Messed!Up

Division of Laura Lee bring the noise back to rock music: Interview

J.N. August 12, 2020

At the beginning of the 2000s, Sweden was flooded with great bands boosted by Sweden’s own MTV, ZTV. If you were lucky to be embraced by ZTV, you were guaranteed a nationwide breakthrough and could tour sold-out venues and headline festivals for years to come.

In February 2002, Division of Laura Lee released their caustic debut album “Black City”, a landslide of guitar-fueled aggression that earned DoLL lots of attention at ZTV, and they quickly became festival favourites and were booked by the major Swedish festivals at the time.

With an onslaught of riffs and fills it didn’t take long before international scene picked up the band, comparing them to The (International) Noise Conspiracy and The Hives, and brought them from sold-out venues in Sweden to sold-out tours across the world. DoLL became a touring band and played hundreds of shows every year. But after their fourth album, the self-released record “Tree” in 2013, the band went on an indefinite hiatus, family life consumed their energy and no one knew if they would ever return to the scene. Except for DoLL themselves.

In March this year the single “Dodge Bullets” was released and surprised many fans, and shortly after the band announced their fifth record “Apartment” to be released August 21st (it was supposed to be released in May, but corona happened).

Just a few weeks ahead of the release of “Apartment” we met up with Per and Viktor at Welfare Studios in Gothenburg and walked down memory lane and chat about their breakthrough years, returning to the sound of “Black City” on the new album and targeting America for a future tour.

Two decades of noisy rock and rowdy live shows

I was a bit surprised when you released “Dodge Bullets” earlier this year and announced the first album in seven years, and didn’t expect it all. Have you worked on the album for a long time or was it surprising for you as well to release new music after a very long break?
Per: Maybe because it gets a lot harder the older you get to find your way out of your creative lows and blocks. We knew we weren’t going to split-up after “Tree” in 2013, but I had this feeling” Ok, what do we do now?”, and since that moment we’ve tried to write a new record several times.

Viktor: We started on the album several times but didn’t get the right feeling and stopped again. But last year we picked up where we left and finished almost the whole record, didn’t practise anything with the band, just wrote songs to the album and recorded lots of stuff we’ve had laying around for a while. We just decided “It’s time to do it and get it out”.

What was it that brought a hiatus after “Tree” in 2013? Family life?
Per: To some part, but we worked a lot with other things as well. Until the beginning of the 2010s we’ve basically lived off releasing music and touring, but we didn’t want to do it anymore and it just took a long time to find out how to balance work and music. On top of that, it was too short after a very stressful period of touring and we were almost burned out and couldn’t find any inspiration to write music.

”Tree” didn’t pan out as well as we wanted and when we didn’t have enough energy to push the record abroad it didn’t work out. In Sweden it did quite well because we were established in the scene after four records, and we did a few shows but no full tour. And when people started families we couldn’t be on tour every week anymore.

Viktor: ”Tree” was also the first album we released ourselves. A few labels were interested, but nothing happened and we decided to do it on our own, but as Per says, we didn’t have the energy to do all those things involved in releasing a record. Labels help you out quite much and we didn’t want to put all that necessary promotion work in there.

At the same time the whole rock scene went into some sort of a downward spiral and is at its all-time low today. No one listens to noisy rock music anymore and that was very clear after we released “Tree”. Not a single festival booked us and many of the festivals we used to play went out of business. DoLL have been a festival act from the start but when the people’s interest in rock music started to dwindle away it wasn’t easy to get people to come out for shows, not as we’re used to at least.

The next generation of fans listen to electronic club music, and that’s far from DoLL.

Per: It was tough for us and we really didn’t know how to deal with it because we were used to lots of attention, and the band ended up in a downward spiral. It happens for all bands but you’re never prepared for it because your mind is like “What the fuck, I’m just 20” and then you realize “Yeah, I’m a 38-year-old dude today”. Reality finally caught up with you.

Viktor: And there were more kids being born. Per started a family quite early but the rest of the band caught up, started families, bought houses and had job careers to think about, and it started to be hard to find time for band practise and record music (laughs).

Per: But there was something with that record [“Tree”] that didn’t work out. Sure, music-wise it’s a great album, we wouldn’t have released it otherwise, but it’s far from “Black City” which has that type of sound we have returned to at “Apartment” [the upcoming album]. There’s no radio hits on it, just brutal and noisy rock music. That’s what DoLL is about.

Speaking of your breakthrough with the debut album “Black City”; I remember the hype that came with the record and you toured all across the world for years. When you look back at those years today and how far you’ve reached as a band, did you reach as high as you wanted or were your target much higher up on the ladder?
Per: For a short time we aimed higher than we reached, but in retrospect we’ve reached way beyond our expectations.

