For me it is about something that makes you feel good regardless of what it does to any other aspect of your life.”
While riding via bike to the interview date with Swedish indie-pop band SHOUT OUT LOUDS I can’t help wondering about the weather. It’s early April and the streets look like they are far away from enjoying spring or even a few rays of sunlight. Makes you wonder about the importance of light in general and how a sunny day might change your mood instantly. The Swedish group takes these ordinary thoughts of light and its effect on our lives even further on their latest studio album Optica.
After a little break Optica presents a selection of some of their finest work so far. It’s a record of confidence, focus and … well, light. It feels like a new phase in the career of the Scandinavian band and it also marks the tenth anniversary of the SHOUT OUT LOUDS. Perfect time to meet with Bebban Stenborg and Ted Malmros in a warm place and talk about their jubilee, the things they needed to destroy before making the album and what mood-uplifting advice they can give on such dark winter days.
A lot of people think of the SHOUT OUT LOUDS as a lovely little but somehow harmless indie-pop band. Do you feel mistaken by these people?
TM: Well, we’re still an indie-band, growing little by little. It has taken us ten years to go this far. And in some countries we are sill quite small.
BS: But I agree on the ‘harmless’ part. We are not harmless, we’re doing our thing and stuck to our guns for a really long time. There were plenty of other bands who were similar to us when we started. For a long time they branded us as ‘twee’, as quite lovely and sweet with all the tambourines and Glockenspiel. (laughs) But I don’t think that applies to us anymore and it hasn’t in a long time.
“Optica” to me it feels like you make a big and focussed step into a more defined direction. A bit like you finally arrived at ‘your sound. Would you agree on this?
TM: Yeah, I would. Every new record you make feels like the best. We felt very comfortable this time with what we were doing and everybody trusted each other. We weren’t really fighting at all. (laughs)
BS: But with this album we really decided before we started that we wanted to find a certain sound. Not as a final goal point but something a bit more specific. A sound that was us.
What does the title “Optica” stand for?
TM: It’s a play on words with the phrase “Optic”, I guess. Because light was one of our inspirations for the record.
BS: We needed some form of direction because we were so free this time in the studio. It was just us producing.
TM: We could do anything. (laughs)
BS: Yes, we were doing it in a very non strategic way. We were playing around so we decided that we need a word or something to narrow us down. Something that we could relate everything to.
SHOUT OUT LOUDS: “Sweden is all about fire and the nice candles”
So you had the title from very early on?
TM: Not the exact title but we had the “light” and “time” theme already.
BS: But mostly “light”, I must say. And since optics is the science of light we thought it would be quite fitting. We are also a very visual thinking band and we are interested in the way things look and how these things are changed by light and their shades get a different perspective. We talked about naming it Optics but I came up with the Optica title. And it was almost like naming a vessel – like a spacecraft or boat or anything like this. Something that is taking you somewhere. It was about turning the science into a name.
Since we are already at the ‘light’ topic … Bebban, you wrote some lovely words in the press release of the album info about the theme for the record and how light can change the mood of people and the environment we are in. What fascinates you about it?
TM: Being a Scandinavian you have always a special relationship to light since our winter’s are very dark. And we always have a lot of candles. People always wondering why we do this but it’s good to have this warm source.
BS: And for the atmosphere as well.
TM: Exactly. F.e. in Italy they have sunny and bright days and their restaurants are full with fluorescent light and everything is so damn bright. And I always think ‘Could have been nice if there were some candles in here.’
BS: And Sweden is all about fire and the nice candles and everything.
TM: This is also good for creating a positive feeling for light.
BS: This reminds me of the time when I lived in America for a while. I always let a few candles in the kitchen and people that came for a visit never understood it. They always associate it with churches or something dark but for us it is just a thing to escape the lack of light. But for this album it all started a bit with Carl (von Arbin, guitar player of SHOUT OUT LOUDS) who is very much into photography. And we all noticed that he is always looking for light and not a specific motif. He’s never looking for a person he’s always like ‘Oh, the light is pretty good in this spot, can you please stand here’. And a second reason might be that the whole recording process of the album took part in a basement. We didn’t have natural light or sometimes even an idea how the light was outside. So it became extremely helpful for us to think about it.
Okay, speaking of the whole ‘light’ topic – while we are talking it’s snowing outside although it’s supposed to be spring in Germany. We are suffering the coldest spring start in over a century – any advice from you Scandinavians?
TM: Well, we just know that it might be really bad before May starts.
BS: You have to bare it, that’s the sad thing. There is really nothing you can do, sorry. (laughs)
I once read an interview with Martin Gore from DEPECHE MODE who said they needed a producer to get them focussed and prevent the band for getting lost in details and experiments. Since you produced “Optica” by yourself – how was your experience?
