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Dreaming That I'm Awake Sweden's Les Big Byrd are taxiing on the runway of the Jet Set

Dreaming That I'm Awake

Sweden's Les Big Byrd are taxiing on the runway of the Jet Set

by Alan Rider, Contributing Editor
first published: February, 2024

approximate reading time: minutes

American Top 40. Obliterate that whole fucking thing! Then people will be forced to listen to something different.

Sweden’s Les Big Byrd have been knocking on the door of international recognition for a while now but with their fourth long player, the wildly expansive and trippy ‘Diamonds, Rhinestones and Hard Rain’ following hot on the heels of 2022’s ‘Eternal Light Brigade’, it looks like they could be about to achieve that status.  Think of Swedish rock and pop royalty and you think of The Hives, The Cardigans, Ace of Base, Neneh Cherry, and maybe even that well known Eurovision winning pop band beginning with ‘A’.  If there was any justice, in a year’s time Les Big Byrd should be featuring on that list too.  So, what are Les Big Byrd all about (and why that name)?  We asked LBB co-founder and frontman (and former Caesars band leader) Jocke Åhlund to enlighten us.

LP Sleeve artOUTSIDELEFT: Firstly, congratulations on the new album.  It’s great to listen to and it’s nice to have an album stuffed with ten-minute trippy instrumentals, and not just a parade of verses and choruses trying to get into your head.  That’s released at the end of March and you are launching it on a boat trip in Stockholm.  Will that be like the Sex Pistols Jubilee boat trip?
Jocke Åhlund:  I loved the Sex Pistols when I was a kid and still love them now.  We will be playing on the boat but we will try not to get boarded and stopped by the police like they were!  When the Sex Pistols weren't allowed to play anywhere in the UK they came to Sweden and played in these weird small towns out in the sticks. Actually, just last night I was watching a documentary about the Swedish punk scene by a director called Kristian Petri. That included a lot of footage, images, and film stills from when the Pistols were touring in Sweden. They played places way out in the Swedish countryside, small towns, and they were just hanging out in gas stations and stuff. 

OL:  I think that was a plan by their manager to put them on in small towns where they could upset people more.  Maybe you should try that out for Les Big Byrd?
JA: Haha. We’ve always toured a bit. We've been to the UK, the US, we've been all over Europe, pretty much, we are looking forward to going to Japan maybe, but we don't tour for like 250-300 days a year.  We maybe do 30-50 gigs per year or something like that. We've been to the UK a couple of times, and now there's talk about coming back, but I think that will probably be at the end of the summer, or maybe early fall. In Sweden, mostly because we're from here, it's easier for us to tour, so we do a lot here too. We don't want to be on the road the whole time though. It’s great for us to do a little tour of Germany and Belgium or wherever, then it's fun. We’re not looking at this as a career, we're not trying to “break through” you know, we just want to make great albums and play great shows. 

OL: You’ve had a taste of fame previously with The Caesars and your hit single in the US ‘Jerk It Out’ (which sounds a bit rude to me!).
JA: We actually toured all over the world with The Caesars for many years. We had that one hit single that everyone’s heard, but we actually made five albums and we played all over the world. We were childhood friends, and we're still friends now.

OL: What was the transition between The Caesars and Les Big Byrd?  
JA: It was really happening simultaneously. I've always had a lot of projects going on at the same time. I was in a band called Teddybears as well, which started out as a grindcore act that came out of the Stockholm Death Metal and hardcore punk scene. Really fast and aggressive. We gradually evolved over many years, eventually turning into more of an electronic band in the end. Also at the same time, I had The Caesars, and later started Les Big Byrd as well. I also have a band called Smile with Björn from Peter, Björn and John. We've been called Smile for over 10 years and released two albums under that name. We have a new album recorded due for release this spring but I think we're going to have to change our name now because Thom Yorke kind of stole the Smile name, so maybe we're thinking we'll change our name to The Radioheads?

