The State of the Ark in the United States, or Why a Glam Rock Band Could Change Your Life
Ola Salo explains his band's semi-political, melancholic, and eternal rump shakers.
In 2006, America is going to hear about Sweden's finest glam rockers, the Ark. Frontman Ola Salo describes the Ark's takeover in his proper Swedish accent: "We are going to conquer it, of course, and turn it into the State of the Ark, the United States of the Ark, it'll be called. You can still call it USA." Behind the swagger lies an enviable confidence, the confidence of a guy who is doing exactly what he should do. He cites the Ark's oeuvre, including blazing singles like "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane" and "One of Us Is Gonna Die Young", as songs that "will be immortal, evergreen, and people will sing them in the future when we have to leave earth in spaceships, these little songs".
The state of the Ark in 2006 is a super-fun band that falls squarely within the Glam rock tradition. Like the accepted gods of glam music -- David Bowie, T. Rex, and Queen -- Salo understands that rock 'n' roll means that you're something greater than yourself, a fabulous freaky projection from Mars. You can see it in glam's finest examples of film, Velvet Goldmine and Hedwig and the Angry Inch. (Additionally, John Cameron Mitchell, Hedwig's creator, nominated the Ark's 2005 album, State of the Ark for a New Pantheon Music Prize.) Salo's vision of rock wants to stand hand in hand with Bowie, and he calls the Ark "a very unique band and our combination of catchy songs and unique lyrics should work".
State of the Ark will receive a 2006 release in the states, which means that Salo and his band will be reaching out to America beyond New York City showcases for the first time. Salo cites PopMatters' review of State of the Ark as an accurate sumnation of the Ark's sound. He calls this third album "Harsher. Minimalist. I was really inspired by minimalist music. Roxy Music. I was listening to lots of new wave, Gary Newman, Devo, that sort of thing. I wanted a more anorectic sound, a more skeletal sound. Thin and dry, small sound. Some people were a little shocked when they heard the album, some people thought that they weren't finished songs." Singles like "Let Me Down Gently" are more dancey than the Ark's previous efforts; however, Salo is quick to note: "It's also melancholic. Melancholic ass-shaking with a tear in your eye."
The Ark are known for a blazing live show, and they've toured with bands like the Darkness, who are doing a similar thing in music. Salo mentions that the band design their own stage clothes and utilize different tailors to bring their vision to life. "We've always liked spectacular stage clothing, it's been an inspiration from the very start. We wanted to be in a band with a strong visual identity, like David Bowie, Roxy Music, or Kiss. We express ourselves with style, and as the lead singer, I get more flamboyant clothes. Normally I do costume changes." As openers for the Darkness, they are limited to a half hour, so Salo makes do: "Now we go up on stage and we're looking a little evil with black leather and a lot of shiny silver things. I have this cap that I bought in a nice quaint shop on Christopher St., a nice store called The Leatherman, with very nice men who were very helpful, to buy me my black leather hat. It's a military hat with a visor. Then we have a lot of fur and studs, shiny objects, and our leather stuff. We look really good. We have a harder look to balance our sweetness."
However, while the Ark are breaking in America now, they've been a band since 1991. Salo was a minister's son who grew up playing music, and the rest of the band are childhood friends who all grew up in the tiny town of Rottene. Salo describes the town as "Somewhere... nowhere. It's called Rottene. Which, as you'll see, is very similar to the word rotten. It was quite a small, boring place where most people worked in industry making forest tools. It was a typical rural village, so we moved to Malmo [one of Sweden's larger towns] in 1996."
It took a small town to create a glam band, and they've been excellent since their debut. Find an attractive Swedish friend (as the Ark are probably one of the biggest rock bands there, behind Kent) and get your hands on a copy of their 2000 album, We Are the Ark. They're photoshopped to high heaven looking like avenging angels in jumpsuits and leather vests on the cover, and within lie songs like "Echo Chamber" and "It Takes a Fool to Remain Sane." "Echo Chamber" was the song that broke the band. There's a catchy two-chord guitar progression, rousing drums, and Salo singing "echo echo echo echo" until the song breaks, and he's doing his best Freddie Mercury, singing in italics, saying "No! Have you ever said, 'No, no, no' / I thought so, ' cuz everybody says 'YES!' / Everywhere you go!" Salo describes the song as a gift and a curse, "That was the song that made us big and opened us up to a really wide audience in Sweden, to the point where rednecks, small children, and senior people [were listening to us]. When we walk down the street, a lot of people shout, 'Echo echo,' and sometimes, people say 'Echo echo, you fucking faggot.' So it's like 'echo echo' has become --vwe all have mixed emotions about that song. It is a little corny and I must admit that it, too, is immortal, evergreen."
Salo and the Ark have always been outspoken in their corner of Sweden. Their 2002 album, In Lust We Trust, features the song "Father of a Son", which is about adoption rights for gay couples. "The song was addressed to people in power, who legislate and oppress, but it was strange, once the song was out, it wasn't against the state anymore," Salo mentions. "We got a lot of positive reaction to the song. The negative reactions we never really came in contact with. The public debate in Sweden is very PC. So the people who were against us we never came in contact with. You don't hear their opinions in public, you hear them on the streets, shouting things at you. I know I ended up on a death list web site. I guess I'm supposed to be there anyways. There was a law that homosexuals couldn't adopt in Sweden. It was changed weeks before the song was released. It was a triumphant song for this new situation. But just because the law changed, it doesn't change the minds of narrow-minded people, so the song did a good job. It's very catchy and a lot of people who wouldn't agree with our opinions on queer rights go around humming the song without realizing what they were humming until it was too late."
Salo concludes that his songwriting process, the politics of his songs, depend on "Indoctrination. It's something I use a lot. It's a very interesting thing. It's what my art is about." Of course, Salo's balancing politics and glam rock basics: "Yeah, leotards, I have some of them. A leotard is a kind of catsuit, right? Nice word. I will use it in a lyric. I had hoped that it would rhyme with leopard. It's spelled that way, isn't it? It's a pity it doesn't rhyme."