Local indie heroes dressed in pop outfits: Interview with Typical Girls

In between records when bands don’t have any tours or new music coming out, some musicians go on to solo projects while others join fellow displaced musicians to form new groups as an outlet for their creativity. Prominent rock heroes from well-known bands often realize the power they have as a unit.

The world has seen the arrival (and departure) of bands like Atom For Peace, Them Crooked Vultures, Prophets of Rage and Traveling Wilburys to mention a few. But the supergroup concept also exists on the local level when band members from well-known bands in the local scene get together and create something completely different from what we’re used to hear.

In Gothenburg, Agent Blå, Makthaverskan and Westkust have poured out melancholic, post-punky and noisy music the last decade, drawing accolades from indie fans, but when Westkust’s Julia Bjernelind, Makthaverskan’s Hugo Randulv and Agent Blå’s Felix Skörvald assembled their pro talent, their first output, a self-titled EP released in December last year, surprised us all with catchy indie pop songs and irresistible hooks crafted for indie radio.

At the iconic joint Tai Shanghai, a beer outpost for musicians in the Gothenburg scene since the 1980s, we sat down with Julia, Hugo and Felix, and after a long discussion on ice cream addiction, we chat about a decade in the scene, finding time for yet another band and having no musical boundaries in Typical Girls.

Slow band at work

There’s very little information on Typical Girls, but am I allowed to call you a super group anyway? Three band members from well-known Gothenburg bands getting together to do something completely different from what we’re used to.
Felix: Absolutely! That sounds great to me, I always wanted to be in a super group (laugh).

Hugo: Of course you can although we’ve just played live once so far, at Oceanen quite a while ago, but Julia and I have played together in many different bands for almost ten years by now. But Typical Girls isn’t a project we started because we decided “Let’s put together a super group”, it’s the glamour and charisma that came with Felix that made it a super group (laugh).

People saying that the Gothenburg scene is a very small community composed of the same people are right then?
Felix: Most definitely, and I don’t see anything bad with that at all.

Hugo: Why would it be bad? I’m just proud and happy to have found people to hang out with that are both good friends and great musicians. Who wouldn’t like to play in a band with their best friends? I’m happy to have the opportunity to play with my friends in many different bands and explore different types of music together. That’s something I value a lot.

Julia: It’s a bit boring at times that the Gothenburg scene isn’t any bigger. I would love to have a few more bands doing the same thing just to have more people to share experiences with. And more venues to play as well. But it also has advantages. When the scene is small it’s also easier to keep in touch with people you meet, everyone goes out to the same clubs and venues.

Hugo and I started playing together in Westkust [Julia’s main band] and later we started Amateur Hour, and even after Hugo left Westkust – Amateur Hour aren’t the most active band in the scene – we’ve always met up as friends because we share a huge interest in music. Agent Blå [Felix band] hung out at the same clubs, that’s how we met him. It’s just how most people starting bands in Gothenburg meet.

When people from many different bands get together you will have this ongoing dialogue on music and what type of music people want to play, and it always ends up in many new bands. It’s just natural for it to happen.

But do you have time for Typical Girls? You have quite many other bands to play with as well.
Felix: (laugh) Yeah, but we started to play together already two years ago but haven’t released much music yet, just the EP in December.

Julia: It’s not really like we’re rushing it with Typical Girls, we’re far from being that kind of band that rehearse once a week. When we meet we write and record music at the same time, that’s how it usually is. But it’s very much the same for all our other bands as well. Westkust just spend lots of time together when it’s time to release something, otherwise we’re kind of slow (laugh). They’re all slowly working bands.

Hugo: It feels like Agent Blå is the only hard-working band of our other bands, Makthaverskan and Westkust don’t rehearse once a week. There are lots of time to spend on Typical Girls but we don’t use it well. It’s too much loafing around but that’s how we are (laugh). Maybe we meet for rehearsals once every third month, but more often to drink beer (laugh).

What’s important is that we have the ambition to make something out of Typical Girls. When we meet up for rehearsals it almost always ends up in new music because Typical Girls is an outlet for ideas that are quite different from what we usually do. And we’re not that type of band that makes it too complicated and work meticulously on the songs. It’s like working with lego; there’s a brick to start with, a drumbeat or a guitar chord, and we build songs from it, and usually it’s kind of a quick process for us.

Typical Girls is your latest project and considering how long you have been releasing music you have been in the Gothenburg indie scene for almost a decade by now. How would you say the scene has changed?
Hugo: I’ve never really had time to reflect on it or what happened in the 2010s, I’ve been too busy working with new music. It’s more fun to work here and now, in the present.

Julia: Luxury [record label] happened and was super important for the indie scene in Gothenburg.

Luxury must have had a huge influence in the scene the last decade, but now it’s gone. Is there anyone out there to take over?

Felix: I really hope so and I’m sure it will happen. Before Luxury, in the early 2000s, there was Service Records and there should be someone for the 2020s as well.

Hugo: Rasmus [Luxury’s labelman] pushed the whole scene forward on his own and pulled off something very few people can do and I can’t really see that anyone will do the same thing again. He was the reason many bands continued releasing music because he believed in what they did, but he never interfered in the creative process. If we wanted to release something with Makthaverskan he just said “I’ll see if it’s possible”, and usually it wasn’t any problem. That was a huge confidence boost for bands.

