Messed!Up

Staying elegant in spite of a world in crisis: Beverly Kills interviewed

J.N. April 14, 2020

As always, the Gothenburg music scene enjoyed another vibrant year last year with many new acts coming to the fore. One band of note to emerge and quickly gain a local fan base, and playing support slots in Europe for the first time, were four-piece Beverly Kills consisting of Alma, Viggo, John, and Hampus.

Three single releases in 2018 became five after 2019, they changed label from Australian Hell Beach to home-grown label Welfare Sounds, got airtime on KEXP and started 2020 by playing three shows at The New Colossus Festival in New York. And in just a few days the band release their debut EP “Elegance In a State Of Crisis”, a title reminiscent of the world we live in at the moment.

When Messed!Up and Westside Music Sweden joined forces to organize a live recording session at Pustervik in Gothenburg, we sat down with the band and chat about an amazing last year, their upcoming debut EP, and how the covid-19 isolation may open up an opportunity for making a lot of new music.

After a long discussion about Grodjakten and being emo or not, the interview starts off in how it all began.

Signing with Welfare Sounds, a debut EP soon out and the covid-19 effect

None of you are from Gothenburg, you all moved here from Örebro and Umeå a few years ago. What was missing on the scene in Gothenburg that made you start Beverly Kills?
Alma: That’s a good question but very difficult to answer. What was missing on the Gothenburg scene? I don’t think we started in that, it was rather me who wanted to play in a band because I hadn’t played music in a long time after I left Umeå and my band split up.

I and John had hanged together for quite a while and John played in other projects, but we never did anything together except going to a lot of shows.

I think it all started with a bit of curiosity, to see what would happen if we combined our influences.

John: It started much earlier than that, in a rehearsal room in Umeå after we’ve had a few drinks and you [Alma] said “Can’t you play the kind of music you wanna do?”, and we did. I was singing and it was horrible (laugh), and we never used the songs I played that night. But we co-wrote two songs that night and one of them was on our set until the beginning of last year. We always opened our shows with it.

You’re just about to release your debut EP and you recently played three shows at The New Colossus Festival in New York, and you got airtime on KEXP and Hype Machine the last year. With all that in mind, it feels like this is the moment when Beverly Kills will reach out to a broader audience. How would you sum up the last year and all that happened?
John: I would say it has been a bit hectic.

Alma: It’s the quickest year I’ve experienced so far but also an outstanding year for all of us. We never planned for anything of this to happen, you can’t really do that, but it all started with a gig in Norway, our first show on Welfare Sounds [label].

John: We had just signed with Welfare but were still signed to an Australian label and hadn’t even released the songs that were supposed to be released on that label when we signed to Welfare. (laugh)

Alma: The first few months last year was about planning to release music on that Australian label, Hell Beach, and to make a video, and after that we planned to play live as much as possible. I’ve never played that many shows as we did the last year, it was just complete madness.

John: We were maybe a bit too confident in our planning because we thought that the EP would’ve been out a long time ago, at least half a year ago, but of course that didn’t happen. Releases are always delayed. But in the end it was better for us.

Alma: Yeah, we got time to calm down between the single releases and what was about to happen a bit later – we thought. Instead we planned for lots of shows. (laugh)

John: But that was only because we expected the EP to be out and then you have to play shows, and I booked us all weekends from the end of August to December because I thought “There will be an EP out, we have to tour” (laugh), but it didn’t really happen like that.

Can you feel that this window of opportunity will close now because of the covid-19 crisis? I mean, you had to cancel your release party and I guess a lot of shows in May as well, maybe even festivals in the summer.
John: We had five or six shows in May which would have been awesome to do because one of the shows was supposed to be at my favorite venue in Copenhagen, but now it won’t happen.

Of course that’s sad but there’s also a good chance to do it later. Your network and contacts won’t disappear, and because we book all shows ourselves that’s our personal network. I’m quite confident we’ll do those shows on the other side of Corona.

Alma: It’s a bit of a setback but it’s the same for all bands out there. Obviously, it’s not fun to release an EP and then have to cancel your release party, but it will happen another time.

Viggo: It’s a bit of bad luck but I like to stay on the positive side. We’re about to release our first EP which is a teenage dream coming true. Last year that dream was to release something on vinyl for the first time, but two songs on a seven-inch is nothing compared to a debut EP on vinyl, that’s something I’ve always wanted to do.

I can still remember when I was in my teens and bought my first twelve-inch, and how cool it was to have it in my hands. That’s what I want to focus on at the moment, we’re doing something cool and release great music that we have created together (laughs), and we release it on vinyl. At least it’s a small consolation.

And just like John says, it’s our network, our contacts, and it won’t be like this forever. The world will exist on the other side of Corona as well.

Alma: Even if it has been a few rough weeks after returning home from New York when many things just shut down, we’ve had so much time to write music. Under normal circumstances, you think you can focus on both your studies or your work and making music, but that’s just a myth. You don’t work and write music, you work and sleep and you try to squeeze in a few minutes of music in between. But now, during these lockdown weeks; I don’t think we’ve ever been this creative and focused on what we love most – making music.

