WONDERFOOLS (the interview)
Too Late To Die Young
by Todd K Smith
We’ve been fans of this Norwegian five-piece since picking up their debut Kids In Satanic Service (Kiss get it?) back in 1999. It’s battle cry of “Wimp City,” “Teenage Fartbomb” and “Sick of Love” still brings a tear to the eye. Three years earlier, just out of high school friends Zito (drums) Zugly (bass) and Tomas (guitar, vocal) formed a pack to escape their hometown of Grua, Norway, move to the big city and become rockstars. They slogged it out in every dive from Oslo to the nether reaches of Germany and back again. They cut three EPs, each with an improved roaster, consistently brash, crude and distinctly punk. For inspiration they wrote about their mischievous misadventures along the way. Recruiting 16-year old guitar wiz Joey (Joakim) increased their firepower and after recording Kiss, hit the road for some serious wreckage. A full tour of Europe followed and things were looking pretty good until the bass player stole the singer’s girlfriend and the band broke up. The rest went back to drinking.
A couple years later, three of the original four met up in Oslo for an emotional reunion and decided to give it another go. Singer Tomas refused to come back so they picked up another Thomas who not only had the same name (only spelled different) but also sang. The drummer switched to playing guitar and Megs, another drummer, signed on. Oddly enough they all went back home to Grua and returned three months latter with enough songs to record their sophomore Doing Their Duty To The Nightlife (2003). After signing to Wild Kingdom records (Hellacopters, Babylon Rockets, Maryslim) original member Zito (drums then guitar) left the band and guitar boogie-man Chris stepped in. The party then kicked into full gear as they romped around several Euro-countries building a significant fan base and drinking others under the table. Their website claims, “the amount of fun the band had led to a number of bad breakups and a few broken hearts.” Stained by love’s merciless hand the band entered the studio with some warped female bitterness.
Their next album Future Classics (2004) was dedicated to solving the mysteries of the opposite sex with varied results. Landing the support slot for one of Germany’s biggest bands Böhse Onkelz the Wonderfools were now playing to tens of thousands of rapid fans every night. The tour was covered by a film crew and broadcast as a documentary on Norwegian national television. 2008 sees the release of Too Late To Die Young the bands fourth and most polished effort. The punk rock riffs are still loud and proud but with great finesse. Producer Børge Finstad has sculpted the band into an efficient, highly toxic animal maintaining the primal drive of the earlier albums but with sophistication. The entertainment value is still high with arena anthems like “Thinking of Something Mean To Say,” the pounding “Big Love” and Dictators-inspired “Out of My Mind.” Just as tangible is the bands foray into pop rock with the CBGB coated “She’s So Easy,” “Apples” and the acoustic-driven “Taking Chances.”
Well into their own skin, the Wonderfools have created a record that’s dynamic and intriguing with enough color and texture to hang like ripe fruit from the vine. Join us as we pick the mind of guitarist Joakim on the making of album number four.
TCE: (via email) Thanks a million for taking the time to answer a few questions for us rock ‘ n ‘ roll fanatics from across the pond. Let’s start out with your hometown Grua. I map quested it and it’s in the middle of the country (Norway). How did you first get your taste for rock music in such a remote area?
Joakim: I think you get into rock and roll because of the distance to civilization, and not in spite of it. There’s a lot of rockers in the small towns in our region. I started playing guitar in a band when I was eleven and never looked back. It was the natural thing to do for us all, since we weren’t too much into John Deere back then. Or maybe it was the people driving those things, I don’t know. For me personally it was the older brother of a friend of mine that hooked us up with a few cassette tapes of Iron Maiden and Guns’n’Roses. You can’t be exposed to those bands at the age of 11 without surrendering completely to rock and roll. We all just went around with our cassette players and recorded each other’s tapes. We were quite desperate.
TCE: Is the whole band from there?
Joakim: The original 3 members were all from Grua. We’re still all but one from the surrounding areas.
TCE: Did you meet in school? Was it serious from the start?
Joakim: Me and Mags met in kindergarten, and so did the original line up. Then we met each other through other bands when we did shows in our early teens. I don’t think we’ve ever been serious about anything in our lives. We just played and did shows and had a good time. I think the thing that moved us forward was that we never thought there was anything we couldn’t do. We were too stupid to see our own limitations, and that always helps when you’re in a band.
TCE: Have there been a lot of line up changes since the start of the band? If so can you tell us about them?
