Messed!Up

Drawn to the cinematic sound of the eighties: MCC [Magna Carta Cartel] interviewed

Alexander Schmitz October 13, 2018

In 2006 Magna Carta Cartel were formed in Linköping and thrusted themselves into a world of cinematic rock music coated in eerie psychedelic reverb-drenched guitar riffs. Just after they released their debut album “Good Morning Restrained” in 2009 everything had to be put to a halt when the band members embarked on a seven-year long journey with what would become the major metal/heavy rock act Ghost.

Last year MCC restarted with the release of the single “Sway”, and after yet another single and the EP “The Demon King” they’re set for Europe and a mini-tour to restart what was born twelve years ago. Messed!up sat down with Martin, Pär, Arvid and Niels to talk about an upcoming second album, their cinematic sound and never leaving their hometown of Linköping.

The interview starts in their cinematic sound and love for the eighties, and how many of their musical ideas are filtered through movie themes.

“There’s a vision and ambition in this band”

Just to start with; I heard you get a lot of inspiration from soundtracks and Mark Knopfler’s sound which is typical for the eighties and those movies I watched as a kid. When I listened to your music it immediately created strong emotions and also images in my head. Is this your approach/idea?
NIELS: With shows like “Stranger Things” for instance; the people who made that show are probably in our age.

Martin who seemingly knows it well abruptly steps in and explains that the Stranger Things producers actually are much younger, born at the end of the eighties, before Niels gets the chance to continue.

Ok, around our age (laugh), and this generation is taking over many things at the moment and change things, in music as well – of course you will have the vintage bands that will continue to play forever and never die (laugh) – and with that comes many bands that invent new stuff.

We’re also older, smarter, wiser, better and write another kind of songs than we did ten years ago, and obviously we don’t write hit singles for the charts; we’re not doing that kind of music, and do more “grown-up” music because we’re older now.

MARTIN: We don’t know how to do hits, otherwise it would be like “Yeah, fuck it” (laugh).

But I think you’re right about what we see nowadays. I listen a lot to old italo disco and also the synthwave stuff, and that comes on much stronger today with so many new bands – it has really exploded – and most of them sound like an eighties soundtrack. “Stranger Things” is a bit “Goonies”, the old tv series, and kids today like it a bit but I don’t think that anyone in the age twelve to fifteen like it half as much as we do (laugh), because it got that nostalgic scent, and nostalgia is safety.

Our songs, although they might be pressed into the radio format – you know, intro, verse, bridge, chorus and everything – they are a bit calm in themselves, they’re not that poppy. In that sense you get the feeling that you can rest in the songs even though they are like [making a rhythm sound].

ARVID: And speaking of how we create songs and our music, especially the sound; it all filters through movie themes. At times it can be like “Can I have more ‘Scarface’ sound on this?”.

NIELS: Since I record and mix it all I can see differences. Some bands walk into the studio, set up their gear, we record everything and they just say “Make it sound good” and leave, they just want it to sound cool, vintage or new. With MCC we talk much about how the reverb should sound and many small details that last just for a second in the songs – we basically do that with everything.

In my own music, I do like this myself so this is perfect to work with but I know many studio engineers that would go crazy to put that much effort into the details. When we speak the same language in the studio it’s so much more fun to work.

MARTIN: We’re always like “It’s supposed to sound like this or have the sound from that movie”. In Tid for example it could be like “Make those guitars sound like the horns in the beginning of ‘The Shining’“.

NIELS: There’s a vision and ambition in this band.

PÄR: We also have kind of playful working titles on the songs that contributes to a story-telling, internally in the band, and that goes into the recordings as well; we tell stories around stuff that make it into the soul of the songs although it’s not in the lyrics in the end.

MARTIN: And we have bullshit lyrics in Swedish like “I Wanna Throw Up” or something like that (laugh).

You made a comeback with the “Sway” single last year just after you put your project Tid on hold and then released “The Demon King” EP two months later. Is there a new album in the pipeline to follow up “Good Morning Restrained” from 2009?
MARTIN: Yes (laugh)! But we don’t even know what label is going to release it but we have a plan and we’re going to record the album this winter, that we know, so it will be out, hopefully, sometime next year – or we’ll make sure it’s out next year because we want to play.

