There’s a vast pool of talent located outside the reaches of the mainstream label ecosystem, four-piece Alphabats is one of them. After the release of their debut EP Swoon Dive, Alphabats returned this year with double singles, ”Shut Down” and ”Backwoods”, two tracks that are a collectively smooth and consistent take on the vibey, danceable side of indie pop music.
Where others have settled into the shadows of the established scenes and artists, Alphabats carve their own path, daringly opting for subtlety over climactic energy in a gamble that hit the jackpot. And they have the strong tradition of the Gothenburg indie pop sound to build on.
We met up with Jonathan and Victor a hot summer day in Gothenburg, and while Victor banters about not wearing shorts at summer because his legs look too good for people to handle, we thrust ourselves into a chat about an indie pop scene on the rise again, writing upbeat indie pop songs that stand out, and how they sneaked into the Welfare Sounds’ studio to record songs which ended up in signing with the label.
“Not much good indie pop vibes out there”
Let’s talk Alphabats and how it all started. I know that you, Victor, have a background in Långfinger, but that’s kind of far off what Alphabats do.
Victor: We’re all from Mölnlycke [a few miles from Gothenburg]. Jonathan and Kim were classmates in school and Malin was in the same year as me but in another class, and we started to play together when another band Jonathan and I were in split up. We just wanted to continue writing indie pop songs because it hasn’t been that much good indie pop vibes out there for a while, and someone has to fill the gap (laugh).
Jonathan and I have been writing this kind of indie pop quite a while by now but in other bands. It’s not new to us at all.
Jonathan: Victor already had quite many songs ready when we started, like a full record, and on the back of those we met up for rehearsals and started writing new music together, and it ended up as Alphabats songs.
Victor: While we were about to start I also moved my studio into the house where Welfare Sounds have their studio and label, and suddenly we had access to a studio full of stuff and just thought “Hey, let’s start to experiment and see what comes out of it”.
Those first six months in the Welfare house we probably wrote something like twenty songs and released some of them on our debut EP Swoon Dive last year.
I guess you were one of those unlucky bands that released new music just before the pandemic arrived, and that you had to cancel all plans you had for the spring.
Jonathan: Yeah, we had to cancel gigs at Fyrens Ölkafé in Gothenburg and one in Malmö. But we didn’t have that much planned.
Victor: It also gave us the chance to start working on new music and we have released two singles during the spring of this year. But it’s really hard to reach out to an audience when you can’t play live, especially for a new band. It’s super important to come out and play when you’re new in the scene. But we just changed our plans and worked on writing new music instead.
It’s also a good opportunity to talk about the indie pop scene in Gothenburg. The city was a great breeding ground for the indie scene in the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s and Gothenburg has a reputation in the scene, but many indie venues have disappeared, like Jazzhuset. Is it still a vibrant indie scene in Gothenburg?
Jonathan: I think it’s on the way back again because the scene has a history in Gothenburg, we have the Gothenburg indie sound to build on. But it looks different today because there’s no natural venue or place for the scene anymore. I also think that the whole indie scene has changed from being dominated by anxious and rather sad bands to have a more soft approach. The aesthetics of the scene is different.
Victor: I leave that kind of analysis to Jonathan because I don’t know much about the scene. For me, Gothenburg is about rock and metal and venues like Sticky Fingers and Henriksberg.
When I started playing in bands everyone hung out at Henriksberg. Jonk [gig organizer] was running Club Slacker on the upper floor. But all that has disappeared as well. Sticky went bankrupt and has turned into a restaurant; Henriksberg did the same and became something fancy where you hang out if you want to watch the view while having a glass of wine. It’s not much rock and roll left either (laugh).
Jonathan: But I have faith that this new venue, Sjömanskyrkan, which opens soon will be a great addition to the venues in Gothenburg. Stigberget will be the new hotspot for gigs in the future with Sjömanskyrkan, Oceanen and Fyrens Ölkafé.
It’s also great if we would get a mid-sized venue again in Gothenburg, those that have disappeared were the in-between venues for 200 to 300 people. The problem today is that there’s nothing in between venues like Oceanen and Pustervik – it’s a huge gap. I really hope that Sjömanskyrkan is that kind of mid-sized venue we need in Gothenburg.
