The Foster Child interview
Well they found him around 4 OíClock
When the Brats were singing out of tune
- from "Monster," rewritten by the Basement Brats
How the world works through its odd twists and turns! For me this story starts with my mom, who was born in Norway and came to the US when she was 28. Because of her Iíve got a bunch of ties to family in Scandinavia, and last summer I went there to visit some of them and have a look around. On the plane there, I was reading a couple different fanzines, and there was a review of this Norwegian compilation CD called Anarki Og Kaos which I resolved to find while there. Successfully acquiring a copy and having enjoyed it quite a bit, when I got home I wrote to the record company to see if I could arrange to get some for my mail order business. Back comes a packet with a bunch of other CDs this company distributes, among them one with a black and white cover that looks like some kind of With The Beatles ripoff. Itís called The Bratbeat by the Basement Brats, and having listened to it almost daily for 9 months now, I am here to tell you that we are talking about a collection of songs that gives no ground even to records like the first Undertones lp, or the Ramones Rocket To Russia.
To say that the Brats play in the same style as the Devil Dogs, Vacant Lot, or Campus Tramps is like saying that the Pacific Ocean is damp. Devilís Hits is fabulous, no doubt. Because They Can is terrific. Curves Ahead is sheer pleasure. But The Bratbeat dusts them all and takes its place with the classics. Everything possible came together on this recordingÖa killer selection of songs, each of which is a wonder in itself but which together flow from wistful teen pop to crunching power punk and back. Brilliant harmonies, irresistible hooks, little touches like the drummer slightly opening his high hat at just the right point, or huge in-your-face bursts of ringing guitar solo and rippling bass linesÖitís the whole package. A masterpiece.
So whatís going on with this group of wunderkinds from the far north?
Well, quite a lot actually. Quite a lot more than Iíd have liked. As so often happens, brilliance is rarely stable, and we wonít be seeing any more Basement Brats records like The Bratbeat again, Iím afraid. The tensions of the 4 (or 5) way marriage that makes up a band have snapped this one apart. The band still exists, but lead singer Ole "Magnum" Olsen is no longer with them for reasons which we will get to soon, and it is his singing that elevates the Brats above and beyond the crowded field.
I hooked up with Magnum since itís his address on the CDs and got his viewpoint on the whole situation. Now, a true journalist would track down the other band members and get the whole scoop to present a balanced and unbiased viewpoint, but, hey, this is fanzine writing, not the bloody Washington Post, so what you get here is Magnumís own story and my personal interjections. Which donít always agree with Magnumís opinionsÖfor example, he rates The Bratbeat as 3 on a scale of 6 stars and votes their Japanese CD release Curse Of The Brats as the ace selection (mainly by dint of it containing their entire Blast-Off ep). Now I wouldnít be without this disc, either, but hold a gun to my head and tell me to pick one, and itís The Bratbeat Iíve got in my hand, while you get the Curse. And well deserved.
The "Rest-Brats", as Magnum calls them, are still plugging and in fact had a single voted as the number one single of all time by a contributor to the excellent German fanzine Hartbeat. Tell this to Magnum and itíll ruin his whole weekÖI know, since I did it. But anyway, hereís the story. Weíll start at the beginningÖitís less confusing that way.
The Basement Brats come from Halden, a town in the south of Norway not far from the capitol city of Oslo. Now, no town in Norway is very big, and on the surface Halden seems about as likely a place for a world class rock and roll band as, say, Kennebunkport, Maine. But back in the late 80s Magnum had been watching his brother Nils struggle with playing guitar. Nils used to practice with a friend named Frank (Kare) Larsen, and occasionally Frankís brother Ulf would join them. They got a space in a rehearsal studio called Rockehuset (roll those Rís if you want to sound Norsk, boys!), and enlisted 15 year old Mads Husvik to play drums. But nobody wanted to sing, so they asked Magnum. The idea of a singer of Magnumís ability just hanging there to be chosen should boggle the mind of anyone who has ever tried to assemble a bandÖobviously there was no need to audition anyone else. It was October of 1990. The rest of the world slept.
Their first gig was on December 14, 1990 at a small youth club in Halden called Mad. They played a couple of originalsÖ"Slow Motion World" and "Prince Of Dreams", which Magnum asserts were nothing like what the Brats would evolve into. They also played covers of "Johnny B. Goode", some Motorhead songs, and some Ramones covers including "I Wanna Live". It wasnít much of a showÖjust a handful of people. But a bigger gig came just before New Yearís where they played at an event whose Norwegian name translates to "Rock Against Intoxication". Magnumís biggest memory of this gig (other than the hellaciously awful monitors) was the lead singer of one of the other bands slugging down shots of whisky backstage before going on.
Timing was good for the Brats; Haldenís limited music scene had been dominated by metal bands for years, but about the time they got going, a number of other punk and alternative style bands started to appear. Still, getting gigs was a difficult thing, with no set pattern as to how or where to get them. They were fortunate to have enthusiastic friends like Arne Thelin (boss of Thatís Entertainment Records, and leader of excellent Norwegian bands the Bittersweets and the Kwyet Kings, and formerly of the fabulous Cosmic Dropouts) to help them. "But generally, we never really tried very hard", says Magnum. "We just grabbed hold of whatever opportunity presented itself. We never really tried very hard to do anything at ALL. We were just lucky most of the time."
