Music: They're big in Sweden and coming this way
Fiona Sturges goes to Gothenburg to meet unreconstructed rockers Soundtrack Of Our Lives
A strangely incongruous, hulking six-man band from Gothenburg with a penchant for Seventies psychedelia and dramatic guitar solos, Soundtrack Of Our Lives are in fact a bit like Kula Shaker, but better.
The Swedish music scene has finally cast off the Eurovision stigma that afflicted it throughout the post-Abba Eighties. While not necessarily constituting a musical mutiny, the rise of The Cardigans and The Wannadies means astute A&R people are scouring Scandinavia for the next big thing. Swedish bands are also set to find a wider audience with Stockholm being this year's European City of Culture, an honour ensuring every hotel in the Swedish capital is bulging with young people taking in the local talent and making the most of the city's prolonged drinking hours.
Soundtrack Of Our Lives' forthcoming single, "Instant Repeater 99", has great anthemic potential, and could rest happily among the popular glut of Oasis-driven guitar bands. But the multi-tracked, faux-orchestral pomp of their album, Welcome To The Infant Freebase, carries distinct elements of prog rock, a genre that is today a source of embarrassment, having gone out with mullet hairdoes and pointy shoes. Elongated instrumental spells and obscure song titles - "Chromosome layer", "Embryonic rendezvous" - and lofty lyrics declaiming "from the golden dawn of history / I'm a Mantra slider / And I'm here to give you inner peace", do little to resist this unhappy classification.
But Seventies nostalgia seems here to stay, for a while at least, and this might be the making of Soundtrack in Britain. They have already garnered an impressively starry fan base over here. The Chemical Brothers regularly attend their gigs, while The Charlatan's frontman Tim Burgess proclaimed their album as the best of last year. Most impressive of all is that they have been invited to play alongside their heroes, Lou Reed and Bob Dylan, at The Bridge festival in Malmo next week.
The band were spending their first afternoon off in three weeks when I met them lounging in their Stockholm hotel. Judging by the twitching hotel staff and their packed itinerary, Soundtrack have made it big in Sweden. They are accustomed to playing to crowds of 10,000 upwards, and their fans know all the words to their songs, which is no mean feat. They are not, however, blase about playing the sweaty cupboard-under-the-stairs venues in England. "People know us in Sweden. When we go overseas, it is a challenge to conquer the audience," says keyboardist Martin.
Their day has already involved a 6.00am appearance on a naff breakfast TV show - "somewhere between a chat show and Top Of The Pops in Britain", says guitarist Ian. At lunchtime, they played in a Stockholm record shop to a deluge of pre-pubescent fans, and this evening they are set to play a secret gig in the hippest of Stockholm hang-outs, the G Club.
They are endearingly, every inch a "rock" band - all hair, eyeliner and tight trousers. There are the requisite retinue of publicists, A&R people, girlfriends and anonymous hangers-on, and they firmly believe in staying up all night, trashing hotel rooms, and getting journalists inordinately drunk.
But despite their comic appearance, they are serious about their music and it is hard not to warm to their sincerity. Singer Ebbot Lundberg and guitarist Ian Persson first met back in 1981 as teenagers in Gothenburg, where the whole band grew up. "We were both really into the Stooges and Captain Beefheart," remembers Ian, already offering me some red wine. "We were stealing records from each other and played together in this basement." They soon split up, as the three-year age gap between them started to cause social problems. "You can't hang out together at that age, so I had to go away and do my own thing."
They were reunited a few years later when they formed Union Carbide Productions, an underground outfit popular among the shaven-headed metallers of Gothenburg. "At this time I was modelling myself on hardcore bands, particularly the UK Subs and Black Flag," says Ebbot. After the demise of Union Carbide in 1991, the other four, guitarist Mattias Barjed, drummer Frederik Sandsten, bassist Kalle Gustavsson and keyboardist Martin Hedros, were recruited to form Soundtrack.
If Soundtrack were the Spice Girls, then Ebbot would be Scary. His booming voice is a good two octaves lower than his counterparts, and he sports a belly you could set a bar up on. A strange hybrid of the Messiah and Goliath, he cultivates further the biblical effect with a floor-length robe for gigs. "People call me Jesus in the press but I think I am more of a mix between Benny Hill and George Best," he laughs throatily. Guitarist Mattias has less of the Spice Girls' qualities, but, to continue the boy/girl band theme, he's a dead ringer for Take That's Mark Owen - a comparison for which he will certainly not thank me. Despite his boyish good looks and classical training ("it was no fun"), he is the most rock-oriented of all. At the climax of their gigs, he drops to his knees and plays guitar with his backside. Keyboardist Martin is the archetypal Soho pin-up, while Ian's trailing blond tresses and black fingernails plant him firmly in the heavy metal bracket, though he claims to be more into jazz.
Live, they teeter between classic rock, hardcore and psychedelia, and border on the theatrical. Singer Ebbot's scorching vocals, not to mention his evangelical appearance, lend their sound an extraordinarily dramatic quality, while their perfectly-crafted, delightfully absurd personal performances provide endless entertainment.
Soundtrack are intent on success in Britain, and have a busy schedule of summer festivals ahead of them. "I'm not so sure about Glastonbury," admits Kalle. "All that mud, uurgh!" Perhaps they will fare better at Reading, where the crowd can bang their heads to their heart's delight.
Soundtrack Of Our Lives' single 'Instant Repeater 99' is out on Coalition Records on 1 June.
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