If it were the 1960's, no doubt the four young men from Sweden known as the Division of Laura Lee would be desirous of an address somewhere in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district. Though it sounds distinctly European, their music is awash in Orange Sunshine, sizzling brain cells on every track of their latest release, Das Not Compute (available on Epitaph Records).
"Breathe Breathe" is an echoing narcotic that lays one's head gently on the Surrealistic Pillow, while the heavy reverb of "Loveless" pushes impossible dreams outtasight, man! For sure D.O.L.L. has an interesting perspective on the Summer of Love, but the current popularity of the psychedelic/garage/punk sound doesn't make it any easier for their music to be heard. The competition just within their native Sweden includes the (International) Noise Conspiracy, the Soundtrack of our Lives, Millencolin and the Hives, to name a few. With that in mind, D.O.L.L. took a day trip to 2004's South by Southwest festival in March in Austin, Texas to play one attention-getting gig before heading back home. The band's jet-lagged singer, Per Stalberg, was understandably absent when Worldly Remains sat down to grill the rest of the group---guitarist David Ojala, bassist Jonas Gustavsson and drummer Hakan Johansson.
Kevin: So was it snowing when you left Sweden?
Hakan: Yeah, it was. That's the best thing right now about being here. I'm fed up with Sweden and the cold weather.
Kevin: So you don't get a chance to do much surfing there, I suppose.
Kevin: What is the radio situation like there? Is there much "underground" radio? Do you guys get a lot of airplay there?
Jonas: It's kind of tough. There's not really an underground or pirate...
David: It's a small country...
Hakan: It's more like student radio. There are a few student stations, and then we have one major public service channel. It's like a monopoly though, all rock music and they choose what is popular at the moment, basically. Then we have all the commercial stations that just play the regular pop---Christina Aguilera or whatever.
Kevin: Does Sweden have a "content" law, where a certain amount of the music played on radio has to be home grown?
Hakan: You mean like they have in France? No not at all, but we've heard about that.
Kevin: So who is big over there?
Hakan: There are a lot of Swedish artists who are on top of the charts who sing in Swedish.
Kevin: Are these artists that you like and respect, or...
Hakan: Most of it is throw-away. But one artist called Jose Gonzalez is a big singer/songwriter who's been huge for the past six months. That's pretty much the only one that's...
Jonas: ...to our taste.
Kevin: Has Division of Laura Lee released any records with Swedish vocals?
Jonas: It's all in English.
Kevin: So you've spoken English all of your lives?
Hakan: Since I was ten years old.
Jonas: We all have English in school, from the third grade on.
Hakan: Also, Sweden is very Americanized. Our culture is very much like what you see over here. So we get all the movies and all the music and everything that you get.
Jonas: All the sitcoms.
Hakan: All the Jerry Springer, everything.
Kevin: What are the prevailing feelings about Americans there right now? Are we welcome?
Hakan: You mean if you're a bastard?
[Laughter from all]
Kevin: Uh, yeah. That's what I mean. No, I mean because of politics. Do people hate us because of war?
Hakan: No, people are not stupid. They realize that people are people everywhere, whether you're American or Swedish.
Jonas: Maybe if George Bush was over there he'd be harassed by someone, I guess. There's a large group of "political correct kids" movement, but they hate us also.
Kevin: And by "us" you mean...?
Jonas: Our band! But they seem to hate everyone. The average Swede loves this country. It's always been a dream of the Swede to come over here, since everything is influenced by the U.S. It's kind of hard to think that the people over there would hate the American people.
Hakan: A lot of people think, "Oh, the war is so far away" or it's something "I read about in the paper."
Jonas: I never heard any Swede say, "Damn Americans!" Only, "Damn American government" or "Damn George Bush."
Kevin: The same things we say here.
Jonas: Yeah, we feel right at home.
Kevin: Well, you shouldn't feel too at home. We don't hate your band here.
Jonas: You know, in the Swedish press we get good reviews and people seem to like us a lot. But we haven't been successful among the people who are record buyers.
Hakan: We haven't been trying that hard, either. We've been spending so much time touring the rest of Europe, and especially America. Maybe that's one of the reasons. Big pop or rock bands in Sweden, they don't tour that much outside of Sweden. They just tour Sweden all the time and get on all the weird talk shows. So you'll see these guys everywhere.
Jonas: You need to be exploited everywhere if you want to make it in Sweden. Since we don't have that kind of budget, we don't have that kind of market. It's hard for a band like us to make it there. Since there are only 9 million people, it seems like they don't really find alternative music. At least not the way I used to. They're being fed Britney, or Swedish artists like Kent who have all the dough because of their record label.
Hakan: Yeah, Kent even got an award for "Best Rock Band of the Year" and they didn't even release anything that year and just did one show. It's pretty weird.
Kevin: I've never heard of them.
Jonas: They sing in Swedish, but they've been to the U.S. and sing in English also. But I don't think they got any attention over here.
Hakan: They couldn't take it; playing to less than ten thousand people a night. So they thought, "Let's go back to Sweden!"
Kevin: I know that some huge international artists like Kylie Minogue have thrown in the towel here, saying that the country is just too big and diverse to conquer. Could you guys stay in the trenches here long enough to do what it takes?
Jonas: It's a great challenge, of course. But you can never get tired of touring the U.S.
Kevin: What about family back home---wives, girlfriends, kids, parents?
Jonas: They'll just have to tag along!
Kevin: In the mean time you just run up some phone bills?
Hakan: If you tour for too long though, it might be a problem. Per has a son back home, so we try to not tour more than six to eight weeks at a time.
Kevin: Are you going to be able to go see Little Richard tomorrow? [Richard was giving the keynote address at South by Southwest as well as performing]
Jonas: I'd love to.
Kevin: He's one of the forefathers of rock'n'roll, but it seems like a million years ago. Do people like this even mean anything to you as musicians?
Jonas: Elvis, Chuck Berry and all those dinosaurs, I never listened to them. I'm too young, I guess, and my parents never listened to them. They were more into Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones. They are the founders of rock'n'roll, but it doesn't mean that much to me.
Kevin: If there was one thing that you could do here in the country, not necessarily on this trip, non-music related, what would it be?
Jonas: I want to go see the Grand Canyon. The other day I saw a real live cowboy, so now I've almost done it all.
Hakan: I think I want to go to Las Vegas and spend all my money. You always see Las Vegas on TV, but we've never played there, so I'd like to go there and experience the city. It seems so weird. What was that guy thinking when he thought to build a hotel in the middle of the desert?
Jonas: Oh, I think it'll be a really inspiring environment. For the next album, maybe, we'll go there and write a whole concept album.
Kevin: What about you, David?
David: I don't really have anything...
Jonas: David secretly wants to be on Conan O'Brien.
Kevin: I'm surprised no one said Disneyland!
Jonas: We're more into Bugs Bunny!
By Kevin Wierzbicki