John: We just stayed isolated for four days, wrote two new songs and did something like five basic forms of ideas that may turn into songs later.

Viggo: You know, when we did our first rehearsal after New York, the first time back in our rehearsal room, these two maniacs [Alma and John] turned up with two hit songs, it’s just amazing! But I guess all bands have quite a lot of time for it now when there’s no tours and gigs. Try to imagine next year’s release lists and best of lists, they’re going to be massive. (laugh)

I also know you claim to have one foot in the DIY scene, but how much DIY are you today after signing with Welfare Sounds, and how much DIY do you want to be?
Alma: There can’t be any other band complaining as much as we about being DIY, it feels like it’s the only thing we do in interviews, just talking about how horrible it is. But it’s actually quite fun when you look beyond the stressful things.

I would say that it’s not much difference after signing with Welfare, it’s pretty much the same.

John: We’re still a DIY band and identify us as a DIY band. The only difference today is that we’re supported by Welfare. We still take care of most things except releasing and distributing the music, and promote the releases although we do a bit of that as well. Working with Welfare just made us twice as strong; it’s not that we just hand it over and let someone else do the job, we will always have a DIY mindset.

We did this series of interviews two years ago on doing it DIY, with new bands. What was kind of obvious was that promotion was too time-consuming and many bands felt it didn’t really pay off.
John: Writing press releases is probably among the most boring stuff I’ve ever done. But there’s a reward in it as well; at the moment you write it, it’s probably the lamest thing you can do but as soon as someone replies it’s all worth it.

Alma: It’s also about control. If you do it DIY you have full control of the outcome, but you can’t really blame anyone if it doesn’t work out; there’s always twice the payback whether the outcome is good or bad. (laugh)

We have worked out quite many ideas together in the band or just discussed ideas with the label which made us more creative as individuals. When you have that type of work relationship you also become confident that it will work out. That’s something I take great pride in concerning our DIY mindset.

We were supposed to do a video now but it won’t happen like many other things because of the lockdown, but we did all the planning for it.

John: Yeah, it’s all us and our working partner Jakob Ekvall who does the photography and who did the video to “In This Dim Light”.

We will do the video but not right now for obvious reasons. It will happen later.

“A full album is a bit scary”

If you ask us, all the best songs are secretly very sad songs disguised in some banger-worthy beats you want to dance to. The best example is one of our old favorite bands’ Passion Pit who just make super-depressing songs but that sounds super-bouncy. Beverly Kills have described their music as sad several times but it’s very upbeat at the same, maybe even the best cry-dance bops out there.

But much of their sound has changed since the band got together in 2018. While releasing their first three singles front dudette Alma changed from being a guitarist to stay behind the keyboard, thus changing the dynamic of the sound, and that affected their decision on how to release music in the beginning. Now, with a debut EP out in just a few days, the question is if the band have their target set for a full-length album soon.

When you’re not rooted in Gothenburg you don’t need to be influenced by the Gothenburg sound either.
Viggo: Yeah, but if you have a band in Gothenburg you always have some sort of relation to the Gothenburg sound and we have always been aware of it. From the day we started the band we knew about it, that’s what Gothenburg is famous for, and talked about how to relate to it. We didn’t want to become like many other bands from Gothenburg, we just wanted to be a band in Gothenburg but not sound like Gothenburg. You don’t want to be typecasted.

But many bands from Gothenburg take great pride in being influenced by the sound.
Alma: I can understand that many bands do that because it has been very influential in the Swedish music scene, that’s something I can respect quite much.

I know you have described your music as sad, but I would say it’s sad upbeat music. Is that a good way to describe what you do?
John: Yeah, that would be a good way to define it.

Viggo: But sad music doesn’t need to be slow, sad is a feeling and not a tempo.

Hampus: Sound-wise it’s melancholic, especially the harmonies.

John: There should always be a fine line between sadness and being able to dance.

I sense a conflict between those who want to do indie rock and the emos in the band.
John: No! All of us are emos. (laugh)

Alma: Wow! Or not!

Viggo: Everyone is on both sides in that conflict. (laugh)

John: But Alma, you’re the one who just wants to write upbeat music.

Alma: I’m not like that!

John: But most of what you write is club-friendly, but they’re quite emo at the same time.

Alma: Ok, I buy that description. But when it comes to chords it’s you [John] who stand for melancholy.

Hampus: I think my disco beats stop us from becoming a complete emo band.

John: Ok, this is how it is; we’re all sad people who love to dance.

(everyone bursts into laughter)

But that’s how it is!

Hampus: I like our concept to make people dance, but I wouldn’t say that we dance.

John: I’ve seen you dancing.

