One of Sweden’s hidden gems in the indie pop/rock scene, Friska Viljor, have a special relationship with Hamburg. When nothing happened in Sweden after the release of their debut album Bravo! in 2007, the band set off for a summer road trip to Germany with the ambition to play street corners in Hamburg and Berlin but were too shy to play in public. However, as fate wanted it, Daniel and Joakim ended up at Back Records at Wohlwillstrasse, and after listening to the album the store owner bought ten copies of the album and set them up for four mini shows in cafes and apartments across Hamburg the same week. Soon after, the band was signed to a German label and things started moving quickly.
Today, 15 years later, Friska Viljor draw accolades wherever they play in Germany, especially in Hamburg. When they passed through town for a gig at the Draussen Im Grünen concert series in Planten un Blomen, we sat down with Daniel and Joakim for a chat about growing big in Germany and not in Sweden, embracing a YOLO mindset on the latest album Don’t Save The Last Dance, and being completely different personalities.
It all started at Wohlwillstrasse
When I was walking through the crowd of people already here at the venue, it became obvious to me that you have quite a fanbase here in Germany, but on home turf in Sweden it’s different and you sort of stopped trying. I remember you had momentum in Sweden around 2010 when you performed at the Grammy Awards, played on national TV, and had a few singles on radio. What happened? Why didn’t it take off after all that media attention?
Joakim: “Yeah, it was the first Grammy Awards ever that wasn’t broadcasted on national television (laugh). That wasn’t good for us, or anyone, to start with.”
Daniel: “The most chaotic Grammy Awards ever. It was live-streamed by Aftonbladet (a major Swedish newspaper), on their website, and people didn’t want to watch it on a website. Ebbot (frontman of The Soundtrack of Our Lives) said it was like standing on the Titanic when it started to sink (laugh). No promotional value for anyone really.”
Joakim: “It was very much like that for us in the beginning. Our first record did really well in Sweden and the single ‘Gold’ got quite much airtime, and we had at least one song from every album that did really well for us, and then we had our major radio hit at the time, ‘If I Die Now’ from the For New Beginnings album. ‘If I Die Now’ was played everywhere for a while, and we had some sort of momentum with that song. But it slowly faded out in Sweden, probably because we never toured much at home at all, at least not as intense as we did in Germany.”
I know a bit about your backstory; you went to Hamburg to play in street corners, which you didn’t do in the end – but you ended up at Back Records at Wohlwillstrasse. And the story goes that the owner liked the album and arranged for a few gigs while you stayed in Hamburg, right? Did it really take off that quickly?
Joakim: “Yeah, but I wouldn’t call it an immediate breakthrough but things started to move quite quickly after we tried our luck at Back Records. He listened to it while we were at the store and set up a show the same day, at the record store, and then we stayed in Hamburg for a week and played three more mini-shows.”
“A year later we went on tour in Germany as the support for Eagle Seagull, in May 2007 if I remember it right, and closed the tour at Immergut Festival. That’s when it felt like it had started to take off for us. We were super late, hungover as fuck, and slid sideways into the backstage area with the car, and the organizer just said ‘You have to start now’ (laugh). I had never seen as many people at any of our shows until Immergut – it was massive! That’s when we realized it had changed for us. You know, word of mouth and all that.”
“That’s the accurate version, that it took at least a year after the Back Records meeting. But it was also a lot about luck. Back Records bought ten albums from us and one day someone from a record label was at the store and asked if he (the owner) had any new bands to recommend and he said ‘Yeah, I have one band for you’, and that label man signed us later.”
Daniel: “But we also more or less decided to give up on Sweden quite early. When we had momentum we put a lot of energy into getting established in the Swedish scene, but if you don’t tour Sweden more than once every third year people tend to forget about you (laugh).”
“Well, we did quite many gigs in Sweden but never really toured, just a lot of one-offs. You know, Sweden is a small country with a tiny population and you can’t really play that many cities, and we played at least in ten different cities which is quite remarkable considering the sizes of Swedish cities. When we did it like that things started to move forward a bit, but it wasn’t enough anyway. You can’t tour the same way as we do in Germany.”
