Just call it the comeback. While the Shout Out Loud’s debut album Howl Howl Gaff Gaff showed promise few could have predicated the seismic improvement for follow-up Our Ill Wills — a veritable treasure chest of ’80s and ’90s influenced alternative pop and rock with strings, layered percussion and crisp production. We sit down with the Shout Loud’s Carl and Ted and talk about touring, the new album and singing karaoke with The Essex Green.
After this Australian tour you go back to Europe, play 24 shows in the USA, then do more European and play Japanese for the first time. How do you feel about such a hectic schedule?
Ted: Maybe you don’t always look forward to touring for months and months at a time, but it’ll be okay.
Carl: It’ll be fun. Sometimes it just feels like “oh it’s a lot of dates” and it takes so much energy. You can’t half do a show.
You are on various independent labels across the globe, but were on Capitol for the American release of Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. How does being on independent labels compare to being on a major?
Carl: I would say, first of all, it is really nice to have it set up like we have it now with different labels in each country. The labels that we work with are very into it and do not just put out music that someone on the other side of the ocean told them to put out. We work with people in each country that are really into the music. And of course it seems like people are more like yourself on smaller labels. They think like yourself. It can become very business-ish at the bigger labels. I mean things were good there, we were able to do what we wanted to do, but the whole tone just feels more relaxed.
How did you become part of Merge (their US label home to a dizzying array of artists including American Music Club, Arcade Fire, Magnetic Fields and Spoon)?
Carl: We’ve been friends with a few bands that were on Merge and so when we were out of a deal, we needed a new record company to release the new CD and Merge agreed to. We played with The Rosebuds and The Essex Green and they probably said a few good words.
That leads into another question, on your B-side to “Tonight I Have to Leave It” is a cover of The Pogues’ “Streams of Whiskey,” which features the Essex Green. How did that come about?
Ted: That was actually made before we knew that we going to be on Merge. We were going to do our first headline tour of the States and we could choose any opening band. The Essex Green are rather big in Sweden but they are not that big in the states so we just asked if they they wanted to come and play with us.
Carl: On the east coast of the US, there are a lot of Irish immigrants so we thought it would be fun to play “…Whiskey”. Bebban is a big fan of the Pogues and was one of the major reasons why we chose to do that song. It worked well, and they [The Essex Green] joined us onstage sometimes with that song. When they were in Stockholm it so happened that we were actually recording our album so we said “do you want to record it together just like we did on tour?” And they did. Afterwords we had a few drinks and sung karaoke.
I take it that didn’t make it on the record?
Carl and Ted: No, no!
I was wondering how much Björn Ytlling (from Peter, Bjorn and John) brought to the recording process; how much of the finished product was due to his production, and how much was due to the natural development of your song writing?
Ted: I think he brought a lot of aura and structure to the songs and he was good at pulling out the best features of a song. The songs were there to begin with though.
Carl: He was very much involved during the whole nine month process. We started recording in autumn but we started with demos half a year earlier. He was in the loop before we starting recording, which was really good for us and him. It’s always easy to go back after a recording is made and say “oh you should’ve done that,” this way we could make the record in the way that we wanted and there were no regrets afterwards.
There were no rush then, no pressure on using too much time in the studio?
Ted: No. He is pretty critical, which is good. So we did the demos and he criticised those and we would go back and rehearse those bits and change them if we wanted to.
It seems to me that there is a lot of space on the album, a lot of room.
Ted: He’s good at that. The first album was pretty crowded at times, a lot of instruments on top of each other.
Carl: Some of the tracks, have so many channels and layers but in a way it made space for everything else. He took away a lot of the guitars.
Ted: We are always up for suggestions and new things. The process is part of why we think it’s fun to play music. We were never interested in doing the same album again.
The Australian issue of Out Ill Wills has the bonus track “Don’t Get Yourself Involved,” and the US vinyl release has the extra track “Bicycle.” Will these see the light of day on another single or EP?
Carl: Maybe it will be in Japan. In Japan, they always want a bonus track.
They insist on it, don’t they? The obligatory three bonus tracks.
