BROKE TO ROCK
by Sean Padilla
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.
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.
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.
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..."
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.
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
"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.
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"]"
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.
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!"
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.
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".
not surprisingly, irritated Ola, and subsequently, he vowed never
to list the Valentines as the Moonbabies' chief influence in interviews,
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?"
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.
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.
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
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..."
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:
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".
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...
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.)
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."
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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",
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.
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.
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.