Band site: www.facebook.com/RefusedBand
Like their countrymen At the Gates within the world of extreme metal, Swedish hardcore/punk trail-blazers Refused never really received their proper due the first time around. After an initial testing-of-the-water reunion run proved a box office smash, they progressed beyond enjoying the victory lap they never had during their initial tenure. The quartet instead subverted the expectations of many with 2015’s brilliant return Freedom. Their first LP in 17 years was anything but a carbon copy of the landmark The Shape of Punk to Come record.
Ahead of their return to our shores alongside NYHC OGs Sick Of It All (“playing with them is such a fucking privilege… It literally blows my mind that this is about to happen”) Loud spoke to front-man Dennis Lyxzén about avoiding becoming “a footnote in the annals of European hardcore”.
Q: You seem like someone who embraces staying busy when Refused aren’t recording or touring. For instance, the INVSN project.
A: Well, I do like to stay busy. And it’s weird, because INVSN is the band that I was doing when Refused got back together. So that was my main band and then one day I was like, ‘oh, I guess I’m in Refused again’. I like to stay busy, I like to do projects, I love to play music and I think creativity breeds creativity, and the more you work and the more you create I think it’s better for you. To me, it’s like I have two bands that I do, and that’s fine.
Q: Do you derive something creatively from INVSN that Refused doesn’t afford, and vice-versa?
A: Yeah, of course, they’re very different types of bands. The expression and the outlet is very different. Refused is kind of an entity of its own… It can be so different because we’ve been doing it for so long and we’ve been friends for so long and it’s music that I wouldn’t really, if I started a band today I wouldn’t start a band that sounded like Refused. But since it’s Refused it’s pretty awesome. As a human you’re multi-dimensional, you have all these different ideas and I think to do two bands, projects and other stuff is just a way of getting out different sorts of creativity and different sorts of expressions.
Q: Do Refused tend to adopt a somewhat sporadic approach to touring nowadays?
A: Well, back in 2012 it was a bit different because it was like the weird, super successful comeback that we did. But then we decided after that, we’ve got to be a band. To us, we want to be a relevant, contemporary band. That means we have to do new music and be like a working, touring type of band. We don’t tour as much, as intense as we used to do in the ’90s, but for the past year, the record came out a year-and-a-half ago, for the past year-and-a-half we’ve done 110 shows or something like that. So we tour and we work hard. Refused is like a hard-working band. Not as crazy as in the ’90s, but we are a hard-working band.
Now, Australia is like the last tour we’re going to do for a long time. After Australia we’re going to take some time off and write new music with Refused. Then in a year, year-and-a-half or something they’ll be a new cycle of Refused happening. That’s kind of how we operate right now. It’s very nice to be able to do it like that, and do it on your own terms.
Q: Do you have any idea what the next Refused record could sound like? Freedom was a great record, but definitely caught some fans off-guard.
A: (Laughs) Yes, it did. No, I think it’s too early in the process to really say how it’s going to turn out. We just started fiddling around with ideas, we just started looking at directions. But there’s something that I love about music, it’s like the new, in your mind you have an idea about directions, and then the songs just become songs and that becomes the direction. It’s hard to write with like a goal in mind. The goal should always be the art, and the goal should always be the music. I think that to do Freedom after 17 years, it was definitely a really nice learning process. It’s really cool to be able to assess and re-evaluate what we did right and what we did wrong with that record, and then continue to build upon that. I think everyone’s really excited about creating new Refused music.
Q: Were you surprised by the vocal disappointment from some towards Freedom? Perhaps from fans who would have been satisfied with The Shape of Punk to Come part two?
A: Not really. It has a couple of different dimensions to it. First of all, I think a lot of people have lived with The Shape of Punk to Come for 17 years. And then comes a challenger, you know? So those people, they’re just like, ‘what the hell? It doesn’t sound like The Shape of Punk to Come’. Which of course it doesn’t, ’cause it’s 17 years later. It’s like a different… we want to evolve and we want to be creative and challenge ourselves. I understand the discrepancy between what you lived with and your expectations, and what actually happens. I kind of get that. But on the other hand, when we did The Shape of Punk to Come, we went at it with the exact same attitude as Freedom. We want to make a record that’s exciting, challenging and fun. That’s what we did.
For some people, it’s like this damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of thing. ‘Cause people will be pissed if we put out a record that sounds like The Shape of Punk to Come. They’ll be like, ‘oh, they haven’t evolved’. But then we put out a record that doesn’t sound like The Shape of Punk to Come, people are like, ‘oh, it doesn’t sound like that’. For us, it’s about our integrity and our creative process, and I think we’re all super happy with the record. I think it’s a fantastic job after 17 years to get back together and create this music. I think every action causes a reaction, and I think that the next record might be very different because of how we created Freedom. It’s always a goal and a continuing process. I always assumed that, it’s a challenge to go up against that record. It’s just seminal to a lot of people, so we knew that we really had it coming (laughs).
Q: The Shape of Punk to Come is a record you can view akin to how many metal fans evaluate At The Gates’ Slaughter of the Soul. Albums that passed most people by at the time, but after the band members went their separate ways the music found a whole new lease on life. How did it feel at the time when the album perhaps didn’t achieve what you hoped it would, but then subsequently grew to become so vital during Refused’s absence?
A: It was a weird time, because when we did (1996’s) Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent, we toured a lot and I think at that point we were peaking in popularity in Europe and Sweden, like as far as playing shows and people are very, very excited.
And we did The Shape of Punk to Come, we did that record as a reaction to a lot of things that was going on around us. We did the record, we put it out and in our minds it was this kick-ass record, but it was definitely a record that at the time was an attempt to break free from the genre that… we felt a bit trapped in it. When we put out The Shape of Punk to Come a lot of the hardcore kids were not into it. If we would have had Facebook, Twitter and such things at the time a lot of kids would have been like, ‘oh, fuck these guys. They’re super pretentious sell-outs’ (laughs). When we broke up the band, we broke up the band tail between our legs. Being like, ‘holy shit, we put out a record no one cared about. That was kind of a bummer’. In our minds we were all kind of preparing to like become a footnote in the annals of European hardcore. That’s kind of where our heads were at.
And then we broke up, and friends started calling me from the States and saying, ‘they’re showing New Noise on MTV’. That a record that when we broke up, we broke up in failure and it sold like five thousand copies, ended up becoming classic is very surreal. It’s very humbling and it’s really beautiful. But it’s a bit surreal because when that record came out, no one really cared about it (laughs).
Q: The New Noise video was crucial in converting many people to the band’s cause. Why do you think it captured people to such an extent?
A: It was just exciting I think. Musically that song is very manipulative, it’s like it’s all these breakdowns parts and kind of explodes into this madness. And the video is so… it’s unpretentious and it’s fun, and it’s very exciting. It’s kind of a weird rock ‘n’ roll madness cliché, but I think at the time when it came out we didn’t look like any of the other hardcore bands, we didn’t really sound like the other hardcore bands and the video aesthetically wasn’t tough or macho or anything like that. It was just something really different and I think that struck a chord with a lot of people. I think the excitement of the video just made people really get into the music and the songs.
Q: Any famous last words?
A: Just I can’t wait to get down there and work hard, and we’re super, super stoked.
20/1: Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane QLD
21/1: Enmore Theatre, Sydney NSW
22/1: HQ, Adelaide SA
24/1: Prince Bandroom, Melbourne VIC
25/1: Prince Bandroom, Melbourne VIC
26/1: Metropolis, Fremantle WA