A subculture of music known as Teddy Boy continues to have a pulse in Norway.
Teddy Boy Rock ‘n’ Roll is alive and well. It may be a niche market but there is a branch of rock ‘n’ roll that continues to thrive in a corner of Norway.
Taking their influences from rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll of the 50s and the brief revival of the 70s and 80s, Hank Sundown is all about continuing this brand of music in the modern age. Such a feat is achieved by means of writing and recording original material and therefore avoiding the often-sought route of serving as a retro act with bundles of cover songs in the locker.
This journey after all is about keeping the Teddy Boy flame alive, and in a manner that remains creative whilst having fun, but also adding to the catalogue of work that has gone before and therefore leaving a legacy that will hopefully be remembered by those supporters with a penchant for such music.
Keeping that flame well and truly lit in 2020 is Hank Sundown and the band’s current long player ‘Rock & Roll Power’. Part tribute in paying its respects to the original rockers and country/Honky-Tonk legends as Hank Williams, and with overall admiration bestowed to recently departed Cavan Grogan of Crazy Cavan fame, ‘Rock & Roll Power’ also kicks against anyone holding the simple notion that rock ‘n’ roll is only concerned with the King himself, Elvis Presley. Proof in the pudding can be found in the sharp elbow to the ribs and absolute belter, ‘I Ain’t Elvis’; a song with genuine attitude identified by its snarling vocals and robust rhythm that will have any doubters cowering as to the intentions of Hank Sundown.
With all songs written by Arild Rønes (aka Hank Sundown), there is no shying away from his admiration for all things Teddy Boy as evidenced by song titles ‘Cool Like A Ted’ and ‘Teddy Boy Party’, but also for the inclusion of clever, subtle touches heard during the intro of ‘British Rock & Roll’, which pinches from Cliff Richard and the Drifters’ ‘Move It!’. But it is also the defiance of songs as ‘Ain’t Going Back To Memphis’, which refuses to rest on former glories by simply regurgitating the same old formula and, by remaining steadfast to such principles, what the listener gets is a record with a genuine freshness, but one that never strays from its roots.
Seeing as how the album ‘Rock & Roll Power’ is an independent release, and one difficult to track down due to its limited pressing, it might be worth the extra mile to obtain a copy because it’s an exceptional record bristling with energy, genuine attitude, and original songs. So, with enough praise from this corner for ‘Rock & Roll Power’, it is time to seek the words of Hank Sundown to establish the popularity of Teddy Boy rock ’n’ roll in the modern era, and to learn how the beginnings of his own band came to fruition.
“It started back in 2001, when I started a band called The Cascades,” says Hank Sundown (real name Arild Rønes). I have always been a big fan of Teddy Boy rock & roll, rockabilly and 50s rock & roll, but I didn’t start to play and sing until I was in my twenties. After a few years jamming together, I convinced some of my friends to start a band. They weren’t really a part of the rock & roll/rockabilly scene, but they liked 50’s rock & roll. We played together for about five years, released one album, and called it quits around 2006. In 2009, I got together with the drummer from The Cascades, Tor Andreas Roseth, and recorded the ‘Rock & Roll Supreme’ album and renamed the band Hank Sundown & The Roaring Cascades.”
Interesting name for a band yet it seems you rely more on the singular “Hank Sundown” these days and therefore giving the impression that this is more of a solo project, would you agree?
“As I mentioned earlier, the band was called Hank Sundown & The Roaring Cascades from the start, and it still is really. I started to use only “Hank Sundown” when marketing the band. The original name is a bit too long and difficult for people to pronounce. As for Hank Sundown being a solo act or a band, I would say it’s a bit of both. In the studio, and on stage, we try to keep the process as democratic as possible, but I guess I have the final say on the songs I have written and Christopher (our lead guitarist and sometimes lead singer) on the songs he has written. But both Ole (bass) and Petter (drums) have strong opinions when it comes to the music. When it comes to management, promotion, recording, mixing, mastering, marketing and every other “non-musical” decisions and tasks, I do all that myself. So yes, I guess we are a band, but with a band leader.”