When you listen to your latest releases such, as “The Sun And The Rain”, the sound has developed a lot since the debut. But that’s inevitable considering everything you’ve being doing in between. What would you say are the major changes in the MCC sound today?
MARTIN: The first album got like 70% instrumental music and 30% vocal music. As far as we do things now it’s going to be the opposite. We still want to do instrumental music as well.

But that single you refer to is very much a pop song and that won’t represent the next album, we just wanted to release it to see what happened.

And that’s what I wanted to ask you about; “Mayfire” is the only instrumental song you released recently.
MARTIN: Yes, and I think it’s the first song we ever wrote for this band, that’s one of the oldest songs we have, but we never recorded it back then. Well, we did but we never released it because it was too many songs already on the first album and we kept it in a box and did a re-recording now. But it’s the oldest we have I think.

But did you change your mind about vocals on songs?
MARTIN: No we had vocals back then as well. What happened back then was that we wrote a lot of music and we didn’t even think of having vocals for them, and then we started to sing on some songs here and there and thought “This song might need some vocals”. Today when we write songs we have vocals in mind from the start except for some songs where we feel “This is going to be an instrumental part”.

PÄR: One of the big differences today is that we write music that we can play live. We didn’t do that when we did “Good Morning Restrained” in the same way.

MARTIN: Exactly, now we try to write music that we actually can perform. The first album, if we were going out to perform it like it sounds on the album, we’ll need twenty guitars or something (laugh).

Does it feel like MCC have had to restart completely since you’ve been put on halt somewhere around 2010, or is there still fans that remember you?
MARTIN: I don’t think that many people other than our friends and maybe some people in Sweden remember us from that time. People know who we are because I and two other guys from the band originally played in Ghost for a long time, and that’s why it’s not like we’re starting from nothing.

It is restarting because we didn’t do that many live shows back then, but it feels good. People come to our shows although we don’t have a new album out, not since nine years or something (laugh).

You must be tired of hearing it but let’s have a different take on it; how difficult is to have to live with the Ghost references? Most reviews I’ve read always get back to Ghost although I don’t really see that kind of similarities musically, it’s rather a few musical references to Tid in in what MCC do.
How do you counterwork all these reviews, that always point out similarities to Ghost, to make MCC stand on its own?
MARTIN: Well, I played in Ghost and I wrote music for Ghost as well so there’s no wonder that we sound a bit like Ghost and it’s not really a problem. I see it as my CV just like “I was in that movie a long time ago, why shouldn’t they talk about it now?”. It would be very weird if they didn’t mention it. The Ghost story was very successful and if they didn’t mention it, it would be very weird, so it’s not hard at all.

Small town boys

Having lived a fairly nomadic lifestyle during my lifetime so far, I’ve had the chance to live in a variety of different types of places. From major metros as London to small town backwoods with names no one can pronounce, and everything in between. 

While there’s something to be said for the safety and familiarity that comes with living in a smaller community, it’s also usually accompanied by a tremendous amount of boredom and a constant feeling that you need to escape the mundane. 

One thing that can’t be argued is that these small towns aren’t known for contributing a plethora of bands to the music scene. An overwhelming majority of punk bands for example are from large metropolitan areas like Los Angeles, Manchester, Hamburg or the outlying suburbs surrounding these hubs. However, it could also be quite the opposite.

Sweden is known for its small vibrant cultural areas rather than huge metropolitan regions, squeezing the creativity out of people onto record. In fact, there’s just a few major Swedish bands originating from the only major city there is (if you consider a million-people city as big). Bands as Refused have their roots in Umeå in the north of Sweden; former major pop act The Cardigans popped up in Jönköping with less than 100 000 people; Roxette, a huge band in the eighties and the beginning of the nineties with four number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 list, started in Halmstad, one of those tiny tourist cities at the Swedish west coast.