Hampus: I’m quite sure I didn’t have fun doing it. (laugh)

Let’s skip your internal conflict for a while. Music-wise a lot has changed since you started in 2018. Have you progressed as a consequence of new influences or is it a matter of finding your identity that made it happen?
Alma: The exploration of our sound is what really defines our adventure so far if you ask me. I’m a trained guitarist and have played guitar most of my life until a few months after we started and I decided “I don’t want to be the second guitarist, that’s not fun, I’ll start playing keyboard instead”. I remember when we released “Fourteen” and Kalle [Lilja, who recorded the song] wanted me to put some chords on it and said “Just jazz a bit, don’t think” and that later became the intro of the song.

To me, it’s about changing the way you think about music, how you play it and what harmonies you use, and I just took it as far as where we are today. With that huge change for me in mind, it’s not strange that our sound has changed.

John: To me, it’s about having faith in yourself. I never wanted us to sound like anyone else or that we should develop in a specific direction, but we started to acknowledge what we like and we’re not afraid to show it to people anymore.

It is hard to know what people think about our music. We released three singles ourselves and they were all quite different. For instance, when we released our second single “Melodrama” we were convinced that it was the hit, it was the song that everyone would love, but it didn’t do well at all in the end. (laugh)

Viggo: It has been some sort of internal joke for a year that the big hit became the big flop. (laugh)

Alma: We were a bit too confident when we released that single. (laugh)

Was it also one of the reasons for releasing singles and not an EP in the beginning, because the singles were too different?
Viggo: We wanted to release an EP but Luke at Hell Beach, the Australian label we were at, thought we should do like most British bands did, “Just release singles like the British bands do”.

Alma: ”Don’t be so Swedish and rely on EP’s and albums, I don’t think it’s a good idea at all. Try it out”.

Viggo: But at the time it was the best way to do it because the songs were very different, just because we were a new band. They were also our first songs and in that period Alma, as she said, also changed from guitar to keyboard. Obviously it had a huge impact on the songs.

Alma: It also affected how we wrote songs. I wrote the guitar riffs at the first songs while John was doing the keyboard, and when that changed the whole dynamic of the band’s song-writing changed.

John: But with ”Melodrama” it became obvious to us that people didn’t want us to make light-hearted indie pop, people wanted us to be sad and to play more melancholic post-punk. It was at that moment I felt “This is what I really want to do, let’s do more of it. I don’t need to write pop music anymore – super”. (laugh)

Of course it matters what people think, especially at the beginning when you want to know what works out and not.

The first EP is out on Friday this week, but how about the future? Are you planning for a series of EP’s instead of singles now or is an album your next target?
Alma: This whole idea with a full album is a bit scary because then it will become obvious if your music has enough quality to tell a long story. It takes a lot of time and a lot of thinking because a record needs to have a consistent story, at least the albums I like have it.

Hampus: And that may be a bit of a problem considering the songs we have at the moment. (laugh)

But one of my biggest fears is also to release an album where everything sounds the same.

Viggo: Everyone is well aware of the classic problem that the first album always is the best one and it’s difficult to repeat it, and you have to deal with that pressure before you release an album. There are so many bands out there that released a debut album which is better than the band.

Alma: You also write an album over a very long period. Many of the songs you write at the beginning of that period may not work out at the moment you do it, but you can always rework songs later in the process and make it work out with the overall sound. But it’s time-consuming.

John: I really don’t think we should feel stressed about releasing an album, quite many bands lived off releasing EP’s for quite a long time, like Pale Waves and The 1975. I don’t mind doing it like that at all although it’s not that usual in Sweden, just look at Kite, they only release EP’s.

I’m sure we’ll release an album when we know the story for it and have a concept that can be presented in nine to eleven songs. You can’t plan for it, the feeling “Now we’re ready for an album” will just turn up.

We got some very good advice in New York; when you release your first album the second should be done already, maybe not recorded but you should have the outline for the second album ready. That’s how I want to do it.

Alma: I don’t know how many times people told me that. When we were in the studio recently someone at Welfare said “Look at Sarah Klang [Gothenburg artist], she released her first record and had the second already in the pipe”.

But in that sense this whole Corona crisis is quite good because you get lots of time for music.
Hampus: We’ll start doing new stuff already tomorrow.

Viggo: From a songwriter’s position it’s just awesome. We’ve had some sort of Christmas break from December until we did the New York shows and had a plan to write as much as possible, and we have written a lot of stuff. But I wanted it to be more, and now this situation opens up opportunities. You can’t do anything else than lock yourself into the rehearsal room and focus on new music.

Like I said earlier, John and Alma just made two amazing new songs, let’s just continue on that.

You probably have a few months to write new music and to reflect on what will happen when all this is over. What’s the first thing you want to happen when everything is back to normal again?
John: I will book us for as many shows as possible. You can’t imagine how much I want to get out there and play.

Alma: To me doing that video is more important.

John: Yeah, but we’ll do it before it’s all over, that won’t be a problem. I just want to get out there and play shows.

I also know we will have many new songs, that’s something I’m quite confident about.

Hampus: And if it all continues to the fall we may have two records ready!

And then we’ll meet you in Hamburg again?
John: Totally! It would be something of a dream to play at Molotow, that would be awesome.


Photographer: ©Richard Bloom


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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.

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