Les Big Byrd

Just like the band itself, Les Big Byrd’s second record is the product of frustration.

Jocke Åhlund and Frans Johansson had both long been fixtures on the Stockholm rock scene by the time they finally began to collaborate with each other by forming the group in 2011. They’d been wanting to work together for years, and had never quite found the time, with a quick glance over their CVs quickly making it clear why. Åhlund co-founded cult hardcore outfit/genre-benders Teddybears with his brother Klas in 1991, and went on to play guitar in Caesars and form another duo, Smile, with Björn Yttling of Peter, Björn and John. He found room in between to flex his commercial pop muscles, too, writing and producing for amongst others Giorgio Moroder and his compatriot Robyn. Johansson, meanwhile, had played bass in Swedish Grammy Award-winners Fireside since the early nineties and worked as a touring bassist with The Soundtrack of Our Lives.

By 2011, both were becoming disillusioned with their primary projects, and finally, it made sense to begin bouncing ideas off of each other, with the lineup eventually fleshed out by another couple of Stockholm veterans, keyboardist Martin ‘Konie’ Ehrencrona and Caesars drummer Nino Keller. The initial result, in February of 2014, was the atmospheric, guitar-driven Back to Bagarmossen EP, a ten-inch release that took the band as far as national TV in Sweden. Around the same time, they ran into Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre in a record store and, after hitting it off with the psych stalwart, headed to his Berlin studio to jam. A couple of tracks on the band’s debut record, They Worshipped Cats, emerged from those sessions, with the album taking a left turn into blissed-out space rock and garnering rave reviews in the process.

By the winter of 2015, eighteen months after They Worshipped Cats’ release, Åhlund was ready to break ground on new material. He was determined, though, to bring in a producer, having handled the duties himself to personally exhausting effect last time around. With Les Big Byrd taking their cues more and more from psych and drone, whilst still retaining a pop sensibility, Pete Kember of pre-Spiritualized experimentalists Spacemen 3 seemed like a good fit; after all, he’d balanced MGMT’s ear for melody with their weirder impulses to stirring effect on their 2010 LP Congratulations. He took the job and travelled to Stockholm.

Ultimately, though, the sessions with Kember went awry; he clashed with Newcombe, who also headed for Sweden to work on ideas for the record with the band, and Åhlund found himself taking on more and more of the production responsibilities he’d sought to avoid. Burned out by the turbulence in the studio, Les Big Byrd ended up putting a second album on ice for a while. “I didn’t know it at the time, but I needed to get some distance from it,” says Åhlund. “It was only after a while that I was able to go back and realise that there was a really good album in there.”

The band spent 2017 remaking the songs in their own image; in the end, both Kember and Newcombe’s contributions were limited. The result is Iran Iraq IKEA, a bright, bold and ambitious collection that takes Åhlund and Johansson’s long-standing influences and imbues them with a skyward trajectory and a sense of creative freedom. Opener ‘Geräusche’ takes its name from the German word for noise, but in fact is a breezy krautrock number. ‘I Fucked Up I Was a Child’ sets buoyant guitars against undulating beds of synth. ‘Eon’, meanwhile, is an epic number bordering on electropop. “I thought, at times, that it sounded a little bit like stadium rock,” laughs Åhlund of Iran Iraq IKEA’s cleaner production and irrepressible energy. He’s only half-joking.

Recorded between two studios in Stockholm – Åhlund’s own, and Konie’s Studio Cobra – Iran Iraq IKEA is named after a slogan Åhlund first saw printed on a tie in Berlin years ago and has wanted to use ever since; he thought that it suited this album ”because it gave it all some kind of subtly poetic political intrigue”. The artwork on the cover is an 1960’s painting by a Gothenburg artist, depicting a blind Statue of Liberty – its eyes have taken off as helicopters. “It’s fitting that it’s going to evoke weird, suggestive images in your head.”

In truth, though, the politics of Iran Iraq IKEA are rooted more in the personal. “It’s about classic topics like love and failure. And about being older and feeling like you’ve pissed your life away, It’s about regrets and wishing you’d done things another way,” explains Åhlund. “You know, this is the first band that I’ve ever been the singer in, so it’s the first time I can take ownership of the lyrics. In my previous bands I’ve written words for other people to sing, and that’s always a little bit weird. Iran Iraq IKEA feels more personal and more true.”

That’s something that can also be said of the album musically; with Åhlund having taken the reins as producer again, and now admitting that he might never have been ready to give up the position in the first place, Iran Iraq IKEA is the sound of a group with combined decades of experience freeing themselves up to reinvent themselves whilst remaining true to the sounds that they’ve always treasured. “I still love my krautrock, and space rock, and experimental, improvisational stuff” says Åhlund. “But I also have a strong love for psychedelic sixties pop music, and I love reverb-drenched guitar with a lot of tremolo on it. All of those things make it on to Iran Iraq IKEA, but the lines are blurred – there’s a lot of electronics, and you can’t always tell where each individual sound is coming from. Hopefully it’s suggestive, a little bit uncertain and unpredictable, at least that’s what I wanted.”


LBB by Bettina Blom

LBB landscape photo by Krazy Krille
IMAGES: To download, click above. Photo credit in file name.

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