Norway has many well kept musical secrets. Among them, The Kwyet Kings, The Yum Yums...and The Basement Brats. Ole "Magnum" Olsen discusses the scene, the band, and life as a Norwegian punker. Interviewed by DJ Johnson.
I wonder how many fantastic punk bands are out there in Europe, and elsewhere, that have never been heard by Americans. Norway, for example. I had no idea there was such a great scene there. The Yum Yums and The Kwyet Kings, certainly, have what it takes to make it in this country. Melodic punk influenced by British invasion bands like The Beatles and The Kinks, but powered by the punk influences of the 70's.
The Basement Brats, from Halden, Norway, are up there with the best of the Norwegian bands. They have a natural energy in their playing, favoring balls-out melodic punk draped with their trademark wall-of-sound. Now, with the lineup of Ole "Magnum" Olsen (Vocals), Egil "Pineapple" Pinas (Guitar & Vocals), Nils "Nuthead" Olsen (Guitar & Vocals), Ulf "R.C. Rasken" Larsen (Bass & Vocals) and Mads "Bratman" Husvik (Drums), The Brats prepare for their third release, "Curse Of The Brats," on the Japanese label 1+2 Records (who has arranged American distribution through Get Hip Records) in August. The CD-only release contains 25 tracks, 16 of which were previously released on the first two Brats records, the 7 inch "Blast Off" EP and the mini LP "Tales From The Basement." The remaining 9 tracks are new or previously unreleased gems.
We wanted to be the first American zine to interview The Basement Brats. Lead singer and band spokesman Ole "Magnum" Olsen was kind enough to oblige.
Tell us about 1990 in Halden, Norway. What was the music scene at the time?
Not very exciting, really... About ten years earlier, around 1980, Halden - which is just a little town, really, of about 30,000 people - got a reputation as Norway's "rock'n'roll city number one", sort of. This was both because of good Halden bands at the time, like Front Page, the Young Lords and Saturday Cowboys, who gained a bit of popularity country-wide, and also because Halden was, I think, the first Norwegian town in which the city provided the rock'n'roll community with an own house for bands to rehearse in. But later in the eighties, there was not a lot of exciting music coming out of Halden. When we formed the Brats in '90, and started rehearsing at "the Rock House", which that house was called, the rest of the house was occupied by more or less shitty pussy metal bands. Some good musicians there, but not a lot of good music. There were a couple of exciting bands at that time as well, most notably a band called Rovers, an eight man folk rock band, or "rock folk", as they called it, but they were definitely in a minority. In a cellar on the other side of the town, though, some skaters formed a punk rock band again - sometimes known as the Missing Loved Ones, sometimes as Hille Valla, and a whole lot of other names - and this started the snowball rolling again...
Has it changed much from '90 to now?
It's changed dramatically, I'd say. The Rock House is on hiatus at the moment. It had to be moved - not the house itself, of course, but the activities taking place in it, so to speak - and the city and the others responsible for that have been really slow in getting the new Rock House ready. But when we moved out of there last summer, there were none of those shitty heavy metal bands left, and quite a few young, exciting bands in their place. As I said, the Missing Loved Ones really started the snowball rolling - they were the pioneers, sort of, and probably inspired other people who were also fed up with boring heavy metal to start playing some energetic rock'n'roll again. And then WE started, without any direct connection to them, at about the same time, playing more rough, simple rock'n'roll. And then we've had some success, sort of, with a couple of releases and really a lot of attention, world wide, even, for a band of our genre, and that was an inspiration for some as well, I believe. And now there's a lot of good music around here, of all kinds. There's a band called Poppets - we rehearse at the same place as they do, by the way, at the place of a mate of ours who usually cranks up his stereo so loud that the neighbours don't hear the difference when there's a band playing in his living room instead of his stereo. And there's a couple of bands with, among others, old Missing Loved Ones and Basement Brats members - Chinese Saxophones and Burnouts. All of these are of the...rougher variety, more or less. And Rovers are still going strong - better than ever, but unfortunately without a record contract at the moment. Hair of the Dog is a good country/roots band with a couple of Rovers members thrown in for good measure. Cornflakes, who by the way just got a contract with Norwegian Polygram a couple of weeks ago, is a pop group, I'd say, with members taken from some of those old, crappy heavy metal things. And there are even a couple of promising all-girls bands. So all in all, I'd say things look a lot better now than they did five years ago.
