain) and cool Occupy the Horizon, pictures of fields without fences, God damn the man-type lyrics.
INVSN cuts minimalistic, dark, shimmering gems so expertly that they evoke craftsmen like the Replacements or Tom Petty or something, (while, to be sure, far more strongly evoking Joy Division, ’80s-era U2, etc.). Some of these choruses are ocean-sized. This is my favorite INVSN song, I think; it illustrates well the qualities I’ve described and which are discussed subsequently.
INVSN’s D.C. performance for an audience of about 30 to 50 or so showed that Lyxzen remains a fantastic rock ‘n’ roll frontman. He is a good singer, now, too. Another small audience was won over.
Lacking an assignment from a reputable media outlet for this here Q-and-A, before the gig I threw my professional rectitude to the wind (where it now flies high, along with my potential and prospects and, of course, the answer, my friend) and I seized the opportunity to act the fan I am, giving D-Lyx a copy of Ian Svenonius’ new book and a signed copy of a book I’d recently published (with a personal inscription!!!), and so on, and thus my signature journalistic tactic of “establishing a rapport” with my unwitting prey again paid off and Dennis spoke for more than an hour, offering an apparently candid portal into his life and music.
We spoke about human nature, capitalism, summer holidays versus punk routines, becoming a middle-aged rebel, his childhood, Inside Out, Fugazi, and getting “dragged down into a life that you were not ready to be a part of and you didn’t want to be a part of – you never wanted to be a part of.”
Do the classics go out of style? No. I guess that’s why they’re classics. I mean, we said that they do, but there’s a reason why bands like the Clash or Minor Threat or Neil Young, stuff like that, people keep coming back to. I think there’ a certain timelessness in it. I do, however, think that the cultural importance of it definitely diminishes as time goes by. But there’s a reason why some stuff is classic.
So the classics don’t go out of style? I mean, some of them do. It’s funny. That’s a reference to how critics and “knowers,” they’ll be like, “Yeah – this is the best band to ever come out of the U.K.!”
And then two years later it’s totally forgotten. It’s that mentality of always trying to find something new and exciting.
But the real records that became landmarks in their own right, they’re going to be there for a long time to come. I think the Refused thing was also one of those obscene, bold statements about, like – there was a lot of talk about burning museums (laughs), you know, rejecting the tradition of rock ’n’ roll.
You mean within Refused? Yeah. That whole Bakuninist sort of idea – you have to destroy something in order to build something. That was a lot of my inspiration – that whole mentality of, “What we got now is fucking horrible. Just tear it down. Destroy it and we can build something new.”
It definitely still applies a lot to the rock ’n’ roll cliché and the rock ’n’ roll genre and so on.
I meant to start out by asking you: What are some things you’re tired of being asked in interviews? Probably, “Do the classics go out of style?” No, no. That’s the first time I got that question, actually.
I don’t like it when I do interviews and people ask me, “So, what does the new record sound like?”
That makes me really angry, because it’s like –
It’s on the Internet. Exactly. It’s just courtesy. “OK, I’ve listened to the record. This is what I think.”
That’s it. That my only thing that kind of annoys me – apart from that I’m pretty flexible (laughs). If I’m not interested in the question I’ll just come up with my own answer.
Like a politician. Yeah. Just maneuver around it.
Politicians do that every time, whenever they get asked a tough question. Yeah. I think they do it every time, no matter what question they’re asked, because it’s more a matter of the rhetorical approach –
Talking points, you mean? No – the language of politicians is a language that – you don’t want to give straight answers, because then you can be held accountable, even if it’s something really petty and really small. So you always use this language – the political language – to circumvent actually promising something or taking a position.
Taking a stand. Yeah.
In Sweden, I do a lot of debates on TV. I haven’t done it in awhile because I got kind of tired of being the political musician that has ideas. And most of the interviews I do in Sweden I talk about politics, so it’s kind of my role, but then people ask me, “You always talk about politics – maybe you should become a politician.”
I’m like, “No, that’s the exact reason why I talk about politics – because I’m not a politician.”
My political ideas and what I think is at times very unrealistic, which I think is what an artist should be.
The world is super-complex and very fragmented and if you’re a politician you have political ideas, but it’s all about compromise. “If I do this, you can give me that, and then we can crisscross to some sort of compromise.”
It’s always about compromise, and as a musician and an artist my purpose is to be unreasonable.
My purpose is to say shit that’s way off, just because that makes people react and think, and if it’s here now, maybe I can bend it back here and in the end it’ll be –
Bend the discourse. Exactly. And I think that’s the cool thing about being an artist. It doesn’t have to be 100 percent well-thought-out –
Action-plan. 100 steps. Exactly. It’s ideas. That’s why I love music and that’s why I’m so fascinated by the power of music or the power of art or the written word – because you don’t have to be like, “This is exactly what I mean.” It’s an artistic expression. It gives you a certain amount of freedom to exaggerate, which I think is good.
So your role in society is to be an idealist, not a pragmatist. Exactly. An idealist, but also, maybe more – as a musician, you’re working more as an inspiration for people to get energy.
I mean, I like it when I see something or I read something and it gives me this seed of an idea that I kind of pick up on myself and I can go with it or roll with it, you know?
And I think that’s the roll of the artist.
Yeah, I’m an idealist. I’m a pragmatist in life, because I know how life works. But as far as my art, you have to be open and you have to be like, “Anything is possible.”
That’s the thing punk rock taught me: Anything is possible. Why limit yourself? Anything is possible.
The lyric “Hats off to hatred” reminds me of the lyric “Anger is a gift,” by Rage Against the Machine.
The first question is: Do you like Rage Against the Machine? I had seen before that they were potentially an influence on you, so I wonder if you think you’re along the same lines as them. And secondly, do you think that lyric is kind of the same sentiment as “Anger is a gift”? Yeah. When Rage Against the Machine came out that was a big deal.
I saw Rage Against the Machine right when the first record came out, and the only reason I saw them was because it was Zack from Inside Out. I loved Inside Out. They’re one of Refused’s favorite bands, actually. We loved Inside Out. We played Inside Out songs.
So we went down to Stockholm to see Rage Against the Machine in front of 45 people and we hung out with them all night, because, you know, we were wearing our hardcore shirts and they were like, “Oh, you guys are hardcore kids.”
And then three months later they were like the biggest band in the world. And I followed their career.
When they came out it was right when we started Refused, and we didn’t want to be Rage Against the Machine, but we were like, “Holy shit – a mainstream band that’s radical, that talks about politics and that made sense.”
Some of their music has not [aged] 100% well, but some of their songs are still great and some of their lyrics are fantastic. And I do think it’s sort of the same sentiment. When you grow up as an outsider or a freak or someone that feels left out – for me, taking that negative energy and that hatred, because I hated my teachers, the whole adult generation, my peers, the fucking jocks and bullies. I hated everyone. And I took that energy and I started a band. I tried to focus that energy into something creative and positive. It’s a weird sort of revenge. No one believed in me. I was not a popular guy in school. The girls did not like me. People just thought I was a fucking weirdo. And to take all that energy –
Everyone was just totally un-encouraging? There were no teachers that –
Everyone was like, “This guy’s just out of his fucking mind.” He’s weird.
And to take that energy and to turn it into something creative and eventually positive – that was a big deal.
I wrote those lyrics to “The Hate” just to be like – it shaped me into the person that I am today. And I’m not a hateful person at all, quite the opposite. I’m a very easygoing kind of guy, but those formative years, they made me who I am today, and I’m really thankful that the bullies were bullies. I’m really thankful that I had to go through that shit, because it gave me character and it built me up as a person. I had to be a strong person and be like, “I’m not going to follow.”