Well, as Branch Rickey once said, luck is the residue of design. And the design for this band took its final form in May of 1991 when the Devil Dogs played in Halden. "When we first started playing, I guess we didnít have that much of a direction except that we wanted to play some energetic rockíníroll", says Magnum. "But when we saw the Devil Dogs play, we went wow! We didnít go home after that gig with the decision that we wanted to play surf punk, or whatever you might call it, but the first song we did after seeing the Devil Dogs was "Su!mmer Rock", and that sort of cleared the path, you know".
"Su!mmer Rock" was the first Basement Brats recording. It was intended to be just a demo, but it finally got released as the last track on Curse Of The Brats. Magnum rates it his favorite Brats song ever, although Iíd have to put it in the middle of the pack myself. Magnumís singing isnít anywhere near as good as it was later on, and the band doesnít have the tight sense of swing they developed later.
"True, but the song itself man! Itís got everything!", says Magnum. "We hadnít even done a four track demo or anything at the time we recorded it. Weíd done "rehearsal recordings"; you know, a cassette recorder placed on the floor, but this was the first song we recorded in our first studio session. When we put together Curse, which was basically a sort of encyclopedia of the Basement Brats anyway, we figured it would be a nice touch to include it; the first song we ever wrote after discovering the musical direction we wanted to take, and the first song we ever recorded in the studio. Besides, it features the absolutely SUPERB guitar playing of Kare Larsen, who quit about six months later and was replaced by Egil Pinas."
At the same time they recorded two other songs which have never been released; a 50 second long Kare Larsen song called "Bitch Beach" and one of Magnumís called "Elephant Fly". From Magnumís viewpoint, the period from the recording of these songs to the release of their Blast Off Ep were the best times for the band. "We were finally finding out what direction we wanted to go, we were writing a lot of songs, having some great times together... And we seemed to be doing something that no one else really was doing at the time. People started taking notice and telling us that it was in fact a GOOD thing that we had going there... We had a bit of a rough time for a couple of weeks after Kåre quit, but we quickly came on track again with Egil in the band. Egil at the time seemed like the perfect replacement. He was a good guitar player - although very different from Kåre - he did marvelous harmonies and wrote great songs which seemed to balance out very well the more straight rock'n'roll that the rest of us were writing. As you know, that's one of the bits that I think went sort of a bit too far later on, but at the time, it was the perfect combination. And we did some very enjoyable gigs at the time too. Basically, everything was just going one way, you know, and we were "young and innocent" and it was all great fun."
Meanwhile, although the rest of the world knew little about it, there were a lot of good bands in the towns around Oslo. Moss in particular had a thriving scene, with the Cosmic Dropouts (who have 3 brilliant lps including one, Groovy Things, that was released on Skyclad Records in the US), the Cutbacks, and Lust-o-Rama (okay, so Lust-o-Rama were really from Oslo, but they included Arne Thelin, who is from Moss). The Basement Brats werenít from Moss, but they felt a closeness to that scene, and they felt that being on Arne Thelinís Thatís Entertainment label would be a natural thing for them. And thatís how it in fact worked out.
"Arne came up to us after we'd played our very first gig in Oslo, at the legendary Rockall pub, saying that he would like to put "Stay Away From My Girl" on a compilation EP he was putting together. That's Entertainment, Screaming Apple and an English label would make one each and sell them together in a box set. We'd already recorded "Stay Away From My Girl" on one of those demos, but no one ever found the master tape, so we had to record it over again. And being in the studio anyway, and working as fast as we did at the time, we recorded another five tunes at the same time. And the box set never happened, so to make a long story short, Arne decided to put the six songs out on a Basement Brats EP - or Long Playing Single - instead."
"That was a great moment, finally holding your own record in your hand! Hey, we were recording artists! And it's a collectible, you know, because it turned out to be the last vinyl record to be cut in Norway ever. Not the last Norwegian vinyl record, but the last to be cut physically IN Norway. And it's my favorite Brats record by far! It's so full of fun and energy."
While you probably canít find the original Blast-Off record, all six songs appear on the Curse of the Brats CD. "Ride" kicks off with a scream and powers neatly, and itís followed by two songs, Kare Larsenís "CíMon Liíl Baby" and the brilliant "Do You Miss Me" that both rival the best songs the Devil Dogs ever did and include harmonies that clearly draw inspiration from them. The Brats match the Dogs bar chord for bar chord, but what puts them over the top is Magnumís vocals, which are soulful and raspy and just way more expressive for this sort of thing. "Fed Up" is a fabulous Egil Pinas song that includes a silly but great little guitar lead to ensure that you never forget it. The closing instrumental "Sucker" has a great surf/spy movie feel to it. A great start, for sure.
And over the intervening years, the Brats relationship with Arne and Thatís Entertainment has only grown closer. Arne helped them get their next album, Tales From The Basement, licensed with Germanyís Screaming Apple Records and also eventually hooked them up with 1+2 in Japan for Curse Of The Brats. He even went with them on their tour of Europe, sold T shirts and records at their gigs, and helped them arrange a lot of the shows. The fact that events on this tour eventually led to Magnumís departure from the band doesnít diminish his respect for Arne in the least.
