The son of a Swedish mother, I spend two weeks a year visiting my Gran who lives in probably the most stagnant town in Sweden: Boras. It's picturesque, pleasant, and unbelievably boring--the definition of secure conservatism. Until, on my last visit, whilst strolling the quiet cobbled streets I saw a hobo, surely the first to grace the streets of Boras. He sat there, dishevelled, stinking and semi-conscious. I was partly horrified, partly wanting to scream halleluiah. Think of this character as the Division Of Laura Lee, my reaction to their music the same as my reaction to him: petrified and thankful.
For while Scandinavia thrives on the indie cuteness of the Wannadies, the Cardigans and the preachy energy of those playful egoists the Hives, DOLL are a stinking monolith of a band. Raw, edgy and snarling, they grew up within Sweden's less-publicized slums, adopting the punk rock ethos and all the violence that late '80s/early '90s punk carried with it. Accordingly their music is about excitement and danger. Raised on uncertainty and lacking creative outlets, the boys found music to be their savior, their sole reason d'etre. The past uncertainties never left the collective mindset, and doubts and tension littered their first album, Black City. On their new release, Das Not Compute, the sense of paranoia comes further into the foreground, becomes honed even.
DOLL's music is filled with suspicions and a need to communicate; they write anthems for the insecure, from the hushed plea for trust in "Breathe Breathe" to the closing sentiment of "There's A Last Time For Everything." The band's nervous energy makes their lyrics poetic and vulnerable, while the music is a blaze of sonic artillery comparable to Husker Du, My Bloody Valentine and And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead. A conversation with DOLL front man, Per, reveals a humble and determined songwriter, eager to validate his place in the current guitar climate, and adamant on bringing intelligence back into rock music.
In past interviews you've cited yourselves as "the best band in the world"...but so have the Hives and the Soundtrack Of Our Lives, what's the motivation in making such a claim?
That's why we said it--to tease people. We said it because we knew that those bands had already said it. But of course, in a way, I think that we are. Why would I be in a band if I didn't think we were the best band around? But I said it because, you know, well probably because I didn't know what to say.
Do you think such claims stem from a broader Scandinavian mentality?
A lot of people in the U.S. seem to think that a band that can break though the continental barrier has to be really good. But the Division are the Division. We don't have anything to do with the Soundtrack, the Hives, or whatever band. We love them, but musically we're doing our own thing so there's no reason why we should think of ourselves as intertwined. We are from Sweden, that's the only connection. Obviously we're happy we got a bit of a push from the other Swedish bands, and we do appreciate that.
So what do you think of Swedish bands who don't get so much recognition abroad, such as Bob Hund and David and the Citizens?
Early Bob Hund stuff is some of my favorite stuff, they're an awesome band and there are a lot of those bands that for some reason can't really break out of the country. It's too bad. There are so many good bands in Sweden right now, but after the Swedish boom invasion thing the major labels thought, "Fuck let's sign rock bands." The old ones are still there, but now there are a million bands and they're all called "The" something. It's everywhere I guess, but in Sweden it's worse.
You guys, however, seem to be gathering a really big following in America. Was this expected? How do you account for this success in America?
We just went over there with that whole Swedish invasion thing. We didn't really like it but it gave us a lot of press time. Then when we got out there it went really well, so when we came back to Sweden the kids over here really liked it. We're happy about it you know, it's good to tour the U.S.--it's always been a dream. I don't really know what happened, but something did and that's great.
So do you think you need to prove yourselves as a band that deserved to be signed? A lot of people cite your live performances as being really impressive. Do you think about how to appeal to people through live shows?
No. That's the whole point I guess: we don't think. We're exactly the same guys we are in the practice room and we're really confident because we've been playing and touring a lot. We've always had people who also consider us this art band, but we let the music take control. When you start thinking too much about live shows, that's when they get boring. Expression is what makes live music good.
The new album, Das Not Compute, seems a far more textural affair than the more full-on rock of Black City, was there a different approach to this album? Was this recorded with the fans in mind?
The approach was the same. We went in to the studio and played our rock songs. I think that's the best way to consider the fans: play your music with passion and belief, then you make the best music you can. We also had a lot of time to record this release, so it was nice not to rush. We made the guitars massive--though we had that in Black City too--but the production took a different vibe. We bought a couple new pedals for practicing and it sounded so good just to play them, really fuzzy. The Jesus and Mary Chain are a great inspiration, as is Fugazi.
In past interviews you've stated that good music should be dangerous, what makes music "dangerous"?
I think that music should come from experience, and it should also be an expression of that experience. We've not had the nicest upbringings, and I think that adds an element of excitement to our music. The new album is especially edgy and has that nervous feeling about it. People have thought of us as an artsy fartsy band but that's because we put messages in the songs, we think about the songs and their lyrics.
So dangerous isn't the typical "sex and drugs" paradigm for you?
I couldn't care less about the sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll thing. I think it's silly. I hate it. It's our mission to destroy that. In Sweden rock'n'roll sucks and no one cares about the punk scene. The punks don't even care.
Do you want to change that? Do you want to change Swedish rock'n'roll?
Yeah but that's the whole thing, I want the music to have brains and substance. It's not just about being up on stage and being a rock star. Of course we all want to be rock stars, but there has to be some kind of substance. I've always loved bands that had that: Joy Division, even the Ramones--they had silly lyrics, but it was something fun--or And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of The Dead. That's real music. I grew up with punk music, and look at punk music today: Everyone's like, "Oh, so you like Good Charlotte." They're probably good at what they do, but it's not what I want from music. We are an artsy fartsy band in that it's our aim to make good music.
In past interviews you've commented on this topic, and considering the title of your album, are you technophobes or anti-technology?
No I don't think so. Maybe the whole corporate technology stuff...the album title could reference using technology to make money at the expense of people. But I think at its core music is, or should be, soulful. Guitar music is exciting and we like electronic music as well, but it doesn't give me those shivers that guitar music does. I grew up with that. Sure I think rock can get kind of boring sometimes, but there's some things you can do with guitars that are incredible. Ultimately, I don't really care about what instruments are used though. It's about what you deliver.
So what type of guitar music do you think influenced you more, English or American?
It's a combination. The reason we started this band was the influence of the DC scene and Dischord. We love that music. We're influenced by a lot for sure, but especially My Bloody Valentine, Ride...all that shoegazing stuff. But we're from the punk rock scene so we add a bit more nerve to it.