Gothenburg five-piece Two Year Vacation have garnered critical acclaim since hitting the indie scene in 2017 and have ever since worked hard to achieve the mass popularity they deserve. After their banger debut album Slacker Island back in 2019, they returned last year with the sophomore album Laundry Day, and they’re still very good at what they do best: crafting tight, catchy pop songs for sing-along shows.
2020 was the year Two Year Vacation would make it to the bigger stages, climbing the festival ladder and play better slots across the world. But as we know by now, 2020 saw the rise of a global pandemic and left the music industry in crisis. However, the band took it as a sign for being more creative and immediately started to work on new music after Laundry Days was released – with new frontman and long-time friend Jacob Ahlstrand behind the mic.
Messed!Up met up with four of the band members in Gothenburg and chat about Jacob’s arrival in the band, working with Hamburg label Clouds Hill and writing catchy pop songs.
Although it’s just a few months since the release of your latest album a lot has happened in the band. You have a new frontman.
Jacob: Yeah, and it feels awesome to join the band! I’ve been at many of their gigs and to be on stage with these guys in the future is just great.
György: Jacob fronted another band, Ennui, who are long-time friends and we just snatched him from them. I really want to believe they’re fine with it and not too mad at us, but I haven’t talked to them for a while (laugh). It may look like he joined the band right after Anton [former frontman] left, but it took a while to talk him into it.
He was already an awesome frontman before he joined us, let’s see if he stands the pressure of Two Year Vacation (laugh).
Max: it didn’t take months to get him over, but when it was made public that Anton was about to leave us we had already started to work on Jacob as his replacement. We knew from the beginning that it was Jacob we wanted and asked him quite soon after Anton told us in the band that he was about to leave.
How does it feel to take over the role after Anton? It’s not like switching drummers, you’re the band’s front person.
Jacob: I don’t know really know how to feel about it because I’ve never done it before. Anton was such a great frontman and I’ve asked him about tips and tricks, but he just said “Do your own thing and it will work out great”. I think I will add some of my own artistic flair, maybe learn a few German one-liners to charm our German label (laugh).
Looking back at what was supposed to have happened for you last year it feels like 2020 would have been a great year for you.
György: Do you want to make us sad when we’re having a great time at the moment? (laugh) Of course, it’s not fun to cancel everything we had planned for last year, especially our UK tour and the festival gigs, but we realized quite soon that we just had to do something else and we started to write and record new music instead.
Max: When you’ve worked your ass off for three years and played lots of live shows across Europe while working hard on writing, recording and releasing new music, it would have been fair to enjoy all that effort, maybe play bigger festival stages or at least have our name in bold letters on the posters.
But it’s not canceled, just postponed, that’s a difference. We have to remind ourselves that it will happen, just not right now. If it doesn’t happen this year it will happen in 2022. It’s not lost gigs, it’s future gigs.
Maybe it’s easier to accept it when it’s the same for all bands?
David: That’s how I feel about it. But we haven’t lost momentum because we write new music and will release new stuff as long as we can’t do anything else. We continue building up a new momentum and will reap the rewards of it when it’s possible to play live again.
György: Isn’t it also a good opportunity to let fans wait for us to play live again? We’ve played so much the last years and met so many people, and even if it’s fun to play at the same venues and meet the same people it’s good to let people miss us a bit, and we them. Or will they just forget about us? (laugh)
Max: Maybe it is. I read about the latest pandemic about a hundred years, the Spanish flu, and in the 1920s when it was all over people went crazy for parties and concerts. This could be something similar and people will come out for shows four times a week to compensate for everything they’ve lost the last year. That’s how we need to look at it, it will come back and we will get lots of shows.
David: You’re usually kind of pumped when you play live, but it’s nothing compared to how it will be; it will explode when we get back on stage again. It’s not just about playing live, but also going to festivals again because you kind of miss being among a lot of people while listening to music.
I guess you get a boost from fans getting back to you to tell you to come to play their city when it’s back to normal.
