"I don’t want to be compared to Blondie all the time, but I can absolutely see why people do it," the Sounds’ Maja Ivarsson says.
Calling from a tour stop in Albuquerque, the charismatic Swede readily acknowledges that as the blond vocalist of an infectious, synth-driven band that’s heavily influenced by ’80s music, she’ll never escape the shadow of Debbie Harry. Unlike most of today’s retro revivalists, however, who are so desperate not to appear derivative that they barely admit to even their most obvious influences — Interpol and the Killers, you’re fooling no one — Ivarsson doesn’t mind the comparison. In fact, she takes it as a compliment.
"The Blondie thing is flattering because it’s a great band," she continues. "At the same time, I can see why people want to be their own band. But I think it’s kind of silly to get upset about it, because every band that you’ve been listening to since you were a kid has been compared to something before that. It’s the way it works."
Of course, the Sounds aren’t the second coming of Blondie — they’re even better. On 2003’s Living in America (Scratchie/New Line), the Swedish new wave sensations sound like they spent years deconstructing their favorite early-’80s hits, cribbing notes from Missing Persons, Kim Wilde, and, yes, Blondie, to create a danceable pop-rock album so outlandishly catchy it sounds less like a band’s debut than a collection of greatest hits. If that seems too good to be true — and really, songs like "Mine for Life" and "Dance with Me" kind of are — it helps to remember they hail from the country with probably the most hit-makers per capita in pop history, including ABBA, A-ha, Ace of Base, and Max Martin.
"We’ve been brought up with great, great melodies and songwriting," Ivarsson says. "We’re just suckers for hit music, even music like that Kelly Clarkson song, ‘Since U Been Gone’ — it has a great hook! Maybe it’s not your favorite artist, but if you took that hook and added your shit to it, you could build a great pop song out of it."
Surprisingly, they weren’t always so smitten with such accessible songwriting. Formed in 1998 while still in high school, the Sounds started out playing six-minute rock epics that Ivarsson describes as "dark and weird and very arrrgh." When those songs failed to find them a fan base, however, they decided to shift direction and try their hands at new wave. "We were just like, ‘Oh, dude, this is the way we’re going to sound!’" she recalls. "It was so much more fun. It was cheesy, but it was good cheese!"
They weren’t the only ones who thought so. In 2002, after the Sounds signed a major-label deal with Warner Sweden, Living in America went putf8um and earned them a Swedish Grammy before getting released stateside a year later on James Iha’s Scratchie Records. Tours with the Strokes and Foo Fighters, as well as a stint on the 2004 Vans Warped Tour, ensued, along with massive word of mouth surrounding the band’s glamtastic, adrenalin-spiking live show. Unfortunately, the Sounds’ success here still fell far short of what they have back home.
That may change with the recent release of Dying to Say This to You (Scratchie/New Line). Helmed by Jeff Saltzman, who produced the Killers’ Hot Fuss (Island), and mixed by Paul Q. Kolderie (Radiohead, Hole), the Sounds’ second album is an even better blitzkrieg of retro wrist-pumping anthems — glitter-punk riffs! Euro-disco keyboard lines! Ivarsson’s tough-gal taunts! — that’s so relentlessly catchy it practically dares America not to listen. And while many people who’ve tired of the ’80s revival will do just that, it’s their loss: Stadium-ready stompers such as "Queen of Apology" and dance floor confections like "Tony the Beat" prove that sharp hooks — even when rooted in Reagan-era nostalgia — never go out of style.
Why should it matter, then, that we’ve heard all this before? The Sounds may not be today’s most innovative rock band, but they’re one of the most efficient when it comes to creating exuberant, unabashedly poppy rock. So it’s best to follow Ivarsson’s lead and shrug off the fact that her band will probably always be seen as Blondie wannabes. They’re not, of course, but nor are they overly concerned with anyone else’s notions of originality, authenticity, and indie credibility. Rather, quite refreshingly, the Sounds simply want to show as many people a good time as possible.
"We don’t think it’s anything to be ashamed of if you’re a great pop band — pop means popular, and it’s a pretty good sign if you’re popular," Ivarsson says, laughing. "In the beginning, only hip bands and elite people knew about us, and they were like, ‘This is my band.’ Of course, they don’t like us anymore, but that’s OK. As long as the people like us, then we’re happy. We just want to get you down."<\!s><z5><h110>SFBG<h$><z$>
With Morningwood and Action Action
Mon/1, 7:30 p.m.
333 11th St., SF