Although MCC are rooted in Sweden’s fifth biggest city it’s not big enough – nothing is big in Sweden – to support a huge scene or a wide range of venues to play. But as in many similar cases, it’s on these locations, where you don’t have a wide array of activities to choose from, you will find creativity thriving – as long as there’s a few talented bands and at least one fanatic music enthusiast determined to create a musical epicenter from which many bands will burst out and land onto the international scene. And Linköping has just that one person.

Linköping is still your home base but how vibrant is the local scene in terms of venues and audiences? Isn’t Stockholm and Gothenburg better locations if you want to get more attention?
MARTIN: We always used to think that until Ghost happened, then we understood that “No, it doesn’t really matter. We can live in a fucking shelter in the woods and still play on Manhattan”. But if you want to grow in Sweden first, then you probably have to move.

NIELS: We have a bigger fanbase in Stockholm today for natural reasons; it’s just more people there. I work as a producer in a small town and that works out fine, if you’re good enough people show up anyway. It’s more about to not put too much focus on where you live, it’s better to focus on what you do and remember to travel from where you live and present what you do to the world – just like we’re doing now when we’re touring.

But Linköping and the whole region today is vibrant because we have our label there, we have a few bands, some of which are connected to Ghost either it’s people that played with Ghost or worked for them, and we help each other out. We have five or six bands that together create a scene.

MARTIN: Everyone has been involved in one way or another. Linköping and the twin city Norrköping, the northern “köping”, have many bands that are connected – the scene has revived in some sense. When we were younger there was a big hardcore scene in Linköping, super big actually. There was Umeå [home for bands as Refused] in the north and then there was Linköping, that’s what we grew up with. In some way or another we’re all from some hardcore or metal scene (laugh).

At this point everyone starts to chatter about who was the black metal dude and who liked the Backstreet Boys (we’re not going to say who) before Martin takes back the word.

The only common denominator in all that is that everyone listened to a lot of different music and it really didn’t matter. It’s also very good to live in Linköping because it’s boring and what you do when it’s boring is that you invent stuff. If I would have been in Stockholm seeing thousands of impressions every day I would be like [making a swooshing sound] and squeezed down to nothing – or open up like a flower, you don’t know (laugh).

But do you consider the local scene as better today than it was for, let’s say, 15 years ago when the scene revolved around a student venue, HG, but nothing else. Has it developed in positive direction?
MARTIN: Fifteen years ago that was true but a few years before that it wasn’t. That [HG] was a very small venue for students, a bit away from town, and at that point in time they had a very good booking team.

You know The Hives, right? For instance, they booked The Hives just before they released that “Veni Vidi Vicious” album; two or three weeks after they had released that album they came and played HG which was like this tiny venue, like these two apartments [the hotel rooms] together, but they were there with The Hellacopters opening for them. That was the kind of bands they had at that small venue at that time. 

NIELS: We had the same kind of thing in Norrköping as well, where all the big bands played that just had released that single that made them huge, like when Peter Bjorn and John came and played just after they released “Young Folks” the same week it became a hit single across the world.

And now, since a few years ago, the same thing is happening again through our friend Kaj at the label who also books bands. He brings a lot of bands – punk bands, metal bands, pop bands – to our region, and he has worked really hard to make venues happen and grow again, and brought a lot of attention to the region. And that’s the thing, we’ve been helping each other out for a few years now.

Of course it goes up and down and it’s always changing but at the moment it’s pretty exciting, and the music scene is really strong where we live.

Our editor, who lived in Linköping for a few years, remembers a city completely dry on the live scene just because bands passing by Sweden made a pit stop in Malmö and then in Stockholm? What’s your take on that?
MARTIN: They actually don’t play in Malmö that often anymore, they mostly play in Copenhagen because it’s just over the bridge so it’s mostly Stockholm.

NIELS: I’m kind of satisfied with what comes in; we can have Arch Enemy one night and lots of indie bands or punk rock bands stopping by the next one. Actually, just because of Kaj we get some exclusives because he can book an American band and fly them in just to do Linköping or Norrköping and ignore Stockholm completely.

