An Interview With Surferosa
Norway's spectacular trash-pop band
The latest fascination with Swedish music means little to Sweden's neighboring countries, many of which boast equally thriving music scenes, yet seem to be ignored by the rest of the world. Norway, often dubbed "the nation of black metal," is not all spikes and leather. Major cities like Oslo, Bergen, and Trondheim are home to a range of musicians - pop artists (Bertine Zetlitz, A-Ha), electronic duos (Royksopp), and plenty of bands paying homage to British pop sound (White Birch, St. Thomas).
Driven by their love of rock n'roll and frustrated by the ubiquitous melancholy bands in their college town of Bergen, Kjetil, Andy, JR, and Mariann (bassist Ziggy joined later on) formed Surferosa, a vibrant synth-pop, trash-punk band hell bent on writing flawless pop songs with glossy synth riffs and bombastic choruses. Vocalist Mariann was born to be a star. Onstage she struts her stuff in fluorescent gymnastic leotards- resembling an '80s glam queen equipped with a futuristic cool. Her voice is as fiery as Polly Styrene's, her vocal range on par with Heart's Ann Wilson.
With the release of their debut album Shanghai My Heart in March 2003, Surferosa have created a modern pop sound influenced by a variety of musical eras and genres- stadium rock ("Bim Bam Boom"), speedy punk-pop ("Satin Con Blonde") and new wave disco ("Chinese Moon)." In short, Shanghai My Heart is proof that Surferosa are the most exciting band to happen to Norway in a very long time.
My love for Surferosa took me all the way to Oslo in May 2003 to check out their live show (with denim rock band, Turbonegro and JR Ewing) and to do this interview. While hanging out in the dressing room at the Oslo Spektrum, Mariann spoke of her unpleasant run-in with Courtney Love, Kjetil gave advice on how to get revenge, and a conclusion was reached that Surferosa definitely have what it takes to make it big in Asia.
CCC: How long ago did you start the band?
Mariann: Three years ago.
CCC: What's the first song you wrote?
Mariann: "Supersonic Electric Dream."
CCC: Did you have a clear idea of what you wanted to sound like?
Andy: Not really. We had our own studio at college, and we'd basically spend all day and all night jamming, making electronic music. There was a concert place just around the corner where we would go and watch lots of crappy bands.
Mariann: And we're like, "we're MUCH better than all of them!" Heh! Heh!
JR: After the concerts we would go back to the studio and write songs.
Mariann: And we would be really drunk and say, "Wow, we sound so good!" But I think our new album Shanghai My Heart really shows that we're becoming a much better band and that we have no limits.
CCC: That's why I love the album. It's so varied and unpredictable.
Mariann: We like different themes. So what's your favorite song on the album?
CCC: Definitely "Chinese Moon."
Mariann: Oh we all really love "Bim Bam Boom." Actually the song "Chinese Moon" was ten minutes long and had like ten different themes. But our producer was like, "There are three songs in here." And we're like, "Yeah but we want it like this!" And he said "No way, no fucking way."
JR: There's actually "Chinese Moon" Part II.
CCC: Possibly for the next album?
CCC: Have you been writing new material for the next album?
Mariann: We have two songs that we made last week called "Tough Stuff" and "Electro Electric Erotic." That title is hard to pronounce.
CCC: You have the best song titles- very innovative.
Mariann: Thank you!
CCC: You took your band name from the Pixies album, Surfer Rosa. Why did you choose that name?
Mariann: Because it's the best pop album in the world, and we are the best band in the world in the "trash-pop" genre. So it was only natural that we would take that name for our band. But we cut off the "r" and put the two words together.
CCC: "Neon Commando," "Chinese Moon," and Shanghai My Heart- all about Asia.
Mariann: All hits.
CCC: Why do you focus so much on Asia? Have you been to Asia?
Mariann: We haven't been there, so that's why we have such a fascination with Asia.
JR: Actually I've been to Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore.
Mariann: Okay, so some of us have been to Asia, but we haven't toured there. We want to tour in China, Japan, Thailand, everywhere.
Andy: Do you know the intro on "Chinese Moon" where there's a female vocal? I actually recorded that at a hotel in Beijing- it's the hotel wake-up call.
CCC: Mariann, you speak a little Japanese in the song "Neon Commando." Where did you get those Japanese lyrics?
Mariann: I had a friend who lived in Sapporo, Japan, and I was in the studio thinking that I had to say some lines in Japanese since I was going to sing about Japan. And then I got a SMS text message from my friend that said, "Doko ni iru no? Ima ai ga nakute sabishii" which means, "Where are you? I'm so sad cos you are not here. I miss you."
CCC: That's adorable.
Mariann: And I also sing in Chinese on "Chinese Moon." (Singing) Bangbang, kampbai....