Anders Wendin makes music as Moneybrother, but he’s first and foremost a tourist. He moved away from his northern Swedish hometown at age 17, and hasn’t been able to stop traveling, striking up conversations and absorbing the world around him since. With a soulful voice that often strikes as Joe Strummer’s sonic doppelganger, Wendin shows this nomadic side in his music, too, with measures of punk, rockabilly and disco often appearing within the same song.
For six years, Wendin has brought European audiences along on his physical and musical journeys—and, with his stateside debut, Real Control, coming in January 2010, American audiences can officially come along for the ride. Before he kicked off a short U.S. tour in September, Paste talked to Wendin about traveling, making music and his undying love of Bad Brains.
Paste: When did you first start to appreciate music?
Anders Wendin: I grew up in north Sweden. I’m from the extreme countryside with extremely small villages—we’re talking like three, 4,000 people living there. I’m also extremely old, so this was way before the Internet even. What we did up there was, we had to take the bus, and you drive for four, five hours to some big town where they actually had record stores. You bought albums where the band looked cool on the cover, because we had no magazines even. So I don’t know how it worked out, but I became a punk rocker and listened only—I mean strictly—to punk rock for ten years when I was a little baby. A lot of the English and American punk rock bands are still my favorite bands. Started my old punk rock group when I was 14, 15 years old, and when I was about 19, I moved from the small village to Stockholm, which is the capital of Sweden. I formed my first real band, called Monster. It was like ska-punk, and we had horns and organs and stuff. We released some record—not that you guys would ever hear them, but we tore it up a lot.
Paste: Can you name some of the first records you purchased?
Wendin: I remember I bought the Bad Brains album, Rock for Light. I remember that very much because they’re playing here in Portland on Friday, and never seen them live, been wanting to all my life. But, Friday unfortunately we have a gig in Seattle, so I’m going to miss it.
Wendin: Yeah, I know, it breaks my heart. So that was one of the first records I bought, actually. Well, actually, I didn’t even buy it. My friend bought it for me. He was away on business, and called him up, said if you’re going to go to Gothenburg, could you check if there’s any record stores that might have the Bad Brains album. I can’t believe, even today, that he managed to find it. That was kind of a rare record back then, but he must have done the research.
Paste: Anybody who listens to your music comes across a lot of different elements from all these different genres. At what point did you really start to open up to music that went beyond the punk culture?
Wendin: Moving to Stockholm at a relatively young age, and having to get by with no money at all, you can’t really buy records anymore. I love music, so I had to buy secondhand vinyl music. And at that time, stuff like that was pretty cheap in Sweden. You could buy that old soul stuff and the old rock and roll stuff from the ‘70s extremely cheap, and if you wanted old Bob Marley records, that was no money at all. So that’s actually how I started picking up on different kinds of music. Monster wasn’t interested in the soul stuff, and we just wanted to play in that kind of like aggressive way. But I was always the guy that was most interested in the soul part of it. We went on tour a lot with other bands like The Hives. They bought some of the garage records and I started listening to that. We helped each other out.
Paste: I found an interview that you did with a college TV network back in Sweden, and you talked about how you left school at age 17. What made you decide not to pursue something at a university, and when did you decide that music was going to be your career?
Wendin: What you have to understand, growing up in the countryside in Sweden is not like growing up in Portland. I’ve been here for a few days now, and I’ve met tons of guys playing in bands. Where I grew up, nobody played in a band, so becoming a musician was not an option. I never thought I could actually make a living from being an artist or anything like that where I grew up. I didn’t realize you could work doing music until I got my first paycheck from my first album with Moneybrother, really. That was kind of a big success in Sweden. At that time I was 27, so for me, all of this, traveling around, playing my own music, that’s a bonus. I still wake up every day and I’m kinda amazed. But really, growing up in a small town like that, you want to see the world, right? The reason I left that small town was to go to high school, and I did when I was 17. After two years I went off and moved to Stockholm, and my grades really weren’t good enough to get me into college. So I found that work and, you know, one thing led to another. I haven’t really looked back. Now I play a lot of colleges and stuff with a band around Europe, and I just would feel stupid playing in a college town where everyone would be so much younger, and I couldn’t do it. Right now I’m just tagging on, trying to write as good songs as possible so my career can last a little bit longer.