Joakim: “Sweden is limited in a gig sense. Down here (Germany), we can play seven days a week and people will turn up for gigs seven days a week. That would never happen back home.”
I guess Germany benefits from having a big population and short geographical distances between bigger cities.
Joakim: “Most definitely! Every medium-sized city has a venue and many cities have quite big venues.”
Daniel: “If we would play a German version of Jönköping (medium-sized Swedish city but internationally very small) on a Tuesday we’d easily get 600 people coming out for us. In Jönköping it would have been zero people on a Tuesday night.”
I also get the feeling that you two make up for an amazing team, but you also have completely different skills and personalities. I get the impression that you’re almost like an old married couple.(laughs)
Joakim: “I can’t really deny that. Danne’s parents also said we’re like a married couple, and in a way we are but – like you say – with completely different personalities. One very motivated that pushes us forward and one who doesn’t (laugh).”
Daniel: “When you’ve worked as close as we have for so many years and released eight albums and played more than 500 shows, I guess that’s what happens after a while. Even if we don’t tour without a band anymore the responsibility is on us. We need to make things work out, we need to make sure that people feel good. And to make that work out, it’s good to have different personalities to cover as much of the responsibilities as possible. Call it a bromance (laugh).”
But Daniel, you seem to sneak in work at the same time as you suggest going on a tour. It’s almost like ‘Come on, don’t you think you would cheer up if we did a tour?’, and seconds later you would add ‘By the way, how about start working on a new record?’. Is that something you plan?
Daniel: “Well, it’s true in some sense (laugh).”
Joakim: “No, it is how he does it – all the time (laugh).”
Daniel: “Ever since we did our first record we’ve had a goal to keep cool and calm, and record the next album without being stressed, and then – when it’s all mastered and done – start planning for a tour, but we’re too lazy (laugh). It always ends up in us being like ‘Ok, it’s been one and a half years since we did any new music, and nothing happens. Fuck it, let’s book a tour’. And then we get super stressed and have to write new music. It’s always like ‘The tour starts in February and we need to get the first single out a few months ahead of it to sell tickets – come on!’ (laugh). That’s how it works out for us – every time.”
Joakim: ”We need something that pushes us, and pushes us really hard. Something or someone that pokes you hard in the back.”
Daniel: ”We’ve been in tears in the studio so many times because of the pressure. Writing those last songs on the album is hell. But we always make it”
“Life offers too many distractions and lots of things which are just more fun to do than hanging out in the studio. I don’t see the fun in being in the middle of the recording process and trying to get the album together, it’s just a horrific experience. The fun starts when we master the record, everything before that is just dreadful. Well, it’s fun in the beginning when we work on the demos, but those 4-5 months until the record gets mastered are so boring. I wonder if any other band feels like that.”
Joakim: “Often you’ve worked on demos a while before you start recording the album, and the purpose of the recording process is to make them better, but I just feel that it doesn’t always happen. At times it feels like this whole process is pointless. But of course, it’s not, it’s just how we respond to pressure (laugh).”
Leaving break-ups behind
Friska Viljor’s music is often associated with happy, uplifting tunes. But if you listen to their lyrics, it turns out there are plenty of dark songs that tell a different story. If you’re feeling down and want to listen to lyrics about heartbreak or loss, they’ve got you covered. However, after their break-up album Broken in 2019 and a long pandemic period later, Daniel and Joakim have started to embrace a YOLO mindset, and as the title of their latest effort, Don’t Save The Last Dance, suggests there’s no time to wait for things to happen.
Much of your music is upbeat and energetic, but the lyrics are dark. Is it like you want people to ‘dance off’ the problems they face in everyday life?
Joakim: “You can definitely see it as such although we didn’t write songs to be like that. Much of our music is about problems that people can relate to, and they actually do. Lots of fans contact us to say ‘I can relate so much to what you sing about in that song’, and at the same time, that song helps them to deal with their problem. It’s almost like our shows are therapeutic sessions for us and the audience – we deal with problems together. But it was never our intention when we wrote the music, it just happened to be like that.”