Because that’s the thing: Peer pressure, in school, it’s so strong. And I never fell for peer pressure. And it made me a strong person today. And it made me fucking go about my own way all my life. And I’m thankful for that.
I wanted to write that song because I think a lot of people recognize that feeling: “Fuck these guys. Fuck them! I’m going to fucking show them.” And if you can turn that into something creative, then I think that’s fantastic.
You “never followed the herd.”
No, never. I fucking hate the herd. Still, to this day.
As a young kid I was always a loner. I grew up kind of just hanging out by myself. And early on I was super-allergic to male group activity. I think the man as a social construct has to be the worst idea ever. And whenever guys get together and (makes vaguely ape-like noises), it freaks me out. It really bums me out.
And to this day I’m super-allergic to that. All the way through school I couldn’t stand that. And it made me the person I am today, because I was not a part of it.
I mean, I’m a man (laughs). That’s how I was raised. But I was very much outside of the norm really early on and, you know, it made me into where I am today. I’m very thankful for that.
You must have had a small group of friends, right?
Not really. I mean, no (laughs).
I’m trying to think of it. I mean, when I was 12, 13 I started getting into music for real. Before that I was kind of on my own. When I was like 12, 13, I was into David Bowie. I listened to the Beatles. And everyone in my class listened to AC/DC, and I was the weird kid. And I got into heavy metal, of course, eventually, and I got so into it that all my friends, they couldn’t keep up. I was so into it.
And then I found one guy who was as into it as I was, and I’m still friends with him. We had a hardcore band called AC4 together until recently. He’s always just played hardcore. And he was as into music I was. So he became my first real friend. This was when I was 14 or 15.
Actually, I had a friend that was in my class. He was the only guy that could play guitar. So I was kind of like, “You’re my friend. You can play guitar. We need to start playing music together.”
I couldn’t really play, but he was the guy. I forced him to become a punk rocker. We had a punk band together in ’87, so I was like 15. And one day he shows up at the practice space and he wears a button-down shirt, and he got rid of the earring, and he cut his hair.
I’m like, “What happened?”
He’s like, “My dad won’t let me be punk anymore. He’s going to give me a car because I’m not a punk.” And the band broke up. It was hard. We started our first band – first real band hardcore band – this is ’89 – and it was the same thing: We met some kids who were skateboarding and they played heavy metal and me and Jens, the drummer, we were like, “We’re going to start a hardcore band. We need you guys to play in our hardcore band.” And we kind of made them start listening to hardcore and we kind of made them play in a hardcore band. And eventually a small punk scene emerged and then when we came out with Refused it was us and a circle of friends and all of a sudden I had a community that I did belong to, but I was like 20, 21 until I had a bigger group of peers around me that was into the same stuff as I was. So it’s been a very weird journey, because I’m a very social person. I like to hang out with people, but for a long time I was like, “Yeah – I’m that weird guy.”
I’d try to get friends into it. I forced my friends to be straight edge (laughs).
They’re like, “Um, I don’t know about this,” and I’m like, “Man, we need to be straight edge. It’s like the thing.” And they’re like “Yeah, I don’t know” (laughs).
What did your parents think?
They thought I was a weirdo from day one. I got into music and they were like, “It’s a phase,” and then I had a mohawk and fucking killer boots and they were like, “Yeah, I guess it’s a phase,” and then I came home from school one day and I’m like, “I’m vegetarian. I’m straight edge,” and they’re like, “What the fuck is going on?”
When we started Refused and we started touring they got really worried. They were like, “Yeah, I mean, it’s cool that you’re playing music, but maybe you should get a real job, because you’re not going to be able to do this forever.”
And one day they just turned, and they love it. They go to all our shows. My dad has INVSN and Refused shirts and he’s always supporting our music.
I have two younger brothers; they also both play in bands. I have a brother who’s 10 years younger than me. He does what I do. He’s actually INVSN’s sound guy when we tour Europe and he plays in punk bands and he has a studio. So he lives a similar life to mine, and my parents are super-supportive.
But it took them a while.
I mean, my dad’s a working class guy, so for him, success always equals money. It’s like, “If you’re successful, then you can buy a better car and you can buy a better house.”
For years he didn’t get it. He was like, “Maybe you should write a hit single.”
[Laughs] I’m like, “That’s not how life works! All life is like a piece of art. All life is like a project.”
He’s like, “But you’re not making any money!”
I’m like, “That doesn’t matter. I live life as a free agent. I do whatever I want.”
Now they’ve kind of accepted that. With the Refused reunion we made some money, so my dad’s like, “Yes!”
He’s happy [laughs].
You’d done enough television appearances by that point. Yeah, that’s true, too.
There’s that quote of you that you did back when Refused was still around. “A band should always be pushing itself to the limit.” I really always liked that quote a lot. Do you think you’re doing that with INVSN? Do you still believe that? And if so, how so? Yeah, I still believe it. The music we play might not be –
It doesn’t seem like it’s musically pushing.
No. Here’s the thing: I’m not interested in becoming some avant-gardistic free form jazz player just to break the boundaries of music. I’m always interested in pushing myself to see what I can do and what we can accomplish.
I mean, every band I ever try to be in – it’s always something new for me. I mean, I did a power-pop band because I wanted to see: Can I write power-pop songs? Can we get this shit together? That was an earlier version of INVSN. We played power-pop for a while. And then we did Noise Conspiracy.
INVSN, musically, when people hear it they’re not going to be like, “Wow. This is really new and groundbreaking,” but it’s a different style of playing. It’s very economical. The way we play is very – everyone plays just a little. And then we put it together and it becomes a lot. There are no fills. There are no guitar solos. There’s nothing fiddling about. It’s like, “You play these two notes. That’s all you do the entire song.” So that’s a challenge.
And the way I sing, to write lyrics, to continually push yourself creatively. That’s my main goal.
I think if you want to, as a band, be like, “OK, everything we ever do is going to be something no one’s ever done before.”
That’s just – that’s just going to end horribly bad. That’s just going to sound like bullshit [laughs].
But it’s about pushing myself. I sing better than ever before.
The whole idea of this band – yeah, I’m still trying to push myself.
And sometimes you’ll try something and be like, “That didn’t turn out well.”
Whatever. We’ll try this instead.
If you follow my career, I’ve never done two records that sounded the same. I’ve done records in similar veins, and in Noise Conspiracy we were building on what we’d done already. I think it’s going to be the same way with INVSN. The next record’s going to be more of what we’re doing right now, but just keep on building on it and keep on pushing ourselves.
It’s funny, because the last record we did, in Swedish, me and Andres have a default thing, where, being punks, as soon as we’re uncomfortable, we just start playing fast. So if there’s a show and like, “Oh, shit, people are not into it – just play fast!” And we start playing fast. With INVSN, that was a big challenge.
Tone it down.
Tone it down. Myself, the first show I played with my first band, I was like, “No one knows about hardcore. No one likes hardcore. So let’s just fucking go crazy.” And we went crazy. And that’s stuck with me ever since. If people don’t know the band, yeah, I’ll hang upside down from the ceiling. I’ll fucking throw the microphone away. But with INVSN it’s a different energy. Sometimes I’m going to explode and I have to pull myself back.
Yeah, I always try to push myself.
I thought you might say just singing, more singing, stretching your range, that type thing.
Yeah. Totally. That’s a big deal for me. I’ve always been a good frontman. I’ve always been like a spectacular guy live. Half-assed singer, honestly – it was not until like seven, eight years ago when I was like, “OK, I actually got the hang of singing.”
I’m pushing my singing. I’m a better singer than I ever was.
