MATTIAS ALKBERG – Södra Sverige (interview + record review)

The wise art of being punk

This artist is AbsRecommended

Let’s get back to business. Absolut Noise season 9, episode 1. Yeah, it’s been already nine years since I started this little boutique. A blog written by a French guy, in English (more Frenglish, actually), dedicated to the Swedish rock-pop-electro-punk-whatever music scene.

Mattias Alkberg for a come back. That is obvious. I have always been a huge fan of the Bear Quartet (he’s the singer of this band, you know) and have never stopped to follow his career (my first “interview” with him was actually published back in 2006…), from the Bear Quartet to his Begravning latest project, including his Mattias Alkberg BD years, etc. Let’s be honest, to me: the punkest Matti is, the better he is.

Good news: tomorrow his new album released under his own Alkberg name will be out. It is called “Södra Sverige” and has already caused a controversy within Sweden with “Nöff nöff”, first single that’s been out a while ago (I explained the whole issue here).

“Södra Sverige”, then (everything about this album here). A hardcore punk album. An hommage to hardcore punk albums too. Short. Angry. Direct. With crazy tunes such as my favourite “Du vet väl om att jag är värdefull?”. There is actually not a lot to say about the album : if you like punk music, you’re gonna love it. If you don’t, you’re gonna hate it. I love it.

To get deeper into it though, I think it deserves a Questions/Answers thing. That’s what I did. I sent questions. Matti answered back with some interesting answers. And here is a little chat about what it is to be punk, why the current Swedish governement is a joke, the future of the Bear Quartet and the damnation of our whole world. Or something.

Absolut Noise : If I had to tell an extraterrestrial about your new album « Södra Sverige », I think I would just say « this is a punk album ». Before to talk about the « punk » part, let’s say few words about the fact that this is an « album ». Because, if you ask me, in 2014, this is not obvious to still release proper albums, you know. Like The Pixies, for instance, everybody was curious about their « come back album » and eventually they released several different EPs, then just add them into a whole single record called « album ». My point ? Well, to you, does it still make any sense to release albums?
Mattias Alkberg : Well, yeah. I make albums, that’s what I do, basically. Södra Sverige is relatively short for an album, but then again so was the first Circle Jerks album, or Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust or MDC’s Million of Dead Cops etc etc.  

Actually, when I look back to your career, it seems to me that the whole « album concept » is a key to understand your music. I mean each Bear Quartet album has a « colour » different from the previous one (and I guess this is on purpose), Mattias Alkberg BD begins with two punk albums then evolve into something more « folk ». Your « Begravning » band was very different to your first solo albums, etc. Here, with « Södra Sverige », it seems obvious that you had in mind to release something punk. Was that your actual goal? When you start to write/record its first songs, what had you in mind?
I kind of agree with your concept abum-theory, in that it might be useful if you’d want to introduce me to aliens, I can see the point in describing it like that. However, this particular record was something I had thought of doing for years and years. A proper hardcore-release in the tradition of the above mentioned. Here’s what happened: I did an acoustic show in Stockholm in February, or whenever, supporting Dödsfest, and that night my old friend Frans (Les Big Byrd, Fireside) who plays the bass on this record introduced med to Henke (In Solitude, Pig Eyes). Me and Frans have talked about having a punk band for years, and with Henke it all fell into place. I phoned Anton (Eterkopp, Utbrott, Statik Eyes) the same night and then I went home to Luleå and wrote and recorded some demos with Anton. We went back to Stockholm four weeks later and recorded the album in two or three days. But it wasn’t an album concept as much as it was a band-concept. I mean, if the recordings hadn’t become an LP, it would have been an EP or a single. Or a sophisticated demo to generate gigs.  

Ok, that’s all for the « album » part. Let’s deal now with the « punk » side. Do you have a definition of punk ? And, to you, is punk just a music genre or does it means more than that?
Punk, hmmm. It’s what you want it to be, really. But generally I think it involves some sort of fuck off- attitude. Frans says that things are either punk or it’s not, and I don’t know, that sort of makes sense to me. Some friends of mine listen to nothing but punk. And other friends sorta do it to, but the other way around: if they like it, it’s punk, no matter what it sounds like. Personally I like quite a lot that would not be considered punk by either of these two fractions. But then again, I don’t care what anybody thinks about me or what I like. And one could claim that to be quite punk in it’s own right.  

