Interview with Mathias Lilja

(July 2004)

 

 

1         Mathias, how did you get into garage punk and generally 60s music?

 

Well, I guess it started off by going thru my old mans record collection, he had a lot of the old 60´s stuff like; Cream, Hendrix and Doors. I really liked it and went back to discover the earlier records by the Yardbirds, Stones and Pretty Things. I´ve always been a huge fan of old R´n´B and blues like Bo Diddley, Howlin´Wolf etc.

Then I met some older guys who had a band called the Spades (named after early Elevators) who I thought were real cool. And they tought that me and my friends were strange little kids to like 60´s music. Other boys at our age probably listened to New kids on the block or whatever. They gave us booze and played us bands like the Sonics and the Seeds and all of the compilation albums, Back from the grave, Pebbles and that just blew my mind.

That was it! All the american bands sounded much rougher, wilder and harder than what I´d heard before and when you´re like 14 or 15 or so that´s what you want. That was real teenage angst. Completly in tune with how I felt.

 

2         Did you play in any other band before the Strollers?

 

Yeah, sort of. Around -90/91 me and my friends decided that dressing up in womens blouses and wide pants with sandals and curl our hair with our mothers hair-thingie was a cool thing to do. We were laughed at in school and probably looked like we just stepped right out of Saturday Night Fever. By then we had already formed a band and we called ourselves the FreeForce, playing mostly Cream and Hendrix and other bluesy, psychedelic type of things. We were a trio consisted of myself, Henrik Wind and Martin Karlsson. But like I said, when garage-rock came along our pants got tighter our moptop hair cuts began to take shape and we threw away the blouses for turtle-necks instead. We were still laughed at though.

 

3         Ok, so now tell me how did all started with the Strollers

 

It all fell to place when we started listening to garage music. The band was already there but we wanted a different direction and a new name. We got a guy Jocke Dimberg from school to learn to play the guitar, so by then the set was; two guitars,(me&jocke) bass(Henke) and drums(Martin). Later on Jocke was to be replaced by a guy named Linus Sallrot on Farfisa organ and when he left that´s when we brought Peter Kalin(bass) in and Henke took over the organ. We took our name the Strollers from a Yardbirds song and decided to play garage-rock and R´n´B and do our own material. And because no one else wanted to sing, I took the challenge.

We started rehearse in my room in the basement at my parents house, driving them nuts. My room was right beneath the kitchen so the porcelain would rattle and bounce up and down on the kitchen table. Well they were nice enough to let us be there but we made a hell of a noise all around the block.

I still remember my first attempt at singing. When I came back upstairs for dinner my father yelled at me saying like "- What´s going on down there. It sounds awful. You can´t be serious if you call that singing. You must understand that you just don´t have any talent, you´re just screaming!!".

By then I knew for sure I was gonna be the singer of the band, ha ha.

4         Were you inspired by the 80s garage bands from your country, like the Crimson shadows, the Stomachmouths, the Creeps and so on?

 

Oh yeah! I loved (still do) a lot of the 80´s stuff. The first swedish 80´s band I heard was the Creeps I think. I got the 1st record and was very inspired by R.Jeleniks singing. I think he´s the best singer to ever come out of sweden. And the Wylde Mammoths were also at the top of our chart.

The Crimson Shadows and Stomachmouths they became sort of legends in our eyes. Back then we didn´t know any of them in person. We liked the Shadows because of their total insanity. They were the wildest of them all. We heard stories about them(especially Jens) from our older friends who knew them.

And we picked up on everything. Maybe that wasn´t a wise thing to do, looking at the self destructive side of it, but we felt a connection there. Don´t give a shit about what people think of you. If they don´t like your music; fuck them. Some of em will soon enough and some of em will never understand. Okay cool. I remember thinking at that time that we were the only real band around. So we never felt connected with any of the other local bands. And for a while that was a pretty good driving force. We stood on our own and wanted to show everybody that we were the best. Or at least we tought so. Of course nowadays you´re a little less angry and relaxed about the whole thing. But to us as to many beeing a garage-rocker isn´t just about a hip image, you have to look like you mean it but you also have to live it. And we sure did.

