Shout Out Louds: In the Studio Report
Forthcoming Fourth Album Due in Early 2013
Nov 08, 2012
It's been awhile since we heard from Shout Out Louds. After touring behind their stripped down third album Work, the Swedish quintet took a breather, frontman Adam Olenius concentrating on his side project We are Serenades (alongside Laasko's Markus Krunegård) while the other members scattered across the globe.
Earlier their year, they reconvened to begin work on their fourth full-length, which is slated for release in early 2013. The result of their time in the studio is a sprawling collection of daring pop songs, featuring string arrangements that Olenius lovingly refers to as being like "warm mayonnaise."
Under the Radar's Laura Studarus joined Shout Out Louds band members Adam Olenius and Carl von Arbin, and producer Johannes Berglund in their Stockholm recording studio. Over coffee they told her about their egalitarian recording process, pilfering (a tiny bit) from ABBA, and what they really love about the 1980s. Since our interview the band has also updated us that the album is now pretty much finished.
Laura Studarus (Under the Radar): How did recording this album differ from previous times in the studio?
Carl von Arbin: We rehearsed a week, and then we went into the studio straight away. A lot of songs had been written. You're writing songs at home, but we were playing them here and working on them here. Everyone was more involved in a sense. Johannes has also been playing a lot of stuff on this record. It's us three producing and choosing directions.
Adam Olenius: If someone's here, then it's up for grabs. I think we know what direction we want to go. But also, we've been working for quite a long time now. It's been important to keep the direction, and it's been hard to have everyone here all the time. Some of the songs have been more of a group achievement.
Carl: Someone comes in the morning and plays around with the keyboard and starts writing songs. Maybe two or three songs have been written starting in the morning and finishing later in the afternoon.
Has that been something that you've always been able to do? Be that collaborative?
Adam: This is the first time we've been doing it this way. The earlier records, it's been very much, I bring the idea, and everyone had their part. We write it and then we go into recording. A little bit is written in the rehearsal space, but nothing like this way of doing it.
Carl: We've done some demos, some prerecorded stuff. That's why the last record Work was so settled. We rehearsed for eight months and then we went into the studio. This time we did it the other way around.
Was that something you talked about going into the process? The fact that you didn't want to have a really rehearsed sounding album this time?
Adam: Absolutely, yeah. To make something different we had to do that. That's why we booked Johannes before we started. We booked him for a week. Let's book it, and have a deadline. Try to rehearse, and see what comes out of it. I had some ideas. Everyone had little sketches and stuff to bring in. But we started jamming here. The whole recording board was part of the whole thing. Just put the channels on and see what happens. We all agreed that we wanted more of a playful record, with a lot more elements.
Carl: Our rehearsal space is very small. It's smaller than this room. You only cope for like two hours and that's about it.
Adam: You tend to turn to similar solutions. But if you're in the studio, you have the tools at hand, you can redo it. "I like that melody, can we play it on marimba? Can we tune the drums?" You liberate yourself.
Carl: I don't think anyone knows who plays what on this record, except the drums. That's also been a really challenging part. We're used to these limits. And going into the studio and just recording, now we have all the tools. But it's hard to pick one. The process has been so long, getting to know the song, and getting to know what we really need for every part.
Was there ever a point when it felt like you had too many options? You had to build limits into the process?
Carl: Deadline helps!
Adam: Yeah, deadlines! Also, you have to be aware what you sacrifice when you have limitless possibilities. You lose the directness of the idea if you rework the song three or four times. You're bound to get tired of something. The original idea, maybe. For some of the songs, we definitely wanted to not overwork. Some, we couldn't help ourselves.
I imagine it's like when you stare at a single word for too long, it no longer looks like a real word.
Adam: Yeah. But it's been great, the door is always open for ideas. It's the first time we've tried them out in the studio, not written them down on paper, rehearsed it, and then tried it in the studio.
Did having that pressure off you allow you to write more songs, or write them faster?
Adam: We were talking about that when we were rehearsing last week. We know we have at least 15 songs. But we don't know which ones to put on the record. So we started writing new songs.
Carl: And there's 10 more ideas, maybe just a minute long, which could be songs, but we don't have time.
Do you hold on to those idea snippets for later?
Carl: There are some old ones.
Adam: There's some old ideas from the last album that appeared on this one. Mostly they're just ideas on my phone or on my computer or something like that. Or Carl wrote a guitar part that maybe didn't work for that song that now can work for another song.
Any chance some of those songs might end up on the album?
Adam: One extra song ended up on the album, "Where You Come In." The other five songs are in the next-album-box. We're just fighting about A-sides and B-sides now. We talked about releasing an EP with the extra songs but we will see if they age well. We can't have three years in-between every album so this might help the working progress.
Are you introducing any additional elements to your sound?
Carl: We had a guy writing strings. They're like Disney on drugs. They're beautiful.
Adam: Like warm mayonnaise. [Laughs]
Carl: More warm mayonnaise!
Had you worked with strings before?
Adam: Yeah, on the second record. Songs like "Tonight I have to Leave it" And "South America" all have a lot of strings. When we worked on Work, there weren't any strings. Just that red keyboard over there. [Laughs] We wanted to have more of everything on this one.
Is it easy to work with a composer and translate your ideas?
Adam: He was really easy to work with. He came in, and listened to the songs, and we described some references and gave him some space as well.
Johannes Berglund: I've been working with him before. I knew what range he was comfortable working. It's easy to describe to him. He can grasp references.
There's a very specific feel on some of the tracks that remind me of something from the 1980s. I feel like you've gotten that a lot with some of your other records.
