ORIGINALLY POSTED ON STRAIGHT.COM, MAY 5, 2005
By Steve Newton
A couple of years back, when I first heard the Hellacopters’ By the Grace of God CD, I figured I’d found the ultimate Swedish guitar-rock band. I played the thing endlessly, totally entranced by the awesome hooks, twin-guitar interplay, and ’70s-style melodies. I spent many an hour in Zulu Records, pestering the staff so I could sample the group’s previous releases at the listening booth. I purchased both CD and vinyl copies of the quintet’s equally awesome 2000 disc, High Visibility; the 12-incher now commands a sacred spot at home, displayed alongside autographed Skynyrd, Aerosmith, and Blue Oyster Cult LPs.
Just recently, I caught wind of Mando Diao’s Hurricane Bar, and now I’ve got a new favourite Swedish guitar band, one that harks back to ’60s British pop. “We listened to that music when we were young, of course,” guitarist-vocalist Björn Dixgård notes on a crackly cellphone from the north of Spain, “because that was the music that was lying around in our homes. Sixties music was very melodic, and that’s a particular element of our music as well.”
The youthful quintet-pronounced “mondo dee-ow”, and meaning nothing in particular-first made its mark on the international scene with its 2003 debut, Bring ‘Em In, which was basically just a collection of homemade demos. After getting signed by EMI in Sweden, the group went into the studio to rerecord the songs, but, surprisingly, the label agreed with the band that the original versions were fine on their own.
“That was really good of them,” Dixgård recalls, “and that’s not very common for major labels, I guess. But the demos were really good, so it’s not that weird, if you think of it.”
When the time came to record its sophomore CD, though, demos weren’t gonna cut it. For Hurricane Bar the group holed up in a studio in Bath, England, with producer Richard Rainey, who’d previously twiddled knobs for U2. But Dixgård doesn’t feel that laying down tracks in an actual recording facility with a proven producer made a huge difference to the effectiveness of Mando Diao’s material.
“It’s still the same type of songs as on Bring ‘Em In,” the 23-year-old rocker points out, “still the same vibe, and still the will and the lust to play music. The only thing that has changed is the sound, you know, and I don’t give a fuck about sound. To me it’s always been about the feeling in our songs.”
Though it’s only been making records for two years, MD has won over its share of critics. “Mando Diao aren’t the Hives,” wrote Alternative Press, “nor are they the Strokes, the Libertines, Razorlight, or whomever else NME is trying to shove down your throats this week-they’re better.”
The group-which plays the Red Room on Monday (May 6)-toured its homeland with top Swedish acts like the Hellacopters and Kent, then wound up conquering Japan, where it came off as the biggest thing since Cheap Trick. Upon returning to their base in Stockholm the members received letters from Japanese fans who’d gone to the trouble of translating their lyrics from English to Swedish for them. “They love our melodies,” Dixgård says, “and of course the way we look. They’re totally into that.”
Those Mando boys may have the shit-hot rawk-n-roll supermodel look that drives the geisha girls gaga, but has their abrupt rise to fame in the Land of the Rising Sun gone to their heads? In the group’s current bio, fellow guitarist-vocalist Gustaf Norén is quoted as saying: “We honestly believe our record is better than anything by the Who or the Kinks or the Small Faces. It may even be better than many of the Stones’ or Beatles’ records.” Dixgård downplays the claim, but just a little.
“I’m not sure if we’re better than these bands,” he says, “but we definitely make better records than both Kinks and The Who. They made some brilliant songs, but I have never known a really perfect album, you know-there’s always a couple of shit songs, always a Keith Moon song or whatever.”
As incredible a drummer, showman, and party animal as Moonie was, Dixgård does have a point about his songwriting capabilities. The outspoken rock ‘n’ roller knows what he likes, and he is quick to point out what he doesn’t like too. For one thing-although I find it hard to believe-he’s no fan of the Hellacopters.
“I understand what they’re tryin’ to do and all that,” he remarks, “but they’re too much rock for me. I like melodic pop bands, you know. But nowadays I’m so fed up with rock and pop music that I’m trying to listen to totally different things. I’m very much into Chet Baker for the moment, I love the guy. He’s got a really, really cool voice.”
Dixgård’s got one too, as evidenced by Hurricane Bar standouts like “Down in the Past” and “All My Senses”. As well as vocals and guitar, he shares the songwriting chores with Nolén, and has for some time. The two spent their teenage years together in the dangerous town of Borlange, which boasts Sweden’s highest drug-crime and murder rate. They stayed safe by making friends with the local toughs and by locking themselves away for six months at a time, writing songs. That overwhelming commitment to the band remains to this day. “It’s the only thing we got,” Dixgård says. “We’ve been living our whole lives through the band.”