Refused's Dennis Lyxzén
Published Jun 26, 2010Since its release in 1998, Umeå, Sweden-based hardcore outfit Refused's final album The Shape of Punk To Come: A Chimerical Bombination In 12 Bursts has become one of punk rock's most influential recordings. Countless bands credit the work of vocalist Dennis Lyxzén, drummer David Sandström, bassist Kristofer Steen and guitarist Jon Brännström as being crucial to redefining genre parameters and inciting them to step-up their own musical barrages. Yet for Refused, The Shape Of Punk To Come holds none of those reveries. At the time, it was the punch line to an inside joke; a spiteful retort to the ignorant American masses who misunderstood and chastised them for its predecessor, 1996's Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent. Amusingly enough, over the years many of those same naysayers have obviously embraced the very album that mocks them.
At any rate, due to its exponential popularity and legacy, Epitaph Records has reissued The Shape Of Punk To Come as both a limited edition coloured vinyl set as well as a three-disc CD/DVD package bolstered by an unreleased live album recorded in 1998 and 2006 documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead. In an effort to contextualize The Shape Of Punk To Come as well as Refused's mindset then and now, Lyxzén reveals his retrospective sentiments, discusses desire to move outside of the album/band''s shadow and sheds light on what ultimately provoked one of punk's most important albums of the past 15 years.
How do you feel about the attention this reissue is getting?
Dennis Lyxzén: It's a bit weird. You start out in a band and have ambition to do a seven-inch and a couple of tours but 13 years after we recorded this record, I have to do a bunch of interviews about it. It's like the reviews we've been getting...we didn't get reviews this good when it came out. It's strange but it's flattering; cool that this albatross is still in people's minds.
Well, it's weird to be asking you questions about it too. It's funny you say albatross, 'cause you can't escape the past. You wanted to get away from Refused and have had a number of bands since but here you have to interrupt your current band's rehearsal to talk about this fucking record again.
Yeah. It's pretty strange, 'cause some days it's a bit of a nuisance and a bit annoying but at the end of the day it's flattering that people take interest in something you've done after this long. It's hard for me though, 'cause I haven't listened to that record for years. My focus in life is definitely somewhere else. I feel very disconnected to the whole thing.
It's not surprising. You all seem to move forward, not back.
Yeah, I'm bad at looking back. I suck at looking back and sometimes that's a good thing. It keeps you always on your toes; trying to progress and do new stuff. Sometimes it makes it hard though. I don't appreciate what I've done or what I have been working on. Not just with the Refused record but everything. It's a constant moving away. I don't ever listen to my old records once they're done.
As long as you appreciate what you've learned from the past, why dredge it up? But people are still learning about what you did in the past because of your present and vice versa. It's a weird cycle.
To some extent that happens but if people are really interested... well, I'm a nerdy record collector guy myself so I'm always wondering what happened to certain guys. I try to find out. If you compare me to the other guys in Refused, I had a different agenda than them. If people like my part of the Refused project, hopefully they'll seek out other stuff I've done 'cause it's all ― not musically but in attitude ― is in a similar vein with the politics and aesthetics. If people like Refused and what I added to the table, hopefully they'll check out Noise Conspiracy or some other project I've been involved in.
As a music fan yourself, don't you have those bands you collect but wish you'd seen at the time? You can appreciate the fans that like Refused but never saw you or learned about you after the fact?
For sure. One of the constant questions we debate on tour is: if you could be alive for a year in time ― a music year in time ― what year would it be? If you could travel back in time, what year? One city, one year. There are tons of bands I grew up listening to like that. I grew up in a small part of Sweden. It's not like I got to see hardcore bands or punk bands come to town. We had to invent everything ourselves so there are tons of bands I wish I could have taken part of but they were out of my reach. It's the same for people that never got to see Refused live. They want to understand what we were doing, were a part of. Hopefully they come to see some of my other bands to catch a glimpse of what we were doing in the '90s.
I'm glad you put it that way. There's something to be said for having not reunited Refused because it wouldn't be the same.
No, it wouldn't. To be in that band is one of those things that half the time I'm sympathetic and understanding towards why people would do it. The other half, it's just such a useless manoeuvre. It's a defeatist attitude but if your objective is to play music with your friends and have a good time, there's no harm in reuniting your band for a couple of shows. For us, there have always been so many other aspects of what we did, that it always felt like a complete no-no. You can't do that shit. Minor Threat never got back together. That's kind of our take on it. With some things, the legend is better than the actual thing.
It's better to keep the mystery forever than have people see it and they wish they never had.
Yeah, that happens. People see a band and think, "Whoa, I used to like these guys... what the fuck?" Every time you do a reunion, that's the risk you have to take. Sometimes people pull it off. You see the band and think, "Oh, it's actually not that bad. It's pretty cool." More often though, it's not.