What/who is punk in Sweden ? What/who is not?
I can’t really say. I think it’s un-punk to define others punkiness. I think that right wing politics have nothing to to with punk. And people who play music for the sole purpose of pleasing others.  

Why this title « Södra Sverige » ? Would you call it a « political record »?
Södra Sverige means Southern Sweden. I’m from way up north. I don’t really know why we call it Södra Sverige. But it seems to worry a lot of southerners (people who live in Stockholm) that we do, so I guess it fills a purpose. And by that, I mean it’s a political record, yes.  

As you know, I am French (sorry about that). I am interested into politics though and have tried to get the little « controversy » that rises in Sweden following your song « Nöff nöff ». Seems you have not been very nice to Swedish government. Could you explain to me, poor little French guy, what is so wrong with your government?
Our government is a joke, an evil, capitalistic joke. They must and will fall, come September.    

Also, I used Google translate to try to better understand what newspapers did not like with this album. Well, I read strong words against you. Did you expect those reactions ? Did you reach those reactions ? How do you interprete them?
I did not expect the reactions to be quite so… many. I thought it was a funny, little bit sarky and angry punk-song (Nöff Nöff that is, the LP’s not really out until later this week, so I don’t know anything about the reactions to the album as a whole), that maybe the punk community would like or dislike. But the song and the video, featuring pictures of the right-wing political leaders in Sweden and the songs lyrics, went super-viral in Sweden and I received some death threats and was called an idiot, even a nazi-idiot, by parts of the media. I think lot of it was because they couldn’t really place the song in a musical context. Not many people in mainstream-media has ever listened to hardcore punk rock, and perhaps that was confusing. No sad folksy melodies like late MABD, or no artsy kraut like Begravningen, or rockabilly/New York-rock like Nerverna. Not even melodic 77-ish punk rock like Tunaskolan. I was quite shocked at first, but after a day or two I got used to it, and thought it was kinda funny, and in a way excellent. A punk rock dream come true. I mean, I’m a 45 year old dad and managed to upset the bourgeoisie with a punk rock song. That’s great! Of course, parts of the punk world thinks I’m a silly old rotter, but I don’t care.  

Swedish general elections are very closed, planned for the 14th of September. How do you picture them ? What do you expect?
I expect the right wing government to fall. I hope the extreme right wing will be further marginalized because of that. I think things have turned really bad the last eight years in Sweden and if it doesn’t change for the better soon, it will turn much, much worse, and fast.  

Did you know that in France, Sweden is actually often quoted by politicians (mostly left wing but also by some right wing French politicians) to a kind of ideal society with equality between men and women, etc. I mean this is pictured from France like a model society. Your vision is darker. What’s actually wrong in Sweden ? And if Sweden is so so, is the rest of the world hell?
Maybe this was true in some sense like ten-twenty years ago, but we have a racist party in parliament, just like you and everybody else. Our social services are sold out and blown to smithereens by the government. The poor and needy are being stigmatized and marginalized. Our school system is failing rapidly. Etc etc. The rest of the world might be hell, but that goes for Sweden too.  

I know you are a poet (I mean a proper one with poetry books published and all). When you do music, to which extent do you think your lyrics are important ? I actually do not get the meaning of your songs at first listen since my Swedish is quite poor, do you think this is weird that I enjoy them anyway?
I’m really happy you enjoy them anyway! To me, lyrics are really not that important. I consider myself a singer, a writer of songs, rather than a lyricists. That said, though, I work quite hard on the lyrics, and I think it would be sort of a missed opportunity, not to write something I actually like or care about when I get to/have to sing them myself. But as a listener, I never really cared that much for lyrics. I care about voices. Whether they belong to Kathleen Hanna, Bob Dylan, Julie Doiron, Morrissey, Jello Biafra, Lou Reed, Kajsa Grytt, GZA, Kate Bush or somebody else. It’s music, not literature.  

Last question, that I cannot not ask you, as a Bear Quartet huge fan : is there a chance there will be one day a new Bear Quartet album or is this adventure definitely over?
Hahahaha. I don’t know, that’s the truthful answer. Nobody knows.

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