Refused: Still Fanning The Flames Of Discontent
Refused have just announced a tour in support of their comeback opus Freedom, bringing songs from the record to Australian shores for the first time this coming January. The seminal and ever stylish Swedish hardcore punk group will play a run of massive shows with NYHC kings Sick Of It All, as well as Melbourne grim-riff lords High Tension. Yeah, we told you it was fuckin’ massive. The band’s very prolific and very polite singer Dennis Lyxzén gave BLUNT some insights on the tour, their latest record, and whether or not Refused really did influence the shape of punk to come…
Given the band’s unique history, I’m curious to know what keeps the wheels turning for Refused at this point in time. Has the band’s agenda changed all that much since its beginnings in the Swedish hardcore scene in the ’90s?
Well I think back in the ’90s what drove us was kind of a complete madness [laughs]! But hopefully in a good way. It was this kind of weird, useful insanity. When you’re young you don’t really have an agenda. It was more like a weird mission, like, ‘We need to do this!’ What drives us now, I think honestly, is first and foremost the music that we create together, lyrically and sonically, the riffs, everything! And how well we get along, I think that’s what makes it exciting. Every night we get to play fantastic shows and hang out with great people and go on tours. That’s really good strong motivation to keep doing this.
Refused’s live performance and recorded output has portrayed the band as having total belief in everything you create as a collective, and it always appears to be delivered with a striking confidence and swagger. For you personally, is your belief in the art you make enough to block out the insecurity and fear of how it will be received when you hand it over to the outside world?
I think that when we write, and especially when we wrote Songs To Fan The Flame…, The Shape… and Freedom, you know, you’re in your little bubble and you write and record these songs and you’re like yeah, this is amazing because you’re working on it in the moment. But I remember when we were done with The Shape Of Punk To Come, me and David [Sandström, drums] went out walking and I looked at him and I said, ‘I don’t think anyone’s gonna like this record’. You have to remember that at the time, we were a hardcore band in the hardcore scene playing only in front of hardcore kids. That was our whole world! In my mind I was like, yeah, the hardcore kids aren’t gonna like it because it’s very pretentious and it’s a record that has a reach and a grasp that’s way beyond punk and hardcore, but David’s like, ‘No, I think it’s gonna be fine!’ Then when the record came out, the hardcore scene did NOT like it and they were NOT excited. And I was like, ‘Yeah, I was fucking right!’ then we broke up. Now that record has sold hundreds of thousands of copies and it’s the reason why we’re talking today, so I guess David was right. But as an artist and as a musician you always struggle with insecurity because you write and you put yourself out there and then you realise, ‘Holy shit, now someone’s gonna write a review about what I just did’. It’s scary, but you always fake the confidence! Once when we get on stage the confidence in what we do is not fake, ’cause we know when we get on stage together and we play these songs, we always deliver. Every night, I know that. So I’m always confident once I’m on stage. Everything when I’m not on stage, I’m always kind of a wreck about [laughs].
“As an artist and as a musician you always struggle with insecurity because you write and you put yourself out there and then you realise, ‘Holy shit, now someone’s gonna write a review about what I just did’.”
So, in hindsight, do you think you guys really did change the shape of punk to come?
Nah, I dunno [laughs]. At the time, we were kind of fed up with the hardcore and punk scenes and how rigid and narrow-minded it could be. So when we said “The Shape Of Punk To Come” it was like our middle finger. It was like a “Fuck you!” y’know? And I don’t think that we expected it to be anything other than a really, really extended middle finger. I think that was our only idea with calling it “The Shape Of Punk To Come”. The shape of punk to come, I think artistically and creatively, is whatever you want to make of it. Y’know, like if you have a band and you wanna bring influences of whatever into it, I think that’s the shape of punk to come to me.
Despite how angry and aggressive the songs are musically, Refused has always had this razor sharp wit and excellent sense of humour behind what it does. How important do you think that sort of thing is when you’re trying to put forward a message?
