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The Cardigans’ first U.S. tour in six years kicked off in the Big Apple this May, in support of their fifth LP Long Gone Before Daylight, with three shows at some of NYC’s best intimate venues—Maxwell’s in Hoboken, Southpaw in Brooklyn and finally the stately Bowery Ballroom. For a multi-platinum band accustomed to playing to acres of fans at European festivals, it’s a bit baffling why this band would choose such small spaces, even to the band itself.


“I really don’t know,” explains guitarist / composer Peter Svensson. “These days we don’t get much financial support from the record company. In the future, only the stadium bands will be able to afford to go on tour. But it has been six years since the last U.S. tour and Gran Turismo didn’t do too well, so it’s really like a new start.”


The Swedes may be a modest bunch, but someone should remind Svensson (and apparently his record company) that Gran Turismo actually did quite well. 2.5 million units well. In any event, the smaller side of venues on this current month-long U.S. tour suits Svensson just fine.


“I must say that I really look forward to playing these songs in small intimate clubs,” Svensson confesses.


Indeed, the songs of their latest release, have a relaxed, easy feel to them, a stark contrast to the dark frenetic laptop-assisted Gran Turismo.


Long Gone finds the band with the race miles behind them. They’ve pawned their laptop, traded in the Formula 1 for the Winnebago, and gone back to nature. “The goal with this record was to make everything as simple and natural as possible.”


As the primary composer, Svensson is at largely responsible for the band’s new simpler, earthy sound. And although he and bassist Magnus Sveningsson are life-long metal heads (“as an old fan I really enjoyed the last Metallica album”), Svensson admits that he’s found more inspiration recently from ‘70s classic rock rather from his contemporaries. “I’ve been really bad at listening to new albums lately. I’ve been mostly going back to old stuff—Neil Young, The Band, The Allmans, Fleetwood Mac,” he says.


The music inspired by such acts provides a perfect backdrop to Nina Persson’s increasingly confessional lyrics on Long Gone, which flow from the ebbs and tides of her personal relationships, and at times can begin to conjure Chrissie Hynde. Hell, Persson’s even gone brunette, and it somehow shows in her grounded lyrics which emote a gravitas absent in their prior efforts.


But unlike previous Cardigans’ albums dominated by the Svensson’s music and Persson’s words, Svensson explains that the latest effort is fittingly communal—featuring more collaboration from the entire band. “All members were more involved in the process of arranging and recording. We really wanted to get back to the feeling of a real band playing.”


In order to make an organic sounding record work, the bandmates need to like each other. And following Gran Turismo, that meant getting away. Rumors of breakup, and ego clashes stemming from a spotlight constantly fixed on the captivating Persson, suggested that a new record might never get made, let alone a record so intimate. But according to Svensson, “all members of the band had enough time after Gran Turismo to get some distance and to work on personal lives,” and to pursue other non-Cardigans related ventures. Svensson produced an album for Swedish soul diva (and Neneh Cherry’s half-sister) Titiyo; and both bassist Magnus Sveningsson and Persson released confessional solo albums, Persson with the help of Sparklehorse’s Mark Linkous.


But after exploring outside interests and getting some well-needed time apart, the band members were eager to return to the lineup that had propelled them to international stardom. But if their set lists at the New York shows are any indication, this is a band also eager to outgrow its past.


As an act unjustly labeled a one-hit wonder for the runaway success of the single “LoveFool” on the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack, the Cardigans may have overcompensated by shunning virtually their entire back catalog. They played “LoveFool” only once during the three day stint, and at the Bowery Ballroom, not a single track was played from the band’s masterpiece First Band On The Moon (1997).


Instead of fan favorites, the Cardigans played virtually the entire new album. They played it well, mind you—“You’re the Storm” and “A Good Horse” both found Persson typically mesmerizing and bassist Sveningsson doing his best to stomp the crowd into action. But ultimately the band failed to connect with the eager audience who were wholly unfamiliar with the set list, as Long Gone had yet to be released at showtime.


A risky decision for a band in self-imposed exile that now needed to reconnect with its American fan base. But as Svensson explains, it’s not easy to remain passionate about their back catalog, when the band is so enjoying the organic, earthy mood of their latest release. “Since all our albums sound quite different, you’re really caught up in the latest release and could do without playing anything else. It can be okay to play some old songs when you’re on stage—it just seems impossible during rehearsals.”


While the band may have shunned their early material to work out these new confessional songs in small venues, that approach could change later this summer when the band joins Liz Phair on the “Chicks Who Rock” tour, which will certainly play to larger arenas and amphitheaters. Phair will headline a lineup she handpicked to be sort of a louder Lilith Fair. But interestingly, the two acts couldn’t be moving in two more different directions. Where Phair’s most recent album was a blatant pop crossover dribble, Long Gone makes no attempt to duplicate or even approach the pop success of “LoveFool”.


“I’ve always had the feeling that ‘no one’s gonna play this on the radio’ making our albums, but I’ve been proven wrong,” he explains. “This time that feeling might be stronger, but I think we still felt that we were making our best album yet, so there wasn’t anything we could possibly have done about it.”


And best of all, while Gran Turismo left them burned out for five years, Long Gone has left them geared up with enough gas in the tank to already begin work on their sixth LP.


“Things are so different today; we are a much happier band. We have already started to talk about making a new album, which before was impossible until 12 months after a tour,” says Svensson.


And as the band closes its first decade of existence, Svensson is sensitive to the need to reinvent oneself in order to remain vital. Remarking that the summer’s biggest concert draws feature mostly well-worn, comeback acts—which his band might be considered—Svensson confesses to having mixed emotions. “Madonna is still putting out great stuff, so that’s okay. But the other day I saw an ad for a Thin Lizzy show. That sucks.”

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