György: The pandemic broke out while we were about to release our second album “Laundry Days” and although we couldn’t come out and play and meet people at our shows, we meet them online. People send us messages like “Thanks for some great new music, I wouldn’t have pulled it through isolation without it”. Just knowing that what we do makes a difference is good enough at the moment and it helps us to keep up the spirit to continue.
Max: The whole world is in lockdown, everything has stopped and people just sit there in their apartments or houses doing nothing and can’t meet friends or family, not anyone. It’s obvious that people need to chat with someone to not feel lonely. We get heaps of DM’s at Instagram, heaps of messages from people at a completely new level to what we’re used to. I’ve never seen anything like it before.
György: People want to reach out and meet other people, it’s part of our nature, and when you can’t meet at shows you’ll find other ways to do it. It’s also a great opportunity for us to learn to know about our fans, who they are and where they live. That’s something we can use when we plan shows in the future.
What’s interesting for us is your connection to our hometown Hamburg and your label Clouds Hill. How did that come about?
Max: We wanted to be on a label outside Sweden, preferably in Germany because of the huge music scene there. It was a clear strategy on our side. Sweden is great to live in but a small population means a small music scene, and although Germany – our next-door neighbor just an eight-hour drive away – is geographically smaller than Sweden they have one-fourth of America’s population. You can tour forever! We just wanted to be part of that scene, and a good way to do it is to have a German label.
György: Our management put together a teaser-video and sent it to different labels, and Clouds Hill got back to us.
Max: Kind of a stupid video with people water-skiing in Australia in the 1970s to “Don’t Wanna Go Home”, that’s all it was but it was enough for Clouds Hill to sign us (laugh).
We had a few Zoom meetings and got along well with Clouds Hill’s owner Johann Scheerer and they wanted us to sign, but first he wanted us to come down to Hamburg and play at the Clouds Hill Festival. And that was quite an adventure. I was a pianist in a hotel bar on the Swedish west coast the night before, way after midnight, slept three hours and then went to the airport.
György: We didn’t have any money and had to take the cheapest flight to Hamburg which usually leaves super early in the morning. Just imagine how tired we were after the show! We played and went to bed at eleven already (laugh).
Max: But it was awesome to see all the cool people at the festival to watch bands like us. Someone from Mando Diao was in the audience and an executive at Warner Music. How cool isn’t that?
György: And we thought we were Rolling Stones and bought these huge fur coats, a band outfit for just one night. It probably looked ridiculous but it gave us a confidence boost and we did a great show.
Max: Just imagine flying to Hamburg for one gig and then back home the next day. You felt a bit special.
Even if we already had a deal with Clouds Hill – they faxed it to us – we wanted to do it the old school way and sign it the day after the show in Hamburg, like “Here’s the merchandise, this is what you buy”. Three days later Warner Music Central Europe [head office in Hamburg] contacted us because the executive dude who was at our show loved it and they did some sort of a licensing deal with Clouds Hill and promoted our album as well. But we’re not working with Warner anymore, just Clouds Hill.
What I really love about Clouds Hill is that they are an indie label with a great network which means that they have lots of people working with their bands; there’s a whole team helping us out when we release something. That’s just awesome! Very few bands have that kind of luxury, to have a full team of people being emotionally involved in your music and want the best for you. That’s something rare.
Anxiety and euphoria the creative tools on Laundry Days
The last year has been challenging, to say the least. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of the few things that’s become clear is that touring is off the table for the foreseeable future, and artists are facing the dilemma of how and when to release new albums without the ability to support those releases with live shows.
Two Year Vacation released their second album Laundry Days right at the end of October last year, postponed their tour plans in the UK and booked new dates for the spring of 2021, but while many bands got stuck in negative thoughts following canceled plans, the band have continued being creative.
With Laundry Days garnering critical acclaim, they started recording new music, and although they’ve let anxiety play a major part of the creative process on the album they continue to do what they do best: catchy songs and happy music.
