Interview: Peter Ahlqvist (Burning Heart Records)
Way back in mid-March I took a roadtrip with my friend Kelly down to LA for the Export Music Sweden Swedish Showcase. As has already been posted, I got the chance to sit down and talk with Anders from Moneybrother before the show. Well, I also got a chance to sit down with Peter Ahlqvist, big cheese for Burning Heart Records. And I do mean big, dude is like eight feet tall. Anyhow, we grabbed a table in the barroom while Deportees finished up their soundcheck nextdoor and had ourselves a little chat. Here's how it went:
(note: Kelly was mostly busy sending text messages to her fake boyfriend, but she does chime in towards the end)
Avi: So let start with congratulations on a #1 record.
Peter: Yeah, it's good! Actually had one before, but it was in Norway and doesn't really count the same way.
A: Oh? What #1 in Norway?
A: Oh, right right.
P: Three weeks in a row or something. Big band over there.
A: Oh yeah and they have that new one coming out. That's probably going to be a big record...
P: I hope so. It's good. Better than the last one.
A: So how is Moneybrother doing now with that Kent record out? Is it still holding on?
P: No, uh (laughs). They released it the last day of the week because they wanted to have a #1 that first week and the next week. They said they sold like half a million records on the last one.
A: So like how people are there in Sweden and how many records?
P: It's great actually how big they are.
P: I'm not sure actually that that's just Sweden, I think that's Scandinavia total, but they're still big in Sweden. But it's good, we're happy we're #2 at least. So that's good, as good as it can get.
A: But still y'know, you look at the cover of Sonic and see Anders is on the cover and Kent is down a ways.
P: But still they are such a mainstream popular band.
A: I don't think they're quite the talk as much as...
P: But you like them personally?
A: I haven't heard the new one yet, but I thought the last one was kind of mediocre.
P: Uh huh, that's the biggest one of course. But I like some of the old stuff.
A: Oh yeah, me too. I mean, the last one isn't bad. I'm curious about the new one, but in no rush to hear it.
P: No, same here. (laughs)
A: So now that you have this big success, what's next? What are you working on?
P: We're always working on tons of records, not just big ones.
A: You're not just concentrating on the pop stuff?
P: No no, I think the majority of our bands are punk bands in one or another. There's always a punk angle to the bands we are signing. Even Anders was in punk bands and Monster. I think everyone has some punk thing going. We're doing Turbonegro, we're doing Millencolin, new Looptroop. And that's all coming out in spring.
A: Right, all pretty big records.
P: Yeah, all big. And then we have Lost Patrol Band and Club Killers which is a cool band. Have you heard of them?
A: I think I've heard the name.
P: It's basically three of the guys from Moneybrother. They're all here actually, but not the trumpet guy.
A: Oh, were they on the comp? That live track, that's right.
P: They are a live band who are like a project... they're a real band now. Basically they play a club in Stockholm - Debaser - every second week or every month. They play ska, rocksteady; only covers. And they have fifteen people in the lineup and then they invite a lot of guests like Håkan Hellström, someone from The Hellacopters, Sahara Hotnights, Weeping Willows, everything. They have guest vocalists for all the songs.
A: So that's what the recording's gonna be like?
P: Yeah yeah, totally. It's like Buena Vista Social Club, but more indie/ska and in Sweden. It's started to become pretty popular - they have some great festival gigs last summer. This will be the first release, live at the club. It was recorded live during several nights or whatever and then put together.
A: Is it all ready to go?
P: Yeah, it'll be out in May.
A: So actually will be appearing on it then? The people you mentioned already?
P: Yeah, Håkan Hellström, Magnus Carlsson, Maria from Sahara, some hip-hop guys, Moneybrother's on two tracks. Then they have their own singer which is a girl, Anna Maria EspinosaModer Jords Massiva.
A: Kind of the all-stars, eh?
P: Yeah, I hope they're gonna develop into a real band.
