Millencolin: Hey True Brew
Something’s awry in the country of Sweden and although Millencolin may not be looking to step up as the next heirs to the political punk throne, that doesn’t make the message behind their long-awaited new album any less vital.
It’s early Monday morning after the second and final day of Soundwave in Sydney and somehow, despite the shenanigans of the night before, Millencolin’s Mathias Färm and Erik Ohlsson seem to be faring better than we are. In the foyer of the InterContinental Hotel, the two guitarists are sat in leather chairs with their bags packed – a 20-odd hour flight back to Sweden awaiting them. After playing to a sweaty, heaving crowd at the Stage 3 pavilion – which saw the longstanding skate punk band debut material from their upcoming seventh album, True Brew – Millencolin stopped by BLUNT’s photo booth backstage. Hawaiian leis, novelty sunglasses and pink fedoras were donned, a little dignity was lost, and four loud, drunken Swedes had a bit of fun halfway across the world.
“In a way Soundwave is the first relevant tour that we’ve done for about five years, where we have something coming up,” Färm says, excited to be peddling his band’s new wares. “It’s a great feeling to be able to do that. We love Australia and it’s so much fun to do this.”
“We’d just released one new song as a teaser, and we played two new songs in our Soundwave set and three at our sidewaves,” Ohlsson adds, “so this tour was more like a tour of the old songs; we really feel like we need to come back soon to tour the new stuff.”
In February of this year, and seemingly out of nowhere, Millencolin announced True Brew, their first full-length of new material in seven years. Unbeknownst to everyone else, the band had first started work on the album back in 2013 and began the initial stages of recording in March of last year.
“That’s a year now, but it doesn’t feel like it,” Ohlsson concedes.
“It’s been a long process,” Färm chimes.
“A really long process.”
“And it feels great to have something new out soon because it’s been a long time and it just feels very encouraging.”
When we last spoke with Nikola Šarčević in BLUNT #111 back in mid-2012, the singer was less than certain about the future of Millencolin. They’d just wrapped up The Melancholy Connection, a CD/DVD release that celebrated 20 years of the band and included rare archival footage of the making of their seminal album, Pennybridge Pioneers . New songs were being penned, though the band’s four members – Šarčević, Färm, Ohlsson and drummer Fredrik Larzon, who have been together since they formed back in 1992 – held high standards for themselves, and as is often the case, they found that they were less driven by the pressures of band life after a successful two decades together than they were as young hopefuls with a career to forge and something to prove.
“It’s been a long process to get the right songs…” Färm begins.
“It just felt right,” says Ohlsson. “It felt like this was the first time we really got the idea of how the new album would sound, which is more like going back to our roots, more like how we sound when we perform live, more punk rock, with a lot of Bad Religion influences and more energy than before. This album feels like the most honest album from us in years, really. The songs we choose to play live, it’s more like this. This album is more like a Millencolin set where we play the best songs, in a way, and it doesn’t feel pretentious in any way; it feels really honest and hopefully it feels like we’ve done something for ourselves, but also for our listeners, because I think it’s like the ‘best of’ Millencolin. This time around, we just wanted to do what we do best.”
“The band is closer now than we’ve been for a lot of years – we’re like brothers”
“It’s just a natural thing; me and Nikola were talking about when we released the last album, Machine 15, that we wanted to do an album with songs that had to be under three minutes – just short, fast songs – but it took us seven years to do it, I guess,” Färm chuckles.
And True Brew has been worth the wait. Channelling the youthful abandon of their earlier albums, it toes the line between the band’s former punk rock glory, possessing a classic feel that’s instantly recognisable, while still sounding distinctly modern. Then again, Millencolin have always had an enviable consistency throughout their career – no doubt the result of four guys who’ve spent more than half their lives jamming together.
“The band is closer now than we’ve been for a lot of years,” Ohlsson tells us sincerely. “Since we’ve been doing separate shows here and there, you really feel like you miss that touring when you’re like a family, because we are so tight – we’re like brothers. I’ve been in this band way longer than I haven’t been in this band; I was 17 when we started it. It’s such a big part of my life. Once we’re home for a while and don’t have any shows, a big part of me is just missing.”
While sonically Millencolin gave a nod to Bad Religion, lyrically they took a leaf out of Anti-Flag’s political playbook. On lead single “Sense & Sensibility”, which sees Šarčević howling, ‘You’re just a racist clown to me’, the band turned their attention to some of the less savoury goings-on in their homeland, calling out the Sweden Democrats party for their overtly racist and far-right populist stance.
“Sweden has gone through some bad times when it comes to the economy and the job situation, and the right-wing parties get fuel from that; people are blaming their own bad situations on immigrants, and it was the same in the early ‘90s,” explains Färm of Sweden’s socio-political climate.
“But this time around, it was the first time we really had a racist party, these guys are actually dangerous people,” Ohlsson adds. “Racism is a growing problem. I’m really surprised that this happened in a way because the world is opening up with the internet and we’ve become so globalised, but then all of a sudden it hits back on you. It’s just a sad development in everything and instead of taking in more cultures – they’re right on your computer every day, you have all the knowledge right there – people are becoming more stupid and scared and egocentric. It’s all just so terrible these days; it feels like it’s an important time to say what you think.”
“We’re not a political band; this is just what we wanted to do,” Färm says carefully. “We’re not standing out on the barriers… It’s more political than it’s ever been before, but we’re still not a political band.”
With True Brew tapping into that definitive Millencolin sound, Färm and Ohlsson consider their back catalogue in 2015, especially with October signalling the 20th anniversary of the band’s second full-length, Life On A Plate.
“I listened through our albums for the first time in many years, and I was still amazed about that album ‘cos some stuff, I can’t really remember how we came up with it,” Färm laughs. “I get impressed when I listen to it because we’d been in the band for what, three years?”
“You know, we’ve never been great musicians and we learned along the way; we just picked up the guitars and learned how to write songs and perform. Sometimes it’s like, ‘How did we come up with those harmonies there?’”
“We did so much in a very short time… We did two demo tapes, the first EP, another EP, and two full-lengths in probably two years. It’s funny, our first album, Tiny Tunes, we mixed it and the master DAT tape broke down, so we had to remix it again.”
“Yeah, and remember he [engineer/producer Dan Swanö] called us up like, ‘The master, it just broke on me!’ and we had to do the mix all over again.”
“In one day!”
“So we came over and he had nailed the tape up on the wall, he was so angry,” Ohlsson recalls.
“There’s a lot of good memories from that time.”