Some friendships are meant to be. Case in point: Stockholm-based musicians Adam Olenius (Shout Out Louds) and Henrik Jonzon (Nervous Nellie). Having weathered their awkward teen years together, they’re able to spot the opportunity to make a playful joke at the other’s expense from a mile (or a kilometer) away. Musically, they’re also synced. Nervous Nellie’s new EP, Gloves, has a Shout Out Louds sensibility to it—life and love rendered in a series of electro-pop anthems. There’s a slick swagger to Gloves’ four tracks; a first introduction that comes out of the gates swinging.
Since their international debut Howl Howl Gaff Gaff in 2005, Shout Out Louds have become pop-scene stalwarts, stirring liberal amounts of ennui into their kinetic tunes. Optica (due out February 26 via Merge) is another outstanding entry in the band’s impressive catalog. Filled with glowing strings, shimmering synths, and Olenius’ hypersensitive slur, Optica is a testament to the band’s ability to reach for the stars with a large musical statement (see: sweeping opener “Sugar”), without sacrificing their simmering sophistication (see: slow burner “Blue Ice”).
Interview joined Olenius and Jonzon for a walk down memory lane. The pair told us about their fateful first meeting as teenagers, their shared musical history, and why so much of their lives can be defined by their favorite childhood television shows. We’re also pleased to debut an exclusive Shout Out Louds remix of Nervous Nellie’s “Gloves,” below.
ADAM OLENIUS: It’s nice outside today. The weather has been so bad this winter. It feels like I’ve got heavy shoulders.
HENRIK JONZON: That’s from visiting the gym! Which I know you do at least once a week. I go more than you, I’d have to say. I’ve been smitten. My wife dragged me to the gym just right before Christmas, and I was totally against it. And now I’m hooked. We’ll see how long it lasts.
OLENIUS: You’re going to end up looking like Anthony Kiedis. Red Hot Chili Peppers.
JONZON: That’s my goal.
LAURA STUDARUS: How did you guys first meet?
OLENIUS: It’s a funny thing, actually. I don’t remember this, but clearly Henrik does because he always brings it up. I said something about your shirt.
JONZON: Don’t say that I always bring it up!
OLENIUS: Every time!
JONZON: I love the fact that we got this question. Let’s hear it, Adam.
OLENIUS: The first day we met, I walked up to you. I’m one year older. I was 13 or something, and I was a really insecure guy. I wanted to act tough in front of the cool kids. I went to say something about your shirt. A mom-made shirt or something.
JONZON: I was very into skateboarding at the time. Mentally, I’m always a skateboarder. Obviously, I don’t skateboard now. Still, I remember I had these military pants or something and a very ugly shirt. That’s a fact, but still. It was like an Indian-looking thing. I remember distinctly you walking up to me, like you said, in front of the cool kids, and saying something like, “Hey, nice shirt, did your mom make that?”
OLENIUS: Is she Indian?
JONZON: It’s a compliment in a way, but obviously it was not in this case.
OLENIUS: It was a compliment!
JONZON: I remember, it’s funny, another friend of ours was there as well, and I remember not becoming discouraged in any way, but more like, “Wow, what just happened?” We came from a smaller school, and this was the big school. When you start junior high or whatever. The whole thing, coming from a safe environment, I guess you could say, and suddenly being hung out to dry!
OLENIUS: Oh, God.
JONZON: But still, I don’t think we became friends right away. It was probably a couple of years. Then we started to find each other.
OLENIUS: It was around when you were in a band and I was in a band. I guess when we were 14, 15. Tell us a little about the first band that we were in together.
JONZON: The first band, this I remember as well, being very touched by your phone call. You called me once and asked me if I wanted to join your band. Which was obviously exciting for me. You had heard me sing and whatnot, but the main thing was to play guitar, which is odd, because at the time I could not play any guitar at all, pretty much. It was like a cover band. We were playing, what was it? Alice in Chains. What else?
OLENIUS: Screaming Trees, I remember Screaming Trees.
JONZON: We did have some original songs as I remember. Which was more along the lines of Blind Melon, which we really loved at the time. Those were good times! When you play just for fun and you feel like you’re on top of the world just rehearsing. I miss that a lot of times, but I guess that’s a part of growing older.
OLENIUS: If we had a show, and we had maybe five a year or something, we would talk about which songs to play, but we also talked about what to drink. It’s really hard to get alcohol if you’re underage. We had to prepare before the show.
OLENIUS: We had that band not long, just a year or two. There was a different singer. After that, we started another band that had the name Nervous Nellie. It was only you and I who started this band.
