Sunday, June 20, 2010


For a rock and roll band to hail from Sweden and break internationally it must be a harder task than from any other country. Why, you may ask? Well for starters there is no concrete music scene and everyone expects a Abba sound-a-like. Admit it, it is true. Yet for some bands like Soundtrack of Our Lives and The Mary Onettes, breaking through the crowd and making a name for themselves and country is a task that has to be admired. Starting off as a synth-pop band, The Mary Onettes shifted styles and sounds to be a much more layered and textured music outfit. Their debut, Islands, was released last year and since then they have been on the road supporting their efforts across the globe. With each new place and frontier they visit, they gather attention and fans, as they should. I had the opportunity to speak with singer Philip Ekström as we discussed the bands rise, influences and his humble way of gaining attention around the world. Take a look at my interview with Philip below.

Hailing from Sweden, what kind of impact has your country had on your music?

Probably a lot. Pop music has always been an important thing in Sweden; a huge par of the Swedish popular culture. I mean we have a lot of successful bands coming out of Sweden so if you wanna play pop music you have to put a lot of spirit into it and compete with the others doing it so well.

Since you sing in English, do you feel like you are abandoning your roots not singing in your native language?

Not really. I've tried to write music in Swedish but feel that I’ve never done it good. So much easier to express emotions in English. Easier to put down in words what you feel, and it's much easier finding the words for the quite abstract thoughts and feelings you have. I guess it just sounds better to.

The band was birthed around a love of acts like The Cure, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Stone Roses. What impact did those bands have on your style and sound?

I would say that the sound of the 80's had a huge impact on us. I love the epic and the nearly bizarre production some had. I mean what's the point of drown everything in huge reverbs? I don't know, but I just love it. And almost every band or artist was produced in the same way in the 80s.Some was really bad produced but some made it really beautiful and timeless.
And of course some of the bands really inspire us! They probably made us realize what kind of music we wanted to do. But I find it very important that the music I write is totally unique. I never try to steal a melody or copy a song. We just have the same sound as all the bands we are compared with. Quite simple!

A decade into forming this band, is there anything you would like to say to yourself 10 years ago about what you know now in regard to playing style, live shows and industry?

Not really. I think our process as a band has been really healthy despite all the ups and downs. And we've gone thru bad and good things together you know. It's really like a relationship in many ways. And to be honest I haven't realized until now what important mission we have, and that we have so much more to give. Feels like we are just about to begin our musical journey in a strange way.

When it comes to the industry we know how it works and we know what decisions that will harm us and vice versa.

Live shows will always be important to us as well. We don't work as many other bands that goes into the studio and record and then play live. The only time we're working together as an organic piece is when we're playing live. And it can be quite chaotic and intense ; )

The Mary Onettes and major labels seem to go like oil and water; did it ever come to a point of pure frustration that you wanted to give up?

Not one single time. We only do what's best for the band.

Not many acts break big in the US from Sweden aside from Soundtrack of Our Lives. Do you ever feel intimidated by how American audiences will respond to your music?

No I don't think so. The people who shows up at our gigs in the US are people that want to hear us. They are really nice I think. I think it's better to have a crowd of 60 people that really want to hear you than 600 people that is hearing you for the first time. Maybe that scenario would be intimidating.

Is making it in America still a big deal for foreign bands?

I don't know. I guess a lot of bands dream of it. I never dare to think such things. I’m a bit scared of the word "making it". I was really surprised when I realized people in the US was buying our album. I remember when we had sold 3 000 albums on iTunes. I was thinking: 3,000 Americans or more have actually bought this record. Why ? … I’m always a bit skeptical. ; )

You released Islands last year, a deeply personal record. Do you feel any vindication now that the record is out?

I don't think I need to feel that way. That album was an important thing for me. Music is my way of telling stories. It's like a little diary. A reflection of the last two years in my life. I’m not a big talker so I just make albums instead. And I don't make music to achieve vindication. I do it cause I just don't know any better way to express myself. And I’m very glad people like it!

You went from being very dance driven synth pop on your debut, to very layered, textured and complex on Islands. What caused the transition and progression in sound?

I guess the sound came with the songs. Along the process we realized that we didn't want to change the sound too much from how it sounded on the demos. The demos was really layered and a bit messy, but we liked it. We just had one idea, that was to make the album as epic as the lyrics was. We wanted the music to fit together with the lyrics and carry them all the way. Not necessarily that the instrumentation of the songs had to be sad like the lyrics. Sometimes the music almost works against the lyrics in a beautiful way.

Videos for "Puzzles" and "Explosions"