Westkust about review clichés and a fading guitar based music scene in Sweden: Interview

J.N. July 2, 2019

The band’s debut album “Last Forever” from 2015 was a surprise to many, not just because of its shoegaze influences but because of the depth and maturity of the songwriting. Unlike many Swedish bands Westkust didn’t fit the framework of the indie rock or the indie pop that have engulfed the guitar based music scene in Sweden the last three decades. Instead they walked down their own road and followed the same path like shoegaze guitar heroes such as The Jesus and Mary Chain and that kind of patented quiet-loud dynamic that have inspired many bands.

Four year after they released their debut album Westkust are back with their sophomore self-titled record, but it’s a band that experience transitional times. First, original members Gustav and Hugo left the band to focus on other projects, but with the new line-up entailing Brian Cukrowski and Pär Carlsson added to Julia Bjernelind and Philip Söderlind, there’s greater focus on Westkust; second, labelboss man of Luxury Records, Rasmus Hansén, decided that enough is enough and closed the shop with a massive farewell party at Pustervik in Gothenburg this year, meaning that Westkust have to find a new label for the future.

When the band and labelboss Rasmus visited Hamburg to play Astra Stube, we sat down and talked about changing times, guitar based music on the Swedish hip hop dominated scene and being called “Gothenburg’s My Bloody Valentine”.

Transitional times: New album, new line-up but no label

Welcome back to Germany again! This is your second tour in Europe but you only tour Germany on this one. Why?
Julia: Actually, it wasn’t us who made that decision. Our German booker, Through Love Records, did a great job and booked everything really quick in Germany on those dates we wanted to play, and it ended up like this.

Brian: It was supposed to be Germany and Holland but the booker at Through Love was very active already from the start and booked these venues in Germany.

But do you plan a second leg of the tour later this year or just one-off gigs?
Julia: We’re off to Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic to play at Creepy Teepee festival. We played there four years ago as well.

Brian: But we expect a few gigs in Stockholm and Malmö after the tour and if everything goes well it may be an American tour in the fall, but we have to get back to you on that. People on our American label Run For Cover, I think it’s in Boston, want us to fly across the Atlantic, and we just have to wait and see.

There’s lots of promises in the music industry but very often nothing happens, and I don’t expect anything at the moment (laugh), just cross my fingers that it will work out.

Since your debut album Westkust have gone through lots of changes. You have two new band members, Brian and Pär, and your label Luxury Records finished off what they started many years ago with a huge farewell party in Gothenburg just a few days ago. How was the party?
Julia: It was very sad and the best night ever at the same time, and all people on Luxury were there and had fun together. We’ve probably never performed in front of that many people as on that night.

Brian: What’s really great is to see what Luxury have become and the legacy they leave us with. You already know it but it’s kind of different to be there and see all these people. It’s just like “Wow, they’re the big thing”. It was sad but it was also an amazing night.

Philip: Sold-out, completely jammed with people!

But is also means that you also need to find a new label for the future?
Julia: Yes, we know about that but haven’t started to deal with it yet, but we’ll find something. I’m not worried.

Pär: And we won’t probably start to deal with it before we want to release something new either.

Brian: But I’m quite sure that Rasmus [labelboss] won’t leave us overnight just because Luxury have come to an end. We will continue working with this project together for a while.

Philip: He will be there until we find something else and maybe even help us to find a label that fits us well.

What changed most though is the band’s line-up, with Pär and Brian joining the band. I read that you said that Westkust is more efficient today because you all focus on Westkust and not any other bands. Is it like that in Westkust 2.0?
Brian: It’s a huge difference, we’re much more focused now. Today Westkust is everyone’s priority.

We’re very tight-knit and hangout all the time, just like best friends do (laugh).

Philip: We haven’t had any drama for a while which is almost too good, and you just wait for all hell to break lose (laugh).

“We don’t sound like My Bloody Valentine”

The sonic landscape on Westkust’s albums follows a similar path: it’s loud and fuzzy, full of skyward guitars and squalls of shoegaze noise. Although there’s a new band line-up it hasn’t affected the band’s signature sound, rather the new line-up takes it a bit further in the shoegaze direction.

As most bands have to struggle with, when you release a new album there’s endless reviews that refer your music to other bands. Music journalists and reviewers usually resort to clichés, and although the reason is simply that it should work as a guide for the reader, many clichés and references are products of lazy journalism.