JONZON: That is correct. No! The bass player came along as well. And then another old friend Thomas joined, and also Eric, Shout Out Louds’ drummer Eric.
OLENIUS: I remember our first demo. I remember this because Astrid Lindgren, who wrote Pippi Longstocking, before she died, she was a friend of my grandma. Her mom was the woman who worked at her publishing. She didn’t really discover her, but she helped her a lot in the beginning to get publishers and things like that. She was actually at dinner at my house. My parents called and said, “You have to come home now!” I was in the studio recording this. She was actually the first one who got to hear this demo. That was pretty cool.
JONZON: So we knew we were destined for greatness!
OLENIUS: [laughs] For two more years. So that happened. Now we’re just talking about old memories here. We haven’t talked about these years, this era in a long while. We did two demos. We rented this place in the city.
JONZON: Each time, it was like three days or something like that. A long weekend. I remember once again: “We need beer, we need wine! We need this and that!” I even remember going all out and getting a couple of joints. Which was very crazy at the time. We were living the dream, I recall. Everything we had seen in rock documentaries. We went for it. For three days! [laughs]
OLENIUS: [laughs] And then back to school on Monday! It was really fun. And then we split up after a few years.
JONZON: When we finished high school, you started working at a record label. I went to the military. I wanted to start a military band, but they wouldn’t have it! [laughs] No. I recall that we played twice in 15 months. Ooh, I remember we played a Harley-Davidson party. I remember asking—or even lying—about something to get off from the military to go and play that show.
OLENIUS: You were a rebel, man.
JONZON: I was! I also started working at a record label after. We were working, both of us, for a while there. I remember going in and thinking, “Oh cool, I got a job at a record label,” thinking this would be a good way in, or it would be inspirational, or whatnot. Really, it wasn’t. When you’re 20 years old and someone puts a credit card in your hand, and you can go out everywhere, you party instead. You also realize you’re working with other bands and other people’s music all the time, and you realize, “Wow, I’ve barely played guitar for a year.” Then you just get sick of everything. In my case, I quit my job; I broke up with my girlfriend at the time at the time. I took all my stuff, and I moved in with a friend in Minneapolis. I really needed to do something completely different.
OLENIUS: You were really…
JONZON: Depressed at the time, I have to say.
OLENIUS: You moved into another friend’s apartment, and you had three big moving boxes of just CDs. I remember, I visited you guys once. You were both home from work, and it was a crime scene. I was the same. I was in a relationship and all that, but I also got really tired of the music scene. Stockholm is so small, and all the labels work with other bands. I really saw the bad side of the record company. It’s so uncreative. I think we both were, not pissed off, but…
JONZON: Fed up, I think. You just want to do something else. For me, that was cutting everything and just leaving. But that was one of the best moves I had ever made. When I was over there, I was working at a distribution center. Nights. A Target distribution center. Driving forklifts and this kind of thing. I found some guys in an ad in a paper. We recorded a couple of songs. But really, I had no friends. I could go out to a bar in the afternoon or something. I’d go buy used CDs and go to a bar and listen to them. In a lot of ways, it’s my own fault. It’s not like I held the door open for people to get in. The best part of that was that I really started to miss my friends at home. It was a really good experience, I have to say.
OLENIUS: Since you were born in Chicago, and you’ve moved a lot, what part of you is American and how much is Swede? Do you feel less Swedish sometimes?
JONZON: I have to say, I’m 99% Swedish in my head. Also bloodwise. I happened to be born in Chicago. My parents lived there and worked there at the time. My dad still lives there. Situations where I can feel more American than Swedish are references to your childhood, what you watched on television. For me, it’s like if I said, “I watched Fat Albert,” that means nothing.
OLENIUS: It doesn’t.
JONZON: How dare you say that, Adam! You know what I mean. A lot of times here something will come up and I don’t know what you’re talking about, really. You then realize how important those early years are. It shapes you, somehow. Television shapes you. I am Fat Albert, in a way. And Webster! And Three’s Company. And M.A.S.H., as a small child.
OLENIUS: But M.A.S.H., I saw that as a kid. It was more for grownups, right?
JONZON: I know. It’s weird. That was in the afternoon, I think. I would think of it as an example of something I saw as a kid. When it was aired here in the afternoon. But I am very Swedish, I would have to say. In America, I am extremely Swedish.
OLENIUS: Has it helped you writing songs? Of course it’s easier. I remember, when you were writing lyrics, when we were in eighth grade or ninth grade, I remember you were quicker writing the songs. You were the one, in our band, writing all the lyrics. That must have been helpful.
