Coming back with serious intent, Haraball has not forgotten its mischievous side either.
Whether it’s issues associated with figures of authority and their negligence when asserting their assigned powers upon unsuspecting victims; impish pranks involving homemade devices to silence the close affinity with cars and techno music, or usage of mind altering substances that seem to provide a positive outlook when suggesting fashion tips on how to lead your life, Norway’s Haraball have certainly had their fair share of such experiences.
Current album ‘Half Tux’ provides a few clues regarding such episodes, with the third-person narrative of ‘Mallcop Dungeon’ lifting the lid on the particularly unsavoury behaviour of mall cops who, in their universe of underground caverns situated at almost every shopping mall throughout the land, allegedly exert their authority with brutish measures on those suspected of shoplifting while the happy shoppers go about their business completely oblivious to such alleged goings on.
Such social commentary caused much intrigue at Famous Last Words (FLW) headquarters once the subject of this post-punk ditty aired its grievances in a barrage of caustic vocals rolled out to a pounding drum beat and gritty, buzzing guitar squall reminiscent of the kind Nirvana worked to their advantage. With this song being one particular highlight among many, ‘Mallcop Dungeon’ was too good an opportunity to pass up when Haraball’s Jon Eivind Eriksen (vocals) was brought to the dock for questioning.
“To try and explain ‘Mallcop Dungeon’, I would have to say that it’s about everyday horror; an everyday horror story. For example, down at the shopping mall, those mall cops actually have a dungeon where they beat up shoplifters. You know poor old junkies or little kids trying to save some money. I just hate that kind of power they [mall cops] have over people. You can see them [victims] coming out of the shopping mall’s basement and they’re crying because they’ve been beaten up. So the song ‘Mallcop Dungeon’ is referring to such everyday darkness.”
The everyday darkness that Jon Eivind refers to is something which has been experienced since the entire band decided to up sticks and relocate from the smaller and more tranquil confines of their home in Kongsberg to the capital city of Oslo. This transformation in living conditions has certainly provided some advantages, especially when it comes to being inspired (see ‘Mallcop Dungeon’) in the creative department, as both Haraball and their second full effort, the aforementioned ‘Half Tux’, have benefitted from the larger scale of Oslo and all the varieties this brings.
Such a transformation in Haraball actually began in 2011, when guitarist William Øberg convinced the rest of his bandmates, after the demise of two previous incarnations as first, Tiebreak and then Fair F***, the latter of which ended back in 2001, that they had something special and that they hadn’t reached their full potential just yet.
With the other members of Haraball agreeing to get on board at the persistent requests of guitarist William Øberg, the rest is now history as the five band members – Vegard Holthe (bass), Trond Mjøen (guitar) and Daniel Wakim (drums) making up the as yet unnamed remaining three – soon found their rhythm after a few rehearsals where the fast, aggressive edges of punk would remain, only this time around, and humorously described by Haraball themselves, containing “a bit of that old man’s smell to it”.
Age is but a number as there is certainly no ‘old man’s’ aroma clinging to the contents of Haraball’s ‘Half Tux’ or, for that matter, their debut album ‘Sleep Tall’, as both long players possess a youthful spirit that is reflected in the frenetic sounds and heated lyrics as various issues still have the ability to rile each and every band member. In fact, with Haraball returning, the years which have elapsed from their previous two excursions have added much experience and, in the process, a more qualified band has emerged.
“We produced some Dischord [Records] type of music before Haraball, but just f***ed it up! We basically didn’t have the ambition back then,” comments Jon Eivind regarding the band’s previous two attempts before Haraball came to fruition. “We were signed to this label – Kick and Punch which is based in Copenhagen – and they signed us after reading a review of our demo in an American magazine. The record label signed us, which included 500 copies of the first single and then another 500 because it sold out. Also, the record label set up a tour for us with sixteen dates all over Europe, but we couldn’t even find a car! So it was just stupid things like that as to why we messed it up. Maybe, deep down, we didn’t want to go because we could’ve borrowed some money of course.”