Paste: Have you ever struggled to incorporate everything that you possibly wanted to incorporate music-wise?
Wendin: No, not that much. For me it comes real natural. One of the things I’m most proud of concerning Moneybrother is, like if you like Moneybrother, if you listen to a Moneybrother album, and if you want to find something just like it, with a lot of music that’s made nowadays, you’re going to have a hard time. And I believe that every single person keeps an image of the perfect music within his heart. And my work comes as close as possible to that image on record. And it is strange, most of the bands sound alike because every person is an individual. So it’s weird. If you like Green Day, you could easily find 6,000 bands that sound exactly like that. That’s weird, you know? But for me, it’s not a struggle at all. It’s more of a—sometimes I have to keep a hold of myself, because I realize I can’t put everything into a specific song. It makes the song too crazy. So not really, no. But I am a music lover and I try to, at least in Europe, I cater to an audience who loves music. I can tell at my shows it’s a big variety of people coming and showing up there. You get the young girls, and you also get the old guys who are working in the record stores, and that’s one thing I take great pride in.
Paste: I recall from that college TV network interview that you said you find it very important to, before you go on stage, go with a story in mind. Elaborate a little more on that—how do you create a story on stage to tell with your music?
Wendin: What you have to do is—it’s like working at a restaurant in a way. I used to be a waiter for many years, and at the start of the evening at a restaurant, you don’t know really what to expect, ‘cause you’re going to have some really hungry, angry guys when you’re working and you’re going to have the couple that just met, want to sit down for forever and neither of them care about the food, and you have to cater to all of them in the perfect way, so I had to change all the time. From one table to another, there’s such a big difference. It helped me a lot with live performances because you never know really how the audience that night is going to be. They’re all from different countries. I mean, you go to France and it’s completely different than if you go to Germany, and those countries are neighbors, but it’s completely different. So what I do every night to keep myself and the band alert is, I have to explain to the band what’s special about tonight and of course, now that’s easy for me to say, because every night is special now. We played in Seattle, and we played there once before but I’ve read about Seattle since I was a little kid, so of course that’s going to be special. But when you wake up in the morning and play in fucking Schweinfurt, in Germany, it’s really hard because you don’t know anything about the city. But every day I try to find something for the band to be alert for, whether I’ve read it or whatever.
Paste: With the reception you’ve gotten in Sweden, then the 2003 Swedish Grammy, then the nominations after that, a sold-out Germany tour, with Blood Panic being your solo debut, did you expect any of that to happen? What was your initial reaction to people really catching on to your music?
Wendin: You know, this was in 2003 and I’m still in kind of a shock actually. Not me, not my fans, not my mother, not my father had expected this for me. And when that happened, I had spent, as I told you, I was like 26, 27, and as I’ve also told you, I had been on tour with The Hives and bands like that who become really successful. I was really happy for them, of course, but I never expected anything like that to happen to me. At the time Blood Panic came out, a lot of my friends who used to be in bands had given up, went to school and gotten a real job. And all of a sudden, just when I was doing the same thing, the first single from Blood Panic really caught on on Scandinavian radio, and I had to quit my job. I found a really good job, and I wasn’t even planning on working that much. I had just a bunch of friends in my band, and all of a sudden I was able to, and I still do, support those guys. So here we are, five years later and we’re still on tour. I was really surprised and I was also—I guess if you’re 17 or 19, something like that happens when your first thing comes out, it kinda, you know if you’re the Hanson brothers and that happened, I guess life is supposed to be like that, right? I’ve seen some of my friends become very successful and seen some of my friends get to tour the States, England and stuff, but I didn’t expect any of that to happen to me, so as I said, I’m still in kind of a shock. I’m happy and we’re thankful.
Paste: How long did you take to develop Blood Panic?
