DANCE WITH… The Sounds

Their North American tour in support of Something To Die For (SideOneDummy) comes to an end tonight in Vancouver. Vocalist Maja
Ivarsson talks.

 

BY GIL MACIAS

 

Swedish quintet The Sounds has
been together now for 13 years and has four studio albums to date. Time flies
and it’s hard to believe that the band’s lead singer, Maja Ivarsson, was only
19 years-old when it all began. Now a grown woman at the age of 32, she’s spent
the last decade touring the globe and hasn’t aged a day but has grown immensely
as an artist and proven to be a great live performer.

 

We recently had the pleasure
of talking to Maja before she took the stage at The Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles.
In our one on one with her, we look back at her career, talk about the latest
album, her thoughts on America, recording, touring, and what the future holds.

 

***

 

BLURT: You guys dipped into an electronic dance sound
in a few of your tracks on Something To
Die For
, which left some fans wanting more. Do you ever plan to do
something drastically different from your traditional pop-rock stuff?

MAJA IVARSSON: The thing is,
we never plan what we’re going to sound like. I remember the first record we
did. We did a demo way back in 1998. It was the first publishing deal we ever
got. We sent them a demo and it was so bad. They were like, “Guys, this is so bad. You need to do something
different.” So we went back home and we were like, “We need to do the complete
opposite of what we’re doing right now.” So that’s when we wrote “Living in
America.” It was the first song we wrote. So we sent that song back to the
label and they were like, “This is it, guys. This is perfect.”  Since then, we kept going and trying to
develop our own sound. Each record is kind of a reaction to the last record.
Our last album, Crossing the Rubicon,
was a little more mellow and emotional. For this new one, the first song we
wrote was “Something To Die For.” And that sort of became a blueprint for the
rest of the songs. I think it’s really weird if you’re in a band and you’re
trying to plan out how you’re going to sound. To me, anything that’s creative
comes from within and it has nothing to do with a master plan. When we did this
record, that’s the way we wanted to sound at that time. I’ve always thought the
demos we’ve done in the past, the pre-production, have always had that great
sound that you can’t recreate. The more times you re-record a song, you lose
that little magic you had at the beginning.

 

You have four albums now.  Do you find that each new album gets harder to
write as you go along?

The thing is, everyone in our
band is really involved in the writing process. For the first two albums, I
wrote a lot more than I did on this one. I think that’s a good thing. Then you
never know what’s going to happen. You never know what the next song is going
to be like. I think it gets easier though, just like with any other profession.
You get better at it. It’s like being onstage. The first couple of times you’re
a little awkward and don’t really know what to do. And in the studio, the more
experience you have in the studio, the more confident you are.

 

But are creative juices flowing as powerful as they were
in the beginning? A lot of musicians have less output and longer gaps between
albums as they get older. I mean, I’m sure you’ve experienced writer’s block at
times.

Of course, we all have. But
that’s just a part of being a creative person. You need to have those
frustrating moments where you’re like “I don’t know what the fuck we’re doing,”
you know? And then sometimes, in two minutes [snaps fingers], you write this line and come up with a melody and
you’re like, “Dude, that’s a fucking hit.” And it happens in 5 minutes.

 

With every album you put out, you add more and more
songs to your catalog which means with every tour, you have tougher choices to
make when doing a live setlist. How hard is that, and does it take to pick a setlist?

[Laughs] You’re absolutely right. That’s the part that’s getting
harder and harder. The thing is, we’re playing for our fans and we have a
pretty close relationship with them. We know what they like and kind of know
what they want to hear. But also for us, it’s fun to play new songs. That’s
when we have to think a little bit, because all the older songs, we know them
so well. We try to play a little more from the latest album because we’re
promoting that one, obviously, but we still play the old school songs I know
people want to hear.

 

Do you pay attention to reviews about your albums? How
do you handle negative criticism?

To be honest, I really don’t
read much about me or the band. I did sometime near the beginning, and someone
wrote something really nasty about me. I just finished high school, I was a
young girl and that hit me really hard. I’m a very emotional person. It broke
my heart. So I’m trained to stay away from that stuff. My manager, sometimes
when he finds a really good review or something that’s cool, he’ll send it to
me like, “check this out.” And I’m like, “Ah man, that’s good.”  But I usually don’t Google myself or anything
like that.

 

During live shows, your fans can get really rowdy,
especially in the pit. You have the fans that want to enjoy the music and have
a good time, then you have the rowdy fans that get sort of lost, don’t realize
they’re accidentally punching someone in the face, and it turns into this
confrontational moshing sort of thing. In fact, I saw you at the Avalon a few
 years ago and I personally had to break
up a fight.

 [Laughs]
Oh my God.

 

This girl didn’t realize she was hitting people, so
when someone called her out on it, she started doing it more on purpose just to
piss us off. So, whose side would you say you’re on? Have you ever had to intervene
and break up a scuffle in your audience, or do you just ignore it?

You know, I totally know what
you mean. Last night, one of our hardcore fans chipped her tooth. This guy was
stage diving and… [Maja makes a smacking noise and swings her head
to the side
] All of a sudden, she was bleeding all over and I was like,
“Ah, girl, I know what it feels like.”  But I don’t know. Sometimes I like when it
gets a little crazy. I think I want to give them the fuel to be even crazier. I
like that. This is going to sound so horrible, but the more people that are
fainting, passing out, or the more people they have to drag over the fence, the
happier I am.

