Alt-country blowing in from the North from Norwegians Seven Doors Hotel
While it is true that Seven Doors Hotel’s latest vehicle may not be equipped to ‘kill fascists’, as famously and silently stated by one of Alex Lindbäck’s idols Woody Guthrie with ‘This machine kills fascists’ emblazoned across his guitar, which left an enduring image for future generations to muse over, Lindbäck and fellow cohort Kenneth Bjørdal, the two men responsible for the alt-country long player ‘The Arcade’, are more likely to be riled over the state of a relationship when it comes to their aforementioned latest recorded output. That is not to suggest, of course, that Seven Doors Hotel remain apolitical or opposed to any form of wrongdoing, quite the opposite as one of their country ditties alludes to in ‘Hell’s Hot’ with its reference to the state of the planet and continual ignorance of environmental issues.
In fact, the presence of Woody Guthrie, in spirit at least, was closer to the recording of the fourth chapter in the Seven Doors Hotel story, acting as the sixth member of the band after the permanent recruitment of bassist Tor Ånon Kleivane, drummer Finn Håkon Werner Borgi and guitarist Bjørn Harald Tvaråli Winge which has allowed Seven Doors Hotel to expand their sound and try one or two different ideas in order to further their progression. The input from legendary folk musician Woody Guthrie in terms of ‘The Arcade’ came by way of his autobiography, with the words striking an inspirational chord with Alex Lindbäck to the point that he is in no hurry to polish off this heavy tome due to being enthralled by its contents.
“When I’m writing and I get stuck, I have this book that I always open, which is Woody Guthrie’s autobiography ‘Bound For Glory’, but I haven’t finished it yet because I am saving it,” explains lead vocalist Alex Lindbäck enthusiastically before taking a sip of his coffee. “So, I have never read the whole book because I don’t want to get to the ending. It’s the play with words that I like and the fact that he’s lying on occasions too, which I like a lot [as well]!” he continues laughing. “It’s a fantastic book as the grammar is all over the place and it’s as if he’s talking.”
There seems to be a bizarre set of coincidences happening as it was only a matter of days before that Famous Last Words laid eyes on the previously mentioned and notorious image of Woody Guthrie without knowledge that Alex Lindbäck was a true stalwart of the American folk singer, to the point that he even has the very same message slapped across his guitar case. The other coincidence concerns the song writing skills of Lindbäck, who remains prolific in his abilities but there seems to be similarities with the autobiography of Guthrie, that he clutches tight to his chest, due to slight disorganisation in his ramblings and use of artistic license to bend the truth on occasions with, for example, ‘My Back To The Future’.
“It’s funny that you mention that song, as I don’t remember writing it!” laughs Alex loudly. “I have no idea where I was when I wrote that, no idea. We played that one live, and I like it because it’s kind of poppy and I like the wordplay in the song title as well, but I can’t remember anything, sorry [when it was written]. It’s a funny thing, as it’s a sign that I go into some kind of coma when I write. It’s interesting, however, as the first part of that song sounds like a verse but it’s the chorus, as the second part is the chorus but it sounds like a verse.”
“Breaking all the rules!” interjects Kenneth Bjørdal laughing and is the only other member of the band present today.
“A surprising amount of stuff is actually true,” continues Alex regarding his song writing before continuing, “but it’s difficult to say because sometimes I subtract stuff but also add stuff as I feel that when people are too personal, it might become embarrassing to listen to sometimes, and it might be that our songs are embarrassing, but I try to avoid that. However, I’m also adding stuff, as I said, as when you write lyrics you’re allowed to lie [laughing], but when it concerns life in general, it’s extremely bad to lie.”
There seems to be a considerable amount of heartache when referring to ‘The Arcade’ for a lot of this to be simply untrue, wouldn’t you agree?
“The songs are based around my life and what I have experienced, but it’s not like a diary because some of the songs are just mumbo-jumbo b******* with words that sound cool,” states Alex openly. “However, I like that because the best lyricists such as Bob Dylan wrote songs that didn’t make any sense at all or maybe just to him when he was stoned like on the ‘The Basement Tapes’. When you listen to our music, it’s not like I am sad all of the time, but I think the best songs have a melancholic side to them. There are not many happy songs that I like to listen to. Music with too much humour such as Frank Zappa might be funny the first couple of times when listening to it, but then it’s just..[makes a deflating noise to signal his lack of interest].”
“You have to make it interesting of course!” chips in Kenneth.
Idolisation of former music legends pales in comparison when it comes to a certain individual who was extremely close to frontman Alex Lindbäck. This person was not only a talented musician in his own right, but also a source of inspiration; so much so in fact, that the Seven Doors Hotel frontman scribbled a song in his honour with ‘That Day’.