Three months after you have released a record there’s usually nothing new to say about it because at this point you should have done heaps of interviews already, but it’s different this year I guess. How would you review it?
György: We haven’t done any interview on the album yet and we really appreciate the opportunity. But it’s also a bit sad because, as you say, just after an album release we usually do quite many interviews.
Max: What do you think about it? [turns to Jacob who wasn’t in the band when it was recorded]
Jacob: It’s lovely! But I’m biased, I can’t do anything but a great review for some reason (laugh). I should say it sucks but I can’t when the guys are around (laugh).
György: Right after we’ve finished recording it I went to Jacob’s studio and we listened to it the whole night together, and I know that some songs stuck on you that night. Jacob has a great taste in music I thought “Maybe there’s something good about this record”.
Max: I’m sure all bands have people they trust, friends with good taste in music, who will listen to their songs and give feedback – and you trust those opinions. [György] often let Jacob listen to get an opinion and the rest of us have other people we’ll send it to.
György: But some people are too honest, like my girlfriend. You would think she always supports you, just like a girlfriend does, but she can be brutally honest about our music (laugh). She’s actually taken it too far and I try to leave her out of the review process because everything we do sucks (laugh). But I know that when she tells me that it sounds good, it must be great.
Max: The first time we were about to let someone else listen and review our music we were a bit lost, like “Who the fuck should we send it to? Let’s pick one person each”. It was the first time we ever recorded something, just two songs, and one of them was about to become our first single. However, all of us have at least one brother and we just let our oldest brothers listen to it (laugh).
György: It was a great idea to use completely different people with different interests and backgrounds rooted in different subcultures. Isn’t that the best way to get feedback?
Max: It sounds like we did a huge survey but it was just one question: ”Which one is going to be the single?”, and they told us.
If we return to talk about Laundry Days
David: If we talk Laundry Days I would say it’s our best record by far. It has an intangible tension we haven’t had before.
György: The whole writing and recording process was much quicker than Slacker Island. But I find it more interesting as a document of the band’s state of mind, our mental health, and who we were during that period, and that’s not how it was on our debut album.
Max: Laundry Days is a very stripped down record and our mood continuously changed between being sad and happy while we recorded it, and it was fine for us to be like that because it helped us out.
It’s also important that we used what we learned from recording Slacker Island on this record. We used that experience to make Laundry Days a lot better. You feel quite a responsibility to your label when they have invested a lot of money in your music and you want to give them something that will make up for it.
György: It’s a sing-along record and I love it although there are people out there that hate that kind of music because they consider it to be a sell-out thing. But doesn’t every band want to have fans that sing along at their shows?
We really don’t listen to people like that, they’re too dark for us.
Max: Laundry Days has received great reviews in general, much better than Slacker Island, that’s why it’s a bit annoying to get stuck in those super negative reviews. Like this dude who wrote “Ok, nothing new” and thought it sounded just like Slacker Island but without the novelty. He thought the record sounded so fucking happy like it was a problem.
György: Next record will be something people will hate, that’s the purpose of it (laugh). Apparently, people don’t need happy music in a pandemic. Bring the darkness! (laugh)
Max: I want people to feel how we felt when we recorded the album, all those feelings of happiness, sadness and anxiety. You really want to believe that our feelings would have transpired onto the record and into people’s living rooms where they will feel what we did. And this fucking dude writes that it’s too happy! But what about all the anxiety we felt? Didn’t he hear it? Or anyone else? Apparently not! (laugh)
György: You make it sound like we’ve done it a bit too complicated, the whole recording process, is that what you’re saying? (laugh)
But it is happy music, I can’t hear much anxiety at all.
Jacob: It’s super easy to write melancholic songs. If I start to write something, it automatically becomes sad or depressing. It’s like it’s a natural state for people. To write happy music, that’s the challenge and a real effort when you pull that off because you need to focus hard to bring out happiness. It’s not a feeling that’s easily accessible.
