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Truckfighters Interview with Oskar Cedermalm: Storms and Calms

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Truckfighters‘ ascent to the forefront of European heavy rock is no accident. For over a decade, the Örebro, Sweden, natives have been nearly unparalleled in their efforts both to be heard and to compose and execute material worthy of the attention they’ve demanded for it. Their loyalty to fuzz tones and thick grooves has come packaged with an unflinching dedication to creative growth on the part of the core duo of bassist/vocalist Oskar “Ozo” Cedermalm and guitarist Niklas “Dango” Källgren, and their live performance remains among the most physically engaged in the genre. More than nearly any other current act, Truckfighters aspire to literally throw themselves into their music.

As their influence has continued to spread — there are an awful lot of bands jumping around Euro club stages these days, it seems — so has the range of their songwriting. This fall, they released V (review here) as their debut in licensed conjunction with Century Media after years working exclusively through their own Fuzzorama Records imprint on prior outings like earlier-2016’s live album, Live in London (review here), 2014’s Universe (review here), 2009’s Mania (review here), 2007’s Phi and their landmark 2005 debut, Gravity X (discussed here), and offered the latest chapter in their ongoing progression. More confident in the sometimes-brooding sensibility that came to fruition on Universe, songs like “Calm Before the Storm,” “The Contract” and “Storyline” nonetheless retained the memorable craftsmanship that has always been at root in Truckfighters‘ work, and only become broader in its emotional and sonic reach.

Like most good things in life, my conversation with Cedermalm happened outside a café in Oslo, Norway. It was the second night of the Høstsabbat festival, which Truckfighters would headline, and the band had finished soundcheck shortly before. We’ve met a few times over the years, but this was my first sit-down with him and I was grateful for the chance to talk about V, some of the controversy that had been stirred by the then-recently-released video for “Calm Before the Storm,” the particulars of the deal with Century Media, their apparent inability to keep a drummer in the lineup, and most importantly, about the creative partnership he shares with Källgren, since that is ultimately what has always been the center of the band.

Fortunately, he was open about all of these things and much more. Seemingly perpetual in their touring ethic, Truckfighters were out through parts of October and earlier this month and are once again on the road to finish off 2016. They’ll continue into 2017 to support V. Here are the remaining current dates:

Truckfighters with Deville & Dot Legacy:
Nov 25 Underground, Koln, Germany
Nov 26 Hublot, Nancy, France
Nov 27 Petit Bain, Paris, France
Nov 28 Le Ferrailleur, Nantes, France
Nov 30 Magasin 4, Brussels, Belgium
Dec 04 Mama Roux’s Birmingham, United Kingdom
Dec 05 King Tuts, Glasgow, United Kingdom
Dec 06 Rescue Rooms, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Dec 07 Thekla, Bristol, United Kingdom
Dec 08 The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, United Kingdom
Dec 09 Islington Academy, London, United Kingdom
Dec 10 Patterns, Brighton, United Kingdom
Dec 27 Sankt Hell Festival, Hamburg, Germany w/ Orange Goblin, Bullet and more

Full Q&A can be found after the jump. Thanks for reading.

Take me through when you actually started writing V.

Yeah, we started right maybe one year ago, me and Dango just meeting up and doing songs, like one day here and there. Usually, we try to meet at maybe at his place, or my place or whatever. We don’t need to be in the studio. But at first, we had recorded IDs with a click track and then we kind of built the songs just bass and guitar and just line-in bass, line-in guitar, and just try to figure out the ID. Then we re-record everything of course. But mostly of the stuff we actually recorded at home. Just line-in and then we amped it in the studio. So we’ve been sitting in a small room in a chair just recording.

So you’re not even in the studio.

No.

And it’s your own studio!

Yeah, but…

So you have your own studio and you’re recording at home.

Yeah, kind of.

Okay.

Not the vocals. I went down to the studio to record mostly of the vocals because I can’t scream or sing loud stuff because neighbors will start wondering what’s going on.

How often do you and Niklas get together then to work through stuff?

Usually when did the songs, we did like one song a day so we only got together maybe eight times, 10 times to do the songs. But then we got together more times to produce it, clean it, record the drums. Drums took a lot of time. I don’t think we spent maybe 15 hours each song just to record the drums.

It’s Daniel Israelsson playing drums on the album, right?

Yeah.

Is he still with you guys?

No.

Who is playing drums now?

