Everything seems to operate on a delay with Makthaverskan. It was four years before they released their second album, the aptly titled II in 2014. A year before that album received a proper release in the United States. And now, most recently, a constant delay with their visas almost cost the band their US tour.
Those delays fly in the face of the music the band actually make; a noisy and catchy melding of indie rock and new wave that is relentless and utterly cathartic. It’s a direct punch to the gut upon first listen. And as powerful as they are on record, they hit even harder live, when lines like, “Fuck you for fucking me/when I was 17” in “No Mercy” are not only sung straight to your face, but by everyone around you. We talked with guitarists Gustav Andersson and Hugo Randulv and drummer Andreas Wettmark before their last performance at South by Southwest in Austin.
You’re currently on your first US tour. How has it been?
Gustav Andersson: It’s been really, really great. We had a real struggle going here because we had visa issues and we were stuck in Vienna for a week. And we felt extremely miserable and really not certain we would come here at all, so when we finally got our visas we exploded with joy. Kind of (laughs). Vienna was pretty awful because we had ups and downs all the time.
Hugo Randulv: It was like that movie “Groundhog Day”, when you live each day over and over again. It was like that just waiting to get our visas. We went to the same restaurants and saw the same things and we stayed in the same room all over again. It was tearing on us.
Andersson: We got so many ups and downs like “Oh, maybe tomorrow everything will be fixed”. We were getting to a point on the tour where it would have been very hard to catch up with all the shows we had missed.
Randulv: We had a 30 hour constant drive just to get back on schedule. We got the visas at the very last second.
Is it different playing shows in the United States than it is in Europe or Sweden?
Andersson: I think so yeah, at least if you compare it to Gothenburg because in Gothenburg we’ve got all our friends who are basically super Makthaverskan fans. They always put on a great show for us to watch. But I think it’s been amazing in the US so far.
Randulv: Yes, I think the difference between here and there is that people in Sweden go to Makthaverskan shows and they get really drunk and party a lot and mosh around or whatever you want to call it. But here it feels like people appreciate the music a little bit more. They feel more excited to listen to the band, not just going to the show but listening to the band. And I think that’s the main difference. People already kind of know what a Makthaverskan show is in Sweden but when we come here it’s a different thing because they only know about our records. They’ve never seen us live, so they hear the music in a different way and look at our shows in a different way. And I really appreciate that. I love playing in front of a “dancey” audience, or whatever you want to call it, but I also enjoy us playing to people who are really listening to the music.
Andersson: And I think the Galax Z Fair in McAllen, the audience over there were so amazing, and all the people who were at our show there were such amazing people and they welcomed us so great. For me that I think that was one of our best shows so far, just because the audience…it felt like they were genuinely happy about us as a band.
It’s not only your first time playing the US but playing South By Southwest as well. How was that as an experience?
Andreas Wettmark: Well, it was humbling in a way but we only did clubs as I’ve been told everyone does at the festival. I thought it would be much bigger scenes for other artists, the really big ones. Yeah, it’s just been like all the gigs you’ve played before. The only difference has been that they’re in the daytime (laughs).
We never had this goal that we were going to reach out to as many people as possible, but whoever feels something when they listen to our music.
Your new song “Witness” is much darker and harsher than your older material. What pushed you in a new direction with that song?
Andersson: I don’t know. I think it was mainly in the beginning that Hugo had this idea. The working title of the song was “Maiden” from Iron Maiden because it sounded like them.
Randulv: And after I wrote the lead guitar part I went “Fuck can we use this, it sounds like Iron Maiden? I don’t think we can use this.” But then we did it and it was alright. But there’s no idea behind it sounding edgier to us. It sounds like more of the earlier Makthaverskan stuff that we did like “Vi Var Människor Från Början” and does songs. [“Witness”] was more in the vein of those types of songs. We don’t go to the rehearsal place and say “Ok we’re going to do this. This is going to sound like that.” It just happens.
Andersson: It unfolds naturally.
So your style and approach to writing songs hasn’t changed in seven years?
Hugo: It’s changed in that we’ve gotten another guitarist [Andersson] and it’s changed in that I feel a little bit better at playing songs and writing stuff. You get inspired by everything you hear. The songs we write now are basically the same songs we’ve written before but in the stage of life we are now. The songs evolve at the same speed as our personal life does. The music, how can you say it?
Reflects your life?
Randulv: Well yes, of course it does.
Andersson: I just want to do stuff that I feel comfortable with, and really everybody in Makthaverskan is like that. It has to be natural. We can never make like a reggae album (laugh).
Your second album was properly released in the United States a little while ago. Does it matter to you that your music gets released in other countries and other people hear it?
Randulv: We never had this goal that we were going to reach out to as many people as possible, but whoever feels something when they listen to our music, wherever they’re from or in whatever part of the world, of course it means a lot to us that people somewhere in the world really gets our music and likes it. That means a lot to us.
Wettmark: It’s also nice to see that people with other references other than Swedish people also like it. I’m very…I don’t know the word, but stoked? I feel a bit stoked about it. It matters to us.
Andersson: We’re super surprised because we’ve always been a very Swedish or Gothenburgian band. So it’s strange to see people in America like us. I mean, it’s quite weird.
Both Hugo and Gustav are in a band called Westkust and Maja [Milner, the band’s singer] started a project called Iberia. How do you separate what is a Makthaverskan song and what goes into your other projects?
Gustav: It’s pretty easy. You just feel it. Whatever feels the most natural. Also Hugo for the most part starts an idea for Makthaverskan often. Sometimes I do as well (laughs), but in Westkust it’s more I start with a chord progression. I don’t know; we just feel it.
Randulv: Yeah, it’s quite easy to distinguish what kind of you music you want to do with each band, and it also comes quite naturally because I don’t think either me or Gustav sits down and are like “Ok, now I’m going to write a Westkust song, now I’m going to write a Makthaverskan song”. Whatever comes up with the melody…
Andersson: You can instantly feel that is belongs somewhere. I don’t know what to call it in English…
Randulv: You have a gut feeling about it!
When you started Makthaverskan, you said it was because no one in your city was playing the music you wanted to hear. Do you still feel that way, that sense of isolation?
Randulv: No! I think the point where Makthaverskan is in Gothenburg right now is where I wanted Makthaverskan to be in the beginning. Because now we have Westkust and we have School ’94 and we have this scene based around the Luxury label, and that’s pretty much what I personally wanted to be with Makthaverskan. I wanted to be part of something that felt like it mattered to me. Not just some band, somewhere. I wanted it be in a bigger…
Randulv: Yeah, I didn’t want it to exist in a vacuum where it’s just one band. I wanted it to be a scene! And I think it’s starting to come up, some really interesting music from Gothenburg nowadays.