Shout Out Louds
A conversation with Adam Olenius
Interview by Adam McKibbin
Photograph by Jonas Isfält
Previously published in abridged form on Metromix
By the time Shout Out Louds’ Howl Howl Gaff Gaff reached America in 2005 (in a slightly different incarnation than its original release), the Swedish rockers had already been touring on the record for a couple of years, winning fans with energetic live performances and melodic indie-pop tracks like “The Comeback” and “Very Loud.” Spending so much time with limited material perhaps magnified its flaws, so the band mostly shelved the scrappy lo-fi charm in favor of bolder arrangements and higher production value on their sophomore album, Our Ill Wills.
With a new record label to call home (Merge Records, taking the place of Capitol) and a successful European trek under their belts, Shout Out Louds are anxious to bring Our Ill Wills to the States. Frontman Adam Olenius spoke about the band’s long road to a follow-up album, the surprisingly long shadow of the Cure and their partnership with producer Bjorn Yttling of Peter Bjorn and John.
Howl Howl Gaff Gaff kind of lived two lives - does it feel like a long time since you really had a new album with a clean slate?
Yeah, absolutely, especially because it was about three and a half years ago that it came out in Sweden. Creatively, you have so many ideas that you collect during touring - that’s why we went straight into the studio after all this touring. It feels really good to put out something new. This one is more focused as an album and tells more of a story.
How many of the new songs were road-tested during all that time you were touring?
There was actually one song that we played a few times and we thought it was going to be a great song for the record—but we didn’t end up putting it on. I don’t know if we got tired of it, but it just sounded too much like the old stuff. Maybe we’ll use it in the future, but it didn’t feel right—it was a really weird moment. The first single, “Tonight I Have To Leave It,” we played at a few festivals last year.
That song sounds like an obvious pick for the lead track and the first single. Was it indeed obvious to the band?
It was. That was a song that we wrote quite early. There’s a different beat and different rhythm to the songs on this record. We really wanted to do an upbeat song as the first single. We wanted it to sound like the record was exploding. [Laughs] There were a few other songs that we talked about, but “Tonight I Have To Leave It” was kind of a darling.
What sort of a producer is Bjorn?
He’s like a grumpy old dad. [Laughs] No, he’s a really good arranger. He’s really good at stripping things down. The production is more detailed on this one, and we really wanted to hear the maracas or the piano loops. Bjorn cleaned up the songs and arrangements a little bit. He was kind of like a sixth member, and he was really passionate and involved about everything. We need someone! If we were producing it ourselves, we would fight a lot.
How did your working relationship begin?
We met him at a festival. He was really drunk and he came up to me and yelled at me. He hated the production on our first EP. He said, “I should produce it!” Then I said, “If you do it for free, you can do it.” We did an EP with him, and then Stockholm is still a small city, so we were at the same clubs and had a lot of common friends.
Do you have specific goals for expanding your audience with Our Ill Wills? Or do you just take it as it comes?
No, we do think about that. It’s a good question. You have to work really hard to play for bigger audiences. So far, it’s been one step forward all the time. We’re in Germany and all the shows are sold out - we’ve never done that before. Sweden has been really, really good. When we come back to North America, hopefully more people will come.
Also, we’ve toured so much, and it’s important for us to take a vacation so that we can do another record and not get tired of each other and not get burned out. The people who book you don’t really understand how you feel when you’re traveling. You have to enjoy it, and if you don’t enjoy it…being on tour and not liking it is really, really horrible. (laughs) But we want to do this as long as possible, so it needs to be nurtured with something else. You need to take inspiration from something different and go be a carpenter for awhile or something.
You guys elicit a lot of comparisons to the Cure. Do you think that parallel is overblown or pretty accurate?
It’s weird when you’re in the studio for six months and you don’t even think about the Cure. [Laughs] There’s one song on the record called “Normandie” and the intro really sounds like “Close to Me,” and that’s something we did just for fun, just to flirt with the Cure. My voice is similar to Robert Smith’s and there’s nothing I can really do except get an operation. When we started to play, I wanted to sound like Neil Young, and I was listening to a lot of Dinosaur Jr. So J Mascis and Neil Young—I guess Robert Smith is in between.