Portrait: Alibi Tom
Ace of Base. The Cardigans. Europe. Roxette. And the undying, omnipresent ABA. Listing the Swedish bands that have made it stateside is not a difficult thing to do, but listening to them is.
Somehow, even though Sweden is the third largest music exporter in the world (second only to the U.S. and the U.K.), very few acts have achieved commercial, let alone critical success here in the U.S. But recently that’s begun to change. The Hives brought us a snarling, garage rock revival and Peter Bjorn and John made “Young Folks” an indie rock hit. And if Alibi Tom has anything to say about it, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Mixing Britpop and progressive influences with an indie rock feel and classical training, Alibi Tom’s debut album, Scrapbook, is a smart piece of hook-filled, melodic rock that demands to be noticed.
Formed in 2002, in the small town of Jonkoping, Sweden, the quintet—Joel Goranson on lead vocals, Joel Westergren on drums, Markus Goranson and Erik Goranson Milton on guitar, keyboards and vocals and Martin Dalby Pedersen on bass—comes mostly from classical backgrounds, which plays a role in the band’s reliance on strong melodies and harmony. Markus grew up singing in a boys choir and soon found a taste for early baroque and late renaissance music, like Palestrina.
“Palestrina’s pieces are written in a way that gives every single voice a beautiful melody of its own that fits together nicely in a structure,” Markus says. “I remember when I heard “Paranoid Android” by Radiohead and it really struck me they must have had a lot of that kind of music among their influences.”
Alibi Tom was also heavily influenced by the British music scene of the ‘90s and fed on a healthy diet of Suede, Blur, Supergrass and Radiohead. The band’s own sound is tougher to categorize, but it has a strong Brit-pop feel to it; almost The Kinks meets Travis by way of the Strokes.
Markus agrees, “Erik is a fan of The Strokes’s guitar arrangements and I kind of took Travis to heart when they released The Man Who. Joel’s high pitch vocals remind me of Fran [Healy] in Travis. I find it hard to describe our sound. It’s kind of an organic rock in a pop format.”
The band also defines itself by its stark and refreshing honesty in the lyrics. The lead single, “Fire,” “describes the inner desperation when there’s a mess inside your head, you’re trapped on a treadmill of your own thoughts and longings,” explains frontman Joel G. “Drugs of our Time” is about “the frustration you feel when you look at yourself and see how you actually spend your time. I don’t say it’s wrong doing pointless things we enjoy, it’s just we overdose on it, and I don’t think we realize what damage it brings.”
As the band embarks on a tour of Europe and the UK this October, armed with catchy hooks, insightful lyrics and an amazing live show, only two real questions remain for the future saviors of the Swedish rock scene. First, was Europe’s “The Final Countdown” played to death in Sweden as well? “Yes, laughs Erik, it was a big, big hit here too! When it came on the radio I just couldn’t do anything else than just enjoy the fantastic synthesizer that played the powerful intro melody!”
And finally, is it the band’s greatest desire that no reporter ever brings up ABBA again while interviewing them? Markus doesn’t mind but says, “It’s strange because ABBA is something you rarely speak about in Sweden. Sure, we’ve all heard the tunes but I’ve never owned an ABBA record myself and their music doesn’t really give it to me. Abroad it’s like a whole other thing.”
“I just have to say that I’m actually proud of ABBA,” confesses Erik. “Not that I listen to them every day, but you know…”
“There’s a Swedish food manufacturer called Abba,” Markus reveals after a brief pause. “I really like their pickled herring.”
By Rob Brock