Strollin' on with the Strollers
Photo courtesy of Torbjorn Persson
by Wes Freeman and Will Shade (May 2001)
"It must've been Frankfurt last year," the Strollers, undisputed heavy weight champions of Swedish garage rock, recalled recently to Will Shade. "When we arrived and had just unloaded our stuff we found some trash-metal guy in our dressing room, lying there on the floor. We thought he was drunk and had passed out. Later an ambulance comes and it turns out he had O.D.'d on heroin. It was a bit awful."
That show was more than a bit awful, as things turned out.
"We were feeling like shit from the night before and just wanted to sit in there and take it easy you know. When we went up on stage two other trash-metal guys knocked Martin (Karlsson, the band's drummer) down and we had to drag him up. It took about ten minutes for him to be able to stand up. Halfway through the set people started getting up on stage trying to rip our clothes off so we just got the hell outta there. We didn't dare to go back so we slept in the van.
"The next morning we met our merchandise guy who had been robbed (of) all our records and t-shirts. The guys who owned the place had luckily brought our instruments backstage but when (guitarist, lead vocalist) Mathias (Lilja) was about to put his guitar in the case, he found that some idiot had taken a shit in it. Can you believe it! It was pretty fucking disgusting to get it clean. But we did a kick ass show as long as it lasted."
Struggling against absurdity: it's the garage band's lot in this world and these days it's rare to find one that actually puts up a fight. Too many of them succumb to cliches and gimmickry, or, worse, become purists. Garage fans are the folkies of the '00s, as protective of Daryl Hooper's Farfisa organ as their parents (or grandparents) were of Mississippi John Hurt's three-finger picking.
Not so The Strollers and thank Gawd for it.
"In '92, a gang of 13-year-olds started out playing Chuck Berry covers under the name Free Force," reads a press release from Low Impact Records, the band's label. "They soon changed personnel and became The Strollers." Taking its name from the Yardbirds' "Stroll On," the band now includes frontman/guitarist Lilja, Henrik Wind on (Farfisa) organ, bassist Joakim Dimberg, and drummer Karlsson. Now, with two albums under its belt, the band seems to be the only one willing to put forth the effort to find a new way to say what's already been said countless times.
"We listen to a lot of English bands," the band told Shade. "The Who, Pretty Things, Kinks, and stuff. There's probably more American influences when it comes to making music. You get inspiration from all kinds of things. Rock'n'roll in general."
The band's first album, Falling Right Down (1999), was all edge. Where the Chocolate Watch Band and The Standells were pop groups, The Strollers were an assault force. Falling Right Down's tonal palette was dominated by Lilja's lacerating fuzztone (a Fitta Fuzz pedal on the band's first album), throaty tenor, and Wind's piercing Farfisa. The propulsive drive of the album is unrelenting, even when the band attempts to swing, as it does on the album's closer, "Memories." Falling Right Down is the sound of a hungry band.
If the album's production suffers from an almost complete lack of bottom and the sheer energy of the songs takes a few listenings to keep everything straight, Falling Right Down is nevertheless an exhilarating CD. Lilja's fuzz is skin-flayingly hot and his vocal is vintage garage, but the band brought a new intensity and a few modern touches to the material. The album's sound is as refreshing as it is effortlessly classic.
With Captain of My Ship, the band's 2000 sophomore effort and it's last album with bassist Peter Kalin (who has recently replaced by Dimberg), expanded the band's sound and added much-needed bottom to the album's mix. More melodic if less intense, Captain's diversity points to bigger things.
The band doesn't know which CD it likes better. "It depends on what mood your in," they told Shade. "They're both pretty neat. You don't wear the same clothes every single day do you? If you feel for some straight, simple garage, you listen to the first one. And if you're in some strange fucking mood, and you want a mix of our personal influences pick up the second one."
Those influences run from '50s rock and American punk to Alice Cooper and English thrash pioneers Venom. Captain is warmer and less abrasive than it's predecessor, but for all its supposed blend of the band's influences, it's not that different from Falling Right Down. Which is a little like being not all that different from Michael Jordan on a basketball court. Still, there are worries that the band could start belching stale air if it keeps up this garage thing. This is 2001 after all.
"Now that you've nailed the garage-band approach are there any plans to broaden your sound? Maybe get psychedelic?" Shade asked the band.
"Maybe," came the reply. "You never know. Or maybe we'll write a good piece of rock-opera. He he."
Both the band's CDs are available from Low Impact Records at http://drink.to/lowimpact.
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