We started as a hardcore band in 1997 but didn’t really fit in in the hardcore scene because we sounded a bit different, but our identity is hardcore music. I remember that the four of us who started DoLL quite quickly realized we had something unique, a band that was way better than any other band we’ve ever played with. And we really earned our reputation by playing hundreds of shows every year. Between 1997 and 2000 we did several hundred shows, and when we gained wider attention in Sweden we were quite well prepared.

But it happened quite quickly after the release of “Black City”, especially when ZTV [Sweden’s own MTV] boosted you for years.
Per: Exactly, and we barely kept up with the speed it happened. Eight months ahead of the first album we signed with Burning Hearts Records and released the “Pretty Electric” EP, at the end of 2001, and we quickly gained a following the next few months.

When we released “Black City” we were already touring and didn’t really see any difference, probably because we just continued touring. What really happened was that we had a breakthrough in America and did a few shows at SWSX which brought a lot of attention in America, and it continued like that for five years. I remember I was thinking “Will it always be like this?”.

When you look back on your career today, having all these experiences of the industry not only as a band but as label owners as well, is it anything you wish you would have done differently at the beginning of DoLL’s career?
Per: Of course there are loads of things that happened, mistakes you wouldn’t do today and things that done differently may have boosted the band even more. But at the same time, it doesn’t matter because we just wanted to be the best band on our thing, to be the best live act. That was our goal.

To be part of the music industry was difficult for us because we’ve always felt a sort of hatred against its core values. Even if I wouldn’t say I hate it today, I still don’t want to be part of it. As a DIY band it’s easier because you don’t need to fight the label bureaucracy.

But being away from the scene for seven years in times when people want new music on Spotify every month must be tough in terms of finding a new audience. Or do you live off your loyal fans and don’t care about it?
Per:  In general we get new fans although most fans have been with us from the start. And that’s not strange at all. If I would tell someone born in the 90s what bands I’ve played with they probably won’t know what they are, especially when rock music doesn’t work out that well with young listeners in general.

But the new singles have reached out quite well across generations and we’ve got a lot of attention, and maybe our audience will change with the new album.

Returning to their musical roots

After seven years of absence “Apartment” isn’t just a comeback for DoLL, it’s a return to the musical roots and the sound on “Black City”. DoLL emphasize raw power, not hi-fidelity, something meatier than punk, though not as heavy as metal. Above all, they’re back to the type of guitar-throwing rock music that made them popular.

Let’s talk ”Apartment”, your new album. I read that it sounds like a mix of Black City” and ”Violence is Timeless”, which is obviously what you want because the albums in between are “too serious”.
Per: Yeah, Jonas said that, but it’s true. When we started at the end of the 1990s we wanted to sound like Drive Like Jehu and Fugazi mixed with noise rock. It changed a bit at the beginning of the 2000s when we added influences from Primal Scream and My Bloody Valentine, and later also David Bowie. The reason it changed is that when you’re young and start a band everything is so simple and you know from your very limited music experience that “This is how we sound like”. But with time you get more input and start to open your eyes for other types of music, and just like that we mixed Drive Like Jehu riffs with David Bowie choruses.

When you widen your musical horizon like that, the music becomes more serious, and it became clear on our second album. “Das Not Compute” did really well and drew accolades from music media, but it’s a record that’s too serious for us even if it was great for the band. It wasn’t DoLL. We’re supposed to be that kind of band that throw guitars on stage, playing loud and noisy rock. And “Apartment” is like that.

We just had to get this record out and get back to where we came from.

Viktor: But we also found our way back through new influences from bands in the same genre, bands like Metz, an awesome live act. To get that kind of input at this point in DoLL’s career is just great, especially when it’s harder to fight your own creative blocks.

Per: Yeah, just amazing on stage! It’s Nirvana with no choruses, just simple, raw and super loud rock music, and that’s what we brought in on “Apartment” as well. That’s why DoLL sounds great for the first time in years.

And ”Apartment” will be that type of record where you smash the guitar in your fans heads?
Per: For sure.

Viktor: But we’ve kept the choruses; the band have always been about doing great choruses. DoLL has always been about weird and tricky verses and great choruses.

I was in another band when “Black City” was released in 2002, but got stuck from the start, it just has these catchy choruses. And that’s funny because at first I couldn’t really understand why they changed their 1990s sound on “Black City” and started to play something completely different, but it was simply great music.

But today you feel that ”Black City” established the real sound of DoLL?

Per: I guess you can say it like that. We have many old fans with us from the start that didn’t like “Black City” and when they came out for our shows they shouted like “44” and wanted us to play older music, and it’s still like that today. “Play something old” or “Go back to your roots and we’ll forgive you”, but we won’t ever do that because we’ve evolved into something else. DoLL 2002 are quite different from DoLL 1997.

