Karl Nordahl & Hasse Karlsson On Bring The Hoax’s 90s-Driven Sound And Making Sure Their New EP Featured A Stratocaster

Sweden’s Indie Rock group Bring The Hoax recently released their self-titled EP via Lövely Records, an independent label from Stockholm. Their musical history goes back a number of years, having created and released their own EPs in the past, and the current lineup includes Karl Nordahl (guitar and vocals), Hasse Karlsson (guitars and vocals), Sara Engström (bass), and Mark Pettersson (drums). They are musically driven by a love for 90s sounds, particularly 90s guitar sounds, and song co-writers Nordahl and Karlsson both being guitarists, are always are of certain parameters when crafting their songs.

On their self-titled EP, the band definitely develops a sound world that’s reflective and questioning while celebrating the musical traditions they love the most. The track “Jonestown” is their most overtly outspoken about modern life, maybe even a little “political”, but approaches a subject nearly every modern person can relate to, the inundation of confusing and/or false information in the media and on social media. Other tracks like “Los Angeles” and “1993” capture pure emotion while “Down Below” takes the audience on a trip through ups and downs.

I spoke with Karl Nordahl and Hasse Karlsson about the history behind the EP, their plans for a 2023 album, and what influences the band the most when it comes to songwriting.

Hannah Means-Shannon: I know that you had done some recording before this EP. It seems like you’ve been gaining knowledge of recording and production for some time.

Hasse Karlsson: Yes, very much so. About 15 years ago, I actually completed my sound engineer education. I was going to be one of those Rick Rubin guys! [Laughs] But I am still a sound engineer, and I work with television. I have a post-production studio where I work and where we record this stuff.

HMS: That’s really useful. It’s something that more musicians are getting into, I feel like. Many people used the pandemic period to go back to school or do more training. To have that knowledge is becoming invaluable to making music.

Hasse: Yes, very much so as a creative tool. It’s almost as useful as an instrument. You need to be prepared to offer the recordings to people in the business in order to get noticed, too.

Karl Nordahl: In the past, we actually mixed ourselves, too, but that takes a lot of time because we are so picky. It’s also good to have another perspective on the songs, so we brought our friend Markus in and he brought new perspectives in, and raised the bar.

HMS: When you started to work on these songs, did you have sound goals for how this group of songs would relate to each other, or was it more about finding an identity for each song, individually?

Hasse: A bit of both, I think. We had a set of parameters.

Karl: We had a framework for the sound.

Hasse: All of our songs have been written together. Hasse would come up with a riff or a chorus, and would need help. Then I’d need something. We are equally bad at finishing songs on our own, so we really need each other.

Karl: It’s like a really difficult puzzle that you need to drink wine to solve!

Hasse: When we sit down and listen to each other’s new stuff, it’s pretty obvious what we’ve been listening to. We also talk about music together, so we’ll say, “I can hear that you were listening to The Pixies a lot last week.” It’s a nice collaboration with different angles to it.

HMS: Do you speak in terms of existing music and bands to communicate sound preferences to each other or do you have specific words for that? It can be hard to spell these things out.

Karl: That’s definitely a part of it. When we are putting the pieces together, that’s just a creative process. We’ll do that, then listen to it again a few days later. And then we say, “This is crap! Let’s do something else!” [Laughs] That happens.

HMS: People always think their latest thing is wonderful, then they need some time to come down from that.

Hasse: Exactly.

HMS: When did you start putting this EP together? Was it before you signed with Lovely?

Karl: Maybe two or three years ago?

Hasse: Three or four years ago, we said to each other, “We need to record. We’re going to record five songs.” We may have had two or three already.

Karl: The recording process took a while. But one thing that happened is that we had recorded everything, and we had all the guitar tracks down. Then we forgot to take Hasse’s guitar when we went to record. We borrowed a neighbor’s guitar and played with it. We both looked at each other and said, “This is sounding really, really good.” I think we both knew that it changed everything.

Hasse: There was a moment of silence, and we both just knew that this meant re-recording all the guitars.

Karl: That was about a three-month setback.

HMS: Oh wow! So you borrowed a friend’s guitar, and it sounded so much better that it blew your minds. Then you had to destroy your previous guitar tracks and do them all over again?

Hasse and Karl: YES!

HMS: Did you then steal that guitar from your friend?

Hasse: I rent my space where there are four other studios, so it was my studio neighbor’s Stratocaster that sounded so good. And we only recorded in the evenings, when he wasn’t there. I don’t think he’s aware that his guitar is on every track!

HMS: Would that sound different to audiences, if they compare the guitar parts on our previous EPs and on this EP?

Hasse: I don’t think so. I wouldn’t know which wrench a mechanic has used or which brush an artist has used to paint, but it was obvious to us in the moment.

Karl: It was more that we could hear it, sitting there. We’re picky when we record.

HMS: Well, the Stratocaster is such a huge part of American music that I wouldn’t be surprised if it brought it even more in line with some of these 90s bands that you like so much.

Karl and Hasse: Yes.

HMS: It sounds like you would have released this EP yourselves anyway, but when did you start working with Lovely Records?

Hasse: This EP was already recorded, mixed, and mastered, but I think it was around January 2022. We had pitched it to a bunch of labels.

Karl We are also releasing an EP in the early part of next year, too, so it got pretty hectic because we needed to write and record five new songs in three or four months. That’s because the vinyl pressing industry is quite a situation with very long lead-times.

Hasse: The label needed the songs 11 months in advance because of the queues in vinyl pressing.

Karl: We had a lot of ideas, so it wasn’t starting from scratch. Otherwise, pushing creativity like that can be hard. We also both work [at other jobs] so we had to find time to do it. But our writing process is just getting together, drinking wine, and playing guitars.

