GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN. The Soundtrack Of Our Lives (T.S.O.O.L) played their first show here in 1995. Tonight they are playing by the docks where singer Ebbot used to unload banana boats. Now Ebbot is taking us to hear the new album, in their studio, by some other docks. But we can't go in. Someone is standing in the doorway, singing, with his back to us. It's the singer from The Hives.
This is the strange world of Soundtrack. They are Sweden's greatest post-psychedelic hard rock punk pop group, a mighty combination of epic tunes, AC/DC like riffs, bombast, energy, rage and Jane Birkin. And they have a new album out, called ORIGIN Vol. I. (There will be an ORIGIN Vol. II, but that need not concern us here).
ORIGIN Vol. I is great. 12 songs that stomp and shout and do everything apart from mow the lawn. One is called Royal Explosion II. One is called Transcendental Suicide. And one has got Jane Birkin on it.
Soundtrack are casual, but happy.
"We started working on the album in August last year. I'm quite happy with everything. It resulted in almost four albums of songs. We don't have to worry about we're going to do next!"
This is productive, to say the least. Maybe the long gap between this and the band's last, critically super-rated album Behind The Music is a contributor. That, or making friends with tour partners Oasis.
"At certain times, the energy's in the band. It's like we're triggering each other. I don't know why it's so creative right now, it just happens. Record it while it's there, before it disappears... It's kind of heavy to follow up the other albums, especially Behind The Music. You have a lot of pressure to take it further on. Are you going to go further on and make a better one?"
You tell me.
"Yeah, I really think we did. It's magical. There's so many tracks that I'm really happy about. It's really personal and at the same time. It really gets to me listening to it." Says Ebbot Lundberg. And he's just the singer. Mattias plays the guitar and he likes it too. "It's shorter! It's less songs," he says, happily. "I'm really happy that it's so short, because we always want so much when we are recording," says Ebbot, oddly. "12 songs is more natural. It's like a year... 12 months."
Ian Person, lead guitarist, expands, "We had 18 songs at one point on the album, then we just decided to have 12, There's gonna be this Phase II... "
Any worries about comparisons to Behind The Music? "I think it's an extension of Behind The Music. Taking the good part..."
Behind The Music was Soundtrack's breakthrough album. It broadened the sound of earlier records, the terrifying debut Welcome To The Infant Freebase (20 tracks), and the superb Extended Revelation for the Psychic Weaklings of Western Civilization (only 16 tracks, but the title makes up for it), added a more contemporary sheen, and put them on a world-shaped stage. Which they then toured. For a long time.
"I think all the years of touring Behind The Music has affected the music a lot. A lot of the songs on this album are completely perfect to play live. A lot of extrovert songs. Bigger rock songs," says Mattias Bärjed.
"Epic," agrees Ian. "Even the ballad is out there. Even though we didn't really talk about what the album would be... this is a good rock'n'roll album with a punch. It's great to play live."
Not that this is just a rendition of TSOOL's live set. They tried that, in the far-off days of the greatest Scandinavian punk band of all time. Union Carbide Productions was their name, and they were a hard-drinking, hard-everything punk act who went to America, insulted it, came home and split up in psychic disarray. TSOOL may have a way with a tune (and Jane Birkin) but there's punk in their soul.
"I don't think it's good to make an album sound like you do when you play live. There's no point," says Ebbot. UCP ended up more myth than hit, and everyone seems OK about that. "I'm really happy that nothing happened with Union Carbide," says Ebbot, "I think that's the bad karma in the name. I'm really sure about that now, because everything that happened to that band, it's the fucking name!"
Taking a different tack with a longer and equally memorable name, TSOOL emerged from the smoldering ruins of UCP, which means, amongst other things, that some people in this band have known each other for a very long time.
"Yeah," says Mattias, "That's the problem, really!"
"Especially between me and Ebbot," Ian says. "We have so much in the old rucksack that we haven't discussed. And it's been going on for 15 years, and it's like being married. And it's the longest relationship I ever had with another person! We started out 18, 20, things just go on, and you have these chats, but most of the time we were pissed out of our heads and forgot what the other one said, or misinterpreted it..."
"The problem with booze," Matthias muses. "is if you're all sitting round together drinking together and discussing really serious things, then you feel that you're best friends, but you still wake up and feel that the other guy was wrong... That has been one of the problems. You think you're being honest..."
Fans of harmony will be distressed to learn that Soundtrack sometimes welcome discord.
"Ninety percent of the time we have a very good time. And we enjoy playing live very much," says Ian. "But recording an album should be hard work and you should fight, in a sense, to get the best out of it, ‘cos it comes from inside and you have to stir up your emotions. It shouldn't be happy days recording. As long as you don't use too many hard drugs and stuff, it's a lot easier, and we don't do that."
