The Division of Laura Lee: An Interview with lead singer Per Stålberg
by Alexander Laurence
Division of Laura Lee were formed in 1997 in Sweden. Five years into the game, Division Of Laure Lee have established themselves in the underground scene as an amazing live act, with hundreds of shows behind them. Most of the band grew up near Gothenberg part of the new hardcore punk scene and art scene.
Their first release in 2001 on Burning Heart Records, was the three song "Pretty Electric" EP. They supported labelmates The (international) Noise Conspiracy on their European tour that year. Then the band recorded their debut full length album Black City with producer Kalle Gustavsson of Soundtrack of Our Lives.
Division of Laura Lee are equally influenced by 1980s indie rock, skater culture, and hardcore punk. I met lead singer and guitarist, Per Stålberg, in the middle of their tour with Haven. They were going to continue on two more weeks with old friends Noise Conspiracy. I saw Dennis and Lars checking out the live show for themselves. Both bands were at this year's CMJ festival. This was something for NYC to get ready for.
Jonas Gustavsson-Bass & Vocals
Per Stålberg-Guitar & Vocals
AL: Sweden is a big country of 30 million people. Five years ago, many of us knew only The Cardigans, Union Carbide, and The Refused. Now there are many bands coming over all the time.
Per: It's a very big compared to other European countries. Union Carbide is from my city. Gothenberg is the second biggest city in Sweden. It has a million people. It's where all the rock comes from. It's like the Manchester of Sweden. It's very working class. It's very tough. We are friends with Soundtrack of Our Lives.
AL: How did you meet the other members of Division of Laura Lee?
Per: We are from 45 minutes up north from Gothenberg. It's a small city that's more suburban. I am older than the other guys and I have been playing longer. They were involved in the same scene. I was in a big band but I became bored. I wanted to do something new. They asked me to join in 1997. I was in these rock bands before. In the 1980s, I was in a punk rock band.
AL: Some bands from Sweden have a certain style that they always play. Your band tends to have more of a range of sounds.
Per: We don't see ourselves as a Swedish band. We know all the bands but we are not from the same scene as them. We play music because we love it. We don't have to buy our attitudes. We don't have to buy our stage clothes because we have been through the fucking hard shit. We have stuff to express. We don't have to pretend that we are tough. I don't say everyone from Sweden pretends, but it's a lot about fashion. Division of Laura Lee is about using heart and soul and gettinge shit out, what you have been through. We are having a good time now. But it wasn't easy being a teenager where we grew up. In Sweden it is easy to be in a band. The government helps you because it is a rich country. You choose between being in a band, going to work, or doing drugs. I have a lot of friends who chose doing drugs and they are still doing that unfortunately. Our band is telling the truth. We singing about stuff that we have been through or what we feel is important.
AL: So you are more influence by real life than a bunch of records that you listened to?
Per: Music is a big influence. But the reason we started this band was that we wanted to do something for real. We want to do something that actually means something. We know we are one of the best bands around now because there are not any bands who want to do something for real. We want to deliver real honest music that tells the truth. Rock music should be more dangerous. It has gone soft. You see all those bands from New York City who have parents who give them money to wear suits. They can do drugs because their parents will send them to a drug rehab clinic. It's so easy for them. Life is not easy. Reality sucks. I like when rock reflects reality. That's what we are about. I still respect bands who put on their clothes and put on a show. But please don't confuse them with us because we are not about that.
AL: Do you take risks with your music?
Per: Sure. We don't care what anyone else thinks. We never did. We are about honesty. We actually think we are one of the best bands in the world so of course we are not going to keep quiet about it. We stand by that: we are the best. We think that we are the saviours. We have a vision and a goal with the band. We haven't reach it yet.
AL: Who writes the songs in the band?
Per: On this record it was just me and Jonas who wrote all the music. We all jam stuff too. There are four of us. We have a new guitar player who wasn't on Black City. We have a new record. I have it in here (points to head). And it is ten times better. We have played a few songs. If you liked Black City, you can imagine how good this new one is going to be. It's in a different vein. It's like all four of us writing and jumping around in the room. We are screaming at each other. I want it to feel like when you are sixteen and you have been drinking all night and on Sunday you are totally alone. That feeling of anxiety, watching some bad TV show, no food around, and your parents are not home, and everything is dark. We started out as an art collective.
AL: You all went to art college?
Per: We had plans to do that. The music went off first so we couldn't do that. We are an artsy fartsy band. We still do artwork for other bands. When I am home, I have to be with my son and my family. I don't have time for anything else. We want to do a book as Division of Laura Lee. It's too early. It's not a profile of the band, but a profile of our ideas and goals. I am not going to tell you what it is. But you can read the book. It will be like the theory behind Division of Laura Lee. It will be paintings and writings.
AL: What is the song "Need To Get Some" about? Do we need to get more sex, drugs, or something to alter your reality?
Per: It's definitely not about drugs, but it could be about sex. Some people have a lack of something at times. If you are sitting home depressed on a Sunday night. You might feel that you need something. What is it that I am a missing? Why do people have fun and feel good? Why can't I feel that way too?