Hasse: We’re not the kind of guys who tell each other, “Let’s meet again in a month, and you’ll have five songs, and I’ll have five songs.” It’s not going to be like that.

Karl: And we’re not like Nick Cave, who says, “Let’s work 9 to 5 now and we’ll have some songs.”

HMS: He’s some kind of strange creature. He can’t be human. I don’t think it’s possible to do that as a human being! There seem to be things that you like to talk about in your songs. It seems like you prefer to stay relevant to your own experiences rather than being abstract. You draw on observing the world and the stuff going on. Is that true?

Karl: Definitely. Particularly in some cases. With the song “Los Angeles”, we were writing that in late November and early December when Sweden is totally dark. It’s a lot of escapism! And who wouldn’t want to go to Mexico and drink tequila?

Hasse: I think our songs have two themes, lyrically. Either it’s about how much we like the sounds of the 90s, or it’s semi-political reflections.

Karl: I think for “Jonestown”, when we started to write that, we didn’t know that it would be political, speaking against how accepting people are of truths that might not be true. That just grew out of things. Those are probably the most relevant lyrics that we’ve written.

Hasse: We’re not a band who are hanging on the fence of The White House screaming political messages, or something. But there are some in there.

HMS: I feel like the position and the tone in that song is more like, “Everything sucks. Both sides are terrible.” Well, since you’re probably much more enlightened than America, you probably have more than two sides in Sweden, but here we have two sides.

Hasse: It’s a mess right now. We just had an election a month ago. It’s a mess here as well.

HMS: Oh, great. I mean I don’t think that “Jonestown” is a protest song, but it comments on the state of affairs in the world in a human way. And those are reasonable feelings to have right now.

Hasse: I think that’s a good word to use, it’s a “comment” of sorts.

HMS: The feeling and vibe is important, I’m sure. It’s a feeling of frustration and alienation. The words “I don’t care” come up a lot. It’s impossible to feel connected when things are so confusing. You shouldn’t get on any of those trains that are leaving.

Karl: Definitely! For sure, you shouldn’t get on the Kanye West train! [Laughs]

Hasse: That’s a good example.

HMS: And that’s part of all this. Media, and even social media, is now the influx of information without source verification and it floods our lives.

Hasse: Yes, I read a study where 78% of people confessed that they link to articles on Facebook which they haven’t read.

HMS: Facebook have been under pressure to show that they are resisting that, so sometimes a warning comes up now. That will probably last for five minutes.

Karl: They want you to think there’s a filter on Facebook, but on TikTok, anything goes!

HMS: Some musicians find that it’s a place for discovery, but there are issues with streaming and monetizing for sure.

Hasse: I’m kind of old school, but I’ve heard that problem with TikTok. You may not get a penny and that’s problematic.

HMS: It sounds like you may write your music before your lyrics. How finished does the music get before you start thinking about lyrics?

Hasse: For the most part, the song is finished before we start thinking about lyrics. That always causes a problem because we have a melody and have sung something into a demo recording, but that’s just jibberish. To get your mind away from that is hard because you’ve heard it a million times. Every line we write, we say, “No, that’s not nearly as good as ‘refrigerator on airplane shoes!’” [Laughs]

Karl: When we start doing the vocal melody for the chorus, we say, “Let’s get the chorus right first, then we will do the rest.” You want that hook.

HMS: That’s often big for meaning and has weight. That’s your clue and your way into the lyrics.

Karl: We build the storyline around the chorus.

HMS: I guess you have to hope for inspiration in order to discover the chorus!

Karl: It takes time, wine, blood, sweat, and tears.

HMS: A little crying, maybe. I meant to ask you about the video for “Jonestown” because it’s relatively elaborate and scripted. You have to do things, wear things, and run around. How did you decide on the police uniforms and water guns?

Hasse: That was based on a coincidence. I’m a freelance sound engineer, and one of the places I work is a rental facility for equipment. We came across a truck full of old costumes and master tapes from Jeopardy and Swedish stuff. Among those boxes were three boxes of police uniforms from a soap opera recorded in 1996. The whole idea was, “This is fun! Let’s do something with this!” We wrote a lot of ideas and were silly about it.

HMS: It’s weirdly perfect because it raises a lot of questions about authority, humor, and seriousness. It undercuts assumptions about the song.

Hasse: You make us sound smarter than we are!

HMS: It really works. The overall effect, whether you intended it or not, is good. It also shows people that you have a sense of humor.

Karl: The reason we scripted this was because we had to! We only had one day to shoot it.

HMS: The song “Los Angeles” is quite a rocker and has that feeling of wanting to escape. Is the live play video a good suggestion of how it feels in your live shows?

Karl: Yes, that’s a perfect song for being on the road on a setlist. Live is a bit more raw, whereas the video is a little more polished.

Hasse: I would love to say that there’s more to it, but we don’t use fireworks.

Karl: We always pack the smoke machine!

HMS: I saw that you have a couple of shows coming up. Will you be playing the EP songs?

Hasse: It feels like a bit of a fresh start after the pandemic. It almost makes us feel like a new band, starting over. We have come through the musical death of the pandemic.

Karl: We actually haven’t had time to do concerts because of having to record the new songs and shoot videos. It’s only now, in December, that we’ll be playing in Gothenburg and Stockholm with some friends. Those will be our first shows this year, so we’re really looking forward to it. It’s going to be a blast.

HMS: I imagine you’ll be more free to play once the LP comes out in 2023.

Karl: Exactly! That’s the plan.

Hasse: We’re really looking forward to that.

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