Victor: It feels weird to talk about gigs at the moment anyway when we haven’t had the opportunity to play for a while. We did one gig during the pandemic, at Röda Sten where a friend of mine runs a place, but that’s it.
Sneaking into Welfare and getting signed
The first time we heard Alphabats we knew we found something good. The melodic style of writing offers something of a glimpse of sonic hope. Last year, the band released their debut EP Swoon Dive but after listening to what they’d done so far, the band felt that they needed more upbeat music.
A day when the Welfare Sounds studio was empty, Victor and Jonathan sneaked in, recorded a few songs but left them on Welfare’s drive. When the label manager found out about it he simply said “We’ll release your music”, and during the spring of this year Welfare released the ”Shut Down” and ”Backwoods” singles.
As we speak, the band has two new EP’s ready for releases – one in the fall and one in the spring of 2022 – and they also reveal that they have a debut album in the works.
If you listen to the singles you’ve released this year it’s very vibey indie pop and a bit different from your first release.
Victor: You’re right, and we wanted it to be different. When we listened to what we had done before this year, we felt that we didn’t have any upbeat songs and the singles are a response to that, they were made with a purpose. ”Backwoods” and ”Shut Down” sound like they do because we thought “Hey, why being so gloomy, let’s do something that makes people happy”.
It’s also great to do something different in the scene, music that has something unique; the vocals are very different for instance. I’m used to shouting in the mic [in other bands] with a very light voice, but with age comes more wisdom and I learned that it works much better for me to be a baritone (laugh). That’s not usual for the indie pop genre.
As a band we’re at our best when we write upbeat music because it works better live, and naturally you want to write more of that kind of music. We also get lots of inspiration from bands that have that type of vibey feeling, but also minimalistic.
Music in general today is quite minimalistic. And that’s in all genres. It’s not much E-Type out there at the moment (laugh). This whole minimal concept has been snatched from the American rap and trap scene. You know, they just have a simple beat and piano. That’s all, and it’s super popular.
Jonathan: And that’s what’s weird. It’s subtle and minimal music on record but mosh pits live. I don’t get it! I love the energy you can pull out of that type of music.
And you signed up with Welfare Sounds. Did it happen because you share workspace?
Victor: Yeah, it happened quite naturally because I’m at the same place, but we haven’t worked together before.
But it started in a fun way. We were in my studio to record stuff on a Sunday two years ago and the door downstairs to Welfare’s studio was unlocked and no one was there. They’re always super organized and have everything set up to start working directly at the start of the week and we just thought “Hey, why not record something when it’s all rigged”, and we started recording but left it on their computer. When Per [studio/label manager] found it later he said ”Hey, this sounds awesome” (laugh).
Per is always kind of enthusiastic about things and a very kind person, and I wasn’t sure he really meant what he said, maybe he just wanted to be nice, but he started mixing it, and just like that it sounded even better. That’s the singles we released this year.
From that day Welfare always say “We’ll release it”, and because they’re very picky with what music they release they probably like what we do (laugh). And we love to work with a label like Welfare considering how they care for their bands and what they have become as a label. You can’t find a better label in Sweden.
Does it also mean that there’s a new EP or even a debut album in the works as well?
Jonathan: We have much new music ready and in the fall we’ll release a new EP and we also have songs recorded for another EP that will be released at the beginning of next year.
I have never worked with music like this before, to be done with records far ahead of the release day. Usually, it’s like “Time to release a record, let’s write some songs” and you work on the record when you have decided on it. Today, it’s a lot different and we even have time to sort out what will be on the record and not.
Victor: I really look forward to the EP in the fall because the sound is just like how I want Alphabats to sound. The singles we’ve released this year are songs that just happened to be recorded because we sneaked into the Welfare studio that day, but these are different. And we also have a debut album in the works, maybe for a release next year.
Jonathan: But most of all we want to come out and play live, that’s why you’re in the studio writing and recording music. It has been frustrating to release these singles because we don’t get anything back when we haven’t been allowed to play live. It’s like “Ok, they’re on Spotify, now what?”. You can’t push your music anymore.
What’s the plan for the rest of the year then?
Victor: Play live, we just have to play live. The live scene has opened up again and is allowed to have audiences big enough for us. We usually never plan for gigs, they just happen, but we have talked about organizing something in August.
Something happened in October last year when the band started to work out really well together and it feels like we’re ready for lots of live shows now.