"I love Arne; heís just a great guy!", says Magnum. "Iím not sure I respect any human being that Iíve actually met more than I do him. Iíve only spoken to him once after I was kicked out, but I still think heís the greatest, you know. I hope someone reads this and tells him. Iíve heard other people say less favorable things, but I just donít get it! He was always great with us, and we could always trust him with everything."
But now weíre getting ahead of the story a little, since there are still some more good times to talk about. In January of 1994, the Brats returned to the studio to record a batch of songs. There was no record deal in the works; they just thought theyíd record and then shop the results around. When Screaming Apple came around, the original idea was to do a 10" record, but one of the songs was a cover of the Zombies "Sticks And Stones" which the label didnít want (it later got released on a compilation ep called Jailbait on the Belgium label Demolition Derby). So instead, they went back to the studio and recorded 3 more tracks in May, and Tales was eventually released as a 10 song 12" record, the size going up once the Screaming Apple folks found what ten inch sleeves cost. The songs again are non-stop crunchers, with highlights like "Canít Get You Back", with music written by drummer Mads, or "Iím In Love". It also includes the first vocal appearance of Egil, and although he got much better in his lead appearance on The Bratbeat, he sounds rather stiff here. But following this are killers like "Driviní My Car", "Weird Boy" or "Bad Baby"Ösilly songs about adolescent hi-jinx that manage to have a special depth to them, not unlike what the Ramones so often achieved so well. But the first small seeds of Magnumís discontent began to surface here, as he felt that the others in the band were pushing him to write lyrics that were a little too much of a rock and roll cliché for his tastes.
In October 1994 it was back to the studio again, this time to record tracks for what was intended to be a single pairing "Big Burden" and the cover "Monster", a tune by a much older Halden band called Front Page which, and here comes the circle closing, appears on the Anarki og Kaos compilation. Front Page were unheard of when they recorded the original of this song, but later came to have some radio success in Norway. I asked Magnum if he actually knew the band when they were playing. "Oh, no!", he replied. "When Front Page were sort ofÖbiggish, I was eleven years old or something. But I heard them on the radio, you know. Never knew they were from Halden until years later. I remember I was playing "radio reporter" at the time, and I did an interview sort of thing with Nils, who was something like nine at the time, and heíd always request "Whatís The Matter With Me", which was Front Pageís big hit at the time."
"Front Page singer Morten Milde, who is presently occupied with various theatre projects, was involved in another band called Ghostriders at a later time, and an acoustic edition of the Ghostriders actually played at Nilsí confirmation. Which was, like mine, NOT a church confirmation, mind you! If we disagree about everything else, I think all the Brats agree about religion. And military serviceÖ"
"The lyrics (on the Brats version of "Monster") are completely wrong, and Iím quite aware of it, but I was just unable to hear what Morten was actually singing on the original recording, so I just had to make up my own stuff that sounded somewhat like the original. I think itís a great song. I think our version of it is quite good, too, and putting it as the opening track of Curse was meant as a tribute of sorts to Front Page and the old Halden scene."
The other song for the single, "Big Burden", was another old Halden cover from a band called the Young Lords. The idea for the single came from Morten Henriksen (of the Yum Yums and before that the Cosmic Dropouts), who at the time was running his own Kicksville Records and wanted to release the two Halden tracks together. The Brats also recorded two other Egil Pinas originals in the same session, but the single never happened and in the end the songs werenít released until the Curse CD.
The final pieces of the Curse puzzle were recorded in March of 1995. "You will see from the new songs that, apart from the two cover tracks and one other, they're all Egil Pinås songs", says Magnum. "That's because I was usually writing the lyrics to anything the rest of the band came up with, and because of some personal problems I had then, I wasn't very productive at the time. And I think that's a pity, really, 'cause you don't get as much of the balance between Egil's pretty pop songs and the more straight rock from us other guys as you did on the first two records. And besides, at the last session for the new tracks, I'd just been ill with a very high fever for more than a week, so I wasn't really in such a good shape, and, more importantly, neither was my voice. So that's why I sing slightly out of tune and sort of strained on a couple of the new tracks, which still sounds very embarrassing to me when I listen to it."
The deal for the Curse Of The Brats CD was set up in mid 1995, but the CD didnít actually come out until late 1996, at which point The Bratbeat had already been out for a while, and Magnum was out of the band. But itís still a fine CD. "I think that Curse of the Brats is a very good album", says Magnum, "mainly because of the tracks from the first two records - and "Su!mmer Rock," of course. I like the covers too, and a couple of the new tracks. But it's great anyway, 'cause when I finally received the CD - after it had been delayed for a year and a half - I hadn't listened to any Brats records for months, and I put this on and it was like "Wow! This is a great record"... You know, like it was just any band, nothing to do with me at all... We WERE great, weren't we?"
In late 1995, the band did a 3 song single on Sneakers Records, with another Egil Pinas song on the A side and two rockers from Ulf and Mads on the flip. Magnum says that "Shining Down", Egilís track, is one of his finest moments. The single didnít get released until after The Bratbeat, either, though, as the usual delays of a small record label got in the way once again.
