Hometown: Jönköping, Sweden
Album: Forever Today
Members: Between 20 and 30 people
For fans of: The Polyphonic Spree, Belle & Sebastian, The Magic Numbers
With their impossibly sunny debut album Let Me Introduce My Friends in 2006, Sweden’s I’m From Barcelona burst onto the scene like an army of smiling, handholding purveyors of happiness on unicycles. Songs like “Treehouse” and “We’re From Barcelona” conveyed messages of love and hope. Since then, they’ve released an ocean of music with Who Killed Harry Houdini? and the 27 Songs From Barcelona project, which had each member of the massive band writing and performing their own songs. Their new album Forever Today continues their thread of jovial anthems. We talked to the band’s frontman and chief songwriter, Emanuel Lundgren, about the new album, the merits of happy music, and how he was inspired by KISS.
Paste: I’m going to start out with the obligatory question: How many people are in the band?
Emanuel Lundgren: I get that a lot and people are annoyed when I can’t give an exact number. Every time we go out on tour, it’s not possible for everyone in the band to go along, because I think we’ve had 12 babies in the band since we started. It’s between 20 and 30.
Paste: You guys make really happy music. There are a lot of bands that focus on really weighty, cynical themes. Do you think it’s important to make happy music?
Lundgren: I think all creative people have different agendas and different things they’re good at. I think it would be terrible if there was only happy music, you know? A lot of sad songs are very important to me. But when I do music, I feel like I’m supposed to do what I’m doing, in a way, and to tell people, “It’s going to be OK.”
Paste: That message really comes through in a lot of your songs, and it’s a really uplifting thing to hear. You don’t hear that in a lot of songs.
Lundgren: That’s because it’s not so cool to say that. If you don’t care about being cool, you have something else to say.
Paste: Do you care about being cool?
Lundgren: No. I gave up on that a long time ago. [laughs]
Paste: I always found that your music is great to listen to when it gets warmer out, like in the spring and summer. Do you think your songs sound a little better when it gets warmer out?
Lundgren: Maybe. We started the band in the summer, and for me, the band was only supposed to last for five weeks on my vacation. Maybe that time of the year is very connected to what we do, in a way.
Paste: The song that opens the new record is called “Charlie Parker,” and on Who Killed Harry Houdini?, you had a song called “Mingus.” Are you a jazz fan?
Lundgren: [laughs] I’m a big fan of the way jazz musicians record. They set up microphones and they go.
Paste: With so many of you in the band, how do you go about writing songs?
Lundgren: Well, I come up with the first ideas for the basic sketch around how the song goes, and then a lot of things happen when you start rehearsing with the band—with horns and a lot of vocals and stuff. Everybody brings their own color to it. It wouldn’t sound like this if I recorded it myself, and that’s a joyful journey for me to be a part of—to see the song take shape after all of these people are adding their personalities to it.
Paste: There are a lot of songs, like “Get In Line,” where you have a lot of people singing in unison. Do you feel like it makes a song more powerful when you have an army of people singing the same thing?
Lundgren: I don’t think it necessarily makes them more powerful. These songs are meant to be shared by many voices, and I think that maybe invites people to join in.
Paste: Do you find that a lot of people sing along at your shows?
Lundgren: Yeah, and I love it. It’s a beautiful experience to do shows together with the audience. We’re not up there as some sort of rock gods. We’re doing it together with the audience, and that’s what makes our concerts special.
Paste: The website for the 27 Songs From Barcelona project says that the project was inspired by the four KISS solo albums. Is that true?
Lundgren: Yes. That’s where I got the idea from. For me, speaking of writing songs, I thought it was so much “me” all the time, and there are all kinds of talents in the band, and I wanted to use a window to push their ideas to the front for once. It’s more something we did to have fun with than for everybody, really.
Paste: Do you listen to KISS?
Lundgren: Maybe I did more as a kid, because I was into heavy metal when I started playing the guitar when I was 12. I listened to all of those bands—Anthrax and Halloween and KISS and W.A.S.P. and Europe and all that. Now, not so often, but there are some good songs there, of course.
Paste: What are your plans for this year?
Lundgren: We’re planning hard to make some tours happen. It’s not getting any easier to gather the band and get people to take off time from their families and stuff, but I hope we’ll do a lot of festivals this summer. But it’s all on the planning table right now. And I’m just so glad now that the album is released. I started writing songs two years ago, so I’m just so glad to share it with other people.
Stream I’m From Barcelona’sForever Today exclusively at Paste this week