Swedish punks “DEMONS” have been there, done it and bought the t-shirt. Whether you’re already a fan, just discovering the band, or you need a lesson on how the rock ‘n’ roll world can operate, then look no further than this in-depth chat with Mathias “Hep Cat Matt” Carlsson. Enjoy!
Interview by Ginge Knievil.
MM: Hey, Matt. “DEMONS” have been going since 1995. Okay to give new fans a scattered history?
MC: Well, it’s a pretty long story now. In fact our roots go back to the late 80s when I was ten or eleven years old and wanted to play in a band after seeing the Nomads. I grew up in the northern suburbs and together with my closest friends I started Rabieshundarna (The Rabies Dogs). It was very primitive musically but we managed to play our first show in 1988 or something and at that show we were called The Nogoods [laughs]. That band consisted of me Stefan (Jonsson) and a couple of kids down the street.
After a year or so, and a couple of name changes Micke (Jacobsson) joined the band on drums and we changed our name permanently to Jawbation. It was around 1990 and we wanted to combine hardcore energy with the groove of the Stooges and MC5 and with the attitude and twin guitar assault of the New York Dolls. This was way before we heard or heard of any of the early 90’s American bands that we later were associated with. At the time there was no Scandinavian rock n’ roll scene at all. All we had was basically Union Carbide Productions, the Nomads and a meager bunch of so-so garage and punk bands. We listened to a lot of Australian bands in those days and old stuff like 60s garage, first generation punk, hardcore and so on.
Jawbation played and recorded a lot but never got any real recognition. By 1993/94 our bass player had quit and we were more or less over. We were such a tight band of brothers that we didn’t want to continue with Jawbation without him. That was a pity since we had caught the ear of the A&R guy who discovered and signed Union Carbide Productions.
We brought in Muffins (Brink) as a replacement for one or a couple of shows we had to do. Me, Micke and Stefan didn’t want to stop playing however so we figured we wanted a clean slate and start over. We recorded a couple of songs in 1994 with Muffins and they are basically the first “DEMONS” recordings although we weren’t called that yet.
I worked as a music writer at the time and got to interview my heroes Lux Interior and Poison Ivy of The Cramps. With me I had a list of band names and told them I needed to choose one for my new band and wanted some advice from them. They both agreed that Demons was the best name and that was that. From then on we were working more or less professionally as “DEMONS”.
“DEMONS” basically had an album ready by summer 1995 but no one wanted to release it. We sent it to Crypt Records and Tim responded and said he liked it but couldn’t put it out. That would have been a dream at the time, to get it out on Crypt. If he or anybody else had released the record it would have come out way before both Supershitty to the Max and Ass Cobra. To me, when I hear it today it is a serious contender to those records.
Maybe it’ll get released some day.
MM: Talking of Supershitty to the Max, The Hellacopters covered one of your tracks for the Head Off album. How’d that come about?
MC: You know, when the Scandi rock thing took off, The Hellacopters became the focus of the media and industry in Sweden. Any other band with a remotely similar approach was ignored and new records buried or slandered out of ignorance in the press. It hurt us and other architects of the genre, and because of that, more or less, no-one got any decent press, couldn’t get better bookers, gigs, interest etc. Everyone involved in rock at that time had the misfortune to constantly be compared to The Hellacopters because none of the journalists knew their rock history or cared to investigate what was really going on. If bands got reviewed at all that is.
In part, ignorant Swedish music journalists and others in the industry feeding that fire actually helped smother a rock scene that could have blossomed even more and evolved into something fantastic for everybody involved. It is my firm belief that they basically killed off what was really the second wave of punk rock in Sweden. Before it had even started. That’s not The Hellacopters’ fault of course.
For the full story on Head Off I guess you have to ask Nicke and the boys. I think most of the bands they covered were kept in the dark before that record was released. No one knew what they were up to. But a qualified guess is that they did that album to give something back to the scene and the bands that had preceded them and/or inspired them. A gesture of respect and a nod to the other songwriters of that era. Maybe so the shit-for-brains journalists were forced to acknowledge there were other bands or a movement going on. At least in hindsight, since it was all basically over when the album came out.
I was of course honoured and happy to see sometimes thousands of people screaming along to the lyrics of Electrocute on the tour we did together in 2008. Lyrics I wrote when I was 16 or something. Love their version too. In fact both bands had it in their sets on that tour.
