Sweden has certainly come a long way since it’s ABBA days of the ‘70s. And we’re not necessarily referring to the spawn of ABBA clone groups like Roxette and Ace of Base of the ‘90s. No, we’re referring to a whole new breed of Swedes so hip that even your parents don’t own their CDs; acts like the Hives, Sahara Hotnights and The Soundtrack of Our Lives (T.S.O.O.L.). True to their socialistic roots, the Swedish government is actually shelling out state money to promote Swedish music internationally. The “Swedish Music Invasion” is being sponsored jointly by Export Music Sweden, an association formed to initiate, assist, and facilitate “the worldwide marketing and promotion of Swedish contemporary music”. Just this month they invested over $40,000 to showcase Swedish bands at the infamous South by Southwest (SXSW) music festival in Austin, Texas. This strategy may be paying off since some analysts suggest that Sweden is now number three in the world, just after the US and the UK, in music exports—not bad for a country with just over 8 million citizens!
When asked about the role T.S.O.O.L. plays in this new Swedish invasion, Ebbot Lundberg, the band’s primary driving force as lead vocalist and primary writer, is quick to shrug it off and claims not to “take much stock in it”. A few years ago T.S.O.O.L. was lavished with effusive praise from the British press. Somehow the buzz never really reached the same intensity on this side of the Atlantic. The only major interest came from Dick Clark, who sued the band for copyright infringement, claiming that the band’s name was his signature phrase used and patented for American Bandstand. At the time of the lawsuit Lundberg hadn’t even heard of either Clark or Bandstand. When asked about the incident Lundberg seemed a little miffed, saying that the band “had to make some compromises like adjustments to our name, like write it out in smaller print or something ridiculous like that.” In fact, T.S.O.O.L. had to add the abbreviated “T.S.O.O.L.” onto its already cumbersome official name in the U.S.
T.S.O.O.L.‘s songs have been described as neo-psychedelic and classic rock, drawing comparisons to ‘60s groups such as Pink Floyd, the Kinks, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Love. Anyone who has had the opportunity to see T.S.O.O.L. in concert probably cannot easily ease from his or her mind the image of the hulking Lundberg prancing around in a psychedelic caftan. Not surprisingly, Lundberg is something of an international cult figure in alternative rock circles. He hangs out with Sonic Youth, once received a postcard from Kurt Cobain, and was heralded by Noel Gallagher of Oasis as being one of greatest rock acts around today. Even Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin is a professed fan. This year T.S.O.O.L. will be playing a few shows with Plant. I asked how Lundberg and T.S.O.O.L. hooked up with Plant and he told me of an amusing story where he first met him at a restaurant back in 1997. Apparently Lundberg was approached by Plant and chatted him up for a quite a while before it dawned on him who it was that he was conversing with. How someone couldn’t recognize Plant and his golden locks is beyond me!
Unlike many of his current Swedish contemporaries, Lundberg is no stranger to the music business. His first prominent band was Union Carbide Productions, a Stooges-influenced punk band. However, by the mid-‘90s internal conflict in the band began to mount and Lundberg was feeling restricted by the narrow focus of the music: “It was the ‘80s and ‘90s and things were different then. You know, we were sort of restricted by the name [Union Carbide Productions]. I mean where can you go from there? We needed a fresh start, and we wanted to have fewer limitations. So we thought why don’t we make movie music, something more open, and choose a name that would be less confining, a name you could live up to?” Thus, the birth of the name “The Soundtrack of Our Lives”. Lundberg, along with Bjorn Olsson and Ian Person from Union Carbide Productions, started fresh with T.S.O.O.L., but some of the old internal strife remained. Olsson eventually left the band, as Lundberg describes it: “It wasn’t until afterwards that I had time to reflect upon it. We just left to start all over again ... and Björn [Olsson] wanted to have this restricted thing, you know a kind of Jaggar and Richards thing happening. I didn’t want to stay so narrow-minded; I wanted to bring in the other members of the band, since there is so much more talent to share with.” So after their first recording, Welcome to the Infant Freebase, Olsson left to pursue his own musical career.
T.S.O.O.L.‘s new album, Origin, Vol. 1 was just recently released Stateside. Similar to their 2001 release Behind the Music, the new album has an even more classic 1960s rock sound. Lundberg told me, “We recorded about 40 songs and ... we wanted a more straightforward sound, sort of back to the roots, thus the name Origin.” Similar to the situation with the album Extended Revelation for the Psychic Weaklings of Western Civilization, which contained spillover material from Welcome to the Infant Freebase, the group plans to release a second album of some of the remaining Origin session material later this year. The album will tentatively be called Origins Support, and will contain “the more psychedelic stuff that we left off Origin.” Origin, Vol. 1 sessions employed the services of Johan Forsman again for production, who was at the helm for Behind the Music. Lundberg confessed that he prefers working in the studio, which would explain the incredible proliferation of material. “I tend to live in the studio, enjoying spending much of my time there ... I like to tinker and experiment.” However, more recently he has begun to “enjoy or appreciate more the social aspect of touring ... we tend to have more energy or are more energized by the experience.” The group should be picking up some steam, then, as T.S.O.O.L. are currently touring throughout the US during March and into the beginning of April.