TM: Although we were pretty much by ourselves we had our sound guy Johannes Berglund who was with us. He helped us once we ran a bit out of focus. He’s basically something like a sixth member.
BS: But it also took us two years to record this so we might have gone lost from time to time. (laughs)
TM: We had pretty much time.
BS: And we wanted to have it. For a certain amount of time we didn’t want to have someone who was disciplinating us. We wanted to take the time and try out things, like playing with a sound for hours.
Were there many conflicts?
TM: No, not really. All five of us weren’t much at all in the studio at the same time. If somebody had other things to do, he just left and somebody else helped playing his part and everything.
BS: But I wouldn’t say that there were no conflicts at all. As with me, for example, I was really agitated whenever we discussed it – and I always left the studio. When I came back I always hoped that somebody would have picked it up and made it better. (laughs) It’s a special form of freedom we took advantage of.
TM: Yeah, that’s really important for us. Not everyone is involved in the instrumentation of every song.
Despite the melancholic undertone in your music you seem to be quite optimistic folks. How do you manage to keep this spark alive?
TM: Funny that you say that ’cause I think we finally got more optimistic with this album. We needed to learn that first, I think.
BS: It’s also a form of acceptance that comes when you done something for a long time. It’s the same with aging – you are optimistic because you are prepared of what’s coming.
SHOUT OUT LOUDS: “We are like a family”
The SHOUT OUT LOUDS are celebrating their tenth anniversary this year. If you could travel back to 2003 and talked to your former alter egos – what would you tell yourself? Any advice?
TM: It’s probably better to stay quiet when we would meet ourselves.
Think of the time-space continuum.
TM: Exactly. Very dangerous. (laughs)
BS: I would give A LOT of advice. (laughs)
TM: I mean I think I would but I think it might be better to say nothing.
BS: I’m not sure if we would have listened to ourselves since we were very young. Especially for me as a woman in a very male-dominated industry I would have an advice or two.
TM: (disguising his voice) “Get out while you can!”
Anything in retrospect you would have done any different?
BS: I always think that if you are happy in the here and now you should also be happy about all the bad things that brought you here.
TM: Nothing really comes to my mind, I must say. We’re not really that kind of people, are we?
BS: No, there are no regrets.
TM: I hope that we were not mean to certain people.
Are there any songs from you that you are embarrassed of by now?
BS: There are some songs … (thinks) … Well, no not really. It’s okay that way.
And which is the song you are most proud of?
BS: Probably all.
TM: We got lots of favourites.
BS: It’s always different when you listen to your songs as listener and when you think about the reaction it gets from other people. Every time we play Tonight I Have To Leave It I’m so proud that we wrote that song. It’s not my favourite but I really love how the reaction of the crowd is. Hard Rain is also another favourite.
TM: Yeah, I like this one two. Or 14th Of July from the new album as well.
One of my favourites from the new record is the closing track “Destroy”. It’s got this quite clear lyrics and the dark but optimistic undertone – “A change is always good if you want it – Not sure it’s the only word I know – Destroy, destroy, destroy”. Have there been certain things you needed to destroy first before working on “Optica”?
BS: We needed to destroy SERENADES (side-project of singer Adam Olenius). (laughs)
TM: He did it because they suck so bad. (laughs) No I’m just kidding.
BS: But I really think it was important for Adam. He needed to destroy his need of exploring other options. And this is just my thought, I can’t speak for him. But I think we all have individual dreams like ‘If I had the chance to do this, would I leave the band to try it out. And if it goes well would I abandon them all together.’ It’s almost too honest to say but I really think this is what happened to him. He needed to step outside the group to see if he can spread his wings. He needed to experience this, I mean we all have that need from time to time. This might not be the topic of the song but we all benefited from his decision.
TM: He also learned a lot in the studio while recording the album.
BS: But like I said, we all have the dreams to do something like this from time to time. But we are also like a family ’cause we’ve known each other for such a long time. And whenever someone steps out of family there are always the others trying to pull him back. I mean, we basically all have other side-projects at the moment where we can discover this.
Finally – what does hope and passion mean to you, guys?
TM: As a band it’s always the passion of making music together. And it’s pretty much clear that whenever you make a new record you always hope something like ‘God, this time it is really a breakthrough and everybody will love the record.’ (laughs) And the passion keeps you going.
BS: For me it is about something that makes you feel good regardless of what it does to any other aspect of your life. For you as a writer maybe it’s like the moment when your pencil does all the work alone and it feels just quite good. It’s divine inspiration. And it doesn’t matter of which job we are talking here, it could be anything. And it always has to be balanced out with reality as well, of course.