Life On A Plate (Epitaph)
An interview with guitarist Erik Ohlsson
by Scott Hefflon
The soothing sounds of So-Cal melodic hardcore. A “long” history of great bands, a natural tendency to write about odd relationships, pretty girls, poser guys, food, UFOs, and a wide assortment of goofy topics. Millencolin joins the fine heritage of energetic West Coast punk rock – surprisingly, they do it from Sweden. Cool. They seem to have mastered the English language better than many American punk bands. Their particular style of arranging words, I’d like to chalk up to poetic license and linguistic noodlings rather than an inept understanding of the nuances of our glorious language. Similar in pace and style to the hypercharged Bad Religion, NOFX, and later, Down By Law and Lagwagon, Millencolin race through pretty ditties with a ripping guitar sound, a distinctive vocalist (with lots of crisp high end), and driving drums. Occasionally breaking up the hectic, harmony-laden, hook-heavy punk with ska; Millencolin toss in some sax and trombone to round out the sound. The instrumentalization isn’t as exceptional as NOFX, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, or a few other top-notch beyond-punk/hardcore bands I could name-drop, but Millencolin is definitely a band to watch and enjoy.
“Yankee Doodle” and “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” played on a distinctly Oriental music box while I waited on hold, paying exorbitant sums of money to interview Epitaph’s new-found phenomenon.
Your record, Life On A Plate, hasn’t it been out since last year?
October ’95 in Sweden. It comes out now in the States.
Yup, through Epitaph. You guys grew up on early Epitaph bands, and that influenced your decision to form a band, right?
Yeah, well, I’ve been skating for 8 years. And I always watched those old skateboard videos with music by Operation Ivy, Descendents. So I got into the punk scene through skateboarding.
Was it rare to switch to English when you did, or were other bands doing it?
I think we were one of the first bands in Sweden to do this kind of music – punk rock in American style.
Is it easier to sing in English?
I think it’s easier, so you don’t sound foolish. If you write a lyric in Swedish, it always turns out to be ah, quite embarrassing. “I hate the government,” and all that stuff. We did some songs like that when we were young. It’s a lot easier to express yourself in English.
Is it? Is it a more of a melodic language?
Actually Swedish is a melodic language, but I think the words sounds cooler… a lot cooler in English.
You’ve spoken English much of your life?
We start reading English in the fourth grade. But every Swede watches a lot of American movies, and they don’t translate in movies. So I think that’s how we learned to speak English.
Are there any bands that you really like now?
I think the new Rancid album is so excellent. I love that they’re playing ska again.
Are there any ska bands, not ska/punk, but actual ska bands you’ve been influenced by?
We’re influenced a lot by English ska bands: the Specials, Bad Manners, and Madness. There’s a lot of new American ska bands…
Any ska material for the new album?
Yeah, we’re trying, but it’s hard to rehearse when we are touring. But we’ve recorded one ska song, and I think we’ve got three new songs total. It’s ska punk, like the ska songs we’ve done before. I think we’re gonna have a softer guitar sound now, not so much distortion as the Life On A Plate album. I think the rhythm is better when the guitar is not that hard.
A lot of heavy distortion sometimes doesn’t work so well.
I’m a really big Mighty Mighty Bosstones and Voodoo Glow Skulls fan, but they have too much distortion sometimes, I think. But they’re really good.
I’m sure that everyone asks you this; you play pretty happy, energetic music, so why is your name, roughly, melancholy?
That’s like a joke. Our music is more happy than melancholy. But actually it comes from a skateboard trick. It’s an old-school move. When we formed the band it was kinda popular. But skateboard tricks always get replaced with newer tricks, so I think that’s a really old-school trick.
So your name means old-school skate punk?
Yeah, in a way. We’re starting to be old-school now. I’ve always been new-school…
How old are you guys?
I’m 20, and the other guys are 21 and 22. We’re young, but we’re old-school already.
Yeah, it’s a fast-moving scene. Do you still skate a lot or is it hard to skate on tour?
I have my skateboard with me right now, but it’s hard to skate in Tokyo because there’re too many people and too many cars. But yeah, we’re skating a lot.
You don’t write the lyrics, do you?
No, it’s Nikola that writes most of the lyrics.
I wanted to ask questions about a few lyrics… You wanna try to do it?
Yeah, I know what they’re about.
“The Story of My Life” has a lot of food in it. It said what food it wasn’t, but you never said what food it was about.
Not me, but the other guys, became vegetarians. The chorus goes “This time it’s not a cow.” It’s about Nikola loving food. On the last tour, we’d always stop at gas stations and buy a lot of snacks. We ate a lot, so Nikola got up in weight. He has a problem with being fat.
What is a “Jellygoose” by the way?
That is Nikola calling his girlfriend “Jellygoose,” in Swedish. He translated the word to English. Jellygoose or something.
It’s a nickname? We don’t really have a word “Jellygoose…”
Yeah. We know that, but our lyrics are translated from Swedish directly, so…
What about “Bullion”? Is that based on like, a bouillon cube?
No, it’s more like bull, bullshit. A bullion. A guy who’s talking a lot of bullshit and really has nothing important to say.
What about “Softworld?”
That’s has a lot of those words that don’t translate. That song is about us being on tour; stealing stuff and doing what we do on tour.
Some words, “pillow pride”…
It’s about us being soft guys, not-that-cool guys. Last year, we started something we called the “treasure hunt.” Every show, we walked around in the basement on the gigs, looking for stuff to steal. “Pillow pride” means “soft” pride. Proud to be a soft boy.
And something like “Airhead” is the opposite of that, of someone that is too cool?
That song is about a couple of guys at our school who played hockey and thought they were so cool.
I believe they’re called “jocks”.
Yeah, right. And that’s kinda funny; in the first grade in college, those guys thought we were losers, like, punks. They thought we were like, nerds or something like that. We were skateboarding and they thought it was really stupid to do skateboarding, and they thought it was for like, kids, so… And now that we’ve quit school, I’ve seen those guys at our shows, and they’ve bought the CDs and they’ve started to snowboard.
‘Cuz now it’s cool.
I think it’s faddy. Skateboarding and snowboarding and punk rock are not meant to be like that. Not for those guys. They are just doing what is trendy.