Joakim: Tomas Dahl (the new drummer of Turbonegro by the way), Zugly (bass) and Zito (guitar) started the band in ’96. Then I joined in ’97 when they needed more guitars for the “K.I.S.S.” songs. Tomas was the lead singer and drummer at the time, but for our first record we wanted him in front, so he traded instruments with Zito. Then Zito disappeared one day, so we replaced him with a really cool guy called Alex the Swede. Then Tomas got sick of the whole band thing and quit the band, so we split up in late ’99. We got back together in 2001 when Zito decided to reform the band and had found a new singer for us, Thomas Hansen. Alex was busy with a band called Ricochets, and Zito wanted to play guitar again, so I got Mags that I had played with in a couple of other bands to join us on drums. Then Zito left again and we replaced him with Chris in 2003. That should leave us with our current line up if I didn’t mix things up in there, and that is me on guitar, Zugly on bass, Mags on drums, Chris on guitar and Thomas singing. Oh yes, and Thomas has picked up the guitar now, so there’s 3 of us up there.
TCE: What I love about you guys is your sense of humor. In your song titles, album art and videos you have this keen ability to not take yourselves to seriously. How has that helped develop the band?
Joakim: I’ve always thought that if people want something boring and serious they already have their own lives. We never took the band or ourselves seriously, and playing rock was the way to have some fun around where we grew up. So writing about lost love and hurt feelings was never an option. In fact I don’t think the word feeling is used in any lyric on any of our albums. And if I’m wrong on this, I’ll bet a few hundred kroner that it was used with irony.
TCE: I really dig the first record Kids In Satanic Service simple, straight-forward and a real rocker. As you look back on it are you happy with the way it came out? Was it a good first statement?
Joakim: I’m very proud of that album, it’s sounds so aggressive, it’s like the guitars are gonna come out of the speakers and kill you. Tomas Dahl was the force behind it, he made most of the songs and made sure we all played the same chords. I was 16 years old and it’s my first album, so I just tried my best to learn from him and the other guys. When he wasn’t around anymore we used a couple of years working at full capacity to fill his shoes. We’re only 2 people left that was there and recorded it, but we still play a few songs from it live.
TCE: I also like the progression from Doing Their Duty To The Nightlife and Future Classics your website defends Future Classics as you ode to women. Was that to get out of hot water from lyrics in “Duty?”
Joakim: The lyrics on the albums seem to follow our lives quite chronologically. It was never on purpose, but it’s easy to see now. K.I.S.S. is about being bored out of your mind in Grua, Doing… about the party life of Oslo, Future Classics about the women you’ve met partying in Oslo and Too Late To Die Young about the consequences of leading a life based on the first three.
The lyrics of Future Classics are mostly about women, but I don’t think we put them in the most flattering light. If we got into hot water with Duty… it must be boiling by now, cause I think we just added gasoline to that fire. And I’d like to add that our lyrics are self-experienced - like a documentary. We never just make something up to tell you something in metaphors.
TCE: Who have you played with in the past that really made a difference or inspired the band?
Joakim: For me it was my first ever show with Wonderfools at the age of 16. Turbonegro had just released Apocalypse Dudes, and we played support on Rockefeller in Oslo. Made a huge impact on me of course, cause they really were the toughest guys Norway had to offer back then. Maybe they didn’t inspire our band so much musically, but having successful musicians in your neighborhood certainly makes you think anything is possible.
TCE: How would you compare yourself to American bands like Green Day or Fallout Boy?
Joakim: I never heard much of Fallout Boy, but we grew up with Green Day. Dookie blew us away. I wouldn’t put Wonderfools in those categories, but I’ve seen a few American reviews that mention Green Day and Blink 182. I have a really hard time seeing that, but we were always very inspired by American rock music. I think especially on the 2 latest albums you can really hear it.
TCE: Are your influences a mixed bag or do you all agree on a core of classic icons?
Joakim: We have a huge mixed bag of influences, as well as some we all agree on. Hard-Ons, The Wildhearts, New Bomb Turks, Faith No More, The Who, Rod Stewart, David Bowie, KISS, The Dwarves, GG Allin have done some damage to us to name a few. Since we all contribute to song writing, you’ll always find a lyric line or a riff that tributes some of the personal favorite artists of our band members.
TCE: Is the documentary made on your guys from 2005 available? If not are you planning any kind of live DVD or compilation of your videos for fans who can’t make it to your live shows?