British rock act The Heavy was described as “the soulful, roaring love-child of the Black Keys and Curtis Mayfield” in a review; another magazine wrote about Atlanta based Turf War that they are the “musical love child of The Who and Guns & Roses raised in the outback of Australia”; and yet another journalist points out that Andrew Bird is a singer-songwriter-violinist whose quirky sensibility makes him, musically, the love child of David Byrne and Laurie Anderson”. Rarely you read about bands that stand on their own and is purely reviewed upon their own sound.

Westkust have heard it all, from being Gothenburg’s My Bloody Valentine to having Pixies-sounding guitars and “drumming patterns that owed more to the Ramones than Ride”. But what value does reviews have today?

You would think that replacing half of the band would change how you sound but the typical Westkust sound from the first album is still in there.
Brian: I played with Westkust already from the start when Gustav and Hugo weren’t in the band and then I left just to come back again. In a way I was part of creating the Westkust sound and have been aware of what kind of music Westkust want to do for a long time, it’s not any different today. The “newest” member is Pär but he obviously has the same mindset as us.

Julia: But it really is a very simple concept; melodic pop songs coated in a rough sound. Westkust have never been minimalistic and will never be.

Brian: Pär isn’t the Belle & Sebastian kind of bassist either, not a pop bassist, and he simply loves noisy music which happened to marry with what we do. That’s why we still sound like Westkust.

But of course we didn’t know for sure what would happen when we made those changes, it just happened to work out.

But it’s also a change for you Julia who shared the role as vocalist with Gustav, and with him gone you do it all by yourself. How has that worked out?
Julia: It’s actually kind of nice. It was a great time doing it together with Gustav but writing lyrics is much easier when you’re on your own. Two writers isn’t always super easy and for that reason it’s much better to do it myself.

I was more worried about playing guitar again because I haven’t played much at all since I was a teenager, literally nothing since then, and it was just about restarting the process and learn again.

I’ve read lots of reviews about your latest album and what strikes me is that you, like many bands, very often are referred to other bands when journalists try to explain how you sound. How does it feel to see the array of references when you just want them to write “It sound like Westkust”?
Julia: It’s kind of interesting if you ask me. There was a review just after we released the album that compared us to Pixies which I never would have thought of. The magazine thought Brian’s guitar play sound much like Pixies.

Philip: But we don’t talk influences or inspirations anymore. When we started it was more like “We have to start from something”, but it’s not like that at all anymore. I don’t remember when we referred to a band or a genre the last time. But the references are always there, we always sound like something else and I don’t think it’s always something positive for us.

Julia: Someone said that we’re Gothenburg’s My Bloody Valentine which is insane because we don’t sound like that at all. That’s just about lazy journalists throwing in the first shoegaze reference they find or know about.

Brian: Loads of bullshit from people who don’t know what they talk about at all.

Philip: It’s great with references when they’re spot on. What I like most is when someone compare us to bands we never heard of and when you listen to it you are like “Wow, that’s some really great stuff”, but it’s obviously not fun to read reviews that is totally off. But you also have to have in mind that journalists often use references just to get people interested.

Brian: I, Philip and Julia are huge fans of The Jesus and Mary Chain but I’ve never seen any review where anyone refer to them. If you necessarily have to compare us to My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain would be much more relevant (laugh). Come on!

But do you feel that reviews have any value at all today, reviews as those in Stereogum and Pitchfork for instance, like getting you out on tour?
Pär: Definitely, especially to put our name out in other countries.

Brian: For sure! But for me it’s more a personal thing to read reviews (laugh). I’ve always been a fan of Pitchfork, and that’s just one of those magazines you want to be in.

Philip: But just the fact that someone cares about us at all is amazing, not only Pitchfork but every tiny blog or magazine showing some sort of appreciation for what we do.

Brian: It’s hard to say how much it means but it makes my day when I read a great review about Westkust (laugh).

Did you noticed any difference after the reviews in Stereogum and Pitchfork?
Philip: You get many more likes (laugh). In the social media landscape we live in today, no matter you like it or not, it’s great to get things out about the band. We’re trying to put out stuff online that’s not only about gigs, just to make it look at bit more personal but not anything that looks staged.

Brian: We’re like every band; as long as you don’t get awful reviews it’s great even if we don’t always get top scores, but drawing the attention from bigger magazines is very important.

A fading local scene for guitar based music

Gothenburg have a worldwide reputation of being a hotbed of great metal and rock bands, and have delivered heavy rock acts as In Flames, The Haunted, Dark Tranquility, At the Gates and lots of more bands that together have founded the Gothenburg Sound. But it’s more to it.

Gothenburg is also the home of many bigger Swedish pop, indie pop and indie rock acts such as Broder Daniel, The Knife, Ace of Base and The Soundtrack of Our Lives that gained much national and international attention during their peak years.