 

5         What was your main inspiration, anyway?

 

All the american garage stuff. A lot of swedish and dutch 60´s bands too. I don´t think it´s necessary to name-drop too much, but you had compilations like Nuggets, Pebbles, B.F.T.G and so on. Remains, New Dawn, Sonics, Wailers, Unrelated Segments were some of the bands we liked, along with a whole bunch of others. The mod scene never appealed to me. I mean The Who is great but all the mod caractares seemed so boring with their well pressed suits and dancing with their little steps to northern soul. They just seemed so well behavied and straight.

We were teenage cavemen on a mission to drink booze and destroy. I think a lot of those mod puritans was a bit dissapointed when they turned up to see us play and there were four ugly long haired dirty bastards up there.

 

6         You did two incredibly great 45s with the Strollers and then a great album too. Did you get any attention by the press or radio shows by that time in Sweden or abroad?

 

Well, we were sort of on the verge of making a little breakthrough for a while.

When we released the 1st 45 the word started spreading that there was a cool new band around and we did some gigs in Stockholm and that led to some airplay. There´s a TV station in sweden called ZTV who ran a short program about the band with some clips from a live show in our home town of Örebro. Apart from having some songs played on the radio now and then (also in Norway and Finland) the national radio did an half hour live show with us.

After that, if we´d worked for it a little more, maybe something bigger could´ve come out of it.

But that was always the case with the Strollers. When we had an opportunity we always blew it. Now looking back on it I think that if we´d put some effort and work into things it could´ve gone kinda well. But we never saw further than to the next bottle of beer. The day we were suppossed to sign the contract for Low Impact they turned up with a six pack of beer for each one of us and said "-Look, these beers are for you guys, but not until you put your signatures on these papers". Ha, ha I think it took about three seconds to sign that thing.

The strange thing about us though was that we were always thought of as a bigger band than we actually were. Maybe because we were a pretty good live band with pretty good original songs.

The attention we got was bigger compared to other bands on the same level as us. I mean we didn´t have any promotion whatsoever.

7         You should be possibly aware of the fact that your first two 45s are already rare and hard to find. Do you like that or you would prefer your records to be easy for anyone to get?

 

I think it´s kinda cool to know that some knucklehead in japan is willing to pay like 80 dollars for a strollers single. However, if Low Impact decides to press more copys, which i doubt, that´s fine too. Of course you want as many people as possible to hear your music. (Low Impact is a very nice label. Just wanted to add that).

 

8         Where did you play live?

 

We did a lot of gigs in Sweden. Some festivals, some gigs in Norway, Finland and Denmark. And then we did this one European tour going from Denmark through Germany, Holland, Belgium and Switzerland wich went okay and we had pretty good crowds at the gigs.

We were supposed to go to New York for a garage festival they held there each year in November.( can´t remember the name of it) We were actually the only band that didn´t have to do an audition to come and play. We also had some festival in Spain booked. But like I said before our sense for organizing things wasn´t all that good so we never managed to raise the money for the trips.

 

9         Who had the idea of putting out a record with Jens Lindberg?

 

He did. By that time we were good friends of his and he liked the Strollers. He had just begin to write his moody stuff (the seed to Maharajas) and said "- I got some songs that I´d like you guys to record". And we said "sure". It was an honour to work with Jens "the garage-rock legend" Lindberg, ha ha. I think it turned out great. It was quite a different thing to what we were doing at the time. It was a lot of fun.

 

10      The 1st album followed by Captain Of My Ship, which, in my humble opinion, was weak and failed to continue what you started as garage punk band. What happened?

 

Very humble of you, thanks he, he. But you´re right. It wasn´t a worthy follower to the 1st one. It´s hard to point out a specific reason to why it didn´t quite work. First of all the sound isn´t in favour of the songs. We tried to make sort of a bigger sound than on the first one and worked a lot on the drums. I guess we tried to make a kind of Sonicsy hard- poundin´ big beat. In the end there were just drums everywhere. It sounded like the fucking Rush-drummer had produced the record. And we didn´t even notice it as we went along. And so the whole sound just became a blur. Another thing was that the band was a bit shattered. We didn´t know what we wanted to do. The songwriting started to take some new turns. Not that we wanted to experiment and do like 30 minutes psychedelic freak-outs or anything, but we were unsure of where we were heading.

