Text Denise Chang
Interview assisted by Alif Omar Mahfix
The Radio Dept. are archetypal of an indie pop group hailing from Sweden – dreamy fuzz with a tinge of synths. They are critical of their own work and of those who try to make decisions for them (The Radio Dept. has yet to utilise a producer), but are consistently producing brilliant tracks as documented in their recent singles collection. Making their way to our shores for the first time, JUICE managed to speak to two-thirds of the band, Johan Duncanson and Martin Larsson, before their set for Upfront at The Bee about being indie, their disdain for the term ‘dream pop’, Swedish meatballs, and EDM and socialism.
It’s been 3 years since Clinging to a Scheme. What are you guys up to now?
Johan We’re recording. A little bit of touring but mainly we’re just recording right now. Well, it doesn’t feel as fun to tour if you haven’t got any new material. That’s why we’ve added a couple of new songs to the set list tonight. We just couldn’t go on playing old material.
That album saw the band’s international presence increase exponentially. You guys are still with your Sweden-based label, Labrador, though. We read that there’s a bit of ambivalence between you guys and the label. What’s keeping you guys grounded to that label, still?
Martin There are plans to switch, for various reasons. They’re boring, for one (laughs).
J We’re going to try to get out as soon as we possibly can. The problem is that Labrador has one more album on our contract. It’s been like that from the start. But the plan has always been to leave. We don’t want to be on Labrador, but it’s cause of the contract.
You guys have been around since 2001, there are only 3 albums by The Radio Dept to date. Is it important for the band to be careful with releasing its output?
M Yeah. It is.
M I think we’re very hard on ourselves. It’s a combination of a lot of things. Self-criticism, laziness. Sometimes we’re bored with the material so we don’t use them.
We read that you guys would record like a 100 songs during the production of the last album. Will there be a plan to release the rest of them in a compilation, something like Passive Aggressive: Singles 2002–2010?
J Well, maybe someday. But it’s always fun to create new things and songs. There might be a time when we think it’s fun to go through all that recorded material. But we’ve had so many different sessions and there’s so much recorded material right now – we just don’t have the time. Basically it’s just much more fun to have new sounds. But maybe someday, we’ll see.
What’s the process of shortlisting a 100 songs to just 10 like?
M Some of them weren’t really songs. Some are just drum roots, or chords and ambience. Don’t get me wrong, a lot of ‘em were songs.
So how do you choose which ones go into the album?
M It’s very last minute. Depends on how we feel. Sometimes a week before we release the album (laughs).
J Usually the songs that make it into the album, they are done really fast, because we haven’t got time to overwork, feel insecure or get bored with them. All of the materials that we don’t release are stuff that we either feel won’t fit anywhere or we aren’t sure what to do with it. Sometimes it’s because we overworked it. So it becomes kinda boring and we don’t feel for the song anymore. But then we might find it 5 years later, and we hear it again.
You guys have never utilised a producer. Is it important for The Radio Dept to have an auteur-like quality to music making?
M Yes. Very important.
J As interested as we are in producing music as we are in writing and performing them, it would be as weird to leave the production to someone else, like leaving the song-writing to someone else. It’s a big part of what we do, which is producing and mixing our own songs.
You guys do home recording too. As DIY as the band is, have you ever had a moment where you felt like the whole studio process might be of advantage too?
J I don’t.
M Johan doesn’t. But sometimes I feel that would be fun, just to hear what they might do. I feel afraid of it, I still think they won’t do a good job, but there have been some successful collaborations. But mostly, no, we don’t need them.
Johan has stated that he’s not really into shoegaze, but that seems to be the genre that is most associated with you guys. Have we gotten The Radio Dept. wrong all this while?
J Yeah, for some reason. We’re a pop group. Just pop. Not dream pop. Capital P.
M Dream pop? I feel that’s even worse (laughs).
J It sounds like music that doesn’t want to say anything, really. And we’re committed socialists and we want to get the message across (laughs).
The Radio Dept on record is slightly different live. Will we ever see the recording trickery in toy synthesisers and digital effects translate into the band’s live shows?
J We’re not really different live. Right now, we’re kind of more guitar-based live. More instrumental. We’ve got pre-recorded material as well but we’re basically more guitar-y tonight, but that’s doesn’t mean in a year or two, we won’t be bringing a lot of the other effects.
M (To Johan) We love the effects. That’s where we come from. Of course we’ll use that, it’s cool.
We really dig ‘Worst Taste in Music’. We know its tongue in cheek and all, but just out of curiosity, can you really judge a person by their taste in music? Also, give us a list of acts one might like that Radio Dept would dub as worst taste in music.
J Absolutely. Hmm I think The Buzz.
M (Laughs) Yeah, he listens to them though. They’re a bad Euro disco group. Or techno.
J We love techno. But that’s bad techno (laughs). Do you think we could we get back to you on the list? We’ll make a good list for you. I haven’t got many at the top of my head right now.
M But really, you can’t judge a person based on just their music. Maybe what they want in life.
J We’re really very kind people, really. But in a pop cultural context, it’s much more fun to diss people a little bit and make some fun of them than just being nice all the time. You can be nice to people around you but as a fan, I think you can be a little bit of an asshole, in the way that we are.
Beyond furniture, seems like Sweden’s biggest export is electronic acts. Tell us what the band scene there is like.
M There’s a lot of music. There’s also been a lot of electronic. I don’t have that good of a view of the music scene though.
J There are a lot of bands and artistes around. Some are good, most of them are really bad. It’s not necessarily the good ones that make it across, unfortunately. Like Swedish House Mafia for instance, they’ve got horrible music (laughs).
People are crazy about them here.
J Well yeah, people like going crazy about big music. It’s always been that way. They’re just a couple of douchebags making crappy dance music.
M They seem like total idiots. We’ve never met them, never seen them ever. So we’re kinda judging them aren’t we (laughs).
J You should put them on the list (laughs).
Randomly, IKEA meatballs are all the rage here. What do actual Swedes think of ‘em though?
M IKEA meatballs are like a bad version of a real meatball. They’re alright.
J I love meatballs. I just love them.
The Radio Dept. played at Upfront at The Bee, Publika, on Thursday 25 April ’13.