By Cody Black / KROQ.com
Ahead of the band’s newly-announced West Coast tour, Refused front man Dennis Lyxzén called in from Sweden to talk about reuniting the band for Coachella 2012 and subsequent shows, their new record Freedom (their first since 1998), the band then versus now, and the possibility of an (International) Noise Conspiracy farewell tour.
The band will be performing at the Fox Theater Pomona on November 23 & the Wiltern November 24. Get tickets and meet & greet packages (benefiting MOAS) here and pick up Freedom via Epitaph Records. Listen to the first single “Elektra” above.
Festivals vs. Club Shows
CB: You’re about to play Reading and Leeds, what’s the biggest difference between playing American versus European festivals?
DL: As far as playing in a band, it’s not that different. We play an awkwardly huge stage, usually to a bunch of people that are excited, then a bunch of people that are there just to check you out. There are festivals in North America and Europe that are more specialized – they’re like punk festivals or hardcore festivals – but Reading and Leeds and Coachella is more like a very diverse festival. It’s not that different though as an artist.
For me, you always go into it with the same focus and the same sort of attitude. ‘This is happening. We need to get this job done.’ Festivals are different than club shows because you’re not just playing to people that like your band. You’re playing to people that might not have heard your band before so it’s a bit of a different ball game actually.
Dennis Lyxzén at Coachella 2012 (Photo by Frazer Harrison/Getty Images for Coachella)
CB: So do you prefer those smaller shows?
DL: As far as the energy goes, of course you play a small venue in front of people that know your songs and can sing along and feed you that energy. Coming from a punk rock and hardcore background, that’s a very integral part of what makes a show exciting. We just did the Faith No More tour on the East Coast and opening up for another band or playing a festival – it’s a similar thing – you have to win people over. That’s also quite rewarding when you start off and you’re a bit skeptical, but then at the last song people are standing up and cheering for you. I like that aspect of it too because it makes you work a little bit harder. When you play in front of your own crowd, once the intro starts you know ‘we’re gonna win this game.’
Touring & Being An Inspiration
CB: You’re getting ready for a few dates with Rise Against. What’s it like opening for a band and winning over crowds of a band that cites Refused as an early influence?
DL: It’s always a bit weird being a support band, especially when we have the merit to go out and do our own tour, but then they asked us, and I’ve known those guys for a very long time, [International] Noise Conspiracy toured with them in Australia. They’re rad dudes and they wanted us to come on a couple of shows and we said ‘Yea, that’d be fun.’
To be one of those artists that people cite as an inspiration, a lot of those artists play in front of 100 people. A lot of the bands that are my biggest inspirations, a lot of those people don’t get the credit that they deserve. That’s one of the things that being a musician, being an artist, you can never count what your influence will be on other people. Sometimes someone takes something that you’ve done and they run with it… and be something completely different and become 20 times as big as you are. That’s just part of the inspirational factor of being an artist.
Then vs. Now
CB: What are some of the biggest changes between now and when you broke up in 1998?
DL: We’re older people. It’s super boring to talk about maturity and shit like that, but that’s what it is. We’re older people. I’ve played thousands of shows in between so that made me sort of savvy to really be a good front man and a good singer. We all sort of learned how to get along. It’s also a different time and place. When we were a band in the late 90s before we broke up, we were not a big band. In our little scene, a very fringe sort of scene – we were a semi-big band, but in a very marginalized kind of music scene.
If we went to tour in Germany and 300 people showed up to our show it was like ‘Wow, that’s awesome. 300 people came to see us play.’ We went from being a garage rock band to a big rock band. In 2012 we had to make sort of an adjustment for that, for the purpose of playing the last show in a basement and the next show is Coachella. It was a very strange transition that we made without doing anything. We broke up, that’s what we did.
CB: How did you know it was the right time to switch the focus to recording a new album?
DL: It was a very gradual process. It wasn’t like we sat down one day and said ‘Let’s make a new record,’ it was something that happened… I mean once we started playing together we started enjoying each other’s company and started playing these old songs. It felt good. We really took it seriously. All these little things happened and then one day Kris, Dave and Magnus asked me ‘Should we try to write new material? We have a couple of ideas and a couple of songs written already.’ I was quite skeptical, but this is already half way through 2012. They were like ‘Would you be interested in carrying on with Refused?’ and I was like ‘Yea, maybe.’ They played me some new material and I was just too curious to ignore it. I needed to see where it was going to take us.
