The Belgian Interview

(Early 1995)

Both photos on the first 7" do remind me of either The Ramones ("Howling At The Moon") and Exploding White Mice ("In A Nest Of Vipers"). What's the whole story behind this lay-out?

I don't think I've ever seen "In A Nest Of Vipers". Actually, I know pretty close to nothing about Exploding White Mice anyway, and I don't think any of the other guys have any relations to their music either. I've got a "Special 12" Remix" edition of the "Howling At The Moon" single, but I can't say it reminds me a lot of the "Blast-Off" cover. "Blast-Off" reminds me much more of the "Too Tough To Die" cover, without the similarity being intended.

The whole story of making the album - and the record - is as follows: When we first got a deal with That's Entertainment, we were supposed to supply one track ("Stay Away From My Girl") for the TE part of a 3-EP box set that was supposed to be released in co-operation with Screaming Apple and a British label - the name of which I don't think I've ever actually heard. But the master tape had gone missing, so we went back to the studio to record "Stay Away..." over again. And while we were there, we recorded an additional five tunes. And since the EP box never happened (trouble with the British label, I think), Arne decided to release the songs on a Basement Brats exclusive EP. A compilation CD with a few other bands, and a CD EP was also discussed, but it ended up as a 7" because Arne felt our debut release ought to be on the "grooviest" record format known to man, namely a seven inch vinyl. Originally only four of the songs were supposed to be on the record, but Arne decided that since they were all so short anyway (the longest is no more than 2:07!), he might as well put them all there, just for the hell of it.

Then of course there had to be a cover. We were asked to supply a layout sketch of the cover before making the final edition with That's Entertainment's usual supplier of record covers, Tom "Trash" Kristoffersen. So we got a friend of ours, Håkon Ohlgren from the Halden folk rock (or "rock folk") band Rovers, to shoot a heap of photos in all kinds of places and situations. The shots that ended up on the cover are taken in a "sand hole" nearby, which looks sort of like a moon landscape on some of the pictures.

Actually, I had the basic idea of the cover as it finally turned out from the moment I first saw the pictures. Some of the others had other ideas, but I obviously got my way once I had made a first draft of it.

Being a student of Computer Science, I have access to all kinds of computers and desktop publishing software and scanners and all, so I used those resources to make a draft of the cover. And when I sent a copy to Arne, he decided that it was so good that it was actually unecessary to go to Tom to make a "real" version. So after a few minor modifications, I sent off a floppy disk... and that was it, basically.

The backsleeve mentions "the last vinyl to be cut in Norway ever". Are you sad about vinyl disappearing? How do you stand towards vinyl and the release of 7"s?

Yes, we - and I - are sad about vinyl disappearing, not least because of the way the big record companies have (at least in Norway) pressured it out of the market by raising the prices of LPs to unbelievable heights while refusing to keep their promise of years ago to lower the CD prices once the medium became more usual. So they're obviously powered by pure greed. And I doubt the recording artists have seen a lot of this extra profit - though I really wouldn't know for sure, as we so far have only been involved with fair-playing independent companies.

We applaud any company that keeps supporting the vinyl medium, as there are still a lot of people out there who prefer that to CD's. Of course I won't deny the advantages of CD's: they're practical, convenient, produce good sound quality on cheap equipment etc. On the other hand, there's a lot more soul, sort of, in a vinyl record. It's more tangible: you can actually see the sound engraved in it. And on the right equipment, the sound quality of a little played vinyl record far surpasses anything you can get from a CD (the turntable actually doesn't have to be that expensive either, if you just find the right one).

Vinyl is more or less completely gone here in Norway. I hope vinyl will maintain its somewhat stronger position in continental Europe. For instance, there was never any question about releasing "Tales From The Basement" on CD, because, as we were told, our kind of music hardly sells any copies on CD in Germany.

On the backsleeve of the 12" you've printed that you want to stop teenage crime. Is that such a big problem in Norway?

Eh... not more than in any other civilized western European country, I'd guess. That's Merinuk's thing, actually. A part of his 50's B trash culture kick, I'd imagine, together with the "CinemaScope" bit and "Thrill crazy kids out for kicks!" and all of that. Not that we mind it in any way, the cover's marvellous! We just didn't have anything to do with it. Anyway, if those statistics about "over 25% of the crimes commited in this country are perpetrated by teenagers" are true at all, that's probably an American truth.

