While they may spend time plundering from indie’s past, Gothenburg’s Ikons are very much a forward-thinking band. Signed to Service, a label of impeccable taste and class, their second record Life Rhythm is a collection of songs that cherry-pick from the best of C86, shoegaze, Krautrock and indie-dance. Ikons, along with label boss Ola Borgström, then apply ultra-modern production that takes the album away from being lumpen retro and towards something euphoric and life-affirming. Holding it all together is the concept of the “life rhythm”; a heartbeat across all the songs, a theme that ties the varying styles together. In the words of the band, “it’s a mantra, and it’s very honest”.
On a crackling line linking Glasgow and Gothenburg, I speak to the band’s Jonas Bengtsson about how the band came together and the creation of their new record. I begin by asking about the subterfuge behind Ikons getting signed to Service.
“When we started this constellation, it was only me and Torbjörn [Johansson] who were in the group. All the other band members had just left, so we kind of re-thought it all again, brought in a friend and thought we’d try something new.” Although this new version of Ikons signed to Service, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as most deals. “It was pretty funny,” says Jonas, “because we had kind of decided to put down the band for a while after the drummer, guitarist and bass player all left at the same time and it was just me and Torbjörn left….and just a week after that we got an email from Ola (Service) saying ‘like the songs, do you wanna do a record?’” Despite this bad timing, Jonas explains that being economical with the truth helped seal the deal: “We were like, okaaay…so we claimed that in the beginning we [Jonas and Torbjörn] were the band. So we had to get in new people really, really fast to start doing something. But we had a pretty clear idea at that point what we wanted to do, so we got in the rest of the band and it wasn’t a really big problem to start working.” So did Ola ever find out the truth about all this? “He didn’t realise; we told him about a year later!”
That potted history was an extremely roundabout way of me asking (and most of my questions during this interview seemed convoluted. I think I may have confused Jonas a little) if the more expansive sound of the sophomore album, Life Rhythms, comes from having a settled, large (seven-piece) line up? “Yeah, I guess you could say that because the first record was pretty much written when all the members came along. We had all the songs written, me and Torbjörn.” So is this record more of a collaborative effort? “Yeah, with this one everyone contributes, “ agrees Jonas. “So this one is more of a collective work; it’s been fun.”
Life Rhythms goes from the short pop blast of ‘Sister’ to the roaming Krautrock of ‘Polaroid Cocaine’, so do we hear influences from each band member across its running time? Jonas is hesitant in responding, but says “When we make a record – and I think it’s the same with the first record – first of all we want to make albums. We want to make a ‘work’, you know? And I think you can hear that on both albums, that it’s songs that connect to each other. It’s not just a record with ten songs, all three minutes in length; it’s something that’s been put together for a purpose.” I say that despite the switch in styles and song lengths the record does seem to hold together as a coherent whole. Jonas agrees: “We didn’t want something that was so…predictable, and I think we’ve succeeded in evolving with this album. For the first record we had it ready in a year, but then we decided to rip it all up again and do it all over, and make it the best we could.” Did things change the second time around? “No! Kind of the same thing happened with this one,” reveals Jonas. “We had ten finished songs, but we didn’t find the right concept until a year or so after. So, we started all over again. You could say we’re extremely focused on production.”
On that point, I ask about working with Service on the album production; are they easy enough to work with? Jonas explains: “Yeah, this time we sat down with Service after we’d made the songs, and me and Ola worked on the final touches of it. That was something we’d decided; we’d be the ones finishing it so I guess that you could say the record is a contribution from the whole of the band, but the studio engineering and post-production was a huge production.”
Moving on to the concept previously mentioned, I ask if it’s as simple as music and life being tied together by ten tracks, something which Jonas affirms: “Yeah you could say it was as simple as that. I mean, we found the sample [the repetitive phrase “life rhythm”, found on ‘Free Spirit’ which gives the record its title] on this rave documentary – I can’t remember the name – and it sounded fitting for what we wanted to do. I guess you could say it’s a mantra, and it’s very honest. The songs kind of represent all of our stages in life right now…it’s a very simple, very honest kind of mantra for what we’re trying to achieve right now.” Is this something that’s happened since the last record, or has it always been an Ikons mantra? “No, the first record was a little bit darker maybe, so this time around we tried to let some light in and make something a little more ‘rave-ful’ and ‘light-ful’” laughs Jonas.
I wonder if this comes from the musical touchstones for Life Rhythm; the album’s press release comes complete with a mention of Primal Scream’s Screamadelica while in my review of the record I drop in C86, Boo Radleys, Ride and Jesus and Mary Chain, so I ask if there’s a particularly British influence to the album, or whether it just pulls together a whole bunch of things? Given that I also mention Krautrock and Galaxie 500, I really should expect this answer: “We’re music fans. Of course we love that kind of British music, but we also love American music. It’s like, maybe we’ll start with The Kinks, and then we go Ride, or The La’s or I dunno….it’s a wide spectrum so we’re not just influenced by those bands.” So what about rave music? The samples come from that rave documentary, there are blissed-out Balearic comedown moments and even the bright album artwork might suggest more than a passing interest in dance culture. Is this something that Jonas indulges in, or has experienced? “Oh no, I wouldn’t say that I have but some of the members of the band are pretty into that,” he says. “In the 90s they were, anyway. I like it, though but I can’t say I’ve been part of any rave culture.”
Ending on the prospect of Life Rhythm being reproduced in a live setting, I ask Jonas if there are difficulties involved in this, given the number of band members and the obvious attention to detail in the album production. “We’re not too worried about it,” he reveals. “For us, it works like this: for a record you do one thing, when you do it live you do another thing. So, all of the songs on the record take on a new identity in the live situation.” Does that come easily to Ikons? “It’s where we are now, and it can be a tough job with all the work! It’s trying to find the right way to do it live, so we keep it as two different things.”
I end our chat by trying to ask a question about the influence Swedish culture and climate has on the music from the country, but my sentence begins to eat itself/completely unravel as I realise that I could probably answer it myself when I think of the warmth of the music and the joy I derive from listening to my fellow countrymen Teenage Fanclub, who aren’t exactly the most downbeat band in the world. Thankfully, Jonas steps in: “We’re seven different people with different influences, so it’s not always easy…you have to struggle hard to get it going…but then something good comes out of that struggle. And that’s what’s important.”