The big difference even between 2012 and now is that it wasn’t really a reunion tour, it was a nostalgia kind of thing. We came out and played these old songs. Every night was kind of a victory lap and now we have a new record out and we have to win people over in a different way. We have to make sure these songs stand up with the old songs and that is a challenge. It’s not an easy thing to do after 17 years of The Shape Of Punk To Come in people’s headphones.
CB: What was the recording process like without Jon?
DL: It was fine. When we did The Shape Of Punk To Come he didn’t really play guitar on that record. On that record he was in charge of doing a lot of editing. We were kind of ahead of our time, a lot of The Shape Of Punk To Come record is a lot of edited drums and edited guitar tracks. That’s actually what he did on that record. He didn’t play guitar on that record. Chris played 95% of the guitar on The Shape Of Punk To Come and now he played 100% of the guitar. Being in the studio wasn’t that much of a difference.
CB: What’s the most important message you want fans to take away from the new album?
DL: If there’s one thing, which is maybe not so much just the record but in general, is to make up your own mind about the way things are. We’re not necessarily saying ‘Just listen to us,’ but one of the things with punk rock for me and one of the things playing in a band is that it opened a different perspective of life for me. I think that’s the thing, if you put all of our records together and you read the lyrics, our whole idea is to show people the different ways of thinking and analyzing and seeing structures. Hopefully people can read the lyrics and think about what we talk about and why are we talking about it and how does that affect your life. It’s an attempt to get people thinking or rallied up or upset or angry – just something to cause a reaction. That’s kind of the basic message of it.
Music to me has always been a force that sort of hits you in the stomach and then hits you in the head and then hits you in the groin. It’s a force of nature that politics could never be, that literature can sometimes be, but it’s not as direct as music.
CB: What’s planned for the band after the current run of shows?
DL: It’s not yet planned. It’s a different thing to be a band that’s all 40+. We all have different lives. When we were young Refused was 24/7 what we did. At least 2 people have kids and Kris, our guitar player, is an opera director. We actually have time off now because he’s directing an opera, which is in itself pretty awesome.
I have another band called Invasionen – we’re playing and recording – and David did a play. He was an actor all through Spring and he works on other types of music so we decided that Refused is going to be one of those bands that isn’t going to tour that much. We’re going to tour for 2 weeks here and take some time off, then do 2 weeks there and some more time off. Our plan is to keep on touring this record for probably at least another year. Keep on playing shows and keep on performing new songs, some old songs, and keep working basically.
CB: How’d you get involved with the Migrant Offshore Aid Station (benefactor of upcoming Meet & Greet proceeds)?
DL: One of the songs on the record called ‘366’ that we wrote in response to a refugee crisis. 366 people drowned outside of the coast of Spain trying to make it over to Europe. We wrote that song in response to that and dealing with the fact that we have this weird sort of refugee politics. And since then like 2,000 more people have drowned in the Mediterranean, which is becoming like a graveyard for refugees that are escaping suffering and depression and trying to make it over to Europe. They die because of that, so we just wanted to see what we could do to help and we can help these people that actually uproot their whole lives to follow this promise of the American dream or European Union dream or something like that.
CB: What other organizations or causes are important to you?
DL: It’s tricky because a lot of organizations are a bit too toothless. We try to get involved, especially at home. There’s a female center in our hometown and when we did our last show there we gave them something like $30,000 for this center for abused women. Also, organizations that talk about gender issues and handicap issues. I’m vegan so I support animal rights groups, not sure if the other guys are quite on board with that.
CB: I have to ask about The (International) Noise Conspiracy. When’s that coming back?
DL: The honest answer is that I don’t know. I would love sometime in the future to play shows. In 2012 we actually talked about doing a Noise Conspiracy farewell tour, but then the Refused thing happened. We’re not officially broken up, but I’m busy with Refused and Invasionen. Inge [Johansson] plays like 250 shows a year with Against Me! so he’s also pretty busy. Maybe one of these days we’ll get back together and play a couple of shows. I would really like that, it would be fun.