ALEXANDER BARD INTERVIEW "Why do people even still listen to Radio 1?"

First off, although threatened by other music genres the thrust of pop continues to be as hard as ever despite the tremendous discrimination it faces from those within the music industry as well as those who classify it as “throwaway”. Why do you think this is?

To begin with, pop means popular, so compared to other genres that are fairly stable over time, pop is tautological if used as a genre: If something becomes popular, it is redefined as pop. Most of the pop songs we hear in the charts and on the radio today would have been considered electronica, house, techno, R&B or hip-hop ten years ago. So the music industry doesn't really have a bias against pop, it has a bias against its very lifeblood: commercially successful music! I just regard this tendency as an expression of self-loathing, and something I don't want to be a part of. What we should do is instead differentiate between commercial (pop) and non-commercial (not-so-pop) music and then also possibly between good versus bad commercial music. I love music, but I hate snobbism.

Do you think mainstream society has a love-hate relationship with pop music?

Of course it does. We all have a love/hate relationships with all things popular. Hey, I have a love/hate relationship with the United States! Sometimes we feel the general taste is horrible and sometimes we have to agree that we like and enjoy something popular. And sometimes people surprise us with their good taste and longing for that which is fresh and innovative and sometimes they disappoint us with their bad taste and urge for safety and predictability. But the same thing goes for television, film, fashion, all popular culture. It's not specific for pop music.

This draws me to Scandanavia. The term Scandipop has arisen as a subculture of music its own. This genre proudly declares pop and all its glorious colours rather than discretely hides it away within a private sphere. Why do you think Scandinavia, namely Sweden, has this jubilant relationship with pop?

Because Scandinavians tend to be a lot less snobbish than people in the UK and the US. While we are totally aware of what is in and out (otherwise H&M would not be a global brand) we happen to live in en egalitarian and almost classless society. So we spend a lot less time positioning ourselves as superior/inferior in the social games that for example the British are obsessed with (which is also why Stockholm lunch meetings take maximum a third the time of those in London). So there is no reason for Scandinavians to nurture any snobbishness in itself, we can just differentiate between good and bad quality without attaching any of these categories to our own identities. This provides a more openminded and creative environment for making music, for example. You will never hear a Scandinavian musician romantically speaking about his or her class the way a Goldsmiths student does in an NME or Pitchfork interview in the UK. Who cares?

Indeed, many songwriters whether they hail from Denmark, Norway or Sweden manage to write absolutely amazing toplines with dreamy middle eights. How did this come to pass? Sweden is the land of amazing pop music? Is this the result of something in the water?

It is the result of an old obsession with MELODY. And while arangements these days are totally minimailized; beats, sounds, and melodies are more important than ever. Now if you attach this obsession with melody (can you be more melodic than Abba, I doubt it) to the modern Scandinavian obsession with all things technology (hardware and software, The Pirate Bay and Spotify, Nokia and Ericsson) you have the formula for a highly successful musical environment, where of course also success breeeds success. Stockholm is now to pop songwriting and production what Nashville is to country music and Guangdong is to plastic toys. And it is likely to stay that way for decades to come if you judge by Nashville's continuous success.

Eurovision is a great example of this. Not only did Sweden win, but a large percent of the songs came from Sweden or were the result of a collaboration with a Swedish songwriter/producer? Is there a system-wide socio-political drive towards the arts in Sweden?

Well, 10 of the 26 finalists in this year's Eurovision Song Contest were written and produced by Swedes and Sweden also won the entire contest with a huge margin. But believe it or not, most of the elite of Swedish songwriters and producers do NOT participate at Eurovision at all. Neither Robyn, Lykke Li, nor Gravitonas would ever participate as artists, just as an example. And Max Martin and Carl Falk are busy writing #1 hits in the UK and the US and Fredrik Hult and Andreas Öhrn are busy doing the same in Japan. So none of them do Eurovision at all.

