"It ain't bragging if you can back it up."
-- Some Famous Guy
Their hometown sucks. They hate it there. There's nothing to look at but two ugly factories and a bunch of empty space. Growing up there meant that you only got beat up once on a good day.
Yet never did the members of Mando Diao doubt that better times lay ahead -- because they knew they were already the best fuckin' band in the world. You almost get the feeling the guys in Mando Diao would run over their own mothers if that's what the music tells them to do.
Listening to bring 'em in, you get the sense that wouldn't be such a stretch. Recorded in a basement on garage-sale gear, these are raw, overdriven tracks, in which tight hooks and clear melodies get bent and battered to the breaking point. The two guitarists trade vocals, each one able to caress a tune, both sounding like they can't wait to get past the slow stuff and explode into throat-shredding intensity. The drums whip up hurricane rhythms, the bass cuts like a cable snapping under pressure. These tracks -- the furious, body-punching "Sheepdog," the jump-bluesy "Motown Blood," the plaintive "Mr. Moon," the horn-stabbed, declamatory "Paralyzed" -- have been likened to a collision of Beatles and Sex Pistols, though we also sense the Davies brothers, Lou Reed, and even a little Howlin' Wolf or two among the onlookers.
Mando DiaoAnd all of this anger and ecstasy comes to us from somewhere in the middle of Sweden, in a place as obscure to Americans as Liverpool once was just before another deluge hit back in the sixties â€¦
"Seeing Mando Diao live is like going to church. Our fans get the same feeling from us that some people get from religion."
So says Gustaf NorÃ©n, rhythm guitarist, scalp-tingling singer, moody songwriter, and one-fifth of Mando Diao. Like his colleagues -- lead guitarist/singer BjÃ¶rn DixgÃ¥rd, bassist Carl-Johan "CJ" Fogelklou, organ/percussionist Daniel Haglund and drummer Samuel Giers -- he grabbed onto rock & roll to save his soul, once he was old enough to know what life would be like in dear old BorlÃ¤nge.
"Our town is dangerous and cold," he explains. "It has the highest drug and murder rate of anyplace in Sweden. You had to be bad if you didn't want to get hit by some gang of fools in school. And if you could survive all that, then life became boring as well as dangerous."
The future bandmates avoided homicide through a combination of street smarts and seclusion within the shelter of music. "I was on the outside," Gustaf remembers. "Metallica and Guns N' Roses were all you heard in my school, but I was really into soul music and the Beatles, and then when I heard Nirvana for the first time, I felt that rock & roll would be the one thing in my life that would never let me down. It was something I could count on, just like a Christian could count on God.
"Of course," he adds, a little ominously, "when someone feels he's been betrayed by God, he gets really angry."
That's what happened to our heroes as rock dribbled away into a puddle of gooey pop and poseur punk. Aghast, they came to realize that the only way to keep the magic alive, and to keep their faith intact, would be to do it themselves.
But that took a while. The roots of the band trace back to 1995, with BjÃ¶rn present at the creation of Butler, the first incarnation of Mando Diao. People came and went until, four years later, the rest of the current lineup found itself standing amidst the wreckage of half-assed losers who couldn't keep up with the group's mission. "We got real serious," Gustaf says. "We gave up thinking about school. We gave up thinking about girlfriends. BjÃ¶rn and I locked ourselves away in this summer house and spent six months writing songs. We gave up our lives for the band, because we knew that without Mando Diao we would be nothing."
They were, at that moment of commitment, about sixteen years old.
Like wild-eyed prophets in the wilderness, Mando Diao slammed into the listless BorlÃ¤nge club scene. A local writer gaped at their performance, a perfect balance of control and anarchy through months of messianic rehearsal, then rushed back to his computer to anoint them as the best unsigned band he had ever seen. "He felt we were going to be as big as Oasis," Gustaf says. "Those were big words."
News spread quickly to Stockholm, as distant a vision as Oz might seem from Kansas. A demo made it to Tommy GÃ¤rdh, the Carson Daly of Swedish television, who brought the band up and put them in front of the camera for the whole country to see. As bookings poured in, GÃ¤rdh signed on as their manager. With his help, they sifted through the clamor of major label offers and settled on a deal with EMI because, as Gustaf puts it, "they understood our music best."
In fact, they were so understanding that, after bringing the band into the studio to re-record the songs on their demo, they agreed with their decision to stick with the original, home-brew versions. "We liked that naÃ¯ve feeling we had on our demos," Gustaf says. "We recorded, engineered, produced, and mixed them for ourselves with no idea that we were recording an album that people would talk about and write about and hear on the radio. So those demos are kind of special to us."
