written by Sean Padilla                                  

The week that I subscribed to the My Bloody Valentine electronic list, I had a realization of a sad truth that I should have known a very long time ago: there will never be a follow-up to the Valentines' 1991 magnum opus "Loveless". Immediately after "Loveless" was released, a multitude of bands sprung up across the world that used head Valentine Kevin Shields' whammy-bar guitar histrionics and ingenious sound manipulations as the springboard for their own skewed brands of noise-pop. However, so much time has passed since "Loveless" that one by one, each of these bands are slowly moving to other pastures. For instance, the Lilys gave up on dream-pop two albums ago, and the Swirlies have been in structural limbo for at least three years.

The members of the mailing list have dissected and analyzed every nook and cranny of Shields' innovations, and are now reduced to discussing trivial crap, like whether grown males who like Sanrio and Hello Kitty are pedophiles, or if the phone books in Iceland are still listed by one's first name. In my humble opinion, the most artistically satisfying of the remaining bands who still cite My Bloody Valentine as a chief influence are Lenola (who combine MBV's pitch shifting guitarrorism with the Beatles' lo-fi warmth and Pavement's melodies and genre-hopping), and the band I am about to introduce to you.

Ola Frick (vocalist/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter), the auteur behind the Moonbabies, first contacted me through i-Music wanting to initiate a tape trade - one of my Cocker Spaniels tapes for one of his Moonbabies tapes. In the five or six months since then, I have heard his band slowly and surely find their feet, developing and refining their sound with each and every one of their fantastic demo tapes. Of course, the ghost of "Loveless" haunts many of their songs, but the Moonbabies have long since passed the point where derivation turns into inspiration. The Moonbabies also share striking parallels to Sonic Youth and Yo La Tengo: all three groups combine fragile melodies with heavy clouds of guitar noise, all three have a musical dynamic not unlike the branches of a tree, in which each of the members pursue their own musical interests and side projects, but are still able to cohere into a unified whole, and all three groups have a long-standing male-female romantic relationship at the core of their membership. Ola speaks candidly about meeting Carina Johansson (vocals/keyboards/occasional guitar), his band-mate and lover.

"The first time I met Carina was at a small party. This was in 1994, and I fell in love with her immediately, actually. Funnily enough, one of my closest friends also fell in love with her at the same time, but she wasn't interested in either of us. Well, it took me months to forget her, but a year after that, we met at a pub im Malmo [the third largest city in Sweden, where the Moonbabies call home] and she started to make moves on me, and we have been a pair ever since, for almost four years now..."

Carina and Ola began their musical career busking on the streets of Copenhagen, Denmark. They sang a lot of dual-harmony-centered songs (picture an alt-rock Simon and Garfunkel), as well as their own versions of songs by the Pixies, Depeche Mode, the Lemonheads, Miranda Sex Garden, and the Smashing Pumpkins. The union of their two voices is part of what makes the Moonbabies' music so seductive and alluring; Ola's brittle, husky voice and Carina's clear, high-pitched sighs sound great together. After a while, the two began writing songs together; eventually they recorded their first demo under the name "Lanky". "Blue", which the current incarnation of the Moonbabies still plays live from time to time, is a particularly notable song from those sessions, in Ola's opinion.

"We wrote the song in my father's house, my childhood residence, and I know we were listening to Neil Young's "Harvest" album a lot, one of Dad's favorite albums. It's funny because one of my friends pointed out recently that the melody in the verses sounds a lot like Neil, and I had totally forgotten that...I really love the song because it reminds me of how we were at the time, and how much you change during four years. It was recorded on a cheap four-track at my, by that time, cold, ugly, beer-stinking rock band's rehearsal apartment outside of town. This was in 1996, but today, that recording still has a great soul, a spirit that I'm sure you won't catch on tape in a forty-eight-track professional f**king studio."

After "Lanky", Carina and Ola met a bass player and a drummer, who at first seemed to be serious about being in a band, but became very lazy and noncommittal as time went by. Together, the four wrote many songs, the only memorable ones of the bunch being "Dead Love" (a seething distorto-pop song about jealousy) and "Make My Eyes Water" (a slow, melancholy ballad). The band's first recording session in a professional studio yielded unexceptional results, and the rhythm section were summarily fired. From then on until 1998, Ola played all of the instruments on the band's demos, and Carina sang.