Its interesting. Loreen's single essentially gets the Europe-wide vote of support with her ESC win but also more importantly global Itunes sales and glowing chart positions. Yet radio 1 refuses to play it. Is this snobbism, as you say, or something more illicit? A condition particular to Radio 1 in the UK?

Snobbism bordering on racism. Loreen is a Swedish-Moroccan singer not using UK songwriters or producers. So Radio 1 act snobbishly and in a racist manner against her work, definitely. They wouldn't dare to treat a UK-based singer with her success story in this disgraceful manner. Why do people even still listen to Radio 1 in the UK? Can't you decide your own taste without being told what to like? It's musical Stalinism to me.

The acts you’ve been involved with: Vacuum, Army of Lovers, BwO and now Gravitonas discursively play around with social norms whether it be via the music and/or through the imagery. Is this an underpinning strategy behind your creative output? To watch the jouissance of release play-out as the music you’ve created is consumed by us?

Yes, I do hope so. There is absolutely no point in starting "just another band" as if I had an urge to expose my ego or fill up my bank account. I much prefer to be ahead of the time I live in, and do something nobody else does before they do it. Making a commentary on the society we live in should be the driving force of all art, to begin with. Making a "soundtrack to the times". This is of course where Gravitonas come into the picture and can be hard to understand at first. If only because there are no other bands or projects like Gravitonas around. Yet. But that's why it needs time to develop and grow and will be all the more relevant for it.

In each act you’re involved with there seems to be a wide range of interesting dualisms at play. Gravitonas reminds me of Morrisey and Johnny Marr. The frisson between the two of you is fabulous to hear within the music but takes the listener to a didactic position of involvement.  Is this the grounding place of Gravitonas?

Yes, Gravitonas belong to a long line of acts based on a strange and twisted male-to-male relationship. Basically it's Adam vs God or Jesus vs John The Baptist in The Bible and it goes on from there into contemporary popular culture. Because patriarchy is now the most despised phenomenon in the universe, it is of course also creatively the most inspiring to work with (the way camp culture was fun to twist around with during the Army Of Lovers years when AIDS ruled the world). So yes, Gravitonas is most of all a "neo-patriarchal" band. Precisely because in popular culture we can play around with our dreams, drives, desires without having to attach them to the power struggles of everyday life (so while I'm of course a feminist I'm also extremely attracted to the concept of Patriarchy, the general theme of all things Gravitonas).

I adore this. Gravitonas takes it elsewhere. Doesn't allow it rest of its laurels and naturally the blogs, sites and communities that adore pop have swallowed this whole. Do you think it a must for pop practitioners to do this….

Well, pop fans do have enormous SENSITIVITY. It is as if they can FEEL the new and daring before it appears. And in an age where the new and daring no longer can use shock value to have an impact (which is why Lady Gaga really is just the mass market heterosexual version of what Divine did in the 1970s within camp culture) but has to play around with the collective subconscious, this INTUITION of the great pop fan (now armed with his or her own blog) is more important than ever. Gravitonas' strategy was therefore to take everything we did online and go 100% digital to avoid mass media exposure and let the theme grow slowly. And now it pays off with mass market success around Europe and in North America, but in a way not seen before. Gravitonas for example ressurected the old concept of the "imported record phenomenon" of dance music the 1970s. Music that travels across borders even before the record company knew it was on their roster. Tiesto played Gravitonas "Religious", a few weeks later we had a Billboard Club Chart hit in the U.S. Without intermediary agents!

Into this, what do you make of Scissor Sisters and their latest output of work? For me, a once interesting pop group has managed to become boring. I might be alone in this thinking but i was shocked to find a group once defined by the brilliant New York electro-cabaret-pop scene releasing an album that wasn't all that fun. 

