A Conversation with Erik Ohlsson Guitarist for Millencolin
Millencolin is notorious for their rigorous touring, and they finished their stateside tour here in Chicago at the Metro. They're promoting their new album, Home From Home, and I was lucky enough to sit down with Erik on the afternoon before their Sunday night show and talk about it.
We started off with the album and its stylistic differences from their previous work. Although one might think this shift in sound would be a planned effort, Erik insists that "we're not the type of band that says that this album is gonna go in this direction or this direction. We just kinda wrote the songs and they ended up this way." He attributes the sound on each album to the bands they tour with beforehand. When I noted that this album plays out a little more straight forward rock-and-roll than their more punk driven albums, he explains this is the first time they are really satisfied with the guitar sound on the album and that it sounds more like they do live. "We always sound a little more rock live than we do on our recordings."
To record their previous album, Pennybridge Pioneers, they travelled to Epitaph's home base in Westbeach, but decided to return to their homeland, Sweden, for this one. When asked about this, Erik replied, "The States...was a really good experience, to do something different," but they felt they wanted to "do something different from that. All our albums before Pennybridge Pioneers had been recorded in the same studio with the same guy, and to make a change and record with another guy like Brett [Gurewitz] was great, and we learned a lot from that." They decided to work with Lou Giordano for Home From Home, and when he suggested going to Sweden, the band readily agreed. "It's also lots cheaper, we don't have to rent an apartment to stay in, and flight costs, you know - all that. Plus Mathias [guitar] and Nikola [bass & vocals], they wanted to be closer to home."
Millencolin, as a band, agrees that they have grown into their sound from their inception as a wannabe California punk band. "We tried to copy the sound of NOFX, Operation Ivy, Pennywise and those bands. But after maybe two albums, then you've kinda done that thing, and we wanted to take it a little bit further. We never really said it, but it felt like by then we knew Pennywise and NOFX, so it felt kinda weird to copy their sound. We also started to get our own following, and so we tried to create our own sound." They also stand behind the idea that listening to the same music you play is bad for creativity, so I asked Erik what kind of other stuff they like. He laughed a little, and said he was listening to a lot of Steve Earl, Manu Chao and some old reggae. "Nikola's really influenced by the Beatles and Woody Guthrie," Erik explained, "Plus we listen to a lot of heavier music, too. It's a huge, huge span of different types of music. But we can always get influence, even if it's a hook, or a melody, or whatever and put it into a Millencolin song." But they stay true to their roots, as Erik says, "of course, we listen to a lot of, well, Rancid is my favorite all time band."
I took him back to the early days, asking him about their beginnings, and if they had set any standards for conduct once they were stars. He laughed and said, "one of the rules is, well...we played with Offspring back in '94, and I remember we were sitting in the dressing room and were like, 'those guys aren't even saying hi to us, we're just a small Swedish band.' And after that, we said we'd never treat a support band like that." But then he chuckled a bit to himself and explained that "then when you grow up this big, you've got interviews, you go to dinner and you meet with your record label. Then you come to the show right before your own show, and you've already missed the support bands, maybe. Now it's clear to me why they didn't do that, in a way. And now, probably, the support bands are sitting in the dressing rooms and thinking the same way about us. That's one of the things I've thought about, and I try to say hi to the support bands, but it's hard when you don't even see them, because your out doing interviews and stuff."
But they have stayed true to their word, and seem to be getting along well with both Bombshell Rocks and Homegrown, the other two bands on tour with them. In fact, due to an accident, Thomas, the drummer for Bombshell Rocks, is sitting in for Larzon [drums], who is back home with a broken elbow.
Which turns out to be a funny story in itself. I figured that with their skating background, this was probably due to some accident on a board. Erik, however, sets the record straight. "[It] was more like a drunken accident. Stupid guy, he was so drunk and walked down a staircase in NOFX's…well, we played the show in Denver, and NOFX played the same night, a little bit later. So we hooked up with those guys and went and watched their show. He was up in their dressing room, I think during the show or something. He walked down a really steep staircase, and slipped and fell like this," (at this point, contorting himself into some awkward position with his elbow out front) "fell a few steps and landed on his elbow. It cut it into two pieces, and his elbow swelled up like this" (size of a well-developed cantaloupe). "It looked ridiculous. So he needed to have surgery. He either had to stay in Denver for a week by himself all drugged up, or fly back home to Sweden. He went on the first plane back to Sweden." He will go along for the ride on the European tour, though.
As for the fans, I asked Erik who they're made up of. They started out as a skate punk band, and that attracted skaters mostly. He agreed, "That's our roots, that's our main fan base, of course. But there's a lot of other people, too, that come to our shows. We keep good contact with our fans lots of ways, like our web page for example, so that keeps close contact with all the fans around the world." They try to answer all the emails, but he admits it's getting tougher as they become more popular.
Speaking of the website, music isn't Erik's only talent, either. He grew up as an artist, working in several mediums of drawing and paint, and has since added computer graphics to his list of talents. To date, he is responsible for all their cover art, their website, and most of their promotional stuff. When I mentioned his cover artwork, a broad smile emerged. "For Pennybridge Pioneers, I was kind of sick of doing everything, you know, with computers, so I decided to go back to the basics where I started, so I painted the oil painting."
At the end of another States tour, I figured some favorites questions were in order. As for a favorite tour food, "It used to be - coming to the States - Taco Bell, you don't get taco bell in Europe. And I loved that the first time. But this is like our tenth time here, and I've had a lot of Taco Bell. Actually, though, I prefer Mexican stuff, especially California Mexican stuff, the real Mexican stuff - that's the best food in the world."
As for favorite venues, "I like places that look like this [the Metro], like a real rock club. I hate when you come to places when there's just a room that they rented, and a stage they put up, 'cause that doesn't give the right atmosphere. It's so hard to pick one, but overall, places that look like this, that feels like a real rock club."
And, finally, I asked what to expect from them after this world tour. "I don't know, we're gonna do some summer festivals, and after that we'll take a break, we haven't booked any more shows. But we'll book more for next year. Then we'll work on another album to get out in, maybe two years or so."
Nonstop, huh? "Yeah, kinda. But we get some time off. And I love this kind of life, you know."
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