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Dennis Lyxzén is perturbed with the music business. As if the state of the world in general weren't enough for the singer for Swedish extreme-leftist rock combo the (International) Noise Conspiracy to be pissed about.
"This is the third tour of the U.S. we've done without having a record out," he laments at the beginning of a long, winding road trip that eventually will lead to Mary Jane's this Wednesday. "It's actually very annoying."
Sure, there's something intrinsically hilarious about the record industry's marketing system biting a self-declared "anti-capitalist revolutionary" band on its Marxism-espousing derriere, but the real joke here is on the listening public. The latest INC disc, Armed Love, rages like an agitprop-fueled, pre-Dream Police Cheap Trick jamming with ? of the Mysterians. But you can't buy it. The album was supposed to be released in July 2004, but a protracted legal wrangle between American Recordings and Warner Bros. threatens to keep the thing in limbo indefinitely.
In a tale already soaked in boiling vats of irony, perhaps the biggest paradox is Noise Conspiracy's relationship to producer and American Recordings honcho Rick Rubin. Without Rubin's involvement, it's unlikely that Armed Love would have kicked nearly as much ass, but his label's woes are the reason the record isn't being released. Still, the band's enthusiasm seems undiminished.
"It was an honor and a privilege to be in the studio with Rick," says Lyxzén. "He taught us a lot about ourselves as a band that we might never have learned otherwise. Plus, I bought the Beastie Boys' Licensed to Ill and Reign in Blood by Slayer [both Rubin productions] when they came out, so to have this guy who we totally respect call up saying he's a big fan was extremely gratifying."
Rubin brought more than fandom to the table. Longtime organist Sara Almgren had left the band before Armed Love, and a friend was sitting in during rehearsals. "Rick took us aside and asked, 'Is that your guy?' " recounts Lyxzén. "We told him, 'No, he's just helping us out.' So Rick said he had some people who might be interested in playing with us on the record. We asked who he had in mind, and the first name he said was Billy Preston. We were like, 'Okay, that'll work.' " As a result, the disc is rife with groovy keyboards by the Houston-born ex-Beatles sideman (and ex-convict) along with Benmont Tench from Tom Petty's Heartbreakers.
But let's get back to this touchy "politics" thing. The lyrics on Armed Love make a concerted effort to be explicitly propagandistic and conventionally interpersonal at the same time. For instance, on "Let's Make History," Lyxzén sings, "When I think about the revolution / you're still in my dreams," with anthemic-romantic fervor. Does the band see a contradiction in using corporate marketing strategies to get across a philosophy espousing the violent overthrow of capitalism? And isn't there a chance that in the current climate, "political art" might act as more of a placebo than an incitement to action?
"That's something we talk about all the time in the band," sighs Lyxzén, who was voted the Sexiest Man in Sweden in 2004. "The musical and political atmosphere in the world right now is really depressing. And there is the feeling that, yeah, a fan might feel like if they buy a Noise Conspiracy T-shirt they've done their political activism for the year, or whatever. But there's a long tradition of music that addresses politics, stretching back to the 1900s with labor protests, up through the civil rights movement and the hippies. And when I first started getting into punk, bands like the Clash and Dead Kennedys dealt with political issues, and that's what I wanted to do. But there's a fear that kids today are more into consuming political thought rather than getting active, and we'd like to find a way around that. But we're not politicians. We're committed, we play shows 200 days a year to get our message across " He trails off. "I'm not sure what more we can do."
"I can't believe we're grateful for the shit we receive," intones Lyxzén on Armed Love's first track, "A Small Demand." The (International) Noise Conspiracy might not be able to save a world bereft of idealism, but we can at least be grateful that they're out there trying to make a difference. Plus, they rock, dude.
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