What are your favorite memories of D.C.? I actually wanted to ask you if you’ve met Ian MacKaye. I met him a bunch of times, actually. We, years and years ago, the first time – this is my favorite Ian MacKaye story: 1991, me and David from Refused and a bunch of our friends, we traveled down to Gävle to see Fugazi play.
They played at a place called Café Q and there were maybe 50 people at the show.
We didn’t know – we figured that was normal. 50 people at a Fugazi show? Whatever. And 20 of them traveled down from Umeå to see them play. And we did what we always did in Umeå – we just ran up onstage and grabbed the microphone and started singing along to these Fugazi songs.
And after the show I remember going into the dressing room.
It must have been early ’92, because we had our first Refused demo. I remember going into the dressing room and I was like [slightly frightened voice], “Hey. We’re in a band from Umeå. We’re called Refused.”
Everyone was like [friendly voice], “Hey, what’s up, guys?”
And I was dumbfounded. I’m like, “Here’s Ian.”
I’m like [frightened voice] “So, do you still skate?”
He was like, “Yeah, yeah – sometimes.”
I’m like, “That’s rad!” And I left.
So, that’s the first time I met him. I met him a bunch of times. Noise Conspiracy opened up for Fugazi.
I didn’t realize that. Yeah. In Umeå, which is a big deal for me. He’s a nice guy. He always impresses me when he meets me. He’s like, “Hey Dennis. What’s up?”
I’m like, “Holy shit.”
And I’ve been to D.C. a bunch of times. I have a bunch of friends here. Refused toured with Frodus and the Battery guys and that scene.
You toured with Battery? No, we played shows with them and Damnation A.D. and those bands. I mean, I know a lot of people from here. It’s a cool city.
It has so much history – the history of Dischord and how Dischord Records as a phenomenon inspired me and my friends to start our own labels. I mean, I still do a label called Ny Våg Records, and we only release local bands. We only support the local scene. It’s the same idea as the Dischord idea – you know, if you’ve got a local scene you need to cherish it and nourish it and document it.
I also wanted to ask you if you keep in touch with the guys from Frodus at all. Yeah! We’re staying at Jason Hamacher’s house tonight. Shelby lives in Gothenburg and we played a couple weeks ago and he texted me, “I can’t come out tonight.” He just became a dad. When we were in Seattle with Refused a year-and-a-half ago we hung out with Nate. So, yeah – we’re in touch. I meet Jason quite frequently. Good guys.
“Down in the Shadows” – who’s the “they” in that song?
I think it’s a little bit what I talked about before. As you grow older, the social constructs make it even harder to just live the life that you want to live. I mean, even with me, like, I get this normalcy crisis when I was like, “Holy shit – I don’t have a proper job. I don’t have a girlfriend. What am I doing?”
It’s even harder to maintain that kind of flexible mindset when you grow older. And that song is about that.
It’s so easy to get dragged down – I mean, it’s very symbolic – but it’s so easy to get dragged down into a life that you were not ready to be a part of and you didn’t want to be a part of – you never wanted to be a part of.
And I have so many friends that are radical people and they’re great musicians, but then their band never took off, and they got a girlfriend or a boyfriend and then all of a sudden they have a kid and they have a mortgage on their house. And you can’t go on tour. You have a steady job. Somewhere in the back of your mind you have all these ideas, but they never come to fruition.
It’s about that.
It’s not patronizing those people. It’s more like: I want to be who I am.
And no one’s going to thank you. That’s a point, too. No one’s going to thank you for some sacrifices that you made for some abstract others. You have to live your life for yourself.
Like your folks, you mean? More like the way you’re supposed to be. Society as a whole; you’re like, “I want to fit in and I want to do this, because everybody else does that.”
Yeah, your job, or your boss, or your parents.
If you come on your knees to your boss, like, “Oh, please, I’ve done such a good job.”
No one’s going to fucking thank you.
Your life is yours to live, and I think that’s an important thing.
It’s those “they.” The vague, abstract they people (laughs).
You kind of alluded to something that I’ve wanted to ask someone who’s been successful like you, but I’ve never actually asked someone, and that’s: What do you think separates people who achieve like you’ve achieved from let’s say your friends who you think are talented, but their bands never took off. Is it passion, talent, luck? It’s a mix of everything.
First of all, speaking for myself, it’s been the drive.
It’s been the fucking, weird, “I never want to give up” attitude that brought me here today.
There’s so many times where I could have been like, “Fuck this. It’s not worth it.”
But then I just kept on going and that’s my stubbornness.
Also, I’m good at making shit happen. I talk to people. I know people. I mean, I have friends that are way more talented than me, and they’re never going to release a record. I’ve released tons of records that should have not been released, because I’m that guy.
Like outgoing? High energy?
High energy, and I’m really restless. I’m like, “Let’s make this happen. Let’s make it happen. Let’s make it happen,” and then I’ll make it happen.
Also, one of my biggest strengths: I’m an amazing coordinator. I’m one of those guys. I can have two bands going, a record label, and just oversee everything and make it happen.
And I have friends that are super-talented, but their hands are not coming out of their pockets. They’re just, like, (sighs forlornly). And I can make shit happen.
But that’s me.
It’s luck. It’s the right place at the right time. It’s talent, of course. And it’s hard work. People that make it, they usually work hard. You practice. You fucking do your job. And then hopefully something will happen. But there are no easy recipes.
I like this Ian book (“Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock ‘n’ Roll Group”). We’ll see if he has some strategies. He might know better than me. But then again, he might play in bigger bands than he does if he knew better (laughs). I don’t know.
(Laughs) That’s true.
But there’s no recipe for success. I mean, same thing with Refused. We put a record out in 1998. I remember talking to David, saying, “No one’s going to like this record. No one’s going to get it,” because the punk and hardcore scene can be a tad conservative at times.
And we’re like, “Fuck it. People are not going to get this.”
And we put it out and no one really did like it when it came out.
Some people were like, “Yeah, this is cool,” but all the hardcore kids were like, “I don’t know. Last record was better. It was more hardcore.”
And then we broke up.
And 14 years later, it’s like winning the lottery. It’s like, “All right – we’re just going to give you all of this because you guys are awesome” (laughs), and we’re like, “Well, we didn’t do anything.”
And you can never foresee that.
But in my case, I think it’s just stubbornness, and I got no backup plan either, you know? I don’t have a degree to fall back on. I have no practical skills. So this is it, you know? (laughs)
And you did stick to your guns with that record, too. Made the record that you wanted to make, waited for everyone else to catch on.
When you start making music based on the assumption of what other people will think about your music, then you’re fucked. I mean, of course you can write songs and be like, “Oh, this is catchy. Maybe people will like this tune,” but then it’s the other tune that they like. When you start trying to do that, that’s when you start making poor music. I wrote music for myself and my friends and the bands we had together. Like, “Let’s make the best songs that we can and let’s make them as amazing as we can.” And sometimes it connects with people and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes you do something and you’re like, “This is amazing,” and looking back, you’re like, “Yeah – it wasn’t that amazing. It was just fine” (laughs). That’s just how it is. I always try to – (pause) – don’t let that get to me. Just write songs, play music, because you’re passionate about playing music, and I think it shows. Once people become calculated and cynical about their music, I think people can pick up on that and be like, “Oh, wait – this is not for real.”
For sure. I interviewed MacKaye in 2005 and I interview Mark Andersen from Positive Force around then and they both said really similar things: If you do what you believe, whatever it is, things will happen. Like, “Yeah, 20 years later, after I made Dischord, 25 years later I’m in a good position. But five years after, I wasn’t.” Yeah. It’s the same thing with this band. We’re doing it and we’re not making any money and no one really cares. And hopefully – just keep on doing it and hopefully one day people are like, “These guys are great.”
