Division of Laura Lee invades America
By Naughty Mickie
Photos courtesy of www.brokenviolence.de , www.artistdirect.com
www.burningheart.com , www.muchmusic.com
American rock has seen the British invasion with groups like the Who and the Beatles. It has weathered the German invasion of bands such as the Scorpions and Kreator. Recently, we've begun to be overtaken by the Swedes-- the Hives, Opeth, the (International) Noise Conspiracy and, now washing up on our shores, Division of Laura Lee.
Their quirky name was taken from a cardboard box stamped "Division of:" and the name of soul singer Laura Lee. No secrets, no hidden meanings, just simple, yet strange-- sort of like their music. It's a straight-ahead rock sound twisted with lyrics that sit humor and tragedy side by side and it's getting them noticed.
Division of Laura Lee consists of Per Stalberg, guitars/vocals, Jonas Gustavsson, bass/vocals, David Ojala, guitar, and Hakan Johansson, drums. I caught up with Gustavsson at his hotel between stops on their current tour in support of their release, "Black City" (Burning Hearts Records/Epitaph). He had a sweet accent and an even sweeter personality.
"Tell me how you started out," I open.
"We were in all kinds of hard-core and punk groups back home, in Sweden," Gustavsson replies. "We kind of wanted to do something different from all these other bands. We were copying our favorite groups and bands. We understood that we could actually do something of our own and something different from all the other bands. So we got together and formed Division of Laura Lee in '97."
"How did you know each other?" I prod.
"We hung out at shows and stuff like that," says Gustavsson. "Hakan is four years older than me, so we didn't really go to school together, but we met up at shows. I had a band with Hakan, the drummer, that was even more crazy, a band called Uncle."
I ask him if he became interested in music as a child.
"My father is a music teacher at the public music school back home and my mother was into all the '60s stuff and a lot of classical music, so I got it all from them." Gustavsson confides, "Actually this summer, my mom told me about when I started playing I was really anti-music at the beginning. I didn't know that because I have no memories of that, but she told me that, 'We had to force you to play the bass.' We were at some kind of summer camp and my father was the teacher at that camp and I was having a really bad temper and I was very bored. So he told me, 'OK, come be with my class, my orchestra and you will learn to play the bass.' Because that was the most simple. It was a stand-up bass. And I was like, 'OK.' And that's how I got into playing music. I got into the Beatles, the Stones and all these bands that I got from my mom. And later on I got country and folk music from my father, Bob Dylan. That's kind of what I grew up with and then I moved on to hard rock, heavy metal, death metal, grind-core, hard-core, punk music and so on.
"I was in a music class in high school. I think between 16, 17 and 18, was when I studied music," Gustavsson continues. "You can get out of school in ninth grade when you're 16, but most of the students stay. That's where you shape your life in a way. But I haven't studied anything else. I went to work and then I quit work for music."
"What did you do when you worked?" I query.
"First I was teaching music like my father and then I started working in shops. I had a record store for a while, I didn't own it, but I was the manager and in charge of it. But then I quit. I was supposed to go back to school and study economy and don't ask me why I chose that, I have no idea. Then we got the record deal and started recording the record, so I was just, 'No, I won't do that school, I'll become a rock star instead.' And now I'm here," Gustavsson says innocently. "I was always in bands. I started my first band when I was 13. But at this point, it's for real now. I made that choice. I mean, I can always back to school when this is over."
We talk about how busy he is writing music, performing; touring and then I ask him how he spends his downtime.
"Hang out with my friends and watch TV," says Gustavsson. "I play a little tennis; it's fun. I have a couple of friends back home and we go to the court and smash a few balls in the net. I like that sport and I like to watch sports on TV also. Ice hockey is cool. I like that. I'm not really a sporty guy, I used to try all kinds of sports, but nothing really hits me."
It's time to get back to the music, so I ponder, "How do you approach your writing?"
"Me and Per wrote the most things for the record." Gustavsson explains, "We usually write something when we're home and all alone, sitting around with a guitar. Then we put it all together, all of us. Then usually, if it feels right, you know immediately. If we try it and it feels cool the first time we play it, then it's probably something we should keep. That's how we do it.
"But nowadays I don't know, David, the new guitarist, is writing stuff also," Gustavsson goes on. "He goes into his computer and he puts everything together and he can burn a CD with the song. It takes our way of writing way more from using an acoustic guitar and trying to remember everything, but it's cool too because we can try out stuff and use his computer. There's a lot of new techniques and I like them."
Per and Jonas write all of the lyrics, even each other's.