And this brings us up to the recording of what in my opinion is the Basement Brats finest batch of songs. The Bratbeat is just a magnificent CD. The songs go from blissful power pop to blistering punk rock and backÖone song setting the table for the next in a manner that makes the whole even more than the sum of parts that on their own would still be quite formidable. Thereís brilliant crunchers like "You Got Me Shaking", "Feel Alright" or "Just Canít Help It", and then thereís magical pop tunes like "Ordinary Guy". And donít forget the inspired cover of Stiff Little Fingersí "Here We Are Nowhere". Up to now, the Brats had recorded pretty much live in the studio, but here they played live to lay down a drum track and then wipe off all the other tracks and layered them back on one at a time. Magnum doesnít care for the results, but for me The Bratbeat has a tightness that really makes the songs crackle. Moreover, Magnumís singing is absolutely at its best here. He feels that Egil Pinasí songs were too difficult to sing, but I say that he rose to the challenge and provided some of the best singing Iíve ever heard on this kind of record. Great screams, wistful quiet parts, cocky and boisterous on the loud parts, and excellent harmony backing vocals all contribute hugely to a superb result. And this ignores the strong rhythm guitar backing, the rollercoaster bass lines, the gut-smacking drumwork, and the tasteful, classic punk rock lead guitar style. Egil Pinas does write softer songs, but the mixture of his tunes and the more hard-edged contributions of the other members gives a good balance, like potatoes and carrots in a good beef stew. And hard or soft, the songwriting is also great. For me, thereís nothing to complain about at all.
But not so for Magnum. Weíll let him pick up the story: "The Bratbeat became the Basement Brats' swan song, but of course, it wasn't supposed to be. It was our most ambitious moment till then, and everything looked like it was gonna be great. It all started during the recording of the "Shining Down" single, actually. The new songs on "Curse..." had been recorded with another producer than the one we had used before; Kai Andersen. And when Kai heard us again during the "Shining Down" session, he gave us an offer we couldn't refuse, so to speak: He was willing to pay for the recording and release of an album. He would then get the money from the sale until the debt was paid, of course, but if it DIDN'T sell, that would be HIS "tough luck," so to speak. I'm not sure I should even be telling you this, 'cause we were pretty much "sworn to secrecy" at the time. He didn't want lots of other bands approaching him, thinking they could expect to receive the same offer. But he's done something similar with another band later on that he's gone public about - or at least the band has - so I'm taking the chance."
"Arne was willing to lend us the That's Entertainment label, which ensured that the album would get more recognition than if we'd just put it out on our own. And he arranged for Screaming Apple to release an LP edition. He'd done the same with the Kwyet Kings - a CD on That's Entertainment and an LP on Screaming Apple. And we pulled together a lot of songs we had written recently and went to work."
"Thinking about it now, the whole process feels to me somewhat like the Beatles' "Get Back" project. An aimless month with nothing really happening, you know... Of course, it wasn't really "aimless", everything that was supposed to be happening happened, I guess, and the end result is certainly more sophisticated than "Get Back"... or "Let It Be". But for starters, I was not very comfortable with the recording process of endless overdubs and stuff. You know, the whole idea of recording each instrument by itself was quite alien to me. We'd always worked live in the studio - just adding the vocals and other details afterwards - which ensured that we kept the energy and the feeling of a Basement Brats live performance on record. And a lot of the new songs that Egil had done were really hard for me to sing. And even worse, I didn't even LIKE them that much. I was always trying to be enthusiastic about everything the band was doing, because the band meant so much to me. And I guess I've realized it more after the fact, but the fact remains that I was really getting more and more frustrated with the musical direction we were taking. I didn't want to play sweet pop music; I wanted to play punk rock, basically... And there were lots of other things, like all the trouble with making the sleeve and OF COURSE the tour."
"Anyway, the end result is certainly a well done record, and there are one or two tunes there that I wouldn't like to have been without, but generally, this is not the Basement Brats as I like to remember them. I hardly ever listen to the album myself."
The album was recorded and being pressed up, and now the band had a big European tour booked for March of 1996 with most of the gigs in France and Spain. The tour kicked off with a couple Norwegian shows to tune up, and then it was off to the continent. They touched down in Toulouse, France and then on into Spain. Unfortunately, Magnum hated Spain. First of all, heís a vegetarian and could hardly find any food to his liking there. The accommodations were generally lousy and they couldnít communicate with anyone since almost no one spoke English (the Brats all speak both Norwegian and English, which is pretty universal in some parts of Europe, but apparently not in Spain). Then Magnumís voice, which probably takes a beating given his full on singing style, started giving him trouble almost right from the start, forcing him to skip the screams in most of the songs. The other band members were regularly giving him grief about the way the artwork for The Bratbeat came out; he had designed it on his PC, but the firm that made the cover had failed to reproduce it anywhere near as it had printed from his own computer. Hardly his fault, but his bandmates didnít seem to see the difference.
Coming on top of this was a growing feeling, and one that had started long before the Bratbeat tour, that his relationship with the rest of the band had deteriorated to where he was now little more than a hired singer and no longer an integral contributor whose opinions on anything about the band mattered. Even small matters like the choice of songs for the set list each night became a matter for increasing depression.
