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Hellacopters | High Visibility | interview | Nicke Andersson | rock | Lollipop
High Visibility (Gearhead)
An interview with frontman Nicke Andersson
by Brian Varney
I can still vividly remember the first time I heard the Hellacopters. Regala and I were riding in a van with the publisher of the mag we were both writing for at the time (sometime in 1995) and he casually pulls out a tape someone had made him of the first Hellacopters. I spent the next several months trying to track down a then-elusive copy of their debut album, and I've been a huge fan ever since.
Some people complain that the band lost their edge when they ditched the noisy scree of the early stuff for the clean, majestic, arena-ready sound of Grande Rock (Sub Pop, 1999) and High Visibility (which came out on Universal in Europe in 2000 but not in the U.S. 'til 2002, and then on Gearhead) and some people completely write them off as boring, retro-grade MC5 ripoffs, but they're all wrong. I suppose I can understand why some young punk wouldn't care for the beer-guzzling, titty-flashing classic rock the Hellacopters are bringing to finer record stores and rock venues across the U.S., but I doubt a band who can write a song like "Baby Borderline" or "Move Right Out of Here" gives a fuck what people like that think.
So I called the band while they were driving to Minneapolis and talked to frontman Nicke Andersson about the band's European major-label deal, the scene in Sweden, and the state of rock in general.
How long have you been on tour?
About one and a half weeks.
How's the turnout so far?
Great, considering we haven't been here for two and a half years and the album's only just come out here.
What size halls are you guys playing this time around?
Sorta the same as last time. I guess it varies from city to city.
I just wondered since the place you're playing here in Columbus is really big.
Yeah, we know... I'm not really sure what happened with that.
Are you playing places that big in every city.
No. I don't know why we're playing in that big place.
So is High Visibility actually out in the U.S. yet? I bought the import when it came out two years ago.
It came out last week (early April) on Gearhead Records. It's been out for a while, but we've had some company problems, you might say.
Are Universal Europe and Universal U.S. different companies or something?
Well, basically, we're signed to Universal for a worldwide deal. It's up to the Swedish Universal to convince the North American Universal to release it over here, and they couldn't do it. And it took a lot longer than it should've. But it's out now.
What about Sub Pop? Was that supposed to just be a one-off deal?
It was a two-album deal. They released Payin' the Dues as well. Two albums was all we signed for, and then the Universal deal happened for us in Sweden. We'd actually talked to them before Gearhead, but it didn't work out.
It just seems strange to be on Universal and then Gearhead since they're such different size labels.
Not really. The difference is all what you make of it, I guess. Universal does have a lot more people to deal with, but they also have a lot more money. But other than that, we still do the same thing. We just put records out and tour.
Has being on Universal in Europe helped your sales?
Not in Europe. They're the same as before, actually. Of course, Sweden is the biggest market for what we do. We have a gold record in Sweden, so we're a lot bigger there than anywhere else.
What is the scene in Sweden like? A couple of years ago, it seemed like there were a million Swedish bands doing the rock thing. Is it still as big as it seems from here?
We've got about nine million people, and for that number of people, I'd say we have a lot of good bands. Scene-wise, I don't know... It's hard to say how the scene is when you're in it. There aren't really any spectacular places to play in Stockholm. All in all, I'd say it's pretty good. I would think it's better than France, maybe. (laughs)
Aren't Soundtrack of Our Lives from Stockholm also?
They're from Gothenburg, but some of them live in Stockholm.
You'll have to forgive my ignorance of Swedish geography.
Oh, that's OK. You didn't mistake Sweden for Switzerland, so you're doing OK. That happens. Soundtrack of Our Lives are a really good band.
They're one of my favorites. It looks like their records are finally gonna come out here as well. Are Backyard Babies from the same city as you?
They come from a small town, but they live in Stockholm too.
Are you guys still friendly with Dregen (Backyard Babies guitarist who played on the first two Hellacopters LPs)?
It wasn't an ugly split or anything?
