Norway has always been a hotbed for scary metal, but now the Lionheart Brothers are set to illuminate the London winter with something more gentle, as Barnaby Smith discovered
by Barnaby Smith, first published in LondonTourdates #013 ,11th January 2008
Trondheim’s Lionheart Brothers take their name from a 1973 children’s book by one Astrid Lindgren. It tells the tale of two young brothers who both die in separate tragedies, and end up in an afterlife fantasyland called Nangijala. All is not as perfect as might have been anticipated in Nangijala, and The Brothers Lionheart must fight tyrants and other bizarre obstacles.
Marcus Forsgren’s band are not nine-years-old, not dead, nor battling in Nangijala. But they have taken their name from a source that has proven rich for bands down the years: children’s literature and entertainment. Of course, there’s Belle and Sebastian, Pink Floyd’s Piper At The Gates of Dawn album, half of Jefferson Airplane’s songs, of more recent acts, Tilly and the Wall perhaps…
The common denominator for most of these is a genuine existence in, or heavy influence from, the sixties – fairly psychedelic, dreamy pop-rock, all pastoral and lovely. The Lionheart Brothers are no different. Out in January, Dizzy Kiss is their second album, but the first to receive any attention from the UK. Various swooning quarters have described it as ‘swirling’, ‘a psychedelic colossus’ and inevitably as having ‘Beach Boys harmony pop sounds’.
Obviously, that could apply to hundreds of bands, but the Lionheart Brothers are one of a few groups in recent years (Caribou, Sleepy Jackson) able to fuse the melodic influence of a Brian Wilson with distortion and electronic fandangery.
And it sounds pretty good, even though this summery approach to songwriting hasn’t always been their modus operandi.
“Our previous album was not as pop-influenced,” said Forsgren, “I think it was more the pure shoe-gaze thing, the Velvet Underground thing. But that was a thing we wanted to do on this record, make it more pop-influenced. I love the Beach Boys, Brian Wilson is one of my heroes.”
Dizzy Kiss places the stunning pop phrasing of ‘Tender Loving Kisses’ next to the seemingly disjointed, slightly incomplete notions of ‘Blue Wedding’. This juxtaposition evokes Wilson’s post-Pet Sounds era of acid, fire hats and mental breakdown. Forsgren, however, claims to be more drawn to the albums that book ended that period: Pet Sounds itself (“my first love”) and 1971’s Surf’s Up.
That he was so exposed to the Beach Boys at all (plus other influences which he cites as My Bloody Valentine, Tortoise, Sea and Cake and many, many others) might seem a wonder given his hometown. Trondheim’s musical climate, much like its actual climate (its average January temperature is freezing), was pretty one-dimensional. “It’s quite a small town,” said Forsgren, “and the music scene is very focused on rock, they like bands like Motorhead, and there’s a huge band in Trondheim called Motorpsycho. They’re like heroes there.
“I think we were one of the first bands after Motorpsycho not to be compared with Motorpsycho. We were definitely a reaction to what everybody liked in Trondheim.”
It’s true that apart from the excellent Royksopp, Norwegian music has never really progressed beyond its reputation for dark, dark metal to match the dark, dark days. While that remains as popular as ever, its domination of the airwaves has left imaginative young men like Forsgren a bit deflated about his countrymen. On The Lionheart Brothers’ website, he mentions the ‘Norwegian tendency of moderation and narrow-mindedness’, and that he and his band aim to kick-start something.
“We have this saying in Norway,” he said, “that music ‘sounds Norwegian’, and that is bad. If something sounds Norwegian it sounds like every other band in Norway, and bands in Norway all sound the same. It’s getting much better now, a lot of cool things are happening in the underground especially. We try to bring something fresh to the Norwegian air.”
Forsgren has been in the band since 1999, when he formed the group with school friend Auden Storset. They soon swelled to a six-piece including two girls, before Forsgren got itchy feet and sacked the entire band except Storset and the drummer. As three, they made debut LP White Angel Black Apple before the drummer quit, and another EP was made with the two of them playing all the instruments. Then they toured “every nook and cranny of Norway”, enlisted three band members and made Dizzy Kiss. “I felt that for Dizzy Kiss we got the perfect band,” said Forsgren.
The UK buzz around the Scandinavians has gathered momentum thanks to a number of humdinging gigs at the underground sweat pit that is the Betsey Trotwood, and while shaking up Norway is high on their list of priorities, a bit of success in “one of the father nations of rock ’n’ roll” would be most welcome too.
“We come from small, small Norway, and not a lot of Norwegians have done well in the UK. We’re honoured that people find our music interesting. My expectations weren’t very high – we heard stories about other Norwegian bands in England and everybody said they sucked. So far we’ve had very good feedback.” One UK critic rather dramatically hailed them ‘the bridge between Camden and California’, so they seem utterly made for success over here, given our predilection for West Coast psych and shoe-gaze indie.
In their home country they have a large enough following to have Dizzy Kiss voted best album of last year by journalists, and their press blurb makes a big deal of the fact the album went top 15 in Norway (no massive achievement, granted). Nevertheless, when phoning Forsgren he mentioned his exhaustion after coming in from work, before having dinner and watching sci-fi on the TV. His job is as a run-of-the-mill audio-visual engineer, which seems a far cry from Nangijala, that’s for sure. The Lionheart Brothers are full-time musicians but… “We don’t earn any money on it. We have to work when we can to pay the bills.”
That state of affairs, surely, can’t last for much longer. They’ve been described as ‘swirling’ for Christ’s sake! They’re gonna be huge!
The band are now based in Oslo, and perhaps on the cusp of something. There is really nothing not to like about The Lionheart Brothers (Forsgren also admits to taking songwriting inspiration from reading the Bible), except for the fact Dizzy Kiss may not receive the requisite exposure in the UK to tap into an existing audience for this kind of pop. But it’s still probably better than Nangijala.
The Lionheart Brothers play The Social on 14 January, and Koko on 18 January 2008.