First of all, I'm a HUGE Scissor Sisters fan. But I also sense the problem they have arrived at in their career: The concept of a band with two openly gay men and their faghag female friend and fruitfly male friend was perhaps fresh and innovative in the 1990s but feels dated today, a bit like if Army Of Lovers would still be around. It is a concept that may still have relevance to people in their 40 and 50s but at least in Scandinavia there are no Scissor Sisters fans in their 20s (where pop music is most important socially) since they don't feel the concept is relevant to THEM. They can't identify themselves with the band in a society where everybody is queer and goes to mixed clubs and don't give a shit about who goes to bed with whom. At least now Scissor Sisters have moved away from their former obsession with retro Elton John songs (which prevented them from breaking in the States; the British love all things retro, the Americans hate it, Lex Robbie Williams, the ultimate pastiche artist which the Americans refused to embrace). But Scissor Sisters feel strangely alien to and uncomfortable with their new 21st century sound (as does Madonna on her latest album) and this is where the problems begin. Which explains why I feel much more at ease listening to Rufus Wainwright doing his Cole Porter-again-I-refuse-to-be-modern timeless music compared to the over-A&R-ed mishmash that is now Scissor Sisters.

Are you saying the focus groups may of got the better of the Scissor Sisters?

Listen, pop culture involves two things: Creativity in songwriting, production and performance. And relevance to fans. Relevance means that you REFLECT something, maybe even everything, in the lives of your supposed fans. At a minimum your music is the wallpaper to the lives of your fans. But the connection gets even stronger when you play the role model, become a close friend, even a mum, dad or sibling replacement, or some other intimate figure of reference. What used to be called an "idol" in a more narrow sense. Now, if your band doesn't reflect how people live their lives today but rather how their parents lived, it's going to be hard for you as an artist to become emotionally relevant outside of your music. This is usually what happens when even an established artist flops: The record they've released is not one of their best works, AND their relevance to fans has been lost. Then, who's supposed to buy or stream your record? I don't see junior Scissor Sisters people in clubs anymore. So I understand their problem now to connect. But I see Gravitonas male-male couples (typically the straight and gay guys together as best friends) everywhere and we HOPE to be relevant to them.

You’ve just worked with the British band The Face. What inspired you to write for the Face? You very rarely write for others….

My colleague Anders Hansson was asked to work with The Face and then invited me to co-write a couple of tracks. The Face are clearly a new variation of the theme that was Human League in the 1980s and then Alcazar which I wrote and produced for twenty years later. So it's a format (one guy, two girls) that I'm quite comfortable writing for. Maybe time is ripe for another band with this setting to rule the pop charts in the 2010s? That remains to be seen. In any case, The Face should work in Japan!

Would you consider writing for Kylie or Lady Gaga for example?

"Crying At The Discoteque" was actually put on hold for Kylie Minogue already 12 years ago but by then Alcazar's original was already climbing the charts in Italy and France so the track stayed permenantly with Alcazar. Lady Gaga though seems keen on writing all material for herself and is not very generous with credits to her collaborators and artists anyway. Those who don't appreciate their songwriters and producers are no fun to work with anyway. But then again, what would thses women need me for when they have all the world writing for them? And looking at my past, I'm almost totally a songwriter for MALE and not female voices. I rarely work with female and even less so female solo performers. Why should I when I'm personally much more attached to male voices? So call me if Jake from Scissor Sisters wants to make a solo record instead, haha!

Sexuality and pop has often clashed with sublime results. One might say you couldn't have one without the other. If you walked into a sex shop you can now purchase items that disembody the human body by allowing customers to require all forms of external body parts. The immense popularity of these products exposes the heightened development of bodies without organs in the very real public sphere. In the pop sphere, has this been realized in the digitization of music or do you think we’ve not yet seen potential re-ordering impact of the stratification of our bodies?"

You know if any band is post-sexual (not a-sexual, folk music has always been a-sexual, nobody wants to sleep with Bob Dylan or Mumford & Sons) it is Gravitonas. It is far more interesting now to explore intimacy and even transcendence in relationships BEYOND sexuality. Lady Gaga is probably the last sexually explicit superstar (and I count Nikki Minaj into that category of the lasts too, as she is the black Gaga while Gaga is the white Minaj). I'm genuinely tired of sex and constant sexual innuendos. Lady Gaga's "Judas" was such a TIRED idea (which also explains why it flopped so hard despite the over-the-top promo video). And if using religious symbolism, why pick Catholicism in a world oversaturated with Vatican symbolism? Why not build a new religion for a new age and then set a soundtrack to that? Then you also understand where Gravitonas are at. Keep fingers crossed now we can also make it work, haha! Time to stand and deliver!