MARTIN: This Kaj we’re talking about is the label head of this small label we’re at right now [Lövely Records] and a very good friend of ours, and he is an old DIY punk and has built this small empire (laugh). When he arrived around 10-15 years ago to Linköping there wasn’t that much happening but he started to do everything from scratch.

How supporting is the local scene to help knew bands to get a bit of attention and grow bigger?
MARTIN: The only attention it can offer us is for local people, and everyone knows each other already (laugh) so they will offer you to play, but it’s not like the whole town will go “Woohoo!”, it will be those 200-300 hundred that listen to music.

Building a new brand

A year is a lifetime in the music biz, so when bands are absent for even a moment longer, you really start to feel it, especially in the contemporary music climate where you need to “throw some bones” to your fans more often just to keep their loyalty. MCC were on standby for eight years before the release of “Sway” in 2017, and restarting MCC eight years after the debut album also involves an almost complete restart.

With only two singles and one EP touring wasn’t the priority. In fact, as Midge Ure once said “Going on tour with nothing new is killing your brand”, and MCC didn’t plan for anything else than a few one-offs from the beginning. However, showcasing their latest work may be part of a strategy, in particular since the band members put all their effort into the MCC project and look forward to record a new album to be able to join the festival circuit in 2019.

Save for your gig on home turf at Where’s the Music?, it all seems to have re-started again with the show at The Black Heart in London and you’re out on this mini-tour at the moment. How are your strategies for the future to get the MCC name out there?
MARTIN: I won’t tell you that (laugh).

NIELS: It’s a secret (laugh).

MARTIN: We will tour more but we’ve just released a single, and we weren’t even sure if we were going to release a single before this tour – and we haven’t had an album out since 2009. We had an EP out for a year ago, so obviously we’re doing a mini-tour without anything in the pipeline let alone for the single – that’s hardly enough for a tour.

The plan is to record an album and start touring, doing festivals next summer.

But how did the idea grow about the mini-tour when you hardly didn’t have anything new? Just to get out and play?
MARTIN: No, we wanted to do exactly what we did in London, which was going to a major city and make a showcase gig more or less. We wanted to play Stockholm, maybe Copenhagen and Berlin, Paris, and then go home and not doing a tour, just fly down to Copenhagen and do a one-off, but then everyone said “Try doing a small tour”.

NIELS: And it is important; since we’re building something new you have to play shows and you have to play many shows, also at small venues.

MARTIN: And sweat (laugh)!

NIELS: You have to learn that even if you have toured for ten years in one band it’s going to be completely different with another band. And it’s also about how we react to each other on and off stage and the feeling you get from playing these songs to an audience and how they resonate with them. We have to rebuild everything with this band, and that’s what we’re in the midst of doing.

MARTIN: It takes time, it’s fun but it’s hard. Some people seem to believe that what you’re doing right now is the goal, to be out on tour and play, but when you’re in a band with the slightest ambition you look ahead all the time. As much as it’s fun what we’re doing now, it’s a strategy – branding – just like with any company but with music in it.

And is MCC the priority at this point and not a project turning up between other projects, as Tid?
MARTIN: Yes, and Tid is more regarded as an art project but with music, but this is priority, this is what we do. And Tid; it might be fifteen years until the next album – we don’t know! If we have the time – Tid actually means “time” in Swedish – we’ll do it. But to be frank, although we could probably tour a little bit with it that type of music is a niche thing.

ARVID: But it is a sister band, parallel to this project because when we write songs it is like “Maybe this is a Tid song or a Tid riff”, it’s always there, in background. It’s a different outlet for our music.

****

The interview is over and the MCC need to get down to LOGO to prepare for their show. However, it’s an exciting year that awaits the MCC fans and hopefully their second album will be in the shelves at your local record stores somewhere in 2019.


Photographer interview: ©Jule Rog
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About The Author

Music nerd from Cologne (yeah, we are sorry) because of the Highlander movie thus buying Queen’s “Kind of Magic”. Equally interested in eurodisco – although it’s crappy – 60s stuff and ska punk but under much influence of Nirvana. In an ongoing beef with the editor – that bastard – about who’s gonna interview Blood Red Shoes. Loves squirrels and horses. Get over it!

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