Running Out of Love, the most recent album from Sweden’s Radio Dept., combines infectious beats and lush atmospheric synths against a politically charged conceptual canvas. In a modern era littered with downloadable singles, streaming playlists and rampant digital distractions, Running Out of Love stands out as a holistic work of art, demanding nothing less than a complete, uninterrupted listening experience.
Pro Sound News spoke to the band’s core duo, Johan Duncanson and Martin Larsson, as they worked on new tracks at their home studio in Stockholm, Sweden, ahead of the second leg of their North American tour.
On minimalist gear
Johan: Nothing’s changed really for us when it comes to technology. We just have more toy keyboards and more toy guitars than we had in the beginning. We started off recording on 4-track cassettes at the end of the ’90s, and when we started working on computers, we kept doing it the same way. We’ve tried to have as little stuff as possible so we can control everything and focus on the songs rather than the gear. This approach is cheap for us, because we don’t make a lot of money, and we can record anywhere because our setup is very mobile. We want musical challenges when we start recording new music—we want to try new things, but not new gear.
Martin: And definitely not plug-ins. We hate plug-ins and we don’t know how they work!
On the production landscape
Martin: We started out trying not to use guitars—we are both guitarists, and it is too easy for us to make a “guitar song.” We were going to do more electronic-sounding music and then it grew into something bigger. Doing it this way is interesting for us because it keeps us on our toes.
Johan: We really care about the production. It’s not like we say “f**k it” and just record. If that were the case, we would just make some kind of troubadour music, or just acoustic guitar and vocals if we only cared about the songs. But, of course, we care about the production—we care about it a lot and we always have. At the same time, we want it to sound gritty in a way, and kind of homemade.
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On trusting others
Martin: We’ve known Tomas Boden, our mix engineer, for years. It took me a year to convince Johan to release the tracks to him so he could work on them.
Johan: This is because we’ve always done projects by ourselves from start to finish. I was still very reluctant to let him near our tracks, even though I’ve known him and like him a lot. He’s a genius in the studio, he’s got a lot of musical projects of his own, and he’s a brilliant guy. I eventually got used to the idea of letting him listen to the stuff, and after a while he almost felt like he was in the band.
On bass-ic allergies
Johan: We are kind of allergic to a lot of bass, so we don’t want things too bass-heavy. A lot of modern productions, in my opinion, at least, are way too bassy. I like records from the ’70s and the ’80s, before people started producing records that way, with a lot of subs and stuff like that. For some music you need it, of course, but for a lot of music you don’t. We’ve mastered with many different people throughout the years, and that’s one of the things we usually come back to and want them to change. When we get the tracks back, it’s usually too bass-heavy for my taste.
On a conceptual canvas
Johan: We didn’t start out trying to make this big, conceptual album, but we realized during the process what it was turning into. For some reason, I couldn’t write music about other stuff, so in a way it just kind of happened. And when it came to choosing artwork and stuff, we already knew what the album was about and so on. A lot of the tracks on the album are political, but they are political in different ways. For example, I am very happy with the song “Swedish Guns,” which is, of course, about the Swedish arms industry. I’ve had a hard time listening to a lot of political music throughout my life, since I tend to think that it can get boring, but on this album I just couldn’t write about anything else. I was still happy that I was able to make some of the songs more personal because otherwise it would have been too disconnected. I think a lot of people associate our music with some kind of intimacy—sometimes you want to get as far from that as possible, but I still didn’t want to let that go, because music is supposed to comfort, too.
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Martin: I don’t know what is behind our longevity. I think we are still friends, I hope. This is the key, I think—that we are still friends through all of this. Johan is my best friend and I can’t argue with that. It’s always work, and of course we have our struggles and our differences. Also, time is not always on our side when it comes to these projects, because we live in different cities and also life comes in between. But I don’t think I want to analyze it too much; if it works, it works. And we will continue until either we are no longer friends or until it becomes boring.
Johan: I think also I have such a hard time compromising with people when it comes to music. It took years just be able to let Martin this close in a way, so it is also something you don’t want to give up too easily. I think we’ve both thought about quitting, but then you solve it by screaming at each other a little bit, then saying you’re sorry and starting to make new songs.
Jacques Sonyieux is a devout explorer of recording studios and the artists who occasionally inhabit them. Please send any tips or feedback to Jacques at [email protected].