Just prior to the album's Swedish release last September 2002, Mando Diao signed onto a national tour with the Hellacopters, Kent, and ThÃ¥strÃ¶m -- three acts with strong followings throughout the country. Though sunk at the bottom of the bill, Mando Diao saw this as their chance to seize the spotlight from their toughest competition. Which is exactly what happened.
"It was like womenâ€™s pro-golfer Anikka Sorenstam taking on the guys," Gustaf says. "We wanted to measure ourselves against the biggest bands in Sweden. We'd done lots of live shows, but we'd never been on a real, professional tour. So here are these other bands that had been playing for ten years and were thirty or forty years old, and here come these twenty-year-old guys, playing real rock & roll and doing it better."
Momentum from the album and the triumphant tour carried Mando Diao all the way to Japan, where bring 'em in had just been released. Their romp beneath the Rising Sun precipitated scenes unlike any they had encountered before. "It was so frantic," Gustaf says. "And after we conquered Japan and came back home, we started getting these letters from Japanese fans who had translated our lyrics from English to Swedish! We didn't even know our songs in Swedish. They're so crazy over there, which is why we love them."
Next stop? It could be the rest of Europe, or it could be right here on our side of the world, where bring 'em in will unveil on August 26, 2003 through Mute. It doesn't really matter, though. Mando Diao is inevitable; they will conquer the world, and soon. Just try to stop them â€¦
"The whole experience of Mando Diao is about not caring what the outside world thinks as we head toward our goal," Gustaf insists. "This train is moving too fast for us to see the outside landscape. Our songs are our gods: We have to obey them.
"Nothing can stop us. 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. We're competing with the biggest bands in this world.
"So, bring 'em in. We'll take 'em down."
Interview by Mike Aylward
Mike: What does the name "Mando Diao" mean?
Samuel: It doesn't mean anything really. BjÃ¶rn(guitarist, singer) woke up from a dream and had the name in his head. Told us about it and we thought it sounded good. Mando Diao is just us four guys and the music we make.
Mike: How would you describe the Mando Diao sound to a newcomer to your music?
Samuel: It's raw, pure, groovy, lots of energy, and most important strong melodies. Someone once wrote "Mando Diao's music sounds like Sex Pistols are jamming with The Beatles" I guess that's a short and good way to describe it.
Mike: What types of music and which musicians/groups influenced you growing up?
Samuel: I guess for all of us it started with The Beatles. I know Gustaf saw A Hard Days night when he was around 6 and decided to become a rock star. We All listened to a lot of 60s pop and soul. The Motown and Detroit soul scene, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Neil Young, Bob Dylan. Then of course when Oasis and Nirvana came along we all got hooked on that.
Mike: How did growing up in Borlange, Sweden influence your music?
Samuel: I think mostly that BorlÃ¤nge is a pretty rough industial city, like Detroit or Liverpool. You had to act tough to survive. It also created a feeling of Not fitting in, wanting something more, to get away from it all.
Mike: Which do you prefer, recording or live performance?
Samuel: Of course playing live. It's the greatest feeling in the world. It's like anything can happen. Also you get to show people that we're for real. Not many bands are able to transfer the music from a record to a live show. But, I can promise you that we sure can. It's what we do best.
Mike: Whose music are you listening to right now?
Samuel: I know everybody in the band recently bought The Coral's new album, So that's been spinning quite a lot. I know Gustaf always listens to a a Hip Hop album or two. I'm for sure gonna buy the new BRMC when it comes out here in Sweden on Friday.
Mike: How would you describe your new release, "bring em in"?
Samuel: It's rough, raw edged, pure energy, lots of melody. It's a document from four frustrated teens growing up in a small town. And it's for real.
Mike: What goals/targets/hopes/dreams do you have for your music and your band?
Samuel: To conquer the world. Spread our music to as many people as possible.
Mike: How has new technology affected how you deliver your musical message to the world?
Samuel: No not really. Well maybe in the way that we feel that there's too much "plastic" music being made. And it all sounds the same. We want Rock n' Roll to once again rule the world.
Mike: You said your music is better than the Kinks and the Small Faces and as good as some of the music from the Beatles and the Stones. Do you truly believe this or is this just hype to sell your music?
Samuel: It's the truth. We feel that Bring 'em in is a great album from start to finish. Many albums donâ€™t have the same qÃºality all the way through.
Mike: What do you think are the embodiments of good and evil in the music business, and in the world today?
Samuel: The good guys are bands like us that want to make music that is pure and real. Bands like, the Coral, BRMC, The Strokes. The bad guys are people that only care about profit. Find an artist that looks good, singing skills are not required. Put in a lot of money and walk away a year later with even more. Then find someone else to use.