“Actually, I love that song,” Alex confesses. “There is some great playing on that one from the instruments, and a little different from the jazzy pianos we have used. The lyric is about my friend St. Thomas who died. I had written something that…[pauses for a moment] I think about him every day because when you play in a band with someone, it’s more than being married as you share the bed and you also go to work together. We shared hotel rooms, and it often happened that I woke up with him and found myself holding around him, but nothing more happened [laughing]! So when he died, it hit me pretty bad, and I’m still not over it.”
Are there many people who follow Seven Doors Hotel avidly, aware that the song is about St. Thomas?
“No, I don’t think so,” says Alex. “If you’ve seen the video for ‘Gone Again’ there are clips of the two of us, as that song is easier to interpret and more straightforward. So we made that the single.”
With conversation drifting towards the making of the band’s fourth studio album, both Alex Lindbäck and Kenneth Bjørdal, who is equally instrumental to the band’s inventiveness by means of organ and pianos, are eager to discuss the whole recording process that resulted in ‘The Arcade’.
“Most of it was actually recorded across the street in our rehearsal room,” responds Kenneth first on Seven Doors Hotel’s latest album.
“We started recording the rhythm tracks in Snaxville’s studio for a couple of days with Henrik [Maarud], as he has a studio out in the forest in Skaubygda and he mixed the album. Everything else was recorded here in Oslo.”
Did the recording process for ‘The Arcade’ take a long time or was it recorded relatively quickly?
“It was a long period in terms of the recording, as it was over three or four months,” explains Kenneth.
“We all have [day] jobs and it’s not like we can lock ourselves in [the studio] for a whole week,” adds Alex before ordering another coffee.
“It’s not like we can go into the studio for a week and just record, as we have to do it when we can,” continues Kenneth. “The album was actually finished last February and it was a pretty long period from when it was finished until it was released too.”
Once the album was finally completed and given its official release date, where you happy with the overall outcome?
“I’m actually extremely pleased with it because I’m usually self-critical and can’t stand listening to my own music, but this I actually like and that’s a good sign,” comments Alex . “Without doubt it’s our strongest album to date.”
“I think nine out of ten times you will think that about your latest album,” answers Kenneth to the question in hand. “I feel the album adds a few things to the sound, as we have done a few things that we hadn’t done before.”
“We added a couple of new ingredients in the soup,” says Alex, “such as the drummer [Finn Håkon Werner Borgi] and bass player [Tor Ånon Kleivane] as it’s their first album and therefore we have a new rhythm section and they’re really good friends. Also, we tried not to overthink things when we recorded the songs and to just try and let them flow more easily.”
“The guitar player [Bjørn Harald Tvaråli Winge] and I tried to do a few things more than what we have done before,” adds Kenneth. “For example, we were not afraid to put three guitars on a track and stack them on top together.”
Where does your inspiration come from in terms of your current album ‘The Arcade’?
“It’s difficult to say because it’s been such a long trip,” explains Alex after considerable thought. “For example, I listen to everything whether it’s Slayer or American old time music, which is mainly based around the mandolin and has a lot of instrumentals. So I just like good songs and good stories. I have written a lot on the mandolin lately, which I am no expert, but it’s inspirational in a different way than the guitar is because you don’t know every chord.”
It’s very interesting that you are open to other genres of music rather than possessing only a passion for country and Americana music.
“Everything from the 70s,” replies Kenneth regarding his musical tastes. “It doesn’t have to be from the 70s, but it has to sound like it’s from the 70s.”
“I think the best period for the great bands that we like are from the periods ’67 – ’73, which is when a lot of my favourite albums were released with Ry Cooder, The Band and The Allman Brothers Band – we actually have an Allman Brothers cover band and I’m the guest drummer!” says Alex laughing. “I was really into Heavy Metal when I was a kid, and I still listen to it. I’m actually going to see Slayer live this summer.”
Do you feel Norway, as a country, brings something to your music in terms of the country influence?
“I think it’s something more than me listening to country music because a lot of my friends such as Mark Olson from The Jayhawks grew up in Minnesota and there’s mostly Norwegians living there. So the thing that became country music is like lots of European folk music mixed with blues, so it’s probably travelled back from the US,” Alex explains.
“There’s a lot of American music in the Norwegian music scene as there are a lot of good roots and blues bands and a lot of Americana and country bands in Norway,” says Kenneth who is also on round two in the coffee stakes (It’s one of their interests in life, FLW). “So, I think a lot of the Norwegian music scene is very influenced by great American music and maybe more in Norway than other Scandinavian countries. If you listen to other Norwegian bands, then you will notice that many of them are inspired by great American music.”
Do you have any ambitions to get out to the States to perform live?
“Actually, we have no ambitions!” responds Alex laughing. “We just want to make good music and perform live. We’re not that focused on the business side of things.”
“I don’t think we’re gonna make it big in the States anyway,” replies Kenneth surprisingly. “If I should go there, I would rather be a tourist and listen to good music.”
FLW is not referring to the possibility of earning big bucks over there, even though you might, but more in relation to the reality that the music of Seven Doors Hotel is built for Americana audiences in the US.