Yeah – I totally agree. You gotta follow your heart and you gotta do shit that makes sense to you. And then hopefully people will catch on.
You’re not making any money with this band? (Adopts voice of lamentation) We’re losing so much money. I called, talked to Mike, that’s our manager, when we started getting this together. I said, “Yeah, Kajsa0, who plays guitar.” He’s like, “Who’s Kajsa? What are you, five people?”
“We’re actually six.”
He just wrote me an email saying, “Do you hate money?”
I mean, it’s six people. We’re not 19 anymore. People need some money to pay their rent when they come home.
I’m paying for us to be on tour, basically. It’s fine. You know, you start up something new, you got to invest in it. I believe in this band. I believe in these people. It’s an honor to play with them. Of course it doesn’t matter if we make money.
Spoken like a true punk rocker. Do you expect Refused fans to like this band?
If your favorite band is Refused and Hate Breed, then no, not really. If you like Refused because you like the Stooges and you like Joy Division and you like music, yeah. It’s a good band.
But if why you liked Refused was the raw energy and the power of it – yeah, it’s very different. If your favorite band is Refused, you might like this, but you might also be like “What the hell?”
I mean, I understand. I was at that Rage Against the Machine concert yelling “Play ‘No Spiritual Surrender!’ Fuck this rap-metal shit!”
That’s not what I said, but you know, I’ve been in that situation where I was like, “Why did they do this? This makes no sense.”
But I think with Refused that wasn’t – we were a hardcore band and then we did a journey that very few hardcore bands have done. We transcended that genre.
You also got heavier, while doing that. Yeah. I mean, people who like Refused are not hardcore kids.
Generally, yeah. Generally. It’s people who like all kinds of music. A lot of them like heavy music. There are metal-heads who like Refused. I mean, if you’re a metal-head that liked Refused, I can see INVSN not being your cup of tea, but a lot of people that like Refused are just people who love music – they like good music. I mean, in my life, two genres of music: good music, bad music. Some music is great, some music not so great. That’s how I think about music.
If you’re like that, yeah, I think you would like INVSN. If you just want to mosh, you’re not going to be that excited.
There’s some people who followed me from Refused to Noise Conspiracy to INVSN. For them, that journey makes sense. If you only heard Refused and then you heard INVSN – it is totally different. If you see us live, though, it’s a very similar energy. I’m still that guy when we play live, even though it’s a different band.
Thematically, the lyrics seem similar. Same type of stuff about sticking to your guns.
Yeah. I mean, Refused was really, really extrovert. Really, really in your face, fuck you kind of politics. INVSN, some of it’s more internal, more directed to yourself.
I think as you grow up and you have these political ideas, you start to have these existential crises, when you’re like, “Wait a minute – what am I doing?”
And also because the INVSN lyrics are written in Swedish first, and then I translate them to English. So whenever I write in English – I’m pretty good at English, but I have to translate. It’s not my first language so whenever I think in English or write in English, it’s like, “What’s my thought that I have to formulate?” And I have to formulate it in a different language.
In Swedish, it becomes closer, and it’s much faster. It becomes more personal, because these are exactly my thoughts.
When I think in Swedish, the lyrical content becomes a bit more personal, but it’s the same themes. If you look at the new INVSN record, a lot of the songs stem from my Marxist and anti-capitalist ideas.
It’s all over the place, but it’s not as fuck you, in your face as Refused or Noise Conspiracy. It’s a bit more subtle, but it’s still there. I’m the same person.
Not a lot of love songs. Not a lot of love songs. People know. I’ve been writing about these topics for 20 years. It’s not like people are like, “That guy’s a socialist! I didn’t know!”
People know. I don’t need to say it every song (laughs).
Are you an extroverted person or an introvert?
I’m a Gemini, so I’m an extroverted person when I’m onstage. Apart from that, I’m a social person, but I’m a very inhibited person when I’m not onstage. I wouldn’t say shy, but I’m not – I don’t drink. I’m not the life of the party. I don’t go crazy. I don’t talk to girls. I’m kind of timid. Then I get onstage and there’s nothing I won’t do onstage, you know? (Laughs) Just my dual personality, I guess.
It is a weird thing. People meet me and they hang out with me and they see me play live and they’re like, “What just happened?”
Me too. I get that a lot.
Yeah. It brings you out. Rock music brings it out in me. So, I’m an extroverted person when I need to be, but most of the time I’m just kind of introverted – kind of balanced – (laughs) – not balanced, that’s complete bullshit.
Yeah. Svenonius talks a lot about the stars in that book – what instrument you should play based on your sign.
That’s funny. Gemini’s a typical frontman kind of character, I would say (laughs).
You read that Village Voice article where they said – first of all: Are you really influenced by Svenonius? Were you really influenced by him? And did you read that Village Voice article where it said that you followed his career trajectories with your bands?
Yeah, I read that. So here’s the thing: I loved the Make-Up. I thought they were fantastic, and Nation of Ulysses – fantastic; Cupid Car Club – really cool.
You were aware of all those bands?
Yeah. I mean, Refused played shows with the Make-Up, and Noise Conspiracy played shows with the Make-Up.
So here’s my thing: I love those bands, and they really influenced – like, at that time when I discovered – my friend said, “You should check out the situationist movement,” and I started reading about the situationists. And in the same timespan I discovered Nation of Ulysses. I’m like, “Holy shit – that’s some weird situationist punk rock stuff.” It made me very excited.
I saw the Make-Up and I was like, “This is really cool,” but when I saw the Make-Up I was really into mod stuff. My favorite band was the Jam. I was really into northern soul. It was right in the line of what I was into. I loved the Make-Up. I loved their political ideas and their sense of fashion – so much that, coming from the hardcore scene, when we started Noise Conspiracy we did everything we could not to sound like the Make-Up.
We could write songs, and we were in the practice space like, “Sounds a little bit like the Make-Up. Scrap it.”
Because we were so aware – your musical references are only as big as your horizon, you know? So coming from the hardcore scene, starting a garage kind of ’60s band with a girl playing keyboard – we knew that we would get compared immediately to that kind of stuff. It’s fine, but we want to be our own band. When we started International Noise Conspiracy, we were really into garage rock, like the Nuggets box-set. The first song we played was a Sonics cover. But then we realized we were actually really good at playing, so we took it a slightly different way. But we were super-conscious about the fact that people would compare us to the Make-Up – so we were like, let’s not be the Make-Up. They’re their own band. They’re fantastic. We’re not the Make-Up. We’re from the north of Sweden, you know? We have this different idea.
That and also when they talk about Born Against– that we stole from Born Against. We stole nothing from Born Against. We just loved that band. We stole –
You did “Half-Mast.” That turned out good.
Yeah, we did “Half-Mast,” but musically and lyrically it wasn’t like, “Let’s try – ” We weren’t trying to be Born Against. We just loved their fuck you attitude. And then for the “Shape of Punk to Come” we have “Refused Are Fucking Dead” in the booklet, and we just took the “Born Against are Fucking Dead” lyrics because we loved that band.
But I think when you write stuff like that, I think – I mean, it’s easy. In their mind, that’s probably what it was. But we know our musical horizon. We know what we were into. And I think you’re making it easy on yourself. Like, “They stole everything from Svenonius.”
I like Svenonius and I love his bands, but we’re our own band, and as I said, when we started Noise Conspiracy, we were like, “Oh, it’s like the Make-Up – no, we don’t want to be the Make-Up. We want to be our own band.” We had to work against that the whole time. So we were very conscious about that. So yes and no. I love those bands, but we try to be our own band and we try to do something completely different. I mean, Noise Conspiracy ended up being like a ’70s jam rock band at the end (laughs), and then I started this – no, not really.
