The Tough Alliance The New School / A New Chance

The Tough Alliance The New School / A New Chance
Sweden’s resurgence as a pop music dynasty over the last couple years has had a lot to do with boyhood chums Eric Burgland and Henning Fürst. Owners of the eccentric Sincerely Yours label, for the last four years the two have quietly started their own revolution of sorts in their home of Gothenburg as the Tough Alliance. Now the duo are expanding their brand worldwide, issuing their first and third albums simultaneously (passing on their more experimental second album, Escaping Your Ambitions). The New School (2005) was described as "year zero” by original label Srvice, no doubt referring to just how novel the duo are. With melodies saccharine enough to turn a Stock Aiken Waterman recording sour and "ultra modern” DIY production that bumps like the KLF’s White Room on 33 1/3 rpm, TTA’s debut is impeccable pop music that’s sophisticated and easy-to-swallow yet rife with an unapologetically hedonistic, almost juvenile attitude. A New Chance is injected with the same vibrancy, though dresses its influences differently, developing their skill for arranging and dipping their toes in the sand for a strain of that breezy, Balearic beach pop, à la countrymen Air France and Studio. TTA are pushing pop music’s envelope and when they sing "there’s something else, something bright and pure, something that you’ve never felt before,” it’s hard not to think they’re indirectly describing themselves.

How did you two come to form the Tough Alliance?
Berglund: When we were like 12 we had two rivaling gangs and hated each other. Soon we realized that the hate was based simply on each other's brilliance and formed a new dream-team together instead. When we got tired of destroying the schoolyard in the night time, inhaling butane gas and those kinds of things we started making music of our shared discontent instead. Somewhere between then and now and between that discontent and the love we have for each other and a deperate longing for reality, TTA emerged.

What was the idea behind the group's name, considering the music isn't exactly tough itself?
It just sounded good, like something we'd want to join, a little like a dancehall soundsystem that we were very into at the time. We've always hated bands with names that mean something. It's just a name for god's sake.

Our music isn't tough? It sure is in my head.

With the exception of Escaping Your Ambitions, TTA's music seems like a battle between hip-hop, Balearic and bubblegum dance pop. How did you go about defining your sound?
That's a lovely way of looking at it! We never thought that much about those things though, the music wouldn't feel very true if it didn't come naturally I guess. I think you can tell though that we like Dr. Dre as much as Orange Juice, Marshall Jefferson as much as the Four Tops and Bailando as much as Cecilia. Music is fun!

Is there any kind of message TTA try to get across to the listener?
I honestly don't want to think about what TTA is to others and it would be very destructive to try to tell you what it is or should be. It is what it is to the one experiencing it, it could be a way of relating to life or a just simple pop tune. I you feel it you do and there's no need to drivel about it. If you don't feel it then nothing I'd say could make you feel it.

I know it might sound pretentious or cliché but to me TTA is how I feel and think, even if it seems a like a pale reflection sometimes. To me TTA is an artwork with many dimensions and the music is definitely a significant part of it, sort of like a distillate. If you don't feel more than the music I certainly don't have a problem with you enjoying just that. There's much in it…

What motivates TTA to make such melody-heavy music, since you clearly aren't looking to cater to any kind of mass audience?
Who says melodies are for mass audiences? Melodies can be divine, so much higher than words. But the beat is too and we never saw why we had to choose. We want it all and that seems like an important part of TTA.

How do you feel about the comparisons to KLF? Would you consider yourselves musical anarchists in the same respect as Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty?
Don't know much about them, just like some of their tunes. Anarchists sounds kind of lame though, not to mention musical anarchists. Really subversive, ha ha…

The pair of you have been known for working under Situationist politics, be it through how you format your releases (music, images, stickers, memos) and how you represent yourselves and your label. In that case, what made you decide to work with labels like Summer Lovers Unlimited and Modular to release The New School and A New Chance?
Situationist politics? We try so hard to listen to our feelings and go with the flow, there's no room for politics. And if there were, we'd have our own.

SLU and Modular seemed appropriate since they seemed to see at least significant parts of the big picture and would let us keep doing what we feel like.

Is this relationship with these labels a trial run or are you looking to release more through them?
Everything is a trial to us, we don't want to commit, we try to limit the future as little as possible. Of course, we'd like to release more with them though, why not?

Modular released some scary financial figures, announcing they're about $6 million in the hole. Does that affect how you originally saw them as a label you'd want to work with?
Ha ha, is that true? That is just our luck I guess, damnit, we thought we had a chance to see the big €€€€€€ this time.

Are you working on any new music?
Just vaguely in our heads. We’ve been working and working like little idiots to finish all the things we took on since we put out A New Chance last spring and now they’re almost done. Now we’ll concentrate on making space for new miracles by breathing properly, running, listening to favourite tunes, watching tennis, maybe have a glass of champagne once in a while, playing soccer, tennis and badminton, upgrading our friendship, reading and things like that. I’ve never felt this sure that good things lie ahead.

Your live performances have consisted of swinging baseball bats and lip-syncing to your music. What about this type of performance appeals to you as artists? And what kind of reactions are you looking to get from an audience? I read that you were once thrown off stage at a gig in Stockholm...
Once? It happened like 20 times. What appealed to us most about the way we’ve been performing was that it seemed like our only alternative, the only thing that would be sincere. We didn’t have a script, no show and no talent at all. We just put our music on, got up there, felt something and showed it. It never was about something cold and clever like lip-synching though, we always screamed our lyrics but nobody heard cause the microphone always was destroyed during the first minute. I guess it was our reaction to all the apathy around us, our reaction to people always just doing what’s expected from them. We didn’t want any certain reaction, we just wanted something to happen: love, hate — whatever’s real, whatever’s sincere. It's a very mentally demanding way of performing though, kind of hard to handle in the long run.

The baseball bats have painted you as promoting hooliganism. Is that something you care at all about - being seen as promoting violence and crime?
The baseball bat was quite much an initial indication I guess, our lovely little way of saying that if people were looking for compromises they had come to the wrong place. We only had them for like the first four shows or something back in 2004 though. People didn't get the wink though; of course, they saw some stupid black and white charicature instead of the colourful and nuanced and painting that we saw. Isn't there some equivalent to 3D glasses that you can give to people to let them see the TTA we see? They would be popular I think, the perfect drug. No seriously, we can't allow ourselves to think about those things, we're not a political party you know. We can't let people take us down, we have to keep flying. (Summer Lovers Unlimited/Modular)