In a year where it seemed as though the hateful dullards of the world, especially in the USA, were puzzlingly victorious in gaining political office and influence, INVSN released a bracing antidote to all of that with The Beautiful Stories. But, as you might expect, the Swedish band followed up the album with a good deal of touring. Which one might think of as praxis seeing as the songs on The Beautiful Stories are all imbued with a humanized radical politics.
For anyone that ever saw The (International) Noise Conspiracy and The Refused, a high bar of expectation was there. Both of those bands delivered some of the most viscerally energetic live shows of their time. Singer Dennis Lyxzén seemed almost superhuman in his acrobatic stage moves and the raw forcefulness of both bands was inspiring. That Lyxzén and INC bassist/vocalist Sara Almgren are members of INVSN promised a lot alone. Fortunately, the band brought the kind of ferocity and exuberance they would need to make a larger venue show compelling and even inspiring to Larimer Lounge, a venue with a capacity of 250. Like no one told them that they’re playing a place many locals think of as a dive bar even if it isn’t—as if they would skimp and deny themselves the joy of their own music. Not a chance.
INVSN played liberally from The Beautiful Stories and balancing musicality perfectly with a flamboyant performance style, Lyxzén wrapped the mic up over a roof beam and sang from the floor, dancing with people in the audience at one point. At various other points jump spinning off the bass drum and leaning backward to the point his shoulders touched the floor while not missing a note. He was Iggy-like in his way of not only commanding the stage but in moving more energetically than most musicians half his age.
Theatrics aside, Lyxzén engaged the audience with words acknowledging the perilous state of things in American and international politics. There was no empty bravado. There was an admission of the level of despair that anyone with any sensitivity and cognizance of the situation must feel. But there was plenty of humor too that had little to do with the rise of fascism. The fog the band used throughout the show swirled in the wind of the air conditioner and Lyxzén observed that it made it “feel like we’re in a Whitesnake video the whole time.” It was a nice reminder that a state of constant outrage is exhausting and so is anticipating the next wave of shit coming down the pike from various sources. INVSN’s show embodied a sense of hope and humanity in a time of acute crisis and a hint that it is that route that will help give us the will and heart to turn back that tide even if many great struggles lay ahead.
INVSN is a post-punk band from Umeå, Sweden that has mastered the art of making radical politics accessible to a wide audience. It’s melodic yet intense compositions recall the appeal of Gang of Four who likewise made pointed social commentary with contagiously danceable songs. And like Gang of Four, INVSN isn’t short on experimental flourishes that ensure the music stays fresh and challenging.
The band’s lead singer Dennis Lyxzén is one of punk’s all time great frontmen who many of you may have seen on vocal duties in The Refused and The (International) Noise Conspiracy. Charismatic, nearly supernaturally energetic and witty, Lyxzén and his bands have exerted a lasting impact on punk and popular music. INVSN recently the 2017 album The Beautiful Stories on Woah Dad!, a reminder that punk need neither be didactic or purely created for entertainment. It can inform, illuminate and inspire. We recently had a chance to talk with Lyxzén as the band was getting its current tour under way with a stop tonight at Larimer Lounge in Denver. The show starts at 8 p.m.. We’re including the bulk of the interview in Q&A format because it felt like a conversation more than a typical interview and so many of his ideas are relevant for punk, music and culture in general today.
Tom Murphy:Some of your other projects that might be more familiar to most people like The Refused and The (International) Noise Conspiracy had obviously political content with names that suggest such and I was wondering if the name INVSN had similar connotations.
Dennis Lyxzén: Not really. With The (International) Noise Conspiracy I was pretty stoked that we had a band name that was kind of an idea what the music presented. INVSN, it could be the same for that.
At one point INVSN had Swedish lyrics but with English lyrics you can obviously command a much larger international audience. Was the the reason for the switch?
Yeah. I mean, when we started the band singing in Swedish was a very different approach. When we did two records in Swedish and we started honing in on what we wanted to do as a band we thought it was good enough to be everywhere. Singing in Swedish is fine but if you want to reach outside of Sweden it’s hard and you become nothing more than a cult phenomenon. We’re ambitious people and we wanted to do something substantial. The previous record we did we did a Swedish and an English version. With the new record we only did an English version but we worked with an American producer, Adam Greenspan and it didn’t make sense for him to fly over to Sweden, record a record and have no idea what was going on with the lyrics. He’s worked with The Veils and some Nick Cave. I met him through the last The Refused record and I asked him if he wanted to work on this record and he said yes.
With all the bands of yours that I’ve heard it seems as though you have been able to take what some people might consider radical politics and make them accessible without watering them down. Is that something you’ve done all along with your music?
With The Refused my ambition wasn’t to be accessible, but just to be radical and kind of annoying. I think that when we were a hardcore band and we were hardcore people and such an integral part of the scene, which is a very small scene. There is something very, I wouldn’t say defeatist about it, but it’s a kids preaching to the converted kind of deal. We figured with The (International) Noise Conspiracy let’s be a band that’s accessible but radical with the political ideas. INVSN is the same way but I don’t think it’s the politics or the people that we are, it’s the ideas and it’s going to shine through no matter the music we do. We just want to write great songs and the politics go hand in hand with the kind of people we are. It’s not a cynical attempt to be accessible and political. It’s the music we like and the ideas we have. No matter what I do or the music I’ll always be political because that’s the person that I am.
Yeah, and always have some commentary on things going on whether it’s overt or not.