I’m not familiar with that version of Noise Conspiracy.
The last version. Yeah, the last record we did was really long, jammy songs. Our guitar-player looked like he was in the Alman Brothers or something (laughs).
But no, I don’t think it’s true. I think you make it easy on yourself. But it’s a good way of putting people down, you know? (laughs)
Were you bummed out when you saw that review?
Nah, I don’t care. Whatever. They don’t know me. They never talked to me. They have no ideas about my record collection or about my past. It’s just easy pickings, sort of. I mean, I’ve gotten worse.
I mean, being compared to the Make-Up or to Ian Svenonius – it’s fine. It’s flattering. He’s an awesome dude, you know? If people want to do that, whatever. People have compared me to way worse people. (laughs)
So I try not to care about it.
I asked him about that review when I interviewed him and he said, “Imitation, copying, that’s a young man’s concern. Once you get older, you realize, the point is to copy, but to do it well.”
Yeah. I totally agree. When you’re young, it’s more – we still, to this day I mean, I could tell you INVSN songs that we’re just like, “Oh, we heard that one,” but we made it into our own. It’s the same thing. When we started Noise Conspiracy we took from where we could take it. And sometimes it shined through, like, “Yeah – that’s what they’re trying to do.” And then you find your own identity. And then you still steal, but to your own identity.
He’s a smart guy, Ian.
Yeah. He said, “When you’re young, you try to be original, but it’s just a bunch of noise.”
(Laughs hard) That’s awesome.
Yeah. You kind of said something along the same lines earlier.
I wanted to ask you – do you think capitalism’s the problem, or is it human nature? To me, it seems like it’s human nature. I mean, people have been oppressing each other since before capitalism.
Yeah, but I don’t believe in human nature, because I’m a Marxist. I think that everything is social construct. I think the way we are towards each other is a construction. The way we’re taught to be as men or women is a construction. The way our sexuality works is a construction.
Of course, we’ve always had classes. We always had hierarchical societies, patriarchal societies. I think capitalism brings out the worst in it. I think capitalism, as a system, it is set up as a hierarchical society.
Capitalism, compared to a lot of other isms – it’s not moral. It’s not conscious. It’s just an economic effect. People are bummed, “Oh, shit – you’re moving factories to China.”
It’s like, “Yeah – that’s what capitalism does.”
Capitalism has no conscience. Capitalism has no morals. Capitalism is not interested in our lives. Capitalism is a system set up to generate as much profit and money as possible, and then it’s like a weird idea of trickle down – and if we make enough money, the bottom-feeders will also get a little piece of the crumbs. And I do think that capitalism is the problem, now, because that’s all we have. That’s the system that we live under.
No, I don’t believe in human nature.
I think that our brains are capable of fundamentally changing who we are depending on our surroundings and our upbringings and the constructions around us. So I do believe that a change of system would change people. I mean, it’s obviously complicated, but I do believe capitalism is a big problem – is the problem.
What do you think of evolutionary psychology? You could take it back to the apes and the dominant ape.
Yeah, but I’m not interested in that. In a world with abundance of everything, in a world where everybody could be well fed, everybody could have their own housing, everybody could be potentially fulfilled and happy, why would that interest us? Why would we be like, “Survival of the strongest.” That makes no sense.
One of the things about being a human is that you take care of each other. You help the less fortunate, you help your friends, you help people around you to – to create a better world.
For me, the same argument would be, “Well, we’ve been eating meat for hundreds of years, so we should just continue to do it, even though it wastes resources, kills animals and makes us fat and unhealthy.”
For me, that’s not an argument. That’s just being lazy. So, yeah, social Darwinism holds no real ground in my life.
But you’re familiar with evolutionary psychology – this school of thought that tries to take everything back to evolution. Yes, a little bit.
But you reject it. I don’t reject it. I’m not a – (laughs hard).
You’re not that well versed on it.
Exactly. But as I said, for my idea of what I think the world should be like, I don’t think it’s that important, because I think that we have all the means to have a world where we could have a more equal and a better world. That idea of evolution, well, let’s evolve into something better then. But it’s social, economical, religious, political systems and constructions that we need to get rid of or change.
So socialism is what you want to see us go toward?
Yes. As a very abstract idea, yes. If I had figured out exactly how we’re going to do it, I would not be sitting in a backstage room with you, talking about this. I would get the Nobel Peace Prize.
I have no real idea how we’re going to do it. I just know that a world that’s purely based on economy is not a world that’s sustainable. And I don’t believe in that. I believe in the old Marx quote (“From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs”) – I know it in Swedish. I still believe in that. I think that’s how we need to set up the world.
I wanted to ask you: What happened in the U.S.S.R. and with real-existing communism – it must have made you question the validity of communism and Marxist thought – the way that it all played out.
Yeah, I read up on all of that. Russia was part and parcel very much a state capitalism. It was a state-capitalist sort of idea. And the paranoia – both in China and in Russia, the paranoia and the insanity, also the pressure from the rest of the world just made people go insane.
… You know, in China where they said, “All right – let’s have a real socialism. Everybody can say what they think is wrong with socialism and we can work together.” And then when people started saying what was wrong with socialism they were just like, “Wait! Stop this! We don’t want people to say what’s wrong with socialism. That’s just not going to work.”
And I mean, it is a huge problem. There are so many traps that we can fall into, but it doesn’t mean we should stop trying.
I don’t think there’s ever been a fully-evolved socialist idea that worked. It’s always been very faulty and not my idea of what I’d want it to be.
It’s weird. I want an equal society. I want a society where we take care of each other. And every time I talk about socialism, people are like (adopts scary tone), “What about Russia?”
That’s not what I’m talking about. It’s pretty far from what I’m talking about. It’s weird to be held accountable for something that happened somewhere else years and years ago. You’re like, “Why am I defending – that’s not my idea.”
You know? I’m not a Stalinist. I’m not a Leninist. I just believe we can have a radically different world.
Do you believe in democracy?
Yeah, I do.
To me, that was the problem: They didn’t have any democracy. They didn’t have any freedom of speech.
Yeah, exactly. It’s very important. If you have an opinion, you should be able to debate it and talk about it and express it.
I do believe in democracy.
When communism collapsed, were you happy about that? I mean, it was so long ago.
Yeah. At that time I wasn’t political. I didn’t really get it.
… The only thing I really care about with that is: There was a time where the world was divided in two. There was different possibilities. You had a very strange abstract idea about communism or socialism, and you had capitalism. And that was interesting, because it kept people on their toes, the idea that a different world was possible.
And then when that collapsed, everything became capitalism, which I think is a huge problem, because people are growing up now and they’re in their 20s – they never had the alternative. They never had those ideas.
I mean, of course, communism itself in the Eastern Bloc was a huge problem, but as a thought, and as a idea, I liked the fact that there was something else but capitalism around. It was interesting. It made for a more interesting world.
I would think that it would have made people more supportive of the West, because the East seemed so awful. (Laughs) Yes. Yes, it did.
So repressive that if that’s the alternative –
Yeah, that’s possibly true as well (laughs).
I wanted to ask you, who are your favorite authors and writers?
Oh. Most of my real favorites are Swedish writers, actually. There’s a bunch from my home region. We’re all farmers where I grew up and they write about farmers in the 1800s and they write in dialect, the same dialect my granddad used to speak. Those are some of my favorite writers.
Apart from that, my favorite book is still “Revolution of Everyday Life.”
I’m not familiar with it. Raoul Vaneigem, this situationist guy; fantastic book.
