In 2003, Swedish popsters Shout Out Louds grabbed the ears of many with their debut Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, which featured terribly infectious songs like “The Comeback” and “Very Loud”. 2007’s Our Ill Wills was—like many a sophomore effort—more polarizing, partly because it didn’t have quite the same melodic gloss.
Fortunately, before making album number three the band agreed to take some time off to recharge while each member went their separate ways. Lead singer Adam Olenius had some ideas floating around while in Stockholm, but journeyed to Melbourne, Australia to flesh them out more.
The result is Work, a joyful return to the spirit of Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, which Olenius says was fun to do but that took a lot of, well, you know….
“There was more preparation than the other ones because of working with Phil (producer Phil Ek) and being prepared before going over to Seattle,” Olenius says while walking around Stockholm’s streets in late February. “I think we spent more time in the studio this time, overall maybe a little bit more.”
With flight tickets booked for the United States, where they worked with Ek in his studio, Olenius says the band was excited to get away from Stockholm. Once arriving though, the band figuratively hit the ground stumbling, taking a few days to find their sound while adjusting to the new environs.
“It was a really nice beautiful old barn or stable in Woodinville which I guess is 45 minutes outside of Seattle,” he says. “I think everyone in the band liked to be isolated in that way because we used to have friends in the studio all of the time bringing in beer and wine and wanting to hang out and take you out all of the time. It was nice to be away from that.”
What wasn’t quite as pleasing was adjusting to the demanding regimen Ek placed on the band, as he pushed them hard to get the absolute best out of them musically.
“It was hard because Phil can be such a pain in the ass, he’s very picky,” Olenius says. “‘You can do that again buddy, do that again!’ I remember singing for him was really a hassle but I liked it because I learned a lot from it.
“He broke us down a few times and we thought we were going to give up. We even got some help from the piano player from the Soundtrack of Our Lives (Martin Hederos), he’s a really good jazz pianist. He was like, ‘Shit!’ after working with Phil. Phil is a really sweet guy but he wanted it to be good like a trained musician. I was thinking to myself, ‘Oh, I suck.’ It was hard, it was daunting.”
Perhaps the big difference between Work and Our Ill Wills lies in the sound, which is far more stripped-down and guitar-driven and has a criminally catchy melodic feel.
“We didn’t fill every gap with sounds or anything we could find,” Olenius says. “It’s more of an old-sounding record. We focused more on our own instruments and we didn’t really add much, just concentrated on the melodies. We had a break for six months and everybody was really excited to get back to play, so that excitement we got on tape somehow. It’s really difficult to make that simple kind of music, to have those empty spaces and use them in a good way.”
And that intangible element is clearly audible throughout the record, whether you’re listening to the tight, shimmering “Four By Four” in the album’s homestretch or the opener “1999” which Olenius describes as picking up where “Hard Rain”—the closing number from Our Ill Wills—left off.
“I was in Stockholm and recording in another studio, just visiting and checking out their gear, wanting to see what they had in their studio before booking their studio,” he says of “1999”. “I found this really beautiful piano, it’s 125 years old or something like that. I just started playing on it and wrote the song that day. It’s a quite simple song as well but I love that sort of storytelling and very simple sound.”
And no, it’s not a cover of the Prince hit.
“I was never really afraid of that (confusion),” Olenius adds. “I really love Prince, I like titles with numbers and it’s about the year 1999 when something really great happened to me, so it was fun to use that. The last song ‘Too Late Too Slow’ is actually more inspired by Prince.”
Meanwhile the group also took a bit of the piss out of band performances on television talk shows with their video for “Fall Hard,” an idea that came from bassist Ted Malmros’ brother.
“I think it was to create this David Lynch world you’re in when you’re doing a TV performance,” Olenius says. “Sometimes you prepare a whole day but you’re only up there for three-and-a-half minutes. It’s not so bad in English speaking countries but when you’re in Germany or France and doing television nobody is talking to you which is weird. They just push you out on stage and you feel like a sheep.”
Aside from the television performances, Shout Out Louds will spend much of 2010 on the road, starting with a European tour before heading to North America for a tour kicking off May 2 in Washington, D.C.
“In the beginning I remember our tour manager said we would play a Swedish hour – we didn’t play over an hour but maybe 50 or 55 minutes and we were exhausted,” he says. “Now we’re going to do a much longer show. I think it’s going to be fun to have three albums to choose from for a live performance.”
But surely with the Vancouver Winter Olympics going on, they must be paying some attention to how Sweden is doing.
“Ted and Carl (von Arbin)… there’s big Swedish newspaper here where they have a site where you can start your own (hockey) team, they talk about it every day,” Olenius says. “They were up last night between two and four in the morning watching the (Sweden) hockey game. I like hockey but I don’t have time for that.”
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