"The Swedish Lowdown!"
Swedish punks Millencolin: 'Yeah, baby, wow!'
By Jayson Whitehead
On the last weekend of March, while hundreds of thousands of people around the world took to the streets to voice their opposition to America's attack on Iraq, the Swedish band Millencolin prepared to invade the U.S.
"It feels a bit weird," admits lead singer Nikola Sarcevic. "We're one of those bands that doesn't really sing about those issues, but then as a private person I'm totally against the war. I've been going out to the demonstrations here in Göteborg in Sweden. I think that the whole thing's a shame. But as a band, we don't take an official stand."
Although the band may not have an "official" stance, its most recent album, Home From Home, contains a scolding of America in the song "Afghan." With lyrics like, "So show the world you're strong / The weaker one is wrong / And I know it won't take long / Until they're dead and gone," the song serves as a bitter indictment of current U.S. foreign policy. "It's actually about the situation in Afghanistan after 9/11, the bombings of Afghanistan, which I was against," Sarcevic says, before clarifying, "But that's one of the few songs that deal with politics."
One of the chief ironies surrounding the world's current anti-American sentiment is how it clashes with an overall embrace of American culture. A protester, say in Japan, is likely to muss his hair up like James Dean, strap on canvas Chuck Taylors and pop in the new White Stripes album before picking up a sign that reads "Drop Bush, Not Bombs."
While Millencolin hail from Scandinavia, they are completely modeled after American punk rock. "Before Millencolin we were more into Swedish bands, but then we discovered bands like Bad Religion, NoFX and Operation Ivy in the early '90s," Sarcevic says. "Thanks to those bands, we started Millencolin. They were our main influence---our only influence, in fact."
Millencolin play a style of punk rock that was refined in California's Bay Area, a region as fertile for punk as Napa Valley (only an hour north) is for wine. Often referred to as "softcore," its most commercial representatives have been Green Day and Blink-182, while its most critically lauded band is perhaps NoFX. Compared to original California punks like the Dead Kennedys or Circle Jerks, softcore has a muted, sweeter sound matched with oft-humorous lyrics about girls or other such youthful concerns. It primarily lacks the political bite that original hardcore punk frequently possessed.
In the early '90s, softcore became identified with another adolescent interest, skateboarding. It was, in fact, through skateboarding that the members of Millencolin discovered the music that has become their passion. "This is the music we heard on American skateboarders' radios and that was how we got to know about most American punk-rock bands," Sarcevic says. "In a way, punk rock is to music what skateboarding is to sports. It's an alternative sport. Plus, it has the same attitude. It's fast and it's aggressive and it's sort of anti-society."
Adapting to the driving music was no problem since Millencolin's band members were already adept musicians. Working in the English language proved just as easy, although there was an initial problem in choosing a band name. "It's actually a re-spelling of the English word melancholy," Sarcevic reveals. "At the time we didn't know how to spell it." That behind them, Sarcevic quickly took to English and writes most of the band's verse in rock 'n' roll's universal tongue.
"It's much, much easier to write lyrics in English than in Swedish," he says. "In English, you have so many words for everything. It's easier to find words and rhymes and it just sounds better. But in Swedish, it's much harder. In English, you can say stuff like, 'Yeah, baby, wow,' and it would sound cool. But in Swedish, you can say the same thing and it would sound ridiculous. In English, you can pretty much say anything and it's OK because it's English."
That sort of lyrical license extends to the song "Botanic Mistress" off of Home From Home. Set to a bouncy tune, the track is an offbeat ode to Sarcevic's love of horticulture. "It was supposed to be a song with a sense of humor," the singer says. "Since the song was a happy melody I thought, 'Let's write some funny lyrics.' But they're totally made up. So it's not based on a true story. ... Actually it is," he confesses, a little bashfully. "I have my plants that I like to give water to and see them grow. I love my plants in my window back home."
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