I read a lot – now I’m drawing a blank, just because I got that question. Most of my favorite writers are Swedish, actually. I like a lot of French writers, just because they have this weird attitude – they’re better than everyone else, in a funny way. So I like a lot of French writers.
How about political writers?
… Right in the gap between postmodernism and post-structuralism, like Foucault or Guy Debord – when you still had the modernist thought that a big idea was a possibility, but you still went deep into it and realized there was big problems with it.
That’s my favorite point of political theory – when that was possible. So those are some of my favorite authors around that time, favorite political writers – because I think when post-structuralism came, like nothing’s real, nothing’s possible, everything is just facades – and then nothing has any meaning, because nothing matters. And I don’t like that. You know, I like ideas. I like the fact that ideas can change our lives, can change our minds, and take us into a different trajectory and make us into different people. I like those ideas.
But I like the breaking point right between postmodernism and post-structuralism where it was a little bit of both.
I’m not familiar with that stuff. I’m a guy who doesn’t like theory. I’m like – history.
All right. That makes sense. But it’s like 1968 – when it was revolution, but it was intellectual. They actually thought about these ideas. They took Marxism and turned it on end and made it into something more powerful.
Political theory, for a while – late ’90s, early 2000s – I thought that was going to liberate us. I thought political theory was going to be the thing. Early Noise Conspiracy was intellectual – we were like, “We need to find a language, we need to find a thought, an idea that makes the changing of the world possible,” and for me, for a long time, that was political theory.
I read a lot of political theory. I talked a lot with my friends about political theory. I thought that was going to be, like, the thing. But then, that was not the thing. At least, not for me.
For me it was just music. It was always music, but you try to infuse music with these ideas that you have and try to make music hold more meaning and have more gravitas and power, you know? So you infuse all these political ideas and these intellectual thoughts into music and make the music more powerful.
Right, and more interesting.
Yeah, more interesting. You know, as we talked about before, challenge yourself, challenge the listener. I think to a certain extent that the language which you speak is also the way you think.
I’m really fascinated by political theory. It gives you another language. It gives you another understanding of the world.
I wanted to ask you what you think about Syria and humanitarian intervention.
That’s one of the most difficult questions to answer. Some of the smartest people in the world are trying to figure that out every day. I mean, I don’t know.
Do you think there’s a role for the West or do you just think staying out is the best thing?
I don’t know what to think, really, because I hate when the West, it’s just like, “Yeah, we know best. Our culture is superior. So of course we’re going to implement that on you. We have freedom and you don’t have freedom.”
I don’t like that mentality, but if you see people are being tortured and being killed by a fucked-up government, yeah, maybe it is good to intervene and be like, “We need to stop this.”
But then look at Afghanistan – that helped no one – completely useless, and people are still being killed and oppressed and nothing good came out of that.
So it’s very tricky. I don’t really know. I don’t have a good answer for that.
I think the most frustrating part is that, you, as a civilian or a normal person, there’s very little you can do to affect what’s happening and what’s going to be the outcome of whatever the Western world comes up with. I don’t know what to do about it and there’s very little I can do about it.
And I think that’s a problem with a lot of leftist people: They choose issues that are more clear-cut, because it makes it easier to have a steady position. Yeah, we support the Palestinians, because it’s easy to see what the problem is, and then you’re like, “This is my position,” but with Syria or a lot of stuff that goes on in the Middle East, there’s so many gray areas. It’s so hard to be like, “Yeah, this is what I believe.” Then you’re like, “But then again –”
So I don’t know. We have to read more – think more (laughs).
What do you think about NATO? They said the point of NATO was to keep the U.S. in, the Germans down and the Russians out. What do you think about that quote and do you think there’s still a place for NATO?
I don’t know. If you look at what Putin’s doing right now, maybe there is. But no, I don’t think there is. Military supremacy – that’s such a barbaric idea, but it is what we do to prove our position.
America is the most powerful superpower since the Second World War, up until recently. And the economical power of America is definitely diminishing, and Southeast Asia and China, and the European Union, to a certain extent, is outgrowing America and the U.S. economy.
America doesn’t have that economical pull anymore, so let’s invade Iraq, let’s invade Afghanistan and show people that you still can’t fuck with us, because we still got the guns and the power. That sort of thinking is just – it’s pretty insane.
NATO and all that, it’s hard to tell.
It seems to me that Europe can defend itself. It’s not the Cold War anymore. Yeah, it’s not the Cold War anymore. There are no imminent threats of anyone trying to invade your country. Of course, I am wrong, because Putin’s like, “This is now Russia,” and everyone’s like, “No, it’s not.”
Yeah, it is.
So, of course, it could happen, but it seems very unlikely that some country would invade Germany. I don’t think that’s going to happen. So I think that yes, that is probably a fair assessment, that Europe could fend for itself if something went down (laughs).
Is there a place for the right-wing in punk?
No (laughs). Next question.
How have your politics changed since the days when you were in Refused? Have they changed? Maybe they haven’t.
Yeah, of course they’ve changed. I mean, you grow older, you learn to pick your battles. Some issues are not that important anymore and some issues become more important.
What’s less and what’s more?
My basis for who I am and what I want is pretty much the same, but strategy, approach, how do I talk about this, how do I make this happen? I think that’s probably the biggest difference: how you approach it. When we were in Refused, it was like shoot left, right, everywhere. Go crazy. Now it’s more like you try to focus. What is important? What fights are worth taking? What do I need to focus on?
It’s also a matter of – I don’t like the self-sacrificial sort of political idea. I like the idea of living and also being conscious and revolutionary at the same time.
So, I don’t care about pettiness. I don’t care about the small issues.
Leftist people have a tendency of doing that. I have friends who are super-intelligent, and what they’ll do is, they’ll have a study group that fights another study-group about some Marxist idea. I don’t care about that shit. That’s not important. That’s not an issue for me.
I think that changed as I got older. I don’t have time for pettiness. I don’t have time for bullshit. If I pick a fight, I know it’s going to be worth it.
When I was a young kid, I ran into the room and kicked a burger out of someone’s hand. “Fuck you! Go vegan!”
I’m not like that anymore, you know? I’m a bit more balanced with my political ideas.
That was a rewrite on how life was.
I mean, it changes.
Also, the reality of life – I said it before: When you’re young, it’s easy to be a rebel. It’s kind of almost expected of you to be anti-authority and crazy. And when you grow older, it’s hard to be a rebel. It’s harder to be that kind of person.
It makes it interesting. It also makes you, in ways, more radical, because you have to hold on to these ideas.
Also you’ve seen more.
Yeah, you’ve seen more. And you’ve experienced more.
One of the interesting things is, when you’re a young kid, you’re like, “Fuck this. Fuck that. I hate these guys. I hate those guys.”
And then you grow old and you’re like, “I was right. The gut feeling that I had, it was right.”
I didn’t know – politically, theoretically. I just knew that something was wrong and I spoke out against it. And then, 20 years later, it was all right.
I’ve definitely experienced that.
Oh wow, they’re playing. This is a long interview.
Yeah. I got a lot of questions. A couple more?
A couple more.
Thanks. Now I’m trying to think of my best Refused questions.
Best Refused questions.
I guess one thing I wanted to ask you was, what are your happiest memories from Refused, and what do you think are Refused’s greatest accomplishments?
I mean, my happiest Refused memories are from 2012 (laughs).
I thought that was the true answer, but I wasn’t sure if you would say that.
Yeah, because we had a great time. People were really into it and we enjoyed each other’s company and we were not a bunch of tense fucking crazy kids. That was some of my best memories.
