Interview: Suburban Kids with Biblical Names
If Sweden is the land icy cool, retro-tinged gems (or so many of the imports that find success state-side would lead us to believe), then Peter Gunnarsson and Johan Hedberg are out to shatter that illusion. The duo has been releasing deliciously fractured pop under the inscrutable name Suburban Kids with Biblical Names for the last six years -- infusing their meticulously pieced together everything-but-the-kitchen-sink compositions with liberal amounts of joie de vie.
Gunnarsson and Hedberg sat down with It's a Trap! in a Stockholm park to discuss vinyl, listening parties, and, of course, the status of their fifth release.
For a first time listener, how would you describe Suburban Kids With Biblical Names' back-story?
Peter Gunnarsson: We played in another band. We're from the same suburb. So we played in different bands and we sort of had a lot in common -- our taste in music and approach in playing. So we took the two bands and made one band out of it.
Johan Hedberg: Yeah, it was in 2000-2001. We started making music, just me and Peter, just to have fun. We did strange recordings -- it was more of a fun thing, playing for our friends.
Gunnarsson: The bands were instrumental, so we wanted to make songs with vocals and just record instantly, not rehearsing.
Hedberg: That's how it began.
You still have the spontaneity to your recordings, as do your lyrics. What kind of planning goes into that?
Hedberg: I think on the record #3 it was very spontaneous. It's always like that when we record a song. You have an idea and text. And then you get the ideas going when you record it. So on #3, I think it was a lot of just making up the lyrics as we went on. I believe.
Hedberg: Something like that. But it's different from song to song. Nowadays, sometimes we write lyrics together. Often before it was only me or Peter who did the lyrics.
Do you often have your vocal delivery compared to Jens Lekman?
Hedberg: In the beginning. But not that much nowadays. We also got a lot of comparisons to The Magnetic Fields.
Do you draw from bands like that?
Gunnarsson: I think when we make songs we try to make the same type of pop song, with a similar structure as their songs. But when I listen to music I tend to listen to a lot of different things. Well, sometimes I listen to Jens Lekman.
You've also got a creative album title theme going. What can you tell us about that?
Hedberg: [laughs] It wasn't anything we planned. We started with #1 so it felt logical to got to #2 and #3, #4... we'll see what happens, if we're going to continue or not. We're not sure.
Or you could skip #5, go straight to #6 and confuse people.
Hedberg: [laughs] Yeah yeah! Or maybe just have a decent title of an album. I don't know. But I like it, with the band name being so long I think it's kinda nice to just have a number after that. It's been now, after so many years, the thing we've done, so it works. I think it's nice to know which record was the first and which one was the second, and then third and fourth.
When you listen back though them can you hear a progression?
Gunnarsson: I think you can hear so many different ideas going on in each song. You can hear influences, different influences in each song. They change.
Hedberg: I think you can hear a lot from the new recordings. On the first EP there's a lot of progression in the way we work, I think. There's much more time spent on the songs now, than from the first album.
And you're working on #5 right now. How's that going?
Hedberg: It's like what we talked about earlier about this spontaneous thing. We start with new songs all the time and we're willing to try out a lot of different ways to go on the songs. So it's going. But it was better when we recorded #3. We took a month off and just recorded every day. Now it's more like once a week, or something like that when we get the time. We have our work and things like that too.
You mentioned putting a lot of spontaneous ideas down. If you had to take a guess, for every song that ends up on an album, how many do you write?
Hedberg: There was one song that ended up on the #4 EP that I think I have like 50 CDs of different versions. Some of them, when I listen to it, I don't understand anything. [laughs] We chopped it up in 3 million pieces and moved around the different parts. There's like 20 different lyrics. So I think it's much more like that with the songs. The songs become different. One song can become five different songs before the final result. But we have a lot of old songs, I don't know how many, but we have a lot of old songs that we haven't done.
Gunnarsson: Yeah, and they tend to disappear, somehow in the computer system.
Hedberg: We've had some computer problems.
Hedberg: So that's very frustrating when you've been recording for a whole day and you're going to save it and it deletes everything you've got.
Gunnarsson: The session of the music program the file is corrupted.
So how long have you been at work on the new album?
Hedberg: It's hard to say because it's not that we've figured out which of all these songs are going to be on the album. So we've been working... I don't know. What do you think?
Gunnarsson: It depends if we're going to have some of the older songs. A couple of years, I think.
