||April 12, 2002
BY JIM DeROGATIS POP MUSIC CRITIC
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.
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"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
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.