But also, when we started the band – you’ve seen the movie and it’s just a fucking disaster and everyone’s in agony. But for a long time we had a lot of fun. The reason why people in Sweden were drawn to Refused is we were a fun bunch of characters and we had a lot of energy and people really got into that aspect. You don’t really see that in the movie. It’s kind of dark and bleak, but we were a fun bunch. We had a lot of good times together before the last year and a half that was kind of a disaster. I have a lot of good memories of that band.
And, I mean, the greatest accomplishment was that we – in Sweden, ’93 to ’97, we toured and toured and toured, and we built a movement in Sweden of bands, of people, that are still active today, still playing music. I think that was our greatest accomplishment: that we managed to become something that meant a lot to people in Sweden at that time.
To me, “Shape of Punk to Come” is great, but it was our swan-song. It was like, “This is the end of it,” and we kind of knew it.
The touring we did in ’95, ’96 around “Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent,” that was when it really meant something.
People came out and people were really excited. And we were building something new, you know? So that was really cool.
Was there not really a hardcore or a punk scene in Sweden before that?
Not at all – nothing. I mean, when we started Refused and we went down to Stockholm to play, like 20 people showed up. We were like, “Where’s all the hardcore kids?”
“There are no hardcore kids in Stockholm.”
So we – not only Refused, but a bunch of our friends – we built a hardcore scene in the ’90s that got kind of big in Sweden. All these cities that we played – people showed up. It was really cool. We built something, for real.
And, you know, 15 years later you go on tour and play Terminal 5 in New York for 5,000 people, two nights in a row.
I was at that show.
It was pretty rad.
Yeah. One of the best shows I’ve been to.
It was pretty fantastic, yeah.
There’s that allmusic.com quote about Refused, where it says that you were unable to reconcile your anarchist beliefs with a career in music.
Is that true?
No. No, I don’t think it’s true. It’s a good afterthought.
When we started, we had no ambitions or aspirations to be anything other than a punk band, and as we grew, I grew more radical.
I mean, it’s partially true, because I was almost impossible to deal with at the end. The other guys spent hours and hours and hours writing riffs, and I’m like, “Yeah, I don’t give a fuck. I just want a revolution.”
They’re like, “What?!”
I’m like, “It’s all about the revolution.”
To a certain extent, I could see how that would be true.
We definitely separated because one of the basic issues was, of course, that I was so adamant.
Music, for me, was just a vehicle to overthrow capitalism, and they’re like, “We just want to be in a kick-ass rock band, and you’re just crazy.”
I was like, “Those guys are not revolutionary.”
So in a little way, but that was not the main reason.
But I was not an easy person to deal with at that time (laughs).
I wanted to ask you how Refused songs were written.
Mostly it was Chris and David that came up with riffs and ideas and then I did the vocals and lyrics and then we, in the practice space, just got them together. Chris and David are super-talented, but they have a very – if you leave them unchecked, they can work on a song for two years. Keep changing, keep changing. I would come in and be like, “Alright, this is the chorus, this is the verse, and now put it together.”
So it was a collaborative effort, but they wrote most of the riffs. Chris is a genius. He worked on the “New Noise” riff for like a year.
Explain “Summerholidy vs. Punkroutine” – the meaning behind that song.
At the time, Refused was getting kind of popular, at least in Europe and Sweden, and a lot of our meetings and a lot of time was spent talking about economy, and it bummed me out. Because I was like –
Economy, like, being cheap?
Economy as like, we have to do this tour, and this is how much money we’re going to get, and we have to rent –
Like budgeting-type stuff.
Budgeting. And it bummed me out. I hate to talk about it. I mean, still, to this day: Being in a band, it’s a lot of budgeting and a lot of economy. But at that point, I wanted the band just to be a punk band. Just play punk. And we had all these offers. That’s what that song is about: the frustration of being torn between, let’s do it for real, but I just want to be punk.
So it’s like, “Is this a summer holiday, or is this an exercise in budgeting and trying to make a living?”
Touring is a summer holiday?
Yeah. Touring, for me, that’s what it’s supposed to be like. And then, “punkroutine” – you have all these meetings and label people telling you this and that. It freaked me out. Now I’m a bit more used to it. Now it’s just a part of everyday life (laughs), but at that point, I think I was not ready for it.
Basic Skills Review, Supreme Commander, Killer of Sheep, JJ & the Bandits, and Cultivator
Ras Hall, Feb. 19, 2012
For the win and for the record: Fuck the world, I love a Sunday matinee.
This show was sort of a tester for the semi-regular Sunday matinees happening at the new venue Ras Hall on Georgia Avenue, and I wanted to see how this was going to play out.
For the youth, today we had a pretty diverse bill that ranged from the rock-a-silly sounds of JJ and the Bandits to the old-school hardcore fury of Basic Skills Review to one of the most intense and interesting bands I’ve seen in a long time.
I don’t know what it was that got me so amped on Sunday matinee shows in the first place (maybe it’s because I really liked that “Best of New York Hardcore” CD), but Sunday is the first day of my weekend with my current work schedule, so it feels like I get to wake up on “Saturday,” roll out of bed, put on some clothes and begin day-drinking with a bunch of my rock / punk friends. Nobody cannot not say that does not sound fun. The order of operations this afternoon for me was to greet everyone I knew standing outside, repeat inside with everyone and grab a beer. I wet my whistle and walked around Ras Hall checking it out – this place is a straight-up shrine or museum or something for Haile Selassie: Big awesome mural behind the stage area, lots of framed photos, newspapers and posters, lots of flags for Ethiopia, Jamaica, and the good ol’ USA as well. Ras Hall has a very cool vibe that is very appropriate for the District of Bad Brains.
JJ Damage and the Bandits play their own brand of D.C. / Appalachian punk influenced rockabilly and they do an admirable job of keeping my interest in spite of the fact that I really can’t stand this shit.
I’m completely and unabashedly honest about this fact to audiences such as the boys in the band. They have a lot of fun, though (you can see it on their faces), and they are a good band. They managed to keep me focused by keeping enough of punk rock in their music.
This was the first time I’ve seen this band with a decent sound system, which, for this band, really makes a difference. I could really make out what they were doing this time, unlike the previous times I’ve caught them. It’s good to see that under a microscope these boys come out shining.
You should definitely check these guys out if you are into punk and also happen to be a hillbilly.
Next up was one of two touring bands down here from Pittsburgh: Cultivator.
Cultivator is a really great three-piece unit and that plays a great style of hardcore that brings very cool, fun, fast Black Flag-y West Coast-style and Black Sabbath-y slowdowns and deep low ends and then throws in a Minutemen reference because they are a musically and lyrically powerful three piece and a Bad Brains reference because they have a positive message to the music (and some crucial dreads on the singer) – and, there, you probably have every review about these guys that anyone will ever write or read – and that review is accurate as hell!
They took a lot of my favorite bands and made their own beautiful thing out of the pieces. I managed to somehow get myself high on weed and I was talking to the singer and he was talking about CDs and records and how the band needs to make a decision and I hope they do it soon so that I can get my hands on these jams and really get to take in a lot more of what they have to say but upon first inspection: like, whoa, Cultivator, man.
I hope they come down to this area as often as possible.
They played a relatively short set but the energy was so fun the whole time that even if they had played for a full hour I probably still would have thought their set was short. Try to check this band out and try and cop their record or CD (or whatever) whenever these guys make it happen.
Next up is BSR, Basic Skills Review – a bunch of cats who came out of the Reston, Virginia region and have been active in the hardcore/punk rock community for probably a combined 80-100 years, and I don’t think they wasted any of that time.
BSR is a group of really smart and talented guys who come together and show bands half their age what having energy looks like. I know for a fact that I definitely don’t move around like Brian, but I’m old, too, so who cares? You young kids have no excuse! Watch this guy and learn. Every BSR set I’ve caught was tight and fast and aggressive, but also filled with good vibes.