Who influenced the sound and the writers in the band?
Well, if you look at the name of the band, you might guess that the Ramones have definitely had something to do with it. Without the Ramones, there would never have been a Basement Brats. But the same can really be said about the Devil Dogs, 'cause it was after seeing a show with them, in Halden, in May '91, that we finally really saw the light and started playing a "surf punk" kind of music. We were due to support the Devil Dogs the next time they played Norway, by the way, but then they broke up... Apart from those two big shining stars, there are numerous other influences... I guess about everything we've been listening to up through our lives has influenced us more or less. I could list up a lot... like the Sonics, the Beach Boys, the Stooges, Johnny Thunders... Motorhead, even... and of course the Norwegian garage 60's scene. Our "guardian angel", sort of, Arne Thelin, who released our first record, landed the deals for the others and got us into touch with about everybody we know... he seems to have had a lot to do with that, with bands like the Cosmic Dropouts, the Lust-O-Rama and the Kwyet Kings. We're not trying to copy anything, though, the way we play or the way we write or anything. When I write lyrics, for instance, I'm influenced by even music that doesn't really have much to do with the kind of music WE play, but which I've been listening to a lot myself - like Simon and/or Garfunkel and Frank Zappa. It may not be visible to anyone other than me, though...
Egil's song, "Fed Up," may be the only song ever to talk about Christmas AND have a line like "Hey, girl, I don't need your fucking cunt!" Do you ever feel the effects of censorship there?
Not yet, anyway. We haven't played in any English speaking countries yet, though. If we ever get big, they'll probably put the idiotic "parental warning" label on our albums... Despite that one line, you'll notice that there's not really a lot of swearing in our lyrics. Personally, I think I've only used swear words in my lyrics once or twice, when I felt there was really no way around it if I wanted to be able to say what I wanted to say. That's not because I'm afraid of being censored or anything, though... rather because I haven't found it necessary. We're not the Sex Pistols, you know... I'm really glad we don't live in the States... If the bloody CDA (Ed. Note: Communications Decency Act) gets passed in the House, I guess the lyrics for "Fed Up" would be censored off our Web site... It's insane! Have you seen the list of the senators who voted in favor of that bloody thing? Did you notice that not ONE of them had an e-mail address? They don't know what the bloody fuck they're voting for! They're quite utterly clueless! And then bloody TIME jumps on the wagon with that "cyberporn" article, which by the way is based on a flawed report. sometimes I long back to the days, a couple of years ago, when it was possible to get into an FTP site almost any time you wanted, the AOL babies had to keep their "me too" posts on AOL and power hungry politicians who couldn't use a bloody word processor, and probably still can't, had never heard about it. Remind me to get one of those "The Internet is full - go away!" T-shirts...
But the Internet brings you new fans. People find your WWW site, get curious, and seek out your music. Wouldn't your wearing that shirt be a lot like Kurt Cobain saying "Fuck you for buying our records! We don't wanna be famous" while he was living in a mansion? Not on that scale, of course, but still biting the hand that feeds?
No, I don't mean it that way, it's just a personal thing, really, from a spoiled old-timer. Well, four years or so, anyway. Basically, I think it would be quite practical if EVERYBODY was connected to the Internet, 'cause then I could e-mail people instead of calling them. I hate phones... Anyway, the thing that irritates me the most is all the BBS's and other commercial online services, like the infamous America Online who have suddenly connected to the Internet without giving their users much information on what it's about and how it differs from a BBS - for instance that a simple news posting is taking up a lot of bandwidth while it's being sent to thousands of news servers around the world and taking up disk space on all of those servers afterwards, so you have to consider if what you have to say is worth that. I don't want to throw anyone out of the Internet, and I'm not the flaming type either, but I'd like educated users. A lot of people jump on the Internet bandwagon simply because it's presently trendy to do so. But of course, it's never so bad that's it's not good for anything. They might find the Basement Brats site...
