These are turbulent times, and while some of us bury our heads in the sand, The Radio Dept. aren’t the type of band to shy away from political, social and musical issues.
Their latest album ‘Running Out Of Love’ is as political and confrontational as ever, taking swipes at the Swedish gun lobby, capitalism, the music industry and police brutality among others. Some describe their music as dream pop and they describe themselves as a pop band, however there isn’t anything dreamy about this latest release; this is a fierce, bold statement of a record. It hints at a dark future, amid growing populism in the Western world. In light of recent events, we might now consider ‘Running Out Of Love’ as somewhat prophetic.
We caught up with Johan and Martin to talk about the new album, the record industry and somewhat inevitably, politics.
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This is an especially charged album, even by your standards. What kind of state of mind were you in when writing it?
We tend to think a lot about politics these days as the world gets crazier and crazier. However much I tried, it was hard to avoid writing about these things. As for Trump’s election victory, we’re as surprised as anyone really. Having said that, maybe we weren’t that surprised because we’ve had the same thing in Sweden with the Swedish Democrats. We’ve seen these tendencies in Europe already.
So what’s going on in Sweden is a microcosm of what’s happening in Europe?
Probably. It’s hard to know, especially for a band. There are certainly parallels. At the same time a while ago there was a left wing trend as well. Look at Bernie Sanders and Corbyn and Greece, so there’s still hope.
In the UK we tend to think of Sweden as relatively progressive and forward thinking. It’s always up there in those ‘best places to live’ lists…
Sweden is still progressive in many ways but it takes very little to tear down what’s taken more than 100 years to build. It used to be a very progressive country, and in many ways it still is. We had a right wing government for eight years until the Social Democrats got back into power. They’re really bad at communicating the positives they achieve. We only hear about the bad stuff they do, like closing the borders. And it’s getting worse. We’re really scared about the Swedish Democrats winning the vote next time, in the same way Trump did. Maybe we’ll move to Scotland!
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One of the most striking tracks on the album is Swedish Guns. Have you thought about going a step further and getting into politics?
We go to demonstrations, and in some ways we’re active politically but at the end of the day we’re a band, and that’s what we are first. We wrote all the music first before even writing a lyric. Writing music is what we’re good at and that’s what we’ll keep doing first, then we react to the world around us. People want us to do more, but we could also do nothing and just write love songs instead.
When I first became vegetarian everyone wanted me to go a step further ‘you don’t eat meat so why don’t you give up this, that, the other’… As soon as you take a stand, people expect you to take every stand. This is the problem with the left wing, always arguing about what more could be done. But this is what we do basically. One day maybe we’ll do more, or less.
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Of course we should try to communicate but we also need to educate...
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There has indeed been plenty of infighting among the left this year, to the extent it looks like it could implode. Is the criticism fair?
It’s too easy to blame the left for everything. The right has to take responsibility. Also, you have to see things like fascism and racism for what they are. Of course we should try to communicate but we also need to educate. A racist comment is a racist comment. It doesn’t make it better if the left is more ‘understanding’ about it.
We have to take a stance sometime. And we do. You can’t blame it on the left. I think it’s a journalistic problem, and Facebook is a big problem as well. You only get your values confirmed all the time and never challenged. We think we live in a progressive world but it’s actually divided and we need to find better ways to interact.
Can you be more specific on the ‘cause’ and the ‘thing’ referred to in lines like ‘This thing was bound to happen’ and ‘Committed to the Cause’?
In this case, the cause refers to one of the songs that we wrote about capitalism. More specifically what inspired me to write was the fuss going on with the label. It became so apparent to us how greed and capitalism works and it really effected us.
However it can be applied to many things. ‘Things’ are old lyrics when the Sweden democrats were getting bigger and after the last election when they got 13%, so it’s about that. It’s also about how little I do to prevent things like that. The verses start with “I drink Cuba cola…” “I’m walking the left hand path”. It is about taking the easy way out, but it can also be interpreted as left wing.
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I’m longing back to the time 10 years ago when rock n’ roll was our biggest enemy...
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How much is politics effecting the music industry?
I’m not really sure. To be honest, I’m longing back to the time 10 years ago when rock n’ roll was our biggest enemy but now all this political shit is blocking everything out. The record industry is constantly changing and has been very rapidly. I don’t have any opinions right now because I haven’t thought about it. Apart from going to court with our label, but that’s a boring conversation.
Really? We were just going to ask if you had settled your differences with Labrador?
Yes, that’s all finished now. The problem is we signed horrible contracts when we were really young. We only realised a couple of years ago how bad those contracts were and we decided to sue our label to get out of them. We lost that initial court case and we had another one coming up but just before that we managed to settle with the label. It was a compromise but we did really well in the end - instead of getting ‘owned’ forever we now get everything back after eight years. It’s the way it should be.
We were so far from that before, so now we feel liberated in a way. This is our last album with Labrador so after that we’ll see how we feel with the industry before starting our own label and licensing the releases to labels that are slightly bigger. Not major labels but just slightly bigger indie labels. We’ll see what happens. If you ask us about the industry again in a couple of years we’ll have one or two more things to say about it!
Given your determination to stay away from the mainstream your longevity is impressive. What would you be if you hadn’t found success on your own terms?
We never expected any of this. When we started out we were really impressed by old indie bands who didn’t sell many vinyl records when they started. With the first single we put out we were kinda cocky and printed 500 vinyl copies but we actually managed to sell them all. We could have kept doing it that way. We were working day jobs in a mental institution and we could have just kept doing that to pay the rent and only releasing the occasional EP or something.
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'Running Out Of Love' is out now.
Words: Milo Wasserman