Hedberg: For me, the songs for the new album were just before you went to Africa or something. That's when we started on some of the songs that I think might become something.
Gunnarsson: So one year, something like that.
That's right, you took some time off to go to Africa.
Gunnarsson: Yeah, it was during my studying. I studied there. It was fun.
Did you take time off music as well?
Gunnarsson: Yeah, I tried to do some little things there, but not much.
Are you bringing some of the influences back with you?
Gunnarsson: No! [laughs] I don't think it will affect things that much. I heard some good music there, but I don't think you'll be able to hear the influence.
Are there any new sounds or ideas you're trying to bring into the new album?
Gunnarsson: I think it will sound different than before. But it's hard to describe how. In what way.
Hedberg: One idea that I had was to put some strings on, to try out that. We've never done that before. So we'll find some people who are up for it. And are cheap too! But I've played some songs for other people, and they think it sounds different. So that's a good thing.
Does it have a name yet? Or is it just "The String Song"?
Hedberg: I haven't figured out all the names yet, so I don't want to drop anything. Because it will probably be a different name.
I've noticed you have a very specific look to your album artwork. How did that come about?
Hedberg: Most of the photographs are made by Hendrick from Pallers (http://henrikmartensson.se). But not #3, a friend of ours did the photograph for that.
Do you think you'll continue with similar styles and images for the next album?
Hedberg: One thing that we've always had is that we've always been on the front of all the records. That's one thing we'd like to continue -- although I hate the #2 EP where it's just my face. They made all these posters and everywhere we went it was this poster of my face and someone had written something.
Gunnarsson: The common thing was probably a mustache.
Hedberg: I think that's one of our things that I like, It's nice -- although I hate seeing myself -- there's not too many people who do these covers with themselves on the front. I think most of them have something else.
You weren't on the cover of your solo EP were you?
Hedberg: No, not . But before , I released it on a CD-R and I was.
So since you're on the cover do you feel like this is definitely a personal expression?
Gunnarsson: Yes, I don't see how you can make music and not make it personal. It's something you express from yourself. It would be really boring if you made music totally objectively. It wouldn't work, I think.
Do you think there's less of an emphasis on commercial success in Sweden than in other countries?
Hedberg: Yeah, we don't have that tradition in Sweden, that you have to have a manager. When we came to the UK, it seemed like you have to be in a band and you have to have a manager and everything is supposed to be a certain way in every venue. I think that's one thing that we don't really have here in Sweden. I don't know anyone who has a manager who is in our position. We're not extremely big pop stars.
Gunnarsson: In the UK we played with small bands. They all had a manager.
Hedberg: It was a strange experience. Here, no one buys records anymore, at all. They all have Spotify. I think that has made it more a laid-back attitude too. You don't have to push out a record that far. You don't have to do a lot of things that you had to do when you promote CDs. I think people are more just recording a song and putting it out there for anyone to hear. I think that's a good thing. When we were releasing our first EP, people were still buying CDs. They were like "wow, it's a new EP."
Gunnarsson: That one came up on a singles chart.
Hedberg: [laughs] Yeah, it was number 30 or something. But now I can't imagine people buying CDs anymore. It's quite sad too because I used to by a lot of records.
Do you see the used record shop culture dying out as well?
Hedberg: Well I'm buying a lot of used vinyl now. I'm into that now. There is a loss though, or when you'd buy CDs and think, "Okay, today is the day when that new one gets released" and you're there. Now you get that culture when you go out looking for used vinyl.
Gunnarsson: Maybe it's people who miss that. Like the older people, like us. We go to the used record shop. And the younger people, they just don't care.
Is that something, if you ever have kids or nieces or nephews, you hope to pass along?
Hedberg: I think CDs in 50 years or so will probably get a new revival. But now, a lot of record shops here in Stockholm are throwing out CDs and just stocking vinyl.
Gunnarsson: It's nice to go somewhere and gather around music. If not in a record shop maybe the library or some kind of place where you go out of your home to listen to music. Maybe they'll start some kind of music centers. Listening parties.
Hedberg: I actually have listening parties with a friend of mine. Drinking beer and taking our vinyl and playing new stuff for each other. That's one thing I miss from a long time ago, when you just sat around and listened to the new record. You don't do that any more.
Will your new album be out on vinyl?
Hedberg: I really hope so.
Interview and photo by Laura Studarus.