The World’s Northernmost Southern Rock Band
Back in the early 2000’s, my old band (who had a song called “Twitter” almost a decade before, well… you know) was signed to a Swedish label called Lunasound Recordings. The label was run by a gentleman with obviously impeccable tastes named Stuart Ness and his wife Chelsea Krook (an ex-member of the “apocalyptic folk” band, Ordo Rosarius Equilibrio) out of what was described to me as a small castle in the countryside outside of Stockholm. Lunasound was small and diverse and had a catalogue that consisted of everything from a brutal death metal band from London called Infestation to ex-Melvins bassist Mark Deutrom’s first solo record to whatever skronky noise I used to have my hands in. Also signed to the label was a band from Sweden called Backdraft. This quintet may have called Stockholm home, but they churned out the southern rock so authentically on their debut album, 2001’s Here to Save You All that you wouldn’t have been kicked out of the barn for assuming the band hailed from somewhere deep beneath the Mason-Dixon Line.
Apparently, Swedes steeped in stroking themselves silly over the sort of cultural exports comprising the recent “American Fest” held in Upplands-Väsby on the 4th of July weekend agree, as Backdraft played this fest and, more recently, at a drag racing event at the drag racing hotspot of Ljusdal.
I discovered, via the wonders of J. Bennett’s interhole, that the band have recently released a new album called This Heaven Goes to Eleven. So, I quickly tracked down bassist (and former label-mate) Mats Rydström who took time out from his busy schedule of shopping for bell-bottoms, growing his beard, driving his General Lee-painted Volvo around Stockholm and filling old-timey spittoons with tobacco spit to answer a few questions.
How do you find European and Scandinavian crowds reacting to the fact you’re Swedish, but sound so amazingly American?
They don’t seem to think much about that. We get more surprise reactions from the US, really. Although, ever since we started out, our thing hasn’t really been very fashionable and we’ve always been a bit of an anomaly; every long-haired, bell-bottomed, bearded band has been, until just a few years ago when all of a sudden, every 20-year-old kid was into Skynyrd, Ted Nugent and country. I don’t really know what spurred that reaction, but I’ve thought about it a lot. I help run “Club Nuggets” once a month in Stockholm, with all sorts of old-school country, blues, bluegrass and some southern rock live bands. We always have a great turnout, and people really know their stuff.
When you play a festival, how often do you have someone say, “Really? You’re Swedish? I thought you were from Arkansas?”
Unfortunately, that happens far too seldom, due to the simple fact we play way too few festivals! Though, many of the original reviews went along those lines. I think Kerrang wrote that we were, “Southern rock with a geography problem,” but what’s the problem? Okay, we’re northern rock. Arctic rock! Music’s universal, that’s how we’ve always thought about it anyways, and these days you can hear pretty convincing stuff in every genre from most corners of the world. We’ve got good bluegrass and country musicians in Sweden as well. I don’t know if it’s due to our hi-tech infrastructure, music school education or government support. But yes, the times we’ve played with American bands, such as Hawgjaw or Black Stone Cherry, and got a pat on the back saying we deliver the goods… that’s a good feeling. We played a drag racing event up north in Sweden last weekend, and that could’ve been rural Pennsylvania, or wherever. It’s the mentality, not the geography.
For the new album, what were you trying to do differently? Were there any past mistakes you wanted to avoid?
Our three albums have all been pretty different, as we’ve kept changing and also surely due to the fact that we tend to take a lot off time between albums. The first one, Here to Save You All was pretty rough, loud and heavy and basically had all the songs we knew back then. The Second Coming was put together in a completely different way after we reunited the band in 2006-2007, using both older and newer ideas, but stripping the sound back a bit, making everything drier and less metal. This time around we started thinking about the album just after our new guitarist Jon [Sundberg] joined in early 2009, but it took a year to get the songs ready and by mid-2010 we were pretty much finished. We wanted to avoid the mistake of doing it slowly and meticulously. We were gonna go in and do it in two or three weeks, but then technical problems, schedule problems and the luxury of having too much time with our own studio completely killed that plan. Six months later we still weren’t finished. Then, the mix took a month or so. Then, securing a deal and preparing took a few more… But here we finally are. Next time it’s gonna be fast, I promise! What we ended up with was perhaps even less of a metal influence and a more diverse album incorporating everything we like from classic to southern rock with blues and country elements, but also we weren’t afraid to experiment with Rhodes pianos, near-AOR backing vocals and acoustic guitars. It’s never been a conscious decision to try to make different kinds of songs, but it’s a conscious decision not to limit ourselves too much and go “No, that’s not Backdraft!” So with that in mind, I think This Heaven Goes To Eleven came out great, it’s my favorite album of ours, since it does take a trip all over the place.
What do you hope that people take away from Backdraft after a gig or spending time with one of your albums?
Hopefully, just a little less of what burdened them before and more of what makes them feel good about themselves. On this album, we’ve touched on a lot more personal, serious themes, but also kept the tongue-in-cheek, rock ’n’ roll vibe going. Everyone doesn’t have to know exactly from what point of view a song is written; whether they pick up on the actual meaning or not, it’s optional. But we are always trying to work on different levels – from personal to universal, and simple to obscure. From a live show, you should expect a tight but loose, hard-hitting but dynamic, serious but humorous hour-long set of balls-out rock. We’re in need of some solid booking agents to put us out there, however. We have a week’s worth of gigs in Spain in October and are booking Swedish shows for the fall as well, but would like to travel a lot more.
Do you know whatever happened to Lunasound Recordings?
We’re still great friends with Stuart, who ran the label. He was a great help putting us on the map, as he used to do PR for UK labels and was well connected with press all over the world. We just got on the label when things started to happen, with a lot of bands showing interest, although I think in the end many of them didn’t really have much potential to sell, but our debut sold well and we actually even made some money off it (to fund our disastrous tours)! I was at his flat recently and found the first demo tape we sent him, some 10+ years ago. Good memories! I used to work a bit as PR for Lunasound on a voluntary basis in 2002-2003, helping out hooking up interviews etc, and the last few records he released were truly awesome: Sir Hedgehog, the great Canadian band Bionic (don’t know if they’re still around), and the Supersuckers Motherfuckers Be Trippin’, which I think was licensed for Europe from their own label, Mid-Fi. Then, as I recall, the distributor, Plastichead bought the label and after that I don’t know if they just buried it or kept using it to put out records along the same lines. We’re all out of Here to Save You All now, but we’ve been looking at a possibly re-mastered re-release of it at some point in the future. Now, if my hard drive just hadn’t died a month ago…
Interested in checking these meatball eatin’ yokels out?
Or, if Spotify is available in your country, this is a convenient link for free streaming: http://open.spotify.com/album/2QnWNM5VfTsDtSGPt2SWQ7
All photos: Ricky Franzén, (www.rick-y.com).