JONZON: Yeah, I’m sure that was pretty helpful. I’m not sure about the lyrics I wrote then, or now for that matter, are necessarily important or impressive in any way. If what you want to do is sing in English, it helps, I guess. To know the language. Again, my vocabulary is like a nine-year-old, because that’s when we moved back here! [laughs]
OLENIUS: What is the name of the band that you started in Minneapolis? Something with babies?
JONZON: The Milk Babies. We recorded an EP. I was five years late on the ball. I wanted it to sound like Lemonheads, and Dinosaur Jr., all these kinds of bands. Everything around me was like The Strokes at the time. It was 2000. I could not have been more wrong! We had a good time recording. The idea was to play at least one show and take it from there. But that never happened. We tried to rehearse once after recording the songs. I think we just hung out. We didn’t play anything. I came back just for vacation. Two weeks. And then I decided I didn’t want to go back.
OLENIUS: I missed you, man.
JONZON: [laughs] Oh, my God! [fake tears] Adam, I forgive you for that day back at school!
OLENIUS: The shirt incident!
JONZON: Yeah, the shirt incident. It’s like a Seinfeld thing.
OLENIUS: Me and Eric, did we start Shout Out Louds at that time?
JONZON: Yeah, I think you had. You had just started recording. I recall that we played a show together. You weren’t Shout Out Louds yet. You were calling yourselves Luca Brasi. We played this little basement in old town in Stockholm. I called a friend of mine that I knew had some recording gear, and I had a couple of songs that I just wanted to put down. Suddenly it just became a band, for better or for worse.
OLENIUS: I remember when you came home. I started a band. You tried out a lot of members.
JONZON: This may make me sound like I’m some sort of tyrant. But you know Adam, I am in no way. Well, if you’d ask my brother who is in the band he would say yes, I am. This sounds bad, like I’m blaming other people, but I feel a little bit robbed, those first years when I came back. That phone call about recording some ideas resulted in a band. It just happened. Suddenly you’re in it with people that you don’t have the same musical vision. In our case, I bring a song to the table that I would like to sound like something maybe Beach Boys sounding. The drummer puts a nu-metal beat on there, and has to do that.
OLENIUS: That sounds awesome.
JONZON: I know!
OLENIUS: I remember that time you tried out different people. Until the final constellation of Nervous Nellie where you have where you started playing with your brother and those other guys.
JONZON: My brother was in the band. But even though we grew up together, I never really knew him. We never hung out, we never did anything. That was also one of the things when I was in Minneapolis, thinking about my life and all these people at home, thinking that’s a shame. I knew that he was playing music. When I came back I said, “Hey, I’m going to record some stuff. Do you perhaps want to join me?” Something like that. Just because I felt that I would like to get to know him. He’s been in the band from that point, the whole way. What’s changed is drums and bass. We’ve been the same band now for four or five years. It can’t get any better. It’s a really nice feeling when you realize that you find people that you first off, enjoy their company, and second off, have the same musical vision and sense of humor. It should be fun! Only then is when I think good things can happen. We’re all similar and different at the same time—which makes it work. It’s a good feeling, only making music. Where you don’t have to get annoyed by stuff that has nothing to do with making music. It’s a good feeling. It’s kind of like when we were younger. But still, it’s not the same. We’re grown up. There’s frustrations. There’s hopes, and goals, and you want this and that.
OLENIUS: It felt a little bit like that when you joined us on tour. Nervous Nellie has been opening for us in Europe. Henrik joined us when Ted had his first baby on the Work album. So you did a month of touring with us. You played the bass. Eric was there playing the drums. It felt almost like the old band was together.
JONZON: You could say that we were.
OLENIUS: We also have a side project. We haven’t rehearsed anything yet. We wrote some songs. We shouldn’t give away the titles. Yet. Are we set on the name? Is it going to be Pelican?
JONZON: I think so. I think the bird anyway, whether the name will be Pelican or not, the bird symbolizes this project very well. Don’t ask me why, or how. Do you agree, Adam?
OLENIUS: I do. Absolutely. We’ll see if we have time for that.
JONZON: It has all these musical fish in its mouth. Adam, I know where you’re going with this. Do, tell the folks out there. We’ve been writing this on a couple of planes. Also at parties and whatnot. Always, towards the late evening, this band, this idea comes up. And the one song that we’ve been writing without playing any instruments. [sings] “Is it just the beer talking?” It keeps going.
OLENIUS: It rhymes with walking, of course. I think the title itself is just brilliant. “Beer Talking.” We’ll see how far we get with that.
JONZON: It’s something we’ll do when we’re pensioners or something. When we really have the chops.