MUSTASCH – Testosterone chat
Sweden’s Mustasch have been a steady force in the stoner metal meets bluesy hard rock scene for over a decade. Building a strong reputation for high quality songwriting and performances through their "Above All" debut full-length, they’ve managed to speak to their audience, to connect through the power of music. Their eighth album "Testosterone" signals a little bit of change possibly in the creative department, and yet still conveys the melodies, the grooves, and adrenaline-fueled muscle of Mustasch that is as potent today as it has been since the beginning of their careers.
Bassist Stam Johansson would call through Skype (his first time doing this for an interview by the way), and the man’s soft-spoken demeanor is opposite his monstrous bottom end duties for the group. Prepare to learn more about the new record, a love for film scores, and the singles/videos that launched the group into a full-time career.
Can you tell us about your personal musical background- as in early memories surrounding music and what caused you to pick up a bass and start in bands?
"My first record was a single with Sweet – it was "Fox on the Run". And then I have an older brother and older sister, eight and ten years older, and they listened to David Bowie and The Rolling Stones. They were born in the 1960’s, so I am a big fan of David Bowie. Of course Black Sabbath and Deep Purple and Pink Floyd. When I was 14 or 15 I took piano lessons which I wasn’t very good at, so I bought a bass instead. I started a band but I didn’t know if I could play, but I got quite good at it so I continued and it was very fun."
Was Mustasch your first band or were there other bands before that?
"No, we had different bands with almost the same members as well. The previous bands we tried to follow styles and do what was popular at the moment. With Mustasch we made a big change, we did music that we liked to play and we didn’t give a shit whether anybody else would like it or not. Fortunately they did, some of them at least."
"Testosterone" is the eighth Mustasch studio album – at this point is the group very comfortable when getting into writing and recording mode, and how do you feel this album went in comparison to previous outings? Any special surprises/ highlights/ stories you’d like to share?
"The big thing is Ralf our singer, he almost all the time has written 95% of the material. And now he let that loose totally, he has written one and a half songs for this album. He gave it all away to whoever could write the songs, so David our guitarist and Richard Löfgren our producer wrote the rest actually. It was a completely new atmosphere and a completely new set up, and we didn’t know where this was going to go but we are happy with this result."
I’d like to hear your thoughts on some of my favorite songs- which include "The Rider", "Be Like a Man", and "Under the Radar"…
"Yeah… "The Rider", it’s not one of my favorite songs because I don’t even play on that song (laughs). Maybe that’s why. "Be Like a Man", I love it. I love "Under the Radar" as well but "Be Like a Man" is one of my favorites. It has this Muse vibe, the English band, with the synth style, choirs and stuff. It’s a bit different and a very long track with a break that’s going on about nothing, it’s good. "Under the Radar" is a good song, strange lyrics though. Ralf always writes his lyrics, when it’s good it’s all about him, when it’s bad it’s always about someone else."
Robban Bäck is your stand in drummer currently – any hopes for maintaining a permanent musician behind the throne, and was it a shock to lose Jejo after 4 years?
"It wasn’t a shock to lose Jejo, it’s been going on for a quite a while, his thoughts. He actually has another band still, they are going to release a new album at the beginning of next year. They are called Infinite Mass, a hip hop band. That’s where he really fits in. So I guess this was never a permanent situation for Jejo. But Robban, we have only played 3 gigs with him but he’s a great guy and a brilliant drummer. I’ve read one review recently that talks about Mustasch has had more drummers than Spinal Tap (laughs). We are going to have to fix the situation and keep it cool, you know?"
And hopefully you haven’t had any blow up, either on stage or off…
"No, but we don’t keep in contact with any of our old drummers, so it could have happened. But not on stage, no."
You and Ralf have been there since the beginning. What can you tell us about Ralf as a person, as a songwriter, and the role he plays in making Mustasch the entity that it is?
"He is the boss of the band, always has been. He’s a brilliant entertainer on stage. He did most of the songwriter before this album. It’s great, he delegates things to do, responsibilities to other people.
What are your responsibilities within the band?
"My responsibilities are to play bass and do my job. That’s it. Take care of the website and stuff like that. If I wanted to write a song, I could- but I’m not a songwriter. This is a much more free set up, Ralf has grown up as a boss and a band leader.
When looking at the band’s career arc, what do you consider some of the benchmark moments for particular albums, tours, or videos?
"Our first album in 2002 "Above All". We had a video for the first single "Down in Black", which really frequented MTV Europe and the local Swedish video television channels. We got really big overnight, we were playing the festivals and we didn’t understand what the hell was happening. There would be 10,000 people coming out to see our show at noon. That was the first one. The second one was in 2007 when we released "Latest Version of the Truth". "Double Nature" was the first single and video off that, it became a huge hit and helped us win a Swedish Grammy for best hard rock song. Those are the two strongest moments I think."
Any particular reason why the band has a high profile label involved in Europe but has never sought out a bigger deal for North America?
"I don’t know actually. We started out on EMI Music in Sweden, we wanted to go play some festivals in North America. You have an event called NAMM, we wanted to play there but they sent another band there instead. I’m not sure actually. I guess the music isn’t good enough… if the music is good enough, it travels by itself I think. So maybe this isn’t the thing for America, I don’t know?"
It amazes me, I would rather hear Mustasch on rock radio than 90% of what they chose to play here in America…
"How about In Flames and Ghost?"
They both are popular, but you will be more likely to hear Ghost on the radio versus In Flames. Rock radio stations are owned by big corporations, and they don’t like to push new material to their listeners.
"We thought both would be bigger… especially Ghost because they have toured with Metallica. We don’t get much radio play in Sweden, but Mustasch has grown in popularity in Finland and especially Germany. Germany is an important base to conquer, as it’s the most important for hard rock/metal in Europe."
How do you view the state of hard rock and heavy metal today? Are things healthy, or do you feel that it’s tough to stand out with so many bands fighting for consumer attention?
"I think … I can’t speak for any other country other than Sweden, but in my country hard rock is less popular. It used to be very popular, it’s just the trend. All these things go in cycles, maybe we just have to wait it out another 10 years or so and then we will be back."
What hobbies/ passions do you like to participate in to recharge your musical batteries so to speak?
"I listen to movie scores. I’m a film nerd and movie nerd, I watch a lot of films. The soundtrack to "Interstellar", movie scores… there are no lyrics, it’s soothing if you want it to be. It’s perfect to work under, riding a motorcycle."
How does Mustasch get into the coffee trade with your own brands of espresso beans and ground coffee?
(laughs). Well, we like coffee. The company got in touch with us, so we said why not?"
What does the touring schedule look like for Mustasch over the rest of 2015 into early 2016? Do you have any special memories of playing in Norway?
"In Norway, we have played Oslo many times, and we will play there on this tour as well. We have played festivals there too. There are a lot of Swedes in Oslo so there will be ½ Swedes there. A lot of Swedes work in Norway because the pay is better there. The touring, we will start in Germany for 6-7 shows, then get back to Sweden and Finland. Next year I am not sure about. North America is a goal to play, but many people have told us you have to get big in Germany first, then you can get over to North America. Germany is the biggest hard rock country in Europe. We have achieved one of our goals, which is to live off of our music. We are not rich- a carpenter makes more money than us- but at least we do what we love and get paid for it."