But for Magnum the breaking point resulted from the presence of the Spanish tour manager, a woman named Rocio who Arne Thelin had worked with in arranging tours in the past. An unpleasant and strained situation arose in which on the one hand Rocio was getting far too involved in how the band was doing thingsÖtelling them how to do sound checks and dumping on the quality of their tour posters, and then on the other, she started sleeping with Egil. So of course, Egil didnít mind her suggestions, whereas Magnum absolutely loathed her. By his own account he became withdrawn and sullen as the tour went on, and his differences with the musical direction of the band began to eat at him as well. The rift created by this situation was ripping the band open, and the other band members felt they had to choose sides.
"At the time I felt it was tearing down the only thing that was left, which was the closeness between the five of us", says Magnum. "It was a sort of John and Yoko thing for me, you know. I felt that this was supposed to be the five of US on tour."
"Had the circumstances been different, I probably wouldn't have CARED about that particular thing. But with all the other stuff tearing at me - the musical direction, the unhappiness about Spain in general and all of other little things, this...trifle became sort of the final drop. And I'm not saying one mustn't blame ME for any of it. But after I had finally cooled down and tried a sincere apology and an offer to help make things better again, it was a couple of the others who insisted on kicking me out instead. And I just don't think the way they acted there was very mature at all."
"It may be that other people, when hearing the story, will think otherwise, but that's the way I've seen it through MY eyes, you know, and still, more than a year later, I just don't feel that I can take the full responsibility for the split. 'Cause I think the band meant a lot more to me than it did to any of the others. It was a love affair to me. I always put the band at the top of my list of priorities, I almost felt bad when I had to ask for a day off from rehearsals to read for an exam, you know. And then this "partner" of mine suddenly didn't want me anymore. You know, in a relationship, you tend to try and stretch it as long as you possibly can, even after you may realize that things are perhaps not really working the way you want them to anymore. And that just makes the end even more painful."
Upon returning to Norway, the band took a break in which Magnum alternated between thinking about quitting and thinking about trying to make a go of things. After much agony he decided to apologize to his bandmates. "Finally we met for a meeting at Ulf's place", says Magnum, "at which time I had decided to present my unhappiness with the situation, but still offer to try for a little while more. I mean, you don't walk away from five and a half years of work just like that. Instead Egil and Mads then presented their unhappiness with my depression during the second week in Spain and said that if I didn't quit the band, they would. Rather than getting the blame for breaking up the band if those two had offered to quit instead - and probably feeling guilty as well - I walked. The only one who was more or less with me was Ulf, while Nils was sort of on a "duh"-like sideline."
It was April 21, 1996, and the Brats as they had been through more than 40 brilliant songs were through. Magnum still feels passionately about the bandÖhe even maintains a website on them, and heís been thinking on and off (more off than on recently, though) about doing a project called Bratology, consisting of live tracks, unreleased demos and outtakes. "And as a little joke", he says, "I got hold of the tapes of a couple of the "rest-Brats'" recent demos, 'cause at the time I was working at the new Rockehuset where they'd recorded them. And I put my own vocals on the tracks. You know, "I'm gonna do a Beatles on'em! Ha ha!".
"Yeah, I know it was perhaps a childish thing to do. But it was really - REALLY - only meant as a joke. I SWEAR I had no malicious intent! The only secondary motive I might have had was perhaps to knock a little sense into them, 'cause by then, they'd REALLY taken the road to the dangerous world of "power pop," and there seemed to be very little left of what they - WE - used to be about."
"I guess I knew that they probably wouldn't be too terribly pleased with my little joke, so I told myself that, "Okay, IF they get pissed off, I'll just forget all about it. I won't try to release it or anything". But their reactions actually surpassed even MY expectations. Nils, especially, didn't get the joke at ALL; but then again, he's never had much of a sense of humour anyway."
"But all right, I left the project in my drawer, and I swore I wouldn't bother them again. Actually, I was just beginning to REALLY come to terms with everything, but after that, I had to go through that process once more."
So now Magnum is playing in a new band in Halden called Dammit. For a while, Ulf from the Brats played bass, but the lineup has now shuffled and heís no longer there. In fact, the band is on hold for now, because Magnumís girlfriend is working at the Norwegian Embassy in Stockholm, Sweden, and Magnum has moved there to be with her, and heís now looking for a job there "which isn't really working out too well, I must say...", he says. "It seems like there are a lot of unemployed computer people here, and of course the employers would rather pick those with ten years of previous work experience than a Norwegian almost straight out from college... Anyway, we've not split or anything, we're just having a little break while I try to figure out what's happening, you know."
"We first recorded three songs with the original line-up, one of which ended up on a compilation album called Seventeen And A Half Is Still Jailbait - on Demolition Derby Records. And then we did two more sessions with the new line-up, recording another good batch of tunes. We did a cover of the Brats' "Blast-Off," in fact - a song that, despite being the title of the first record, has never been released by the Brats! And I've been writing a lot of songs myself, you know, which is a great feeling. I only wrote a couple of songs when I was in the Brats, and that was just at the beginning of our "career". After that I sort of gave it up, 'cause I felt that the others were writing much better songs than I was anyway, so I stuck with writing lyrics besides often making up the song melody to go on top of the basic backing. But now I'm writing the whole thing, and the greatest thing of all is that they're actually turning out GOOD, you know! And the rest of the band is often putting some nice finishing touches on the songs that make them even better."
