The Mobile Homes on a life-long band marriage and releasing music in the 2020s: Interview

It was at the end of the 80s and Depeche Mode were at the top of the world after their massive breakthrough at American soil, ending up in the first-ever sold-out synthpop arena show at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in 1988. By this point, the synthpop scene had outlasted every threat and attempt to hold off the scene from entering the commercial arena, and the Pasadena Rose Bowl night showed that the scene had a massive fanbase across the world.

A few years prior to the peak years of the synthpop scene, brothers Patrik and Andreas Brun, Hans Erkendahl, and Per Liliefeldt started The Mobile Homes in Sätra, a suburb of Stockholm. Being caught up in the ‘new bands to watch out’ buzz already as a demo band, they were picked up by reputed label Papa Doc Records and released their debut single “Don’t Give It Up” in 1986. Four years later, at the peak of the synthpop scene, the band released their debut album Hurt, getting them widespread attention on national TV and radio. After their sophomore album Nothing But Something the following year, the band was established at the top of the Swedish synthpop scene.

Fast forward almost forty years into their career and with a slightly different setup as former Kent guitarist Sami Sirviö has become a permanent band member, The Mobile Homes surprisingly released their seventh album Trigger earlier this year, almost twelve years after Today Is Your Lucky Day. But it’s a completely new music scene out there today. While the band has been staying under the radar for almost a decade, music consumption and marketing spaces have become even more digital with the rise of social media and streaming music services, and it has affected how they work with music today.

We caught up with Hans, Patrik, and Sami in Gothenburg and chat about being married to a band for almost forty years, finding the creativity to write an album in 2021, and how different music promotion is in the 2020s compared to the 1990s.

A forty-year long music marriage

During the last year we’ve met many bands having some sort of bigger anniversary coming up. You’re not far away from forty years as a band, it’s just a few years off. How is it to have spent two-thirds of your lives in the band?
The band is older than most things in our lives, it has been with us longer than our families (laugh). But we better not think too much about it, maybe we’ll realize we better do something else (laugh). But it happens at times that we understand how long time has passed by, you don’t really get the scope and scale of it until you’re faced with it. On the way here today we scrolled through Spotify and realized that our first single was released in ’86. That’s 1986, thirty-five years ago!

While years have passed by, it feels like most things we’ve done happened yesterday. When we started it was a completely different music scene and many of the clubs we used to play don’t exist anymore. We think they’re still up and running because we played at those venues fifteen to twenty years ago, but they’re not. That’s when you realize that we’ve been around for eons! (laugh)

You started the band during synthpop’s peak years and got quite much attention on home turf already from the start. I guess it helped out that Depeche Mode, the major band in the scene, had a huge breakthrough in America and popularized the scene at the same time as you started. But the synthpop scene was still a niche scene and didn’t get much attention from the media and labels. Did you have to face that kind of struggle when you tried to reach out in Sweden?
Maybe a bit, but very few bands made it through the eye of the needle and got picked up by a major label, especially in the 80s. You had to get a record deal to reach out and get a bigger audience, there was no other way to reach out to people.

Like you say, we had our peak when Depeche Mode crowned their career with major arena shows in America but it may even have been a drawback for us because there wasn’t enough space for two synthpop bands on Swedish radio. It happen that we were told, “Sorry guys, there’s already another band like you and we can’t have another one on the show”. That’s how it was in Sweden in the 80s and the beginning of the 90s.

But in Sweden, you were signed to bigger labels with bigger Swedish artists at the time. Both Papa Doc Records and Sonet Records had bigger Swedish bands on their rosters. That must have meant that someone expected that The Mobile Homes would become the next big band in the scene?
Exactly, but again, it’s hard to pull it off. Getting a breakthrough even with support from a big label is something else.

I [Hans] also remember that other synthpop bands thought we were sell-outs and that it was a bad choice on our side to work with that type of labels. For us, it all happened quite quickly to get picked up by Papa Doc, and other bands in the scene thought we got it all served on a silver platter and hadn’t worked enough for it. But it has always been like that for us – The Mobile Homes against the world (laugh).

Much synthpop music was labeled synthpop just because it was made on synthesizers, but have you always considered The Mobile Homes to be a synthpop band, or is it pop music?
That’s something we’ve talked about a few times. We’ve pointed it out several times in interviews that we write synthpop songs but if you would ask Andreas [Brun, music producer in the band] he would say that he’s a songwriter. He writes the songs on guitar and piano, not synthesizers, and I’m quite sure he wouldn’t label us a synthpop band at all, even more so today when music genres have morphed together.