OL: I will wait for the court case to appear for that one!  The name Smile actually sounds more like a ‘60’s West Coast psychedelic band to me, like Love.  I can see a lot of that West Coast influence in what you do, running from the Caesars right through to the latest LBB album.
JA:  There are West Coast influences for sure, as ‘60s music has always been a big love for me - garage rock and psychedelia from the ‘60s, US and UK and all over the world, actually. In my early 20’s this was the thing that I was listening to the most, and it still influences me. It's got some kind of magical sound to me, which is exciting. It’s like you're looking into a kaleidoscope with all the sounds and colours going. It's interesting to me the way they did things then. Even if you go into the jazz world, the ‘60s is like the Golden Age.

OL: You've done writing and production work with some well-known people (Chrissie Hynde, Robyn, The Brian Jonestown Massacre etc) too, haven't you? 
JA: Working and producing other artists can be really rewarding and fun, but I wouldn't want to do that all the time, my real passion is my own projects. But it’s like the more I expand musically, the less money it makes, so I will never be able to make a living from LBB, you know, but I still really want to do it. Production work is a means to be able to do my own stuff. I’ve produced most of everything on the LBB albums too. I’m a bit of a control freak!  We usually write and rehearse here in my own small studio before going a bigger place for the main recording.  I do like the vibe of a band playing together as an ensemble. Sonic Boom came over to Sweden to help produce our ‘Iran, Iraq, IKEA’ album. It was really great to hang with him and meet him and some of what we did with him ended up on the album. I love Spacemen 3 and Pete Kember (Sonic Boom) is still such a great and interesting musician and he's still doing fantastic stuff.

OL: I’m a bit curious actually about where the name Les Big Byrd came from?  Is it from Sesame Street?
JA: Yes, it comes from Big Bird. But we decided to spell ‘Byrd’ with a "Y" because we love The Byrds. Then for some reason, we added the French ‘Les’ as a plural, but pronounce it “less”, like the English do. Don’t know why really haha.

OL: Your publicist said to me that she felt the track ’Mareld’ was a bit of an odd choice to have as a first single off the album, as it’s an 11 minute long, mostly instrumental song. I kind of like that attitude though.
JA: It was hard to fit everything onto the album as we can only fit in six tracks when they're so long. We didn't want to make them shorter though. We thought they needed to be this long.

OL: You’ve got a bonus track on the digital version of the album called ‘Christopher Isherwood’. Is that the same Christopher Isherwood that wrote ‘Cabaret’?
JA: Yes, it is.  He wrote ‘Goodbye to Berlin’ and about the Bhagavad Gita too. He was into all that kind of stuff.  That was one of the tracks we couldn’t fit onto the standard vinyl edition.

OL: I see you are wearing a vintage military top.  We have all been very aware of all the talk of war lately and Sweden has seen some pretty strong statements made by its ministers about all citizens needing to prepare for war.  Although you are not a political band, how has that made you feel?
JA: Of course, it affects me the just like everyone. Unfortunately, the Swedish right wing government we have right now are real idiots in my opinion. They decided that we're going to join NATO after being neutral for like 200 years and suddenly there’s all this talk about how everybody has to be prepared to go to war. It's like they're putting it on us, the normal citizens, to be prepared. I mean “You're the fucking government, you are the ones that should have a plan!” The sort of advice they give to people is that we should have a box in our house with some candles and a wind-up radio in case a bomb knocks out all electricity. It doesn't feel like they really thought that through very well! It's a fucked up and a depressing situation right now and I pray it doesn’t get even worse, but I don't really have much hope about that. It’s scary.

OL: Coming back to the music, you have tracks in English and Swedish on the album.  Do you think that bands feeling pressured to sing in English is a form of musical snobbery?
JA: I think you should sing in whatever language is best for you to express yourself. I've always listened to a lot of English and American music in my life, so it feels kind of natural to me to use English sometimes. But also, some of my songs kind of need to be in Swedish. But I love to listen to music in other languages as well. This morning I put on an Indonesian record from the ‘60s, by a girl group called Yanti Bersaudara that play really mind-bending stuff. I don't know if it's intentionally psychedelic, but it sounds psychedelic to me at least. It can be like quite a relief not always understanding what they're singing, because I can make up my own pictures in my head.  A bad, cliché ridden, lyric can ruin a song, but if it's in Indonesian, or whatever language, it doesn't ruin the song for me, because I’m not distracted by the lyrics.

