For singer Joakim Berg and his Kent band mates, home is where they lay their hats and their guitars, drums and keyboards.
High school friends Berg, bassist-keyboardist Martin Skold, lead guitarist Sami Sirvio, guitarist Harri Manty and drummer Markus Mustonen left behind the industrial wasteland of Eskilstuna, their small Swedish hometown, in 1992 and moved to thoroughly modern Stockholm to pursue their rock dreams.
They had no choice.
“You basically have to move to Stockholm,” Skold said recently, “because all the record companies are in Stockholm and they don’t bother to go into other cities to look for rock bands.”
“When we started our band in our town,” Berg said, “we were so bored. There was nothing else to do. If you’re 20 years old, you can’t even go into bars or anything.
“When I was growing up in that town, there was so many people talking about leaving and getting out and starting a new and better life somewhere else, but they just stay anyway. They were just complaining about it. ‘It’s so boring here,’ but what’s so hard about moving? I always tried to get this town out of my system; I hated it so much when I was growing up there; I wanted to leave so badly and not look back. Now I think it’s a nice town, but when you spend all your days wanting to see some excitement somewhere, then you get really, really frustrated.”
Berg finally has gotten the hometown angst out of his system with the group’s moody third album, “Isola” (RCA), released stateside in mid-September. The album, the quintet’s first English recording, touches on isolation and other assorted fears. But there’s always a flip side to breaking free from the ties that bind you, Berg said.
“You can get stuck somewhere else, even if you move from your small town to New York or wherever, you can’t keep on going and going,” he said. “You need something, someplace you can always call home.”
Home now is Stockholm, where RCA/BMG Sweden executives discovered the band opening a gig for The Cardigans in 1994. A year later, their self-titled debut album only scratched at the surface of what was to come: Their second LP, “Verkligen” (1996), and “Isola” both entered at No. 1 on Sweden’s album chart, went platinum and yielded several Swedish Grammys.
While critics have lavished them with praise and all sorts of comparisons, from The Cure to the Smashing Pumpkins, Berg said their sound is a conglomeration of everything they hear in Sweden.
“We get a lot of music in Sweden,” he said. “Swedish people, especially in Stockholm, are up to date on trends. And we have the same release dates for albums as you have (in the United States), so the albums always come out on the same dates. We’re so used to hearing music from everywhere, so we never really thought about the comparisons. Some people said we sounded like The Cure; they have to box us in the beginning. We sang in Swedish on the first two albums, and they were both very Swedish because the main attraction was the Swedish lyrics; it was very uncommon then for rock bands to sing in Swedish.”
Now that they are singing in English, Skold said some of their Swedish fans have abandoned them.
“Some people don’t like it being in English, because before we were all theirs,” he said. “They wanted to keep us for themselves.”
Disc jockey Gene “Bean” Baxter, of KROQ in Los Angeles, heard “If You Were Here,” a track off “Isola,” while on vacation in Iceland. He bought a copy of the album and played it for his station manager, who quickly added “If You Were Here” to KROQ’s playlist over the summer. Favorable audience response forced RCA to rush-release “Isola” stateside. (“If You Were Here” peaked at No. 7 on P&P’s Picks chart in early October.)
“No one knew the song was being played until the record company told us, ‘They’re playing your song in New York and L.A.,’ ” Berg said. “We’re like, ‘What? That’s impossible, it’s not even released there.’ “
Kent made its U.S. concert debut in early November, opening for The Cardigans during the CMJ convention in New York. The band will return early next year for its first American tour.
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