Joakim: We plan to make the documentary available on our site eventually. I just have to get around to finding out if we have the rights to publish it ourselves it since it was freelanced for Norwegian national television. Should only be a couple of phone calls away, so there’s really no excuse for not having it out there already.
I think we’d rather take the band to you than try and sell you a DVD. So if you wanna see the band, just let us know and we’ll come visit. Too Late To Die Young is our first album release in the U.S.A., so given the opportunity - we will tour across your entire continent a few times.
TCE: The new record Too Late To Die Young really lives up to expectations. As you mentioned earlier, the lyrics are based on personal experiences. Are these anthems for the underdog?
Joakim: Our reality is so messed up we don’t need imagination to write songs. We never thought about underdogs when we wrote it, we just wrote whatever we felt like at the time. A lot of people seem to think that songs like “Never Gonna Make It” is some sort of attempt to please the emo kids out there. It’s ok to me if it does, by all means, I’ll sleep much better at night if I know I made an emo a little less emo. but our songs are about us, and it amazes me a lot that no one catches that “Never Gonna Make It” is about Wonderfools not making it. I seriously don’t know how to say it more directly, I remember writing it thinking that this is impossible to misunderstand, I’ve finally done it and made something that can’t be interpreted as anything else than it is. Once again I was wrong, and kind of surprised that it surprised me I was wrong.
TCE: The first thing I noticed was how polished / produced the record is especially on the “relationship” songs like “The Song About The Song,” “She's So Easy,” “Apples.” How did the producer make a difference?
Joakim: We went to Børge Finstad because we wanted the kind of sound we knew he could provide. In Norway at the moment, the music is recorded very rough in the edges in a way, very Brit inspired with thin desperate vocals and fender guitars with just a little bit overdrive. I was sick and tired of it all, and wanted to make an album with the production of an 1980’s hair metal band - without the keyboards of course. We wanted Bon Jovi, Loverboy and 80’s Iron Maiden. Ironically the album we decided to try and to sound like wasn’t 80’s at all, it was Faith No More’s King For A Day, Fool For A Lifetime, which has one of the best productions ever in my opinion. Børge simply helped us achieve the sound we wanted, and I’m truly amazed by what he can do. The record was made on a very very low budget, and here we are now having Swedish reviewers slaughter us cause we sound too much like the Foo Fighters. I fell off the chair when I read that.
TCE: And…did the producer change the way the songs were finished?
Joakim: Børge hasn’t had anything to do with the song writing, but he helped us out in the mixing process, giving us some good pointers on parts that were too long etc. So a few of the songs have been sliced up a little to get more directly to the point. No need to wander off too much in punk rock.
TCE: You guys have totally mastered the riff. “Thinking Of Something Mean To Say,” “Out Of My Mind “ and “Nothing Left To Burn” all have a massive structure that builds from the guitar similar to Turbonegro in places. How is the song writing sorted out among the band members are the songs written on guitar or bass first? “
Joakim: We all compose and contribute to the band. We’re very democratic, so a simple majority decides every riff and every text line. The way it has turned out the last few years, people come with their riffs to band practice, and we discard almost everything. The stuff we like, me and Thomas will take home and twist and turn until we’re happy with it, and then take it back to the band. If they don’t like it, we start over. This way you won’t have much spare material, but all the songs have been worked with a lot over long stretches of time. We have 8-year old riffs on some of the songs on this album. It will be stored in the back of our minds for the next riff to come along that will match it perfectly. We treat our songs like we’re supposed to treat our whiskey if we weren’t so damn thirsty.
TCE: “Nothing Left To Burn” must be a killer live. Have you tried it out in front of a crowd yet?
Joakim: We played it on our release party at Last Train in Oslo, and it felt good. You need to get some aggression out after playing “Apples”.
TCE: Speaking of “Apples,” and several others - the songs seem very well constructed. In fact a couple of them could be called Beatle-esque. “Apples” is particularly slick big harmonies, catchy chorus and sweetened lyrics. Was there a push to cater to the MTV or the radio crowd? By the way, great lead at the song’s end.
Joakim: Actually, “Apples” was never intended for Wonderfools. I just made it and recorded a version alone to save it for later, thinking it would be too melodic for Wonderfools. Mags was upset and demanded we put it on the record. So we did, and we let him do the vocals on it. Kinda full circle having the drummer do lead again. And speaking of drummers and full circles, at the end there, on the Beach Boys choirboy thing we got Tomas Dahl (our first drummer and singer) doing a guest appearance.