...And hear the cool music clips! Let's talk about your music. One of the things that I love about the Basement Brats is the simplicity of the lyrics. Good old fashioned rock and roll, with the occasional twist thrown in, like "And I'm Drunk - And I'm Pissed!" Or when you profess your love by declaring "That right now I don't care if I'm messing up my whole life."
That line about "and I'm drunk - and I'm pissed" in "My Baby Left Me" was originally going to be "and I'm drunk - and I'm stoned", but I feared censorship. (Laughs). "I'm In Love" is a very true story. Every line is true. And I knew I was messing my life up, but right then, I couldn't care less. Regarding our lyrics in general... I used to write more complicated lyrics in the old days, before we moved to a more punky kind of style, when I started writing more simple lyrics to sort of suit the music better. A lot of the time it's just old rock'n'roll cliches, which I nevertheless try to do my best to put together in a good fashion - but I really prefer to write about things I've experienced and felt myself - like "I'm In Love". I find that easier, too, than putting together a lot of cliches, and I'm usually a lot more pleased with the lyrics afterwards as well. That may be why I have never liked "Stay Away From My Girl" as much as some of the crowd seems to have. Egil (Pineas, Basement Brats guitarist) writes the lyrics to his own songs... I think he's more concerned, conciously or not, about making the words sound good melodically and fit well with the song than writing great poetry. Not to say that his lyrics aren't good. sometimes they're very good. sometimes they're quite funny.
Egil writes alone most of the time, is that right? Is there a competitive spirit for the band, healthy or otherwise?
No, I wouldn't say there's a competitive spirit, really... We just write songs when we feel like it. Egil writes alone because that's the way he likes to work, I guess. He comes to the rehearsals with a finished song or three - chords, riffs, lyrics, melody, solo and everything, usually - and we just have to spend a week or three learning to play and sing it. His songs aren't usually that difficult to play, really, although they're sometimes difficult to sing for my limited voice, but there's a lot of different stuff in them that you have to remember and get right. The other songs are sometimes done by individual members at home, and sometimes develop at a rehearsal from a riff or something that one guy starts playing and the others jump into. Then, if someone else hasn't already done the words, I tape the song at rehearsal and go home to write some lyrics to it. Or if I'm really inspired one day, I may sit down in a corner at rehearsal and jot something down.
What's the typical Basement Brats show like? In America, we have a tradition of tearing the concert hall down before the show's half over. Do you have any good riot stories?
No, I don't think so. People are usually quite well behaved. There's been some stage diving and stuff at times - which we rather like, really - but no one's torn the hall down. The most common story from a Basement Brats gig is us not getting paid. I don't really know how to describe "the typical Basement Brats show". It's us getting up on the stage playing some songs, putting up a show and Nils breaking some guitar strings... I think we do quite a good show now. We should, after five years of practice.
I'm guessing you and Nils played in other bands together.
You're wrong. We didn't play together until I "auditioned" with the Brats, about a week after the others had started up. The Basement Brats was Nils' first real band, although he had been playing a bit with some other guys at that time. Myself, I was the bass player in a band around '87/'88, when I was sixteen, and Nils was about thirteen and just learning to play the guitar. I was really supposed to be the singer there, but obviously I didn't sing too good at the time, so I had to learn to play the bass instead. After two years of singing along to Art Garfunkel records, my voice seemed to have improved somewhat, so the Brats never had another audition for a singer. (laughs).
How does the brother-bandmate thing work out for you guys? I'm sure you've heard about the brutal fist fights that Ray and Dave Davies had on those long Kinks tours.