When we started we couldn’t play guitar, but we listened a lot to bands like The Smiths and The Cure and picked up lots of influences, and if Andreas would have been the guitar hero back then that he is today, I’m sure some of our early songs would have sounded quite different. But he couldn’t play and it ended up as synthpop songs instead (laugh). Today, we add guitars whenever it fits with the songs. But it’s also easier to do it. In the 80s guitars weren’t allowed in synthpop music, if you remember (laugh).

The conflict between rock and synth music in the 80s looks stupid today. How did fans react when you released the ­Mobile Homes album in 1998, which is very much a guitar-based record?
But let’s start a bit earlier, the first time we used guitar was on the Nothing But Something record. It’s somewhere in the background on one song but I’m sure people won’t hear it (laugh). Let’s say we slowly taught our fans that we used more guitars on our records (laugh) – and then we released the Karl Bartos record. But when that happened the whole scene had changed and fans had become used to bands using all kinds of instruments in synthpop music.

The sound of the Mobile Homes album was all a decision by Bartos, we just did what he suggested. It’s not that we never wanted to have a guitar sound but we couldn’t play and never really tried out any riffs or chords. It’s still a bit like that today but what’s different is that Andreas loves to experiment with the guitar sound and add some really weird stuff to our songs.

“We probably have songs for another album”

Although The Mobile Homes have released a few singles during their hiatus since 2009, it wasn’t until 2020 that fans started to understand that there was more to come after the band released three singles within three months. And twelve years after their latest album Today Is Your Lucky Day they were ready to finally release their seventh album Trigger at the end of March this year.

Like for many bands, the pandemic months made space for spending more time in the studio, and the band’s songwriter Andreas Brun ended up in the creative zone and started pouring out new songs to the rest of the band, and just like that they had enough songs to release a full album. And here’s a newsflash, they have enough music to release another album.

It was quite a surprise when the first signs of a comeback turned up last year after being on a very long hiatus. What made you decide to release a new album in 2021, twelve years after Today Is Your Lucky Day?
The pandemic and boredom (laugh)! We finally had time off to work on music again, especially Sami who’s doing most of the production work in the studio and usually is stuck in bigger productions with other bands. But we never had the intention to release a new album, we released singles from time to time and thought it would be like that, but suddenly we just happened to have lots of new songs and started to think “Hey guys, we have songs for a full album, why not do something about it”.

Andreas ended up being super creative during the pandemic and just continued to send us new songs; “You can have these, do whatever you want with them, rewrite them, change the lyrics”, that’s how it started (laugh). And you know what? We probably have songs for another album as well (laugh).

How different was it to write and release an album in 2021 compared to 1990 when you released your debut album Hurt? I’m quite sure you don’t have the juvenile energy left from your teens, but usually you replace it with something else. Otherwise, you wouldn’t continue to release music.
Most definitely, releasing music isn’t about getting a breakthrough anymore or that every song you write is the most important song in your life (laugh). Breakthrough is just such a stupid fucking word by the way. When we were young we were stuck in thinking ”Next song has to be a hit song. If it doesn’t happen this year, it will happen the next”, and like for most bands it never happened. It’s a craft to write really good songs but it’s not enough. You need the support to reach out and lots of luck.

It’s much better for us to not have that type of pressure and just write music we like, not for a label or anyone else. We just hope that someone will like it when it’s released, but what’s more important is that we like what’s on record. In fact, it’s better for us if one million people would say it’s a crappy record because it means that one million people have listened to it (laugh).

It was lots of fun this whole time we worked with the album. Andreas was super creative and just kept sending us new songs. I [Hans] loved to get emails from him because it felt like getting a present every time.

What I like most about the record is that we don’t have a favorite song. That usually means it’s a great record, containing no skippable songs at all. You know the feeling you get when listening to an album and think “This is the best song” and then the next turn up and it’s like “No, this one is the best” (laugh). That’s how it was for us. With Trigger, we couldn’t say “Let’s promote these two songs and push the album” because we didn’t have any favorites – they’re all good. Most music we write today starts from something we like, why do it otherwise.

