When it comes to metal, Gothenburg based Hellsongs will change your mind. With their acoustic approach to cover old metal classics, they became a name not only in Sweden. Their covers are unusual – some call it lounge, but in the end it’s a way to use pop and folk influences to create songs you might not recognize as metal covers. They completely change the attitude of that songs, and being ripped out of that metal frame you get to know the songs hearts.
Hellsongs had ups and downs in their career – but they are back with a new album (ok not that new) eventually and touring throughout Germany. Hellsongs mastermind Kalle Karlsson we met before their gig at the Underground club in Cologne. He didn’t know then what to come: a little club, about 100 euphoric fans, hot and sweating all around, and warm feelings of being embraced by the fans. The new singer My Engström Renman turned out to be an awesome lady: great voice and mysterious eyes. The whole band Hellsongs created a positive and warm atmosphere – and songs like Twisted Sisters “We’re not gonna take it” went directly to our hearts. Kalle always tried to tell some stories in german language – that made the gig even more familiar…..
Story by Martin Hannig / Pic by courtesy of Tapete Rec.
At the beginning of our talk we laughed about what happened to Hellsongs in Munich, where they were treated badly by a restaurant and a club. Kalle mentioned that Germany is a paradise for everyone, and all people are friendly and nice – so that Munich accident stands alone. For example: singer My couldn’t get a beer in that gay location, because she obviously wasn’t a man… unthinkable in Cologne, I guess. Anyway, let’s get to the more relevant things….
entertaim.net: I was wondering about the new albums cover artwork.- It shows a person as a mixture of Hitler and Ronald McDonald.
Kalle: Well for me this picture is quite familiar. I’ve been wearing this on my t-shirt for 350 shows now. I really don’t like McDonalds, I’ve never been there for the past 25 years and I think I will never go there in my life. When I go to Cologne or Munich or anywhere I wanna have the local cuisine. I don’t wanna have something fast. And they don’t treat their workers really nice. But that’s what matters! And then on the cover we dressed him up in the swedish colours! Because, last fall when we recorded the album I couldn’t watch the news anymore. It was so depressing. Sweden is kind of a rich country – and we have so much space. People are saying “we should accept no immigrants at all! They come here and steal our jobs blabla!”
entertaim.net: It’s the same discussion in Denmark since many years….
Kalle: Ja! And in Norway. Right now the right wing party takes part in the government, they have some ministers elected! The woman in charge of that populistic party over there, she said recently like “OK, rape is never something good, but some women should really take care of themselves much more…” What the fuck! And she’s something like a minister!
entertaim.net: I guess in Germany you wouldn’t get through with it…. So this means “Evil Times” for you?
Kalle: For sure! Every tenth person in Sweden would vote for the Swedish Democrats – which is the racist one.
entertaim.net: I didn’t know that. For me Sweden always was something like a paradise on earth – quite rich, wonderful landscapes, nice and happy people…
Kalle: 10% for that party in Sweden…. Germany actually seems to be one of the few countries which is excluded from that brown movement. Just because of…
Kalle: … maybe! At least something good comes out of history…. You know the right party in Sweden has only one point on the agenda: immigration. And sometimes they manage to set the whole order of politics! In Sweden they are between the blocks and everyone is ignoring them, so they don’t have to say much about practical politics. Next elections comes next fall…
entertaim.net: One of your new songs is “Equality”, a wonderful pop song. I read the liner notes underneath your youtube video. Your wrote about the economic equality, which seems to become a problem in Sweden. I always thought Sweden to be a no. 1 country for economic equality….
Kalle: Ja it used to be. But now we have a right government, and one of the leaders of that government openly expressed her admiration for Margaret Thatcher. Maggie was one of her idols when it comes to politics. It’s like “haven’t you learn your history?” What makes it worse: when we had a social democratic government, they were starting that way some ten years ago!
entertaim.net: In Germany we actually can relate to that discussion, for we have more and more extremely rich and more and more extremely poor people. Nobody knows what to do to stop that rising unequality.
Kalle: I never get the answer to one question. When you are hard working and you give it all to do it, then you are much more worth than a manager who is just talking or giving orders to others. See, when I get to the club here this morning it was clean. There were people who cleaned it up for us. And those people doing the dirty jobs should earn the highest salaries in my opinion. I mean, sitting in an office, just thinking “we should do this or should do that – – let’s go for lunch…” – Of course, when shit hits the fan might be a rough time, but when not? Come on.
entertaim.net: More and more people seem to be unhappy with what capitalism has made of us. If you talk to people, there’s a feeling of being not happy with that kind of society.
Kalle: I hope! Some people work way too much, and some people lack work. I don’t like the idea of working 100% at all. I think we should all work a few hours less. That’s not the point of life: working then die. Last year there was a brilliant swedish film called “Eat Sleep Die”. There should be much more in life than that…
entertaim.net: “Birth School Work Death…” was a song from The Godfathers in the 90ies…. Back to Hellsongs! You changed your attitude with your new album. How was the reaction of people and fans?
Kalle: Mainly we only get the positive feedback. Always when you change for example our leadsinger there are comments about it “where is the old?” It’s only natural. Some people will probably think “oh where’s the old sound” and some will say “oh cool”. So here comes a little drums and guitars and bass. For me, the new record is the one with the most alternatives. You can go from Eyemaster, which is totally piano, to a track like Equality, with drums and all, which is very poppy.
entertaim.net: That song Equality is a great pop song, very catchy, you won’t get it out of your ear. For me there’s a special swedish feeling in this song. A few years ago Emmanuel from I’M FROM BARCELONA wrote that kind of hymns, and then of course FRISKA VILJOR. „Equality“ fits to that great bands. Is there a special gene for writing melodies like that in your swedish blood?
