February 24th sees punk rock legends Refused return to Mtelus in Montreal for the first time since their reunion tour in 2012 and anticipation is high, to say the least.
We chatted with vocalist Dennis Lyxzén about what fans could expect this time around and how the new record compares with their classics from previous years.
Great to talk to you Dennis, where are you right now, and what are you up to?
I’m just at home in the north of Sweden, doing a couple of interviews today, and basically just getting ready for the tour which starts in a couple of weeks!
Awesome, I was definitely gonna ask you about that later! I wanted to ask you first about your new record War Music which just came out. I’ve been listening to it a lot, and I have to say, it’s absolutely brilliant!
Thank you very much, we’re very happy with it!
You sound just as angry as you always did!
Well, its easy these days being pissed off; you look out of the window and you’re like “oh I’m pissed off again!” *laughs*
What went into the writing and recording of the record, how long did it take, where did you record it, etc.?
It took way longer than we wanted it to because we decided we were gonna do it ourselves. The last record, Freedom, we went to the States, we had a great producer, and we did the whole “let’s be an international rock band” kinda thing! As a reaction to that, we said: “let’s do this record ourselves.” Kris and David produced it, we recorded it at home in small studios across Sweden, and it was more of a patchwork of a record. It took us a long time, not so much that we were working constantly, but because of the way our lives are now, with all the other projects, but it turned out great!
It certainly did, it doesn’t sound patchwork at all when you listen to the finished product!
Which is a good thing! Early on we had a pretty clear idea of what we wanted the record to sound like, and the energy we wanted to portray on this record, and the ideas surrounding it. So we knew that early on, and it was just a matter of getting it there; a lot of songs start as sketches, and we rearrange them a little bit. You create one song, and you’re like “oh that’s way better than that song!” So you have to always up the ante a little bit… It took us a while, but I must say, I’m insanely pleased with how it turned out!
Yeah, it’s been well reviewed across the board! I really love the opening song… how do say it out loud, “Rev001” or “Revolution 1”?
Revolution 1… Rev001 is an internal joke about the Revelation Records first single, it was called Rev001, the first War Songs 7”… it’s a super weird internal joke! *laughs*
The video is really cabaret in comparison to the sound, what was the story behind that?
For people who don’t know, the people that I’m dancing with in the video are Swedish Neo-Nazis, so that’s the whole theme of the song. That uniform and the shields and everything, that’s the uniform of the biggest militant Nazi party of Sweden. And we just said, “let’s have a dance-off with the Fascists,” and then I’m kinda owning the Nazis. And we portray them in a little bit of a homo-erotic light… and it pissed them off, I must say! They were furious at us for creating that video! It is very inspired by the movie ‘Cabaret’ which is a lot about Nazi Germany, and Kris, the guitar player who directed it, just called me up one day and was like “it’s gonna be you dancing as Fred Astaire with Nazis!” And I’m like “YES! Let’s make it happen!”
Yeah, it’s hilarious to watch. If I had it on mute I’d think I was watching the Backstreet Boys!
Yeah, yeah! Well for a long time in my career I dreamed of being a proper dancer! We had a really fantastic choreographer that came in, all these other guys were obviously professional dancers, and the choreographer looked at me and was like “OK, dance, show me what you got!” And I was like “what the fuck!” All of my dancing is basically just punk chaos, a little bit of Iggy, a little bit of James Brown, a little bit of Mick Jagger… and just throw some hardcore into there! So I danced for him, and he’s like “OK, we can work with this!” And it was quite exciting!
It’s a departure from the norm of punk music videos, that’s for sure! Listening throughout the record, there are places where vocally, there’s definitely a different sound to the way you sing. There’s obviously still the trademark screams, but on songs like Violent Reaction or I Wanna Watch The World Burn, you become a lot more melodic, and your voice kinda reminds me of Davey Havok of AFI. Was that a conscious decision, to add that different sound to it?
