WHEN THE SOUNDTRACK OF OUR LIVES perform two concerts on Feb. 18 — acoustic at House of Sweden, then an electric set at Black Cat — listeners will hear a fantastic rock group whose latest album, “Communion,” combines Oasis-like melody without the moronity.
What won’t be apparent in the veteran band’s smart combination of psychedelia and folk rock, however, is the deep influence of D.C.’s early punk-rock scene.
Bearded-bear vocalist Ebbot Lundberg said that in the early 1980s he and his friends would rush to a local record store in Gothenburg, Sweden, whenever they knew Dischord Records releases were arriving.
“Maybe there were five copies coming to Gothenburg, and we would have a competition to see who could get there first. It was really hard to get anything, so we were totally, insanely mad about having … everything that came out. We had the Oi thing from England first, and then we discovered Dischord — and the “Let Them Eat Jellybeans” [compilation on Alternative Tentacles].
“I kind of stopped buying stuff in ’85, maybe, from Dischord; I discovered The Stooges and stuff like that,” Lundberg continued, though he answered “absolutely” when asked if he’d like to see Dischord co-founder Ian MacKaye at T.S.O.O.L.’s D.C. concerts.
Lundberg’s tastes changed in the mid-’80s because, he said, “I was in a very strange period. A shit period, actually. Everything was just so bad — I call it the ‘Live Aid‘ period — I just wondered what happened to music. So we had to form Union Carbide Productions.”
Union Carbide Productions was a heavy, snarling band whose four albums come across like The Stooges and MC5 if they came from northern Europe instead of Detroit. But you can’t discount Union Carbide’s hardcore-punk roots — and nobody in Lundberg’s circle of friends ever made a pilgrimage to Iggy Pop‘s house.
“One of the guitar players [Patrick Caganis] from Union Carbide — we were not Union Carbide at the time; this was ’83, ’84 — went to Dischord and met up with Ian MacKaye and Jeff Nelson or somebody,” Lundberg said. “He took a trip to Washington, D.C., [while he was an exchange student in Minnesota]. That was the idea — [to be in a Dischord-like band]. We did a recording — I still have it on cassette — but we never finished the vocals, which is stupid; we should have done that. It was was pretty good, actually. Then in ’86 we met up again and formed Union Carbide.”
The Soundtrack of Our Lives is considerably mellower than Union Carbide, which broke up in 1993, but punk rock is still on Lundberg’s mind to this day. On “Lost Prophets in Vain” from “Communion,” Lundberg wonders what happened to all the great musicians who inspired him and what they’re doing now: “You used to be king of the underground / And everyone was hung up on your sound / I believe it’s all still inside your head / To be what you are for the living dead.”
But the song isn’t just about those artists who have lost their way; the words also touch on Lundberg’s own career in music, which is going on 25 years.
“I believe the lyrics you write, when it comes from you, it has to do with you,” Lundberg said. “[‘Lost Prophets’ has] to do with all the people that you meet up with when you’re touring. Guys like Pete Stahl [vocalist for D.C.-formed punk band Scream] or guys from any old band you meet on the road. Some of them work in a restaurant or whatever, or are just doing something around, but some of them made great songs that inspired you — and I just wondered what happened to all those people.
“A lot of names were coming up in my head,” Lundberg said about who inspired the song’s lyrics. “Like Corey Rusk [founder of Touch and Go Records], who I became friends with. We talked about the time he played in [Necros] and I was playing in a punk band in Gothenberg that wanted to be signed by Dischord. It’s really funny. But when I go back to it, [the punk ideal is] still there and nothing’s changed, actually. The world has changed, but the energy, or the way of thinking, is pretty much still there.”
But sometimes that creative energy gets dissipated over time, and after The Soundtrack of Our Lives recorded 2004’s “Origin, Volume 1,” Lundberg said the band needed to regroup.
“We were in a really strange twist. Touring constantly, which happens to any group — this is nothing new — but it took a lot of energy,” he said. “Well, from that, we just decided to call it quits and start it all over, with no expectations at all — which is obviously the best thing to have. … I think it was just plain exhaustion. Most bands actually split up, but in some strange way we’re still here. Now, you’re kind of happy the band is still here.”
T.S.O.O.L’s fifth studio album started as the second volume of “Origins,” but the record started to take on a different form and the band decided to scrap the previous songs it was working on for an entirely new set of tunes — 24 of which ended up on the sprawling but cohesive “Communion,” a double-disc effort in the age of the single-song download.
“It was not intended to be a double album at all,” Lundberg said. “We had so many old songs we wanted to do, but we just said, ‘No, fuck this. Let’s do something completely new.’ And so this happened. I must say it was more like a relief. Usually when you start to make a new album, it’s some kind of strange, stupid tension. But this time it was just like … another force was involved that created the whole thing [laughs].”
“It just flowed naturally,” he continued. “When you went into any studio for the first time, it was the same thing — [like] when you were 17 years old and paying in a punk band. It was exactly the same feeling.”
Photos by Frederick Wennerlund