Words: Miljan Milekić
If you grew up as a punk rock kid in the second half of the ’90s the early 2000s, you had to know Swedish powerhouses No Fun At All. Their sharp, energetic, yet melodic blend of skate punk earned them a devoted fanbase they still have. I personally got onto NFAA train a bit later, somewhere around their second reunion, just in time to become a fan before seeing them play an insane set at Slovenia’s Punk Rock Holiday in 2016. Now, with a new album ‘Seventh Wave’ still fresh under the record press, I was lucky enough to catch up with the singer Ingemar Jansson and bassist Stefan Bratt, to discuss the new music, upcoming tour, and a little bit of skateboarding.
Hi guys! Thank you for your time! So, how was Australia? How did it feel to escape from the gloomy Swedish fall and catch some sun?
Stefan: It was really good. In Perth, where we got on the first day, it was nice, warm weather. Then we got a bunch of rainy days, but it was still warmer than in Sweden! (laughs)
Ingemar: Yeah, so much better than Sweden. (laughs)
Stefan: But we had amazing shows and a really good time.
Back in October, you released your brand new album ‘Seventh Wave,’ which was the reason for your trip down under, as well this interview. So how happy are you with the reaction to your new songs, especially on shows you played so far?
Ingemar: I think it’s been really good. The tour in Australia wasn’t a total ‘Seventh Wave’ tour. We played maybe five or six songs from ‘Seventh Wave,’ but I think the crowd was reacting to the new songs as they usually do to our old songs. And I’m really happy with it.
Stefan: Same here. I mean, it’s hard to get the same sing-alongs on brand-new songs compared to songs that had been out for 25 or 30 years, but we had a really good reaction to the new stuff.
When you say that you played only five or six new songs on the shows, I don’t think that’s “only.” You see bands that only play one or two new songs on tours 20 or 30 years into their careers. So, for me, that’s a sign that you are really happy with the album and believe in new songs.
Ingemar: Absolutely. And it’s really fun to play the new songs, too. We actually played more than five or six new songs, because we kept changing them. It’s really fun to play them.
Stefan: We recorded this album with all the vocal harmonies and everything, so it felt so good and natural to do it live, too. It adds up really well. I had a great time playing the new stuff. And the response online has been really good. I haven’t heard anything negative at all. Nowadays, it can be because, after all, this genre of music is maybe not the hot topic, but people have been enthusiastic about the album. (laughs)
‘Seventh Wave’ offers everything we would expect from a No Fun At All album – the fast-paced, high-energy, melodic punk rock. How challenging is it to write a record that is 100% No Fun At All, without reinventing the wheel, but at the same time without it sounding boring and stale?
Ingemar: That’s a really good question, which actually should go to Mikael, who writes pretty much 100% of the music. He’s a strange (laughs) and fantastic person when it comes to writing music. This is just my speculation, but I think from the beginning, in his head, songs sound pretty much like visions of songs. But then he somehow manages to bloom them out according to the music that he’s listening to at the moment.
Also nowadays, you get really nice demos. In the beginning, when I was gonna write the lyrics, I would get a little tape with him playing an electric guitar that wasn’t plugged in. (laughs) And he would be whispering the fake lyrics. So I was trying to write lyrics from that. (laughs) And it was easier then for me to write the lyrics than it is now because now it all sounds like a finished product when you get it. And I admire Mikael a lot, for coming up with these tunes, with these really good melodic poppy punky songs. And I definitely think that Stefan [Bratt] and Fredrik [Eriksson], who are new in the band, put their scent on these songs. It’s not the same as it was six years, or even more ago, when we recorded ‘Low Rider,’ and when Stefan [Neumar] and Christer [Mähl] were in the band. Sorry, Stefan and Chril, but they did not contribute to the sound as much as Stefan and Fredrik.
Stefan: If I can say a few words – I totally agree with what Ingemar says, Mikael is such a music-loving person as well. He has such a wide range of influences and gets a lot of inspiration from really different kinds of music. And all of it is baked into his punk songs then, which is amazing how he does that. But also, on this album, me and Fredrik, the new guys, well, it’s been five years, and we had a little talk about maybe giving a little bit more of our personalities in music than we did on the last album. So I think we try to put our personal touch on it a bit more.
On the new record, you covered a variety of different subjects and topics, varying from personal to socially aware and political. How hard is it to find the balance, and where do you usually look for inspiration for your lyrics?
Ingemar: Well, the balance, that just happens. I never sit down and decide – “Okay, I’m gonna write this song about this.” And it’s been like that throughout the years. Since ’93, when I started to write lyrics. Of course, I have ideas about what I wanna write about, but they pop up whenever I don’t expect them to do.
