The Band (Fat)
An interview with guitarist Johan Brandstrom
By Tim Den
Talk about a band that never disappoints… Every time Randy put out a new album, it’s 100% guaranteed that you’re going to be blasting it for the rest of the year. I played You Can’t Keep a Good Band Down – my personal favorite – daily for a year and a half. These guys are that amazing. Everything is perfect: The chord progressions, the four-on-the-floor meaty beats that occasionally surprise you with tasteful time changes, the vocal phrasings that are tailor made for singing along to, the flashy-when-needed/call-and-answer guitar work, and – of course – the heavenly hooks. It’s all good and nice when a band is a well-oiled machine in “performance” mode, but when even your pre-choruses and semi-bridges are catchier than the bird flu? C’mon, man, you’re making every other band look bad!
With each album, Randy temper their sound just a tad to keep things fresh (no mentioning of their beginnings as a thrashcore/semi-ska act, please). You Can’t Keep a Good Band Down was a marriage between Queen and The Hives, The Human Atom Bombs the melding of Little Richard and Green Day, and Welfare Problems the combination of the Ramones and Buzzcocks. Though I love all three full-lengths dearly, I’ve always pined for the band to return to the more bombastic/hooks-oriented nature of You Can’t Keep a Good Band Down. Well, they must’ve heard my prayers, cuz The Band is that album’s RIDICULOUS catchiness mixed into The Clash’s strutting mid-tempo stomps, peppered with guitar histrionics (opener “Punk Rock High”) and full out New Bomb Turks moments (the circle pit-inducing “Teenage Tiger”). It focuses more on engraining itself into your head rather than “being punk” (such as Welfare Problems), and in the process, becomes the band’s best album in years. Every song is an anthem, every song is undeniable. Calling The Band “the perfect punk rock album” shortchanges its craftsmanship, but at the same time there is no better description. This is the best of punk has to offer: Brains, humor, chops, balls, and HOOKS!!!
All shall hail Randy, even those who aren’t into punk rock. Cuz with songs this easily enjoyable, you’d be a damn fool if you didn’t.
You’ve been around a long, long time. When did the band start, and where did you grow up?
We started out in 1992, I think. Way up north in Sweden is where we all lived. We were best friends even before the band. Since there’s nothing to do up there, you have to find a way to get away from dark winters and unemployment. Randy was our way out.
Your musical identity has changed quite a lot since your beginnings. If I’m not mistaken, you started out more skate-punk, then dabbled with ska before turning into more of a power pop band, no? And now it seems like you’ve grown into something unique: A mixture of garage, vintage punk, and pop melodies. Can you elaborate on all these changes?
We started as a skate band, that’s true. We still have a piece of that in us, I guess. We were never a ska band. We did one single, just for fun. Since three records back, we found our way and our “Randy sound.” Every record tends to fall out a bit different than the others, though. We have to explore new things, otherwise we get bored. Probably a bad thing for business, but who cares. We’re fucked anyway.
Seems like every Swedish band is amazing. You once released a split with the infamous Refused: Can you talk a bit about your friendship and influence on each other?
There’re a lot of crappy bands in Sweden, I can tell you. You only hear of the good ones. Refused and Randy were really good friends and played a lot together in the big punk/HC scene that Sweden had in mid-’90s. We always competed in being the best on stage, and I think it turned both bands into great live acts. After a tour, we did that split, just for fun. It’s actually pretty bad.
You’ve switch labels in the U.S. a few times: Why?
We released on G7 first because we liked the politics and the people working for that company. Later, Burning Heart, our European company, sold half of their shit to Epitaph, so we were more or less forced to release our stuff there. It didn’t work out very well. I didn’t receive one single Epitaph mail during our time with them. We are really good friend with Fat’s people and have toured with their bands, so now they release our newest album. They should’ve released every one of our records.
Leftist politics was the main focus on You Can’t Keep a Good Band Down, and although you also talk about the spirit of independence and rebellion on your other records, they don’t feel as political or urgent. Has the politics taken a back seat to rocking out?
No, I don’t think so. Maybe we mix up political lyrics with other issues more now. The lyrics on the early records are pretty hard, radical political lyrics without knowing exactly what we were talking about. But I kind of like that naive, angry style. We lost some of that, to be honest. Kind of sad, in a way.
What do you think of the buzz around Swedish metal? Are you a fan?
I like metal, but not the new stuff. I like stuff like early Anthrax and Metallica. I like Van Halen a lot.
How come you haven’t toured North America much?
We toured Canada like three times and America twice. Actually, just once, since the first tour got cancelled after angry men with beards crashed planes into some high buildings in New York. It’s pretty expensive to tour America, but if anyone wants us to come, book shows and we’ll show up!
What are your main musical influences these days?
Everything from the hardest punk and metal to the softest country and other sweet-sounding stuff.
Do you still believe that punk rock has the power to illicit social change? Cuz, as pointed out in Propagandhi’s new album, the genre seems to’ve been completely co-opted by the mainstream as a means to sell disposable identity.
I don’t know, really. If you really wanna make a change, I suggest you do it in a way other than through music. I guess I agree with Propagandhi there. Overall, I tend to see things much more cynically than I did when I was younger. I don’t like that fact, but I can’t help it.