“There are a lot of really good Swedish bands having success…” says Shout Out Louds’ vocalist/guitarist Adam Olenius before trailing off, his noncommittal tone indicating that he is tired of answering questions about the remarkable insurgence of bands pouring in from his homeland. “Scandinavian bands sound pretty different, though,” he continues, and he’s obviously correct, as the scene has produced everything from the folk-pop of Kings of Convenience to the prog-rock of Dungen and the electro-pop of The Knife.
“There are a lot of really good Swedish bands having success…” says Shout Out Louds’ vocalist/guitarist Adam Olenius before trailing off, his noncommittal tone indicating that he is tired of answering questions about the remarkable insurgence of bands pouring in from his homeland. “Scandinavian bands sound pretty different, though,” he continues, and he’s obviously correct, as the scene has produced everything from the folk-pop of Kings of Convenience to the prog-rock of Dungen and the electro-pop of The Knife. “It’s not a Britpop scene or anything like that. But there are a lot of bands that we hope to meet and have our roads cross. So I guess we belong in that small movement that’s hopefully going to get bigger.”
Having blown across to American shores on the power of their 2005 debut Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, the Stockholm quintet that made its name with stylishly melodic guitar pop now shows absolutely no interest in reaping the easy rewards of repeating that album’s spirited formula. In fact, with Our Ill Wills, they went in the opposite direction. “We actually took away the guitars a bit and worked more on the drums and pianos and violins,” Olenius says of their darker and more elaborately orchestrated sophomore release. “And it’s not specifically about the instrument, the drums, it’s more the way that I wrote lyrics and melodies to fit the rhythm. Whether it came from jazz or electronic music, I’m not sure. I think in pop songs or rock music, there is so much focus on guitars that it can become quite boring. Especially in music from other countries-not the Western pop scene-like in Africa or South America, the drums are the major instrument. I have a lot of interest in that kind of music.”
Despite the increased emphasis on drums, the lush arrangements are far more likely to grab your attention. Olenius’ tendencies toward somberly emotive vocals and surging choruses are emboldened through the ornate production touches of Bjorn Yttling of Peter, Bjorn and John fame. Writing on the few off-days he had during two years of tours, it’s only natural that Olenius should reflect on the times before he was in a different city every night. Understandably, Olenius was a little homesick.
“I thought about returning. Not about returning from touring, but coming back to… something,” he explains, struggling to articulate the exact feeling. “I don’t know why it came out that way, but I wrote a lot of things about being in my hometown and going out, and things that happened after midnight, so to speak. Being away so much, I thought a lot about growing up a lot. Especially when we had been out for two months in a row, you can get a little bit messed up. I have a really great family, and I was missing my brother sometimes. But what I think we were all missing was nature, actually. We missed going into the woods. We missed the silence.”
That said, while Our Ill Wills is more reflective in spirit, it hardly evokes a longing for silence, as everything from the driving “Tonight I Have to Leave It” to the swirling closer “Hard Rain” indicates an unsettled frame of mind. Even the album’s title suggests an ominous tone. “The way you usually write songs, you have the darker side that comes up in music sometimes, your secrets,” he says, not willing to disclose exactly what secrets are lurking beneath his searching lyrics. “You kind of want to hurt people but you really shouldn’t. It’s about holding on to those little secrets.”
Whatever the case, Swedish pop music is certainly no longer a secret, but Olenius appears hesitant to trust the permanence of the current Swedish breakthroughs. “Peter, Bjorn and John just exploded. And now they’re talking about a Swedish wave, and when we came there was a Swedish wave, and when the Hives played there was a Swedish wave. I guess it’s more of a big storm, with waves coming and going. I hope Sweden is an option, a permanent scene that can compete with the British and the U.S.,” he says, sounding unconvinced. “But there are a lot great things coming from Sweden, and I’m quite proud of it.”