A: And actually tour and everything?
P: Uh-huh. And write their own stuff. Which they want to do, but I don't know if they can get the time because of Moneybrother.
A: Are they going to do any festivals this summer?
P: Yeah, but they are also subject to what they can do because of Moneybrother. The drummer is also from Weeping Willows, the horn section is from a lot of bands.
A: Of course Moneybrother will in-demand this summer I imagine.
P: Yeah, right. It's gonna be tough for them. It's an interesting thing and of course if Moneybrother plays a festival they might also play the same festival.
A: Yeah, as long as none of the other bands are doing anything else?
P: Yeah. So that's what we're releasing this spring. And we've got tons of new stuff in the autumn actually.
A: What else you working on?
P: Sara from INC, a new band called The Vicious. We're doing that. That's more the Dead Boys kind of punk-rock.
A: So not going back to like the Doughnuts metalcore thing?
P: (laughs) no no... So that's a good one. And then we have a band called The Accidents.
A: Oh yeah, I have their record.
P: Yeah, it's more rock n' roll.
A: Yeah, that's another kind of all-star band in some ways.
P: Yeah, but some of the band members are from Voice of a Generation who just broke up. So now they have the bassplayer from VOAG and it's totally his band.
A: So they're going full-out now? Not like a side-project?
P: Yeah, also because one of the guys from VOAG who left and split up the band - he works for Burning Heart. That's why he wanted to quit. And he's still in The Accidents as well, but he's only gonna be on the record. He's not gonna tour.
A: Right. Now what does he do at Burning Heart?
P: He's running the publishing. He works for the publishing company which is part of Burning Heart in a way.
P: It's a different company that does the publishing for Refused, The Hives, whatever, a tons of bands.
A: Yeah, it's a lot of work I would imagine.
P: It's a lot of work, so it's tough.
A: Right. So how do you go about discovering new bands then? Do you go out to a lot of shows? Demos?
P: It's not demos really, it's more recommendations and usually we sign bands that already have a reputation.
A: Yeah, all those bands seem to have people that are already established.
P: Yeah, and live shows - yeah, I go to live shows, but not that many. It's hard - I don't travel a lot. If there's a band I really want to see and want to sign, of course I go. Usually I hear about a band through others and then go to the show. But it's not often you see a band that blows you away.
A: Has that ever happened to you?
P: Yeah. In a way I see that sometimes. Like I saw Flogging Molly on the Warped Tour a couple years ago. I really liked that because I thought it was excellent live and then we licensed them for Europe. But otherwise, thinking about it - it's not often I see a band live and go wow, this is something I have to work with. It's more like I heard about the band and then I see them live.
A: So nobody out of the blue then?
P: Not really. Flogging Molly I would say is the only one.
A: Is that different from the way you used to do things when you first started the label?
P: Of course, that was more demos actually at the beginning. And we started to sign a few bands that developed into others or started new bands or people recommended.
A: Well and Fredrik Holgren might accuse you of stealing his bands.
P: Ahhh yeah, but he was not involved in doing that deal with Refused. But that's the way - it's hard in the beginning. We signed the demos for a lot of the bands like No Fun At All, Millencolin. I did the first Refused EP which was basically me and Fredrik had around the same time, but he - initially he had a deal with the band and then I put out the EP. But all these bands, the early bands Millencolin, 59 Times the Pain, Breach and so on, that was through demos. Lately, it's not the same way now. That was part of the punkrock, hardcore way. And that was what Burning Heart was at the beginning, sort of a more punkrock hardcore thing.
A: Do you consider yourself a different kind of label now?
P: In a way. It's a more established label. It's not the same way. We don't pick demos with bands, there's not the same amount of good new bands around. It's not the scene. It's not something happening at the moment that you can relate to in the same way. On the other hand, I mean, sometimes you hear stuff like I heard a demo from Regulations I wanted to do. I dunno if you're familiar with them?