"I'm presently in the process of putting the songs together in an order that I think would suit an album, and then I'm gonna send them around to various record companies and "connections," trying to get them interested in it. I'm positive someone WILL be, 'cause I think this is some great stuff. And of course it helps having had a history with the Brats and already having a track out on the Jailbait album."
"I love this band! I'm not sure I EVER felt this good in the Brats, and I'm determined that we shall keep this band going. As soon as I get a job or a lucrative recording contract..."
Meanwhile, the rest of the Basement Brats continue on.
In his website on the Brats, Magnum described his impressions of the band without him in the summer of 1996. "Off the top of my head I can't really think of any band that has actually improved after changing their singer. I don't want to exaggerate my own importance to the band when I was in it, but the vocalist of any band is -obviously - the "frontman"; in several ways. I definitely did not feel like the frontman behind the scenes, but on the records it was my voice you heard singing the songs, and on stage it was me you saw standing in front, occasionally jumping up and down. Egil, as I will be the first to admit, is a very good singer. This can be witnessed on the songs "Better Be Going" (from Tales from the Basement);and "Time Out" (from The Bratbeat). Actually, I've always said that he's a better singer than me. On the other hand, though, he's definitely a very different kind of singer than I am, so the band will probably sound quite a bit different. One particular fellow has always said that when Egil sings, it sounds like a completely different band. My personal guess is that they will probably turn in a more power pop sort of direction. Anyway, the bottom line is that I guess we'll all just have to wait and see - and hear."
"A couple of months ago, a thought struck me... The Basement Brats have always been compared a lot to the Ramones. Not totally without reason, I guess. Well, what if Joey Ramone was firedÖor quit, for that matterÖfrom the Ramones, and C.J. started singing all the songs? How many of us would actually consider that to be the real Ramones? Like Egil and me, C.J. probably sings better than Joey. And like Egil and me, C.J.'s singing voice is very different to Joey's. And like Egil and me (without wanting to boast to much), Joey probably has a lot more personality and energy in his singing voice than C.J. has. 'Nuff said."
With the benefit of a yearís perspective, Magnum now has this to add to what he wrote in the website about the Basement Brats as they exist today without him:
"I knew it obviously couldnít be the same", says Magnum. "I was hoping it might be as GOOD, but unfortunately, theyíve developed EXACTLY the way I feared: into boring "power pop"."
"I have gone to see them live ONCE - last summer. It was approximately as could be expected; pretty tame. It was all soÖnice. When they played the old songs that I used to sing, it sounded like a band doing half-hearted cover versions of Basement Brats songs. And theyíve done some awful "teenager" ballads - like the new single - that really represent everything I despise. "Take That" in some kind of power pop costume! How Ulf, who always seemed to despise that sort of thing as much as I did, can go along with that, I donít know. But thatís HIS choice."
"I think itís sad that it ended the way it did. But Iím getting over it - more every day - and I guess I donít really care that much anymore. I refuse to let it drag me down for the rest of my life. I have my own music to do, and if they wanna fuck up everything we did together, then I guess they will just have to go ahead!"
And then he ends the topic by quoting, ironically enough, from Egilís lyric in the song "Time Out", one of the two songs that Egil sang while Magnum was in the band:
You donít deserve my love
You donít give a shit about things we hadÖ
But I canít forgive the thing youíve gone and done
No, I will never forgive, so I guess itís time out
Yeah, now itís time out
Forever time out
Yeah, now itís time out for me and you
So what happens now is anybodyís guess. Iíve gotta agree with Magnum that the Brats without him singing wonít be the same band. And with Egil singing, they wonít be bad, but heís not the singer Magnum is. Iím looking forward to hearing Dammit, and I sure hope that Magnum gets his job situation straightened out so that he can play and record again. Meanwhile, you should be searching down ALL the Basement Brats recordsÖyour life isnít complete without them.
Oh and by the way, while we were exchanging e-mails to set up the interview for this article, Magnum happened to send me his own song-by-song review of The Bratbeat. I liked the idea so much I asked him to do the same for Curse Of The Brats, which he did. Hereís the results:
Monster: This is a cover tune, originally done by a classic Halden band of the early 80's called Front Page. They were slightly big for a time in Norway a couple of years after they did THIS tune. The lyrics are completely wrong, and I'm quite aware of it, but I was just unable to hear what Morten Milde was actually singing on the original recording, so I just had to make up my own stuff that SOUNDED somewhat like the original. I think it's a great song. I think our version of it is quite good too, and putting it as the opening track of "Curse..." was meant as a tribute of sorts to Front Page and the old Halden scene.
Endlessly: This is one of Egil's. We worked very hard to get that bridge to sound anything near acceptable, 'cause we couldn't do it the way it was originally written. Quite hard to sing too, but of course, I hadn't been ill for a week at the time we recorded THIS track. Anyway, a fairly nice little tune. Not too exciting in the long run, perhaps...
End Of Time: This is one of Egil's solo tracks, and I rather like it, actually. I used to enjoy jumping in on backing vocals at rehearsals, but I'm not on the recorded track.