Do you think there was a bit of anxiety within the band with regards to stepping outside of the comfort zone of Norway?
“Yeah, because for some of us we were told by our families that we would lose certain benefits if we went,” comments Jon. “On paper, the tour looked really promising, but we had family members advising the opposite and saying it was crazy, which is worse than what The Stones said in the 60s [regarding a large USA tour] when they mentioned it takes 14 hours to drive between each city and that being stupid. We were between eighteen and twenty when all of this happened.”
As mentioned previously, Haraball grew up in the town of Kongsberg before making the move to the big capital. Therefore, the post-punk and hardcore sounds were already in place before the five band members considered it time for a fresh outlook with a move to Oslo. Surely then, Kongsberg was the genuine source of inspiration for many of the issues causing Haraball sleepless nights, considering its smaller scale in size and less outlets for creative expression and opportunities?
“Kongsberg was a really happy place to grow up in,” says Jon before continuing, “but the boredom in a small place like that is too much to handle when you turn twenty. So we decided to move to Oslo. You can say that it’s less comfortable and more dangerous in Oslo, but at the same juncture it’s still a pretty place to live in. So there’s not much urban angst or stuff like that reflected in our music.”
In addition to the bouts of anger heard throughout ‘Half Tux’, there is also an undercurrent of mischief that provides the perfect partner to the serious issues under the microscope. Such a playful attitude was instilled in the band during their tentative years in Kongsberg, meaning that Haraball’s former dwelling was responsible for their mischievous side at least, and something Jon Eivind readily admits.
“I think with Haraball we’re a bit more jovial which comes from our time in Kongsberg. Back then, we were a bit like Dennis the Menace (cartoon character from UK comic The Beano) as we made homemade bombs and threw them at ‘rægger’ [car cruisers] – people who just drive around in cars pumping out loud-ass techno. So when they had stopped to eat burgers, for example, we would stand up on the hill and throw these bombs so that they rolled under the cars and exploded. It was only meant as fun because the result was only a loud bang and nothing more. We used to do lots of crazy s*** like that and that was before we relocated to Oslo, but the humour is still present in the band!”
The mischievous behaviour of Haraball filters into their music as said, that will cause irritation in some and genuine intrigue for others. For example, by naming one of your current creative efforts ‘Perfect Like A Nazi’ immediately triggers any number of interpretations, especially for those less familiar with the band, but for those with prehistory will know that such a song assumes an anti-racist stance and, in fact, is a general reflection of attitudes in society rather than anything race specific. These are the risks Haraball is willing to take, however, which can only be commended considering the often generic responses from so many bands today when confronted with anything of serious value to discuss.
“I guess it’s about living life as a loser and that fear of society trying to rationalise your behaviour. It’s that loser part, but there’s also a lot of humour there as well. I just thought of it as a funny thing to say [song title] because the Nazi’s thought that they were so perfect that they could just wipe out other people. So that’s where the Nazi part is from in relation to the song.”
When you wrote the song, did you have any reservations about using the word Nazi because some people may interpret this song differently?
“Oh yes, I did,” replies Jon immediately. “When I wrote it, I was thinking whether I could name the song ‘Perfect Like A Nazi’ or not. So I was going back and forth until I decided to go with it. People will get the humour or the irony or whatever if they listen to the song. But also, Mark E. Smith [The Fall] on one of his records, I think it was ‘Room To Live’ as he always used to scribble on the older album covers a lot, wrote ‘Quality Nazi pressing’ which I thought was humorous and a clever use of the word.”
Have you received any negative responses or unwanted interpretations of this song in particular?
“No, there have been no negatives, only positive responses where people have found it funny. I don’t know why they find it funny, but maybe it’s because they think that they wouldn’t have named a song by that title, but happy that somebody has actually done it. However, our record label boss loved it because the title is very tabloid and he was all for it, so we have to please him every once in a while!”
When it came to the recording process of ‘Half Tux’, the band were left to their own devices and entered the recording studio brimming with confidence and a fresh impetus after the positive feedback garnered from debut album, ‘Sleep Tall’.
