In an age where everyone and anyone can get their five minutes of fame, the true testament of being successful in music is found in longevity. Swedish punk outfit Millencolin are a prime example of this, having released seven albums and played over 1500 shows in a career spanning over two decades. With roots that stretch far back into early 90’s skate punk scene, the Millencolin sound has grown up alongside the band over the years but never lost the same passion and firey energy that has always been injected into their work. Flash forward to 2016 and we have the highly anticipated True Brew: a collection of thirteen songs that return to the early days of hard-and-fast melodies and unabashed lyrics. Now the four-piece are set to return to Australia for a seven date tour, bringing along a set full of new material and cult favourites.
Erik Ohlsson took some time out from shredding guitars to chat to us about how the European leg of the ‘True Brew’ tour went, how Australian festivals compare to German ones and the creative process behind designing graphics for the band…
Debbie Carr: Hi Erik, how are you?
Erik Ohlsson: Hello! I’m doing great how are you?
DC: I’m good! It sounds like you’ve had a massive day of press after press calls. How are you feeling about the upcoming Australian leg of the True Brew tour?
EO: We’re super excited. We’ve been wanting to return ever since Soundwave, which we did about a year ago – over a year ago now – for a long, long, long time and now it’s finally happening again. This will be our first actual old club tour since ’09 or something, so first one in 7 years.
DC: It’s been a while! It’s amazing that already coming back you’ve sold out one of the Melbourne shows and you’ve added another one. What do you think it is about Millencolin’s music that connects to Australian crowds?
EO: I’ve got no idea actually! Apart from we’ve been over a lot of times. Me personally, I’ve always said, and I’m totally honest when I’m saying this, I would love to live in Australia. In our winter time, your summer time, and vice versus, if that could be possible in my life. I really love Australia and I’m so happy that we got probably one of our best crowds in Australia so I’m able to go.
DC: It’s so evident with that sold out show and having to add another, it seems like Australia does have a lot of respect for you guys, especially after over 20 years. What are Australian crowds like compared to ones overseas?
EO: You know there’s not much different in crowds, in the way that when you’re on stage crowds look pretty much the same but there is a good vibe when we play Australia like a good response. Happy people – exactly what we love playing in front of.
DC: So earlier this year you had the European leg of the True Brew tour. You started late last year in Sweden and worked your way to Germany over a few months. How was that tour?
EO: The last one was really good. That was actually the third leg of the European part of the true brew tour. So we’ve been doing a lot of touring on this album. We started before that, with Soundwave and sideshows in Australia a year ago.
DC: I’m sure there’s so many amazing things about touring. Do you have any highlights over the past 20 years that you’ve been in the band that you can share?
EO: Of course, so many highlights! Maybe the Warped Tour in the states, we’ve done three of them – all really fun. We did Warped in Australia about two years ago I think, which was great, but completely different from the US one. The US one you’re out for seven weeks approximately on the bus. You’re travelling across the whole US and Canada in seven weeks and there’s bands you become friends with and it’s like a big summer camp. Since we like to skate as well there’s pro skateboarders and stuff. It used to be like that, now it’s changed a little bit, actually it’s changed a lot. The Warped Tour is a more emo festival, a screamo festival now. When we started back in 2000 it was so much fun, since we were skateboarders when we were growing up we skated every night with pros and it was really fun.
DC: Warped tour definitely has changed! Is there a festival you feel is your favourite at the moment?
EO: At the moment, hard to say. German festivals are always really, really good. Really good festivals and really well organised, they are completely different to anything else. European festivals differ a lot from most Australian and American festivals.
DC: In what way?
EO: We have more of a history of doing festivals usually in a village outside our major city and that vibe is great, and usually a three or four day festival with tons of people. The stuff we’ve done in Australia is like Soundwave and Big Day Out, more like putting up the festival in different cities – like a festival tour. I don’t know if you have a festival which is on the same site every year and it’s just there. Do you?
DC: We actually do have a few festivals that are like that! Probably one of our biggest ones is Splendour in the Grass, which goes for about four days and it’s held at the same time religiously each year but a lot of the Australian festivals do vary quite a lot – they can be a little bit unstable. But part of playing Australian festivals is expecting the unpredictable I guess!
EO: Yeah, we did Livid back in the day (1997, 2000) but it was just one show in Brisbane. Wasn’t it?
DC: Yeah! Most of our festivals do only go for one day, sometimes two. That’s more of the style we go for.
EO: But the festival culture in Europe is big and it’s been like that ever since I got into music. Before Millencolin we were listeners at festivals, living in tents on campsites and that’s just the European tradition in a way, which might be a little different from the rest of the world.
DC: I think it would be quite different to the Australian festivals! Since you’ve been touring so much, and you’ve done so many festivals, what’s the secret to maintaining that same close band dynamics you’ve always had?
EO: It’s hard to say, but we are really, really good friends still and we split everything like 25-25-25-25, so most of the work we put in and also the money we get. There’s no issue there with a guy earning all the money or anything like that and we’ve gone through so much and we’ve fought a lot over the years but now I think the four of us know each other inside out. You have to turn the other cheek sometimes, we don’t have those big egos in the band.
DC: Something else I really admire about Millencolin is that each of you have interests and things that you do outside the band. I know that you Erik do a lot of the artworks, photography, music videos. Is that something that you’ve always been interested in?
EO: Absolutely, I did like a thing before the band…shooting a lot of skateboarding videos and stuff which you know, when you’re a skater that’s what you grew up with. Then you can mix it all together and form the band. So I’ve been doing all of that stuff for Millencolin all the time, then of course it’s good to broaden your work. I mean if I would only do this for Millencolin it would all look the same in the end so its good to get experience with other companies, getting graphic design work with their logos and marketing and stuff like that. It’s like you say, that’s an important thing as well. I mean if we were all just playing music in this band, we would get bored. We try to do a lot of different stuff on the side that makes it much more fun to get back together and play again. You learn how to love being in a band for sure.