What is the experience for a rock ‘n’ roll/Teddy Boy band in Norway? For example, is there much of a scene in Norway for this type of music or is it difficult to get your music heard?
“Sadly, there isn’t much of a scene in Norway these days. Apart from a few local gigs, we hardly play any gigs in Norway. Sweden is much better (I live only 30 minutes from the border) and that has always been our biggest market. Around 70% of our over 2 million Spotify streams are from Sweden. Sweden has a huge number of car clubs and they love Teddy Boy rock & roll. The rockabilly and Teddy Boy scenes are also a lot bigger in Sweden than it is in Norway, although probably not as big as it was 20-30 years ago. We have also played a few festivals in Germany, France, and the UK, and that is always fun and something we want to do more of as soon as the world gets back to normal.”
Looking at things on a grander scale, do you think rock ‘n’ roll is still alive and well or becoming a dying breed of music? In other words, is it still relevant today?
“It is very much alive and well, but I do not think it is relevant at all, at least not to the “big masses”, mainstream media and people in general. I am not sure it ever really has been, except from the 50s, of course. Sure, there have been revivals, but apart from around 1956-57 (and maybe Stray Cats in the early 80s), rock & roll and rockabilly have always been a subculture. Rockabilly is a subculture, and Teddy Boy rock & roll is a subculture of rockabilly. So, you could say Teddy Boy rock & roll are a niche of a niche. But I am okay with that. We will never be able to make a living from playing Teddy Boy rock & roll, but that is not our goal either. We play for fun and because we love this kind of music.”
With Hank Sundown’s ‘Rock & Roll Power’ containing a real edge in terms of its sound and tangible links to 50’s rock ‘n’ roll and the first dawn of the Teddy Boy subculture which emerged during the same era, despite such connections the record also sounds current without resorting to any modern influences to create this experience. Such an achievement becomes clearer once Hank Sundown explains the influences behind the new album:
“People might be surprised to hear that I have a pretty broad musical taste (as long as it’s guitar or piano based music). I listen to everything from bluegrass to metal. Lately, I have been listening to a lot of bands like Airbourne, Metallica and AC/DC. I love Rolling Stones and I’m HUGE fan of Bruce Springsteen. But the biggest influence on the Hank Sundown sound is of course Teddy Boy bands like Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers and Teencats, and American rock & roll bands like The Blasters. I would also say Johnny Cash is a big influence or, to be more precise, Luther Perkins, who showed us that you don’t need a lot of fancy chords or blistering solos to sound cooler than ice!”
Having gained insight of the influences behind ‘Rock & Roll Power’, it is time to delve a little deeper when it comes to the overall production of this latest album.
“I work as a full-time sound engineer and have my own sound company. I do mostly live work, but I also own a lot of studio equipment, so I recorded, mixed, and mastered the record myself. If I had the money, I would probably have let someone else master the record. But since the budget was extremely low, I had to do everything myself. We recorded the rhythm tracks (drums and bass) in a local theatre over two days in January 2020. Then I recorded most of the vocals and rhythm guitar over a few weeks in my own living room. Then we recorded all Christopher’s guitar and vocal tracks in the upstairs hallway in his house on 15th February, the same day our big musical hero, Cavan Grogan, died. We have a tribute to him on the record, which was finished probably just a few hours before he died.”
Did you experience any difficulties when making the new album?
“No real problems. I love being in the studio, and we have such a good chemistry in the band that playing with these guys is nothing but fun. We might have some small disagreements on how to play certain parts, but that’s only part of the creative process. One thing I love about the line-up that we have now is that everybody has their own ideas on how to make our music sound as good as we can play it. I really appreciate the input they have, even if I do not always agree [laughing].”
What ideas and influences did you bring to the making of ‘Rock & Roll Power’?