A lesson for us all. So has the band changed much over the years?
"I hope so!" says Ebbot, with fervor. "Always after being in a band, even Union Carbide, which was a remarkable experience, a social experiment, you feel you don't want to start being in a group again. Now I think we've actually passed the test of this social experiment. Ten years! And everybody still has their girlfriends or wives..."
"I think we know each other better, we have a lot better communication," says Ian, another ex-UCP. "And every album is a cleansing. A cleansing of the souls between us! And we're getting better and better. Especially the communication. Sometimes I say one thing and it interprets in a whole different way and people think I'm an idiot, or I think they're idiots. But now we sit down and think before we say something. Maybe relax, even though you're bursting with energy."
"I'm so surprised at where all this creative energy comes from," says Ebbot, modestly. "To be still together and this creative... it doesn't make sense!"
What does make sense? Certainly the songs. Soundtrack fans all know and love the band's unusually memorable song titles. And if you grooved to previous mega-names like Interstellar Inferiority Complex, Jehovah Sunrise, and Broken Imaginary Time, you'll rock to "Royal Explosion II", "The Age Of No Reply", "Transcendental Suicide" and, my favorite, "Wheels Of Boredom."
"Ebbot has named all the records so far," explains Ian. "He's got a brilliant mind and taste for changing words and finding stuff that's really, really thoughtful and funny."
They all sound like the names of movies.
"I think that's how we think," says Ebbot. "It is like making a movie, I think. It has to have its own life. And not be a waste of time! Something you can pick up all your life and go back to and enjoy. I have no problem picking up our other albums and thinking, wow! this is great, I wanna get drunk! It's like going to the movies. I want people to look forward to our album, like they want to see the next Coen brother movie... I want to have that base of people."
"Ebbot usually has some sort of greater scheme of things for where he wants the band to be," says Ian. "It's good to have someone to put it in a plan. You can just sit back and wait..."
The result is, as always with Soundtrack, greater than the sum of its brilliant parts. Origin Vol. 1 has spunky rockers "Mother One Track Mind", a brilliant ballad in "Song For The Others," and great rock moments like "The Age Of No Reply" ("Killer solo!" says Ian, to Mattias who played it). And a duet with Jane Birkin. It's called "Midnight Children (Enfants De La Nuit)."
"Kalle always comes with his contributions at the end of recording," says Ebbot. "And he came up with this song, and it was pretty interesting. It sounded like a Velvet Underground song. And I was looking at this Serge Gainsbourg single and I said maybe we should do it like Je T'Aime, have that sound. Kalle's always been in love with Jane Birkin... Then we thought we should get a sexy girl. This French lesbian girl who was in a hardcore band was going to do it but I thought, why not ask Jane Birkin to it? "
Logical. Wisely, Jane Birkin was keen. "She heard it and loved the song, so we went down to Paris and recorded it in three hours. She was still very good-looking. Maybe I looked a little bit frightening. But we got along. It sounds really cool. Kind of a departure, but in a strange way it fits into the album." Ebbot pauses a moment, lost in memory.
"It's really weird because it brings back childhood memories. I was listening to that song, Je T'Aime, when I was four years old and listening to it over and over - ‘What are they doing??' - and my parents became so angry, and this is traumatic... My father had had enough, and he just took the single from the stereo and smashed it and put it in the bin. I was like ‘Aaaahhh!‘ really crying and screaming. Really sad. And now..."
And now The Soundtrack Of Our Lives are at the top of their abilities, with a brilliant new album full of extraordinary songs. What do they want from it?
"I want as many people as possible to listen to it and feel like there's still some hope in this industry and there's still things to say. That's what I want," says Ebbot. "If I wasn't playing in a band and I was sick and tired of everything, I don't listen to music any more because there's nothing interesting coming out, I've heard everything, what would I do? I would definitely buy our album."
"These are the big rock songs. They all fit together in a very good way," Ian says.
Mattias: "With all the albums, I feel there are some parts that are brilliant and some parts that are... lame. But this time, I think it's completely there. Like it's a pre-war situation. It just feels weird. That's the whole point. The way to communicate for me is just being in this group. Be in the time, you know. Have that expression of ‘This is right now'."
Time to go. Soundtrack are on stage fairly soon, in the town where they first played. Soon they will be in your town.
As they are about to go, Ebbot says, "Being in a band with the confidence we have now, you could drop the band by parachute and land in Greenland or whatever, and just start to play - and people will love it."
The Soundtrack Of Our Lives (T.S.O.O.L). They're brilliant.