A: I've heard the name.
P: It's punkrock basically. It's gonna come out on Dennis' own label. Dennis and Stefan from Randy are gonna put it out. And maybe hopefully I'll be able to work with it later on. Vicious also, but that was also because I know Sara was in the band. You always have something. In the beginning it was different. I think we are still the same kind of label, though we are more established and we can work with more bigger bands.
A: So you think the scene has changed then?
A: Do you think the DIY thing isn't going quite as strong or?
P: It wasn't much of a DIY thing at that point. It was because everyone started their punkrock label, but no - I wouldn't say it's as strong these days. It's definitely not as strong as it was when Refused and all those bands came. Then there were a lot of smaller Swedish punkrock labels established. And they were all gone after a few years, but a lot of them started and managed to do some okay things. A lot of indie labels sold a lot of records. Today there aren't that many.
A: Why do think that is?
P: I think there was an over-establishment at some point, in a way. But now... I think there was a boom in the scene and something new that came with Offspring and Green Day that totally changed. The kids were totally into it and there was a lot of new things about snowboarding and skateboarding.
A: The pop-punk explosion?
P: Yeah, it was - and the hardcore explosion followed. It was the same kind of thing. But now I don't see the same explosion in any scene. Y'know, for many years we had a lot of Swedish bands that wanted to sound like the Hellacopters and Backyard Babies. A lot of new bands started with that. And then if you go into that, maybe you have your own scene in a way, but you don't start booking shows. You don't bring bands from... It's a different thing. When the punkrock thing came a lot of people did their own thing with bands. That is pretty much gone. I would say of course there are many left, but it was such a big thing back then. I don't see any Swedish bands like that. There are mostly indie ones and very few hardcore ones.
A: So what do think's gonna happen in the future? Where do you see it going?
P: I don't know. I've been doing punkrock since 1980 when I did my first fanzine. I've seen so many changes, but it's always - I think there will always a place for something like harder music or extreme music. I don't see it as going away, but I don't see anything happening now that I can say oh, that's gonna happen in two years or Labrador Records is gonna be huge or whatever. They're a label that's got some cool things going on, even though they don't sell that much.
A: Yeah, they're very well known. Even here in the States you hear a lot of people talking about them.
P: Yeah, but otherwise I don't see any hardcore coming back. I see a lot of punk bands coming up. A lot of the bands, especially up north and so on - a lot of people are going back to playing punkrock. Everyone plays in a punkrock... as opposed to hardcore, they play punkrock influenced by all the American hardcore like Black Flag or Circle Jerks and also early Swedish punk or early English punk or whatever. And then there's a lot of oi! bands. That scene is also happening in a way. You never know, maybe there will be something.
A: Have your tastes changed as you've gotten older? Are you still into that stuff and following it?
P: I think I listen to the same type of music now. I mean, you get a little bored with only listening to punkrock. I don't pick up tons of new records and fall in love with them, but every now and then something comes along that I really like. For me, I think I've heard most of the good punk. I think it's been done in the past. I think there's always some good bands. I try to pick up good new bands I hear on other labels every now and then, but really - I'm not that excited about it. I'm still excited if I put on Minor Threat or if I put on...
A: The classics?
P: The classics, totally! I still listen to old oi! and that stuff and of course all the hardcore as well, or maybe some Hatebreed or something like that, but I don't pick new hardcore angry bands or melodic skatepunk bands or whatever. It's just not interesting anymore. I mean, there's always good bands.
A: So what do you listen to then?
P: I listen to everything. It's a lot of punkrock, a lot of indie bands. I still buy a lot of records.
A: Name some names that you've been hearing
P: Isolation Years is a great band. I like a band like Anti-Flag. Once more, I don't listen to that much new stuff I don't think.
A: So are just listening to more like the oldies?
P: No, really I buy a lot of stuff, but I'm not that really...
A: Nothing's been too terribly exciting?
