FOREWORD: Since their impressive American ’05 debut, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff, pop-rooted Swedish band, Shout Out Louds, have tightened up further, resulting in ‘07s lushly orchestrated grandiose pop stunner, Our Ill Wills. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Popular music has been in the blood of the Shout Out Louds front man, Adam Olenius, since he was a pre-pubescent Scandinavian schoolyard boy. His mother, a nurse who’d spent time in America as a teen, once dated the Zombies venerable Colin Blunstone, while his father, a surgeon, got him hooked on ‘60s/’70s radio hits straightaway.
Meeting fellow guitarist Carl von Arbin in art school, the pair soon hooked up with bassist Ted Malmros, drummer Eric Edman, and finally, “after booking their first show at a small Jazz club,” blonde knockout Bebban Stenborg (a Classically-trained pianist) came aboard to provide keyboards. But just ‘cause the passionate Swedish pop combo got a major label deal to obtain broad worldwide distribution doesn’t mean the awesome foursome have completely forsaken the thriving underground Scandinavian scene whence they came.
“I played in different bands since I was 13,” Olenius recalls. “I’d never been the singer or songwriter ‘til now. We tried everything but were bad musicians. I didn’t share all the same tastes in music. I had lo-fi indie pop records at home and they had more classic rock-oriented records. So I wanted to start a band that played music I liked. My inspiration came from my dad listening to ‘70s music like Chicago. Afterwards, I really enjoyed ‘80s/’90s Brit-pop from The Cure, Smiths, My Bloody Valentine, and Ride.”
So it’s not entirely surprising to find Olenius whining in an almost piercing register close to that of The Cure’s Robert Smith on spindly acoustic sanctuary, “Very Loud,” one of the Shout Out Louds’ finest tracks donning sturdy American debut, Howl Howl Gaff Gaff.
“But I’m more influenced by Neil Young’s high-pitched vocals,” he admits. “So maybe I went from Neil Young to Robert Smith. Other people say I sound like J. Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. So it’s a chain of musicians I truly enjoy.”
An incurable romantic with an oft-times snide slivery-tongued wit, the reliable songsmith acknowledges there’s still a thrifty hometown Stockholm scene motivating his cool egalitarian group.
“I think there was more of a rock scene due to the Hives success a few years back. But now it’s more of a bigger pop scene from electro to Jonathan Richman-like folk. It’s very Dexy’s Midnight Runner-like big soulfulness. These bands are trying to push it to the limits and see how far they could go with pop by experimenting,” Olenius consults.
Of course, an influx of new Swedish labels has helped expose this new wave of artists. Originally signed to local Bud Fox Recordings in 2003, the Shout Out Louds released two EP’s and an early domestic version of their long-player before hitting international seas.
“We kept six songs from the Swedish release and dumped the rest. Some songs we grew tired of since we’d performed other newer ones live. Producer Bjorn Yttling worked on a few new tracks (including desirous symphonic come-on “Oh Sweetheart,” post-Beatles folk-pop affectation “A Track And A Train,” and exploratory mantra “Seagull”). We just got better. You could hear our sound developing as we gained confidence in the studio. We were relaxed and unafraid to take chances,” Olenius explains.
Doing some introductory New York and Los Angeles shows prior to getting inked by stalwart Capitol Records, the Shout Out Louds built a solid overseas following, securing opening spots for esteemed contemporaries Kings Of Leon, Secret Machines, and the Coral in ’05. An appearance on The David Letterman Show in June no doubt increased visibility.
“Letterman seems to be a great guy – funny and intelligent,” Olenius says.
The first song Olenius ever composed, the triumphantly mellifluent petition, “The Comeback,” used as Howl’s catchy opener, has gained a fair amount of airplay here in the States. Above the grandiose bleating synthesizer crescendos and underlying guitar murmur, he fervently begs for reconciliation in a wearied raspy voice persuasively emoting regret, empathy, and finally, resolution, ultimately coming to terms with the frequently schizoid feelings wary lovers often experience during recovery.
“That deals with good and bad crazy emotions. Some songs are more of a collage concerning a time in my life. I could pick up different things and put it together in a song. Sometimes the chorus needs more love and the verses need more hate. So you put everything together in a singular song. It could sound really bad romantically, but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s the dichotomy that makes them interesting,” Olenius confirms.
To bookend Howl, the elaborate flute-ensconced surrealism of “Seagull” recalls Mercury Rev’s beautiful neo-orchestral flourishes and, more specifically, the airy falsetto flights of Rev’s Jonathan Donahue, as Olenius confoundedly laments ‘I looked into his eyes and I saw myself… kissed his feet and broke his knees.’
“Those are things that go on in my head,” Olenius remarks. “I read a lot. I’m not really into poetry. I can’t focus on that stuff. But I like books. The first songs on our album were written four years ago. So some lyrics are older. But “Seagull” I wrote recently and worked harder on them. You could probably notice how the lyrics have changed over the course of the album. I wanted the lyrics to sound like a debut album – a diary of the few years in the band.”
As the focal point of the Shout Out Louds, Olenius submits the wording and basic foundation of most songs, but everyone has input into the arrangements. Understanding how to express the emotional context of the material overrides the need to be perfect as players. Besides, the profound impact of Olenius’ appealingly rendered love-struck verses doubles when the sympathetic mood thickens. With a lump in his throat the size of an Adam’s apple, he spreads devotional splendor. Beat-quakin’ tambourine-shakin’ “Please Please Please” and conversely, the xylophone-smitten slow ballad, “There’s Nothing,” both plead for sentimental clarity, though no solid conclusion gets rendered. One minute he’s flipping off and devouring a fem victim, the next, he’s gushing tearful apologies and searching for full-time commitment.
“In the future, we’ll try to find a new way to arrange songs and add Jazz elements and South American influences,” Olenius informs. “These are different cultures beyond indie rock. My girlfriend is from Brazil so I get music from there. Plus, a lot of old Swedish and British folk (intrigue me).”
So what’s Olenius listening to now that his band is on the road constantly?
“I really like Antony & the Johnsons. He’s good. Arcade Fire made a great album and they are a great live band.”