ABBA, Ace of Base, The Cardigans. Many Swedish bands can be pigeon-holed into the genre of kitschy Swede-pop with relative ease and accuracy.
Not all of them, though. The country’s latest export, The Sounds, have taken the derivative synth-pop of their 1980’s counterparts and infused it with a decidedly American punk appeal. They win the award for “Best Swedish Band You’ll Never Hear at a Bar Mitzvah.”
But don’t think they haven’t been influenced by the pop sensibilities of their predecessors. On their new album, Dying to Say This to You (New Line/Scratchie), sing-along hooks by sultry singer Maja Ivarsson abound, cutting through the sweaty guitar riffs.
Formed in 1999 in Helsingborg Sweden, The Sounds found themselves quadruple-platinum superstars in the Netherlands after releasing Living in America, their debut. Not bad for a group of 18-year-olds who recorded parts of the album in their guitarist’s basement.
They then took their album title seriously and headed to America.
“We came and started from scratch here,” said guitarist Felix Rodriguez, in a Hatchet interview. “We had a small record label, we had no plan . so we just started touring.”
And tour they did. Two years, hundreds of gigs and thousands of fans later, the band figured it was time to write another album.
“We had been collecting so (many) ideas and inspiration over the last three years,” Rodriguez said, “so it kind of came naturally.”
After four months of intensive writing, the band hit the studio in California with producer Jeff Saltzman, who had just finished producing Hot Fuss, the soon-to-be smash album by The Killers.
“We wanted to work with an American producer,” said Rodriguez, about choosing Saltzman. “Every band wants to record an album in the States. If we have the opportunity, why not try it?”
The result was Dying to Say This to You, a rollicking shout-along album with Ivarsson’s cutting, at times raspy, voice double-tracked and dominant. Some tracks, such as “Song with a Mission,” are straight-ahead, fist-pumping guitar rock.
Their childhood music tastes become evident in songs such as “Queen of Apology,” which begins with a formulaic guitar riff, quickly launched from mediocrity by a dastardly hook-laden vocal melody courtesy of Ivarsson and doubled by Ace of Base-esque synthesizers.
The sound is a departure from Living in America, however, and showcases the progress and maturation of the band.
“On first album, we were more inspired by 80’s bands,” Rodriguez said. “We were kids. We were like 18 years old, pretty naive. I think that album was a lot about going out, partying – the new album is more about what we’ve been through.”
More than two years on the road will do that to you.
“We’ve been living so close to each other, growing as band members; we’ve been experiencing so much stuff together,” he said, dispelling any notion that their break from the studio was anything but purposeful. “We haven’t been laying on the couch, we’ve been really busy.”
The Sounds will make a stop in D.C. April 10 at the 9:30 Club, midway through an expansive American tour. After recording and exhaustively touring in the States, you’d think that the imported quintet has become as much an American band as a European one.
“No, we still feel very Swedish,” Rodriguez laughed. “I still have my lousy accent.” n
The Sounds will play the 9:30 Club on Monday with Morningwood and Action Action. Tickets are $15.