PopMatters chatted with guitarist Daniel Värjö about moving on without Victoria Bergsman, the band's new disco grooves, and musical influences ranging from Anthony Russell to My Morning Jacket.
After parting ways with lead singer Victoria Bergsman in 2006, Swedish pop collective the Concretes rushed to release Hey Trouble on their own label, Licking Fingers. The album title captured this rocky period for the band, as they struggled to find their way as the "new" Concretes. Three years later they've returned with renewed confidence, a slinky disco sound, and a new label: the Brooklyn-based Friendly Fire. WYWH, which dropped last November, combines keyboards with heavy basslines, dance tunes with downtempo numbers, all set against gloomy Stockholm skies. The band is currently touring the U.S. and Canada to promote the new album. PopMatters chatted with guitarist Daniel Värjö about moving on without Bergsman, the band's new disco grooves, and musical influences ranging from Anthony Russell to My Morning Jacket.
So I read that one of you guys joined the circus.
That wasn't me. I was the one who got married and bought a house [laughs]. It's Ludwig [Rylander] who’s been touring with a circus for while. It's a modern circus. It's called Cirkus Cirkör, and they tour with dancers and a band playing. It’s not like elephants standing on chairs or anything like that [laughs].
It's been a few years since Hey Trouble.
It was so intense with the Concretes, from 2003 to 2007, with making records and touring all the time. And so much stuff happened on the way. Victoria left the band and we lost a contract with EMI Records afterwards in the States. And with Hey Trouble, we made it in three months after Victoria left the band, just to show that we were still a band. And we wanted to prove it to ourselves first. We tried to release it ourselves and it didn't go very well at all. It was too much to do, to release it ourselves. And all those things made us a bit tired of the band. It was like it all came back to us with Victoria leaving the band. It was like we weren't even going to play anymore after that. And so we had some time off from the band. We came back and we didn't want to sound like before. We wanted to have a different sound.
Lisa is a bit of a different singer than Victoria. She's grown a lot on this album, both when it comes to vocal performance and songwriting and lyrics and all that. She's grown a lot and I'm really impressed by that. And now we have a new drummer [Dante Kinnumen] who's very different from Lisa. So we wanted to build the band, build up the band again with that in mind. A new sound came out when we started rehearsing and making songs.
I've really been digging this new disco vibe. What inspired you guys?
We started out with the idea of making music to actually dance to, which we never really made before. But we still wanted to sound like the Concretes and not like Hot Chip or whatever, or Lady Gaga. We really wanted to sound like the Concretes. We really wanted to make sad songs -- a melancholy sound -- because we think the best disco songs from the late '70s and early '80s are quite sad songs. They're mostly minor, bittersweet combination of music you want to dance to, but also a bit sad. We listened a lot to Arthur Russell and we all wanted to do those weird disco things that he did. He's made a song called "That's Us/Wild Combination" that's one of our favorite songs ever. We also listened to a lot of rock bands that have gone with disco grooves, like My Morning Jacket. Their disco songs we absolutely love. They're very airy and a bit like kraut, and also atmospheric, and bouncy and dancy. And also like the Rolling Stones's "Miss You", which we made a cover of a long time ago. It was very disco, very cool.
The new album name drops Squeeze and Paul Simon. Were they also an inspiration for you all on this album?
Not really for this album, but both Paul Simon and Squeeze have made songs that we really love. It's music we always play at parties and when we DJ. So it's not an emphasis for this album, when it comes to sound. With songwriting, but not in sound.
Some of your best early work has a slightly spooky quality to it, and then there was a shift to a brighter sound with In Colour. Some of those haunted feelings are back on the new record.
That's something we've wanted to do, absolutely. We wanted "atmospheric" and we wanted shades and something a bit dark, and not very clear. We wanted something a bit dreamy. We had been having sort of our folk period, but that ended with this album [laughs]. There aren't any signs of folk music on this album. But we are making alternative versions of songs which will be released on iTunes that are folk-y versions of the songs on the album.
"Good Evening" was everyone's first taste of the new album, and it's also the first track. You just released "All Day" as a single, which sounds very different from "Good Evening".
With "Good Evening", we're really proud of how it sounds. It's also the most different track from what we've done before. We just wanted to show that there's a new Concretes with this album. That was the decision behind that. We weren't thinking about radio play or anything like that. We're just really proud of that song and we wanted to show it to our fans, and to point out our new direction.
You worked with Thomas Klementsson on the "All Day" video.
Yeah, he actually did our very first video for "You Can't Hurry Love". Also he's photographed us many times. He's a fan of the band.
You guys decided to leave "wish you were here" as an acronym for the title.
Yeah, it's already the title of an album by Pink Floyd. And with ours, we wanted to have this postcard touch. You write that ["WYWH"] on postcards.
The album's relative lack of guitars is striking. How's that been for you as the band's guitarist?
I'm absolutely fine with that [laughs]. On the previous albums there's been lots of guitars. Maria's [Eriksson] been playing guitar and Ludvig's been playing guitar. On this album it's only me playing guitar. Actually, I'm almost playing as much as I used to [laughs]. When we wanted to change the band's sound, we had to change it in many ways. Guitars have really been in focus previously. And that's one thing we wanted to change. And also we wanted to bring in synthesizers and keyboards, which we've never had a lot of actually.
How's it been with your new label, Friendly Fire?
I love them! For this album we wanted to do it different all the way, from the sound to how it's released. We really wanted an enthusiastic indie label. And they actually got in touch with us quite a long time ago, before the album was even finished. They've been enthusiastic about us and that's what we fell for.
You guys have been around for 15 years and I hear your band's influence in great indie and pop music coming out of Sweden and Stockholm, in particular. How and where do you see your band among the artists coming out of Sweden?
We've never been thinking in terms of that, actually. I don't know how much we've been influencing them or if they have the same influences that we have. I have no idea, actually. The Stockholm scene is quite small when it comes to numbers. We play the same venues in front of the same crowds. We pretty much know each other or at least know of each other. Of course, you get inspired by bands you actually see in Stockholm. If we've had any impact on younger bands, then we're really happy with that of course.
Have you all thought about your future plans for the band?
We haven't been talking about that. We've had so much fun with this album and we're so happy with it and proud of it. I would be surprised if we don't make new songs quite soon. But no "concrete" plans [laughs].