We never had any fights with him at all; no pressure on releasing music and never any conflicts on taking our sound in any specific direction. He just believed that bands on his label would release great music if they were allowed to explore their own creativity.

Julia: Everything was very laidback with Luxury and the only deadlines you had were when it was time to release something and the songs needed to be handed in in time. He never forced us to release music, it was our decision. Again, Westkust are a bit lazy and slow with things and it usually takes time to release stuff (laugh) but it was fine for Rasmus.

Hugo: I’m putting my money on Mattias Rörström at Happiest Place Records, he would be great for that kind of thing Rasmus did. Mattias has the right mindset, a huge interest in the scene and love the DIY ethos. That’s what’s necessary to pull it off.

Julia: Yeah, he would be awesome for the role. He has a strong will and high ambitions, something very rare and very much necessary to have to make it work out.

Exploring unknown musical territory

Most bands stick with a sound that works and builds a strong brand on the back of it, a sonic identity that makes people recognize the band from the first few bars, whatever the track. It’s not unusual that a band form their own rules on what music to write, and rather than causing a minor conflict when you want to try something else it’s easier to start another project that allows you to experiment in whatever way you want.

Typical Girls have very few references to the members’ main projects and offer a surprisingly fresh mix of catchy songs and sing-along melodies on their self-titled debut EP. And the recipe is simple: don’t overdo it, write and record a song while you meet for rehearsals, and experiment with samples and drum machines. On the next single they promise us more trip hop and 90s house pianos.

You released a self-titled debut EP in December and I was quite surprised about your sound when I listened to it the first time. You always judge bands by its members and considering your other bands I thought it would be lots of post-punk and shoegaze, but it’s happy pop music.
Felix: That’s exactly how it is and how we want it to sound. In our other bands there are “rules” on what music we write, but in Typical Girls we’ll do whatever we like, it’s like a refuge for us. There are no rules or boundaries. We don’t have a sound yet which means that we don’t have anything that holds us back.

Hugo: That’s what makes it fun for us, we’re exploring something unknown, music that won’t work out in our other bands. That’s challenging because we work with music and processes we haven’t worked with before. It’s even better that it’s quite different from our other bands because people won’t associate us with that type of melancholic music then.

Julia: It’s just plain pop music and it allows us to experiment in a completely different way than before. It doesn’t need to be guitar-based, it could be built on samples or drum machines, and that’s what makes it quite different from Westkust or Makthaverskan. I don’t know much about music production, but it doesn’t matter because I just explain to Felix “I want it to sound like this” and he makes it sound like that (laugh).

Hugo: But it’s not like we started Typical Girls to make music that had to sound different from our other bands, it’s songs we’ve been working on for a while and when we tried them out it was like “Hey, this sounds great! Let’s do it together”. In fact, we’ve never discussed our sound because we don’t know what it is.

Julia: I had this music phase in life when I listened a lot to The Embassy and Boat Club and lots of bands like that, and I remember I was thinking “It would have been great to make music like this myself some time”. I talked to Hugo and Felix on different occasions doing something like this and it just happened that we started out after a while. I guess all ideas need to mature before you start trying them out.

I read that someone from your other bands calls Typical Girls music for “funpop”. What’s fun about it?
Hugo: That’s a great description! You just want to dance, don’t you?

Julia:  I just wanted to do something happy for once. Agent Blå, Makthaverskan and Westkust are all quite melancholic, sometimes dark, and it’s fun to write happy music that makes people dance.

Hugo: Although we don’t see ourselves as dark and introverted in Makthaverskan, other people do. Writing happy songs, especially music quite different from what we usually do, makes it hard for people to say “Hey, here’s another dark and melancholic band in the Gothenburg scene”. We just want people to find us joyful.

It’s also the first band where we make music for dancing, it’s not about playing guitar as fast as possible until you get muscle cramps and can’t play anymore (laugh). It’s more soft and poppy in Typical Girls.

Obviously I have to ask you if there’s an ambition to make it any bigger than a side project and release an album as well. Or will you continue releasing singles when you have time off from your other bands?
Felix: Yes, we do have a plan for an album later. In fact, there will be a new single out, maybe in May. It will be a lot of trip hop influences on that one and a lot of sampled drums and brass instruments – a lot groovier (laugh).

Hugo: Isn’t it obvious that we’re on uncharted territory and don’t know shit about what we’re doing (laugh).

It’s not that far off the first EP because it’s still pop music but with more samples and more Felix on it (laugh).

Felix: A lot of heavy drums and piano layers taking you back to the house music of the early 90s. That’s how we build our songs on the single, it’s either guitar-based or a 90s house piano (laugh).

Hugo: We’re also about to release a repress of the first single, it was sold-out during the first weekend.

Will you disconnect from your other bands and not play support slots, just to stand on your own? Like you said, it’s quite different music.
Julia: Considering how small the scene is in Gothenburg I’m quite sure we’ll play support slots. It’s also an easy way to play live for us. We’re a bit lazy, remember? (laugh)

Felix: Yeah, but we’re different from those bands. Maybe they’ll put us on as the last band when it’s time to dance (laugh).

Photographer: Björn Vallin and Krichan Wihlborg 

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About J.N.

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.