The first time we came across Bottlecap was at Reeperbahn Festival 2018 when our co-founder and photographer Ms Sis blabbered about a “super cool band with cool jackets”, but although they played the festival three times she never made it to any of their shows (for reasons unknown). But most embarrassing of all was that our editor didn’t even know they were of the same origin as him – Swedes from Gothenburg – and from that day it has been some sort of internal joke at the Messed!Up.
With the pandemic came lots of geographical relocations for our staff; while Ms EyesClosed moved back from London to Hamburg, the editor left for Gothenburg, and while being in Sweden we learned to know Bottlecap quite well. In fact, Bottlecap is our second most covered band (after Tomma Intet) for the last two years, and they left us with an awesome memory when they opened up the live scene after the pandemic by playing a street show in Gothenburg last summer, an epic show with their special trademark spelled ‘rowdy’.
But although the band has made its mark on the local garage punk scene in Gothenburg and frequently plays the local venues, there’s still the challenge of breaking through internationally. They’ve played venues in Mexico, Australia, Spain, Portugal, and heaps of other countries across the world and have been part of the showcase festival tour, but are still working hard to find their audience outside Sweden, especially in Germany. However, with their latest album Wooden Systems, released a month ago, they’re ready for touring Europe in the fall and have targeted Germany.
Messed!Up met up with Pontus, Gustav, and Johan for a chat on facing the challenge of finding an audience outside Sweden, how they progressed as a band and made an awesome new album, and having too complex songs on Wooden Systems to allow for ‘on-stage rowdiness’.
The strategy of finding an audience
In Gothenburg most people in the scene know about Bottlecap; it’s the trademark for a rowdy show. But most bands usually look a bit further and want to break abroad and play in other countries. You have been around the world quite much and played in Germany, Spain, Portugal, and Mexico to mention a few. How difficult is it to reach the final level and get established outside Sweden?
That’s the point, it’s really hard. We may have done a bit too many things, like going to too many places and not focused on one country which is much better. If you want to find an audience it’s better to focus on one place, return as often as you can, build a fanbase, and take it from there. But it’s not easy to pull it off. You know, like going to Germany as much as we want to when we don’t have a booker there. That’s a problem making it even harder. It may not have been a good career strategy to go to Mexico for example, or to Australia, but we can live off those memories for a long time. And it’s fun for us to try out new places, not just play the same cities and venues all the time.
What’s fun with the Australian gigs is that our drummer left the band just ahead of the shows and we called Pontus, “Hey, our drummer left us and we have gigs coming up in Australia. Do you want to tag along?”, “I’m on!” (laugh). He did his first gig in Uddevalla [Swedish town just a few miles north of Gothenburg] and the second was in Brisbane. That’s some kind of start, isn’t it? (laugh). But money-wise, it’s better for us to drive a few hours south and play in Germany rather than flying to Australia and Mexico for three or four gigs.
We had it all set though, in the spring of 2020, but then there was a pandemic. That was the best tour plan we’ve ever had. It’s enough for us to do a few nearby countries, get established, and return a few times to remind people about Bottlecap and establish an audience that will turn up at our shows. We’ve also done lots of showcase festivals, like Reeperbahn Festival and SPOT in Denmark, but it’s a bit of cheating because you get these shows in front of an unusually big audience made up of industry people but skip a few steps on the way when doing it, like building your fanbase. You can’t really cheat on that and make it work in the long run.
Showcase festivals may be a harder way as well when you consider how many bands usually playing at those festivals. Maybe it’s better to try to get support gigs for established bands instead?
Or we can do both. Reeperbahn Festival in 2018 was good for us, it opened lots of doors in Germany and got us good promotion for the Off Pressure album that we released the year after the festival, and the album did great in Germany. The whole idea was to use the momentum and do a tour in the spring of 2020. We even thought, “Let’s not play too much in 2019, 2020 is perfect for touring the album” (laugh). We even got airplay and it was all set for an awesome tour.
But how about trying to hook up with a headliner and play the support slot?
It’s kind of hard as well and we may not be chasing it frantically because we also want to play with bands that fit well for us, not just a band. Our biggest problem, again, is that we don’t have a booking agency to support us and can get us a good support slot. We supported Honningbarna at their shows in Sweden recently but that was because we know their Swedish bassist, and the rest of the band thought we were a good fit for their shows as well. That’s a way to do it, using our network and trying to extend it a bit every year.
‘Wooden Systems’ and too complex songs
Three years after Off Pressure, Bottlecap returned with the new album Wooden Systems in May, and it’s not a record marked by the pandemic. In fact, most of the album was written before the pandemic. With the lockdown of the live scene and fewer gigs to play, Bottlecap spent loads of time working on the details and did retakes of songs to reach perfection before they released the album.
Wooden Systems is also the second album with Pontus on drums, and playing together for quite a while by now has made a mark on the album because they have become more musically connected. Thus, Wooden Systems is by far their best work. But there’s a new problem on the horizon: too complex songs to allow for their rowdy performances.
As you say, your new album Wooden Systems was released in May and every band we’ve had album talks with the last year pointed out how the pandemic affected the recordings. How was it for you?
