In 1998, Swedish punk band Refused released their third record, The Shape Of Punk To Come before near-immediately breaking up. The writing was on the wall, with one track on that record aptly titled “Refused Are Fucking Dead.” And just like that, the record blew up, becoming one of the most critically acclaimed punk albums of all time, noted for its adventurousness, abrasiveness and heavy political themes. In a weird way, some say, Refused pushed the future of punk to come, playing with song structures, other musical styles and with frontman Dennis Lyxzén’s trademark screamed vocal style.
In 2014 Refused reunited and soon put out their long-awaited follow-up record, Freedom. However, throughout that giant gap of time, Dennis was not inactive, and began fronting several projects of varying styles, including The (International) Noise Conspiracy and INVSN (pronounced like “Invasion”). With their newest record, The Beautiful Stories having released earlier this summer, INVSN took to touring and visited us here in Montreal on September 12th at Divan Orange, in the plateau. I managed to get hold of Dennis just before their performance to get the juice on a rumour I had heard about one of his trips into Canada, as well as delving into the process behind the band’s new record.
K.L (Me): On September 12th you’ll be playing here in Montreal at Divan Orange. I’ve heard you had a little trouble at the border before, getting into Canada with your band. Can you tell me a bit about that?
D.L: This was going into Toronto to play in the early 2000s. There was this huge G8 protest in Quebec, and when we got to the border, they asked if we were going there. We said, “No, we’re just going to play a show,” and they wouldn’t believe us. “But we have tour dates and everything,” we told them, but no. We had this big box of books we were going to sell at the show with The Noise Conspiracy but they confiscated them and we never got them back. We were just going to play a show in Toronto, but honestly we should have headed to that protest in retrospect.
K.L: They clearly saw the books as some kind of threat. If nothing else, this story illustrates for me the revolutionary power of literature as a vehicle for change. As a musician, how do you find music compares, in regards to getting out social and political ideas to people?
D.L: If you want to go deep and educate yourself, books are phenomenal. If you want to be inspired and invigorated, I think that music is perfect, because it’s so visceral, immediate, and hits you right in the gut. I’m not a politician and I’m not a journalist or an academic. I am a musician. One of the cool things with music and art is that you can exaggerate. You can be creative and super romantic, and I think that’s really cool.
K.L: Politics are clearly intimately tied to your musicianship. Do you feel like over the course of your career, your stances have changed in a way that gives you trouble relating to your older songs?
D.L: Of course. When you’re young, so many of your political ideas are just fueled by rage. Being angry is a very powerful way to express yourself, but I wrote my first punk song thirty years ago. That in of itself is pretty insane. Over the course of thirty years, you grow, you develop, you change. I’m an opinionated bastard but I’m not rigid. I want to have an open and flexible mind. If someone proves me wrong, I want to go, “You know, you’re right.” Things have changed, but the overarching ideas are still there. There’s a reason I felt the way I had felt when I was young; you get angry, pissed off, and you lash out at the world. Of course there are a couple of lyrics from when I was younger that are cringeworthy now, but that’s how it should be.
K.L: Do you shy away from playing those songs live now?
D.L: Luckily those songs haven’t ever been up on the table anyway. (laughs)
K.L: What kind of messages have you been trying to sonically transmit to people with INVSN right now?
D.L: I mean, it’s pretty much the same as it’s always been. We are a bunch of people that carry with us a critique of capitalism and the social structures that we have today. Half the band are also females, and we also talk a lot about feminism and patriarchal structures, and about what they mean to half the world’s population.
K.L: From a songwriting perspective, what is it like not being the only frontperson in this band, from sharing the mic with women who maybe have very different perspectives from yours?
D.L: Every band I’ve been a part of, I’ve always wanted them to represent what I’m singing. It’s weird when the band can’t back the lyrics, ‘cause I think that’s such an intricate part of the music. When the three of us singing simultaneously in this band, or they’re taking lead, I need to really think of their words, what they mean, and what they represent. On our new record, I wrote the lyrics to “Immer Zu,” which the girls are singing. I had to think, “I know these people, but how do I write from their perspectives?” We sat down and talked about it; you can’t take for granted how they might feel about singing something. As a white cisgendered man, it’s really important to put myself in the shoes of others. We’re the most privileged people in the world and sometimes we need to scale in back. It’s a good mental exercise to try to see from their perspectives.
K.L: over your career you’ve played with many bands with varying styles. How do you approach the songwriting process differently, dependent on the style you’re playing?
D.L: As human beings, we’re not one-dimensional. Of course how you approach lyric-writing differs based off the tonality of the music. Noise Conspiracy was more rock ’n’ roll and INVSN is darker and moodier. I don’t want to be comfortable in what I’m doing and I always try pushing myself as a songwriter, lyricist and singer. I feel like a lot of musicians get lazy and discover a formula and stick with that. I’ve always been interested in challenging that and myself.
K.L: So tell me a bit about how you pushed yourself in writing The Beautiful Stories with INVSN. What is some uncharted territory you maneuvered into?
D.L: First of all, I pushed myself with my singing. A lot of the time in punk rock, you rely on energy and on a certain outwards aggression. With this record, we decided that not all the songs needed to be in-your-face. We scaled it back, and that affected the way I sang. It was less about energy and more about melody. Also, not being a lead singer has been really interesting, and I’ve had to push myself to adapt.
K.L: How has the reception been for the new material?
D.L: Well, the record just got released, and we’ve only done one show in North America so far. We have played a lot in Sweden and Scandinavia though. Everything is still kind of a work in progress and not a done-deal. We still need to prove ourselves, and let the audience know that we’re worthy of the hour we get onstage. It’s hard work trying to prove ourselves, but it’s fun work. I really like it.
It’s been pretty easy bringing new music to the fans with INVSN because we never really found a format before that fans went crazy over. It’s pretty easy to play just a shit-ton of new songs, because it’s not like people are expecting a bunch of old ones. It’s very different with Refused, having songs people always expect us to play. With INVSN we really get to play the songs we want to play.
K.L: I remember seeing you with Refused at Rockfest a couple years back and remarking at how well you balanced out newer songs with classics, even though the styles of songs were so incredibly different.
D.L: Yeah! We hadn’t put out a record in seventeen years and were trying to figure it out. Honestly, there are a couple of songs off of our newest record that did not work when we had tried to play them live. People were not excited. But then there were a couple of songs that will be in the Refused set for as long as we’re a band.
K.L: I know you probably get this question all the time, but do you think the shape of punk to come was something, as a band, you had predicted or saw coming?
D.L: No. (laughs) We couldn’t see into the future, and I think when we named our third record, The Shape Of Punk To Come, that title was just to piss people off, honestly. It was a “fuck you.” I guess in some weird way we gave people an inkling of a direction it could go, and that was kind of cool. But our intention was to make something creative and pretentious and challenging. When we did the record I thought, “No one’s going to like this.” It touched something with the people though, and they thought it was really cool because it was so different, I think.
K.L: Moving forward, with INVSN and your other projects, what can we expect, music-wise?
D.L: Well with INVSN, the record just came out and we just released a Lana Del Ray single cover. We’re gonna be touring now for the next year, basically. In the meantime, we’re writing a new Refused record. INVSN for a year or so, then Refused for a year or so- it’ll be a good back and forth. That’s my plan and ambition right now.
K.L: Oh my God, I haven’t heard that Lana Del Ray single.
D.L: Check it out; we played it a couple days ago. It’s “Love” off her new record. It’s really a beautiful song.