Open to new ideas and far from being predictable, John Lindberg Trio offer a thrilling example of where the genres of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll could end up in the 21st century.
The temperament found in The John Lindberg Trio camp is often something of an unpredictable beast. Varying between bouts of cheerfulness to moments of sheer anger, such fluctuating emotions can be heard bottled up tight in their songs but with a definite release mechanism that allows these sentiments to escape once in a while.
It’s just past the breakfast hour and facing Famous Last Words (FLW) on this particular morning is John Lindberg from John Lindberg Trio (JLT). Despite admitting a touch of fatigue due to this scheduled interview interfering with the hours when most rockin’ wild men are still in a state of slumber, JLT’s lead singer and guitarist shows no signs of tiredness as he proves a thoroughly engaging interviewee throughout our discussion.
The previously mentioned unpredictability is, however, a topic that warrants coverage first and foremost because there are great similarities between current album ‘DiG iT!’ and not too far behind, ‘Hell Of A Ride’ (2012), where emotions appear to swing between the aforementioned bouts of merriment and explosions of rage.
“When we did ‘Hell Of A Ride’, we were very angry, you know?” comments John Lindberg. “I Sometimes feel that I want to kill the f****** system [laughing]! Rockabilly was kind of a trend here in Sweden with bands like The Baseballs, The Playtones and Top Cats, who are very big in Sweden, and there was us. These bands were playing very soft and pink (The soda pop image of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, FLW) kinda music and we wanted to do [something] dirty like it should be. So we recorded ‘Honey Hush’ and ‘Hell Of A Ride’ and more angry songs. But then, later on, we got a little nicer and produced ‘DiG iT!’ [laughing].”
Did the music press in Sweden and supporters of JLT see the anger and aggression in the band at the time of ‘Hell Of A Ride’?
“Yeah, I think some of our fans were like, ‘What are you doing?’ whereas new fans responded with comments such as, ‘This is so f****** cool!’ but we didn’t want to sound like anybody else, we didn’t want to sound like all the rest. For example, if they do modern pop, we go back and do heavier stuff because we don’t want to fit in.”
The aggression you refer to can really be heard during opening track and cover version of ‘Honey Hush’. You must be very proud of your interpretation of this song?
“Yeah, I remember recording it and I was screaming and there was a lot of energy there. I always loved the Johnny Burnette session and for me it’s always been the heaviest [form] of rockabilly. If you’re sitting in a bar and they’re playing rock ‘n’ roll music and then next up is Johnny Burnette, you see [some people’s] reactions, ‘Oh s***! Can you turn it down?’ and I wanted the same reaction when we did ‘Honey Hush’. I wanted it to be the first song on the record because I wanted to blow things up at that point.”
The unpredictability found in the recorded works of JLT also stems to the influences each and every band member brings to this rockin’ trio. While it can be said that the band falls into the category of neo-rockabilly, the final description possesses a bit more detail with various pop and rock influences that stream their way into the JLT sound.
“The thing is, the three of us in the band, when I was a child it was mostly Elvis and Eddie Cochran whereas the drummer, Joakim [Dunker], grew up listening to Pantera, Mötley Crüe and other types of hard rock such as Led Zeppelin. The bass player, Martin [Engström] is more of a country [music] guy as he listens to Hank Williams and Steve Earle. The lyrics for him, as well, are more important than the heaviness in the sound. When we formed the band and started to write our own music, everybody had their own influences and it just happened.”
With influences ranging from country to heavy rock and heavy metal as well as with the most prominent of influences consisting of rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll, it is no wonder that elements of psychobilly can be identified in one instance (‘Honky Tonkin’) and punk rock with the band’s cover of ‘Honey Hush’.
“If we’re compared with other modern rockabilly bands, then there’s a style called psychobilly where you incorporate the 50s rockabilly sound with some punk rock. People say that John Lindberg Trio is a heavy rockabilly band, but we’re not a psychobilly band because we don’t play so much punk rock. We’re more of a heavy blues rockabilly band because we blend our music more with Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath and not The Clash and a punk style. I would say that it’s more heavy, rock ‘n’ roll-billy.”
Has it ever been problematic when sitting down to write and record together due to all of these different influences that you all bring to JLT?
“Yes, sometimes,” answers John before adding, “but if you write the song and it sounds good just playing the acoustic guitar and singing, you can do it in any style. It’s like sitting down and trying to write a country song and then you take it to the rehearsal room and Joakim starts smashing the drums, which raises the tempo and then we’ve got a song! Therefore it’s difficult sometimes, but it always ends up good in the end.”
Another unconventional decision in terms of the predominant musical framework that JLT work under was the inclusion of singer-songwriter Per Gessle from pop rock giants, Roxette. Such judgment to seek the services of Gessle is to be commended, not only because of the different corners these two sets of musicians occupy, and a brave decision if one identifies JLT as a straight rockin’ band, but also a strong indication of JLT’s intent to push the boundaries of the rockin’ scene further and, from their personal perspective, their own career development.
“We wanted to have a song that had a 60s vibe and beat,” comments John referring to the inclusion of Gessle’s involvement regarding one of the songs from ‘DiG iT!’ “We were working on a couple of songs and they didn’t sound like what we wanted them to sound. I think Per [Gessle] had something to do with one of the guys at the record label that we work with, and this guy sent us a song to see if we wanted to use it. The song had a really good guitar riff, but [unfortunately] the lyrics were in Swedish. I remember thinking that it was going to be difficult as we don’t sing in Swedish when it comes to our songs. But the response was fine and we were allowed to do whatever we wanted with the song, such as translate the text. The thing that I like about the song is that it has a twelve-string guitar, like in the 60s with The Byrds who were playing twelve-string guitars. So all of the riffs and the guitar playing is performed on a twelve-string, and I never heard anybody do that in rockabilly music, if you want to call it that. I had to buy a really expensive twelve-string guitar [laughing] to play the song.”