In fact, not at all. Most songs on the album were written before the pandemic, and although they were not all done and recorded we had, like, twenty-five songs for the album and had to pick out twelve, together with Per Stålberg [producer].
But we also did three demo shows to see what would work out and what we could do better and changed a few things, and after that, we finished up the album. It’s a good work method and we’ve done it since Off Pressure. You don’t really know if something sounds good or is complete crap until you’re on stage, like “Fuck, this chorus is amazing but the bridge sucks”, and then you do something about it before you record it.
But it’s not an album with a pandemic imprint on it or something dark and dystopian. If people find it dark, it’s because we are (laugh), but we doubt it. 2020 was actually a good year for us despite the pandemic, and much happened. Above all, we recorded the album. What really changed was the almost complete lockdown of the live scene and that we didn’t play as many shows as we’re used to. But even if it was just allowed to do seated shows with fifty people in the audience during a small gig window that summer, we did a few shows, especially a fun one at Fyrens Ölkafé. we thought a lot about how to make it a great experience for people sitting down during the show and had an animated audience on the wall behind us and crowd cheering sound effects, and that turned out to be awesome. People didn’t want to sit down on their chairs (laugh).
New albums should also be some sort of progression from the last, maybe in a new direction. What’s different about Wooden Systems?
Off Pressure, the previous record contains ten songs and we probably didn’t write more than twelve. We just left out two songs. For Wooden Systems we had double as many songs to pick from.
But the biggest difference is that we work a lot better together musically, we just know each other better. It takes quite a while to get to the point where you know exactly how to do things together, it doesn’t happen overnight.
Off Pressure also represents what band we were at the time, how we sounded because of the ideas we had when we recorded it, and, especially, how we worked together as a band back then. That’s a great memory to have whatever album you release – it represents the band at a certain point in time. Today, three years later, we sound different because we’re a better band and have fine-tuned how we work together because we have developed as musicians. Wooden Systems sounds better and it sounds like we have more fun, not that we were bored on Off Pressure, but the better you get, the more fun you have.
But how important is it to have someone like Per pushing you in a certain direction and helping you pick what songs will work out and not on the album?
He’s just awesome at what he does. When we picked songs for the album he made different choices than us and thought that some songs had great potential, songs that we would have left out, and of course, he was right about it.
He’s also one of the few who can stop us from whining. You know like Pontus saying “The drums suck on this song” and Per would go “Shut up! It sounds great, just deal with it”, and he’s right about it. You always end up in self-doubt sometime during the recording session but he’s just great at snapping you out of it.
Many bands today also want to release music as often as possible to get out to play shows. If you have a new EP ready, you can tour it, and then you don’t record albums anymore. Did you ever reflect on that with Bottlecap?
The thought has come up at times but since we haven’t been able to play live much at all the last years and had all the time in the world to work on the album, we’ve never talked about it. It has been great to spend more time working on the details on all songs, just to run them through the amps a few more times to hear if there’s anything left to improve. Of course, we wanted to do it like that earlier as well but we didn’t have time for it. We just wanted it recorded, mixed, and mastered as quickly as possible, and then book gigs. But with Wooden Systems it was the opposite and we spent loads of time on the details.
The biggest problem we have with the new songs is that it’s a lot harder to play them live, they’re more complex and don’t leave any breaks for us to climb the rig on stage (laugh). Way before Pontus joined us we wrote songs that worked out for our live shows, songs that were so simple that it didn’t matter if I [Johan] stopped playing the guitar to climb up on one of the amps and started playing again. People wouldn’t notice. But that was all about the performance and creating a reputation of us being a rowdy live act. I think we should have at least one song like that on every album. On the other hand, you don’t want to say “We may not write good songs but we’re cool on stage”. The music must come first.
Our songs tend to change when we start playing them live anyway, but it’s a natural change and not something we plan. It’s never related to any idea about adapting the music to the live show, it’s just an organic progression that happens when you’ve played the same songs over and over again. If we would have a second guitarist it would be a lot easier to work on the live performance, but we don’t really want to add a fourth band member.
Since a few years back we have a Bottlecap formula that works well for us, especially after Pontus joined the band. If you listen to our first recordings you will find many songs unlistenable. We even had them removed from Spotify (laugh). Let’s say that some bands make great music from the start, but we were not one of them. You know, we tried to learn to play our instruments while we started the band and it took some time before we were good enough, but somewhere around 2015 we reached that point and found the formula for how to write music for Bottlecap. And it still develops; Wooden Systems is by far the best stuff we have released.
And you recently also had a release party. Was that the start of festival gigs this summer and gigs in the fall?
Yeah, or rather no. We just wanted to have the record out because it was recorded a long time ago now, and we plan to book as many gigs as we can. But our plan is to do gigs in the fall and early winter, that’s when it’s the most fun to tour. We were a bit too late with the album release to book festival gigs.
Many of the shows we had booked in the spring of 2020 were postponed but we’re not the biggest band out there and nothing really came out of it, they were just canceled by the booker. But count on Bottlecap for an autumn tour, that’s our major goal.