Kalle: (laughs). It’s very nice to be put in the same context as the other ones you mentioned. There are some reasons. I get similar questions and I always say: We have a musical school from early ages run by the municipality. You get classes every week. It’s almost free of charge especially when you younger.
entertaim.net: So every child may learn an instrument?
Kalle: Ya, as soon as there’s a place. Of course sometimes maybe not everyone can be in the drumming department. Some have to go for the bass or the horns or whatever. Then you get to borrow an instrument so you don’t have to buy them as a kid. If you come from a family where the situation is not that good, you can borrow a violin or a tuba. But it’s probably worse now, I guess, I hope not, but when I’m realistic: probably. That was one reason. The other reason: when you start playing in a band, you can get a rehearsal room. It isn’t that hard to find, you can check it at an organization like a peoples education center. They run courses for cooking or studying languages and for music. You can form your own little “study circle”, and when you had ten meetings you can get some fundings to buy strings for guitars or drumsticks, and you get to share a rehearsal room with other guys. And the rent is really low. The third reason might be people tend to be braver and braver. It’s like when Germany plays soccer no one is thinking about might be rough to qualify for the world championship. Everyone is thinking next time we will be world champion. Maybe it’s the same with music like from the early days like ABBA, BLUE SWEDE, ROXETTE, more and more spread outside of Sweden. That opened up the borders.
entertaim.net: That’s wonderful because you are not so many people in Sweden…
Kalle: You are ten times of it!
entertaim.net: Yes, and so many bands and artists are going to Europe and they are quite successful.
Kalle: Yes. Sometimes we are lucky to have granted support by the state. You get fundings for making a record that might be a bit outside the mainstream. Or fundings for going on tour.
entertaim.net: Sounds good, we don’t have that system of helping young bands here. Kalle you play about 20 gigs here in Germany on this tour. The most german bands are struggling to get that amount of gigs in a row. So how was it playing over here?
Kalle: Extremely nice. The venues are well organized and they’re almost always very unique. I mean – sitting in a place like Underground here in Cologne – you don’t find this in Sweden. Everything is much more strict. You know we have such a vast country, if you do a tour travelling by car you can do some cities, but it’s a bit rougher. Here you go 2 or 3 hours from town to town, which is brilliant. And the further down south you go, the warmer is the blood in the veines…. Sometimes when we play in Stockholm, people coming to us afterwards saying “wow, what a fantastic show!” „Ok really – but you were so quiet when we played so we weren’t sure are you digging it or not?“ Here it’s much more like you go fishing and you get a response. Not looking so much at what your neighbour’s doing, just reacting. We have really nice crowds in Sweden for sure, some are better than others. Here it’s much more likely that you would have an audience that is into the music, into buying records afterwards and listening to back home on spotify.
entertaim.net: Sweden was always a few years before us in internet related things, like streaming music….
Kalle: Yes. But then again the vinyl retro thing you’re way before us! Vinyl is rising in Sweden now but here it’s already big. Which is very nice! If people wanna stream our songs it’s totally ok. But I must say that I’m not a big fan of spotify. When it comes to listen I do it sometimes. When it comes to how they pay the artists I’m not lucky with it, and I don’t get the information who klicks the songs.
entertaim.net: For the first time you wrote some own songs on your last album, which for me are better than the covers. I think about doing a whole album with own songs?
Kalle: Might be so. Right now we’re thinking about Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands are knocking on our door, maybe Italy as well. Most likely we’ll tour there. Not this kind of touring like we’ve done right now, it has to be a bit softer. It occupied almost all of our autumn. We like to play live, it’s not about that. But we all have families at home so you gotta keep it on a nice level. And then I’m very much into starting recording demos again. I think for sure that there’ll be a lot more original songs. It has never been a problem, I started writing songs when I learned to play the guitar. So I have some songs in the door. There’ll probably be covers as well. Let’s see what comes out. Hopefully there’ll be quite a few summer festivals as well next year. It’s always nice down here.
entertaim.net: There’s a lot of german festivals – maybe too many…
Kalle: Can you ever have too many festivals? See, in Sweden we can learn a lot from the way germans organize their festivals. I really would like to “germanize” my cultural work in Gothenburg. I mean, we are neighbour countries, we have the ferries going back and forth all the time, but the swedish media especially is very much looking to anglosaxons, UK, US. To me it’s like: why should we always look in that direction? Let’s look down quite a bit …
entertaim.net: Again, maybe because of that special german history…
Kalle: Before the 30s Berlin was such a brutally hip town. After the war everything was forgotten about the good part of Germany. Yes there was world war one and two. But how long a country can be punished? You always have to turn the other cheek it seems. How long is it all ago? You know not everyone in Sweden is a great musician or a great hockey player….
entertaim.net: Well in the end our cultural roots are very much the same, let alone the language.
Kalle: Ja of course! See what’s that in german? (shows his finger)
Kalle: In swedish: “finger”. And this: “hand”, “knä”, “ben”. You see: “wir sind alle Teutonen!” (laughs).
entertaim.net: (laughs) Nice sentence to end this interview. Thanks Kalle!