MM: Whoa! That’s come as a massive shock. Mainly due to the fact that through my rose tinted glasses here in the UK, Sweden has always been a hotbed for awesome rock ‘n’ roll. I mean, the majority of my favourite bands come from Sweden. You say journalists were forced to acknowledge. Have things improved in the modern, digital age? We’re obviously a far cry the 1990s.
MC: Back then it was the dying end of the fanzine era and before the digital age and you were in the hands of a mighty few controlling which bands and music came through via handshakes and ass licking. It was more sensationalism and more about journalists promoting themselves in media through a hype of some sorts. They were far from amateurs but oh so narcissistic and uncreative. What if English writers would have compared every new wave band to the Sex Pistols in the 70’s? “Joy Division sounds a bit like the Sex Pistols on their debut” / “London Calling doesn’t sound like the Sex Pistols but it’s an okay record”. So stupid.
As a Swedish underground band in the mid to late 90’s you had to go through that world; there was no way around it. For most independent artists it was devastating. This is also why I stopped writing about music then. I saw it from the inside and I tried to make a difference but it was too dirty and self promoting. The very definition of payola. Embarrassing really.
This was also the reason we set our eyes on the USA. Swedish press and industry had their darlings and didn’t have eyes for anything else so the only thing to do was leave. These days it’s totally different of course. Internet made it possible for everyone to have a view and spread their music or art. That’s a whole different story. Good or bad it’s more honest. Unfortunately, history got screwed up and people still believe the somewhat wrong version that was presented in the 90’s. I guess history is in the hands of those who write it.
MM: It seems setting your sights on America paid dividends. I mean, you toured with the New Bomb Turks, played SXSW, released stuff on Gearhead Records, etc. What are your stand out moments from that time?
MC: I sent our debut mini-LP / 10” to Mike Lavella and Gearhead Magazine in 1998. When I didn’t hear back from him or got a review I just figured he didn’t like it. Then it occurred to me that it might have got lost in the mail so I sent another package. In a week or so he contacted me and raved about that it was the definitive 90’s punk rock record or whatever, and that they were starting a new label and wanted to sign us. We also had a good offer from People Like You Records in Germany and we knew Gearhead Records had just started out. Mike was convincing though.
In a few months time Mike had flown to Sweden to signed us and we were billed as “punk ‘n’ roll” by the label. They made up a new genre for us [laughs], and to my knowledge we were the first band to be called that. Our debut full length came out in 2000 and in 2001 we were scheduled to do our first tour of the States together with The Nomads and The Fleshtones. Now, that’s a bookend of sorts with reference to why I had started playing from the beginning!
When we got ready to tour, 9/11 happened and The Nomads backed out. The tour was already booked and we couldn’t let some terrorists stop us. So we agreed to go by ourselves. I figured it would be the safest time to fly anyway since it just had happened and security was rigorous. The plane was nearly empty and when we flew over New York a few days after the incident, ground zero still had a pillar of thick smoke coming out of it. We flew right past it. I still remember the smell.
Mike was a veteran of the California punk / hardcore scene and he immediately recognized what we were doing musically. He had toured extensively with his hardcore outfit Half Life in the 80s and worked as a driver for Samhain and Husker Du. Plus, he knew everybody worth knowing. He came with us on tour. We knew beforehand it was back to basics regarding the standard of the tour. The bookings were great but accommodations and payments were so-so. Mike booked the tours as he had done in his punk days which meant sleeping on floors, in the car and sometimes not at all. The schedule included a show at The Las Vegas Shakedown, which was great fun.
We did a tour after that with The Dragons from San Diego. It was a little better money wise but still the same standard. That was one of the best tours I have done though. Dragons were one of the most hardworking bands of the era. They toured ALL the time and knew ALL the tricks. You can imagine how it was for us being showed around by them. We couldn’t have gotten better guides into USA’s rock ‘n’ roll world. So much weird and fun shit happened on that tour I don’t even know where to begin. I’ll save that for my book [laughs]. The Dragons became like our big brothers and we learned a lot from them both as people and as musicians. I was genuinely sad when Steve passed away.