"Though we wanted to be in a live band, it felt better to develop our style working together with a positive vibe, than to rehearse with some unserious people who couldn't care less. Carina and I have both always been dedicated to music since an early age, and that means the love of all the things surrounding it - listening, performing, recording, rehearsing, breathing, eating, sleeping with the music..almost at a nerdy level, so it was impossible for us to play with people who weren't as dedicated as us."

Around the same time, Ola discovered the music of My Bloody Valentine. "I bought their "Tremolo E.P." after having seen the video for "Swallow', and I was totally obsessed with them. People often associate the Valentines with noise, but our first songs under the Moonbabies name took inspiration from their more melodic songs, like "Swallow', "Sometimes', "Off Your Face', and "To Here Knows When'. [Two of the aforementioned songs are on "Loveless"]"

The Moonbabies are often torn between acknowledging their MBV influence and proving that they're not merely derivative copycats. Ola unknowingly underscores this by citing a list of other bands he was influenced by immediately after mentioning MBV: Miranda Sex Garden, Ride, Pixies, Breeders, Dinosaur Jr., The Cure, Primitives, and Sonic Youth. Another turning point in the band's sound was Ola's experimentation with alternate guitar tunings, particularly on the Moonbabies' early songs "Tubeblow" and "Tremolo Arm Sway". Around the same time, Ola and Carina changed their nom de rock from "Lanky" to "Ricochet Moonbabies", eventually subtracting the "Ricochet". The name was cribbed from the Smashing Pumpkins' lyric "What moon songs do you sing your baby?" (from the song "Luna"), and it was agreed upon by the two that the name should fit the atmosphere and style of their music.

"The moon stands for a lot of things - mysticism, late nights, passionate love and sex - connected to the kind of music we play. I write and record most of our songs at night, and from the window, I can see the moon while I'm doing it. My mood is very much affected by the sun and the moon. Often, when I'm walking home in the morning and I've recorded a song and it turned out bloody good, I look in my calendar to see if it was a full moon, and most of the time it has!"

Their first demo, "Make My Eyes Water", was recorded in the spring of 1997 in a professional studio, as well as at Ola's father's house, in order to cut down the costs of recording. Two more demos, "Hey Popsy" and "Starsongs, Moonsongs and Drones", were recorded in the same year, and reviews of these cassettes (mostly positive) likened the Moonbabies to Miranda Sex Garden, The Boo Radleys, Smashing Pumpkins, and (of course) My Bloody Valentine. Although the Moonbabies gained critical respect, the public response to their live shows - which consisted of acoustic renditions of Miranda sex Garden and My Bloody Valentine songs as well as originals was quite cold. Despite this, Ola and Carina remained persistent. "A Brand New Coat", probably the one song that truly sums up the Moonbabies' style, was recorded for "Hey Popsy", and received national airplay in Sweden, giving the Moonbabies their first royalties. Then, longtime buddies Henrik Thörn and Thomas Lundberg, the bassist and drummer (respectively), responded to an advertisement that Ola placed in a few local music stores. Both of them had previously been in well-known Swedish bands such as Julia Dream, Amber, Mindpiercing and Dreamlab. The new rhythm section turned Moonbabies into a tight, tense musical unit, giving their songs added force and vitality, both in the studio and live.

Immediately, the four began work on a new demo, 1998's "Spitfire". Each member picked an old Moonbabies song to re-record with the new lineup, and, though Ola still maintained the majority of artistic control, the other three members started to add their own input to the newer songs.

"Spitfire"'s release brought on many My Bloody Valentine comparisons. A writer for "Ettnollett", a well-respected Swedish fanzine, for instance, remarked: "I can immediately hear their biggest influence is My Bloody Valentine...they sing and play well...but to me this is neither fresh nor thrilling; I've heard it all before".