Max: It’s even harder to write happy music that’s good enough to put on record. When I studied music my teacher told me “Play in a minor key to make it interesting”, but it’s only because it’s easier to do it (laugh), it has nothing to do with it being good or not. You don’t have the same sonic palette to work with in major key.
But I also have to point out that we’re not these type of dudes who only listen to happy music, much melancholic music is great and I love some bands who write that type of music, but it’s not us. We started because there was too little happy music out there, in our generation of bands, and we wanted to be that type of band that did something different.
György: (laugh) I remember how we already from the beginning made this deal in the band to not wear black clothes and just write happy music. We wanted to be the opposite of most bands in the Gothenburg scene.
Max: Sweden was in musical darkness when we started and people loved to read true crime stories about violence and brutal murders. That’s just too much darkness. What about everyone who isn’t depressed or stuck in the dark and just want to have fun? Do they need to listen to that kind of shit?
We just didn’t want to contribute to any more darkness.
Next stop: Rio
As covid-19 continues to spread and spark growing concerns globally, the live music industry has become a highly volatile market and almost impossible to plan. The band hope for a postponed tour in the UK to happen in May this year, after passing through Germany and Belgium, but if it doesn’t happen they have something special to look forward to: their first gig ever in South America, in Rio, in the fall.
And for Jacob it may be his debut show with the band.
The pandemic has put a hold on all live shows for quite a while by now, and just like you said you can’t do anything but work in the studio at the moment. Does it mean that you will release new music quite soon again?
György: I’m kind of sure we’ll release something in 2021. Honestly, I’m so bored at the moment and writing and recording music it’s the only thing that makes life a bit easier.
Max: We may have told everyone that we won’t release anything until it’s back to normal again, but when we said that we didn’t know that Jacob would join the band. Even if it’s sad to lose a band member it’s also a boost when someone joins the band, especially Jacob who has a bit too much energy (laugh). He’s just pouring out new ideas and that pushes the band forward, and I’m kind of sure we’ll release something before we’ll tour again.
Like we said, you can’t whine about canceled shows when you can write music. It’s a super productive period at the moment! Right after the interview we’re off to the studio to record vocals for a new song.
And we get booked for shows! For the first time ever we’ve been booked for a festival in South America, in Rio, in the fall this year and I really hope we can play live by then. Things like that give you an energy boost and something to look forward to.
Hopefully we’ll have a few shows in the spring, but if not your [turns to Jacob] first gig may be in Rio in front of thousands of people (laugh).
Jacob: Maybe that’s the only thing that would make me nervous because you talk about it all the time (laugh).
I know you have a lot of postponed shows planned for 2021 instead, but if it’s still impossible to organize bigger shows would you go out for 50-shows like some bands did last year?
Max: We’re not a tiny band but not super big either, but big enough to get a few hundred to our shows, and we would need 200 to 300 to make it work out. Sweden allowed 300-shows just before the second lockdown which would have been great for a band like us. But it wouldn’t work out in the UK. The venues are too small in general and people can’t keep a social distance.
We have a postponed tour planned in the UK in May. If it works out we’ll start in Germany, play a show in Belgium and then go to the UK, and as long as no one tells us any different we’re planning for it. You can’t allow yourself to whine about yet another postponed tour because life will be so dark and depressive then. We can’t do anything about it anyway. And you get mixed messages about it; some say “It’s cool, in September it will work out again” while others point out “No way! Nothing will happen until 2023”.
If touring will happen I guess you’ll swing by Hamburg and Clouds Hill.
Max: We always start our tours in Hamburg and for once it would be great to stay for a few days to actually explore the city. I’ve just been in Clouds Hills’ apartment where we stay when we’re in Hamburg, seen a bit of Reeperbahn, and have eaten at the same falafel joint we always eat on the first night we arrive in Hamburg (laugh). Well, we’ve done a few videos in Hamburg but you just stay in a place for an hour and then go to the next. But that’s it.
Photographer: Krichan Wihlborg
Two Year Vacation pages