It’s a guy called Marcus. [Høstsabbat is] actually his second gig. We will have two drummers this fall. We kind of got rid of the idea to have a fixed drummer. So we will ask…

I think that idea got rid of itself.

Yeah, true that. So we’ll use two different drummers on this fall tour. Like three weeks with one drummer, three weeks with next one. It’s not the best solution, but it seems the only solution.

What do think it is? Is it the schedule, is it something about the way the two of you work that a third person just doesn’t fit?

I think it’s a bit of everything. One part is that me and Niklas have been doing this for so long. So we, we kind of – this is our baby. And when a drummer jumps in it is hard for him to feel the same passion for the music. He can enjoy playing but we play one hour and then we sit on the bus or we work with the computers the other 14 hours.

So, maybe it’s too boring, perhaps. A new drummer maybe sees the touring life like, “oh, going to parties and like meet a lot of people see countries, cities,” but then it’s not that fun. You play one hour and then you sit and wait.

And we also, we don’t make that much money. Me and Niklas make a living and if we have a drummer we can give him a little money. But for us it’s okay because we do what we want to do. It’s our band and it’s our label and everything. So we don’t need much money. But for our drummer who just drums he needs to, he can’t work with anything else. He needs to quit working just play the drums more or less. So, and he, earns not that much money. It’s the tricky part.

So you need somebody who’s over the romance of touring, doesn’t care about making any money and who can do it all the time.

Yeah, exactly.

I can see why you might have trouble finding that person.

Yeah, it’s tricky.

Tell me about how “The Contract” came about. Was it that same process of writing at home? What drove the song?

Exactly the same process. The lyric is about our old management. When we did the last record, Universe, we realized that we don’t have time to do everything we need to do. Either we hire someone to work on Fuzzorama or the band, but we couldn’t find a good guy who can manage everything. So then we thought, ah, maybe a bigger label like a really big label or a management, so we tried management but in the end all they did was booking flight tickets and hotels.

That’s something we can do ourselves without them charging 20 percent of all the money. We had a clause in the contract that said we could get rid of them within half a year without any further obligations. So we did. But when we used that clause, they were really pissed off because obviously no band had ever used it before. We’re still in a lawsuit against them, both sides. They sued us and we sued them. It’s been like that for a year and a half.

Longer than you were actually working with them.

Yeah. So it sucks. You hear stories about this, band’s getting tricked by management and all that. We thought we could see through those kind of guys, but we couldn’t (laughs).

In the meantime though, you’ve gone to a bigger label.

Yeah, this time we said, “Okay, we still haven’t found one to help us with Fuzzorama, let’s try the bigger label thing just to have time to do everything we need to.”

Has it changed that amount of time?

Yeah, a little bit actually because we can let go of the process of the sending masters and checking graphics, blah, all that to talk to the pressing factory and organize stuff like that. They do PR of course, but we still try to do whatever we can.

It’s nice to have someone who helps out, but to be honest, I’m a little bit surprised because they’re not that much better than Fuzzorama. They do the same thing but the thing is, they have one million followers on YouTube so if you put a video or something on YouTube, boom. So much easier for them to work than a small independent label. In that sense, we get a wider spread. I guess that’s good.

That’s part of why you do that, to reach more people. Of course you guys had the video for “Calm Before the Storm,” with that whole controversy. Being from the States, I didn’t know what the situation was with that case.

The case was too early for a lot of people. It happened one year ago.

That seems to be the vibe.

We used her name. I’ve been thinking of it now, like a few weeks after and, “Okay, what if we would have left the name out and just do the video like it is? No name?” But then it’s just fiction. Eight minutes, good video, boom, and it’s out.

If you go to a movie, yeah it’s good but then you leave it. You can go home and play with your children and forget about it. So in that sense, it’s good to be able to write about something that makes people care. If they get angry or whatever, it’s good that you get their attention and look out for these kind of things.

When you put the video out and you started to get the comments back, what was your reaction like?

We were really surprised. We didn’t even think about that this could happen. All the newspapers from Sweden started calling us. Aftonbladet, the biggest paper gave us this spread and called me when I was at IKEA with my one-year-old son.

It was like, “Hey, wait!” I didn’t realize they were recording it. And in the end I asked them, “Are you going to use this? Is it going to be something?” They said, “Yeah, we’re going to do a TV thing about it.” Oh shit. “Can I listen to it and approve it?” But they didn’t care about that.

