Sometimes a song or a melody just bursts into your head and you can’t forget it. It’s just what happened to me with Modern Love’s “Hold Meg” when the band revealed three of the songs off their new LP “Tross Alt”. Fortunately, soon thereafter I had the chance to catch up with the band from Oslo. First I saw them at the awesome pre-Fluff matinée in Prague and then at Fluff Fest itself. And it turned out that it’s not just because of their melodic and catchy songs that I fell in love with the band. Modern Love is also made by people with inspiring attitude, passion and such friendliness you hardly ever see even within the DIY punk community. So here’s my interview with Modern Love. Long live Scandinavian vandalism!
Photos courtesy of Remy Eik, except the last one from my phone.
Hello! Let’s start with some brief introduction to yourselves. Do you consider yourself old punks?
Esben: My name is Esben and the first show I went to was when Even Skår (Modern Love’s drummer) played with his old band Kids Like Us. That was in 1999 when I was 14, so that’s like 18 years ago. And around the same time, I bought my first two seven inches from Erik (Modern Love’s singer). If anything, they are the old punks!
Erik: My name is Erik Anarchy. I sing, Esben plays guitar, Karl plays bass, and Even is the drummer. I don’t have a straight answer whether I’m an old punk, and neither does Esben I guess, but if I have to choose I’d say no.
I don’t consider myself an old punk, I consider myself just a punk. That’s not something that’s excluding me from anyone else, it’s just part of where I’m coming from, ever since I got into hardcore punk around 1993. In February ‘93 I went to my first HC show in Porsgrunn, Norway with Washington Disease (members went on to Onward, Common Cause etc) and Mi, a Norwegian punk band that later evolved into Kolokol. Even, the drummer, has been my friend since ‘93. I’m sorry, I can’t remember for how many years I have been friends with Karl and Esben, but it’s been a long time and we have done a lot together.
So when I go on stage here at Fluff Fest and say that my friends are my heroes, whether it’s Chaviré, or Woodwork, any other Stonehenge or Refuse Records band, or anyone who’s here… My friends are my heroes, and this not exclude any single individual in this band, in Modern Love. Karl is my hero. Esben is my hero. Even is my hero.
Karl: I’m Karl, I play bass in Modern Love. My first hardcore show was also seeing our drummer Even’s old band Kids Like Us. However, not the same show that Esben went to. Probably one or two years later, I think. I don’t remember how old I was back then, but I don’t think I’m very old anyway.
How important do you think love is in human life and how does it relate to punk rock?
Erik: Love is… I don’t see any other reason to live. It’s not perfect, and sometimes it can be really, really difficult… because love can demand a lot from you. You have to throw yourself into it. It doesn’t come automatically. You don’t have to work for it, because love is the opposite of work, but you have to really make an effort to keep it going.
Esben: It’s a big question but a very interesting one. Erik is on to something, I think.
Erik: I think that punk at its finest is based on love, energy and compassion. When two bands played a cover of “Glue” (the SSD song) at the Pre Fluff show it reminded me how tight this community can be. At our best moments we are connected… I don’t really have a short answer, neither do I have a long one… But I mean, there are so many connections between love and punk. A couple of fairly recent examples at the top of my mind right now are the song “Hardcore Love”, the band True Love… and that’s not just a word, there’s a strong emotion in punk that makes people all over the world of any color, gender, look, smell, whatever, come together… they do this out of passion… and love. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than love.
So what’s the driving force behind Modern Love? What are the values and ideas that drove you initially to start the band?
Esben: For me the best thing in this band is that somehow everything is allowed and the four of us can express our love for punk in all its variations. When we first started out we wanted to have a certain sound or whatever, but consequently it didn’t work out in that direction. So we slowly evolved into something different. So that’s the core of this band, I think it’s just a clash of all our different personalities coming together.
Can you address some of the topics in your lyrics? Why did you start writing in Norwegian?
