The tagline descriptor that the Swedish trio The Magnettes uses to describe their music is “21st Century Fuckpop.” For most any other group, that would be an eye-rolling sentiment meant to just grab some attention from the press by using a naughty word. For this act, it fits like a dress made of Lycra. Their music has the sound of the future poured into every breathy or crooned vocal, and every bleep and beat of their electropop tracks. And, yeah, if you listen to these songs and don’t soon imagine how fun it would be to listen to them while you’re in the throes of passion, then you might need to talk to your physician about a decrease in libido or some faulty wiring in your pleasure center.
This year could find The Magnettes breaking out in a big way beyond the northern part of Sweden, where Rebecka Digervall, Sanna Kalla, and Tomas Bäckland Thuneström met as kids. After raising a ruckus at the 2015 edition SXSW and playing some shows on the East and West Coast here in the U.S., they promise to be back here in the States for more shows. And they’ve got some fine, fine new music to promote, including “Killers In A Ghost Town,” a slinky little track that, according to Digervall, was written in Nashville, recorded in a kitchen in Pajala, and mixed in San Diego. “That song’s been all over the world already,” she said when we spoke recently during a tour stop in Stockholm.
She, her bandmate Thuneström and I also talked about the challenges of breaking into an already crowded Swedish pop marketplace, singing in English, and much more. And if that weren’t enough, the band also put together a nice little Spotify playlist of their favorite tunes of the moment, which you can find at the end of this interview.
How did The Magnettes get started?
RD: Me and Sanna went to school together so we met when we were six years old. We both discovered that we liked music and liked playing music so we started a punk band at first. Then when we were 13 and 14, we got sad and started making acoustic pop. And we started playing shows in Pajala. There’s not a lot of venues in Pajala, but we played in those that we could. We met Tomas when we were 15 or 16.
TBT: I think you were 17 actually.
RD: 17, maybe. He was always in the picture but he wasn’t playing with us. We had another band with other guys, but we’ve been playing like we will today for about two or three years.
When you started playing music together, what were you listening to?
RD: Because we had a punk band, we were listening to a lot of Swedish punk. Elvis Costello. Talking Heads and a lot of new wave. Spice Girls, obviously.
TBT: A lot of ‘90s pop. Also a lot of Springsteen and American rock.
RD: There was this mixture between very poppy and girl-fronted music, and also riot grrrl bands. There were also these old men in the picture. We used to do these covers of the old guys and make them to be fronted by two girls.
TBT: In Sweden, you can’t avoid Springsteen and Creedence Clearwater Revival and AC/DC. You hear it all the time, even if you don’t want to.
RD: In Sweden, when you play a show, there’s always someone that yells, “Play Creedence!”
TBT; Creedence is our “Free Bird.”
How does the songwriting work within the band – is it one person writing most everything or is it a collaborative process?
TBT: Very collaborative. Rebecka does a lot of the writing and we bounce things back and forth. I do a lot of sound things with the instrumentation and production on the tracks.
RD: We all step into these other areas so we don’t have just one writer or one producer on the track.
You three like to mix it up a lot on stage too with Rebecka playing acoustic guitar on some songs, and others were she and Sanna are just singing.
RD: We started out with me playing guitar and both of us singing. And Sanna played drums when we had our punk band. We tried to keep that but fit it in with the way things are now.
TBT: Most of it depends on the song, and the size of the venue and the type of band you have. Just taking the same concept and doing it as a trio or with eight people.
RD: When we played our hometown, we have a big stage so we always bring…I think this summer we had two drummers. It’s great to have it be so flexible so we can have three or two people and then with eight people.
Your songs are primarily in English. Why did you choose to sing in a foreign language rather than your native tongue?
RD: We grew up listening to pop music and it was always in English. It was never really natural to write in Swedish. When we wrote punk music, we wrote in Swedish, but that’s because we were listening to a lot of Swedish punk. What we knew of pop music was that it was in English. It was easier because you grew up with it like that. It was easier to explain emotions in that way. In the place where we come from, we don’t talk about what we’re feeling and what we’re thinking that openly so in English, it’s sort of like to go around it in a way. And not be so straightforward. We also use the minority language from the place that we’re from. Me and Sanna grew up in the Tornedalen region of northern Sweden, and we have our own language [Tornedalen Finnish] that we use. We try to incorporate that with our songs because no one’s really doing that.
2015 was a pretty big year for the band. You came here to play SXSW and do some shows. How was that for you?
RD: Last year felt like two years for us. We came to the U.S. twice. South By was intense and a lot of hard work. But we got to meet the label that we are now signed to. A lot happened. There was a lot of shit too. We got moved between houses and nothing really worked. And we had nine shows in a week and people got sick. But it was a lot of fun and we want to do it again.
Is that in the cards already? Will you hitting South By again?
RD: Not this year. We are doing another U.S. tour this year. I don’t have the dates, but it’s more towards the beginning of summer. We’ll be announcing it soon. We can’t wait to go back. We did a tour in October and went to L.A., San Francisco, New York, and Key Largo, Florida, so we really got to go everywhere. We love it there.
How did the show go that you played in Florida?
RD: It was different! It was sort of a songwriting festival that I was admitted to, but I brought the band along with me so we did a couple of shows there. Quite different because crowd was much different than it was in New York and the weather was quite different so it felt good to go from Key Largo, Florida to New York and wear big jackets again. We were kind of afraid to do it because of the audiences there but I don’t think they got too upset.
What is the music scene like in Sweden these days?
RD: I think mainstream pop is getting super interesting. There’s a lot of acts that are really great. It’s really getting to another level, but that makes it harder to break into. In the north of Sweden, we have our name and get gigs, but we’re focusing on the south right now and getting played on the radio. It’s tough to break into but we’re working on it. But there’s a lot of great bands and artists that are making pop music. So it’s a fun time to play music in Sweden.
I didn’t realize it was hard for bands from the northern part of the country to get known in the rest of Sweden.
RD: It is! We’ve been playing for so long in the north. It feels like we’ve been working to break into this country for years. But there’s that barrier between the north and the south. If you’re from here, from the south, it’s much easier to get into it. We had to work harder to start building our name and make gigs to make money to do shows over here. There’s a lot of competition over here because there’s a lot more bands. What’s important to us is to show that even if you live in a place with only 2,000 people, you can still make music and still live there and go on a U.S. tour. You don’t have to go to a big city to make it. That gives us a drive to continue even though the competition is tough. It’s worth it to us.
Is it the goal for most Swedish bands to get well-known primarily in your home country or are you trying to attain worldwide renown?
RD: I can’t really speak for all of them. We always said when we were 14 that we wanted to have a song on the Billboard Hot 100. For us, it was the biggest stadiums and the biggest charts that we’ve set our mind to. Sweden has never been enough. We wanted to take on the world.
You’ve been playing some shows in the early part of the year. How have those been going?
RD: It’s been going great. We did a show this past weekend at the Fotografiska [a photography gallery in Stockholm] and the place was packed. We didn’t know what to expect. They were opening this brand new bar with a brand new stage. No one had ever played on it before. It was so much fun and a lot of people and a great response. We feel like we’re one step closer to breaking through in this city.