There's been nothing of that, really. We don't see each other that much out of the band either, 'cause we live at different places and stuff, so we're really just mates. And it works out fine. We used to be two couples of brothers in the band, you know. Nils and I, and Ulf and his brother, Frank Kaare, who played lead guitar - and wrote most of the songs - before Egil. But he quit, because he didn't feel too comfortable in the band personally. So we got Egil instead, which has worked out excellently, and now there's only one brother-bandmate couple to worry about.
What's your insiders opinion of the Norwegian scene right now?
I don't know how much of an insider I am, but... well, there's some great stuff out there in our... "environment", so to speak, like the Kwyet Kings, the Yum Yums, the Abusers and others. We've never had anything to do with the big scene, the big record companies and the famous rock'n'roll stars. That is, famous is relatively speaking; famous in Norway, at least... So I'm just a listener there like everybody else. There's some good stuff, and of course a lot of shit, because, curiously, with the exception of the Beatles and some others, it always seems to be shit that sells the most. They may make more money than us and get more airplay in Norway than we do, but how many of them have been around for five years, are getting an album released in Japan, have sold forty percent of their last record in Spain and have been played regularly on a Chicago radio station? Few of them even have a Web site, ha ha!
The new CD begins with "Monster", which isn't credited to any of the Brats, but there's a line in there ABOUT the Brats. What's the story there?
"Monster" is a cover song, by one of those old Halden bands I mentioned earlier, Front Page, who were quite popular in Norway at the beginning of the eighties. "Monster" was one of their first singles, I believe. It's even included on a compilation album of old Norwegian punk rock which was released a couple of years ago, called "Anarki & Kaos" - which I suppose I don't have to translate - even though they were not exactly punk rock. They were very energetic, though, and of course a "result" of the punk rock period. We chose to start the CD with this song, not to cash in on their success or anything - I doubt many people remember them now anyway - but just because we thought it was a great opening track. Never mind the lyrics, though, they're completely wrong. I wasn't able to hear all that Morten Milde was singing on the original record, so I had to make up my own version of something that sounded approximately like it. The line about "the Brats were singing out of tune" is purposely wrong, though. It was originally "the birds..." A bit of self-irony there. (Laughs).
The Brats' collective writing talent seems to have a great pop sense, but always with an edge. Is that difficult to do sometimes, or is it just like "hey, this is how it comes out when we start playing"? I mean, a great melodic punk song like "End Of Time" could have been pure pop.
Isn't it? That's one of Egil's vocal numbers, and he's the great pop genius in the band. We others aren't that good at writing good pop tunes, so that's more straight rock'n'roll. But we don't specifically try to sound like anything in particular, it IS just the way it sounds when we start playing. That's probably why it DOESN'T sound like pure pop, 'cause it wouldn't be any good if we tried to make it sound like that. "Garage pop" I suppose you can call it. That was the headline in the local newspaper after our show here in town last weekend.
It's those songs that I notice the harmonies in the most. "Too Close" for instance. Are most of your harmonies overdubs of you singing with yourself, or one of the Brats?
Egil does most of the harmonies, with the others, mostly Ulf, doing bits here and there. It wouldn't be as good if I tried. Egil is really a better singer than I am. He's got a broader vocal range than I have, doesn't have the tendency to sing out of tune at times that I have... but they tell me that I've got a more powerful and "tougher" voice than he does, so I guess that's why they don't kick me out. Anyway, he sure does great harmonies!
Is "Big Burden" also a cover?
Yes, it's another cover of an old Halden band, the Young Lords, featuring classic Halden rocker Henning Kvitnes. We had been playing this song live for some time when Morten Henriksen of the Yum Yums, at a stop at a MacDonald's at Reperbahnen, Hamburg last year suggested that we record this and another old Halden song, and he'd release them as a single. So we learned "Monster" and recorded them, but they ended up on "Curse of the Brats" instead, since things seemed to take longer than expected with the single. There's a Brat line in this as well; "But I was such a spoiled young Brat" - originally "boy" - "didn't want no decent job".