Exactly. I have to say the art dictates how you approach the political topics. With The Refused it’s so much in your face. The music itself is so aggressive and so violent that the politics are just like they’re screaming in your face. With INVSN it’s more introspective and existential in nature even though all the political traits all shine through if you look at the lyrics. I think that’s the cool thing about having different projects—the language of the music dictates the language that you use in that music.
Right, in the way it’s presented.
I remember seeing The (International) Noise Conspiracy and you jumped around on the railing at The Bluebird Theater, which few people do. This was around the time of the 2000 Presidential election. That was striking but even more noteworthy perhaps was how funny you were about very serious subjects. I remember you made a remark about fascism and brown shirts and maybe we prefer light brown.
I think the way to approach music like that when you play shows sometimes it’s serious but you have to add a sense of humor to it because if it’s too heavy-handed people won’t respond well to it. Especially when when play in INVSN and there aren’t a lot of people, you have to be able to be personal and approachable. And joke about being tight-pantsed communists from Sweden. I’m a very serious person and so are many of my lyrics. But I like to joke about myself. I think it’s important to be able to make fun of yourself. Otherwise you become insufferable.
I’ve never been to Sweden, despite being part Swedish, but is there anything integral to your life early on to your development as a musician that might not be obvious to people who know little about the culture and society there?
I think where you grow up and where you live affects how you view the world. We didn’t even even grow up in Umeå, which is the big city of one hundred twenty-thousand people, we grew up in the villages around it, in the countryside. There is something really sparse about it that gives you a sense of isolation and it affects how you approach music and life. Sweden also has really great, communal music schools. When you’re a a kid at twelve and you want to play guitar, there’s always a practice space and a place to play guitar. That’s how we got to play music and an early age.
Just starting my first band with my friends there was a youth center you could go to and they had a practice space fully set up. We didn’t know how to play but someone came in and showed us the chords to “Smoke on the Water” or whatever. I think that was super important and I think that’s why so many Swedish bands are good at what they do.
I wish every society had that. They had instruments to play too?
They had a complete set-up with the P.A. and everything. You had to book your time but we eventually got our own practice space. We had study circles and borrow a P.A. and suddenly you have your own room and your own equipment.
What kind of places did you have to play for other people?
We had a lot of youth centers. I remember when we started The Refused across the city of a hundred thousand people they had maybe eight youth centers and they had shows. Every other weekend you could play a show at the youth club. And then go see other bands. It was a way to really hone your chops. It’s different from America where you have to do everything for yourself. We had communal music schools and then the youth centers and then the city provides you with good practice spaces. It’s a good thing. It makes people good at what they do. It’s set up to help people. That’s part of the setup of Swedish society—it’s set up to help everyone. If you have an interest we help you with that—if you want to play music, play football, set up a study circle. When we toured and saw the rest of the world we realized it wasn’t anything like Sweden. When you’re at home and find shit you’re concerned about and when you get out into the world you find out how you have it pretty good.
Your new album has a song called “Immer Zu.” What does that refer to?
Oh, that was a joke, it means “Forever.” The song has an industrial and crazy sound. I was joking, because of industrial music like Einsturzende Neubauten from Germany, that I was going to scream the chords in German. And then I did. It was an experiment to mix languages and there was a little bit of Swedish and a little bit of German. Why not?
“I Dreamt of Music” is an interesting title too given the current cultural climate in much of the world because many of us are not encouraged to dream of or aspire to anything that doesn’t serve the interests of big money. I think it’s a radical act to aspire to something that isn’t dictated to you.
The quote “I Dreamt Music” is from Blade Runner. I thought that’s so rad because it’s a sign that you’re a conscious person somehow. As you said, you need to find things that matter in a world that’s been so devoid of ideas, especially political ideas. I think music and art and culture has a huge gap to fill and I think it’s great that with music we can inspire people and make them think about ideas.
Music is one of the few things that can cut through cultures and conditioning. And that’s why it’s been trivialized as a product whose main purpose is entertainment. I think it’s potentially much more powerful and significant than that.
I think so too. I think music has a huge potential to subvert the society we’re in. It’s so powerful and hits you right in the gut. Music doesn’t have to be intellectual, it just has to hit you right. I think that’s why it’s been commercialized as a cheap form of entertainment. Look at punk rock. There are so many punk rock bands that don’t talk about politics or anything. They’re just entertainers. Which is kind of weird because when I was growing up punk rock music was rebellion. Sometimes maybe not focused or directed but always about rebellion. I like to hold on to the idea that music can lead you into [a different way of being].
I remember when punk rock was widely rejected by mainstream society and you might even get beat up or persecuted for being part of that subculture. Now it’s definitely been assimilated into the mainstream even if it still has the potential to be subversive.
I think music still has that potential. Now every fucking fashion designer, every TV show, has the “punky” and “edgy” element. But the music is important and it holds merit. In the 60s with the civil rights movement and the hippies where the music and a mass movement could be close together, I don’t think we’ll have that again. Music still has power but maybe it’s not as visible as it was back then.
That potential power is why our culture seems so set on trivializing creativity and art generally. Whether a conscious effort or otherwise, it is geared toward undermining and neutralizing that power, that influence, over society. But it can’t truly be contained.
For sure. And I think that’s why I’m still obsessed with it. With the idea that music can still reach people that we can’t otherwise. I’m still obsessed with this tribal way of communicating with people. Every night I feel so privileged to do that and get on stage and create something that other people can make their own.