I personally think we should´ve stuck to the old concept of just doing simple, fun and snotty garage tunes. But some of us got bored I guess and wanted to do other things. Also there were some tension beginning to appear that later made us split the band. But anyhow I still think there´s some good songs on that one. "Not Good Enough For You" is a pretty good and moody little piece. The title track by Martin is alright. " I Don´t Care" was actually one of the first songs I ever wrote as an angry teenager of 15/16 yrs. If it had the right sound and production that allowed the songs to really come to surface, it´d be a whole different thing I think.

11      Did you have any other offers from other labels than Low Impact Records?

 

No not any serious offers as I recall. Maybe the Low Impact guys knows more about that than me. I don´t know. We were supposed to do something for Estrus. I don´t know why that never happened. Low impact is a really small label but we were happy with it. We got to make some records, you know. Get around and play, drink beer and have fun. That´s what it took to keep us happy. And the L.I. label has a good reputation for putting out cool records. The Maggots for instance, a real cool band with Mans Mansson as you know who produced the latest Maharajas record. And did a phenomenal job on that one.

 

12      I know that you were supposed to put out another 45 too, on Screaming Apple Records sometime. Why didnt this one come out in the end?

 

Yeah, ha, ha right. This was around the time when my favourite thing to do was to lock myself in the rehearsal room with a twelve-pack of beer and some other substances and a portabel little recorder that I´d got.

I used to stay in there for like 24 hours in a row for weeks and just get loaded and record things by myself.

Because there was no toilet down there I used to shit in little plastic bags and tie them up, but that didn´t prevent the horrible stench from spreading across the room. And I always forgot to bring them out when I was leaving. Well, needless to say the guys that we were sharing the rehearsel room with wasn´t happy about that at all.

Anyway we got an offer from Screaming Apple to give them two songs for a single. And the only thing we had was the things that I had done down in that basement. Among those was a song called "The Final Trip" and another one called "Gotta Get Away". We sent it for mastering and I was pleased with them. They were totaly insane and maybe for the most hardcore garage/psychedelia nuts to appreciate.

And so we sent them to this guy at Screaming Apple(don´t remeber his name) and got an E-mail back saying like "-What the hell is this! I can´t release this crap. It´s just organ allover the place". He didn´t like it. And that was that. We never bothered to make a new recording for him and at the time I was like -" Well if he doesn´t like it, screw him!"

 

13      And as Im always open to any gossips, please tell me why did the Strollers split?

 

It´s not as dramatic as you would hope for I guess. After our first/last European tour we came back to sweden to do a final gig in örebro. But after the tour some of us was just fed up with each other. Martin and I had a huge fight about a lot of things right when we came back from the trip. At a gas station in denmark I think it was. I guess it was just things we´ve bottled up for so long that it all just exploded. When we got back home we didn´t talk to each other for a few days until finally I went over to his place and we straightened things up. I apologized

for giving him a hard time. Back when we started I was the self-proclaimed leader of the band and could be quite an ass to the other guys. And things that you´ve done has a way of coming right back at you. Anyway we called it a

truce and decided to do our last gig ever the day before christmas 2000. Martin and I both had agreed that in order to keep our friendship we had to stop playing together. I think Peter and Henrik didn´t really understand the situation that Martin and I had and they probably would´ve liked us to go on. And that was it. Well almost. Due to the dept we had to our record company after the tour we had to do a few more gigs to bring in some money. Later we did one more final gig in Stockholm following year 28 dec.

 

14      Are the other Strollers involved in any band now? What did you all do after you called it a day?

 

Well, me as you know is with the Maharajas. I joined them about, I don´t know, three years ago or so.

Martin has his own band now where he sings and play guitar called Penny Arcade. The play kinda 70´s New York inspired punk. Like Dictators, the Dolls and stuff. I wouldn´t want to go too deep in what their influences are but I think I´m pretty close in describing what they sound like. And I´m happy for him because that´s one big reason to why he wanted to leave the band. He always wanted to play guitar. Even back when I more or less forced him to learn the drums and start playing with Henrik and myself. So now he can do that and play the stuff that was a bit out of frame for the Strollers.

Henrik plays electric piano and organ with a R´n´R band called Peepshows and from what I know writes most of their material since he joined. He also played most of the instruments on a solo record that the singer from a well known skate-punk band Millencolin did just rescently. Henrik is really a multi-talented guy who plays almost everything so I´m not surprised he was asked to hop in when Nicola (Millencolins singer) made the solo record.

