Glum Lovin' Criminals
Robin Bresnark - Melody Maker 27 Februari 1999
They drink! They pillage! They entertain! We join Swedes Kent in New York for a mega booze session and discover their criminal past.
WE'RE IN ISOLA. Isola Where traffic parts its way towards Broadway, where pedestrians bicker over yellow taxis and a million smells unite into an electric fug of anticipation. We're on West 34th Street, in a Korean restaurant. We're gagging over a bowl of spiced mackerel nobody ordered, we're chain smoking to mask the stench and we're pouring back beer like there's no tonight, let alone tomorrow, let alone - greugh! - yesterday.
They call it New York City. They call it Manhattan. But, just like the crime writer Ed McBain (whose novels allegedly inspired >>Hill Street Blues<<), Kent's singer Joakim Berg calls it Isola, an Italian term meaning >>island<<. Joakim chanced upon the word on a wine bottle and took it as the title for his band's third album, their first to be released in England (and, indeed, in English), their third in their native Sweden. To Joakim, the word >>Isola<< conjured up a story he was working on, the story of a couple who escape the modern world to a water-locked haven, safe from computers, cellphones and fax machines.
>>Of course<<, he says, breaking into a twisted smile, >>the plane crashes on the way there and they never to get to realise their dream. A real cliched, beauiful, sad story. So, you see, Isola could mean this beautiful, desolate, paradise island where you can realise all your dreams and start over, or it could mean this huge concrete jungle where everything's so fast all the time.
>>Which is this?<< he pauses, gazing out at the happy panic beyond the window. >>This is the bad place! This is Armageddon!<<
ARMAGEDDON IS PROBABLY an understatement. Last night's drinking session with Kent saw The Maker acquiring a view of the NY toilet bowl it would happily never see again. Let alone sniff. Tonight, Kent are planning to join alcoholic forces with their tour hosts, The Cardigans, and we'll probably end up admitting defeat again. Swedish blood, it seems, is ninety percent proof. The way it doesn't freeze.
>>But the last time I was in New York with The Cardigans,<< consoles Joakim, >>I lost completely, so it's noting to be ashamed of! The drinks are so fucking strong here, but I was just: 'Pour it on!', as I do at home. So it ended in disaster, on the floor, screaming a everyone! I guess The Cardigans have got a bit more stamina.<<
And who's better looking?
>>Oh,<< he blushes, >>obviously it's Nina.<<
So they're better a drinking, they're better looking -- who's just better then?
>>You mean music-wise?<< queries bassist Martin Sköld. >> Um. We couldn't say anything bad about them, could we, Joakim?<<
>>They always say bad things about us!<< laughs his friend." >>Of course we think we're better but that's just my point of view -- you tend to write the music you want to hear. I think they are a brilliant band though.<<
But not better, right? Is anybody better than you?
Martin looks for the answer at the bottom of his beer and comes up with >>No<<. He might be right. If you've heard Kent's new single, >>747<<, you'll understand. If you haven't, when exactly did you last turn your radio on? Sheesh! Well, tune in now, give it an hour or so, then read on...
OK? It's a pulsing, heartbroken shimmer isn't it? It's about escape and it's desperately heroic, but finally, it's utterly, compellingly sad -- just like all of Kent's songs, something Joakim's happy to admit. >>Sometimes,<< he sighs, >>I try so hard to write a happy lyric, something that doesn't contain loneliness or whatever. But it's always there, always the same things. You see, we started listening to the music at the of Eighties and The Cure were everyone's favourite -- they made me feel so good feeling bad.<<
Give it another hour. Listen again. >>747<< doesn't sound at all Swedish, does it? It sounds so placeless, so timeless, you'd think Kent were British, unless someone told you otherwise, right? Over here in America, no one's really cottoned on and, night after night, they just think Kent are an American band. An American band, incidentally, who rock.
IRVING PLAZA: a delightfully morden venue with polished floorboards and snazzy video screens. Onstage, Kent are doing their best to be an American band who rock, albeit an American band who rock like Radiohead teaching U2 sincerity, Mansun consistency and Suede intensity. >>Elvis<< and Joakim's standing high on the lip off the stage, screaming out the chorus to a chorus of screaming punters, like Jesus gone punk. >>Celcius<<, and Kent guitarist Sami Sirviö and Harri Mänty are ripping the brittle air apart, slamming down over their guitars, cracking up under the melody. >>Unprofessional<<, and everything's just a blur, sad and vicious, just the line >>I'll shave my head and volunteered?>> ponders Joakim, half-emptying a bottle of vodka into the Maker's cup. >>No, we all skipped military service.<<
Is that easy to do in Sweden?
>>Not at all: both Sami and our manager, Martin, went to prison two weeks for that. If it wasn't for the overcrowded prisons, it would've been four months. I did this strange thing called 'Service Without Guns', working in a kindergarten, but that's very hard to get.<<
So you escaped the clink, then?
Joakim's raising his eyebrows in a >>not exactly<< way. >>I spent one month in prison. For drink-driving. It was me and Martin -- it's his fault! We had this idea that I should drive one around the block and park the car. The funny thing is that they stopped us because we forgot to turn the lights on! Not for driving strange! I was in the open prison, there were no walls, you just had to stay there. But all the people surrounding me were extremely heavy criminals, doing the last months of their time. Most of them were junkies; you really got to see what drugs do to people.<<
Do you think you'd be making this music, were it not for that? >>I don't know,<< he hums. >>But during the whole period, I only listened to one album: Bowie's 'Ziggy Stardust'. And I had my guitar in there, so I tried to write songs. But what I learned most was: 'If I can get through this, I'll be strong enough to do whatever I want when I get out.'<<
Of course, all your songs are about escape...
>>Hah!<< he half-smiles, >>I didn't think of that one!<<
WE'RE IN THE Queensboro Bridge cable car, sliding from 59th Street to Roosevelt Island. Harri's sweating out his fears of heights, Sami's tripping over the scampering schoolkids, Martin's laughing about some Swedish joke Joakim just told him. And drummer Markus Mustonen is recalling the eve of their recent UK tour, when he got horrifically beaten up by a gang of thugs in a Stockholm nightclub, a case of mistaken identity. >>All I could think,<< he remembers. >>was: 'Hit my face!' Not the arms, not the legs, or I would not have been able to play.<< That Kent is the most important thing in his life goes unsaid, but utterly understood.
>>Sometimes you realise...<< says Joakim, as we glide through the sun and the smog towards another Isola, >>here I am with my songs that I wrote at my kitchen table in my underwear, with my cup of tea! And, suddenly, I'm here! At heart, we're still just five guys from a tiny industrial town in Sweden,<< he shivers.
>>But now we're here. It's like thinking of space. It's like thinking of the universe.<<