This, not surprisingly, irritated Ola, and subsequently, he vowed never to list the Valentines as the Moonbabies' chief influence in interviews,

"because if you feed journalists with a given view of how we sound, they will have an easy job. They'll just compare us to MBV, and we'll be described as clones. MBV is my biggest inspiration, but how many of our songs sound like them? Not that many, actually. We sound like us! I really do believe that we have our own style and that our songs cannot be compared to any bands that I've heard. Of course, I've robbed some things here and there, but who hasn't?"

Despite his obvious indignation, Ola remains humble when discussing his music, and speaks often and candidly about improvements that he wishes to make in his music, particularly his lyrics.

"When I started listening to and playing music, I didn't care about the lyrics. In fact, I didn't realize that lyrics can be important to the listener until approximately two-and-a-half years ago. My favorite bands, until I was around twenty years old, were heavy metal acts, Syd Barrett, or My Bloody Valentine. Their lyrics were either inaudible or they really sucked. When I write songs, music always comes to me first. It usually starts with a different tuning and some chords, then I just sing along without thinking about what words I'm singing. It's just a matter of pronouncing the words that feel good with the melody lines, and doing a quick recording of it. The next step is writing the lyrics; often it just makes me frustrated, and I drop the damn song and go home. But very often, when the song is finished it still contains a lot of the words I hummed along to in the first place.

"I have, until recently, always believed that I will never become a good lyricist, therefore most Moonbabies songs aren't written with an urge to impress people with fab lyrics, only with the musical parts. In our more dreamy songs this makes sense, but I honestly can tell you that there are songs that would feel a lot better with inspired lyrics.

"But on the other hand I have discovered on many occasions that songs I wrote a long time ago did have something to say, mostly at a personal level. Things I went through, my relationships with friends and girlfriends, fluctuations in my mood or self-esteem at a particular time in my life. My songs are written through my point of view, how I see the world...things like being with friends I love, moral values, and especially about Carina. I have not had a specifically hard life compared to a lot of people I know, but on the other hand, a lot of things in the past have strongly brought me down, especially things in school, my parents' divorce, their new partners..."

Ola then mentions a few songs that have lyrics he is especially proud of. "Clint", a stunning rocker reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine's "Isn't Anything" album - forgive me for resorting to obvious comparisons is about "growing up to be a real man, without a healthy relationship to your father". The shimmering acoustic ballad "Crystal Below Zero" tells the story of Ola's great-great-grandmother, who (like most women of her time) spent more time attending to her husband's needs instead of her own. "Green Sprout", a piano-based waltz, delves into a rough patch in Ola's relationship with Carina:

"It's about wanting something else instead of what I got at a particular time, and feeling guilty about it. During some time in your relationship to another person you will get bored, and want more out of life. Carina and I have been together for almost four years now, and especially at one time we were close to breaking up. Anything bad that's happening in a longer relationship like ours, will sooner or later develop into a greater and larger love. Now, I feel that we belong to each other in a very great sense and will be lovers forever".

This newfound romantic bliss is best epitomized by "Happy When Smile", a light-hearted, techno-ish song that mixes drum loops with acoustic guitars and tape manipulation. According to Ola, it's a continuation of "Green Sprout", simply about "being with a person that you know loves you and you love her back. It's also about our Sunday mornings just lying around in bed, feeling the same way, feeling horny". Go Ola, you big pimp, you! OK, let's get back to the article...

A common theme runs through much of the Moonbabies' repertoire, in songs such as "Starlet", "Kerosene", "Spanish Fork", "Shining Sun", and the aforementioned "A Brand New Coat", most of which are ballads. (One thing that easily separates the Moonbabies from My Bloody Valentine is that they don't feel the need to shower every song with noise and volume.)

"All of them are basically about the same thing: be true to yourself, always try to do the right things, take care of your gift, and believe in yourself. What you think and what you're doing is right [quote from the chorus of "A Brand New Coat"]. Positive meanings that work in a way as therapy for myself when I'm feeling down. I never try to write cool, macho lyrics because it would feel untrue to my personality. I am just positive to life and want to give other people the same positivity."

