Interview: Johan from The Legends Answers Our Questions

One of TSOI’s favorite bands of the past 5 years has been The Legends, so we were thrilled when Johan took time out of his busy schedule preparing for their upcoming NYC shows to answer a few of our burning questions.

TSOI: Based on the strength of “Facts and Figures” The Legends were sited by The Sound Of Indie as the northern European representative of the most notable world-spanning Tetrarchy since the days of Diocletian. (See our April 8th, 2008 Cut Copy post.) Has being bestowed such an honor changed how you go about your daily life?

JOHAN: No, I can’t see the good things. Just the bad things, oh…

TSOI: I think I speak for everyone here at TSOI, but probably since hearing The Cardigans, Komeda and Doktor Kosmos in the mid 90s, we have developed a very pronounced “Swede tooth”, that is an affinity for bands from Sweden. If someone recommends a band to me, and I find out that they are from Sweden, I generally find that cause enough to buy the record. Starting with The Cardigans and on to bands like The Hives, The Hellacopters, to even Robyn, Lykke Li, Jens Lekman, and in particular with The Knife, Sweden, which has the combined population of New York City manages to knock out great bands at a steady clip all presumably handicapped by working under a non-native language. And if you include the Max Martin hit factory, this observation reaches near pandemic proportions. (I might also note that I can make a similar case for Scottish bands, but indecipherable accent aside, they are speaking English.) I guess my question would be: 1) Is this something that Swedes are aware of, and 2) why do you suppose so many achieve a disproportionate seeming relative success in the US?

JOHAN: I think people here are pretty confident about making music and that it comes pretty natural to play instruments, write songs and start a band for a lot of people. Basically everyone here learns to
play an instrument in school. I was actually one out of two in my class who didn’t. Perhaps that explains my lack of technical skills even to this day? There is a long history, starting with ABBA I suppose, of Swedish bands that has managed to come through pretty well internationally so I think playing music on an international level is not looked upon as something strange or unusual. I think what makes the Swedish pop scene really good these days is that it doesn’t try too hard. I think I’ve made comparisons to the UK scene before. UK bands seems to aim at being the next NME hype, big cliché rock start and make the charts from day one. They seem to have fancy lawyers, management and a “cool” image long before they’ve written any good songs or found anything whatsoever interesting to show the world. It’s about all the wrong things. So hopefully Swedish bands normally don’t do it that way. Instead they might write the songs they want to, find an identity of their own and basically just do music for their creativity wants them to. With that comes more quality and perhaps that has paid off.

TSOI: Three of the bands that I didn’t mention on the list above, The Acid House Kings, The Legends and Club 8 released incredible albums that are perfectly effortless in their excellence, but as releases, have managed to keep a low profile in the US. Based on success of recent bands, I figured the three would be ubiquitous. Any thoughts?

JOHAN: We’ve never really tried that hard. AHK release an album every fifth year or so. We never tour. With Club 8 we actually did quite a few show last year to promote the album. Not in the US though. But we did try a little more than before… not THAT hard, but still. Club 8 can’t be away on tour too much either though and when we got to choose from going to places like Thailand and Indonesia and play for a couple of thousand people, stay in nice hotels and get decent payments for the shows – or loose money traveling around the US in a van, we decided to go for Asia. We’re very focused on making great album, but the people involved perhaps don’t value success with the bands high enough to do the things it would take to take it to another level. So, that explains parts of it. Another thing could be that a lot of people don’t like our music?

TSOI: I suspect that an element that makes albums by The Cardigans and The Legends so notable is the perfect production. I have lamented about how poorly many recent synth based records sound with The Legends “Facts and Figures” being a notable exception. Do you have comments about the importance of production, in particular for a synth based band, which you would think would be predisposed to studio production?

JOHAN: I don’t know the meaning of “predisposed.” It tried dictionary.reference.com but still couldn’t really fit it into the sentence completely… oh well…Writing songs is not that hard. Recording and producing them on the other hand, and doing it in line with the core emotions of the songs and in line with the visions made up when the song was written, THAT is difficult. I try not to listen to other
people when I make my albums. Other people’s ideas only blurs the vision and compromises the result. It takes a lust for experimenting and patience to get it right.

TSOI: Another observation: When it comes to production of synth based bands, the 80s/90s output on Wax Trax! records seemed to be uniformly good…like they housed the Phil Spectre’s of making a synth riff really full and heavy. Any comments?

JOHAN: No comments, but I’ll take it as a tip that I should look up the 80s/90s output on Wax Trax! records.

TSOI: I saw The Legends on their 2006 East Coast tour. How did that tour go? Plans on a return?

JOHAN: It went OK I suppose. I thought New York was great fun. I’m not sure if our performance with The Legends was very good. Maybe we were OK, maybe we weren’t. Seeing The Legends is an erratic live experience, probably leaning towards the more bad side of things. It makes things exciting though. You can probably see The Legends three times in a week with the same songs and have three very different experiences. And you’ll soon get a chance to do that. We’re heading over for a New York –tour in June 23rd at Bell House, 24th at Santos, 26th at Studio. We did a two-date tour in Sweden and I think we were really good on at least one of the these shows (the other one was pretty good too), so I believe we’ve improved. Bring the earplugs!

TSOI: For a band as prolific as The Legends (almost one LP per year), why have tours have been so limited? What keeps The Legends from touring the US say in contrast to say, Lykke Li or The Shout Out Louds? I suppose Kevin here would like to know why you hate Los Angeles, and why you have never toured on the West Coast? What has the West Coast done to be shunned by The Legends and what can we do to fix that?