I’m very pleased that you pick up on that because when you play music that’s this extrovert and violent, the nuances of having a political-slash-intellectual-slash-satirical approach can be lost because it’s so in your face. But yeah, I think we’re pretty smart people and we always approach politics in a very satirical way, and with a very dark sense of humour around it. Sometimes we come across as super, super fucking serious which we are in one way, but as people we’re not really that grave serious. We’re a bit more fun as people, and we try to put that across in the music, and sometimes people don’t get it and sometimes people do get it, and that’s kind of interesting. I think that if you want to talk about politics in an intelligent, intellectual manner you have to find all the nuances of a political discussion. It’s easy to rally and just scream, “Fuck the system! Fuck the system!” but I don’t think that would be that interesting to us.
Listening to Freedom the other day got me wondering how much of it is actually made out of ideas collected over the 17-year break, and how much of it was written specifically when the idea to make music together again became a reality.
Here’s the thing… Kris [Steen, guitar] is the genius in the band. He’s the riff-master! He’s the guy that wrote the “New Noise” riff and was like, ‘Oh, I’ve got an idea’ and he showed it to David, and David was like, ‘Holy shit! Okay, let’s do this’. He’s the guy! When we talked about the reunion, the second Kris said he was on board, that’s when we knew it was gonna happen. Kris, David and Magnus [Flagge, bass], they’d been writing weird, instrumental prog-metal music together for a little bit before we got back together as Refused. That was really important because when we started touring in 2012 and when we decided that we had a good time, Kris said, ‘Maybe Dennis should sing on one of these instrumentals?’ and then he said, ‘Maybe these instrumentals could be Refused songs if we touch them up a bit or arrange them a bit differently?’ so when we went into the idea of doing new Refused music, there were already basic tracks for three songs there, and then we just started writing. Everything is new apart from the three songs that turned out to be “Elektra”, “Destroy The Man” and “366” which were riffs that Kris had coming into it. David and Kris, they write the songs, and then I write lyrics and vocal lines and that’s kind of the way it works.
“I think that one of our foundations as a band is that we’re feminists. And when we tour we always try to bring a very strong feminist agenda to it, and I think that’s what High Tension is gonna bring to this tour because apart from them, it’s a lot of dudes.”
You’ll have Sick Of It All and High Tension in tow for the Australian tour. Sick Of It All are an obvious choice given their legacy as a staple in hardcore music, but I was very pleased to see that our very own High Tension are coming to the party too! Your band always seems to go out of its way to play alongside bands with strong female representation which is very important. I assume this isn’t just a coincidence, but rather something that Refused consciously and actively try to make happen and feel strongly about?
For all the tours that we do I pick all the support bands. That’s my role in the band. Usually I listen to bands, but this time the Australian promoter said, ‘There’s this band called High Tension…’ and I listened to it and was like, ‘Yes! They should go on tour with us’. That’s kind of how we work it out. I think that one of our foundations as a band is that we’re feminists. And when we tour we always try to bring a very strong feminist agenda to it, and I think that’s what High Tension is gonna bring to this tour because apart from them, it’s a lot of dudes, so we want to kind of balance that a little bit with some other perspectives. We don’t really talk about it that much but it is definitely part of our agenda, to bring strong female acts on tour with us to show people that this is not all about men. It’s something that we talk about in the band, it’s something that we talk about on stage, and we talk a lot about it in interviews and I just think it’s a great thing we can show by example. People go to the shows and they see High Tension, or they see White Lung or The Coathangers that we just did a tour with. They see those acts and they’re like, ‘Holy Shit! This is a good band!’
What does the future of the band look like at this point? Is there even going to be a future for Refused?
At the moment, what’s happening is we’re doing a bunch more shows, and then we’re taking a break to write new material. And then we’re doing Australia which will be like the appendix of the Freedom tour, and then we’re going to continue to write and record as long as we feel we have the energy and passion to do it. We are one of those bands now where we’re all plus 40. A couple of people in the band have kids and families. A couple of people have different bands and different jobs, so it’s not going to be as prolific as it was in the ’90s, where you put out a record every other year and in between you did 200 shows. But yeah, it might be a while before there’s a new record but we’re already writing new material and we’re definitely going to continue to be a band.
Refused / Sick Of It All / High Tension Tour Dates
Fri Jan 20th – The Tivoli, Brisbane (18+)
Sat Jan 21st – Enmore Theatre, Sydney (AA)
Sun Jan 22nd – HQ, Adelaide (18+)
Tue Jan 24th – Prince Of Wales, Melbourne (18+)
Thu Jan 26th – Metropolis, Fremantle (18+)