Yes, of course. I do a lot of different bands, and in most of my bands I actually sing. I have a band INVSN that’s very post-punk, where I sing kinda dark pop music, and since the 90’s when I was basically just a screamer, I developed my voice quite a lot actually. To not use that as a tool, to play with the dynamics of the song, to play with the dynamics of my voice, would be foolish. So yeah, it’s a good tool to have, it’s good to be able to use your singing voice, use your screaming voice, different pitches… it’s a cool way to expand on the sound of Refused, y’know?
Yeah for sure, and it will naturally lead the listener into the side projects as well, I guess?
Yeah, and if you listen to a band like INVSN, I sing very differently, and the music is very, very different from Refused. But I do scream in one song, so it crosses over both ways a little bit! I’ve always been interested in being a singer; the first record I ever bought was David Bowie’s ‘Lets Dance,’ and he’s been one of the most important artists throughout my life, and I’ve always been interested in that aspect of it. Just being stuck in hardcore and then screaming your entire life, you’re like “nah, I kinda want to expand on this!”
And I guess you’re gonna completely destroy your voice if you scream all the time! If I try and sing like that, I last about 30 seconds and then I have a sore throat!
Yeah, its practice! We go on tour in a month, I go to a practice space here in town four times a week, and just scream into a microphone! The first week I’ll scream for half an hour, the second week an hour… it would be like running a marathon before taking a step, you need to get into it before a tour!
Sounds a good idea, you don’t wanna bust everything on day one!
Yeah, that’s what we did in the ’90s… you went out the first show all “RAAAAAA!!!” and then your voice was sore the rest of the tour! As time progresses, you become a little more professional in how you handle yourself!
Going back to the new record, there are definite nods to previous records. The soundbite that starts Rev001 sounds a lot like the excerpts that you get throughout The Shape Of Punk To Come, and the intro riff to Death In Vännäs sounds a lot like the riff to the title track of that same record. Is that intentional, that some of the new songs sound almost like postludes to the old ones?
Yes, a little bit; it’s interesting when you reference back to yourself. A lot of stuff that we do, when we’re recording, we’re like “oh this sounds like something that could have been on Shape,” or even the record before, Songs To Fan The Flames [Of Discontent]. I think there’s a lot of references to that record on this record; it has the same manic energy! Shape is a record that goes all different directions, there’s all these weird interludes and everything, but Songs is so tight and compact, and I think War Music reminds me a lot of that record, because it’s so tight and so compact, and very much a no-nonsense type of record.
Absolutely, it’s pretty relentless from start to finish!
Which is what we were going for! You get a couple of songs into the record, and you’re like “OK, this is the approach we’re gonna take this time,” and you just aim for that. It’s a pretty short record, 34 minutes or something like that, and we just wanna take people in a chokehold immediately, and never let go!
So you kinda see how it goes as you start recording, you really don’t have a set idea at the beginning?
A little bit, yeah. It’s funny ‘cos a lot of times you can go into a writing and recording process and have an idea of what you want to do, but it only takes one or two songs to completely change the direction of the creative process. You can write some songs, but then the fourth song you’ll be like “holy shit, this is the key, this is the song we’re gonna open up the record with!” That happens a lot, you have these ideas, and once you get really into the process, those can change, and it becomes something different. When we started this record, the only thing we knew was that it wasn’t gonna be a ‘Freedom Part 2.’ But then a couple of songs into it, we were like “this is gonna be one of those records,” boom boom boom, and then it’s done. That’s the beauty of the creative process, that you go somewhere, you create something out of nothing. You venture out into the unknown, and then after a year you come out on the other side and you’re like “this is what happened!” It’s a beautiful journey!
Thinking about that Shape record, I’m sure everyone always asks you about it. It’s pretty widely lauded, not just as one of the most important punk records, but one of the most important records, period. It shaped so much of the music that came afterwards, in the next 20 years or so. How does that make you feel, that you created such an important record?
There’s an insane sense of gratitude because most people live their entire life, some play music and do things, and leave a little bit of a carving on the wall somewhere. People talk about Shape like it’s a seminal record for a lot of people; it’s incredibly humbling, and something that makes you really grateful. Looking back at my life, that record, where I grew up, punk rock music is gonna define who I am today, and define who I am in 20 years. Few people get to live through that; it’s a pretty amazing thing man!