P: I like Bloc Party. It's good. I like Libertines a bit, but it's not the classics. I like the old bands. I'm into stuff I've heard before, like Radio Dept. - I rather listen to something old like Ride.
A: You'd rather listen to the original?
P: Yeah, in a way. But still, it's hard to say that. Yes, it sounds sad, but... I like Koma. You know them? I like that record.
A: Yeah, they're on my comp that I put out.
P: Great band. But I don't see anything special that I really, totally am devoted to. My main preference is old ska. I listen to a lot of old ska, but it's hard to get new stuff in that genre that is good.
A: So then let's switch gears here...
P: It sounds bad, I want to be able to say "ah, this band's fantastic." But of course it's hard to be excited about music. I tried to put out good new stuff, but I can't say that I have to check out the new electro-punk scene from this place. It's not like that. I'm not into a special genre. I try to stick with what I really like. Before I could maybe buy everything on Revelation or everything on this label, but it's not like that anymore.
A: Right. So you're bringing Moneybrother over to the States. Do you think you have a good chance of getting him a break over here?
P: I hope so. I don't know - it's so hard to say. From a business point of view, I think he's a great artist and if people saw him live I'm sure he would be enormous. He's a great live act. You never know how things will work out in the US. There's already a lot of interest. If that's real interest, I don't know. I hope people check him out.
A: Are you hearing it from industry people or from like, the streets?
P: I would say only industry people so far because we haven't really done anything on the street market. He's such a new artist. I mean, it's only happening in Sweden. A few people know about Burning Heart, but maybe it's a bit out of the... it's a little bit different from what we used to put out so maybe, our original audience maybe doesn't...
A: Well you're not going to be licensing it to Epitaph then I guess?
P: No, I don't think so, but you never know. They're here, they're gonna listen. It could be something for Anti, but they usually only work with established artists. I don't want to say it - I hope it's going to work in the US. I can't say this is an American-style artist or this is something that will definitely go down in the US, but at the same time, no one thought that The Hives would work in the US and no one thought that this and this band would work in the US. It's all a matter of timing or whatever happens.
A: Are you really pushing on it? Do you think it's worth it?
P: We're over here, so yeah. We're trying to get something going. It's so hard to get things established in the US, it's such a big market. But I think every Swedish artist, since we are such a small country and only have a home market of 9 million people; every Swedish artist wants to go here. They sing in English because they have to to get over here and go to England and make it. We'll see. We're not depending on it. Of course it's everyone's dream to make it in the US somehow.
A: So, anyone else on Burning Heart you thinking of maybe bringing over? Or that you would like to?
P: Yeah. Of course Millencolin is doing their thing.
A: Well they're doing the Warped Tour this summer right?
P: Yeah, they're doing their thing. It's been running for what, 10 years or whatever. And Turbonegro is probably gonna come over and tour a lot more on this record. They are more, um, in-shape these days. (laughter)
Kelly: So they won't be so hard to look at?
K: I don't know - it was just a naked man with a big bushy mustache was on my living room wall.
P: Yeah, that's Hank. Actually, on the new CD there's an extra added DVD with a workout video with Hank. So he's fit now.
K: That's hilarious! Does he have a lot of enthusiasm like Jane Fonda on his workout tape?
P: No... I mean, I don't know if it's even funny, but it's cool to have it. (laughs) I would say that people who train for real will go "Oooh, he doesn't do anything right." It isn't exactly strict and all that stuff, so we'll see.
A: Yeah, I remember when Turbonegro played at Punx With Presses... that must've been like '96 or '97. That was ages ago.
K: I vaguely remember.
A: I remember when they came through and was like "Turbonegro? That's a funny band name." I missed the show, stupidly. Everyone else the next day was like "You missed the best show ever!"
P: It's a funny band. They were supposed to called - they changed it after a week of something- their first name was Nazi Penis. They took Turbonegro instead.