We’ve always been a bit difficult to work with because we don’t want to compromise about our music, save for the Bartos record apparently where we did exactly what he told us to (laugh). That’s why we’ve changed labels quite often. Someone at the label says “You should do this and that” and “It should sound like this to be a hit song”, but we don’t want to do what someone tells us and change label instead (laugh). I’m quite sure we tried to write hit songs to get wider attention when we were young. We didn’t do it on purpose but you really want to have that breakthrough so much when you’re young that you forget what music you want to write at times. Today, that type of thought is gone because we don’t need a breakthrough. Who would like to see three men in their mid-fifties on TV anyway (laugh).

If you would get a hit song today, who would play it? P3 [major Swedish national radio channel] won’t do it because they’re stuck in American auto-tuned crap. Most of the radio shows for alternative music are gone. There are no commercial spaces that would play our kind of music anymore, and then we can do whatever we want to. We have our loyal fans who will turn up at shows anyway. 

The pandemic helped quite many bands to get time to record new music. I guess it’s a lot easier when you don’t have any pressure to record ten songs over a week in the studio; it must have been less pressure to do it over a full year.
For sure. Either we hung out at Sami’s home or in the studio. That was quite different from how it usually is to record an album. Didn’t you [Hans turns to Sami] do the final mix on the sofa? (laugh)

We also had lots of time to send ideas back and forth for feedback before we recorded anything. Since we didn’t have any pressure at all every song was quite a long process. And then one day, we had a full album.

It’s also a lot more interesting to release a full album because you need to push yourself in a completely different way. When you release EP’s and singles you know they won’t get any attention after two weeks, but an album has the potential to have a long life in the charts and can stay in the spotlight for a while. But you have to plan it. As an example; the songs need to be in a certain order and you can’t have the same track order on CD’s and LP’s because you have to flip sides on an LP, and it may not work out with the overall theme of the album if you have the same track order because the b-side is a new start. On CD it’s just a long list, LP’s have two sides with their own stories. Those things are important.

But if it’s all in the details, do you always agree on those things?
Yeah, we almost always think the same, that hasn’t really been a problem.

The artwork is one of those fun things on ideas that just turned up. Sami had a photo that he was supposed to have used for something else, it wasn’t intended for the album, but he never used it and we happened to find it in the dust after a while and used it for the artwork.

The original artwork had text and an album title but when we thought about it we decided to remove all text because it would look more interesting and exciting. People can find the album title on Spotify anyway, but an album artwork with no text will make people interested and they will have a closer look at it in the record store to find out more about the band. Maybe they even buy the record (laugh).

 

No made-up social media persona

In today’s digital world, band promotion has changed radically from previous generations. Purchasing hundreds of CDs or duplicating cassettes, printing up press kits and photos, and sending them out to clubs and media outlets has become a thing of the past.

Like most artists today are aware, maintaining a strong social media presence is key to promoting your music and building your brand, but for The Mobile Homes social media isn’t how they want to promote the band or where they interact with fans. Instead, they make use of their network of friends to reach out to people.

To me, it sounds like you’ve learned from years of music promotion and marketing strategies. It actually struck me that you made quite an effort to promote the new album, and you had Fredrik Strage [well-known Swedish music journalist] acting out in the “Via Dolorosa” video. How much promotion is today’s The Mobile Homes about?  
(laugh) That man [Patrik points at Hans] is Mr. Promotion himself and always pushes us in the right direction. But we talk a lot about how to reach out to people and what feels good for us to do before we start promoting anything, it’s a lot to deal with and you need to be prepared when you release an album.

Working with Strage was awesome and the video symbolizes Jesus walking with the cross on his back [note: Via Dolorosa represents the path that Jesus would have taken on the way to his crucifixion] but instead of a cross, Strage had to carry this old and heavy synthesizer. Our original idea was to put together two synthesizers and make them look like a cross but it was too much work and heavy enough to just have one synthesizer on his back (laugh). But it also represents the stigma of being a synthpop fan and writing music that barely gets any attention at all, at least not anymore. For that reason Strage is perfect. He’s one of very few who tries hard to push the scene in commercial TV today [note: Strage has a weekly music feature at national TV in Sweden where he recommends music].

He didn’t push the ”Via Dolorosa” video on TV though, it would have been weird when he plays the key role in it, but he pushed our single ”The Song We Didn’t Have Then” and had us for a chat on his podcast. But we also worked with Johan Renck [aka Stakka Bo] on ”The Sorrow Stays For Good”, and were at his home in Torekov to record it.