For sure, it sounds so different from everything else that was around in 1998. Its sounds sort of hip-hop in the sound bites, the kinda thing Kanye West would do between songs, and yet this punk vibe, this metal vibe… it’s an incredible piece of work, and it still sounds incredible. It doesn’t sound like it’s over 20 years old!
It’s done pretty well! *laughs*
I know you’re not here to talk about The (International) Noise Conspiracy, but that was one of my favourite bands growing up. I saw you and met you in Manchester, where I’m from, back in 2004, and it was one of my favourite shows ever…
Is there any chance that you would ever revisit that project?
I always say, whenever anyone asks about this, “my door is open!” When you’re younger, you’re like “THIS IS DONE, IT’S OVER!!!” But when you’re older… I mean, I’m still friends with Sara from Noise Conspiracy, we play in a band together, she’s my best friend, we hang out every day! Inge, who played bass, is gonna come for 2 or 3 days and hang out a bit. Ludwig, who played drums, lives in Paris; whenever I go to Paris I stay at his house. We’re all really close, so my door is always open if there’s a proper incentive to do it if that makes sense? Inge talked about putting together a compilation of Noise Conspiracy stuff, with some unreleased stuff, and he also talked about someone wanting to re-release the albums on vinyl. If that happens, I’ll play a couple of shows, I’d totally be down with that! If the opportunity presents itself, I’m not opposed to it! But as of right now, everybody is quite busy with other things.
Yeah, it’s a strange thing to hope for; as much as I would love to see Noise Conspiracy again, that would mean that I wouldn’t see Refused for a while!
Who knows? At the moment I have three bands; one doesn’t have to exclude the other! I’m sure we could do a Refused show and a Noise Conspiracy show within the same year, I’m sure that could be possible!
You could be your own opening bands!
Your voice definitely wouldn’t last too long doing that!
I did it once, where Refused played a show in Germany, and right after the show, I got into a van, drove to the airport, flew to Sweden, played a show with INVSN, and then next morning, got up and flew down to Italy for a Refused show! That was a bit of a… I don’t know… the INVSN show was booked way before we got the offer to play this festival with Refused, so we had to work that out somehow!
Must have seemed such a good idea on paper, until you actually did it!
On my way on the plane, I was like “what am I doing?!” *laughs*
Speaking of shows, you’re coming back to Montreal on the 24th of February, the first time since 2012, which I was at… I can’t remember ever seeing a more enthusiastic pit than the moment when New Noise explodes into life! That was a sight to behold! What can we look forward to this time around?
We’ll see how much the excitement of the pit has waned in the last 8 years, hopefully not that much! *laughs* I think the cool thing is that we play a ton of songs from War Music live, and we play a good mix of the old stuff. The last couple of tours we did, in Europe and Scandinavia, the energy level has been really, really high! I’m super excited about this tour, we’re just gonna bring it, and try to do all that we can to get people excited! And also the line-up is insanely good; its Racetraitor and Youth Code, what a show! It’s gonna be insane!
I absolutely can’t wait, almost a month from today!
Oh yeah? I better get in shape! *laughs*
Well I can tell you for sure, whenever I’m at a show here, and Refused plays on the PA, the singalong is still pretty loud, so you have nothing to worry about when you come to Montreal!
That’s awesome. And it is funny, sometimes people ask us “do you get tired of New Noise?” You can never get tired of that reaction. I mean, even when the energy level of a show can be pretty consistent, pretty high, there is just something about New Noise that just brings out the best and the worst in people; it’s an amazing thing. When that song kicks in, people lose their shit! It’s a pretty cool thing to be a part of; every night, when I look down at the setlist, I’m like “alright, here we go, this is gonna be fun!” I have to run now, but we’ll continue the conversation when I come to Montreal. I’m always hanging out, come and find me and we’ll talk about Noise Conspiracy!
Get tickets for Refused’s Montreal show HERE
Interview – Simon Williams