K: Flaccid penis?
P: Yeah, it's a funny band. But they are going to tour.
A: So you think there's a good future for importing bands over?
P: It's tough of course because of the cost of touring and of course bands, if really want to make it in the US they have to dedicate a lot of time. A lot of the bands that old don't have that time. They have their families. But we trying some newer bands that I really hope we can do more - we're signing a lot of "baby bands", younger bands. Hopefully we can get them over here. At the same time they need to develop in Europe as well. It's more important for us to have them touring in Europe than to come over here.
A: Have you ever thought of establishing a Burning Heart office in another country?
P: Not in the US. We were thinking of it before when we started to work with Epitaph. They were some plans to maybe have someone work for Burning Heart, but it hasn't really turned out that way. We haven't really pushed it either because it demands a lot of work.
A: Would it worthwhile for the benefits you'd get out of it?
P: Not now, if it was done five, six years ago maybe it would've been something. But then you would've needed some person who's really working it over here. We have an office in Germany. It's just one person actually, but he does the markteting and promotion there. We tried to sign a German band, but it was failed in the very last minute. They were on a label and their manager had the label and then he was picked up by Roadrunner, the whole label.
A: Which band was that?
P: Days in Grief. Has a bit of a Refused thing going, but more melodic maybe. At the Drive In, Refused with more melody.
A: So are there other bands outside of Scandinavia that you've thought about picking up?
P: We're talking to a band called Hell Is For Heroes.
A: Aren't they from New York?
P: No, they're English. They used to be on EMI in the UK. They sold a lot of records over there, but now they left EMI and want to do more of a Dischord thing on their own.
A: Oh, they're starting their own label then?
P: In the UK. They put it out in the UK, but then we're going to come along and do it for the rest of the world.
A: So you're going to license it not just for Scandinavia, but for everywhere?
P: For everywhere. And on the next record we're probably doing to do everything, even the UK. They are more of a post-hardcore, Fugazi/Refused/emo, but it has both the old and the new in there somehow. That's a band we really think is good and we're going to try to work hard and also try to get over here.
A: You've never limited yourself to local bands?
P: No, but still - the majority - it so much easier to be closer to your band. We try to sign American bands amd license American bands to do them over in Europe. but most of the time it's hard because they only want to sign for one album. They want to have a major deal over here and then we are out of the picture. So they say "You can only do one record."
A: Who have you been interested in?
P: Well we did Flogging Molly and then they started their own label. We only did one record and we wanted to work with them more and then they did their own, their label here started up in Europe and so they got a very good deal. We did Midtown. We did Give Up the Ghost, but they broke up.
A: Yeah, I do remember that. They broke up like right before they were supposed to tour?
P: Yeah, their second. What else? We still do Samiam.
A: I forget that they're still around. Living in the Bay Area, that's a band I grew up with.
P: They're actually in Europe now on a tour.
A: They do pretty well over there I'd imagine?
P: I don't know - it's been three or four years. I hope it's good, but the last record didn't do as good as the others. I think if they could do a another great new record I think they could do pretty okay because there was a lot of excitement for the tour.
A: Yeah, it's strange because over here, Samiam are hasbeens. (to Kelly) Would everyone even show up if they played you think? Do you remember them?
K: I remember them from like 10 years ago, but I haven't heard anything. I think that people would go.
A: I dunno. It's hard to say.
P: It's hard, I understand. They've done some really good records.
K: I feel like their records are always in people's record collections.
A: I see them along the same lines as J-Church - they're a band that people kind of don't really appreciate, but they persist. And they keep going and people go "Oh? Is that band still around?"
P: Yeah, maybe here. In Germany...
A: Yeah, that whole genre just seems to do a lot better in Germany.
P: Yeah yeah, but they were too early with that stuff. They're too old. If they were a little bit younger and nicer looking they would be really...
A: That is true. They aren't necessarily posterboys.
P: Yeah (laughs)