Despite their musical differences, what brings these bands and genres together is that they were brought to life during an era where rehearsal spaces, smaller venues and local promoters were supported by the local politicians, thus creating a rich music culture. Today much have changed and as in many cities culture is affected by gentrification and remarkably many regulations to follow if you want to organize anything gig-wise. And the enthusiasts doing it for the love of music have disappeared from the scene.

I read in another interview that you point out that the Swedish music scene is boring. You are really not the first Swedish band that tell us that. In what ways do you find it boring?
Julia: That was me saying that but they actually quoted me totally wrong, it just sounds a bit harsh doesn’t it?

What I mean is that many venues and clubs have closed down the last years. Just look on what’s happening in Stockholm at the moment, it’s just insane. It doesn’t feel that Sweden is doing well on the club scene at all at the moment. And just look at what happened on the festival scene; Emmaboda Festival was a parody in the end when they booked artists as Dr Bombay. That was what I meant in that interview.

I would love to see us take a few steps back to the era when the music industry was more serious and new bands got the opportunity to play. When we play Gothenburg, you will see quite many young people in the crowd that’s not part of the Luxury family, young indie kids (laugh). 

But I also know that the music scene in Gothenburg struggles at the moment and many classic clubs have disappeared. First it was Jazzhuset and the latest up for a fight for its survival is Truckstop Alaska. How is the condition of the local scene?
Julia: Jazzhuset was replaced by Hoki Moki, a hip hop club but with a similar concept as Jazzhuset’s. That worked out for two years but they had to close as well. Oceanen is some sort of a replacement for Jazzhuset, for smaller bands, but besides that it’s basically only Pustervik and a few underground clubs; there’s really not an array of clubs to play anymore.

Brian: I really think Malmö is a better option for us. They have this venue, Plan B, which is amazing; we’re playing there this summer. It’s squeezed into an industrial estate and have nothing but a camper as a dressing room – amazing (laugh). That’s the kind of venues that make Malmö a much better place than Gothenburg.

Philip: The general problem in Sweden is regulations, that’s what always stops you from running a club or just organize events in Sweden. There’s always something; you can’t play too late, you’re not allowed to be more than that many people in the club, and on top of it all there’s the problem with rents surging higher.

What is also missing is those enthusiasts that used to organize it all. There’s loads of people who will turn up when something happens because people love music in Gothenburg, but we need those people who can deal with the bureaucracy.

And just to add a layer of problems; the interest for guitar based music peaked for many years ago and is walking downhill at the moment, not only in Gothenburg but everywhere.

But has the dynamics changed where electronic music, especially the DJ scene, has taken over the role of guitar based music in Sweden? Guitar based indie rock was huge in Sweden during the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s but that may look different today?
Philip: Definitely! Rap and hip hop gets most of the attention today, just listen to what’s on the radio and you’ll hear. That doesn’t need to be negative, it’s there time to be in the spotlight because they were struggling a few years ago.

But going back to the real problem – music enthusiasts. There’s no one anymore who just says “I want to set up these gigs in Gothenburg”, not at all. There are loads of venues but they want to earn money and may not even care about the music, just to get money.

The electronic scene in Gothenburg has experienced an amazing period the last five years, Gothenburg is probably the best place for raves at the moment. It’s always sold-out and people don’t care if it’s expensive or not. It would be great if that would happen to our scene as well, that would solve lots of problems.

Pär: Just to have similar underground clubs but with gigs instead. In other countries it’s common and people fix their own gigs.

Philip: That would also be a lot more interesting than playing Pustervik for the tenth time. It doesn’t matter how much you may like Pustervik, changing venues is good at times.

The near future is set with some festivals and gigs during the summer and maybe your first American tour in the fall, and with much more focus on Westkust today it means that it won’t take four more years to get the next album out?
Julia: No, it won’t take that long again, but you can’t force creativity either.

Brian: No, no, no! It can’t take that long!

Philip: We better not say too much but hopefully we can start with something new quite soon.

Pär: At the moment it’s lots of gigs though and it’s a bit difficult to get something new done when you’re not home, but at the end of the year maybe.

Brian: We promise you it won’t take four years at least (laugh). Not three either! We just need to find the direction and then do it.

Photographer: © Mario Reich
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About The Author

Music researcher with an unhealthy passion for music and music festivals. Former studio owner, semi-functional drummer and with a fairly good collection of old analogue synthesizers from the 70's. Indie rock, post rock, electronic/industrial and drum & bass (kind of a mix, yeah?) are usual stuff in my playlists but everything that sounds good will fit in.