We got to play with one of my favorite bands of all time on that tour as well – The Lazy Cowgirls. Got nothing but the deepest respect for Pat Todd as a songwriter and an artist. He’s Americana personified but in his own personal way.
For us going to America was revisiting some of our roots. Both Micke and I have family over there. It was also like being a part of a road movie going through America coast-to-coast by car visiting its culture: blues, country, Steinbeck, food, punk rock, Bukowski, rhythm and blues, Route 66. All of those things you had grown up with, plus all the stories my mom and grandmother had told me as a kid. My grandmother and grandfather went through some heavy Grapes of Wrath shit in the late 20s through the 30s. They had some stories of their own I tell you. So USA felt a little bit at home you know. Woody Guthrie, through Joe Hill, felt closer to heart than any Swedish folk music.
In September 2002 we released our second album, Stockholm Slump. The title referred to the sad state of Stockholm when it came to music and of course, jokingly, the phrase Sophomore Slump since it was our second. First off it was that problem with the press and then there was nowhere to play. Not one single rock club in Stockholm in 2002. It seems weird now but it was really a struggle for everybody playing. I think we did like three shows in Sweden that year and about 45 in the USA.
The September tour was with the New Bomb Turks. They had signed with Gearhead as well and put out their album The Night Before The Day the Earth Stood Still about the same time as Stockholm Slump. We knew each other already from their shows in Sweden. We had hung out before. The tour was a staggering 26 shows in 24 days. Not all dates were with the Turks though. This time the standard was better so it was possible to do that kind of tour without burning out half way through. We had this touring outfit, The Stumbling Hobos, with members from both bands that got together playing covers after the shows in bars. It’s a little hazy though.
In 2003 and early 2004 we played in the UK, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Germany, Holland and Belgium. Gearhead was just about to release the compilation Demonology and we headed over to the US again, this time headlining for another 22 shows in March 2004. Even though we had toured most of the time and put together Demonology we had managed to write and record basics for our third full length for Gearhead. When we had a meeting in San Francisco they told us they were kicking us off the label. I never understood why since we, at that time, were one of the biggest names they had. Why would you book a band a headlining tour, release their record and at the same time sack them? It doesn’t add up. We were quite angry on that trip. Even so, we had a great time and got really fucked up. In terms of crazy, this was probably the tour which takes the cake. It ended with a great and packed performance at SXSW. We haven’t played in America since although we’ve had offers. It just hasn’t happened. Yet.
The remaining recording plans were scrapped and the third album never did get put out by anyone. The Gearhead empire started to crumble shortly after. Mike left and the Demonology record got released without a contract. We got pretty much screwed afterwards to say the least. A sad ending to a fun and creative era.
We also had a one album deal with a Japanese label called RYOW-Ken. After the US tour we went to Japan for a couple of gigs. The record, a nice double CD compilation package called Riot in Japan was released in April 2004 and sold fairly well but then nothing more happened with the label. That is a pity because it would have been great after the Gearhead breakdown to focus on Japan. Someone told me that the record fetches insane prices on the collectors market these days.
We didn’t release a full length again until Ace in the Hole in 2008.
MM: “DEMONS” took a hiatus for four years in 2011. What’s the story behind the break?
MC: We never disbanded or anything. Sometimes when you’re in a band with the same people for many years and grow up together you come to a point where disagree about something. It’s inevitable. When you tour relentlessly for years, get ripped off by people you trust, have gear get stolen and go through everything others hear bands do, it gets sort of old after a while and it takes a thick slice out of the heart you have in it. That period. around 2010, 2011 we took a few blows as a band.
Our name was ripped off. There was some American hipster band calling themselves Demons releasing records from about 2006 on wards. The confusion definitely hurt us and created a lot of different problems. We tried to contact them since we had used the name professionally since 1995. They or their label didn’t even bother answering. I mean, how hard is it to google a band name. If you write Demons band and hit search you’ll find us. I think they just didn’t care which is the ultimate disrespect between musicians. It’s a mystery to me why you wanna do that. They created a big ugly mess on the internet.
Prior to the release of Scarcity Rock we had negotiated deals with several larger labels in Sweden for some time and had a long discussion with super producer John Luongo for a potential collaboration in the US. All of it fell through for a number of reasons and we chose to release Scarcity Rock ourselves. The dialog with labels and producers was tiresome and recording and releasing the album became an economic gamble. Afterwards we didn’t have any money left to pay somebody for promotion. It was, again, buried and forgotten quickly.
