The intense, roaring crowds that greeted last year's reunion tour of the Swedish hardcore act Refused were a welcome shock to singer Dennis Lyxzén. Last playing the States in 1998 to half-empty basements and coffeehouses, they broke apart mid-tour in anger and dismay. Fourteen years later, they found themselves at Coachella to begin a long series of sold-out concert dates.
"That is a bit trippy," Lyxzén tells Rolling Stone. "It is not something we expected when we were crying and fighting after that last show."
With Refused again on indefinite (if far less angry) hiatus, Lyxzén isn't yet ready to slow down. Last month, his straight-ahead hardcore act AC4 released Burn the World, and he's also just finished recording an album of driving postpunk tunes with INVSN (a.k.a. Invasionen), with hopes for a late-summer release and tour. Among the 10 tracks from the still untitled album is a song called "Down in the Shadows," a breathless duet with Sara Almgren, with the lyrics: "They're never going to give you praise when you come crawling on your knees."
Like Refused, Lyxzén's other bands come from the northern Swedish town of Umeå, and he's known most of his bandmates since he was an adolescent punk in a Mohawk and Doc Martens, when his music and politics first became intertwined. (His equally leftist [International] Noise Conspiracy is currently inactive.)
On the phone from an AC4 tour stop in Münster, Germany, Lyxzén spoke with Rolling Stone about his many projects, his life-changing discovery of punk, and the past and unknown future of Refused.
The music you play with AC4 is exactly the kind of hardcore that got you started, right?
Yeah, totally. I fell in love with hardcore punk rock music, and it's always been my go-to place. Me and David [Sandström, drummer] from Refused started AC4 back in 2008. We wanted to play hardcore music and do these types of tours once or twice a year – back to basics, for the love of it.
On Twitter, you recently posted a photo of Flag that you shot from the side of the stage.
I thought it was awesome. My first punk band that I started, the first song that we learned was "Wasted" by Black Flag in '88. For me to see those dudes doing those songs, and having it sound like Black Flag, it was pretty awesome. I was enjoying it immensely, I must say.
You just put out a new AC4 record a month ago, and it's got some political content, including the self-explanatory "Extraordinary Rendition."
We're political people. Everything I've ever done in whatever shape or form has been based on my punk rock ideals. We have stuff to say. We grew up with the kind of music where it actually had a meaning and people were singing songs about Reagan and Thatcher [laughs]. That's the tradition we're steeped in, and I'm still of the attitude that if you're going to sing, sing about shit that means something.
Did the music or the politics come first for you?
The music came first. I grew up in a small working-class community in the north of Sweden, pretty isolated, just being a redneck kind of kid. I got into metal, but that always seemed too complex for me as far as the music went. Then I discovered punk rock and Dead Kennedys and stuff like that that made me interested in politics. I just took it from there. I discovered the political aspect of life through music.
It's a powerful tradition.
Yeah, it is. Nowadays I'm not so confident that music will change the world, but it could definitely change our world, the world that you're a part of. It changed everything for me. We wouldn't be talking today if not for that Dead Kennedys record that I bought when I was 15 years old. It goes straight to the gut, and then you start thinking about it and it goes to your head. I always liked that.
What's the idea behind INVSN? It's obviously different in tone from AC4 and Refused.
It started out as a side project to (International) Noise Conspiracy years and years ago. The drummer, guitar player and me have been playing together since 2003, and we started out playing more power-pop, Ramones kind of punk music. And it evolved, and we released two records with that band in Sweden already, singing in Swedish, and it just got geared toward post-punk dystopic pop music.
Were you a big fan of the postpunk era?
When I first got into punk, not so much, because I was into Minor Threat and Black Flag. But I'm a music nerd, to put it mildly, and I've always been into everything that came at the tail end of Seventies punk in the U.K., when people started experimenting with different content and textures. We didn't really sit down and plan to do a band that sounds like that. It organically is where we ended up.
Are you bringing INVSN to the U.S.?
That's the plan. I'm super excited about this band. We're going to tour and be a real band, not just a project. Last year was pretty crazy for me, so this summer it would be nice to have a little time off and then at the tail end of the summer put this record out and get to work. I'm not afraid of working. I've played over 2,000 shows just touring with bands. That's what I do.
You obviously like to stay busy.
I've always been like this. I'm a restless soul. Staying active keeps you on your toes. I always like to challenge myself and try new things.
A year ago, you reunited with Refused at Coachella and then kept going.
To get back together and be the most anticipated band of the festival, it was a good year. It was rewarding and we had a great time together. We put out that record [The Shape of Punk to Come] 14 years ago, and no one really got the chance to see us perform that record the way we wanted. It was a cool thing to go out and do it justice.
The fan reaction was intense.
It's always been a bit of a struggle, which I kind of like. I'm not afraid of the hard work: You play a show and by the end people are super excited. So it was very different to go out onstage and the battle was won already. I was not used to that. As soon as the intro was on, it was OK, another night, another victory. It was very special for me.
Was it strange to come back as a huge success?
When we around in the Nineties, we were not a big band at all. We were a semi-big hardcore band in Europe. The last tour we did in 1998, we did eight shows in the States, and there were, like, 40 people at the shows. We played in coffee shops, we played in record stores, in basements. The last show we ever did in 1998 in a basement in Harrisonburg, Virginia, was in front of 45 people – and the next we did in the States was Coachella.
Any idea why it happened?
It's hard to break that down. We broke up just as people discovered the record, which added to the myth. A lot of people never got the chance to see us live, which made people more excited to see us. All those little things you can never calculate.
Is there a future for Refused?
That I don't know. We said in the summer when we played our last show, that was the last show. The other guys are busy. I'm doing this INVSN project and AC4. Everyone is just busy with life. That being said, never say never. We had a great year. When we broke up in 1998, I wrote anger manifestos and we didn't talk to each other for years, but [now] we stay in touch. We talk every week. We'll see what the future brings. Right now, there are no plans in the pipeline.
When you broke up the first time, you did say never.
We did say NEVER in big capital letters across everyone's face. We didn't do that this time. It was like, OK, this is our last show, but we'll see you later.