Erik: When we started this band I was just writing lyrics in English. But then I thought it would be interesting to have a song or two in Norwegian, like Life… But How To Live It? had, like So Much Hate had, like Beyond The Fences had… all these inspiring bands were mostly singing in English being a part of the international DIY hardcore punk community, but also they always mixed it up a bit. So that was the beginning, I started to write in Norwegian and somehow it ended up being like 50/50 at the time. On our split 7” with Bernays Propaganda from Macedonia, the animal rights split called “Until All Are Free”, we have one in English and one in Norwegian. On our “Small Stone” EP, which was released on a Norwegian label we had two songs in English and two songs in Norwegian. Before that I hadn’t written lyrics in Norwegian since 1993. But I found out that what I wrote came out more personal when I wrote it in Norwegian. So on our new LP “Tross Alt” we decided, or maybe I decided, that I was just gonna write everything in Norwegian. I wanted to explore that, and I’m happy to see that people who don’t understand the language also are able to connect with our expression.
In a way, I guess all our songs are love songs.
Do you all live in Norway right now? What’s the situation in the country right now since we don’t hear anything about Norway in the news, but we know how the political situation is getting fucked up just about everywhere in Europe. So is it anyway different in Norway?
Esben: Right now I’m deeply ashamed of how few immigrants Norway is accepting given the situation nowadays, it’s embarrassing. In 2015, when there was a historical amount of refugees coming over from the Mediterranean, Norway only accepted 15,000, and their applications are still being considered. Norway are building down its reception centers and have started returning asylum seekers to Greece, a country that is doing its best to deal with the situation. I know it’s not all about numbers and so on, but I don’t think it reflects the values I consider Norwegians to have.
Erik: One of the things that upsets me really badly is the rhetoric. The inhumane way in which the Government sees other people. Those other people who are in need of help. Even the king of Norway, who’s not really a political person and he is a like an 80 years old dude, said on national television “Oh, we cannot let the entire continent of Africa come into our country.” So that kind of rhetoric, like “What are you gonna do when all these people invade you…”, I find this such a disgusting way to meet other beings. It is not refugees invading Europe, actually there are real invasions going on around the world, countries and lives being destroyed by wars. And it is not the refugees doing invasions. Four years ago was actually the first time in history when a right-wing populist party was voted into the Norwegian government. That upsets and scares me.
So how can we, as a community, can support each other and people in need? Everyone needs more connection, love, compassion, and solidarity in their lives.
Esben: I think you’ll find a very good example when you look at Greece. They have no choice but to accept the people coming over by the hundreds of thousands. And the way they (the people, not the government) reacted to that is really, really astonishing. It’s amazing to see how the ordinary people devoted their lives to provide other people with shelter, food, talk to them, and make sure they stay safe when they seek asylum. I think that’s the reason why it’s so abstract to many Norwegians, because they’ve never met them face to face.
There’s a good example on the island of Chios, I’ve heard they had a high percentage of Golden Dawn (Greek Neo-Nazi Party) voters. After 2015 that number decreased dramatically, because people actually had to make a connection with those people coming over and that’s where the love plays a big role, I guess. I think meeting people face to face has a political power and that’s when people are not seen as mere numbers anymore.
Erik: I’ve never been in my life to another festival as well organized as Fluff Fest. You can go to a commercial festival but it won’t be this well organized. So organizing, building, connecting, seeing each other for the brave, beautiful individuals that we all are, and just living. That is what we need.
You’ve been here on Fluff Fest for all the three days and just played like an hour ago with Modern Love. Is there anything that someone said, or a band that played, that was really interesting and inspiring to you?
Esben: When I first saw Chaviré at the show in Prague on Thursday, I’ve never heard them or seen them before. Even though they speak in a language I don’t understand, that was still a really powerful experience. That day, that band managed to transpire some essence of what it is for me to be in this community. I was really struck by it and I can’t really explain why, it was just like a feeling that you don’t have pretty often when going to punk shows year after year. Sometimes it’s just boring and you want to get home, but every now and then there is also such an experience that comes out of nowhere and you’re “shit, that’s so good.” There’s not a particular thing that Chaviré have said that struck me, but it was something about their temperament, attitude, their passion and sensibility.