It got the wrong start, I think. If I would have explained everything from the start, maybe people would have understood more. Since that article went out, everybody started calling me trying to get an interview but then I said no to everything. That wasn’t the intention with the video, just to make — when I stood in the studio four or five months earlier and wrote about this, it was because I read about it and got affected by it. That’s the only thing that you do as an artist or musician. At that time I didn’t realize that people would get angry about it.

The song itself, I don’t have a lyric sheet, isn’t quite as literal, right?

No, it’s more about me — it’s not about, I don’t glorify anything about it. It’s an honest and — deep lyrics. I’m singing about if I would meet that guy I would probably kill him if it were my daughter. So I’m not trying to make something glorifying out of it, of course.

What struck me most about that song, especially leading off the record, is it has that build where it kind of speaks to how you guys have grown. You’re able to do a lot more songwriting-wise than maybe when you started on the first couple of records. Can you talk about developing that broader reach?

Yeah. Personally I’ve never been a fan of bands or albums that are all heavy all the time. I get tired of that after three or four songs, even if it’s really good. It’s been natural for us to grow that thing, it’s not something that we thought of to do on purpose. It was something that happened because maybe you get older and tired of playing heavy all the time.

Still, the new album I think the heavy parts are really, really heavy. We’re not trying to slow ourselves down because we’re getting tired or lazy. It’s boring to write the same album over and over again. A lot of fans like Gravity X but I wouldn’t like to do it again today. It’s a nice album but I’ve liked the progression we’ve made through the years. I hate to hear bands with songs the same all the time. I don’t know, maybe the next album will be something different where we can continue this path, but hopefully we can do something that sounds a bit different in some way.

These days we don’t listen to much other music either. We try to kind of grow this seed even more. Isolate ourselves from other influences. When you were young, you could hear a great guitar riff and say “Oh, I would like to write a riff similar to that.” But these days you kind of say, put that as far away as you can because you want to do something that is unique and create something from your own heart and mind. That’s why it’s different.

Do you feel like being able to write at home, especially on your own, helps that insulating process when you’re coming from your own place and Niklas is coming from his own place, and then bringing that together?

Yeah, I think so. It’s really naturally and down to earth. Basic. Let’s do some songs. I think it’s probably a key to the progression of the songs. We’ve been more and more relaxed and we feel comfortable in what we do.

Was Universe written the same way?

Mainly Universe and this album. But Mania kind of started this when we’d get together and just wrote songs and did the whole album. Then we recorded, we did the whole album with click-track bass and guitar. But with Universe we didn’t really know how to continue from Mania, because it was hard. Mania was kind of a new step for us, more progression and a little bit darker. Probably that’s why it took five years to do that record. Now it seems easier, somehow.

Do you feel like you have that balance figured out?

Yeah, I think so (laughs).

You mentioned the fall tour with two drummers. Anything else in the works?

We’re doing two legs in the spring next year. I think one in February or March and one in April or something.

And since you’re at home writing, do you write all the time?

No. Not at all. We kind of only write stuff when we meet, me and Dango. Maybe something with the chemistry or the mood. We set off a day where we, don’t check the mail, don’t do anything just write music. No, don’t write that much. Do some things from time to time myself but it never turns out to be something else than just ideas. But when we do songs with Truckfighters, we always do the songs from scratch. Just sit down, “Okay, let’s play something.” We start playing and usually it works out quite easy.

You did Mania and then you took that time to tour and to figure out how to be at this stage of the band. Then Universe happens, now this record. Was there anything specific coming off of Universe that you wanted to work toward more?

Not really. The only thing we felt when we started writing this album was a little bit like, we were really angry at management so we wanted to prove ourselves even better. Do an even better album. We’re not finished yet, we want to take the next step and do something that we feel is better. We didn’t plan, we didn’t have anything planned. The only thing we had planned was that we want to have it a little more dirty. More fuzz, more distortion. I guess the whole sound of the songs were a little more rough than before. Then it turns out the way it turns out, I don’t know.

Where do you think that is leading? Have any sense of what the next step is?

No. I have no idea (laughs). We will do something different, absolutely. We try to change something every time, just to make it interesting. Keep ourselves on the toes a little bit. You can be whatever, you can record with a different drum kit or change a microphones completely or record in a different — now we recorded at home, mostly. That’s new. Yeah, it’s fun.

The Century Media deal, how much does that apply to Fuzzorama, or does it not?

It does not. It’s an exclusive license. But they license finished product. We delivered master, artwork, boom. We kind of decide what to do but they put it out. [Nothing more] at this point, but maybe we do something more together in the future.

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