No, no, not at all. He played in both bands and both bands were touring and he had to decide which band to stick with and Backyard Babies is his, uh, baby. I have no good stories about that. It would be more interesting if there was a rivalry going on, but I'm afraid there isn't.
Was he a part of the songwriting, or has it always been mainly you?
It's always been mostly me.
I wondered, since the difference between Payin' the Dues and Grande Rock is pretty great and I didn't know if his departure had anything to do with that change.
I'd say that was more of a change in studios and trying to record in a different way. That's all that happened. But I know what you're saying.
It's just gotten a lot cleaner-sounding.
(There is silence at this point, which I assume is Nicke getting tired of my rambling on. However, I soon discover we'd been disconnected, so I call back).
Before I realized we'd gotten disconnected, I was saying that High Visibility is almost a classic rock album. Have you lost any fans of the early, noisier stuff who don't like the cleaner-sounding stuff?
There's always gonna be people who say the first album is the best. For some people, that's true, but it's not true for us.
I think High Visibility is the best one by far.
Really? Thanks. Obviously, that's what we think too. Otherwise we wouldn't have released it.
It's even got the Swan Song wings on the cover.
I never thought of it that way...
That was the first thing I thought of, but that's probably the result of spending too much time staring at Led Zeppelin and Bad Company album covers.
We like all of the albums, but each one is sort of a document of where we are at the time.
It seems to me like the songwriting really took a leap forward with High Visibility.
Hmmm... I dunno. I write songs all the time and some of the High Visibility songs might've been written the day after we recorded Grande Rock. But I do pay more attention to the songs these days. We have the energy and we've found our sound, so it's more about trying to come up with a good song.
What kind of music did you cut your teeth on?
When I was a teenager, KISS helped me discover music. I listened to them for a few years and then I met Kenny (Hellacopters bassist) and we got into punk rock because his Dad had a big record collection. We found the Damned and the Ramones and stuff in there. But when you're a kid and listening to punk rock, you want it to be faster. So I got into the Exploited and G.B.H. and Discharge. From there, I got into classic British heavy metal and then into Venom and Slayer. And now I'm back to KISS again (laughs).
You quit Entombed to form the Hellacopters, so I wondered what kind of lineage prefaced that move...
If you look at it from the outside, it might seem strange. But to me, it's not strange at all.
The Entombed stuff is pretty rock'n'roll as far as metal goes...
When I was in the band, we never considered ourselves to be like the other [metal] bands. That's one of the reasons I quit. There were plenty of reasons, but I never really felt at home in that scene. But I still love Slayer as much as I love KISS.
You played drums in Entombed. Did you learn drums or guitar first?
I learned drums first, but I've always had the guitar for writing songs and riffs.
Even when you were the drummer in Entombed, you were writing on the guitar?
Yeah. It's kinda difficult to write on drums. It's pretty difficult to get a melody that way. So that's how I started on guitar. But it wasn't 'til we started the Hellacopters that I really started playing the guitar.
Is the singles compilation (Cream of the Crap Volume 1) going to come out on Gearhead too?
Yeah, in June.
Are there going to be additional volumes?
At least one more. Probably two, since we've done so many songs. We just want them to be available so you don't have to go through eBay and pay stupid prices for two songs that aren't really that good. The whole collector thing is getting out of hand.
I have the first single, but I didn't pay a lot for it. I got it when it came out.
Now it goes for more than it cost to record, which is very strange. It goes for the same amount that you'd pay for a really rare Black Sabbath 7" from '74 or something, which makes me almost embarrassed. At the same time, it's flattering, I guess, but that's too much money.
Do you guys have another album in the works since High Visibility is already two years old?
Oh yeah. We actually cut this tour a bit short because we're recording in May and it should be out - in Europe anyway - by early October. And then we'll see if Universal thinks we can be on a major label in the States.
Yeah, it seems like this stuff could easily get played on the radio if it got pushed right.
Well, it's good music and it's definitely better than what gets played on the radio these days, that nü metal thing, which is crap. It seems strange that it could sell so many records, but like you said, the labels are really pushing it. So maybe they could push some good music, too.