“What I tried to do on this record, that I have not done as much on our earlier records, was to write more songs that didn’t follow the standard 1-4-5 chord pattern. When I was writing the songs for the record, I was listening a lot to punk and metal, not that our songs sound anything like punk or metal, but these genres made me think a bit more outside the box. It is not a ground-breaking record [‘Rock & Roll Power’] by any means, and only a couple of those songs ended up on the record, but it’s something I would like to explore more in the future. Apart from that I just wanted to make our hardest rocking and best sounding album so far. Furthermore, I wanted to make an album without any fillers. For example, my goal was to make an album where I loved every single song, and every song was a song that could be included in our live repertoire, and we almost succeeded.”
Do you have a favourite track or tracks from the album and what are your reasons?
“That is not easy! However, I must mention ‘I Ain’t Elvis’. It is a song we recorded for the ‘Wild Bunch’ record, but it didn’t sound right. So, I changed the lyrics a bit and made a completely different arrangement for it. And I’m really happy about how it turned out. Everyone who dresses in a rockabilly style, and combs their hair back gets “Elvis!” shouted at them from time to time. This is probably what we all like to answer them with [‘I Ain’t Elvis’] but are too shy or polite to do so.”
Are you pleased with the overall outcome of the album or is there anything that you would do differently now?
“I have an image in my mind of how the perfect Hank Sundown record should sound. This is the closest we have gotten so far, I think, and I am incredibly pleased with the result. At the same time, I do not think it’s possible to make a record that is the perfect record. There are always small things you wish you had done differently; a guitar part here, or a verse you should have rewritten. But all in all, I am incredibly pleased with the result.”
What reactions have you received since the release of ‘Rock & Roll Power’?
“They have been really good! We had 50,000 streams on Spotify during the first month, which we are incredibly pleased with. We usually only print 100 CDs and sell those within a year or two. But this time they sold out in three months! So, we must print 100 more. It is not huge number, but let’s face it, hardly anybody buys CDs anymore and we have not done any marketing for this album. Also, the Covid19 situation has prevented us from playing gigs and selling CDs afterwards as well. All sales of the album have come from people that have heard it on Spotify and wanted the album on CD.”
With this being FLWs’ final interview in what has been an incredibly difficult year, what has been Hank Sundown’s experience since the new album release during the coronavirus pandemic?
“It has been really frustrating, but more from a personal side than in terms of the band overall. As I mentioned, I work as a sound engineer, and even with economic help from the government, I have lost at least 50% of my income. Since I do most of my work during weekends, I don’t have time to do many gigs in normal periods either. But I sure miss playing live. We have a gig coming up in February next year, but we do not know if we will be allowed to play yet.”
What is next for Hank Sundown?
“I have no idea, but hopefully some gigs again when everything is normal once more.”
Do you have any final words of the day?
“Stay safe and play loud rock & roll! Rockin’ Regards Arild Rønes (sometimes known as Hank Sundown).”
The album ‘Rock & Roll Power’ is available digitally and on CD (depending on whether the band has any left in stock of course!)
(Photography courtesy of Hank Sundown)
Everyone who dresses in a rockabilly style, and combs their hair back gets "Elvis!" shouted at them from time to time. This is probably what we all like to answer them with [‘I Ain't Elvis’] but are too shy or polite to do so.”
FLW - From the Tapes
What are Hank Sundown’s favourite three rockabilly and/or rock ‘n’ roll albums?
“Extremely difficult question because I could probably name one hundred albums or singles. Having said that, I will cheat and name three rock & roll, and three rockabilly albums. But if you ask me the same question tomorrow it might be six other albums. Beginning with rockabilly, Johnny Burnette and the Rock & Roll Trio; Elvis – SUN Collection; Brian Setzer – ‘68 Comeback Special – Ignition ROCK & ROLL; Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers – ‘Crazy Rhythm Shotgun’ and ‘Born To Rock’, and finally Teencats – ‘Teddy Boy Rock & Roll’.”