How to Tackle Punk With an Irreverent Sense of Humor: Katthem interviewed

After six years as band Swedish four-piece punk band Katthem finally released their debut album “Vackra Lögnerskor” last year. Though their influences are squarely fixed at the more classic end of the Swedish punk spectrum and its social or political commentary, just spend a few minutes with them and you’ll find that Katthem “goof around” the majority of the time, and this easy, funny camaraderie is apparent in the music they make together.

Big things are about to happen. When the Manifest Awards revealed this year’s nominations, Katthem turned up on the list of “Punk Band of the Year” to much surprise to the band members themselves, and tomorrow they’re in for some nerve-racking hours while they’re watching the awards online.

Messed!Up met up with Kallo, Jasmine, and Ella (fourth member Bosse lives in Stockholm) at a graveyard in Gothenburg – a perfect choice for keeping a social distance – and chat about sudden fame and glory six years into their punk career, women in the Swedish punk scene and the hard work they put into their debut album.

Debut Album and Double Award Nominations

I have to start by congratulating you to the nomination for “Punk of the Year” at the Manifest Awards.
Yeah! It’s just awesome and a bit surreal! Very surprising and nothing we expected at all. When things like this happen you ask yourself “How the fuck do people know about us? When did they listen to Katthem?” (laugh). It feels like we haven’t done anything special, just what we usually do, and then this happens.

But we have done this for quite a while now, it’s like a six-year-long relationship. That’s why we get surprised when something like this happens; nothing happened for six years and then suddenly a nomination. It never ever struck us that someone would think that we’re good enough to be nominated for an award, and of course it’s amazing to get all the attention that comes with it. Just think about it: being one of four punk bands nominated for an award. Is it for real? (laugh). And it’s not just one award, it’s two! We’re also nominated to the Gaffa Award as “Band of the Year” which is fun for another reason – it’s people voting for us, not a jury.

We’ve had time to build a fanbase over the last six years and have played lots of shows, and worked us up in the punk scene by now, at least to a level where people know who we are. We had one year when we played super much and that’s probably when our fanbase started to grow. The last year we haven’t done anything but rehearsing and recording the record, and lately we haven’t done anything at all.

But it must be a bit disappointing at the same time to not being able to tour the record? Isn’t it at least 20 lost Katthem gigs?
Yeah, we had big plans about touring it but, as weird as it sounds, it has been great to have some time off as well. We worked super hard with the record for a long time and when it was finally out and we didn’t need to stress out on tour it was just fine to rest a bit.

But just wait, when we’re back to normal again it’s going to explode. We don’t want anything else but to play live again. In the fall when everyone thought the live scene was on its way back, at least allowing for 50-audiences, we did one show but it was like we had forgotten how to do it (laugh). You asked yourself these questions, “Who am I on stage? How do I do this?”, almost like you’ve had to relearn to play live.

It was a strange period right after the album was released because you felt like “Ok, we’ve released our debut album but we don’t play live”, and since it was quite a long period between recording the album and releasing it, you didn’t feel like a musician or a band anymore. “Yeah, the record is released but we don’t know how to play the songs anymore” (laugh). The only thing we did was promoting the album, not playing it.

We haven’t rehearsed much at all lately. Bosse [Josefin] lives in Stockholm and usually we need to plan our rehearsals with the full band, but the rehearsal room has also been closed because of the pandemic.

But you just recently premiered a new single “Jag Hör En Röst”?
But it was recorded at the same time as the album and is a secret bonus track at the album. We don’t know if people know about it because it turns up after some silence after the last official track on the album, but they can listen to it now.

What I find most interesting is that it appears to be more female musicians in the punk scene in Sweden today. When you competed in Livekarusellen six years ago, we were the only women on stage.
Exactly, although there were one or two women in other bands, but it was only one all-female band. And it was like that in the overall contest, not only in the first stages of it. What was a bit amusing was that parallel to Livekarusellen there was Danskarusellen [contest for dance groups] which was dominated by female dance groups and everyone sort of thought that we were part of it (laugh). Believe us when we say that you don’t want to see us dance. We would never get a nomination for that (laugh).

But do you think it’s easier for women in the punk scene today? The last years have seen the arrival of bands like Katthem, Spader Kung and Ragata and it appears to someone like me that it’s a lot better today.
It’s hard to say because we’ve always hung around female punk bands and played many mini-festivals and gig nights just for female punk bands. Sometimes it’s obvious we’re not that many like when we played Örebro Punkfest and we were the only female band at the festival. On the other hand, we’ve also played lots of mixed gig nights as well. What may be different is that many female bands work together and therefore may be a bit of outsiders in the punk scene.

Malmö feels like a center for female punks with bands like Spader Kung, SMiSK and Ragata. And don’t forget Arre! Arre!; they won the P3 Guld Awards last year. That if anything is a boost for women in the punk scene.

