Thanks to their knack for churning out unavoidably catchy, saccharine pop music, most Americans immediately think of bands like Ace of Base, Abba, and Roxette when they think of Sweden.
In a perfect world, charging punk rock like Tommy Gustafsson & The Idiots would come to mind before the mindless pop nuggets.
Originally started as a side project, the band is finally seeing Eastern State Penitentiary, their debut full-length, released in the U.S. by up-and-coming Atlanta punk indie Warbird Records – the same label that put out their split with fellow Swedish punk Subwaste earlier this year.
Front man and guitarist Gustafsson spoke recently about the bands, the record, and Sweden’s dismal punk rock scene.
Innocent Words: This band originally started off as a side project, right? What was the reason for getting this group together?
Tommy Gustafsson: Yeah, Tommy Gustafsson & the Idiots started off as a side project in 2002. And the main reason for starting it up again was because me and Linus (Gustafsson, former singer of Da Skywalkers) felt like we weren’t finished with music just yet. Since we were both in DSW and had known each other since we were 12 years old, and we have played together since were 13 years old, it was pretty natural for us to continue playing together after leaving DSW. And this was a project we really wanted to continue on doing.
IW: How did it turn into a full-time band?
Gustafsson: Well, from the get-go we knew we wanted to do something serious. I love to play music, but not without the ambition of going places. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with just playing your guitar at home and writing songs never to be published, but to me personally, it’s a waste of time. But for us to become a full-time band was a long haul. Me and Linus soon realized that we’re not 20 years old anymore, and other stuff, like family and work, had to come first. Back then, you didn’t really care for work, and families hadn’t entered the picture yet. We’re still trying to find a good balance between it all, and it’s coming together nice.
IW: Was it difficult pulling a line up together?
Gustafsson: Yes, ‘cus of stuff like work/school and family, getting four guys ready to do what it takes took some time. This albumEastern State Penitentiary suffered a lot since we had to replace a couple of guys and bring the new ones up to date. It was like trying to clean a really messy apartment, where to begin cleaning? But I’m happy I took the time needed to finish the album like we wanted to have it. We could have easily just recorded it with the usual punk-rock set up, but I really didn’t wanna do that, and the guys felt the same way. We were really lucky to get Robert (Rawstream former bass player of DSW) in on guitar. He is such a skilled musician, and he’s so talented with the guitar so giving the songs the finishing touch that they desperately needed went really fast.
Gustafsson: There is no punk scene in Sweden right now. There are basically no venues to play at, and if you manage to get a place to play at, no one shows up. In Sweden, you basically need to be played on the radio 24/7 to do a show where the people that promote it don’t lose money. But even household name artists in Sweden are having trouble to make ends meet these days. Especially if they are new off TV shows like Idol or something stupid like that. So we have never focused our attention to our country, because there’s nothing here for us – even if we would “make it.”
IW: What is the biggest misconception you think Americans have about the music scene in Sweden?
Gustafsson: Well, I don’t really know what you guys think of the Swedish scene right now, but I know that when Refused and The Hives and those guys got your attention you expected maybe that every band from Sweden would be something special like those were. Then again. I know that Da Skywalkers were written off as a Rancid copy, so what do I know. I don’t really have a good answer to the question, so I should probably stop pulling stuff out of my ass!
IW: This new record sounds a little different than your split. Did you intentionally want a different sound?
Gustafsson: Yes, we really needed to change things up with this record. We’ve always done basically the same stuff with the same instrument since 1993, with some exceptions with trumpets and banjo’s and stuff. When I thought about guitar sounds for this record in early 2009, I really didn’t feel like recording anything at all. I was just revisiting old stuff that has been done a thousand times before. So I felt like I’d rather just put down my guitar and never pick it up again, if I didn’t try something different. We got the answer for how we wanted it to sound when our former drummer left the band to play trash-metal. Me and Robert, that recently joined the band, picked up our acoustic guitars and started jamming the songs. And we knew right away what we wanted the next album to sound like.
IW: How did you connect with Warbird Entertainment in the U.S.?
Gustafsson: Initially, I personally didn’t have the connection with Warbird Entertainment. I don’t fully know how we got with Drew (Runstadler, founder of Warbird) but I’m guessing it was through Subwaste who is friends with Chris who recorded both TGATI and Subwaste’s early stuff. But I couldn’t be happier with Warbird though. He has been really patient with us, because it’s been a long wait for this record to finally be released. Where many labels would say bye, he said “Take your time, guy.” Hats off.
IW: Have you had a chance to play in the U.S. yet?
Gustafsson: Nope, not yet. But it has been a dream of mine for 17 years now.
IW: Do you have any plans to tour here?
Gustafsson: We haven’t gotten any opportunities yet, but if we got the chance, I would go in a heartbeat. So no, no plans of going yet. But we are a band and in a perfect world live is how people should initially get in touch with us. So hopefully people will like our record enough to get us over to the U.S.
IW: Anything else you want to add?
Gustafsson: Yeah, check us out on www.myspace.com/tommygustavsson, www.warbirdentertainment.com and we even have a page on facebook. Hopefully everyone will enjoy our new record and come see us play live if you get a chance!