“It would be fun, but we’re not planning anything. If someone’s interested in flying us over, then we’d go! We just want to play, and wherever people want us we’ll play,” responds Alex.
“I think you need some sort of distribution and some sort of management around or else there’s no point, as you might as well be a tourist and listen to good music as it’s not a case of bring a couple of guitars and play a couple of bars, which would be fun, but I don’t really see the point actually,” adds Kenneth on the subject of the band’s music playing out to American audiences.
Any plans to tour the UK with the new album?
“Nobody has planned anything, but I think the UK would be a bit easier and more reachable,” considers Kenneth. “However, it’s the same thing there, as you would need some kind of management and some kind promotion for the record.”
“I think Snaxville are setting up a distribution for the UK, so it’s a possibility and hopefully it’s going to be available there,”comments Alex.
There are some real choice cuts when it comes to ‘The Arcade’ ranging from the lovely country lilt of ‘Sliding Bar’ to the influential keys and guitars during ‘Go With You’ that really thrust the song along, only to be thwarted in their momentum when the song’s frustrations manage to get the upper hand. But once more, the name Woody Guthrie rears its head due to being, in part, a source of inspiration for the edgy ‘Hell’s Hot’ with its memorable line: “People acting stupid like they just don’t care, maybe that’s why we’re f****** it up”.
“Actually, I wrote that as it was a project that was never finished when I tried to write songs with only three chords,” explains Alex regarding ‘Hell’s Hot’. “When I write, I try to use only a certain amount of tools as I think limitations are often good for music. Nowadays, you can have everything in terms of your computer whereby you can utilise many sounds such as string orchestras, which I try to limit. The song, however, was never finished but I was thinking of making a whole album with only three chords in each song. But that song, the lyrics are inspired by the Woody Guthrie book as ‘Hell’s Hot’ is a quote from it. There are some environmental aspects to that song as well, as we’re still f****** it up here.”
There is no escaping, however, from the previously discussed song ‘My Back To the Future’ due to being one of the key highlights, among several, but also due to the utter amazement that there appears to be no real meaning attached to this composition when it sounds full of nostalgic longing. Therefore, rather than harassing Seven Doors Hotel’s main lyricist further on this subject, it would be interesting to see if Alex Lindbäck is a man in love with the past rather than the present.
“I like nostalgia and I’m that kind of guy who thinks everything was better before, but I try not to be that guy,” explains Alex. “I read something in the newspaper about a guy in Sweden who was asked what he would do if he had a time machine. He said he would go back in time and see what a s***** place the world was before, and then he would go forward and see what a s***** place the world would become [laughing]. I think it’s human to look back and think things were better.”
Despite any personal preferences regarding the past in relation to the current state of things whether music related or issues concerning social and/or political concerns, Seven Doors Hotel, as a band, are definitely focused on the present as they continue to promote their impressive ‘The Arcade’ to audiences throughout Norway by means of a number of live dates, but also with a number of festival appearances later this summer. If anything, and despite the band’s awareness that they’re not the new kids on the block when it comes to attracting major label interest, not that is in their main interests either, Seven Doors Hotel is a band who appear utterly content with their lot and deep in the knowledge that they are treading the right path with their alt-country from the north due to its long lasting appeal and its ability to buck trends, which is a definite positive according to Alex Lindbäck.
“The good thing for us is that we can play this [kind of] music and be bald and grey haired and it’s acceptable. Therefore, it’s ok to be fat and bald with the music we play, as there is no problem. So we will continue!”
Seven Doors Hotel ‘The Arcade’ is available on Snaxville Recordings
I think about him every day because when you play in a band with someone, it's more than being married as you share the bed and you also go to work together..."
Alex Lindbäck, Seven Doors Hotel
FLW - From the Tapes
The conventional rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle is definitely not a prerequisite when applying to become a member of Seven Doors Hotel.
“There have been no incidents with televisions being thrown out of hotel rooms or anything like that,” replies Kenneth.
“We’re probably the cleanest band in the [whole country],” adds Alex.
“I remember one time when we checked out of a hotel room and a pillow was on the floor, which was pretty rock ‘n’ roll!” recollects Kenneth with everyone laughing in unison. “So, I rushed right back in the hotel room and tidied up!”
“Most of our fans are pretty strange…they must be!” quips Alex. “We’re very nerdy, and we like to talk about guitars.”
Your social media profile states your love of guitars but also that you love coffee as well.
“Yeah, we drink a lot of coffee and there are lots of bad jokes on stage and off stage, especially in the car.”
Any strange venues you have performed at when it comes to Norway?
“Yeah, that place in Tønsberg – Total – the venue is great but the backstage used to be a strip club,” explains Alex. “The backstage was also where we stayed overnight after the gig. The room itself had these wall-to-wall carpets and you can only imagine what had been going on there [from before] because it was an apartment connected to the strip club.”
“I didn’t go barefoot there!” laughs Kenneth
“I didn’t even shower!” replies Alex. “Although we did a bit of pole dancing after it was closed!”