Daniel: “Some of our first records have some really depressive lyrics and if the music would have been like that as well, people would have to go straight to therapy sessions after our shows (laugh).”
But you do some of concept albums in between, don’t you? Isn’t Broken a concept album?
Daniel: “We decided that Broken was going to be a divorce album, but other than that it’s nothing we’ve planned.”
Joakim: “But our first album (Bravo!) was a sort of concept album, wasn’t it?”
Daniel: “Yeah, you’re right. It was quite special because we didn’t allow us to do retakes when we recorded it. If we played something wrong, it ended up on the record. But we didn’t have a theme in our lyrics, it was all about the recording process.”
“But I guess all our records have some sort of themes because they’re biographical, it’s about things from our lives”
But you seem to have left break-ups and divorces behind you on your latest album Don’t Save The Last Dance. As the title suggests, you get the feeling that the record is about living in the moment.
Daniel: “Yeah, but it’s a response to us being in lockdown for such a long time during the pandemic. We understand today that life in Sweden was far better than anywhere else during the pandemic (Sweden was quite open during the pandemic), Germany, for instance, seems to have been a rough place to be. But I felt locked up and very limited in my life and was in a crappy mood after a few months. To me, that was the worst I have ever experienced. I’m not used to working from home or not being allowed to see friends – it was just horrific.”
Joakim: “Not me, I had an amazing time (laugh). I walked down to my pub at noon and could have a beer on my own – I just loved it (laugh).”
“Anyway, the record is about not focusing on the bad things and instead doing something about it, and do it now. Everything during the pandemic was about the end of life as we know it, like the end of human civilization, and it affected us.”
Daniel: “The pandemic was bad for so many reasons but the worst was how polarized people became, even friends. Either you were too serious about the risk of the pandemic and wanted everyone to wear masks. If someone didn’t take the vaccine immediately it was like ‘What the fuck is wrong with you? Don’t bother to visit us’. Or people were on the other side, rejecting every scientific proof of the pandemic. Friends turned into enemies, that was maybe the worst experience”
”If friends can’t keep their friendship together, how could we ever do it on a global scale? I find it very frustrating that so many people turned to Google rather than listen to people who have studied viruses for years, that’s insane. Our whole society builds on science but people still show that we’re stupid. All these things had an impact on the album.”
Does this new YOLO mindset also mean that you already started to record a new album instead of waiting for anything to happen?
Daniel: (laugh) “We have tried the whole spring but not much has happened.”
Joakim: “But we have songs for two albums.”
Daniel: “At least two albums, but we haven’t booked the tour yet, that’s the problem (laugh). We need to go through the songs we have and see what fits together before we start working on a new record.”
To wrap it up and go back to where we started; after eight albums and 500 gigs and a big following in Germany, do you even care about the Swedish music scene?
Daniel: “I’m not sure because we’re too old to go around in a van and play for 400 euros which would probably just cover our expenses. It’s just not fun anymore.”
Joakim: “We’ve done a few special gigs, like when we booked Strand (venue in Stockholm) once, but it only works out to do things like that in Stockholm. Or in Värnamo (where they grew up) (laugh). We played in Värnamo just before the pandemic.”
Daniel: “It’s actually quite fun to return to your hometown and meet all old friends that moved back when they started families.”
“The problem is that touring Sweden is expensive and it’s quite far between places. We don’t really want to play for nothing and do a ‘punk tour’ like we did when we were young and slept in the van, because we’re old today. We tried it a few years ago when we went on a promotional tour in the Benelux region but it wasn’t fun at all. I need my sleep (laugh).”
“You also need to keep in mind that our shows tend to get longer and longer, and doing 100-minute gigs six days a week when fifty (birthday) isn’t that far off doesn’t work out if we don’t get enough sleep. Just end with that, we’re old (laugh).”
Photos: Julia Schwendner
Friska Viljor pages