How did you, as a Norwegian band, end up on the German Screaming Apple label?

That was Arne's work again, of course. From his position as the man behind That's Entertainment Records and from his associations with The Cosmic Dropouts, The Lust-O-Rama and The Kwyet Kings, he's obviously acquired a lot of contats around the world. The Kwyet Kings have also released stuff on Screaming Apple (the LP edition of "Firebeat" was done by Screaming Apple, while the CD edition was released by That's Entertainment. Now, That's Cooperation, I'd say!).

Some representatives of Screaming Apple were present when we did a support job, together with The Kwyet Kings, for The Lyres in Oslo late in 1993. Obviously, we must have made some sort of impression.

In January 1994 we wanted to get back to the studio again, to record some more stuff, since we hadn't recorded anything since the "Blast-Off" sessions. We recorded eight songs, seven of which later turned up on "Tales From The Basement". We didn't have a record contract with anybody at the time, we just wanted to record something. But we figured something would turn up eventually, and of course we sent a copy to Arne. A short time later he called and told us that he'd landed us a contract with Screaming Apple. We had to get back to the studio one more time to record an additional three songs, since Screaming Apple wanted ten tracks on the record (and didn't want one of the eight we had recorded in the first session). That was a bit stressful - there wasn't really any studio time available at the time, but we managed to get it squeezed in anyway. Then there was the stress about the cover, but more about that later.

Who and why did you pick Darren MERINUK to draw the sleeve of the Screaming Apple 12" EP?

It's a mini-LP, actually. Anyway, after the deal with Screaming Apple had been landed, the deadlines were pretty tight. I've already told about the stress we had in recording the additional three tracks. The cover was another problem. We had quite a short time to do it, and I was even in the middle of exams and shit. We got Håkon to take some new pictures, but weren't quite pleased with them and had to shoot a few more. In the meantime, Arne kept calling us with messages from Screaming Apple that we had to hurry up. Finally, we got out of it pretty easily when Arne got Merinuk to draw the cover for free just because he was such a big fan of ours. So we actually had people in three countries working for us at the time. Us being really nothing more than a shitty little band from a small town in a backstreet country which rarely gets any coverage in the rest of the world unless we're organizing the Olympics or some Norwegian makes peace in the Middle East or something...

We didn't know a lot about Merinuk from before (I think Nils had a single with a cover drawn by him), but Arne sent us photocopies of some of his earlier works. Being a fanatic comics collector, I was quite enthused by his obviously 50's EC inspired stuff. When he sent us photocopies of the finished work, the result surpassed anything we'd seen on those samples. In colour, it looked even better. Actually, that cover was one of the few things that cheered me up that summer, being in a quite strained psychological situation.

One funny thing is that it's me who's driving the car on the front cover. While being the oldest member of the group, I don't even have a driver's license!

How has the national and international reaction on any Basement Brats vinyl been?

Well, I guess that both the national and the international music press is too busy hyping the trends of the day to pay much attention to our part of the market. But that said, we have gotten very good reviews everywhere. We got a bit extra exposure with "Blast-Off", it being the last vinyl record to be cut in Norway before the cutting machine was shipped off to a museum. And it was also reviewed in the American "punk bible" Maximum Rock'n'Roll. None of us have managed to get hold of the review to see what it actually said, but we got letters from three continents afterwards, and were even put into circulation on a radio station in Chicago. "Tales From The Basement" has also recently been reviewed in Maximum Rock'n'Roll, and according to Arne, this time it was of the "if you don't buy this record, you're stupid!" kind. I can't vouch for the accuracy of that statement, as we haven't seen that review ourselves yet either. Anyway, we have overall just received positive criticism everywhere that we've received any at all, so I guess we must have something worth something. Anyway, it feels quite good to laugh in the faces of those heavy metal idiots who thought we'd never get anywhere. Here we have, and we haven't even really done much to get there!

Do you get easy access to play live in Norway? Is there a circuit of halls and clubs to play?