I might think that a song is gonna be about something, and then it turns out to be about something totally different, and the thing I wanted to write about pops up on another song. It can just be about me listening to the radio, and stuff gets stuck in my head, and it can happen five minutes before I sit down… On this album, I have a big room in my house, “the Ballroom” (laughs), and I was sitting there writing a lot in the winter, and all this weird stuff just popped up in my head. And I have no control over it. It just happens. It can be about a movie, or about world politics. About how I feel at the time. It’s just random. (laughs)
With all of you guys being scattered around Sweden, and having personal and family lives, how hard was it to keep the band vital, and as active as you are? Especially considering the fact that you aren’t selling millions of records or playing stadiums so that financial motive would be the dominant one.
Stefan: For me, it’s kinda an easy answer. We’re having fun together, we love to play music, and obviously, to play music with each other. If I didn’t have a good time, I wouldn’t do it because, as you said, it’s not a huge economical motivation. It never was for me, when it comes to music or creativity. It’s something I need to do and love to do with the right people. As long as it feels good, it’s gonna turn out good. I guess that’s probably why the album sounds good as well, because we love doing it, and we had a good time playing those songs.
Ingemar: I totally agree. I got this question so many times – why do we keep doing this? And it’s really hard to give a good answer to that. It must be because standing on stage and, and doing this gives you so much. It’s such a fantastic thing to be able to do that and to have all these people coming up to you afterwards, hugging you, and saying – “Fuck, this is so amazing that you’re still doing this and you’re still so good!” (laughs) Yeah, it’s weird. People keep nagging about Rolling Stones – “How can they keep on doing it, they are fucking 80 years old?!” But I understand why they do it. They’re fucking addicted to it. They can’t stop.
Stefan: There’s something about it. Even for me, not being an original member of No Fun At All, playing all the old songs gives me the same thing as playing songs that I’ve been a part of. It really doesn’t matter because it’s the thing you have when you play together, and all the energy you exchange with the audience. All the traveling can be really tough on you sometimes, but for me, it’s all worth it. At the end of the day, when you do a good show and you go to bed and you feel like – “Yeah, this is my reason to live.” I guess we’re a bit addicted too, right? (laughs)
And especially if you were a fan of the band before joining it, and love those songs.
Stefan: It’s also the thing, we’ve been given the chance to do this. It doesn’t matter if they started 25 years before I did because we were given the chance to do this in our lives, and we do it together. It’s fantastic. A lot of people want to do this, but can never even come close to it. So, I feel really grateful to be a part of this big machinery that is No Fun At All and to play for all these wonderful people.
For this record, you teamed up with SBÄM Records, who have been making serious waves in the scene over the past year or two. Can you tell me more about working with them? How does it feel to have such a passionate label in Europe, and not be completely dependent on labels overseas?
Ingemar: It feels really good. It’s a little bit like being back in the ’90s, when we released our first albums on Burning Heart. There were only a few guys working there, they were very, very passionate about music, and there was a lot of flexibility in how things were done. So, I think it’s good. We know Stefan from SBÄM since at least six or seven years ago. We did a show in Austria that he promoted, and then we’ve been keeping in contact.
He’d been re-releasing some of our old stuff, and he was very, very clear that he wanted to release a new album if we ever made one after ‘Grit.’ So finally, we were like – “Yeah, why not? Why not do this in Europe?” Our American adventure on ‘Grit’ didn’t turn out so well, so it’s easier to have someone, at least, on the same continent. You can take a flight down and, you know, tell him – “Hey – you’re fucking up now!” (laughs) But it’s good. They’re doing fantastic work. I just hope they don’t grow too fast.
In the past few years, we are seeing a massive return of the punk rock sound. It may not be in the mainstream as it was two decades ago, but it looks like the scene is very healthy and exciting with the older generation still going strong, and new bands popping up all over the world. Do you as a band see it as well? Do you see an intake of younger fans at your show, or among your fanbase in general?
Stefan: I usually try to check out support acts and local bands, even if it’s just for a song. And I noticed in Australia that there were more younger people. We did a matinee show, with all ages. It wasn’t as packed as the night show, it’s still a thing, and it was obvious that people of a lower age wanted to come. So I think there is a good mix. There are always the people who are like 45 now, who grew up with No Fun At All. They might be the biggest part of the audience, I absolutely see younger faces popping up. But I have been thinking that a few times before, even with the other bands I’ve played with. “Hey, maybe now is the time for the revival of melodic punk.”