AL: How did you record this record, Black City?
Per: We did it in two and a half months in one of the best studios in the world. It was produced by Kalle Gustafsson who is the bass player of Soundtrack of Our Lives. We worked with the sound engineer of Noise Conspiracy, Don Alstherberg, who I grew up with. We had a blast. They were like the fifth and sixth members. We had all the songs written and we gave them demos. They gave us ideas about how to do it. We went into the studio and did some live takes. Others started out as live takes. We just jumped around and screamed about what feelings we wanted to have on the tape. It was a small studio. And we recorded it in the winter when Sweden is dark and cold.
AL: You band is known for sabotaging other bands.
Per: We have played about five hundred shows. We like to do stuff to other bands and club owners. We like to be naked a lot. We are starting this week with Noise Conspiracy. I promise you that they are going to be pissed. We have some good ideas about what we are going to do. They are our best friends. I grew with the drummer.
AL: I notice that you take a lot of tobacco?
Per: Snuss? This is different from American tobacco. It is Swedish. 70% of all men in Sweden do this. It's nicotine but is a way stronger. It's like Snuff but it's different consistency.
AL: Do you have any of hobbies or do you play sports?
Per: We were all skateboarders from the beginning. We are all from the punk hardcore scene. Only me and Håkan who do it anymore. I have been doing it since I was 12. I play a lot of video games. I like Grand Theft Auto III and skateboard games. I like to sit around with my son and do whatever. I used to drive motorcross dirtbikes. Jonas plays tennis. I play golf as well. I love the feeling of being a punk out on a course, and people going "What the fuck is that!" I just started last year so I am not good. We play frisbee golf on tours sometimes. We like football too in Sweden.
AL: Do you parents follow your musical career?
Per: I am on TV all the time in Sweden. My mom calls her friends all the time and talks about me. That's not how it's always been. Before it was like "When are you going to get a job?" We are not the biggest band in Sweden, but we are known and famous. For a rock band we are well known. Britney Spears is very popular in Sweden. This year we are one of the top bands. My mom is proud and she likes when I'm getting money.
AL: What aspect of music excites you the most?
Per: I have been asking myself that question many times. I love it. I like writing songs. I like being in a band. I like to produce. I like to be onstage sometimes. I can't really explain. Since I was ten years old I was in a punk band. That's a weird thing. I have also been a vegetarian for fifteen years or more so I don't even consider it. I don't want to eat anything with a face. At first it was a political statement, now it's more about ethics: I don't want to eat lives. All the members are vegetarians except the guitarist. Road food is always disgusting, but this country takes the prize. I can't believe how bad it is.
AL: You have been playing a few weeks with Haven. They are a new band from Manchester who plays softer rock. Do you blow them off the stage nightly? Are they afraid to come onstage after you?
Per: It's been like that actually. I am not really proud of it. We have sold more records than them. Some people have went home after us which pisses me off because Haven is a really good band. We like them a lot and they are our friends. This is our first tour here. They have taken a lot of influence from us. They even crash their instruments. We are used to doing that. Haven did that in Denver. They just went nuts. They played soft pop for a hour and then destroyed everything. Can you imagine that?
AL: What is an average day like in Gothenberg?
Per: Besides when I hang out with my family. Sometimes I call some friends from the band Soundtrack of Our Lives. We might go out to eat. We might go to a club and check out some bands, play some pool, hang around. There's a famous place, Clora, where all the bands in Gothenberg hang out. There's a lot of wannabes. Sweden is very different from the rest of Europe. It's even different from Denmark. It's very Americanized. It doesn't look European. Everyone speaks two languages: Swedish and English. There are no translated movies. It's all American films and TV. My favorite movie is probably Grease.
AL: Have you read any books recently?
Per: I have read three books on this tour. I started out with The Dirt about Motley Crue. It's an awesome book. I was never a fan or have I ever liked them, but it's a great book. I laughed so many times. I am read the one about the LA punk scene: We Made The Neutron Bomb. We grew up liking Fugazi and Discord Records. The third is some Swedish book which I haven't got to yet.
AL: What are some of the future live show going to be like?
Per: With Division of Laura Lee you never know. It's like a fucking bomb. It's unpredictable. At our lowest point as a band onstage we are still one of the best bands in the world. I can say that. So you can imagine what we are like when we are really good. Sometimes we are onstage and thinking this is the worst show we have ever done, and people are like "Waaaaa!" They are freaking out. We'll see what happens each night. We are playing about fifteen songs. Mostly ffrom the new record, plus a few new ones.
AL: Have any celebrities shown up to gigs on this tour?
Per: It has happened. Edward Norton came up to us at our show. I think he likes us. I couldn't understand him. He was backstage at our show. We get a lot of weird characters. We are very unimpressed. We don't see people as higher or lower, or better than one another. I am as glad if you are backstage as him. Unfortunately some of us were too drunk when he came back so we took a few pictures and jumped around. We were having a good time. Everyone is welcome to hang out with us.
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