It was a shame really because it was our most adventurous recording to date. We experimented with different studio techniques and wanted to channel all our influences on one album without losing the common thread. The album also had a dystopic theme and the lyrics were more important than before. I’m really proud of the fact that we could step out of our comfort zone and produce something like that. It’s our Frankenstein’s monster. We really put our hearts in that record and then nobody liked it.
Besides all that it was, at that time in 2011, also more or less a low point for punk rock, garage rock and music in general and it seemed like people looked for other kinds of music and stopped going to shows. At least in Europe. It was one of those dead periods where nothing happens and people just weren’t interested or understood what you were doing. No one was buying records either with all the streaming and stuff picking up. Basically it was the worst time to be in a rock n’ roll band ever so we just decided to take a step back and figure out what to do. That was the main reason for it.
The mood within the band wasn’t the best and it took some time to patch things up. We couldn’t agree on what approach to take with all this bullshit going on. Our agreement was to take a break, then talk it over and make a decision down the line. Which we did. It only took a little longer than we anticipated.
Now in 2018, there’s a unfortunately a similar situation with the Demons name, yet ANOTHER group of people who don’t know how to use Google or don’t care if they damage other peoples work. There’s even more confusing crap on the net now than in 2011. Why start a band, write songs, try to get a deal, get a deal, work hard in the studio, make a record, make the label promote it and NOT check if your band name is already taken by a modern, active, existing band?
I mean, why would you do that to yourself or others? Is it some confusing post modernistic thing? Will we see more of this in the future? “The bearded electro duo drone metal jazz band The Stooges release their debut in 2022”. The mind boogles. Maybe it’s just ignorance and/or laziness. I find that hard to believe though. Can’t get my head around it. It’s counter productive for everybody.
So if you find a Demons record without the quotation marks it’s definitely not us. Glad we kept that little gimmick.
MM: Admittedly, the first time “DEMONS” entered my radar was via your split single with The Hip Priests. Can we expect you on British soil in the future?
MC: Well, Mike Lavella once predicted that we would conquer the world through one person at the time.
As of now we’re booking 2019, setting release dates for more records and so on. No UK dates are booked but we are definitely looking into that possibility. It’s been a while.
MM: Thanks for taking the time to talk to Mass Movement, Matt. As with all the interviews, the last words belong to you. GO!
MC: A four band split was just released (September 20th) by Italian label Retro Vox. It compiles two exclusive tracks each from King Mastino, Scumbag Millionaire, us and Black Gremlin. All great bands. Our two songs are the first released with the new line up. Pick it up while it’s hot and available. As with most vinyl releases we do it is pressed in very limited numbers.
I also just got the test press for our collaboration mini album with Jeff Dahl. It sounds amazing and will be released on Ghost Highway, October 16th. It contains new recordings of Jeff’s best songs as well as a tune I wrote together with him in the studio. Brilliant!
That’s pretty much it for 2018, one of our most active years ever if you’re talking output and creativity. There might be one or two compilation albums before the end of the year. We’ll play a couple of shows as well. As it looks now it will be mostly local.
During 2019 there will be more singles and projects as well. Tribute records to Dead Moon and Blue Oyster Cult, split singles, regular singles, reissues, you name it. We try to record as much as we can and play live as well.
First we release a single on Lux Noise in Switzerland in January. Looking forward to that! It’s a killer.
We’re planning a Euro tour early in the year, a US tour later and then we’ll see. Book us!
I once said I would never ever do another full length album but now we will anyway. Guess I changed my mind down the line. It will be out during the first half of 2019, nine years after the last one. We’re working with it now and I must say it’s a good collection of songs. Maybe the best I have ever written. Pretty different from the last record. Not the sound so much but the mood. It will have new versions of a couple of our most recent singles but 85 percent will be new material.
So obviously we’re at it again. Please look out for our new releases and come to the show when we pass through your town. If there’s a hole in your “DEMONS” collection don’t hesitate to check if we have that record you’re looking for. We got a lot of stuff left. If there is anyone out there wanting to release something or book a show with “DEMONS”, just contact us. We’re a 100 percent D.I.Y. these days and it feels damn good.
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