Erik: I could write you a list of my 100 magic Fluff moments. I’ll always carry them with me. Like Esben said, sometimes punk gets boring… life sometimes gets boring. But there is such a magic atmosphere here, and it’s not just moments… Because moments will be gone, but you’ll take something with you. Some things we forget, some things we remember. Sometimes buttons are pushed and you asked me if there’s something that inspired me or changed my life – yes, and no, because nothing’s changed, but a lot of buttons have been pushed. Old memories coming to life, and making new ones. Every second here on this festival I have enjoyed. Every second. There’s not even a single moment that I haven’t enjoyed. So that’s like having a fresh start in your life. Every second.
Karl: I can’t pick a favorite moment, it’s just like a long beautiful dream.
At the end of your set today you said that everyone should promise to you to never kill themselves. Is there any particular reason to say that or was that something that came out at the moment?
Erik: It wasn’t planned. Sometimes I prepare what I’m gonna say, but I didn’t do it today. When I went on stage I had no idea what I was going to say. But I’m a big mouth and I speak a lot, so I was probably gonna say something. Probably something stupid, but maybe also something good.
When I asked each and every person at the show to promise me to never kill themselves, that is because the world needs more people like you, like us, like everyone here, and not just here. There is no reason to just stop living. Nothing will come out of that.
I want every moment in my life to be about living. And life can be quite a struggle. On one song on the Tross alt album, I sing “I don’t wish to die. I just don’t want to live”.
For the past three years I have suffered a really heavy depression. It spiraled into concrete thoughts about ending my life, just to get away from everything, from the harsh political realities of the world and all its hopelessness, to the difficulties and the strain of close relationships.
These last few days have taught me that it is actually possible to love myself, and to be honest I had never thought I’d experience that ever. I know that my struggles won’t be over in one weekend, and that I have to continue to strive, but this is still a breakthrough for me. I will take with me this love, and let it guide me, and push me.
One year ago a death in the HC family hit me really hard. My friend Peter Amdam, who was the singer of Sportswear and played guitar in Onward, passed away on July 28, 2016. He was like my big brother. We were close friends since 1996 when I moved to Oslo. At some time we slipped away from each other, but fortunately I had the pleasure to be reconnected with him before it was too late. And I’m so glad for all these moments that we had together, and I know he is not coming back, but memories are still there and they can inspire you, and make you do something positive. “Surviving death and what it meant”, to quote Onward.
I remember in January 2016 when Jon Bunch (Reason To Believe, Sense Field, Further Seems Forever) killed himself. Peter and I talked so much about it. I had communicated with Jon Bunch but if someone asked me if I knew how he was doing, I wouldn’t know. We were not close, he lived far away, but I met him when he came with the first American band I ever put up a show for. It was Sense Field and Four Walls Falling coming to my small hometown. I remember him fondly, and I love him for all those beautiful songs that I can listen to and cry to, and laugh to. It’s such a big part of me.
Also I remember one text message that I wrote to Peter, it was like I love this #JonBunchForever thing, how everyone in the community is standing up for his family and the ones who are left behind. And then I also said “But Peter, I must say as beautiful as this death cult is, I’m more into life cults. Let’s tell someone who’s living that we love them forever.” What about Porcell forever? Walter Schreifels forever? Richie Birkenhead forever? You don’t just have to celebrate dead people because they are gone. We should celebrate them, but we should also celebrate living beings.
Now I am able to make a promise to my friends, whether we have known each other for ages or just met, that I will not kill myself. And several people here have promised me the same, one to one. That means so much to me. Instead of desperately acting on an urge to end life, we know that we can contact each other, and connect and comfort each other. We can help each other to see the dark days through.
Anything else you would like to add?
Erik: Being here reminds me of a song by Blueboy, I knew the band for quite some time, but I wasn’t aware of these lyrics until my friend Nab from Woodwork and Just Say Yo! Fanzine showed them to me the other day. I think it pretty much sums it all up.
“It’s positive, political, and too good to be true.”