For being a band in a niche scene you work with quite big names. You give an impression of being a band in the charts.
There are some great names for promoting our music on there (laugh), but it’s our friends and not really something we thought about in terms of promotion. But you also need that type of support to reach out and get attention from the media. The music scene is flooded with bands and you need to be creative and use your network to stand out in the crowd. Luckily, Hans just happens to be amazing on promotion while Andreas is like “You don’t need to put yourself on the slab, it’s enough with the music”. He really loves to take on the underdog role and wants the music to speak for itself. It’s like “If you don’t like our music, fuck off” (laugh). Well, it doesn’t work out like that anymore.

We changed label again just to be able to release music on vinyl and of course they have their ideas on promotion strategies, and it took almost half a year to release the album after it was mastered. Those six months of waiting were enough for Andreas to turn crazy, “What the fuck, just release it!” (laugh). But that’s what’s different today, you can’t work with an album for a whole year and not have a plan when you release it because it would get attention for a week only and then disappear in the flood of new albums. That’s how tough it is and you need to plan the promos in steps to push it several times before and after it’s released.

And that’s the biggest change in the digital music age, to find a promotion strategy to reach out to people?
Most definitely. In the 80s and the 90s, you had to struggle to get a deal with a label. If you were signed you had everything taken care of – recording, releasing, promoting, and everything else that you have to do on your own today. I’m sure there were as many bands in the scene back then as today, but if you didn’t get a record deal you couldn’t reach out at all. There wasn’t any other channel to reach out to an audience.

But I also guess you have to find a promotion strategy you feel comfortable with. Young bands today grow up with social media and know that they have to expose themselves in videos and photos on Facebook, TikTok, and Instagram, but my experience is that older bands, like you, usually don’t like that type of promotion. And in your scene, I’m quite sure that most people don’t use those channels at all.
You’re right about that. We would probably have a seated audience soon anyway, even after the pandemic is over (laugh). There’s no rejuvenation of the scene in sight anywhere.

You can’t fake your age, it’s not natural and people will see through you. It’s all fine for us to feel “Ok, we’re at this age and people of our age love what we do”. There’s really no reason for us to try to catch an audience – a new generation of fans – who doesn’t like our music, they wouldn’t understand what it is about anyway. But at the same time, it’s great to see young people turn up from time to time who know about us or the scene and want to catch up with us today. It’s not that common anymore but it still happens that young people come out for our shows.

If you look at how promotion works out today it’s a completely new infrastructure behind it and the responsibility to deal with it has shifted from the labels to the bands. Today’s bands spend 90% on social media promotion and 10% on writing music. Don’t you want to put most of your time on writing music? I’m [Sami] just happy that I’m not young and start a band today because you need to open up your whole life online; the more you put out there, the better. I wouldn’t want to have my whole life revolving around a fake identity in social media, because that’s what it is. I feel sorry for young bands and musicians having to go through this social media rite of passage.

You need to come up with a fake personality, an artist brand that you can push in social media. And that’s the problem for young bands, to have to live with different identities or personalities. That’s schizophrenic if you ask me, and there’s no wonder young people in the scene get burned out. It’s like running a company but you don’t sell a product, you sell a fake image of yourself.

But to return to releasing a record and reaching out; it’s even much harder to find new releases today than back in the 90s. You would think that with all the information channels we have today, it would be super easy, but it’s not. If someone asks you “Have you listened to the new Johnny Marr record?” I’ll say “What!? When did he release a new record?”, and you find out it was two weeks ago. You would never have missed a new release thirty years ago, you knew it far in advance, but today you can’t sort through all the information you get.

Like you said about new songs; if you have songs for another album it must mean that we don’t need to wait another twelve years for the next album?
No, that’s a promise. It won’t take another twelve years to do it.

We’ve said it before, that The Mobile Homes will never stop doing music and we rather continue until we die on stage. It’s just pointless to stop the show now and play a final gig in Tranås, wouldn’t it be sad (laugh).

And if we try to catch a glimpse of the future: do you plan for the 40th celebration in 2024?
It’s still some time left but we can’t let it pass unnoticed. We’ll do this even if someone needs to help us on stage in wheelchairs or with our walking chairs – and then we’ll do it for another ten years (laugh).

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Photographer: 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.
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