DC: When you’re doing these artworks and things for the band, how do you stay true to the brand and aesthetic of Millencolin? What goes through your mind when you’re making things for the brand?
EO: It’s all really hard, much harder now doing stuff for Millencolin than doing things for another company because when you talk to somebody who is hiring you for doing illustrations or something, you always get perfect image like ‘boom! I can do it like this or I can do this’, you talk about that idea. With Millencolin it’s just my head and I’m going to try to brand my band. It’s much harder and it’s almost getting harder and harder every year because you want something that’s familiar with what I’ve done before but you still want to do something new. Our albums, they couldn’t have photography a lot or something like that, no photos on the actual cover, that would just look not Millencolin. It has to be an illustration by me so it’s hard. I actually struggle every time, especially with record covers because they’re so important. I just start messing around and I throw around a lot of ideas. It’s like the expression ‘kill your dolly’ when you come up with an idea you think is great but if it doesn’t turn out great you have to throw it away and start over.
DC: It sounds like quite an organic experience just sort of a bit of trial and error. Is that a similar process to how you’re all writing music?
EO: I think so! None of us are educated musicians and we don’t write notes or anything like that, it’s all trial and error and I think that’s the best. It’s just like messing around and trying to pinpoint exactly what will be the best chorus, what will be the best harmony and the more you do it the better you get at it. Also by not having an education, then you’re open to trying stuff that could sound super bad or it could be something completely new now. The same with my artwork too, I don’t have any education, I’ve taught myself everything on my own and I like it to be like that because then I have no real limits. If you’re studying typography for example you get so many rules. You can’t put this here, the curling has to be like this, you can’t put that line like this, blah blah blah; there’s all these rules which are messing up with your creativity – which I hate. So I think it’s good to be self-taught, that’s how I work.
DC: Did you intentionally as a band set to write True Brew or was it more over time you collect bits and pieces of songs and thought wow we can make another album with this?
EO: Kind of. It was Nikola and Mathias doing pretty much everything with song writing these days. Weekends I’m doing art and video parts, we kind of split it up a little bit you do what you’re best at. I’ve been writing songs my whole career but now I feel like we’ve found more of what we’re best at. I don’t play much guitar back home these days just because I have so much with the graphics stuff but if you sit around playing guitar you always get tons of riffs and melodies and things like that. I have tons of tapes, well tapes before now on disk somewhere. I guess we all knew we wanted to do a new record and we felt like it suited the right time, and we felt the way we wanted to go which was going back a little bit to what the Millencolin sound was in the beginning and look at influences from when we started the band, like Bad Religion and those bands, so that’s what we wanted to do. Then when you set your goal to make an album you have all those recordings and even all those notes and audio notes in your phone. It’s all a puzzle to put those together and make a song. So that’s how all the ideas come up and then of course they write a lot. They meet up and say ‘I’ve got this that might work with this’ and Nikola’s ideas usually are just acoustic with a melody and chorus or maybe a little guitar melody, something like that but Mathias’ job is to transfer those harmonies and choruses to punk rock.
DC: True Brew, I’ve noticed, seems to have an underlying political tone compared to other albums of yours. Was there a significant event or person that inspired this or was it just the landscape around you at the time?
EO: Absolutely this point in time. The world is falling apart, so much bad is happening in the world so I mean, it’s our obligation to say something about it since we reach out to a lot of people, I think.
DC: To what degree do you think music is powerful in conveying social and political issues? And I guess art for that matter as well.
EO: You get your voice heard, but that’s what everybody is doing these days, with social media and everything. Everybody wants their voice heard [laughs], so there’s a lot of voices out there and it’s hard to know which ones are telling you the truth and which ones are trying to earn cash or lying or whatever. That’s the problem these days actually. The fans who know us and like us probably think we’ve got good ideas in some way, hopefully we reach out to those guys.
DC: Do you have a favourite off the True Brew album, or a favourite you love to perform?
EO: I think I like to perform Egocentric Man, which is the first song of the album. I immediately wanted that to be the opening song because it feels like a good opener on the album. That’s fun to perform, also the song True Brew which we haven’t played that at many shows. We skipped that at the beginning of the tour but added that song to the set now when we released the True Brew EP, so we thought it would be a good idea to put that song into the set and it works really good. It’s a little bit slower but it’s a fun song to play live.
DC: What can we expect from the Australian set list?
EO: I think like always a mixture of different songs. I’d say roughly one third new stuff and two thirds of old classic Millencolin songs.
DC: So in your over twenty year career so far you’ve played a huge amount of shows, how do you keep your live performances fresh and engaging still?
EO: You switch songs all the time. I mean there’s some songs that have to be there because some people would get upset if we didn’t play those songs but there are a lot of songs. We must’ve recorded between 150-200 songs or something so we have a lot to choose from. We try to change the set list all the time… Can you hear my dog in the background?
DC: I actually can!
EO: Ah, he’s so annoying! He’s here with a toy and he doesn’t like me being on the phone and I’ve been on it for the past hour now, so now he’s just here crying with it.
DC: Aww poor thing! Well let’s just finish by following up with the rest of this year, where do you see Millencolin heading throughout 2016?
EO: We’ll be touring! Now first Australia, so much looking forward to doing this. Then we have a week or something and then we go to the states for about three weeks, then back home for a few European festivals, back to Canada for a festival and then more European festivals and then more touring in the fall.
The Australian leg of Millencolin’s ‘True Brew’ tour kicks off on April 26 in Fremantle and will conclude on May 3 in Melbourne. Full tour dates, locations and tickets are listed on the band’s official website.