Aiming For New Ambitions

Donkeyboy return to the fray with a moody slice of indie pop in the form of ‘Triggerfinger’

After the breakthrough that was debut album ‘Caught In A Life’ which clocked up an impressive 115,000 units in sales, life for Drammen-based Donkeyboy would never be the same again. Such was their appeal that the band comprising of Cato Sundberg, Kent Sundberg, Thomas Drabløs and Peter Michelsen found themselves under much scrutiny from press and populace alike, as the moniker given to their first full-length player willingly adopted its literal meaning. This storming success and widespread hysteria throughout Norway was also down to the smash hit single ‘Ambitions’; a song that appeared to kidnap the nation’s airwaves  due to heavy rotation, which even transmitted to the UK  as it ended up being covered for national television despite the band being an unknown commodity.

With such unprecedented levels of success achieved by Donkeyboy when their career was still in its infancy, the perception of this four-piece was greeted with suspicion by some quarters of the media due to this success story appearing to happen overnight.

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Fast forward to the present and Donkeyboy is still a going concern with album number two ‘Silver Moon’ (2012) behind them and current single ‘Triggerfinger’ going someway to quash any lingering doubts concerning the band’s genuine credentials.

The general hysteria that accompanied the band’s entrance may have subsided somewhat, but the experience of this phenomenal success still lingers fresh in the memory of Donkeyboy and, in particular, Cato Sundberg as he explained to Famous Last Words during a brief respite in their present touring schedule.

“It was weird because we didn’t see that coming,” admits Cato on the huge success that was first album ‘Caught In A Life’ and single ‘Ambitions’. “We just did our best in the studio when recording our first album and by the time we were about to release ‘Ambitions’, I was incredibly sick of that song because I had worked on it so much that I didn’t feel anything when I [finally] heard it on the radio. In fact, I remember thinking who is going to like this crap? However, as a band, we believed in ‘Ambitions’ and therefore you have to see through certain things when you are very tired of a song.”

Quite clearly, FLW included, the general public believed in ‘Ambitions’ because despite seemingly coming from nowhere it represented not only a fragment from another golden era of pop music, due to being peppered with an 80s influence, but it was a proper pop song laced with intelligence and irresistible hook lines the kind of which used to be a steady diet during the early years of the aforementioned decade.

With the rapid ascension of ‘Caught In A Life’ and career in general of Donkeyboy, Famous Last Words is curious to learn of Cato Sundberg’s thoughts in terms of whether the colossal success experienced would have been better served if at a more gradual pace rather than everything arriving at once?

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“I would’ve liked for a slower introduction in terms of our live music because in Norway we had to go all the way when it came to gaining the experience whilst in the headlights of the media,” comments Cato. “For example, in Denmark we played our first gigs after we had performed one hundred and forty shows. So we started with very bad critics in Norway and very good ones in Denmark as we had gained the experience [by then], but that is just something that you have to cope with. It is starting to turn now [Norway], but the critics have been very negative in that way. I always maintain that if you are a rock fan you will never get what you want from our gigs, whereas if you’re a pop guy you will gain something from them.”

FLW disagrees with Cato regarding this point due to being a keen admirer of indie rock bands but also pop music, especially 80s pop music, which is why Donkeyboy possess such great appeal. Bearing this is mind, and the previously mentioned criticism Donkeyboy has received, Famous Last Words suggests to Cato that perhaps Donkeyboy were viewed as a manufactured band by sections of the media during those early years, due to the seemingly overnight success experienced by the band.

“I’m not sure if we were sometimes, but that wasn’t the biggest problem either,” responds Cato. “The biggest issue was that it [popularity] went from zero to one hundred in a second, as it was one TV show and everything just worked. I can understand if that seems to a lot of people like undeserved [success] or that we hadn’t worked hard enough to deserve it. But of course, when you’re on a big label that did a great job, it might seem like we got all the songs handed to us on a silver platter. We didn’t talk too much about the fact that we had played in a band before for ten years, despite being a new band in 2009. I think that too big a success and too quickly is good and bad. Luckily, the second album worked and we got to prove something, which I was really happy about. It’s very good to hear when you mention indie in relation to our music because that’s more in line with the opinions in Sweden and Denmark where we are seen as an indie band.”

Whilst not eclipsing its predecessor in terms of sales, second album ‘Silver Moon’ contained enough solid material to deter any detractors from any further suggestions of Donkeyboy being manufactured. In fact, the only problem that was standing in the way for this four piece from Drammen was trying to compete with the runaway success of their previous long player.

“Right after the first album, we had almost a year off from the studio as it was just so much touring and we were away from home for six months travelling and promoting in Europe. When we went back into the studio, we had some demos ready and we came up early with the song ‘City Boy’, which was Espen Berg [producer] who came up with the idea and Kent [Sundberg] who put down the melody in our studio in Drammen. Kent also provided one of the lead synths and the melody which, by this point, we really started to believe in the second single. So it was good that the writing process developed early.”

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In terms of your sophomore album ‘Silver Moon, how do you think it compares to your first album ‘Caught In A Life’?