       [Laughs]
It sounds fucking crazy, I know. But I love when people go nuts and have a good
time…. With the older punk rock guys, if somebody fell down in the mosh pit,
you picked them up again. Now, with the younger kids, it’s forgotten. They
don’t know shit like that anymore. [Shakes
head
] You know, there are ethics even in the punk scene.

 

What’s the worst or most unpleasant live experience
you’ve ever had?

I remember I was stage diving
a couple of years ago at Webster Hall in New York. There are so many people in
the audience; you don’t really know who’s touching you. And some people are
touching you very inappropriately. This one guy was not just touching me, he
was digging. It was not my arms or
legs if you know what I mean. [Sighs]
And that’s not cool, dude. When I stage dive, I’m giving them my all. I do that
for every show, I love my audience. But don’t fucking do that. It’s
disrespectful.

 

What’s the one thing you look forward to most when you
come to America?

There are a lot of things,
but most of all, it’s definitely the people. A lot of people in Europe have
this misconception about Americans being ignorant and very stupid. We have that
in Europe as well, trust me. But I think most American people I’ve met are very
giving and generous people. Maybe it’s because I’m a blonde Swedish chick, I
don’t know, but at the same time we have this thing called the American
disease. [Laughs] I get so fed up
with the American food. It gets to me after a while. Everything is fried and
tastes the same. After a while you just can’t eat anymore. I’m like, “I need to
get to Ikea and have some meatballs.”

 

Your bandmate Felix appeared on an American celebrity gossip
website recently. He was in a car with Kat Von D, they were photographed
together and sure enough, it’s all over PerezHilton.com. And of course, people
speculate if there’s a romantic thing going on between the two. How did you all
react to that?

We kind of laugh at it. I
know her. She’s a cool girl and a really good friend of the band. I was singing
with her in New York. She auctioned off this piano she was designing. She
called me up and asked if I wanted to sing “November Rain” by Guns N’ Roses. So
we did that. That was the first time I experienced how many people are crazy
about her. I know her as a friend. She’s awesome at what she does. She’s going
to be remembered forever as one of the great female tattoo artists. To me, it’s
really funny when the whole paparazzi thing comes close to you. We don’t have
it too much at home. Over here, it’s different. You guys are crazy with the
celebrity thing.  So we just laughed at
it. It’s kind of funny. What else can you do?

 

Onstage, you keep it simple and sexy. You don’t change
costumes or rely on crazy outfits or spectacles for attention. How do you feel
about someone like Lady Gaga, who even dresses outrageously when she’s not
performing?

I love Lady Gaga for bringing
something new to the table. I mean, I’m impressed that she has the energy to
pull it off every time. I think she brought that craziness back that Madonna was
doing in the ‘80s. I think Lady Gaga is bringing something fresh. All power to
her, absolutely. I think it’s great. The first time I heard her, I thought she
was Euro. We’ve been listening to that type of Euro-techno, Euro-disco sound
since the ‘80s and ‘90s. And it’s not until recently that it’s been a big thing
in America. So the first time I heard Lady Gaga, I thought she was a Belgian
artist or something.

 

Have you ever had a musician you grew up listening to
come up and tell you they are a fan of your band?

Definitely when David Grohl
picked us to be his opening act in Scandinavia. We had just released our first
album and we were so fresh and so young. I remember his booking agent gave him
ten CDs of new bands and he could pick whatever band he wanted to open up for
him and he picked us. The next thing I know, he wanted a T-shirt. I said,
“Well, we just made them ourselves and we can’t afford to give them, can you
buy one?” [Laughs] So he bought two.
Then he wore it in his “Times Like These” video. It was so flattering. Growing
up listening to Nirvana, that was one of those moments where it was like,
“Shit, this is unbelievable.”

 

Do you have any guilty pleasures in your iPod or CD
collection?

Absolutely. But I don’t see
them as guilty pleasures. I’m a big fan of great songs and I think a great song
can come in any kind of package. For instance, right now I love Beyonce’s
“Sweet Dreams.” And I think there are a couple of great songs on the new
Britney Spears album. It’s super-pop, you know? It might not go down in history
as my favorite song of all time, but I enjoy a great pop song. Who doesn’t? But
at the same time, I love all the great artists like Bruce Springsteen, Johnny
Cash or Depeche Mode. I’m just a big fan of great songs.

 

Do you have a goal or a desire to be a huge,
recognizable female pop artist like Beyoncé or Britney? Or do you not care
about that?

I do care about that. I’m
really proud of what we have accomplished so far. It’s been 13 years, that’s
quite a long time. Especially coming from a place like Sweden, there are only 9
million in the whole country, so to actually have a career and make a living
out of this, I’m very proud of that. But I’m not in it to become a small indie
act. I want to be as big as possible. I’m not gonna lie about that. I’d rather
play a huge venue than a shitty pub, you know?

 

If someone in the band was getting tired of all this
and wanted to leave, would you replace them and carry on or just call it quits?
Or would you ever consider a solo act?

That’s a hard question
because you don’t even want to think about that happening. I don’t think we
could replace anyone in the band. We’ve been the same core members since day
one. We wouldn’t sound the same. It would be impossible to replace someone. I
don’t want to sound cocky, but it would be weird to replace me and still call
it The Sounds, I think, but it would be equally as weird to replace Fredrik,
you know?

        I don’t know. Maybe I would do a solo
career or something else creative. I’d find a way to stay busy some way or
another.

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