Back from the Dead
Word: TK Smith
Rock & Roll Is Dead (2005) was the last great Hellacopters’ record. It was written at a time when the band’s lead singer and guitarist Nicke Andresson felt the world offered little in the realm of rock and The Hellacopters, along with a few others, were the only ones carrying the banner. The album’s title actually came from a Rubinoos record found at a second-hand shop. The Hellacopter reworked the song and played it every night on the ill-fated 2006 tour of the US. The song was never recorded in the studio, so the only way to hear it was at their live show. In 2007 The Hellacopters announced they were disbanding but did released a set of covers under the title Head Off. The songs were pulled from underground bands they had toured with and felt everyone should hear such as Demons, Dead Moon and The New Bomb Turks. The Hellacopters scattered to work on other projects however, in 2016, the original lineup announced a handful of European festival dates to celebrate the 20th anniversary of their debut Suppershitty to the Max! Since then it’s been mayhem.
“We expected some of our old audience to come back and see us, but we never expected all these new fans to show up,” says Dregen, the band’s original guitarist who is also a member of The Backyard Babies. “People who never saw us in the past are coming to our shows and they know every lyric…it’s like a whole new audience.” The Hellacopters are in Tramsø Norway headlining the Bukta Festival. Original members Niche Andresson (vocals, guitars), Dregen (guitars), Robban Eriksson (drums) are joined by keyboardist Bobo Fett (Diamond Dogs) and Datsuns’ bassist Dolf de Borst for the 2018 summer festivals. “It’s been amazing for us to see,” continues Dregen. “A lot of young people that are 100% Hellacopter fans and yet have never seen the band live until now!”
In the mid-to-late nineties The Hellacopters were considered the saviors of rock and roll and were part of the ground swelling Scandinavian Rock movement which included Turbonegro, Backyard Babies and Gluecifer. Dergen himself has reached icon status and is considered by many the ‘Keith Richards’ of Scandinavian rock. Confirming that role, The Hellacopters were hand-picked by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards to open for The Rolling Stones last year. Dregen has fine-tuned his stage appearance as a blueprint from prohibition-era Chicago (1939) with style and finesse. “David Bowie said if rock and roll is about rebellion, why do we all look the same?” comments the guitarist, “If every band wears jeans and a t-shirt who sticks out? I wanna go one step further.” That attitude and unique style of playing is what gives the Hellacopters a genuine authenticity that’s lacking in today’s rock bands.
The band’s power-packed, 80-minute, setlist for the Bukta festival is a carefully crafted career retrospective. Many of the favorites including “Hopeless Case of a Kid in Denial”, “The Devil Stole the Beat from the Lord” and “Toys and Flavors” are prominently feature but also “No Angel to Lay Me Away”, “No Song Unheard” and new single “My Mephistophelean Creed” are given their day in the spotlight. “What we’re trying to do with The Hellacopters this time around, is have fun all of the time,” says Dregen. “We are a real band once again, but we want to be selective of the shows and dates we play. We don’t want to burn out again, we want it to be a good time. It’s never going to happen where we jump in a van together and tour nine weeks in America. It gets to be too much and you kinda lose yourself in a way.” Drummer Robban adds, “When we first got back together on ‘16, we only played songs from Supershitty then branched out into Payin’ the Dues our second record with Dregen. But we quickly realized we can’t rely on just two albums, the ones Dregen played on, recorded 20 years ago. We needed to move forward, so we now incorporate song from our entire catalog.”
Dregen originally left The Hellacopters in 1999 to focus on The Backyard Babies. His replacement, guitarist Robert “Strings” Dahlqvist, was an integral part of the band’s success for the next eight years. Sadly, Dahlqvist passed away last year (2017) at the age of 40. “After I left the band I was never distant,” says Dregen. “They are my friends and I was a huge fan of the band. I loved all their albums. So, I love playing songs from those albums. It’s fun because some of the songs we haven’t played in a while so to do them is fresh and exciting. Yes, it’s a celebration for me to do Strings’ songs. He had to play mine for many years. But I am not him and he’s not me. I’m putting my style into his songs, but I would never cross the line to do something completely foreign to his playing. There is still a reverence there. The songs always come first.”
By summer’s end, The Hellacopters will play their first show on American soil in twelve years when they storm the stage at Psycho Las Vegas (Sunday, August 19, 2018). For US fans, it is a show long overdue. “For me, it’s super exciting to play America,” says Dregen, “because I had just left the band and was on the road with Backyard Babies when the Hellacopters first came to the States. This will be my first show in America with The Hellacopters.” Adds Robban, “People have been writing to us saying things like, ‘You guys were the saviors of rock ‘n’ roll in nineties. We want you to do it again, we need you more than ever!” When asked about how they fit in the Psycho Vegas lineup, Dregen admits, “It seems like Hellacopters and Rocket from The Crypt are two bands coming from a slightly different direction. I think they are trying to branch out a bit with different kinds of bands. I’m excited about the Danzig gig. He’s doing the third record in full and it’s kind of a mix between rock and doom. Sabbath meets Elvis.”
The Psycho Vegas promoter contacted the band last years and asked the band to play but they didn’t have room in their busy schedule. “He reached out again this year,” says Robban, “so we talked it over and decided to do it. We do a bunch of festival every summer, all in Europe and this was a chance to get back to the US. We haven’t played America since 2006. That was an ill-fated tour when our equipment got held up in customs and they lost our luggage. We played eleven shows on borrowed equipment and did half the tour in the same clothes we had on when we left Sweden. Continues Dregen, “Getting older, I am so happy and honored to be asked to play Psycho fest. Nobody expected this. We started off with the Supershitty tour in 2016 celebrating our 20th. Then it was some reunion shows around that. To be honest, we didn’t think America was interested, we’re only now finding out we could have done a whole tour.”
The demand for the band has caught them all of guard. “We are getting offers to do all kinds of festivals from Metal to rock,” says Robban. “In Sweden we’re playing a couple of amusement parks all-ages shows. It’s across the board. We’re picking up the offers as they come in. We have no contracts to a record label or management company so we’re doing what sounds like fun. When we first went to America in 1998 the only record we had out was Supershitty To the Max! and that was on Man’s Ruin, Frank Kozik’s label. It was kind of a stoner / doom label so it’s a bit full circle playing Psycho fest with the same kinds of bands.” One of the most pressing questions is, will The Hellacopters record again? “Oh yes,” continues Robban, “we’ve had lots of interest. We’ve learned and grown a bit since the old days and we have the energy to do it.” Adds Dregen, “We understand that people want new songs but right now we are enjoying that fact that we have no pressure. But yes, eventually we will get around to recording again. Personally, I think we could do the best Hellacopters record of our career because we have the drive and the expertise.”
Our hope is for a Hellacopters double live album that captures the band in full flight with all the bells and whistles of Kiss Alive II.