One of the things I like about BSR is that they play straightforward fast hardcore, but don’t ever let their band be pigeonholed. There are lots of cool breaks and changes, lots of sing-a-longs and fing-er-points, something for the circle pit kids, something for the 2 steppers and something for a drunk Dave Andrews to run around to, knocking people over like a bulldozer. Get into it if you aren’t already.
You can get the “Scab sessions” CD at most of their shows, which I believe is a recording from a University of Maryland radio show they performed on and I think they might be coming out with something a little more refined before much longer.
The next band was Killer of Sheep. They too are from Pittsburgh. They are so much better than your band!
I had heard people talking about them like they were on some whole other shit and it turns out they are. Best band I’ve heard in awhile.
I’m telling you: This singer dude is intense. He throws himself around recklessly and screams his head off. The rest of the band plays hardcore like it is some kind of big living serpent that is surging and lunging everywhere trying to lash out and damage everything in striking distance. You think I’m kidding. I’m not. I’m typing with a face that is straighter than yr edge. You probably think, “Oh it’s just Dave: He was probably high. You can’t take his review seriously,” and I am just Dave, and I was pretty high, and my review is 100% accurate.
I wish I could have stuck around, but I needed to leave, so unfortunately Supreme Commander got skipped, but I will review their show as if I had been there, because I’ve seen them enough times and I was just listening to the new record of theirs three nights ago and it’s bona fide: This album is probably going to prove to be the best album to come out of the district of Bad Brains in 2012, and that is going up against stiff competition from the likes of Nervous Impulse, Copstabber and others.
Supreme Commander almost definitely came out of the box swinging for the fences because they always do and when you step onstage after a band like Killer of Sheep you have to or else people are going to think you suck – and Supreme Commander ain’t gonna go out like no punk!
I’m pretty sure Boo stomped around and Todd and Dan looked at each other knowingly several times throughout the set and Reiter didn’t miss a beat (if anything he threw in a bunch of extra ones). This set was probably awesome and I am disappointed that I missed it, but after a show like this – even if you have some regrets and were bulldozed repeatedly by a drunk Dave Andrews – the rewards outweigh the negative feelings and you just have to be glad that you got to be there, in that place at that time. This was my afternoon and this was a lot of other afternoons.
Hello. My name is James, and I’m reviewing myself.
This is what happened when my band, Surgery Dot Com, played at Comet Ping Pong on 11/19/11 with Booze Riot and Replicant, pushing our agenda of broken amps, wrecked minds and ruined lives.
This was only Surgery Dot Com’s second show. The first one was in September at the Corpse Fortress with At The Graves, the Coits, and two bands from Olympia, WA, that ruled. So, we were very eager and amped for this show.
We worked hard to write a sick set of new tunes which we couldn’t wait to subject an audience to. With that in mind, we warmed up in the parking lot. My former job is a few doors away from Comet and I barely suppressed the urge to vandalize that basement bookstore coffee-shop piloted by a Napoleon complexioned swine which shall aptly remain nameless.
My original plan was to send every member of Booze Riot and The Coits into the place right before closing time and have them order complicated and expensive drinks only to proclaim that their drinks sucked while demanding reparations. But since one Coit couldn’t make it to this show, the potential for the destruction of property and a brawl was severely reduced and that put a damper on the whole evening.
Anyway, back to reality for ping-pong and pizza. The Com has one of the best vegan pizzas I have enjoyed inside the Beltway. While munching a slice, I started getting into that nice whoa-where-am-I-what-the-hell-is-going-on-who-am-I-why-am-I-here-whoa-man-whoa-rock-n-roll state of mind that generally sets in before a gig.
Replicant opened the show with what could aptly be termed “some good, heavy, post-hardcore-influenced metal. The ‘Cants seem to be nice guys who are enthusiastic about what they do. Fun fact: They had, by far, the nicest gear of the three bands on this bill, and accordingly they sound far more professional than yr humble Dot Commies. They reminded me a little bit of Zao, but are more “musical.” I eventually learned that the guitar player used to be in a band with one of the Zaoists. Let’s just say he that didn’t have any fond things to say about him. Yeow! Whoa! Hey! Alright!
While Booze Riot was setting up, somebody plugged an ipod into the PA and played Black Flag and Minor Threat and noisy ’90s alternative rock, which ironically put me in just the right mood for the Booze Riot. I’m very intimate with this band – a little too intimate, some might say. Their guitarist and vocalist, Brain Riot, is one of my (and Ross Dot Com’s) roommates, so the Riots is at the house often (a little too often, some might say), and we all share gear and booze and food and stuff – it’s kind of like we’re all members of the same tribe, or, to be more specific, like we’re all a mottled collection of flies, united by our position inside a tangled spider’s world wide web, vibrating frantically, arrhythmically, and pathetically.
Speaking of Booze Riot, I’ve heard like a million of their practices. They keep getting heavier, tighter, crazier and, in a word: better.
This show was the best I’ve seen yet. What I love about this band – in addition to the Riot’s straightforward and catchy old-school punk/hardcore rock – is BR’s attitude. Far too often, bands give me the impression that they’re running down a checklist of requirements for whatever genre or scene they’re trying to fit into.
The Riot does not give me this impression.
Rather, the Riot gives me the impression that they are insane motherfuckers (literally) who aren’t out to impress you, me, or anyone else. BR’s mass of confidence, energy and good old fashioned audience harassment made their’s my favorite set of the night. …
… My spazz-o-meter ticked up another notch as Surgery Dot Com prepared to hit it.
I was planning on using Booze bassist Aus Doyle’s amp since mine blew out at practice the night before (not the first (or second or third or fourth) time I’ve pulled that off); then Doyle’s amp blew a fuse at the end of their set. Luckily, Replicant’s bass dogg was cool enough to loan me his rig. It’s always chill to use other people’s stuff that’s way nicer than anything I could ever afford.
Before I’d even had time to attempt to figure out how this amp worked, Ross was surfing waves of feedback and Dan was slaying his drums, setting up the intro to our first song. I “got it together” just in time.
What happened next is what usually happens to me during a gig that doesn’t suck: As soon as I started playing, the spazz receded and was replaced by total immersion in the music.
I love playing in this band. I love Ross’ twisted and gnarled, yet pretty, layers of guitar and the way he sings mellow melodies on top of it, and I love how Dan plays choppy off-beat (yet also on-beat) rhythms with understated tastefulness.
I hope my bass playing, with its hardcore and Black Sabbath influences, sounds good with what they do.
I’m not sure how to best describe what we do, but we’ve been compared to Sonic Youth, Placebo, Swans, Q And Not U, and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah zzzzzzzzzz.
What I know for sure is that the three of us tore it up at this show. The songs sounded tight, the stage banter was almost as awkward as a Lemonheads gig, the crowd was decent-sized and seemed into it, and we were way into it. Everything was going great until the last song. Ross and I were so overly distorted that we got lost in the sauce. At one point I looked at Dan and then at Ross and realized that we were each playing different parts of the song. I guess they caught this at the same time, because the next thing I know, Ross is flailing across the stage and throwing his guitar on top of a speaker to let it feedback and Dan and I jam our way out of the mess. The audience, of course, is largely unaware that we arguably made a mistake — they’re loving it!
Thanks a bunch to Rep, Booze, Ross ‘n’ Dan, Comet, vegan pizza, jobs that fire me, gullible audiences, DayAfterDay and whoever’s reading this.
In order of importance, the morals of this story are:
A) Always play from the heart.
B) There’s a sucker born every minute.