Big Burden: This is another cover of an old Halden band, this time Henning Kvitnes' first band, the Young Lords. We used to do this a lot in concert. That was always popular when we played in Halden. While recording "The Bratbeat," Henning came by the studio one day to ask us if we would like to play the track with him on an album he was set to do, featuring new versions of a lot of his old songs. I never heard anything more about it, so I thought the project had failed to materialise, but then, suddenly, some months after they'd kicked me out, the album did indeed appear - with the "rest-Brats" on "Big Burden..."
Tell Him: This is one of those embarrassing vocals I did after I'd been ill. Actually, the song is quite embarrassing on its own too...
Hang Around: NOW we're talking! Silly lyrics like usual, but at least it's got the energy and the aggression. Have you noticed Nils' brief backing vocals near the end? "Hang out anywhere..."
Too Close: Yeah, right... Another embarrassing vocal job... The song isn't too bad, really, but I'm not sure if it should have been a Brats tune or not. Can't really make up my mind there.
I Wanna Know: This was recorded together with the "embarrassments," but was a lot easier to sing than Egil's new stuff. This is really "I'm In Love" continued, in a way... The return of the intro at the end is just that: we cut and copied the intro onto the end while mastering the album.
Teenage Frustration: ...and enter "Tales From The Basement". I much prefer Egil's songs from this period. Lots of energy and aggression, just the way I like it. None of all that sweet stuff... well, not that much, anyway. "Teenage Frustration" is just that, you know - teenage frustration.
Can't Get You Back: It's not QUITE a true story, but it's sort of the way I was feeling at the time. But this was the time when I was beginning to feel that I had to adopt to the way a couple of the others felt we should use a lot of rock'n'roll clichés, so I'm not completely pleased with my lyrics here. But it's a great rocker. One of Mads' best, I think.
I'm In Love: This is one of my favourites. A true story, as I've said, part one of the trilogy consisting of this song, "I Wanna Know" and "Anything At All" on the "Bratbeat" album. And a great harp solo by Lars Ivar Borg. This is my preferred version of the Basement Brats in a nutshell, really.
Better Be Going: This was Egil's first lead vocal appearance on record. A nice little ditty.
Drivin' My Car: This originally ended side one of "Tales..." Halden has a lot of folks who are just driving round the streets all weekend, playing lousy heavy metal on car stereos that they have probably paid a lot more for than they have for the cars themselves. This is really a put-down on those people. "I'm not sure that I'll get far/But I'm still drivin' in my car..." The car effects were a lot of fun. We picked them out from a sound effects CD we found in the studio, and they just fit perfectly with the song on the first attempt. We were rolling on the floor there!
Weird Boy: A nice opening of side two. A somewhat sweet Egil song, but it doesn't leave a bitter aftertaste like some of the "Bratbeat" material. There's a Belgian distribution company called Semaphore, and they distribute Screaming Apple Records there. Screaming Apple chose "Weird Boy" to represent them on Semaphore's '95 promo CD. Apart from a local Halden CD featuring selections from concerts in the Halden student community, this was the first appearance of any Basement Brats material on CD.
Bad Baby: Despite the crooner intro - which was just a joke anyway - I find this song less sweet than "Weird Boy". This was the second song that Egil wrote for the band. A classic!
Ba Pa Pa: This is one of those heaps of songs that we wrote during the summer of '91. Nothing more than a joke, really. Kåre put together the music in fifteen minutes or so, and he and I helped each other out with those silly lyrics. I did that somewhat pretentious "I don't wanna need somebody/I don't wanna cry..." stuff.
My Baby Left Me: This is a great little rocker. I even remember the first time we played it live. The lyrics are both of the silly rock'n'roll cliché type and good - if I may say so myself - at the same time. It's great!
I Want You: Perhaps we shouldn't have put these to back-to-back, 'cause they sound somewhat similar. Anyway, as you can see from the credits, the whole band - apart from Egil, who always wrote alone - were involved in coming up with this one. And it features the vocals of Ulf and Nils in the chorus. It's a tune of no real importance, but it's still a pleasant little rocker.
Ride: And here comes the "Blast-Off" CD with a bang! Or should I say scream. I've always liked the way I played with the rhythm in this one - compare verses one and two. Besides that, it's just a generally great song!
C'mon Li'l Baby: Another leftover Kåre tune from the summer of '91. This is based on a true story again, but not about any of us this time. It's a mate of ours who's got a tendency of preferring girls in their middle teens... The original lyrics were "I'll fuck her with delight" rather than "...kiss...", but we didn't want to risk offending anyone, you know... Heh... I doubt anyone ever listened to the lyrics much anyway. Of course, we sing "why don't you get the fuck away" in the same song, but that's in a somewhat different context, you know. No bodily activities - apart from legwork - involved there.
Do You Miss Me?: Would it come as a big surprise to you if I should somehow in mid-sentence include a hint that this is a true story? Actually, I don't think there's a LINE here that didn't actually happen. Never mind... This is another of my favorite Brats tracks. Did anyone ever notice that the final line is knicked from the Rolling Stones? No one has ever mentioned noticing it to me, so I thought I should mention it myself.