Adam: It's weird. We were young in the '80s, but we grew up more listening to music in the '90s. In the late '80s we were 10 years old. Early memories are always there. Early George Michael or Echo and the Bunnymen, or whatever Carl's older sister and my older sister listened to. But then there's so many bands that sound very, very '80s. Almost like a cliché. I think it's a little unfair that we always get grouped in with them.
I never got a feeling that you were aping the sounds of the '80s. More like you grew up listening to the same things that I did.
Adam: I like the whole grand thing that the '80s have.
Carl: The Cold War.
Is the song "The Fourteenth of July" a reference to Bastille Day?
Adam: Yeah, yeah.
It seems like the idea of travel and other countries come up a lot for you guys.
Adam: I traveled a lot as a kid. Now we tour, and the people we meet on tour are the people that stick. But this song is more about some early memories and also a Swedish author. But yeah, I think we're always writing about leaving home and coming back. I think because we leave home, and we talk about home a lot when we're on tour, and everyone asks about our home country, the whole geographic thing gets into your body. Travel and home gets stronger when we talk about it all day.
Carl: That song, I didn't write the lyrics, but for me it's about authenticity. Not a question of being real or not, but what's on the surface.
Adam: Absolutely. That's the whole thing about being in the environment. The people, down in France, the old money and the upper class, they seem on different levels.
I feel like that's something you've always done well, paint pictures of a specific time and place. Did I notice a slight ABBA feel to "Illusions?"
Johannes: [Laughs] I think this is our first!
It's funny, I've met many Swedish bands who don't like admitting the ABBA influence.
Adam: I think it's impossible not to when you're doing pop music. They invented a lot of the techniques that we use, like overdubbing.
Carl: They had some kind of groove and harmonies that are really, really great. So we put them in a perfect song like this. [Laughs]
Johannes: But there's some kind of superficiality in that kind of music that is nice to have as an ingredient. A high gloss, polish. If you mix that with whatever you want to express, it's very effective.
I've always wondered why bands are afraid of that high polish, well-produced aspect.
Johannes: It's hard to put the right amount. And to make the perfect mix.
Carl: It's easy for it to become ironic. We don't want that. It's not that kind of a thing, it's not what we're going for. But it's certainly a way of getting the point across if you use it right.
Adam: Absolutely. It's a great thing. It's more of a feeling to it. It brings a, well I don't want to say happy, but a fantasy world to it. Everything is great, almost like taking heroin.
Johannes: Of course you laugh at the stuff sometimes when you're doing it. You must. It's easy; the first time you do something, to think, "This is super cheesy. But it's kind of good!"
Adam: I think in doing it like this it sounds really bad. But we worked with it, and after awhile it felt like we had something new.
ABBA did a lot of that, especially with their last album, The Visitors, where they had a real high gloss and some very dark lyrics.
Adam: It's not just ABBA, it's Fleetwod Mac. That's fucked up stuff! It's super produced.
Carl: It's similar to ABBA because they were all married and stuff. We don't really go that far. No relationships in the band. [Laughs]
Adam: We try to stay out of that.
Carl: We don't listen to ABBA much. We just think like they do.
This album is going to sound really good live.
Adam: We hope! Since we don't know who's playing what, it's kind of a question.
Carl: Archeology, we have to go through the songs.
Adam: It's going to sound like doing covers straight away. When we started rehearsing to tour behind our second record, Our Ill Wills, it felt the same way; it felt like we were doing someone else's songs. With Work we played them so much in the studio. Now it's not like that. But we'll see. Hopefully we won't have to add more people on stage. We like to do it ourselves.
Johannes: I think all of the songs, they work in a pretty sparse setting as well. Finding the right live arrangement isn't always about sounding exactly like the record. It won't anyway, so why not have more fun with it again?
Adam: We try to do the songs as well and play them like that. It comes in handy.
Johannes: Even if the sounds are glossy, it's not like they are super-layered melodies all playing at the same time. It's more like finding if that melody is a guitar or a keyboard, and what fits best, and what's most fun to play, and what helps the song the best.
Adam: They have to work in a stripped down version. Some songs here, the production is a like a whole instrument itself. It adds so much to it.
Johannes: But it's more about the timbre than putting 10 different things into one. At least I hope so! It's hard to make stuff sound good if there's too much in it too. It's more like finding a sound. Adding two things together to play together than having two different things and trying to fit them.
So it's a balancing act where the goal is to make it sound big without overstuffing it.
Johannes: It's easy to over stuff.
Adam: Now we're cleaning. That's what we're doing right now.
How easy is it to hand over a project when you're finished? Are you working up until the day you have to turn it in?
Adam: Absolutely. We have mixers come down and listen to stuff, and then we explain how we want stuff. But you have to be careful who you work with.
Johannes: It's like when your child is moving out from home. You know you must, in a way, let go.
Adam: Especially now, producing ourselves, we have to give people who are going to mix it their own space.
Johannes: Our blind spot for what we have here is growing steadily!
Adam: So we're going to be pretty busy. We're looking forward to seeing what we have with the new songs.
Carl: Some new blood.
Adam: We're looking to release it at the end of February.
Have you noticed any lyrical themes emerging?
Adam: I think we need to think about that for a while. We've been writing for three years. Now I'm going back to the songs and reading the lyrics and seeing what's in there.
I imagine that it must be an interesting snapshot of where you've been in the last three years.
Adam: It is!
Carl: A two yearlong snap shot.
A long exposure.
Adam: But it is. When I go back and read them, it's how I felt. It's very much a diary thing. It's been like that on every record. Every record is its own era of us. I'm still sort of writing about the same things. But there's some other themes on this record. I'm really afraid of writing a diary. It's braver to write exactly what you're feeling and put names on them. Maybe on our next record.
Carl: When we have no friends left. Or girlfriends.