I always thought Lady Gaga was non-sexual. I don't think she realizes this. I understand the thrust to find something beyond sexuality but when identities are scrutinized to the forensic level do you think its possible to reach this space? And how so?

No, Lady Gaga is sexual, even acting out her sexuality for all to see, but she acts within an environment that has now become so oversexualized that nobody pays attention to her sexuality. So it becomes kitsch. The fact that her most devoted fans are to be found in kindergardens says it all. Army Of Lovers did kitsch for real, for the love of kitsch. I don't believe Lady Gaga gets that. She has an army of fabulous stylists, total talent, I love them, but the result is hollow bordering on cynical. She's a walking catwalk soundtrack. That gets dull very fast and suddenly Adele came along and even the gay crowd turned over to her. Why? Because Adele is real, amazing songs, amazing voice, a personality, and all real. What more could you ask for? Unless Lady Gaga delivers some realness in a post-Adele world, I don't see her last even remotely as long as her hero Madonna has.

Yes, but then again what did you make of the recent Madonna album? 

I'm afraid it's a totally irrelevant record. It hurt to see Nikki Minaj upstage Madonna at the Super Bowl and when I heard the album I felt the target group for that record sounded like they would be younger even than her own daughter. Madonna should do a Celine Dion and move to Las Vegas and perform "Like A Prayer" there on stage every night. Quickly! She is NOT with it anymore.

Are Gravitonas going to release the debut album in one whole go - or will it be somewhat like Robyn's Body Talk?

Gravitonas don't make albums. On purpose. Nobody would bother about albums had streaming been invented first and I don't see why we should keep a dinosaur alive now when times have changed. We make tracks and release them as singles, EPs, remixes, and in all kinds of versions with visuals too. Music on the web is and should be a very different experience from music in the shop. So Gravitonas - being "the world's first Spotify band" as an American journalist said - want to break with all the old formats. Both in how you make music and how you distrubute it. DJs don't make albums either (and when they do, like David Guetta, we don't care) so why should the new generation of dance-inspired bands like Gravitonas make albums? After all, Gravitonas are what you go see perform after your night out in the clubs. It is rock post-dance revolution. And should connect with THAT culture, not with conservative formats of the past....Robyn has enough integrity not to compromise on her music and appearance. If Americans thinks she is (wrongly) an aggressive lesbo, then Robyn does not care. This is why, in an all-too-cynical music environment, it's impossible not to love her. In a way, what Andreas and me and the boys do in Gravitonas IS the male equiavlent of what Robyn has done for the girls. And just like her, we insist on going on our way and are happy Universal have let us do precisely that. Robyn is just a few years ahead of us, that's all, haha.



Anonymous said...

Great questions you've asked him there. But what Alexander doesn't get is that most people want to enjoy their current life and reminisce about past experiences. He's all about future, future, future and forgets that most of us are not in the mood to swim along with him. He let some of his greatest projects die (especially the legendary Army Of Lovers) because he thinks that they wouldn't work today. Sorry, but Gravitonas doesn't work today either. He should think about this.

Ade said...

Have to agree with anon. Not everyone has the privilege of being a "spotify" act. Gravitonas will never be in the same league as Robyn if always pushes to the future without sorting out the current.

Radio 1 will always play music that relates to the demographic. Loreen was like Kylie. Redundant to radio 1 and its demographic.

Still, a very good interview here. Made me think. Agree on his Lady Gaga/Madonna/ScissorSister thoughts.

Mark said...

Fantastic. As a old queen of 400 years, I've long adored Alexander Bard and his projects. He always leaves you wanting more. Which i think is great. That is what the godfather of pop must do! This is the best interview I've read with him in a very long time. Thank you.