Super Swedes

April 12, 2002



I have been to Sweden, and I have been to Detroit, and let me tell you: The two have very little in common. But don't tell that to the Hellacopters.

The Swedish quintet offers one of the most potent evocations of Motor City rock since the heyday of the Stooges, the MC5 and Sonic's Rendezvous Band. Detroit, it would seem, is really a state of mind.

"It's weird to come to America and see the bands we love be completely unknown here," guitarist Robert "Strings" Dahlqvist says by cell phone from the van while heading to Portland for the third gig of the group's current U.S. tour. He's referring to his sadly under-heralded American heroes from the '70s, as well as to so-called "New Garage" bands such as Mooney Suzuki and the Catheters.

  Hellacopters, Gaza Strippers, Scott Morgan's Powertrane





* 9 p.m. Monday
* Double Door, 1572 N. Milwaukee
* Cover, $12
* (773) 489-3160







"There's a lot of strange things going on in the music scene in America, with rap-metal and the nu-metal thing--Nickleback and tons of those [awful] bands," Dahlqvist continues. "There are so many good bands that people don't know about or give the attention that they need. I think maybe it's all MTV's fault."

Sure enough, but a revolution may be brewing. And after three releases on a series of cool American indie labels (including the influential Sub Pop and Man's Ruin), the Hellacopters' fourth album, "High Visibility" (Gearhead), stands poised to reach its largest audience yet on these shores.

The group first came together in its native Stockholm in 1994 at the instigation of vocalist and primary auteur Nick Royale and guitarist Dregen, who doubled as a member of Backyard Babies. After a series of underground 45s, some of which now fetch close to $200 on the collectors' market, the band released its first barn-burning full-length, 1996's "Super------ to the Max," a masterpiece that even wound up garnering a Grammy nod, despite the fact that it was recorded in a mere 26 hours.

That disc remains the band's high point, but subsequent releases have all come close. On "High Visibility," the group sticks with the winning formula of driving tempos, solid backbeats, melodic choruses and churning guitars. Hell-raising anthems such as "Baby Borderline," "You're Too Good (To Me Baby)" and "Truckloads of Nothin' " are all unforgettable, and all under three minutes long.

Did the band approach this recording any differently, given its increasing prominence in the rock world?

"No, it was quite the same," Dahlqvist says. "I think we rehearsed a little more for this one, but basically we just went into the studio and did what we were supposed to do!"

Though he's been on board for three years now, since Dregen left to concentrate full-time on the Babies, Dahlqvist is still "the new guy"--not that he's complaining. "They still call Ron Wood the new guy in the Rolling Stones," he notes. The band is completed by bassist Kenny Hakansson, drummer Robert Eriksson, and keyboardist Bobby Lee Fett, who adds a melodic subtlety that many of the New Garage bands lack.

Rather than envy, the Hellacopters express nothing but good will for the Hives, another Swedish garage group currently making an impact in the States. The musicians are friends who often tour together in Europe. "We've got a lot of the same influences, if you listen," Dahlqvist says. "They're into the Detroit thing, too, but maybe more the earlier Detroit, like Mitch Ryder--a little more R&B and a little less metal."

Given this obsession with Detroit, what did the Hellacopters think of the place when they finally saw it? Did the Michigan reality measure up to the idealized image created by the music they loved?

"Oh, man," Dahlqvist says, laughing. "I didn't see too much of it. I just saw the street and the motel!"

Ah, well--that's rock 'n' roll for you.