Carl: I think it is a bit sad when it just becomes bonus, bonus. I like it when the album is the album and the EPs are the EPs.
I actually thought that “Don’t Get Yourself Involved” was probably one of the songs most similar to the first album.
Carl: That was funny as well because it particularly hard to really finish. Not hard to play or anything like that but it kept getting sent backwards and forwards to Dan (Michaelson from UK band Absentee) for his vocal, but we never seemed to get it right. We owned that piece too much.
Our Ill Wills has a lot of layered instrumentation such as strings, percussion, keyboards and synthesisers. How do you recreate the album in a live context?
Ted: It was funny at first, we felt like we were a cover band trying to cover our own songs. But I guess every band goes through that. We’re usually not very strict in how we recreate the album live. We change things, take away some stuff, change instruments and so on. We have a moog, keyboard, and for this tour we have violin and sometimes an accordion and glockenspiel. We’re not too afraid of changing things up and down a bit. We are five people, touring with more would be too expensive. It would be fun though.
Have you ever done that in Sweden?
Ted: Yes in Sweden we did that a little bit with a string quartet, back-up singer and another guy on guitar, which was fun. But it has to be open, we want to be able to play the song by ourselves.
You want to enjoy playing the songs as well and not be constricted to note by note precision?
Ted: I think it is important if you a lot of technology, or whatever, and it breaks down that we can still play the songs just the five of us, more or less, on acoustic instruments even.
Carl: Having a backing track is probably not the way to go for us.
Is that how you write, acoustically?
Ted: No, but we see a lot of other bands with backing tracks. You know, if they have a violin part they’ll put the violin on the backtrack and the drummer plays to a click so it keeps on track. That is not really our style. It is nicer to try and get in somewhere and change it. It gets too static, and we are not really static band. You have to improvise.
So when you are touring what do you do when you are not playing, or doing press?
Ted: We try and move around as much as we can but if we are in a situation where we’re locked up I read.
Carl: We travel so much. Reading or listening to my iPod.
Thank goodness for the iPod?
Ted: I’m trying to cut down on the iPod and trying to read more.
Carl: Yeah, you do. When we have time to get out…
Ted: …we walk around the cities, but you get bored of that too. Cities can be quite similar. Sometimes it is nice to go to the zoo or an exhibition or a movie theatre.
Carl: The best is if you have a friend and they kind of take care of you. You don’t have to do anything special, just like a nice lunch together.
When you were growing up, which where some Swedish band that influenced you?
Ted: Ratata. And Bob hund, good band. A lot of contemporary Swedish artists, like Håkan Hellström.
What current Swedish acts inspire you?
Carl and Ted: The Radio Dept,
Ted: Jens Lekman,
Carl: El Pero del Mar, The Concretes.
Laakso? (Markus Krunegård lends his voice to several Our Ill Wills tracks)
Ted: Yeah, Markus has been in every bloody band!
Ted: [ingenting] (which translates to “nothing” in English). We played with them on a few festivals and they are really good. It’s inspiring to see other contemporary bands that are doing their thing in Swedish.
Were The Wannadies an influence?
Ted: Yeah they were a big influence on Carl. He saw them once a year at one stage. They have been quiet lately.
Carl: I used to love The Wannadies. I saw them a few years ago. That was probably one of their last concerts. They played all their old songs for the audience.
Ted: Have you heard of Popsicle? They had a reunion concert, last year? I would’ve like to see that.
Yes I know Popscicle. Have you ever written or sung in Swedish?
Carl: No, we haven’t.
Ted: I don’t know if we will, maybe a little b-side.
Well you do limit your audience I guess?
Ted: That is why it’s impressive that they do it, because it is so true to themselves to sing in their native tongue.
Is Stockholm a good place to be based?
Ted: Yeah but most of those bands wouldn’t be based there. The Concretes, Laakso and Peter, Bjorn and John are, but others come from places like Malmö and Gothenborg.
Do you look forward to go back to Stockholm?
Ted: Yeah we are pretty home based. We are always connected to Stockholm and we want to keep it that way.
Transcription: Lisa Hallquist