I like the fact that you guys cover bands from your own country. When you break in the States, people are going to get curious about those bands.
"When" we break in the States!? Thanks... Anyway, I think they're gonna remain curious, 'cause it's almost impossible to get hold of those old records, even here in Norway. But if it should make people interested in checking out some newer Norwegian music, then that's great! I'm sure bands like the Kwyet Kings and the Yum Yums wouldn't mind that. And, if I may, I'd also like to recommend the Vikings, featuring a guy each from the Yum Yums, the Kwyet Kings and Turbonegro - plus Steve Baise from the Devil Dogs. They've released a couple of great singles so far and have an album on the way right about now.
"I'm In Love" has a dead-on perfect harp solo at the end. Who was that?
That harp solo is played by a mate of ours, Lars Ivar Borg. He's really a bass player - been playing for years - but he's a mean devil on the harp as well. He'd been to one rehearsal with us and played on the song once or twice - in other words, he'd barely heard it - went into the studio and did a fantastic harp solo. To everybody else, it would have been bought and sold that minute, but he wasn't quite pleased with it and did it once more, and it was even better.
"Sucker" is the only instrumental... well, almost instrumental. You did manage to get two words in there.
Yeah... It's more or less a rip-off from a Lust-O-Rama track called "Trasher" - originally written for a radio commercial for the pub where the drummer worked, Rockall in Oslo. The only vocals on "Trasher" are a scream and the words "Shake it!" so we put in a scream and a "Suck it!". Hm... do I smell censorship bait here? We haven't played "Sucker" very much, though. We used it once or twice as a kind of "Durango 95" intro to our shows, but it was more or less just recorded and put on the "Blast-Off" EP for laughs.
I was saving these questions... "C'mon Li'l Baby" seems to be about a 14 year old girl, and "Drivin' My Car" seems to be about reckless and drunk driving. Are the stories behind these anything we can legally print?
Depends on the CDA... Just kidding. Well, "C'mon Li'l Baby" - which is an old Kaare tune - is really about an old mate of ours who had - and still has, actually - a tendency to go for young ladies of about that age. "Drivin' My Car" wasn't really intended to be so much about reckless and drunk driving, although it may sound like it is. It was really written because we'd kept saying in interviews and elsewhere that we were singing about "the things that really mean something - girls and cars". But we didn't actually have any songs about cars - in fact, only two of the members of the band even have a driver's license - so we had to make one. So I wrote some lyrics, really about those people here in Halden, and there are far too many of them, who spend their weekends driving up and down the streets playing AC/DC or bad dance music on their car stereos which are worth three times as much as their cars. Myself, I'm cycling past them where they're parked at the marketplace, occupying two parking places each, on my way to the pub to have a few pints of lager...
Now that you've gotten exposure in Germany and Japan, have you got plans for America?
Uhm... We've never really had any plans at all, we've just taken things as they have come, and I guess that's what we'll continue to do. We're not really in a position to make much plans either, it depends on what people want to do FOR us, really. But we've gotten a couple of raving reviews for our first two records in Maximum Rock'n'Roll, and we got some responses from the States because of that. And, fortunately enough, 1+2 Records in Japan, who are releasing the "Curse of the Brats" CD, have a distribution agreement with Get Hip Records in the States, so it'll be possible to get the CD there for those interested. But if we're ever going to the States to play or anything depends on whether someone is willing to pay for it. But it's not like we're out of things to do just because we can't tour the States or anything. Just a few days ago, we got a new record contract with a Spanish record company, and we're gonna record that album within the next two months or so already. And early next year we'll tour Spain and France and make a live album in the process, so it looks like things are really rolling for this little band from a small town in Norway, a band which the pussy metal bands just laughed about a few years ago.
(Interviewed by DJ Johnson)
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