Another area that Ola is still in the process of getting comfortable with is performing live. The Moonbabies have played less than fifteen gigs under their new lineup, and their performances teeter on a high-wire between brilliance and disaster. Ola recounts what he feels is the Moonbabies' worst gig ever, their very first, which took place in their hometown of Malmo last September.

"We rehearsed a lot, and it sounded brilliant when we did, but when we entered the stage that evening, things went completely wrong. I remember that we were all nervous and that there was a big crowd gathering around the stage. The sound system was okay when we did our soundcheck earlier, but when we started playing we couldn't hear any of the vocals. I'm almost sure that Carina and I didn't sing one single tone right on any of the songs.

Then, my guitar string suddenly goes in the middle of our second song, and the guitar goes completely out of tune. I have never heard any guitar sound that sad in my whole life before. We do another song right after. "The vibe on stage is awful and the public is beginning to put their fingers in their ears. Right after the damn song is over, I try to tune the guitar and it takes about five minutes, under a complete silence in the hall. In the beginning of the next song, though, another string goes off and the frustration and desperation I feel knows no limit. When that damn song is over, I was given a new guitar, and we played two more songs, but nothing sounded good anymore. We have all grown angry and disappointed during the concert, and the magic has completely flown away. We saved "Clint' and "Slowmono' [an absolutely amazing song that gets faster and more intense as it goes on, and ends just as it feels as if the song is going to collapse] for last, and we knew that they were live songs that just couldn't go wrong. But when the first chorus of "Clint' comes it a quite tender and fragile moment another string goes off!!! Then, I just throw the damn guitar down on the floor, mumble Thanks for coming; sorry, this was the worst s**t I've ever done', and go off stage. F**king hell, we were devastated. The silly thing is that I still meet people who say that they really liked it!"

Anecdotes like this don't help me much when it comes to combating my stage fright (just kidding). From such a dire start, the Moonbabies had nowhere to go but up. The band did two more concerts which were better than the first, though Ola and Carina still had trouble keeping their singing in tune. Eventually, though, all four members honed their musical chops, and by December 1998, were able to deliver fully satisfying live performances.

A recent live cassette I obtained from the Moonbabies (which took place on my eighteenth birthday, no less) finds them roaring through old and new songs like a well-oiled machine. A whispery, molasses-slow, organ-driven version of "A Brand New Coat" (so far, I've heard five distinct versions of the song) begins the set with a soothing ambience. Ola's guitar goes out-of-tune during "Epileptic" (a recent song of theirs of quite epic stature; I can picture it being played in arenas worldwide), but Ola makes the dissonance and the wrong notes work for the song instead of against it. The segues of incidental noise and feedback between songs is executed perfectly, the ballads glisten, and the rockers stomp.

With the Moonbabies becoming more secure in both their line-up and their sound, the band has been more and more prolific. Their fifth demo, "Bottle of Notes", was recorded and written in one week during the summer of 1998, and many of the signature songs of their live sets come from this tape: "Clint", "Moonstrip Empire News", "Slowmono", etc.

This past April they recorded their sixth demo, their first recording on digital equipment, and their second demo consisting of re-recordings of older songs. These recordings have a crystal-clear quality that one could call "radio-friendly", without sacrificing any of the idiosyncrasies of the band's sound. "Have You Ever Said Goodbye?" sounds like a lost "Brighten the Corners"-era Pavement song with its clean, shambling guitars and dub-like sound effects, and "In the Banshees" has a galloping, driving beat that almost begs to be pogo-ed to.

Over the remainder of 1999, the Moonbabies will make a number of compilation appearances, as well as release a compact disc E.P. on their own label. In the meantime, though, they were kind enough to let me release "Sweet Morning Themesongs 1996-1999" on my tape label, Tangerine. The tape snags sixteen of the band's best songs over the past four years, and not only does it serve as an accurate picture of the band's artistic progress, but it flows nicely as an album.

The Moonbabies, warts and all, are one of the last bands flying the flag of shoegazer-esque pop with more than a modicum of artistic merit to back them up. Their sound may be unfashionable and derivative to some, but it is picking up more and more new converts every day. As Ola grows as a lyricist and performer over time, and as the Moonbabies continue to refine and improve their sound, I will be there to observe and applaud every step of the way. And so should you.