Me and Henrik see each other on a regular basis and do gigs every week at a local bar playing old Byrds/Gram Parsons songs and things like that. You know, selling a little butt to make a living. And don´t worry, we keep away from the obvious coversong-crap.

Peter is the one that I see the least. I know he´s been involved in some projects with the Roadrunners guys (another Örebro-based band). But as far as I know he´s not in any band at the moment. A shame though cause he´s a fucking awesome bassplayer.

15      What exactly happened and you joined the Maharajas?

 

Me and Jens have been friends for some time now and I ´ve always had my eye on what he´s been doing through the years. It was the guys from Spades who knew him and introduced me to him some years earlier.

I knew he had an idea of putting a band together that would only play moody greek inspired punk. Well actually the band had been around for some time and I liked what they were doing. I think the band split up and reformed in various constillations a couple of times. After the Strollers I was kind of sick of beeing in a band but after a while, you know, I started to miss singing and playing. I had no choice but to pick up the guitar again. I don´t remember if he asked or I asked but I know he said it would be great if I could join in and sing for them. Apart from the" Jens meets the Strollers" 45 I had never done anything together with him so I was excited to be in the band.

 

16      Ive noticed that you did wrote many songs for the Maharajas 2nd album. Are these from the Strollers era or only new?

 

Oh, I think you must have been misinformed there. Actually I haven´t written one single song for the Maharajas. Jens & Ulf handles that part of it. And they´re doing it great. The thing is, when I was with the Strollers I did most of the song writing. And that was a lot of fun but it can also be kind of a drag to feel like you´re the one pulling the whole musical machinery. If your inpiration runs out and no one is there to fill that gap it gets kind of hard. I´m sure they would like it if I came along with some songs but it just hasn´t happened yet.

But when I joined the Maharajas I felt reliefed to be able to lean back and let someone else take charge. And they were really enthusiastic on both writing and playing so it was good to be in a vital band again. I still contribute with arrangements on the songs and stuff. And I think that the vocal part has a lot to do with how our songs turns out.

17      Which are your plans for the future with the Maharajas?

 

Right now were working on some dates later on this fall. Northern Spain in September and Holland in November. That will be the first outside of Sweden gigs with Maharajas. Great to travel with older experienced men who can calm me down when I freak out on the airplane ha, ha. I´m terrified of flying but it´ll be great, especially Spain where I´ve never played before. Right now we´re getting together to rehearse some new songs by Jens and Ulf and we´ll try to put a new record out as soon as we can. We´ll see how this one goes and hopefully Low Impact will let us do the next one with them again.

 

18      What music are you into now?

 

Part of it is same as always. The 60´s stuff. Alot of it is great but nowadays the compilation albums that comes out is just things that you´ve heard a million times on other records. And once in a while if some obscure 60´s single appears that no one´s heard, it´s not always that good. All you need really is the volumes of Back from the grave. And some Bo Diddley and Beatles records. And maybe the Rising Storm record and some Barry and the Remains. That should make a great 60´s collection I think. Of course there´s a lot more but I guess you know what I mean. I´m just not that type of guy who sits around and collects records and jerk off to serial numbers. I hear a good song, great. That doesn´t make it better if you spend 300 hundred dollars to get the original singel. It´s the same song. And then I´ll record it from the one who bought it. For free!

But I listen to alot of other music too. I´m much into Americana & alt.Country. Uncle Tupelo, Jayhawks, Whiskeytown etc. And rock and roll in general. If someone comes up to me and ask me what kind of music I like I say "-Rock and Roll."

 

19      Name your favorite 5 albums and 5 45s, please

 

Okay,

Albums: the Beatles first five

45s : the Beatles first five

 

20      Do you like any today garage bands of today?

 

Not many. Is there any proper garage band around these days? I don´t know. I like the Giljoteens a lot. I don´t really keep myself updated with the "scene"

Here in sweden at least there´s so many bands popping up everywhere that are semi-garage and uses the right instruments and everything but it feels like they´re just putting on a cool attitude. I´m just sick of all these bands. To me it seems fake and like a lot of hot air.

 

Thanks Mathias!

 

 

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