Access, yes. Easy, no. We're not exactly superstars, and are only rarely asked to play. And we're not too good at looking around for gigs ourselves. At times there can be quite a few gigs in a row, then it can be quiet for a few months (like these days). We take any job we get, more or less, but we're fed up with playing for nothing at cheesy events - or even paying to play. We don't expect to make a lot of money from this, but on the other hand we can't afford to finance big expeditions.

We've only twice been north of Oslo to play, both last autumn, and one of those is one I don't really want to remember much about (the other one, at Harestua, home of Kåre and Knut of the Kwyet Kings among others, was quite another thing indeed). We play in Halden a couple of times a year, in Oslo, Moss and Fredrikstad occasionally, and about anything else that pops up.

How much opportunity do you have to see foreign touring bands in Norway? Is if often missed out or not?

It seems like most tours of a certain size drop by, at least in Oslo (and that's only 12 miles (120 kms, not English miles!) from Halden), and perhaps a few of the other larger cities, like Bergen or Trondheim. And more "alternative" type of outfits also seem to visit, if there's an audience for it. While some venues are just interested in the major stuff, there are of course those smaller clubs and places which want the smaller acts, so I feel there's quite a bit of opportunity to get to see what you like. Of course, while a band might do a dozen gigs in England, they might only do one or two dates in Norway, but that's only to be expected. There are after all just four million of us Norwegians (although the country in itself is actually rather huge, as is obvious from looking at any map, it's mostly "inhabited" by mountains and trees).

The tour you did in August, was it the first big tour outside Norway? How did it go? Did you enjoy your Pit's gig?

Yeah, it was our first "big" tour outside Norway. It was even our first tour in Norway. It was in fact our first tour anywhere.

How did it go? Great! Financially, we at least didn't lose a lot of money on it, but we didn't earn anything either.

We started the tour off with three release parties (as each band - The Kwyet Kings, The Yum Yums and us - had a new Screaming Apple release out) in each of the bands' home towns (or at least as close to a home town as you could get), Halden, Moss and Oslo. That was more or less just to finance the trip to the continent. Then we got on that bloody mini-bus and drove about 24 hours down to Cologne to play at the Pop-Komm festival and meet Ritchie of Screaming Apple. The day after the Cologne gig we got drunk, and then we drove to Kortrijk to play at the Pit's. The original plan was to do two or three gigs in Belgium, but it narrowed down to just one, so this "European tour" was just two dates in all. Anyway, then we went home again, visiting the Reperbahn in Hamburg on the way. We got quite used to sleeping in that bloody bus after a while, but it smelled like hell in there. Just imagine fifteen people sweating for half a week!

The Pit's gig was great. Quite a bit smaller than the Underground gig in Cologne (and that wasn't big either!), but a great experience nonetheless. I've never crawled on a bar and sung before! One thing I can't understand, though, is that the place closed at 10 o'clock p.m. on a Saturday of all days, and that the whole bloody town was dead afterwards (well, it was dead before the gig too, really, but at least the Pit's was open). It looked like Northern Ireland or something - or a deserted Wild West town.

One thing that did impress me, though, was that when we were served dinner afterwards, we were asked if there were any vegetarians in the band (which there is - me). But I guess being a vegetarian is more usual in continental Europe than up here.

Of course, there were quite a few funny experiences on the way as well - like Otto of the Kwyet Kings puking in the middle of the bus an hour or two into Sweden (which is fifteen minutes from Halden), Stig of The Yum Yums "decorating" the dashboard half an hour later, Arne experiencing close encounters of the third degree with a fan at the Underground during the Kwyet Kings performance (more dramatic than funny - although it became funny when he used the same shirt at the Pit's gig two days later), Mads falling asleep, totally pissed, on the parking lot just outside our bus at the Underground, Knut of the Kwyet Kings hanging upside down in the bus etc.

What kinds of weird stories/rumours did occur around the band or are being spread about you?

You tell me, I haven't the slightest idea. Of course, there was a bit of talk about the green T-shirts we used on the release party for "Blast-Off" and a few following gigs (someone mentioned The Hulk)... A potential customer once wanted green shirts. When we informed the person that there were only five green ones in existence - our own - and presented our usual white and black ones, the individual in question wasn't interested anymore. There may be some rumours circulating around, but I don't think I've heard any of them. We haven't figured much in the music press' rumour columns - yet.