“I would say that it went very well,” recollects Jon Eivind on the recording process for Haraball’s ‘Half Tux’. “The album was recorded in Oslo in the basement of the Crossroad Club. We knew that the sound is good there, as the drums, for example, sound very good in that room. It took about half a year to put the songs together and get the drumming and everything right. So, we had pretty much everything [in place] when we went into the recording studio. The studio is just a rehearsal space which we got for free, so this meant that we had extra money to buy microphones and soundcard. The whole album was pretty much done in four days. Then we went back to do vocals to fix any previous things because doing the vocals is the hardest part. So we spent a little bit more time on that.”
How would you describe your sound in relation to ‘Half Tux’?
“It’s loud, that’s one thing! Also, it’s fast and there’s a bit of weirdness to it with the riffs in the sense that if you’ve never heard it before and you paused between each riff, then you would never guess the next step. So our sound is complex, in a way, and it’s also really simple. Post-punk is one of our main inspirations and therefore that would be right to use that in relation to our music.”
Do you feel that the music press in Norway provides enough coverage for the post-punk scene?
“I don’t know,” ponders Jon. “There are a lot of really good bands that don’t get a lot of coverage, but I kind of suspect them of not wanting it as well. Let’s say, for example, punk and hardcore bands from the squats. I don’t think that they really want to be reviewed in certain music publications in Norway. I think if you reach out to them, as you do when you sign on with record labels such as Fysisk Format, you get a lot of attention and it’s pretty easy to get coverage. However, for Haraball to be played on the radio, which is pretty special, you wouldn’t expect it in terms of the music we make. We all know how it works in terms of what kind of sound you have to produce to get to the masses. But I think Norway’s very good when it comes to gaining attention for what you do.”
Any attention heading Haraball’s way is likely to be on the back of forthcoming tour dates that should see them cover large parts of Norway before a trip overseas, of sorts, to neighbouring Sweden. Of course, there is the phenomenal ‘Half Tux’ to maintain the current momentum the band find themselves in, but the emphasis is definitely on the live circuit as Jon Eivind explains.
“We need to play lots of gigs right now and not so much in terms of the writing because there is a desire to focus on playing live as much as we can. In the autumn, we should be performing live pretty much throughout Norway. We’re aiming for ten dates in a row, which will be a record for us [laughing]! We’re also going to Sweden, as we have been invited, which is a big thing because it’s pretty difficult for Norwegian bands to get into Sweden to perform live. We want to promote ‘Half Tux’ for a long time and then to wait at least six months before we think of doing anything else. By doing this, it helps us to get more inspiration because we buy records all of the time and exchange tips on new bands and so on. So we need that time to listen to other stuff and to play music that we have already made before we can move on. We have been producing a lot of songs and therefore we have enough material right now. So it’s time to take a break from the song writing.”
(Images courtesy of Kimm Saatvedt)
To try and explain 'Mallcop Dungeon', I would have to say that it's about everyday horror; an everyday horror story."
Jon Eivind, Haraball
FLW - From the Tapes
Haraball and those in positions of authority seem to have a habit of bumping into each other no matter the occasion. Lead vocalist, Jon Eivind recalls a particular incident at the band’s release party for second album ‘Half Tux’ when a security guard was a little too eager to assert his authority.
“When we did our release party for ‘Half Tux’ at the Crossroads Club in Oslo, they have these security guards at the club but they are not regulars as they work at other places in the city. So when one of our fans in the crowd started moshing, one of the security guards came in and threw him out because he thought he was looking for a fight. He didn’t know that was how you dance when you watch Haraball. Fortunately, they let him back in, which was good for us as this particular fan bought nearly everything we had from the merchandise stall afterwards! The release concert was a great success. It seems that when it’s a release party for an album people tend to take it more seriously by showing up, compared to any other gig where there’s no occasion in the sense of a record being released. Release party gigs seem to have the best attendances for us.”