Wendin: Some songs were in the back of my head for a long time, and I had kind of the direction set out for me in my head. I guess if you’re really good with computers and stuff you could kinda create exactly the music you want just by yourself in front of the computer. I’m not a computer guy. To me, I need a good-sounding bass player and being able to pick up. I don’t write music. I know the chords, but I can’t write a sheet for a musician, so I’m kinda dependent on having good musicians around me that understand what originally I want to do, and it’s really hard. So I kinda have it—I’m good at knowing what to do. That’s not the hard part—it’s when you have to explain it to somebody else. Especially here, now that I’m in Portland, rehearsing with some American guys and sometimes you want them to play more in this sort of way: “Could you play little more like a butterfly?” It’s crazy, you know, you can’t talk like that.
Paste: How long ago did you start getting the ideas for Blood Panic in your head?
Wendin: I say three years ago, but I told ya—that record, I wasn’t sure if it was going to happen. The guy who played guitar in my band, he called me in Europe. He told me two years after quitting Monster, “You should really try to do one more record, because you got a lot of good songs.” And I listened to him, and I’m kinda thankful for that guy. Monster was not a successful band, but we had a momentum still. We had a small audience and we had a music business in Scandinavia and certain parts of Europe. We were still committed to being a good band, so it wasn’t like starting completely from scratch. That would be tough.
Paste: After touring with Blood Panic and then To Die Alone, you said that you wanted to make a more uplifting album, and then came Mount Pleasure in 2007. So going into Real Control, did you have any specific aims?
Wendin: Yeah, when recording Real Control, the most important thing to me in recording was to find the joyfulness surrounding the recording of Blood Panic. I wanted to pursue each idea and, even if it was going to be strange, it’s going to be something so strange. If you want to scream, you’re going to scream at the top of your lungs. I wanted to hear that playfulness. This was made by musicians having a good time and knowing what they were doing.
Paste: I read also that Björn [Yttling] of Peter Bjorn & John produced the first song of that record, “Born Under a Bad Sign.” How did that collaboration happen, and what was it like to work with him?
Wendin: Actually Björn and me, we’re old friends. He worked on Blood Panic as well, and To Die Alone. Björn actually wrote string arrangements for the first two records, so he’s an old friend. And that Peter Bjorn & John probably—it really sounds strange now, but Peter Bjorn & John, I have to tell you, is probably the one band in Sweden least likely to succeed. I never thought anything like this would happen to them. You know, they’ve always been around playing extremely small places, and they’re all really good musicians and had a pretty tough time with fame like all the other bands, but not even themselves took Peter Bjorn & John that seriously. So that was my impression. Then all of a sudden they wrote that song and that song has just been all over the place.
Paste: Yeah, when I looked him up, I saw all this jazz stuff was associated with him, and you were talking about string arrangements, and I was kinda thinking, where does Peter Bjorn & John fit in with all of this?
Wendin: Yeah, it is weird, you know? The girl who sings on “Young Folks,” that’s my ex-girlfriend [Victoria Bergsman]. We ‘re all from the same neighborhood in Stockholm really. We’re pretty tight, all of us.
Paste: What goals do you have for the near future?
Wendin: I think as we’ve been talking about, I’ve released a lot of records since 2003 and now, I really enjoy being over here playing. What we do here is, we have a gig and we ask people in the audience if we could sleep on their floors, really, and that’s not the situation we had in Europe. That kinda brought back a little bit of the spirit that the Moneybrother project had before releasing Blood Panic, so I really enjoy being out here now, meeting a lot of new friends, playing with great musicians. So next year I think I’m going to spend some time up here working this record and that’s a size-up plan, really. I like to think, there’s a band called The Waterboys—the singer’s called Mike Scott, he once said, “I’m an artist, I don’t make career moves.” I want to think about it that way, you know? What I do is, I try to write my songs as good as possible and I try to form it in as good as possible of a way, and hen I have to see where that takes me. I’m fortunate now that I have guys here in Portland helping me get my record out. That’s the new step, gotta see where this path is going to lead, right?