Ingemar: I think you’re right. I think there is a new wave of bands coming now, especially looking at festivals, in Europe at least. You see the same new band names popping up at lots of festivals, and that’s definitely a good thing. And we, the ’90s guys, we’re still there. (laughs) But on the other hand, NOFX said that they’re gonna quit now. So that’s one ’80s or ’90s band less competing for the slots at festivals. (laughs) But anyway, since we started with Stefan and Fredrik, and started to really tour again – I mean, for 20 years, we just did, you know, maybe ten shows a year. But now, coming back to the festival circles, it’s Pennywise, it’s NOFX, Good Riddance, Strung Out, Pulley… The old guys are still very much alive and doing this. And not being pathetic. I think we’re okay. I think we’re doing good. Of course, we’re taking up the place from new bands, but it’s natural, isn’t it? We’ve been around for 30 years.
Stefan: I think that’s the way it is. Not only in the punk rock or metal community. There are always the bigger names that had been around for a long time, and sooner or later they will quit. I saw the band Turnstile at a festival in the Netherlands, and it got to me. They looked like kids look nowadays, like, the ’90s vibe. It was like going back in time. And they had such a massive audience, and it was a really, really good show. It is a cool thing to see a younger band playing hardcore music, and that people are really fucking into it. It was a really cool experience. So yeah, obviously, there are young bands taking their places on the top three rows of the festival lineups.
Over the years, your blend of punk rock was well accepted by the skateboarding community all over the world. Do you feel like being accepted in that community ever helped you reach more people, possibly some who would never hear your music otherwise?
Ingemar: Absolutely. There’s no question about that. And not only skateboarding but surfing and snowboarding had been major channels for us too. We had three songs on Taylor Steele‘s ‘Focus’ video back in ’94, and those three songs – in California, in Australia, in Brazil, everyone knows those three songs, you know? And all these skateboard videos we were on in the nineties definitely helped us to make it into the scene. It’s very, very closely connected, this kind of music and the action sports world. I mean, I never skated in my own life, but I really feel like I’m a part of that movement anyways. So every time I see a kid with a skateboard, I’m like – “Hey, you’re cool. You gotta be a good guy.” (laughs)
Stefan: Maybe you should try! Give it a go! (laughs)
Ingemar: No! I would break something! (laughs)
I would say that this love was a two-way street, as it wasn’t a surprise to see you guys wearing some of the skateboarding brands, or even offering your own skate decks. How important was it for you to nurture the relationship with the skateboarding scene? Is any of you still involved in skateboarding today?
Stefan: Fredrik is. I think he picked it up after like 25 years of not doing it.
Ingemar: Yeah, but I also think that he wants his kid to be a skateboarder. So he also took it up because of that.
Stefan: It’s a side-by-side thing. Skateboarding and other extreme sports go hand in hand with this music. At least in the nineties, maybe not anymore, but for us, it’s natural. I would totally fall apart if I tried to stand on a skateboard today, but I would love to try to stand on a snowboard. Let’s see if I find some opportunity to do it. (laughs)
Ingemar: I would really love to be on a surfboard though. (laughs) If I was younger, I would definitely learn how to surf.
Stefan: I think Mikael and Kjell [Ramstedt] did some surfing while on tour, I think in Brazil.
Ingemar: In Brazil and Australia.
It’s hard to surf in Sweden. (laughs)
Stefan: Yes it is! (laughs) But yeah, it’s totally natural. Also with collaborations brands like Vans do with bands, it’s just the way it is, I never even thought about it.
Ingemar: I don’t know if anyone really noticed it, but anyone who has ‘Seventh Wave’ can check out the lyrics, and you can find some references to skateboarding and skateboarding companies in there. (laughs)
You have announced the massive European tour for Spring 2023. Can we expect to see you back in North America, or Canada as well?
Stefan: For me, I never really realized it looked massive. It’s only two two-weeks tours. (laughs) But, yeah, I understand how it’s kind of massive. I guess more will follow. We’re gonna tour the album, and we wanna do it all over the place. So in one way or another, I’m pretty sure we will visit Canada, but I’m not sure how or when.
Ingemar: We’ll see. The US is a bit too complicated to tour for European bands. It sucks, but that’s the way it is. It’s too expensive for a band from Europe. So we’ll see. If something extraordinary happens, maybe we will do that. But I’m sure we are gonna do Canada. Also Mexico – we’ve only been to Mexico once, and I think we could do many shows. South America, as well.
So, fingers crossed that Green Day call you up on a US tour with them. (laughs)
Stefan: Yeah. (laughs) We’ll see about that.