Ebbot Lundberg cannot remember exactly when the postcard from Kurt Cobain arrived. Lundberg, the stout kaftan-draped vocalist for Swedish psychedelic sextet the Soundtrack of Our Lives, claims he did not actually see it. "I heard about it from friends," he recalls, "and that it just said, 'Good luck!' I don't know if I believe it," he adds, chuckling over the phone from Gothenberg, TSOOL's hometown on the southwest coast of Sweden.
It's true: Cobain sent his best wishes in the summer of 1992, to the studio in Chicago where Lundberg was busy recording what turned out to be the last album by his pre-TSOOL band, Union Carbide Productions. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Union Carbide Productions were Sweden's majestic combined answer to the Stooges, Black Flag and the early freaked-out Pink Floyd, a Next Big Thing doomed by missed opportunities and inner turmoil. Henry Rollins, Sonic Youth and R.E.M.'s Peter Buck all professed public love; the Replacements covered Union Carbide in concert. At one point, a small hot independent label in Seattle tried, unsuccessfully, to sign the band for America.
"We kind of laughed -- 'What is Sub Pop?'" Lundberg says. "But I couldn't see Union Carbide becoming rock stars. We had the potential, but we would have been more suicidal than any other band. We would all be dead now. For me, Soundtrack is a life-after-death experience -- a second chance: 'OK, this is the afterworld.'"
It sounds and shines like heaven. Formed in 1995 by Lundberg with Union Carbide guitarists Ian Person and Bjorn Olsson (who left two years later), TSOOL have hit the international jackpot in the past year: packed and critically acclaimed shows in Britain and the U.S.; the windfall domestic release of the band's three Swedish albums; and a new major-label deal with Universal, which has reissued the third and best of those records, 2001's Behind the Music here, coinciding with yet another North American tour -- the third since March -- beginning in New York on October 30th.
Lundberg, Person, guitarist Matthias Barjed, keyboard player Martin Hederos, bassist Ake Karl Kalle Gustafsson and drummer Frederick Sandsten are routinely bundled in the press with mod squad the Hives and femme fatales Sahara Hotnights as co-conspirators in the Scandanvian garage renaissance. But TSOOL have long been their own phenomenon, making good on the expansive promise of their name and pursuing the literal definition of the word psychedelic: "of, relating to or causing abnormal psychic effects." Behind the death-mask cover motif of Behind the Music is an explosive mosaic of living history and luminous subversion: the collision of medieval hurdy-gurdy and MC5 glam in "Infra Riot"; the shimmering jangle and driving menace of "Nevermore" and "The Flood"; the day-glo Beggars Banquet stomp of "21st Century Rip Off."
"That's the beauty of our name -- we can go anywhere, without embarrassment," crows Lundberg, thirty-six. "Where could you go with a name like Union Carbide Productions? It speaks for itself. I'm surprised we even made four albums. To form this band, we had to redo ourselves -- reshift, reform, find something that is limitless. And right now, there is a magic within us."
It is a magic with precedent. A country that will be forever synonymous with ABBA, Sweden has an exceptional psychedelic and garage-rock pedigree. The country produced its own smart generation of Nuggets combos in the 1960s, including the Tages, the Namelosers and the Hep Stars (featuring a pre-ABBA Benny Andersson). The experimental mid-Sixties band Parson Sound, highly influenced by early minimalist Terry Riley, evolved into freewheeling jammers International Harvester, while organist Bo Hansson became an overseas cult figure with a bewitching series of instrumental albums combining prog-rock chops and frosty cosmic impressionism. And the Nomads were Sweden's leading killers in the Eighties garage revival, long before the Hives learned how to tie a Windsor knot.
"For me, this scene has been going on for fifteen years," Lundberg says. "And there is a certain psychedelic atmosphere to Sweden that I love. It's more of an underground thing -- most people don't even think about it. But Sweden has always been the ideal Aquarian country -- you know, free sex and everything. You always felt you could do whatever you wanted."
TSOOL took that license seriously. Before they even recorded a note, Lundberg hatched a plan to introduce TSOOL to the world with a multi-disc box set -- "with a biography and everything," he says, "so people would go, 'What is this? What have we been missing?'" After debuting with a more realistic single, "Four Ages, Pts 1 and 2," TSOOL nearly made good on the box-set concept, recording nearly forty songs that they eventually spread out across their first two albums, Welcome to the Infant Freebase (1996) and Extended Revelation (for the Psychic Weaklings of the Western Civilization) (1998). There is another album's worth of material spread across singles and EPs, and Lundberg estimates that TSOOL has amassed another thirty-five songs "that we don't want to use for the next album."
"There are too many songs," he admits, "We have too much on our minds. that is the main problem, not the process. And it is hard to put them together, put them all in a row to make them feel just right. You don't want to leave anything behind -- although we do."
That does not include Union Carbide Productions. Between TSOOL tours and writing jags, Lundberg is preparing -- what else? -- a box set that will tell that band's entire story. "It will have the four albums, extra songs that were never released, live stuff, probably some films on DVD," Lundberg says of the project, due for release next year. "It will be a lot of work," he notes, with a sigh. "Again."
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