Best live or tour experience since the Basement Brats are going on?

Quite a few, really. The entire Exit From The Painzone (Norway)/Return of the Vikings (Germany/Belgium) tour last summer was a great experience. A couple of our Halden gigs have been quite memorable. The others probably won't agree with me, but personally I find the first concert we did with Egil, after losing our first lead guitarist, one of my fondest memories. Our Oslo debut at Planet Rockall, were we first got in touch with Arne Thelin and he told us he wanted us in that 3-EP box, was a great experience. The Harestua gig, although everything technical went to hell, was a great party. And of course the support job for the Lyres. Yeah, there's been a few. The others will probably have slightly different choices.

Which support would you like to do? Any essential songs you've decided to cover with the Basement Brats?

While acknowledging the risk of strengthening the sometimes expressed impression of the band as a Ramones rip-off, I of course still have to mention that supporting the Ramones would be our dream spot! We were millimetres from doing a support for the Devil Dogs (without whom, we wouldn't have been where we are now), but that particular visit to Norway was cancelled, and we were recently informed that they've sadly broken up. At least we got to support the Devil Frogs (now The Vikings, consisting of Steve Baise of the Devil Dogs, Morten Henriksen of The Yum Yums/The Cosmic Dropouts, Knut Schreiner of the Kwyet Kings, and Selterz of Turbonegro). And although it's really a different alley from ours, I would personally very much like to support Bad Religion, of whom I've been a big fan for years (before they went major, I haste to add, to avoid sounding like I've jump on any wagon).

We've covered lots of different stuff in our time. The only one we've recorded is a cover of the Zombies' "Sticks And Stones". This was the one track which Screaming Apple didn't want for "Tales...", and it was instead supposed to appear on a compilation album from Belgian Demolition Derby - until Arne lost the DAT tape (he found it again just a few days ago). Things we're playing these days (some of which have hung around for some) include The Who's "The Kids Are Alright", The Devil Dogs' "354" and "The Higher The Heel", Elvis Presley's "Burning Love", The Real Kids' "Common At Noon" etc. We would like to record "The Kids Are Alright" if we can make it sound original enough. I personally have also always wanted to record our version of "Burning Love". It swings!

Which opportunities/advantages does being in the Basement Brats bring along?

Certainly not money - unfortunately, since I'm in desperate need of some these days (the Norwegian Students' Loans institution has deserted me, so I'm halfway to starvation). Of course you get a slight bit of recognition, some appreciation for what you're doing, and you get to meet a lot of great people, hear some great music and go to a few great parties.

When, why and how did you get involved into punk?

We started out (October 1990) playing all sorts of stuff, really. Covers by all sorts of stupid bands, and original songs which were quite a bit less exciting than what we do now. The change really happened on the 25th of May, 1991 when we went to see the Devil Dogs here in Halden. I don't think we consciously decided to change our music after that, but I guess the Devil Dogs gig impressed us so much that it just happened anyway. There were about thirty people in the audience, and these guys were rocking it out like it was three thousand!

The first song we wrote afterwards was "Su!mmer Rock", which is still one of my favourite Basement Brats tunes, and one I hope we will be able to release one day (we recorded it in our first studio session - the only one with our original lead guitarist Kåre Larsen - if anyone's interested).

We wrote a lot of crap as well, after that, but I guess we crashed into some sort of original elements somewhere on the way, judging from the reactions. These days, we seem to be able to maintain a quite high quality in our songwriting. We don't write that much, really, but we have written five new songs, which I think are all great, since our last studio session in October. They'll probably appear on the CD we're due to release later this year (it will also contain the songs from our vinyl releases, if plans don't change on the way).

What exactly does punkrock/R'n'Roll mean to the Basement Brats?

Well, it's obvious that it means a lot! I first heard Sex Pistols ("Anarchy In The U.K.") in about '85/'86 when I was about 14, and it completely blew me off my feet! I mean, it just killed me! To this day, "Anarchy In The U.K." is still the rawest, hardest, harshest thing I've ever heard, and I wanted to do something along those lines ever since.

