High on a Swedish sound wave
Division of Laura Lee tours great full-length debut
By Ben Rayner
One gets the impression that t-shirts reading "We are not the Hives" will soon become standard issue for every Swedish rock band launching an assault on these shores.
Even though his inquisitor is taking care not to bring up the H-word --- or the (International) Noise Conspiracy or Soundtrack of Our Lives or any of the other Swedes who've captured the North American media's attention for the past year or so --- it's clear from the way Division of Laura Lee guitarist and vocalist Per Stalberg automatically steers the conversation toward an assertion of his band's individuality (and its distaste for matching stagewear) that he's been down that road a lot lately.
Stalberg is quite emphatic, in fact, that DOLL is not riding any sort of Swedish-rock "renaissance" to notoriety, but making waves on its own merits. Quite rightly, too: Division of Laura Lee's first full-length album, Black City, is among the finest records to emerge from the current Scandinavian rock 'n' roll boom. And while the music --- better tunes than T(I)NC, much less irony than the Hives and more sex and drugs than either --- does bear some resemblance to that of DOLL's better-known countrymen, the strong undercurrents of Mancunian fatalism and Motor City seediness running through Black City make it much darker.
"We don't see ourselves as a Swedish band," says Stalberg from his home in Gothenburg. "We're not part of the same scene as, you know, the Hives ... I'm very happy with what's happening with Swedish music right now, but I'm even more happy with Division of Laura Lee's new record, Black City. It's a great record and we're all happy that it turned out so good. There's a lot of emotions to that record and --- it sounds cliché, I know --- but a lot of pain, as well."
A veteran of Sweden's hardcore punk and indie-rock scenes ("I'm the oldest guy and I've been doing it since 1985," he says. "I played in my first punk band when I was 10 years old"), Stalberg seems enthused about finally being in a band that's greater than the sum of its parts.
The nascent Division of Laura Lee was a less disciplined and less pop-sensitive outfit fond of loud guitars and screeching indignation, and released five 7-inchers within a few months of forming. Those singles and a few extra songs were collected on an out-of-print disc called At The Royal Club in 1999, but Stalberg dismisses them as "not really developed." DOLL's identity still isn't entirely stable, of course, which is why Black City devotes equal attention to strutting garage-rock rave-ups, loose-limbed Stooges trash and moody slithers through the murkier reaches of the post-punk canon redolent of noted contemporaries like Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Interpol.
"We think Black City is our debut," say Stalberg. "This is the most classical `rock' thing we've ever done. The early stuff was more art noise --- Sonic Youth, Fugazi, that kind of stuff. But we're getting older and we're all music-police guys. We listen to everything. So it just developed. And I like the new style, but you never know what's going to happen on the next record."
Division of Laura Lee's visit to Lee's Palace next Wednesday comes during the band's first-ever tour of North America, although it did fly into New York once earlier this year to open for --- yup, the Hives. A reputation for live fireworks precedes the band, and Stalberg is inclined to agree.
"It's a new thing for us," says Stalberg. "It's a new land for us to take over, so it's good. We're ready for the big takeover of North America, definitely. We're excited to go there. People are going to be happy about seeing us. They deserve to see some good music, which we're going to deliver."
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