“I think our ideas for ‘Silver Moon’ were more about direction rather than reproducing the same feeling in relation to our first album,” explains Cato. “If you’re looking at comparison in terms of all the songs, then I’m not sure which of the songs is the biggest internationally – ‘City Boy’ or ‘Ambitions’ – but the former song made our breakthrough in Denmark, so I think that was a smart move but it didn’t work in Sweden like ‘Ambitions’ did. We are very happy with both albums but of course there are always some songs you don’t want on the albums, but that is just personal opinion.”

Any concerns regarding the overall standing of various songs contained within Donkeyboy’s first two albums are now consigned to history as the band is currently performing a few dates throughout Norway in order to promote new single ‘Triggerfinger’. With an accompanying video shot in the heart of London with the two central protagonists vying for each other’s affections yet remaining equally stubborn when it comes to offering anything approaching an apology, ‘Triggerfinger’ is a rather large slice of moody indie pop that seems to have one eye fixed on the American market due to various familiarities when it comes to sound.

“We made a lot of songs during that time when we were picking a second single,” replies Cato. “We had ‘Triggerfinger’ and seven or eight other ideas that were a mixture of different moods and even more indie in terms of sound. We felt that ‘Triggerfinger’ was smart to record due to being a not too obvious choice because it is definitely more cold and breezy in comparison with some of our other songs.”

Is ‘Triggerfinger’ about one half of a relationship being on the receiving end of some poor treatment?

“It’s a classic story between a girl and a guy, but it can be [about] other situations too,” comments Cato. “It’s about the conflict going back and forth and not being able to decide and putting pressure on the other person so that you get easy on the trigger finger by saying things that you don’t mean.”

How did the filming for the video work, as it appears to have been filmed during an extremely busy evening in London?

“It’s a performance video, which Kent and Kiesza [female vocalist] went to London to shoot. There is not a big story attached to the video, apart from the dancing being in the streets rather than up on stage.”

Did any passers-by comment on the filming?

“Yeah, there were a lot of people who stopped and asked about what was happening, as it probably looked a bit strange!” replies Cato laughing.

FLW would have liked to be present just to see the look on people’s faces when Kiesza pulled that rather dramatic pose right towards the end of the song.

“That was the point where everybody ran away!” Cato adds laughing.

Joking aside, the current tour has not all gone to plan as several members of Donkeyboy, and accompanying crew, were involved in a car accident when heading for the airport one morning.

“We went to Lofoten, which is pretty far up north, and we had a guy who drove the car when we played the gig the day before. The driver drove back and forth and picked up everybody but I must say that I thought he was driving a bit too fast, so I was considering commenting on that but he stayed just beyond the borders of driving too fast. But the next day it was two different vehicles. He drove a couple of us in the van and four from the crew, and it was a bit of a shabby vehicle. He was informed that he needed to slow down a bit as it was going too fast because you felt that he didn’t have control. Then he saw a snowplough and became nervous and moved his foot from the accelerator and then the van started to slide from the road and they weren’t sure if they were going to hit the other vehicle because it could have been very nasty if it had made impact. But it lost control and started to slide straight out of the road and then rolled over and everybody got thrown [around]. There were no broken arms or legs apart from one of the guys got a small whiplash and concussion. The strange thing was that it was just a five minute drive from the hotel to the airport, so it was weird that it happened like that with such a short distance.”

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With time running out, thoughts turn once more to the huge success Donkeyboy experienced at the beginning of their career and, in particular, the ubiquitous single ‘Ambitions’ which, it transpires, was one of the first songs penned by Donkeyboy.

“We had a demo called ‘Ambitions’, which was basically an idea of just some of the chords,” Cato explains. “It was mainly a song that we wrote in the studio with Simen Eriksrud [producer]. We struggled a lot with the chorus, but we had everything ready for the verses. So we tried to make a new chorus but the problem was that it was too high. We never got the melody going until we invited Linnea Dale to the studio, who came up with the melody and everything just fitted together. We thought of asking Linnea to sing on ‘Ambitions’ after seeing her perform on television in 2007, as her performance made a big impression on me and got me thinking that if one day we should collaborate with somebody, then it should definitely be her.”

 

FLW - From the Tapes

Just to provide an example of the level of hysteria Donkeyboy has experienced when it comes to their supporters, and prove that it was no exaggeration, Cato Sundberg shared an anecdote with FLW regarding this experience.

“We have a huge fan in England who used to put out YouTube videos where he filmed himself crying while singing to our songs. In 2009, the same fan came to Norway and we took good care of him and I also gave him my gold award for ‘Ambitions’ based on 5000 sales. He was really happy that we took good care of him, but the next time we performed in Norway we said that we couldn’t offer the same as last time with sleeping in our house and so on. Anyway, he travelled to Norway [again] but had no money left, so he slept at the train station and didn’t tell us. He came to the gig, and the day after he came up to our house and said that he didn’t have any money to go back! So we gave him money to return to England, and he sent an email nearly every day after that gig in Norway. I think it has got a bit better, but that is a huge fan, which we appreciate because he has helped to promote us. If everyone in the world was as big a fan as him, we would probably have a really good life in many ways.”

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