Stay Away From My Girl: This is without doubt our greatest "hit" ever, and it has even been COVERED by other bands. Not on record, I think, but at least live. We played with a band in Toulouse who did it. One of my few great moments on that tour! I invited the singer up on the stage to do it with us. The lyrics are silly, of course, but who cares...
Fed Up: Well, you've got the "Girl, I don't need your fuckin' cunt" line here, so I don't really understand why we had to change "fuck her with delight..." This was the first song of Egil's we released. On the final tour, in Spain, I used to stare demonically at our little "Spanish Bitch" while singing it. I got rid of some aggression that way, but obviously, it wasn't enough.
Su!mmer Rock: ...and then we finish off with my favourite of all time, the first song written after our Devil Dogs experience, the first song recorded in our first studio session... with a set of rock'n'roll summer lyrics that really say it all. And, of course, while all the other bits of the band's sound may not yet have fallen completely into place, you've got the marvellous guitar playing of Kåre Larsen. What a great way to finish off the "final" Basement Brats album!
Feel All Right: Not half bad. Quite a good opening, as a matter of fact. Well, of course, it IS an Ulf tune The only one on the album, though, sadly enough. Technically good, the drums and bass sound good, although the guitars could have had more energy in them. The lyrics aren't too bright, but they're sort of a parody of Mr. Pinås' lyrics where the character seems to change his mind every verse or so. I'm most surprised at how good my vocals sound, actually. Nice trick with the dubbing of the chorus.
Ordinary Guy: Well, it sounded better after recording it than it did before. Not so bad, but not very exciting. Not too good for my vocal range, though, I probably spent a few hours on these three minutes. I can clearly hear where I had problems, although I'll bet YOU can't. All in all not really too exciting a song, but it works. The best thing is really my breath at the beginning. Besides, I don't EAT pizza...
Here We Are Nowhere: Needless to say, this is a great song. It's a Fingers tune after all - one we'd been playing since 1991, I think. But the backing sounds too tame until the solo comes.
Girl Of Mine: This was actually the first song Egil wrote for the Brats. We recorded it on our second demo - our first with Egil. I think the demo version is better. It was slightly rearranged in the studio for the Bratbeat version, especially in the coda. I like the song, though. I can even sing it. Although... hear how my voice slips in the final break? "I can never ever let her go"? That was a mistake, but we left it in, because it sounded all right, although it reminds me a bit of Garth Brooks. Also notice how Mads' misses a beat right after that.
Just Can't Help It: Another good one of Mads', I guess, although I'm still not too comfortable with the chorus. Or the lyrics. It came out all right, though.
It's So Nice: Uh... I'd better not say too much about this one. Listen to my crooner opening! This is probably the one song I spent the most time on. The vocals sound remarkably good, though, if you like this sort of thing. Itís harder to hear where I struggled here than on "Ordinary Guy". Personally, I swear, I will NEVER sing anything like this again. EVER!!! Sorry, I have to skip to the next track...
Anything At All: Now, THIS is great! It's the last song I did, at the final session, where I was really just doing all the screams through a guitar amp and distortion. I had really finished it previously, but Kai, the producer, thought it would be fun to try it with that sound. It sounds great too. The lyrics are very personal to me - the only lyrics I wrote for this album that I'm pleased with. The tune is really an unconscious rip-off of a Shane MacGowan tune, though... But basically, I don't really have anything bad to say about this song.
What Can I Do?: Isn't so bad, actually. I can live with it. In my mind, I always used to sing this song to my ex-girlfriend. Not ALL of the lyrics fit, but most. Like "I really loved being there with you/Good and bad times we've been through", "I know that time changes everyone/Wish that I could change time, but it's not so/'Cause now you're gone/We couldn't carry on" and the entire "I'm still thinking of you..." break). Probably my favorite lyrics of Egil's, although the character still is not quite consistent all through. I bear no big grudges against the melody either, although it's sort of sweet.
You've Got Me Shaking: The last lyrics I wrote for the band that were released. I was definitely feeling forced into the "silly love songs" theme at the time. The lyrics are built up rather nicely, I think, but don't really MEAN shit. And a crooner break again. You can hear I was not really into it. Really a rather "ordinary" song.
Get Down: Now THIS is quite good. One of Mads'! We used this to open a few gigs, which it's really perfect for. Nice one-note guitar solo by Nils. Well, two, really, there's another one at the very end.
Can't Go On: Well, it WORKS, and there are a couple of nice tricks - like the "now I'm alone" thing and the bridge - but there's nothing really too amazing about it. Hear the "I love... you" bits? GOD, I struggled to get the "yous" right!!! And another crooner bit at the end. Yeah, rightÖ
She Said: This is an oldie, really, from the good days. It was really supposed to be on Curse of the Brats, but there were problems with the tape and the Norwegian Railways that prevented it. So we re-recorded it. But I think the original is better.
Couldn't Care Less: Nils' first lyrics "What's it called, Nils?" "I couldn't care less" It's not BAD, but it just doesn't get me really ecstatic, if you know what I mean.
Time Out: It's about the same girl that "Girl Of Mine" is about. It doesn't involve me at all, but it's actually rather good. I shouldn't like this, I guess, but it doesn't sound like post-me "BB" at all. Besides, the lyrics are rather funny, considering the situation that would emerge a couple of months later."
(Interview by Steve Gardner)
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