"When we write, it's hard to tell who's writing what part. Usually I sing the stuff I have written myself, but I help Per come up with stuff. He's more of a slow writer because I have all this stuff ready when we play the song, but he's more, you have to wait half a year for him to finally put it together," laughs Gustavsson.
"Your English is very good," I remark.
"We starting learning it at nine years old," says Gustavsson.
"Is it harder to write in English than your native tongue?"
"No, some words maybe," Gustavsson pauses. "I mean there's a lot of synonyms and it's hard to find the right word sometimes, but we get a lot from American television shows; we have all the movies and stuff. It's pretty easy, not totally easy."
"You get all our bad words," I tease.
Gustavsson chuckles, "Yeah, we learn all the curse words."
"What do you think of today's music scene?" I venture.
"It's pretty dull," states Gustavsson. "It's not like anything feels dangerous any more. There are bands that are cool like Burning Branch, I saw them yesterday and they were really cool. I like them, I like Train of Death. But still I think that even the most aggressive bands are kind of weak nowadays, they just want to- It feels like everything is shaped just to fit the industry and the market. You can't avoid it. In Sweden at least, there's a lot of cool bands coming out, with the Swedish hype and the craziness that's going on because of the bands."
"We're hearing more and more Swedish bands over here," I remark.
"It's good because a lot of new bands are inspired by the success that other bands have and start working even harder," replies Gustavsson.
"How do you get recognition in Europe and United States?" I wonder.
"I don't know. We just do whatever," Gustavsson says. "We're playing a lot, a lot of shows, traveling, touring. That's the only way we know. Nowadays we have good record companies that can promote us. And that's good. We just do whatever we need to do."
Being from a Web publication, I have to ask him what he thinks of the Internet.
"It's cool. I'm not really a great fan of the Internet because I'm not really into computers," Gustavsson admits. "I find them really hard and I get so stressed out when I try to find out something there. I use them for e-mail though, sometimes I order records, but that's it. It's good because the few times I'm actually in there (the DOLL Web site) and I can see that a lot of people write stuff, it's a good way to meet up with other people, people who feel likewise. That's cool. There's a lot of bullshit also. So it's not perfect. It's good if you want to use it for writing a paper for school."
I return to my thoughts about cultural differences and broach the subject and how it affects the band's sound and lyrics.
"Growing up is always growing up and the vocals and the lyrics we do are, you can use them where ever you are," says Gustavsson. "It's still about feeling like an outcast. And I think all people can relate to that, it's one of the most common things to write about-- feeling lonely and feeling sad. I think that's something that everyone can catch up with and they can all relate to the lyrics in their own personal way.
"When I hang out with people from the U.S., Germany or where ever, we all seem to be quite the same," Gustavsson goes on. "We're on the same level in a way. I guess it's harder to grow up in a big big city and trying to find somewhere to live and trying to get a job and all that. I mean, quite a contest going on, but still, I don't think it's such- I mean it's different of course, but kids are still kids. And that's the way it is. It's different if you live in Brazil or Africa or poor countries. But we're the same society."
DOLL's future plans include touring through spring and trying to book some performances at European festivals, they also want to begin recording another album in August.
"That's cool, I like that," Gustavsson says about being in the studio. "Well I like it for like a week. I do the bass part and I'm done with that and then I can relax. And Per and David go into the studio and starts working with the guitar and then we do the vocals. That's when I'm finally getting that I want to do it again, I'm sick of being free and work sounds good to me. It works for Per because he's in the studio all the time because he wants to have control over the sound and he wants to be a part of making almost everything. But I depend on the others to do their part.
"I usually play bass and keyboards and stuff like that, I'm not really the sound guy," Gustavsson tells me. "I don't really care about those things. Other people do that for me. They spend like hours just doing sounds and that's not really my thing."
"Do you have any last thoughts?" I offer, preparing to end our interview.
"Come see us live and have a good time. If there's anything they want to talk to me about, go ahead. I'll be there." Gustavsson adds, "I like to meet my fans, but I don't call them fans, I call them music lovers or anything but that. There's a lot of people who write to and say 'This record changed my life' and 'Your show was the best thing I've ever seen in my life' and it's amazing to me. It's unbelievable that something that I created can be so important to someone else. But still I find it really hard to talk about people as our fans, it's like a dream. It's really flattering if someone tells me, 'Oh, I'm such a big fan of your music' I'm like, 'What?' It's just a bunch of songs. But it's cool. I'm really proud of our work and what we've done and what we've accomplished so far and it feels really good. I want to say thank you."
Always the gentleman, but then, you know what they say about them-- I'd really love to see Gustavsson in action on stage!
Learn more about Division of Laura Lee and catch their tour by visiting
www.divisionoflauralee.com, www.burningheart.com/doll and www.epitaph.com.
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