For the past twenty years, Sweden’s Millencolin have skated to worldwide punk rock success. As an Epitaph Records staple, the four piece has released seven studio albums, done countless tours worldwide, held a skate competition in their hometown and even been granted the honour of their own signature Vans shoe. To mark being together for two decades, Millencolin have released a CD/DVD package called “The Melancholy Connection” and held a festival featuring acts like The Hives and Danko Jones. On the morning of the big day, we caught up with lead guitarist Mathias Färm to talk ABBA, polite Japanese punks and secret tour business.
Hey Mathias, how are you today?
I’m good. It’s 6.59 in the morning here in Sweden.
Yeah I realised that, thanks for getting up for us.
No worries. We’re actually celebrating 20 years as a band and we’re having a big festival here in our home town, today and tomorrow.
Yeah cool. So just to kick it off – what’s your favourite Swedish album of all time?
My favourite Swedish album of all time must be one of the ABBA albums, maybe. Australians love ABBA. It was huge in Australia, they probably still are huge.
A little unexpected, but good answer! Anyway man, to mark your twentieth anniversary you are putting out “The Melancholy Connection”, which was released in Australia last week. Can you tell us a bit about this release?
Well we released an album called “The Melancholy Collection”, and that was maybe about 14 years ago. This is kind of like a follow on to that one, being called “The Melancholy Connection”. We just collected all the songs that didn’t make it to the albums, you know, b-sides and stuff like that. We also recorded some new songs and all so we made a film about recording one of our albums, “Pennybridge Pioneers”. We’ve always brought our TV cameras on, especially when we went to record this album in the United States we filmed a lot, you know. We documented everything so we had a lot of footage. It was a very, very fun thing to do this movie and it brought back a lot of great memories. It’s actually interesting for people and our fans to see because it’s actually a very serious movie about how to make an album, in a way. I’m very, very proud of it.
Now as you mentioned, you’ve got the festival coming up today and tomorrow. What are you expecting from the event?
I don’t know! For this festival we wanted to do something different. When we celebrated ten years we had a small show in a club here in our home town. For this thing we wanted to do something different, so we decided to do this. All the bands playing are good friends of ours. Almost all the bands have been on the same label as the one we started off on – Burning Heart Records – they were a big part of the music scene back in the day. Bands like Bombshell Rocks, Voice Of A Generation, Nine, we all started off together at the same time in Sweden, you know, and The Hives too. So it’s a cool thing to do this and its kinda scary in a way because to put on a big thing like this takes a lot of time. Hopefully we’ll get a lot of people.
Just on the topic of Swedish music – I think it’s fair to say that Millencolin are your country’s biggest punk rock export. Do you think having you guys around for 20 years, has it inspired a younger generation of punk bands too?
Of course. I guess since we’ve been around for that long a lot of bands have listened to us too, you know. I’ve noticed that here in Sweden but we also did a festival tour called Soundwave in Australia a little bit more than a year ago and there was lots of younger bands from the United States, England and the rest of the world. I noticed for the first time that we were like considered “legends” among those people, I’d never realised that before and it came as a bit of a shock to me. I realised oh, we’ve been a band for almost 20 years and some other guys that I was talking to at that festival were maybe 25 years old and they were like 4 or 5 years old when we started the band. They told us we were huge inspirations for their band so it makes me really proud.
Well you guys have such a huge name on the international stage… but what about in Sweden? I mean you have bands like Anchor who are playing your festival, are there lots of punk and hardcore acts like that now?
Yeah, there’s so many bands. It’s so hard to keep track of everything because there’s so much music. In Sweden… maybe that’s got something to do with the climate because we have very long and depressing winters. So I guess people stay in and make music instead of committing suicide, you know (laughs). That’s a joke but in Sweden we also have good support from the government and city living because when we started playing music, me and Nikola, we could pay around 20 bucks a month and we could borrow a rehearsing room with guitars and drums and everything in it so you didn’t have to buy anything to start your band. So that’s a really good starting point.
Having talked a bit about your festival and being experienced at doing both, do you guys prefer smaller club shows or huge festival slots?
It’s both good and bad with both. I like club shows, of course. If there’s a decent stage, a good room and a good crowd it’s always great but it’s also really hot too. Club shows a great, I love it. Festivals are very nice in their own way because they’re so different, you know. Festival stages are bigger and it’s easier to play the show in a way because it’s not that hot on stage but sometimes the problem is that the crowd is so far away so you don’t really get the feedback from them as you do in a club show. I like both, but if I have to pick one maybe I’d pick the club show.
Obviously you’ve done countless overseas tours in your two decades together. How have you always found crowd responses abroad as opposed to at home in Sweden?
