These are good times for Sweden. The country has successfully avoided getting its hands oily in this whole WWIII business, and its indigenous rock bands have made like mini-MacArthurs, capturing most of the world's rock magazine territory. You couldn't fling a meatball at a Barnes & Noble mag rack without hitting some splashy story on the Hives, Division of Laura Lee, Soundtrack of Our Lives, the Hellacopters, etc. Sahara Hotnights have ridden this bandwagon too, gaining nearly as much U.S. press as some of their bigger-selling compatriots.
Much of that has to do with the fact that the press has an insatiable lust for cute young girls, and the Sahara Hotnights are just that. They are in the unenviable position of being the "all-girl band" of the Swedish scene. Sure, it gets you more color shots in magazines, and free jeans and such. But the girls are also constantly hounded by annoying questions of authenticity. Yes, they're all around 21; yes, the singer dates one of the Hives; yes, they're from Sweden. What is lost under all the instantaneous assumptions is the fact that this is a hardworking bunch who have been at it for six years -- and they've released one of the most exciting straight-up rock and roll records of the last year.
Jennie Bomb (JetSet Records) dispenses with some of the extraneous wankerisms of much of the Swedish sound, while retaining its catchy hooks and sophisticated-disguised-as-raw production. It charges forward in choppy two-and-a-half-minute shards (with just a couple of quick breath-takers), often spat out via rising gang vocals and occasional tricky octave shifts. All of it eventually matches the Hives' energy, often surpassing them in frazzled pissiness.
But all this hot-rock action doesn't necessarily manifest itself in explosive banter. As of this chitchat with singer-guitarist Jennie Asplund, the Hotnights were recovering from a few days down at South by Southwest in Austin, in the midst of their second U.S. tour.
So, wow, South by Southwest, huh? Having fun?
"Yes, we played a Spin magazine party."
Do you like touring the States?
"Yes, the food is pretty good."
What's the worst part about touring the States?
"Well, long drives."
You would think, with the relative explosion of the whole Swede scene, the attendant promotional work, all the touring, and the sparks-a-flying flash of the Hotnights' music, the zany stories would flow. Plus, being scruffy, cynical Yanks, we couldn't help but wonder if this fashionable four play the cool, disaffected card. Eventually, though, Asplund opens up just enough to imply that her mood might be the product of a good ol' fashioned hangover. Her quick diplomatic summation of onetime tourmates Mooney Suzuki as "kind of, well, not much fun" proves she's quite aware of phony cool affectations herself. Despite the globe-hopping and Spin parties, Asplund is still refreshingly wide-eyed about Sahara Hotnights' rise from cover band to cover girls.
"The thing that got us into rock music was Nirvana," she says. "We started out playing covers -- a lot of Nirvana, then Pearl Jam, Green Day. We wanted to be a cool grunge band. We had fun." Asplund's wistful, reflective tone is pretty surreal coming from a 22-year-old. Thankfully, that's about as reflective or grungy as the band ever gets. Somewhere along the line, the Hotnights must've stumbled across late-'70s Aussie punk like the Saints, '80s power pop, and '90s epic-aiming rockers like Rocket From the Crypt or Bikini Kill. Or maybe not. "From reading reviews of us," says Asplund, "it's like they compare you to bands we've never heard of. Then you can go and check out those bands. I think that's cool."
While all the Swedish scene talk has become tired, it is nonetheless true that the bands that have surfaced on this wave have offered up a more slashing and sexy alternative to the SoCal soul-sapping crap that passes as punk rock today. The only drawback seems to be that in constantly pimping their noise around the world, some of these groups can't seem to get back home and work up new material. Jennie Bomb is Sahara Hotnights' second record in six years. The Hives' last album came out in 2000, with a new one nowhere in sight. Soundtrack of Our Lives is finally getting attention over here for a near-two-year-old record. What's the deal?
"Well, for us, it just takes a lot of time to write a record," Asplund explains. "And it's really impossible to get a space to practice. Everyone lives in pretty small apartments in Stockholm. So we have to pay for a rehearsal space, and we share that with, like, eight other bands, and so it's hard to even get a lot of time there."
The secret of the wild-and-crazy Swede scene is that these groups are actually quite professional. They understand the importance of touring, getting your face out in front of people and in the mags. They're not saddled with much of the artistic-credibility guilt issues leveled within the American indie rock world. Swedes just wanna have fun.
"It's always nice when you have songs to record," Asplund says. "But I prefer touring. We should be seen live. I think that's where we're at our best." Of course, the kid that felt trapped in her small town is still itching to get out. "There are 2,500 people in the small town outside Stockholm that I grew up in -- that's why we formed a band. There's nothing to do. We can tour Sweden pretty easily now, but we're tired of that. We want to see more."
So do we.