TCE: Another song, “She's So Easy” also goes for the Beach Boys vibe including the tribal-Hawaiian bit right before the chorus. Who’s the Brian Wilson fan in the band? Love the lyric “she makes those sounds that please me.”
Joakim: Well, the Brian Wilson fan is no longer in the band, but we always enjoyed good backing vocals. Given the chance, we will put the whole choir in there, and on “She’s So Easy” the chorus turned out great for that, so we just went for it.
TCE: “Big Love” is a home run, a real favorite on the disc from the chugging guitar, bass nuances and pounding drums to the use of the organ two-thirds of the way in. Is this your tribute to Kiss in structure and lyrical double-entendres? How did the song come about?
Joakim: A lot of Wonderfools lyrics are written like that. It started with me having to hide something serious for Zugly in a humourous wrapping. Then it went on to hide the comedy in seriousness. We work hard on lyrics, and often spend just as much or more time on that than the riffs. A lot of our songs have a bit of KISS in them, and “Big Love” is no exception to that.
Chris made the chorus and I had saved the verse riff for a few years waiting for the right chorus to use it too, and they just instantly clicked. They were meant to be. Then me and Thomas polished it for a few months and came back with the whole lyrical concept and build of the song, based on some traumatic incidents I’d rather not talk to much about.
TCE: From the guys who gave us Kids In Satanic Service - “Listen To Your Mother” comes out of left field. Is this an advise song, a warning or just to set the record straight?
Joakim: “Listen To Your Mother” are the words of my old head master when I studied music. We were going on tour to Germany and they told me to stay home or they were gonna flunk me. It was an absurd situation that worked out eventually, cause of course I told them to fuck off and just went anyway. So it’s all about doing the things you’ve always wanted, and then having people with no experience with these thing telling you what you should do.
TCE: The video to “Never Gonna Make It” has been on the YouTube for a few weeks. How has the reception been?
Joakim: We’re really happy with the video, it’s all footage from the documentary you mentioned earlier. It hasn’t gotten any airtime on television, but we’ve gotten only positive feedback so far.
TCE: Funny how “Let It Shine” has a similar tone to “Never Gonna Make It” similar drum pattern too only brighter. Was that intended?
Joakim: I haven’t noticed that similarity, so if you’re right on this it certainly wasn’t intended. If I ever wanted a life motto, “Let It Shine” would be it. It’s all about enjoying yourself no matter how shitty things really are. You have a lot more fun that way.
TCE: There is a lot more color / texture to this album. The acoustic-based “Taking Chances” and the outro to “Thinking Of Something Mean To Say,” makes me wonder if you’re moving in a different direction all together. Will the punk element always be the foundation to The Wonderfools?
Joakim: Wonderfools will always be punk rock. I have no idea what the next move will be for us, but we’ve always just done whatever we felt like listening to at the time we make the songs. Even “Taking Chances” is punk rock, it’s just stripped down. The guitar is played just as hard and straight forward, and the vocals aren’t any prettier than on the other songs. I felt the album needed a little break in the middle of it to catch the attention of the listeners and tell them that we’re doing something different here. There’s a double meaning here as well, since we really felt that putting that song on the album was kind of risky for a punk band.
TCE: The title track “Too Late To Die Young” almost goes back to a classic ‘70s sound. I hear Cheap Trick, Loverboy and even a muscle-bound Kansas in there. How important is the ‘old record collection to the vitality of song writing vs. what is considered modern rock?
Joakim: I take inspiration from pretty much anything in music, whether it’s rock or hip hop, old or new. It’s the strength of the composition that makes the difference to me, not the name of the band. The more narrow your field of vision is as a composer, the less interesting your writing is if you’re not a genius. You can afford to stay true to your genre as a fan, but in composing I try to make it more interesting by stealing from everyone and everything. It’s like inbreeding in a small town in the mountains. You need some fresh blood up there to pass on some intelligence to the next generation. But the old songs will always mean more in rock than the new, because all the new stuff we like the most is based on the old anyway.
TCE: Have you reached your dream as rockstars?
Joakim: Not at all, we have barely started. The key to ‘keep on rocking’ is to never set any goals for yourself. A goal is just a limit of what you think you can do. What are you gonna do when you reach it? Set another goal? I don’t set goals, cause I don’t trust that my imagination is good enough to predict where I might end up. We just keep rockin’ and see what happens along the way.
Website: Wonderfools, Locomotive Records