But for some it was too much. Our former guitarist Henrik said “What the fuck are you doing?” when “Black City” came out (laughs) and he didn’t feel it was what he wanted and left the band even before the record was released. But if you ask him today he understands why it happened like that.

I remember that we weren’t afraid of anything when we recorded it. We brought our own gear to the studio but Kalle [Kalle Gustafsson, producer and recording engineer at Svenska Grammofonstudion] just threw it out because it was too easy for us to use what we were used to, and he gave us guitars and amps we never had used before. That had a huge influence on the sound as well and was a good lesson for us.

Considering that covid-19 paralyzed the world and have forced the whole music industry into a hiatus, have you discussed on how to release the album? To promote a new record you need to tour and quite many bands postpone their releases for that reason.
Per: It was supposed to be released in May but we postponed it to August because we thought the pandemic would be over by then. Maybe a bit optimistic. But we follow another strategy now and release the album, and just a bit later an EP as well. If it’s possible to tour later this year we have new music out just ahead of a tour. We just have to accept that it will be a corona record, there’s nothing to do about that and I’m quite sure many bands have to accept the fact that they have to release an album and not be able to tour it.

Viktor: We had a great moment when we wrote and recorded the album and wrote songs that wouldn’t fit on the album but will work great for an EP. What’s most interesting with the whole process is how fast we did everything. When we had decided for “Let’s do this”, it happened within months.

But even if it’s possible to tour later this year, that we reach some sort of normal condition for the whole music industry, are you still interested in touring when you all have families? Family life usually doesn’t work well with full tours.
Viktor: We still want to tour but it will be in a different way and not that long tours anymore, mostly weekends.                          

Per: I can actually see us leaving for a few weeks of touring but we will never return to be a touring band again, the whole process is too expensive and complicated. First, you need a hit and then you can tour on the back of it and build a hype, and we don’t have a hit song on the record. Second, you need money and you need tour support and loads of other stuff, and it’s too much to deal with that whole tour machinery.

I want to tour with friends, like going out in Europe with Hot Snakes and do shows at classic venues. Bigger bands do it as well; Refused, for instance, play across Europe for one or two weeks, return home and do it again a few weeks later.

We just don’t know yet how we’re going to tour, but we do know that we would love to do it. There’s also a plan to play in America again, that’s our major target with the new album.

Viktor: And people want to see us on stage in America. Social media interest and pre-orders of the record tells us that America wants us.

Per: We have toured America quite much and at our peak we had between 700 and 1 500 in the audience in bigger cities and 200 to 400 everywhere else. That’s a lot for us. If we would have continued on that level of touring it would have worked out, but you always had this feeling you were living off borrowed money and that’s not a great experience. We won’t do it like that again. Touring for sure, but smarter tours.

Viktor: Many of the bands that are still around from those years are working in a completely different way today. “Let’s go to Spain for six shows and then to Finland for another three before we return home”. That’s how it works today. Mini tours but several tours.

Per: You need to do it like that because it’s too expensive to tour, and when you consider the competition today there’s not enough money for all bands out there. Digitalization of music brought with it lots of bands and most bands want to tour. I can’t even imagine how it will be after corona when all bands want to get out on tour again, all the bands that had to cancel their tours and bands like us that release records during corona. It will be chaos.

”Apartment” is out on August 21st but what happens next? Will you record the upcoming EP or do more live streams?
Per: We had a plan to play shows and obviously it won’t happen and we will probably put all attention on the EP.

Viktor: We’ve had a few discussions on doing mini-shows, but haven’t decided for it yet.

Per: I’ve done two live streams, one with DoLL and one with my other band, Pablo Matisse, and if Welfare Sounds would organize another live stream event we would probably do it, I’m not interested at all otherwise. It works for some bands but not for us because we need people to interact with, an audience.

Rock music live on TV doesn’t sound good at all, although it worked out fine for us at Bananpiren [venue in Gothenburg]. You play your songs but there’s no magic, no energy when there’s no crowd in front of the stage. On top of that, there has been too much live-streamed music and people don’t watch it anymore. The ratings are just super bad.

To wrap it up; is “Apartment” a definite comeback for DoLL and we don’t need to wait another seven years for the next album?
Per: We’re back for sure but I can’t promise you a record in two years. I still don’t understand how we found time in our touring schedule to record the first two albums when we did 200 shows a year, I don’t really understand how we did it (laughs). The four-year-long gap between “Das Not Compute” and our third record “Violence is Timeless” arose from the record label crisis at the second half of the 2000s and our label Burning Hearts left the scene, and it took some time before we learned how to deal with it.

But DoLL will release more records, that’s for sure.


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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