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While the average American's knowledge of Swedish music starts and ends with ABBA, Stockholm's Adam Olenius boasts a childhood that musicwise, at least could have been plucked from any stateside suburb. As a teenager, the first album he bought was George Michael's Faith. He grew up listening to classic American and British pop, offering the Pet Shop Boys as an example. He's gone through musical phases heavy metal, jazz, electronic. "My dad played the Beatles, Chicago, Queen, Zeppelin, old Motown," he says. "There was a lot of music in my home as a kid."
Not that it's unusual for a European to own Abbey Road or Houses of the Holy,but in recent years, Sweden, like Montreal whose musical associations were limited to Bryan Adams, Heart, and Celine Dion before getting a cool injection from Broken Social Scene, Stars, and the Arcade Fire has become a musical "it" spot. The country has imported bands like Franz Ferdinand and OK Go, who enlisted Swedish producer Torre Johanssen on their latest albums, and shipped out the Hives, Soundtrack of Our Lives and, most recently, Olenius and his group the Shout Out Louds,whose catchy, twee-rock melodies have taken the fivesome from Scandinavian obscurity to Letterman, a major label, and lots of love from across the pond.
A graphic-arts student in Stockholm, Olenius was in search of another creative outlet when the Shout Out Louds were born. He wanted to create something with his friends, bassist Ted Malmros and guitarist Carl von Arbin, and because of their collective love of music, a band seemed like a logical choice. They soon brought in drummer Eric Edman and Moog-playing Bebban Stenborg, the quintessential Swedish blond with striking features reminiscent of fellow Swede Nina Persson of the Cardigans. Originally, the band went by the name Luca Brasi, after the tubby henchman in The Godfather who ended up swimming with the fishes. "I think the movie was on in the background the night we started the band," Olenius says.
They soon, however, arrived at a more fitting name, one that didn't draw up images of hair-gelled Italians and dismembered horse heads. While in school, Olenius sketched an image of two wolves howling at the moon. The howls, he says, basically sum up their sound shouting pop with a lot of energy and thus, Shout Out Louds stuck. At their first gig, in the basement of a Stockholm jazz club, the group performed its entire catalog: three songs. "But we hate long concerts," Olenius says, "so three songs is good." Those three songs were enough to get Filip Wilen, owner of independent label Bud Fox Recordings, to sign them. Within a year, the Shout Out Louds had a full-length album, fans in New York City, and a deal with Capitol Records to release their debut.
"We wanted to go back to the very start, sort of a two-year diary of the band, a collection of experiences we've had so far. Just how life is, actually," Olenius says of Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. The band's first full-length offering named after the same wolf drawing that inspired the band's name, which is also the album's cover art is a collection of jangly pop-rock songs about finding love, losing love, and wishing love didn't make you feel like crap. Olenius sometimes borders on emo over-angst with pleading lyrics like "Everyone's got someone, I got no one" and "Please please please come back to me," but with handclaps, Strokes-esque guitar, and upbeat, countrified backbeats, breakups and heartache suddenly don't feel so bad. In fact, they make you want to get up and dance. Or howl. "The songs are howling. It's howling music," Olenius says. "It fits with some of the lyrics I write, the energy they possess."
It's an energy that hasn't gone unnoticed. The band held its own as tour openers for manic Brit rockers the Futureheads, played at the indie wet dream known as Coachella with the likes of New Order, Bloc Party, and Bright Eyes, and sold out shows in Manhattan. Then there's Letterman, Leno, and a nod from NME. Most notably, the Shout Out Louds were given the honor that lets an indie band know it truly made it a track used on an episode of The O.C. ("But Then Again No" from their three-song EP Very Loud).
But despite connections to The Godfather and the moment's hottest teen TV drama, the Shout Out Louds aren't pop-culture junkies. They eat Swedish staples like caviar and hard bread for breakfast, not Cap'n Crunch and PopTarts. Olenius brings his bicycle and books on tour, and although as an adolescent he loved to get the Led out and pogo to British pop, you'd be surprised at what he downloads onto his iPod before heading out on tour.
"A lot of Swedish music," he says matter-of-factly. "There's a lot of great stuff coming out of there."