Maybe it’s easier for us as well because we’re a bit poppier than other punk bands, a bit of punk’s easy listening (laugh). Our label Welfare has helped us out quite much, it’s because of them we got nominated at Manifest – and we signed a deal just a year ago. I guess they’re kind of proud because this nomination is their first ever (laugh), and that’s really awesome when you see what other bands they have on their label, like Terra and Division of Laura Lee. To get a nomination among those bands is almost unbelievable.

The Long Wait

After six years together as a band, Katthem released their debut album “Vackra Lögnerskor” at the end of September last year. But it was a long process to get there. Being a band split between Stockholm and Gothenburg has been a challenge for the band, especially getting everyone together for rehearsing the songs before the album recordings started. And when it was all done, a (too) long waiting period in between studio work and the release day, emotionally even longer than usual due to the lockdown and no gigs keeping them busy as well as a closed rehearsal space, they’ve almost forgotten how to play their own songs.

But getting back on stage is a priority of 2021, although it will be a challenge for many reasons.

Your debut album ”Vackra Lögnerskor” was released in early fall last year, three years after your latest release the “Ritalina” EP. Was it a long and hard process to write the album?
Not that hard but it takes time to do stuff when not all of us live in Gothenburg; Bosse is in Stockholm. It was a fairly quick process to write the songs for the album, but when you just can rehearse at weekends it took time for the whole band to learn the songs before we could start record the album. And we may not be the most efficient band either; when you haven’t met for a while you need to catch up as well and we’re all blabbermouths (laugh).

When you can’t rehearse that often you need to take every chance you get and for us soundcheck is also counted as a rehearsal moment (laugh). Usually it’s like “Can we play these songs fairly good” and then someone needs to practice a bit more, like “I need to get a feeling for my drums again, I haven’t played for two months” (laugh). That’s how we do it.

When we rehearsed for the album recordings we tried hard to meet twice a month and that was tough enough when we live far apart and there are work and children involved in our daily lives. It’s really not easy to get time off to meet up after work at all.

But the whole release process was long as well. We had to untie a few knots with our former label before we signed with Welfare, and when the recording was done we had to work on the cover art and all the promotion that is necessary before it could be released. It was almost like we’ve forgotten how to play the songs while waiting for it to be released (laugh). You lose a bit of the momentum you had in the studio when it takes that long, especially when it has been tough to rehearse in between or playing live.

But in the end we’re super proud of what we’ve done. We can hear all that hard work we’ve put into the songs, it’s on the record. It’s a lot of sweat and tears on the album. And laughs (laugh).

What’s most fun with Katthem is that you seem to have a great sense of humor. Just like many other punk bands, you bring up serious topics in your lyrics, but it’s always done with a sort of lightness. Is humor an important tool for you when you write your lyrics?
Of course! It’s a lot easier to write about serious topics when you do it with a sense of humor. If you take yourself too seriously and can’t see the fun in it, even in the gravest topics, you would slowly die inside (laughs). You need to lighten up a bit.

Much of it comes from how we are when we hang out in the band, we’re having a lot of fun together. Someone gets a stupid idea that everyone finds ridiculous and a bit silly, but an hour later everyone is all in. It’s just us being a bit childish at times (laugh). We actually have talked about taking on a more serious approach, but it wouldn’t be us then, would it (laugh).

The album is released and live shows are canceled since long. Does it mean you’ve started to work on new music to keep up the momentum?
We have a few ideas we’re working on but we also have to reflect on what we want to do. At times we just want to do as when we wrote our first EP, write and record everything super quick; other times we want to do some proper work and work more on the songs before we release anything.

At the moment we don’t really know what the next step will be, but we have songs to work on and just need to find time to meet up to rehearse. That’s usually when we find out what the next step will be. It’s nothing we can discuss, we need to meet and rehearse.

But to be honest, it has been quite nice to get this break as well, we really needed it to restore some energy. That’s when new ideas are born because you finally have time to reflect on things.

And tomorrow it’s time for the Manifest Awards. Just being nominated means more attention which usually transpires in more gig bookings. How much are you looking forward to playing live again?
It’s so hard to think about it at the moment and how it will be to be on a stage again, it’s hard to even think more than a month ahead, but everyone wants to play live. That’s why you have a band, isn’t it? It will be hard when it starts again though because we’re not used to it. One day you’re a full-time mom [Jasmine] and the next you hang out with the band, play a gig and get wasted on one beer (laugh). To get back to band life will be a challenge.

But of course, we miss live shows, and not only the shows but also the whole procedure around it when you travel together with the band, have a few beers together and share a hung-over (laugh). That’s something everyone misses.

Last question; you’re up against your friends in Spader Kung at Manifest tomorrow. Who will win?
One of us will win! If we don’t do it, our pick is Spader Kung. We’re just so happy about the nomination – but of course you want to win something. Do we actually get some sort of physical prize?

[This is the moment the band realize they will get a Manifest statuette]

We just have to win then, I want that statuette (laugh).

Photographer: Björn Vallin
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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.