The first time I saw Ungdomskulen (Norwegian for, “junior high”) was back in 2005, at a small festival in an equally tiny town, Bryne: population 9,000. I recall thinking that compared to the general audience of farmers and college-aged boys, this band looked like they’d dropped outta Pluto. The singer was decked in geeky, thick-rimmed glasses, fanny packs, colourful sweats. While they nonchalantly munched on pizza, I quickly wrote them off as a bunch of small-towners who’d soon subject me to some kind of godawful. Hours later, I was eating my words. They exploded onstage with a musical competence of a pro-jazz trio, followed by Minutemen-fast riffs and highly-informed melodies echoing of US DIY-bands/labels like Touch & Go. They weren’t just the watered-down, Sonic Youth-covered-in-brunost I’d come to expect. So there I was, slack-jawed in drool, gushing over the band like yea, that nerd. I wanted to know where they came from. What they listened to. That night we bonded over the Melvins, and gave birth to a mutual musical esprit de corps I still cherish today.
The raw talent I spotted six years back then, has grown incredibly. From those days of rambunctious 7″s began massive touring and epic tracks. They’ve kept particularly busy this last year or so. Øyvind played drums on Datarock‘s South American tour, singer and guitarist Kristian and Øyvind both entered fatherhood, and bassist Frode started importing green tea from China…… They also just released their third record.
The concept-album Gimme Ten offers up ten golden morsels lasting one minute each. Stripping songs into their bare essence whilst telling a story ain’t exactly easy– so they worked with Berlin’s Blank Blank to release ten videos to add visuals. Best part is, while it’s being released as a mini-LP on vinyl, you can also stream all the songs here. What skint fan can argue with free?
Ann: Hi. (Kristian puts me on hold, I’ve caught him in the middle of listening to a track.)
Kristian: Sorry, I’ll just be a few. So while you wait, stare at this. (Sends me the link to Scarlett Johansson’s nude leaked photos.)
(20 minutes pass)
A: Haha! I heard about this. But you know it’s not really Scarlett naked, right.
K: Is that the word on the street? Let’s see what TMZ says. TMZ says it’s the real deal.
A: Wait a minute…
K: They’re trustworthy, right?
A: Yea, you’re right. I thought she was suing because they were fake, but they ain’t.
K: No, not that I know. She looks smokin’!
A: She does look pretty good. Anyway, let’s get on with this interview.
K: I thought we already started.
A: So Kristian, you’re one of the busiest people I know. I just watched the last of the Gimme Ten videos. It’s incredible how much you’ve put together in the last few months…and you’ve been working on a solo record too, I hear.
K: Yeah, that’s right.
A: Were you very involved with making the videos? How did you come up with the concepts?
K: We asked our graphic designer Petri if he and this cat Carlos wanted to make a video for one of the songs, the original idea was to have ten different people directing the videos they ended up doing all of theme. They were free to do whatever they wanted, sometimes we even saw the videos first time when they were online.
A: They’re very artistic, and somehow abruptly Scandinavian. The subject-matter in each appears at random which makes them so alluring. I like the actors in the videos too… very Scarlett J.-like.
K: Yeah, we are really happy to have such beautiful and talented women in our videos. There are some men too, handsome ones, but I think the females really shine ultrabright.
A: Very stark as opposed to superficial beauty.
K: Yeah, real videos with real women showing everyday situations.
A: Are you satisfied with how the record turned out overall?
K: Well, I think it has gone really well. We have a lot of streams both video and music and the 7″ have been selling well, I love the artwork and I think the songs sound really fresh and badass.
A: It’s a very unique concept. But Ungdomskulen as a whole has really taken different musical turns wouldn’t you say? Record to record they’re quite different to each other… though overall you have core elements that stay the same, e.g. funny lyrics, pop hooks, a tight three-piece sound.
K: I guess as long as we don’t pawn our instruments and buy keyboards, it’s gonna sound like Ungdomskulen.
A: When I compare Sex Tags 7″s (2004) to Cry-Baby (2007) to Bisexual (2009) to the current Gimme Ten, I mean, they’re different from each other in big ways.
K: Yeah, but it feels really natural, not forced at all, I guess we are bound to change, but as we are pretty into what we do every aspect of it and are really tight friends, we change more as a unit than three kids looking for the latest hip thing.
A: You guys enjoy trying new things Like kids jamming in junior high, I guess. But in terms of songwriting, it feels like a balance-beam sways between “epic”, a bit serious Ungdomskulen songs to very, very short playful, punk, dirty songs. Do you agree?
K: Yeah, we rather have it wrong then right, if you know what i mean… I guess the thing we dislike the most is the serious rock. I mean rock is fun, stupid, pathetic, cliché, liberating and more, all rolled into one- so why do you wanna go look like a “rockstar” and be all high and mighty just because you play in some shitty rock band? What are you rebelling against really, when you buy into the conformity of rock?
A: Preach it, brother.
K: Rock isn’t the rebels game, rock doesn’t rebel against society, what a rock band should do is rebel against rock itself! Hhhallelou reedjah!
A: Sweet Jesus I’m aliveee!
K: Don’t you agree?
A: Yes… But do you think you guys are going more PG-13 now that you’re older? Or will we still hear songs referring to blow jobs?
K: Well I think singing about sex is as natural as writing about it in literature, or painting it on a canvas, it doesn’t have to be all adolescent but I think as a band that’s the best thing to sing about. Sex, love and food maybe… On Gimme Ten there’s a song about playing with yourself, for instance.
A: On your recent single Facemask, I really like the “Stockhaus Horseface remix”. Where did you get that horse neighing?
K: I found it online, I don’t sample much, but I couldn’t go out to record a horse myself so I had to borrow it for a greater cause.
A: Listening to it, I couldn’t stop laughing. Ungdomskulen is always at the edge of being a 70’s/80’s pastiche, but never quite because it stays out there and fresh. The ten videos you released seem connected visually, are the songs as well? Did you write them all with a story in mind… or was the theme purely to be under one minute.
K: The way we work is that we jam the instrumental part, record it, then I have to put lyrics and melody on top. Then I have to learn how to sing and play at the same time. There is no storyline on Gimme Ten, but I guess some topics are new for the band, and with the shortness of the song, it’s easier to tell short “stories” rather then have to write that third verse and stick to the theme.
A: Will we see more one minute songs in future?
K: I dunno. Maybe we’ll do a GIMME TEN 2. Why not?
(Originally published by Clash Music Wed, 05/10/2011 )