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Sounding Off


Oh, The Sounds -- why are you so fierce? Formed in 1999 and fronted by the refreshingly outspoken Maja Ivarsson, these childhood friends from Helsinborg, Sweden (who are as easy on the eyes as they are on the ears) have been relentlessly touring the world for a decade, exposing millions to their maniacally energetic concerts and their brash, guitar-infused synth-punk. On the heels of the release of their terrific third album, Crossing The Rubicon, and in-between opening for headliners No Doubt, we talked with Maja about partying with Gwen Stefani, sparring with Fall Out Boy's teenage girl fan-base, and why Sweden seems hell-bent on conquering the cultural landscape.

Out: Good morning.
Maja Ivarsson: Ugh, good morning. I just got out of bed half an hour ago and I'm still tired. I was at a party with No Doubt last night.

So I was just reading about the Phil Spector sentencing when you called -- 19 years to life. Do you think they'll allow him to wear his wigs in jail?How is that going?
Awesome. I think it's one of the best tours we've ever done, and we've been touring for many, many years. They put on a great show every night and they're really friendly. We feel really welcome. It's not like we all party together every night or anything, but last night was one of those nights. It was very cool, a really nice vibe -- nothing too crazy. I mean, they have their kids with them.

(Laughs) Probably, right? I don't know how it works in America. I don't think they'd go for the wigs in Sweden, though. That is such a crazy, crazy case.

So let me get this out of the way: When Out last talked to you in 2007, you had a girlfriend that you'd been with for three and a half years. Are you guys still going strong?
Eeh' um' it's a secret right now. I'm not talking about it. My bisexuality has just become such a big thing' and I would really much rather talk about the music than my relationship.

I hear you. It must get a little tedious to discuss your sexuality with anonymous reporters such as myself.
It does a little bit, yeah -- but at the same time, if I can help somebody feel better about their sexuality, about being bisexual or gay, then that's great, of course. It's just that I don't want to distract from the music.

It seems like you guys haven't relented from your rigorous touring schedule. Have you noticed different reactions from the audience, based on where you're playing?
I would say that basically people are people wherever you go in the world -- and that's a good thing. But in El Paso we have an amazing Latino crowd, so performing there is always a special event for us. It's a crazy, crazy crowd in a good, good way. I think that American crowds are better than the crowds in Europe'

Why? Are we better dancers?
I don't know why, man -- you guys are very passionate about music, you have a lot of kids and people my age, and older people all coming out to see live bands. We don't have too many good venues in Sweden. We have a lot of discos but not enough real venues where bands can play music. Every night feels like it's 1962 or something.

At this point do you guys ever get attitude from audiences, or are they all pretty enthusiastic?
Fortunately, it doesn't happen too often but when it does, it really puts me off, because I'm not used to it and I get really pissed. I flip people off and scream, 'What the fuck did I do to you? That's not cool at all!' I shouldn't get so emotionally hurt, but I do. It happened a lot when we were touring with Fall Out Boy because they have such hardcore fans and most of them are teenage girls. Those girls were not having me. I told them, 'You guys are just jealous because I get to hang out with your favorite band and you don't!' So that happens about two or three times a year. One time we played with The Foo Fighters in Oslo and the crowd was giving me the finger.

Any battle scars from your recent tour?
Yes, actually. The other night in El Paso, a tour manager hurt his leg and got a very deep cut. See, the club only had the capacity for 450 people but 700 showed up. So we set it up in a way that people could stand outside and look in. At one point, the tour manager jumped through an open window for some reason and cut his leg. The cut is really, really deep. He showed it to me and I almost fainted. It was just crazy. There was a nurse outside, but she was just there for the show, and she was really drunk, but she took him to the fire department and they stitched him up. He's okay now' but it looks gnarly.

You're a little accident-prone yourself, right?
Yeah, I once broke three ribs jumping off a monitor. Breaking your ribs -- there's nothing you can really do about it. It takes a month or two to heal. I got some pills, at least.

Well, that's good.
[Laughs] Yeah!

Any fanatical behavior from your fans? Any obsessive Number One fans?
Crazy things happen everywhere we go. Our favorite fans are a couple that actually met at a Sounds show and fell in love. Their names are Vengie and Alfredo, and they got married three years ago. They've been doing road trips to follow us around, and about a year ago she got pregnant. They named the baby Maja! They are super-cool. We hung out all day when they came to El Paso and we had a picnic.

You wrote your second album in a crazed state and under a very tight deadline. Did you write Crossing The Rubicon with a gun to your head, or did you guys take a bit more time?
Our approach was the exact opposite of the way we made the last album. We had a lot more time and a lot more songs to choose from -- almost 25 songs, not finished, but just demos or ideas, and it was a much more comfortable process for us. All the pre-production was in Sweden, so we went to work every day for a couple months, and when we had all the material done, we went to New York and then Los Angeles and recorded 15 songs. 12 of those we picked for the album. We've never worked that way before, using different studios and different producers, and I was a little nervous in the beginning because I was scared the album was going to sound more scattered and wasn't going to be of a piece. This time, we paid for everything ourselves. We didn't have any record label to influence how the record was going to sound, so it was important for us to make it as good as it could possibly be.

What happened to your previous labels?
Well, now we're on a U.S. label called Original Signal Recordings and they're super-cool guys. We dropped everyone we had before starting the recording process, except for Warner Music in Sweden. The others have all sucked, so we kicked them all out to find people who are passionate about music and love what they're doing. With most labels, they still get a paycheck and really couldn't care less about how the album does. It's important for us to work with people who live for music. We put so much passion into what we do, and it's heartbreaking when you see that the other side isn't doing the same. Original Signal Recordings are a company underneath Universal and Motown, but they're independent. They still have all those resources, but you're not trapped in some giant corporation. It took some time to find them, but now everything feels perfect. I think it's going to be a good relationship.

From the vampire film Let The Right One In to The Sounds and bands like The Knife and The Hives, it seems like Sweden is light years away from American culture. I've never been to Sweden, but what's going on over there right now that's causing this? Is it a fluke?
A flu?

A fluke!
It's not the swine flu -- it's the Swede flu! Sweden's a very small country with only 9 million people. Not many people speak Swedish so we need to communicate with the rest of the world. We're taught English very early on, at the age of 9 or 10. When I was a kid, I was allowed to try out different classical instruments and the government paid for it. I was playing French horn as a kid, and my mom didn't have to pay. We got free lessons in school. In Junior High, there was an electric guitar, a bass guitar and drums, and you were allowed to play with them during your lunch break. You could start a band, and even after you're finished with school, it's not that hard or expensive to do. You can apply for grants and the government will help you pay for your rehearsal space. They want to take care of their bands in Sweden, but I think that's about to change. This was in the '80s and '90s. I hope they're still doing that for young kids in school. Bands like ABBA or Roxette opened a lot of doors. You can look at these guys and say, 'You don't have to come from the U.K. or U.S. in order to get your band heard.' And I hope we're doing that, as well.

Any other bands from Sweden that we might not be aware of over here that you could recommend?
Definitely! Check out an artist called Name Your Pet, it's very electronic and very cool. I think you'll love it! And listen to First Aid Kit: they're two young sisters who were signed to the record label that The Knife started, Rabid Records. It's folksy, with a lot of guitar and piano and vocal harmonies. It's not as electronic, but it's very mysterious.

The Sounds will be performing on The Late Show with David Letterman on June 15th. Their third album, Crossing The Rubicon, is now in stores. For tour dates,
head here.

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