Les Big ByrdOL: Going back to the ‘60’s, through the ‘70s, ‘80’s and even ‘90’s, powerful lyrics and songs had the power to change attitudes and society.  With music now spread across so many channels and streaming continuously, can it still have that sort of impact?
JA: I agree with you. Music might not have the same power anymore, like it did in the ‘60s, to change things.  Acts like Taylor Swift can influence things though. In the US election, whichever candidate that she chooses to support, they are gonna have a huge advantage because she's so big and her fans will follow her lead.  She won’t be a Trump supporter, I’m sure!  Music is spread across so many channels now though that although it’s accessible it’s harder to create a music scene. There is a Finnish label that put out like a lot of vinyl, which are not on Spotify. They recycle old record sleeves by printing them inside out and use old vinyl from bargain bin records. Maybe that will be an alternative to Spotify.

OL: I've written a couple of pieces recently about Spotify ripping off the artists and Bandcamp getting taken over by another company who care less about the artists. A lot of artists actually rely on Bandcamp for quite a chunk of their income, so they have become less independent now.  They may feel like they are independent because they run their own labels on Bandcamp, but they're actually less independent in reality because they're tied in to this big platform and the platform can cut them off in an instant and then they won't sell anything at all.
JA: It’s a continuous process all the time. Artists find something new and move over to that and then the big companies buy that. It's like housing developments in cities. The artists move to some shitty neighbourhood and then it becomes hip because the artists live there, the big developers move in and buy all the houses and the artists move even further out. That's what's going on with music platforms too. It’s the natural order of capitalism, the bigger companies consume the smaller ones. Before it was MySpace, then Youtube, now Spotify and Bandcamp, then something else will come along.  If you think things were bad for artists in the ‘70s, this will be even worse!  With everything online, it all gets worse. It’s a necessary evil, but everything gets worse with computers. I would love to have no computers in my life!  I'm working with a theatre production now, making the music for the Swedish Royal Dramatic Theatre, and I was talking to the lighting guy who has to use LED lights now.  He said its inferior, like the MP3 version of lighting, just a watered down cheap shittier version of it. Analogue is always better.

OL: Finally, a challenging question. If you had a flamethrower and could totally obliterate one style of music and come up with a new one to take its place, what would that be?
JA:  That’s a really hard question.  I like lots of different types of music, but what I do find quite hard to tolerate is some types of really cheerful and up-tempo classical music. I mean, perhaps I wouldn't really want to obliterate it as it might make some other people sad who like that music but for me, I wouldn't mind if I never hear that type of music again. Also, of course, the American Top 40. Obliterate that whole fucking thing! Then people will be forced to listen to something different.  

For a new type of music, maybe it would be good to have a whole genre with just Omnichord and tape echoes. That could be really niche, like a really small niche. Omnichord and tape echoes. That's the only two instruments you can use. That could be called Omni-core?  I’m already thinking of ideas for that now in the back of my head!

OL: Don’t forget to give me a credit for stimulating that idea on the album! OK, thanks for talking to Outsideleft today and don’t get seasick on your album launch boat trip will you?

‘Diamonds, Rhinestones and Hard Rain’ is set free to fly on 22nd March on their own Chimp Limbs label. Pre-order it now in all formats from

Alan Rider
Contributing Editor

Alan Rider is a Norfolk based writer and electronic musician from Coventry, who splits his time between excavating his own musical past and feeding his growing band of hedgehogs, usually ending up combining the two. Alan also performs in Dark Electronic act Senestra and manages the indie label Adventures in Reality.

about Alan Rider »»

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