Nils tells me that it was from listening to my punk records a bit later that he and his friends like Ulf and Kåre started liking it. At their school at the time, none of their friends liked that kind of music, (like with me a bit earlier), but got into it when they heard Nils & Co. playing it. Then they in turn spread it around to their friends, until a second wave of punk rock was starting in Halden.

I hardly want to take the honour of having started this wave, but people seem to claim I've got some of the responsibility for it, so... Anyway, The Basement Brats was hardly the first band to start playing punk oriented music at the time. As I've mentioned, we first played something quite different (despite doing a few Ramones covers). Now, one of the first and most influential punk rock bands in Halden at the time, and one which definitely deserves to be mentioend, was Nekrofile Angstmødre/The Missing Loved Ones/Hille Valla (they changed names about every fortnight).

Myself, I started my musical "career" in '87/'88 as the bass player (I was originally supposed to sing, but obviously I wasn't a too good singer at the time. Some people would say I'm still not...) of a band that never got anywhere and didn't play anything like that, but it was worth the experience. Then in 1990 I got the opportunity to join my brother and some of his friends in the Brats (I joined them about a week after they'd started up), and jumped at the chance. When we turned into a more punk oriented style about half a year later, I couldn't be happier. Of course, we lean more towards pop music than the Pistols ever did, but having a quite eclectic musical taste myself, and being a big fan of good pop music as well, I don't mind a bit.

How important is Arne Thelin (former Lust-O-Rama, now Kwyet Kings) in the Basement Brats story?

Vitally important, actually! If we had to depend on ourselves, we would never gotten anything done! Arne has been responsible for all the record deals we've landed so far, and has recently gotten us a deal with a Japanese label (of all things!) which will release the aforementioned CD later this year, even though he'd said he'd leave things more up to ourselves because he has lots of other stuff to attend to. I really can't praise him enough! Hopefully the release of the CD will put us in a strong enough position to be able to finally get something done ourselves, but as it is, we would never have been where we are if he hadn't been for Arne Thelin.

Do you know any Belgian/Dutch bands you like?

Sadly, I can't think of any at the moment, but I'll confer with the others. I guess the market in any country is mostly, with few exceptions, concerned with outfits from the US and Britain, as well as national bands and perhaps some from close neighbouring countries, and the coverage of exciting music from other parts of the world leaves a lot to be desired. You have to dig into it yourself if you want to discover anything, and with my financial situation these days, I at least haven't been able to do so. We'd appreciate any tips on exciting bands we might like.

Do you like G.G. Allin?

Why, does it sound like we do? Yes, I guess we do, actually. None of us have heard a lot of his music, although we were treated with a couple of Allin videos (one of his last concert a couple of hours before he died and one documentary) at our visit to Harestua. Some of the stuff I've heard is very good despeurate punk, some other stuff is not that exciting. The Abusers (including Kåre "Travolta" Pedersen of The Kwyet Kings) have done a great version of "You Hate Me And I Hate You" on their debut EP "I Hate Your Girlfriend" (free plug!).

Of course his outrageous stage performances were really quite revolting (it's not quite my style to knock down the girls in the front row or throw my own excrements into the crowd), but in some perverted way I nonetheless find it rather fascinating...

Recent faves (records/bands/comics/books/zines/gigs/...)?

Normally, I would be able to give you quite a long list here (having usually been buying heaps of records and comics), but given my present fincancial situation, I'll have to leave most of this spot open to be filled by the others. Some records I've been able to acquire recently, however, and am playing quite a lot these days are Bad Religion's "Stranger Than Fiction" (didn't sound as exciting as some of their precious works on the first listen, but it's grown on me), Green Day's "Dookie" (however much they're hyped), The Abusers' "I Hate Your Girlfriend" EP (Smut Records S/M 459401 - second free plug!) and the recent demo tape of the Halden band Poppets (they sound a bit like Green Day, but they played that kind of power pop long before Green Day were hyped, so they've got an excuse). Nils and Mads add: E-Types (greatest power pop heard in years), pornographic comics, DM 3, Romantics, redheads (not the ones with freckles but the others), Sharp.

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