Teddybears

YOU’D BETTER GO IN DISGUISE

Phil Spector’s band was The Teddy Bears, Elvis Presley wanted to be yours, and Teddy Pendergrass had a beautiful man-beard. Today, carrying the plush Gund down the stairs by the ear is Sweden’s Teddybears. They’ve been a hardcore act, a remix project, a synth pop outfit, and currently write songs in whatever style they choose whilst recruiting the world’s top performers for collaboration. With the release of their new album Devil’s Music, Teddybears have kept their foot on the hybrid’s gas pedal without giving a thought to how they come across. Truly they are a collective who create for nobody but themselves.

 

It’s generally lazy to ask a band about the history behind the band’s name, but it’s interesting that Phil Spector’s first band was called The Teddy Bears, and in the last decade you’ve taken over a similar career arc to him. Teddybears’ trademark has become taking hit songs and plugging in the best pop singers in the world.

Are you the new wall of sound machine, minus the gunplay?

Joakim Åhlund: No the gunplay is definitely an integral part, only perhaps less public than in our mentor’s case.

You’ve included the 2009 song “Get Mama A House” on the new record, instead of a track like “No More Michael Jackson”. In a sped up media cycle, why the revisionist addition?

It’s a different version of “Get Mama…”. Different vocalist, different mix. The new version has B.o.B. on it instead of Desmond Foster, who was on the first version. We keep making new tracks all the time and they will sometimes come out in no particular chronology. We just like to try and keep new shit coming out as we finish it.

How have your influences changed over the last twenty years?

Not as much as one might think judging from how our own music has developed. It’s actually more a matter of us gradually getting to master different techniques more and thus being able to better explore different musical directions. We started out barely knowing how to beat on a distorted guitar and these days our music contains more studio-wizardry and things like synthesizers, sequencers, programmed beats and samples etc. But even in our humble grindcore beginnings, we were always listening to, and trying to recreate the sounds that we heard on records by Kraftwerk and the Egyptian Lover and Shabba Ranks.

The pop genre is the highest mountain to climb in your business. Were there nerves when you made the switch from hardcore to electronic-tinged hits?

We’re not trying to climb mountains or make hits, we’re just trying to make stuff that we like ourselves. It’s been a long, gradual process.

Once the international radio world finds something other than house/electronic to paint its pop stars with, do you have plans to develop into another different incarnation of Teddybears?

Yeah, we’ve already stocked up on sitars and yoga mats.

Had the B52s and Cee Lo ever met or considered working together before you married them on the track “Cho Cha”?

It was actually not even our idea but Cee Lo’s. When we got down to Atlanta to finish the track with him, we found out that he had already gone and recorded them on the track without us even knowing it. A very pleasant surprise for us indeed!

Does the climate of a venue or city have anything to do with whether or not to wear the masks? It must be hot in there sometimes, especially while also wearing a suit.

We always wear the masks. It’s crazy hot in there, but if one wants to look sharp, it’s a small price to pay.

What’s your favourite all time Teddybears song?

There’s a fantastic version of “Punkrocker” that a Swedish, progrock band named Träd Gräs och Stenar did.

The title track on Devil’s Music repeats the names of some virtuoso guitar players. How important is the guitar to the music of Teddybears? Do you write on it these days?

It definitely used to be more important to us before, when we were more of a guitar-bass-drums-turntables-type combo, but lately it has disappeared more and more from our sound. I still write mainly on the guitar, though, and then translate to synth or whatever, but the songwriting takes many different and sometimes weird paths in our case.

Which artist have you worked with that you never thought you would or had you consciously thinking “Wow, a younger version of me would have never thought this would be possible”?

Iggy Pop, Cee Lo, Wayne Coyne, Wiley, The B-52’s, Eve, Mad Cobra, remixing Daft Punk and stuff, it’s pretty heavy. All those people are our heroes… we never would’ve dared to dream. It’s all pretty amazing for us that we got the opportunity to work with such cool artists. But for me personally, I don’t mean no disrespect to any of the others, but Iggy Pop…that’s a proud moment for me.

Are Teddybears and Robyn forever linked? What’s the working relationship like? Who writes which parts?

I have only written a couple of tracks for her, with her and Klas, “Robotboy” and “Stars Forever” but it’s mainly Klas. He writes a lot for and with Robyn and he has produced most of her stuff on the last couple of records, since she got really good ha ha.

From this side of the world, it appears that Sweden is at the forefront of all genres; house, pop, garage etc. How much of that has to do with the forward thinking grant programs the government institutes?

I really wouldn’t know, but it’s a matter of tradition too I guess. We always had other good Swedish bands to get inspired by. Although we’re a small country with very few inhabitants, at the edge of the world, it never felt like it would be impossible for us to reach out with our music to the rest of the world somehow.

What’s the biggest struggle today for a pop band with so many credits under them?

For us I think the biggest struggle is that sometimes it takes forever for things to happen. I like for our music to come out as soon as it’s done, but sometimes stuff gets caught up in bureaucracy and Kafka-esque longueurs and that can be very frustrating. But that part of things has also improved a lot lately and it gets easier and easier to distribute one’s music when it’s hot off the press through blogs and stuff and not necessarily through pieces of plastic.

 

Photography: Kim Svensson

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