Let’s compare it – I mean if you play a show in Rio de Ganeiro, Brazil or Buenos Aires, Argentina or in Sydney, Australia, or in Sweden it’s kind of similar. The fans and the crowd, they react the same in a way. The only place that’s kinda different is Japan because people are so polite and you can see that in the way that they react when you play music. Japan definitely stands out as being different. Also in South America people are crazy. It’s totally wacko, everything can happen you know. It’s fun and kinda scary because it’s just crazy. For instance I love touring Australia because Australia is a country where the people are like Europeans, you feel at home, but you have a tropical climate. It’s a good mix!
Glad to hear you like touring down here! Having done quite a few tours in Australia, do you have any stand out experiences?
Yeah Australia was the first place we went outside of Europe, ever. Back in ’96. So Australia is always going to be a special place for me and our band. But I guess I remember we sold two gold albums in Australia, that was a big thing for us. And especially when we did Big Day Out back in 2003 it was huge. Soundwave was huge too but I guess Big Day Out was the first time we did stuff like that in Australia. Really nice memories, a really good time.
Speaking of Soundwave, on that tour you did a few sideshows with Pennywise. I’ve heard some funny stories about hanging out with those guys, any ones you’d like to share?
That’s a tough question. On tour everything happens, there’s so much stuff going down. Especially with Pennywise, we’ve known them for so many years and done so many tours with them. I guess back in the day Fletcher could be kinda crazy when he got drunk (laughs) but that’s his thing, you know. Of course there’s so much stuff happening on tour, and it’s all confidential so…
If you told me you’d have to kill me?
I don’t want to kill you.
Fair enough, thanks man. Now you spent a bit of 2010 and the bulk of last year doing the “Pennybridge Pioneers” ten year anniversary tour. What was the highlight of that world tour for you personally?
Especially South America, you know. For the first time ever we went to Mexico and Costa Rica, Central America and played shows over there. Also you know Chile, Argentina and Brazil but we’ve been to South America many times before. The thing is when you’re in South America and Central America, everything is so different cause there’s no times. People are just taking it very easy. As a European you get very frustrated about that because if someone tells you, “okay you’re on at 10 o’clock in the evening”, in Sweden we get there at maybe 9.30 and we get on stage. But there, when you get there at 9.30 there’s like 5 bands more to play and everything is delayed like 5 hours. That’s very frustrating. You run into those problems all the time, but they probably think we’re very stressed out because we want to be on time, but for them it doesn’t really matter. It’s just like a culture clash in a way, because it’s such different thinking. They’re very nice countries to visit but you also feel a little bit unsafe because everything can happen, you know.
Millencolin haven’t released a studio release since “Machine 15”, do you guys have anything in the works at the moment?
There’s always things in the works, we have a lot of new songs. We just have to record them and hopefully have them out by next fall. So that’s the plan.
Skateboarding has obviously been closely associated with your band. Do you dudes all still skate?
No of course, I’ll probably skate for the rest of my life. Maybe skating in a different way, you know. I mean when I started skateboarding 20 years ago back in 1986 I wanted to be a skateboard professional. So I skated everyday and travelled around Sweden competing and was sponsored by a skateboard company. For a while I was probably one of the better skaters in Sweden. When I started playing music, the music took over a little bit. I love skateboarding. I skate to the gas station to buy something… it’s more of a thing where I just cruise on my skateboard. But I love it anyway, so that’s the way it is. We all do. Me and Nikola, Erik, we usually bring our skateboards on tour. Actually Larzon broke his skateboard on tour in Australia back in 1998. He went down a steep hill and broke his arm in the middle of the tour so we had to call in the drummer for Bodyjar. He finished the tour with us and went to Japan with us. So Larzon is not allowed to skateboard anymore on tour. He also got kind of drunk in Denver two years afterwards and broke his arm again when he fell down the stairs, so we had to get another drummer for that tour too.
Having been around for 20 years, can you tell us the secret of your longevity?
For us it’s been that we’ve always been the ones that make all the decisions. No one has told us what to do in our career, and that’s an important thing because we started out with nothing. We were nothing and we worked very hard sending around our tapes. We had to promote ourselves. Then we got signed to Burning Heart and Peter who ran Burning Heart, he was on his own too. Together we did this, you know. We never had a lot of money for promotion and touring and stuff like that, so we had to do it all ourselves. It was very important for us to be our own bosses, no one bossing us around. Also we’d been touring very hard and we really realised it’s important to have breaks in your career too. You can tour for a while, then you have to have some time off. Tour, have time off. I guess that’s our mix of ingredients to get this to work for such a long time.
So after you wrap up the festivities of the Millencolin festival, what does the rest of 2012 hold for the band?
This is the big, main thing we’re doing. We have a big festival in Milano in Italy we’re gonna do by the end of July. After that we’re hopefully going to get into the studio to write and record a new album. So that’s the plan.