JOHAN: I think you almost answered the questions yourself. If you want to put out a fair amount of albums you don’t have the time to tour that much. Also, I think it’d be boring to tour a lot. I want it to feel special each time I play. If I’d do 10 shows in a row it would start to feel like a job and music shouldn’t be like that.

We’d be more than happy to play the West Coast. But, there’s a tradition especially in the UK, but a bit in the US as well I’ve noticed, that bands on tour should be happy to loose a few thousand
dollars and get paid in beer and sleep on people’s floors. And there I’m back with the “not trying hard enough”–thing because I don’t really feel like doing these kind of things.

TSOI: TSOI had this to say when receiving the latest single “Seconds Away” last October: “Hot damn! After a couple quick listens, I can safely say that Johan a.k.a. The Legends achieved what Stephin Merritt tried and failed miserably to do with the last Magnetic Fields record, and that is successfully channel Psychocandy-era Jesus And Mary Chain.” Did you follow any of Stephin Merritt in press leading up to The Magnetic Fields’ press for ‘Distortion’? Did you have the sound laid out for the track before the Magnetic Fields’ JAMC pronouncements were made? If so, did you think that your thunder was about to be stolen?

JOHAN: I remember reading that and it has a point. Not that I was aiming at making Psychocandy 2.0, but I was also disappointed with Magnetic Fields‘ “Distortion.” When I read about it it sounded as if it could be really great, but it ended up pretty lame and badly produced. At least from what I remember. I was so let down I only listened to it once, so perhaps I should listen a bit more before making any statements on this…I’m actually in a Magnetic Fields “Get Lost” period this week so it should be a good time to pick it up. But to answer your questions, yes, I think I had heard/heard about “Distortion” before writing “Seconds Away” as I wrote that in March or something last year.

TSOI: The Legends certainly have no problem shifting stylistic gears moving from a 60′s soul sound in the excellent debut record, “Up Against The Legends” and most recently with synth pop sheen on the insanely excellent “Facts and Figures” record. If the recent “Seconds Away” single is any indication, the new record will involve a major shift again into classic shoe-gaze, a genre that we here at TSOI are particularly fond. What motivated this move?

JOHAN: I needed distraction. I needed noise to clear my head from angst. Uncontrolled feedback and white noise on high volume has a very nice effect on the brain and so that’s what I went for. It’s like
medicine for me. It’s also inspiring to move between opposites and after having made the rather quiet “The Boy Who Couldn’t Stop Dreaming” with Club 8 it was good to make something louder. I don’t
think The Legends fit into to a shoegaze scene though. “Over And Over” is after all based on very distinct melodies.

TSOI: Here at TSOI, we are fans of many of the bands that have been slotted as noise/shoe gaze with Swervdriver, Ultra Vivid Scene, Curve, and Jesus and Mary Chain, etc being among the preferred here. Do you have comments about any of these bands or others? Have you seen any of the recent shows of reformed Swervedriver, My Bloody Valentine, or Jesus and Mary Chain?

JOHAN: I like JAMC’s “Psychocandy” and like even more the single “Upside Down,” but the shoegaze that I really like is My Bloody Valentine and Slowdive. But from what I remember, I thought the scene lacked good melodies and I’m afraid that was my thoughts on both Swevedriver and Curve when I last heard them. Shall I give them a new chance perhaps? I liked a few songs from Ultra Vivid Scene though. I haven’t seen any of the bands lately. I’ve seen My Bloody Valentine in the past and it was an amazing, and deafening, experience. Not sure if I want to spoil the memory.

TSOI: The other member of the mighty Tetrarchy noted above are Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, Cut Copy, Hot Chip, (and probably should include Ladytron and Ruby Isles as well, but then it wouldn’t be a Tetrarchy now would it?). Are you into any of these bands? Any other bands that are currently experiencing heavy rotation at The Legends headquarters?

JOHAN: I saw Cut Copy live and I’ve heard some songs and weren’t impressed. What I am supposed to feel when I listen to that music? Happiness? An urge to dance? I don’t dance so I didn’t feel that much. Christian at the Labrador office thought Cut Copy was last year’s best album so I’ve promised myself to give them another chance. I might buy it today, exactly one year after everyone else was into it. I loved Hot Chip’s version of Matthew Dear’s “Don and Cherri” and I really liked Ladytron when they released “Playgirl.” Can I add Junior Boys to the Tetrarchy instead of Casiotone? I really liked the production of the previous album.

I’ve been listening quite a lot to music from Mali and Kongo lately plus a bunch of Brazilian artists from the Tropicalia movement. Tathianna from Coquetel Molotov in Brazil has been very kind and introduced me to a whole scene which is really inspiring. I’ve been very retro the last week. Red House Painters “Down Colourful Hill”, The Montgolfier Brothers’ first album, McCarthy ”I Am A Wallet” and the previously mentioned Magnetic Fields album.

TSOI: And finally, what is the latest intel. concerning The Legends new record and touring prospects?

JOHAN: The New York tour! That’s it for now. It’d be fun to go to Spain when Sweden is getting cold in October so I think we’re heading there in the fall.

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TSOI wants to thank Johan for answering our questions and if you’re in NYC next week, be sure to catch The Legends at these shows:

June 23 – New York – Bell House
June 24 – New York – Santos Party House
June 26 – New York – The Studio at Webster Hall

Also, if you haven’t already picked up The Legend’s new record “Over And Over” directly from Labrador Records, you can pick up the domestic US release starting tomorrow, June 16th from your local or online music retailer.

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