If there are any differences to be identified with previous JLT albums and current album ‘DiG iT!’, there seems to be more of an open policy when it comes to working with other artists as depicted by Per Gessle’s involvement.
“This was the first record ever where we were open to the idea of working with others,” comments John in agreement with FLWs’ observation. “We did a couple of songs on the record with different songwriters. As already mentioned, one of the biggest artists was Per Gessle from Roxette. We did a song with him by the name of ‘Still In My Car’, which was pretty exciting. We recorded it here [Enviken] and sent it over to him, and he provided some ideas in terms of how we could rework things. The other major artist was Marti Brom, who I managed to contact through a friend of mine. I called and asked if Marti wanted to come to the studio to record a song with me. Marti agreed to the recording no problem. So that’s been a fun thing with this record.”
What was the reason for choosing to cover the song ‘Wonderin’ in terms of your collaboration with Marti Brom?
“That was a song that came together at the end of the sessions,” replies John regarding the recording of the album ‘DiG iT!’. “I had this record when I was a child by Neil Young & The Shocking Pinks called ‘Wonderin’ (Yes, that Neil Young and it makes for fascinating reading for anybody less familiar with this period in his career with the album ‘Everybody’s Rockin’, FLW). I think he released it in ’83 or something like that, but it was not a hit for him. However, Neil Young had made a rockabilly record. When I was a child, I always listened to that record because I had fallen in love with it. I told the boys [JLT] when we were ending the session [‘DiG iT!’] that I wanted to do this [record a cover of ‘Wonderin’], with the agreement that if it’s good then we’ll keep it, if it’s not then we won’t use it.”
With ‘DiG iT!’ being recorded in their home of Enviken, Sweden, which just happens to be the name of the record label as well, the experience for JLT has largely been a Swedish affair and something the band is keen to address with plans to reach out to broader audiences in the coming months.
“We’re working hard on that now as we’re just starting to work with a promoter in Europe,” confirms John. “We did a gig in Switzerland two weeks ago, and last year we performed in France. So we’re really trying to connect with promoters, and trying to get our music further throughout Europe and the rest of the world.”
Has it been a difficult process trying to promote your music outside of Sweden?
“Yeah because in Sweden we do this for a living and have a lot of stuff going on here, but you can’t play Sweden forever, you know? So we have to find [other] good arenas. In Sweden, we have played for ten years from the worst clubs to the best clubs, but we can’t do that in other countries because of time constraints, so we have to find a good festival where there are a lot of people who can see us perform live straight away.”
FLW presumes that the other influences JLT bring to the creative table will, no doubt, aid in their plight for greater recognition overseas.
“The music that we’re writing for our upcoming record, we’d like to see ourselves going on tour with bands such as Rival Sons. We want to be a retro rock band but with new songs and fresh inspiration for the music. In other words, looking back but pushing forward!”
So you would be comfortable supporting indie rock bands for example?
“Yeah of course,” is the immediate answer. “Our dream is to meet the heroes on the way to the top [laughing]!”
With John Lindberg Trio on the precipice of taking their music to different sets of audiences with gigs planned in Austria, Denmark and Finland as well as keeping in touch with their large base of existing fans in their native Sweden, the future looks bright for this rockin’ trio, but also one that is far from predictable as John Lindberg openly admits.
“I don’t know really know what’s going to happen because it’s always exciting for us too in terms of what’s coming up. We have some songs right now that are really heavy and some songs that are 70s pub rock such as Dave Edmunds. We had a period where we listened to The Eagles a lot, and we have some songs that sound like early ‘Eagles material. It’s all a mess right now though, as some of the songs are kinda happy and some are more aggressive.”
Can we expect to see a different direction for JLT next year then?
“It’s always been for us, do what we like,” John responds with a hint of defiance in his voice. “If we like something that we hear or get inspired about something, then it’s a feeling of, we don’t care what people say and we’ll play whatever we want. If it feels right, then it’s right. When we started the band and produced our first record people were saying, ‘Oh you can’t do that! You can’t have a wah-wah pedal in a rockabilly song’ that gets me going and I feel like [saying], ‘F*** you! Let’s burn an old Gretsch guitar on stage’. You have to push the limits, and for us it’s always been that [attitude], as we’re not afraid of doing what we feel like. We never want to repeat ourselves, and that’s very important to us. We’re always trying to find new ways to keep it interesting for us and for our audience.”
(All JLT promo photography courtesy of Andrea Björsell. Live black and white image courtesy of Pelle Nilsson)
You have to push the limits, and for us it's always been that [attitude], as we're not afraid of doing what we feel like."
John Lindberg, John Lindberg Trio
FLW - From the Tapes
Remove the word rockabilly from its title and all you are left with is John Lindberg Trio. Frontman John Lindberg explained to FLW why this rockin’ three-piece decided to ditch part of their original title.
“In the beginning it was all about rockabilly and 50s music. When we started to do bigger shows in Sweden, we wanted people to know what kind of music we played. So we thought that if we used the word rockabilly in the title, then people would be clearer about what type of music it is. For example, when we started to play new clubs, we wanted people to know that this is not jazz music and that this is rockabilly music. We put rockabilly on the posters and on the CD so that people would understand this is rockabilly. But later on, we didn’t want to become too narrow in our focus by playing one style of music, as we wanted to put other ingredients in our songs that weren’t just rockabilly, so we quit that name.”