The only time I've had that experience―not being disappointed―was at Carcass a few years ago.
Oh fuck! Really?
Yeah, they just seemed so casual about it and even joked about how they were too old to do grind. But they were pretty tight.
Wow. I haven't talked about Carcass in a long time. Nobody ever does! It made me happy to hear that name and they were good. Yeah, that would probably be a good reunion. I could see that. Not bad at all.
I'm glad you appreciate that.
Hell yeah! I've been going through a period over the last couple of week listening to a lot of Slayer ― which I always do ― but also Terrorizer, Repulsion and the early grindcore stuff. That's cool they got back together. I would have checked that out.
Man, I haven't listened to Repulsion in forever.
Yeah, it's pretty brutal. It's fun to go back to that stuff.
I could blab about that all day but we're supposed to be talking about this release. When you heard they were putting out this crazy reissue, what went through your mind?
Yeah, I guess that is the agenda, right? Well, it was two or three years that they suggested they were gonna do this reissue of the last record 'cause it was the 10-year anniversary. It was supposed to come out two years ago but we got involved and started saying, "Oh, if you're gonna put it out, we should add stuff to it or make it a bit more price-worthy for people to buy. It's too weird for people to just go out and buy it again." So we actually instigated the fact that the live recording would be in there and I know David added extra photos and stuff for the booklet. That's why it took a while to get everything together: 'cause we got involved. I also sent multiple emails to our management saying that if it's not gonna be released on vinyl, you can't release it at all.
Nice! It's the record collector in you taking over and caring about fans.
Yes. We got involved and then we sat down before Christmas to talk about how the reissue will come out and if we actually want to talk about it. We all decided that we should; we could actually sit down and do a couple of interviews to talk about it. Now, after doing the reissue and the interviews, I don't have to talk about this shit for another five years! We're gonna do it properly though. We want to do it and get it over with.
Sometimes you just have to bite the bullet, man.
Yeah, I mean I'm practising with my band writing new songs and AC4 is recording a new record soon while the other band [Invasionen] is recording in the fall. I'm in the practice space now but I have to go out of the room and say, "Ok guys... gotta go do a Refused interview..." They're like, "Yeah, that's great..." It's strange because I have to interrupt the present to reminisce about stuff that happened a long time ago.
Talking about an old band while your new one is sitting there? It'd be as awkward as chatting about your sex life with an ex-lover in front of the current one. Must be fun to dredge up the past like this, huh?
Yup. It certainly is.
Well, let's make them feel better by talking about the other bands for a minute. You said before that you're doing some recording with each?
Yeah. Invasionen is on tour but also writing right now. With Invasionen, we sing in Swedish, doing Swedish punk rock. It's a lot of fun.
And AC4? You put out a seven-inch recently, didn't you?
Yes. We recorded a shitload of songs and just put some out. We did a short European tour for about a week 'cause that's all our old bodies can take these days. The tempo! We're writing for them too so we can put out a new record in the summer. Just keeping busy.
Will you get to Canada at some point?
The record was just released there on Deranged Records so hopefully. We'll see. Maybe next year for a couple of weeks. I hope so. I haven't been there for a while.
I can't remember how long it's been since I've seen you live. It was with (I)NC and Rocket From The Crypt, man.
Oh wow. That was way back. That was a fuckin' great tour; one of my most favourite to be on with the Explosion and Rocket From the Crypt.
It's still one of my favourite to this day.
It was fuckin'... the Explosion opened up and they got us excited. We went in there and just fuckin' destroyed every night and then Rocket From the Crypt saw us live and were just, "Fuck!" Then they went in and just... I don't know, it was one of those tours where all three bands just made each other way better, y'know? It was a really cool tour. Good times but a long time ago.
And another tangent. Do you feel anything other than relief about not having to talk about The Shape Of Punk To Come for another five years?
It's one of those deals where it's cool this is coming out and that there's a vinyl version. The weird thing is that when you're as active as I am still playing in bands and stuff, it's hard to look back. The impact that album had... it didn't have it for me. By the time it had an impact, we were broken up and I was doing Noise Conspiracy. Refused was a great for me and we did a shitload of shows but The Shape Of Punk To Come was the swan song. It was like, "Ok, it's kind of over. Let's get this record out; do this weird record telling everyone to fuck off."
Well, we came from the hardcore scene and Songs To Fan The Flames Of Discontent came out on Victory Records ― they ripped us off pretty bad but that's a completely different story.
But not a new one.
They never paid us anything! Anything! Anyway... they owe us a shitload of money. So that record came out and we did that tour with Snapcase. We were punk rockers, part of the hardcore scene and into metal. Honestly, we were into metal. David and Kris were into total metal, I was a punk rocker into Minor Threat, Black Flag and Bad Brains and we came to the States.
I don't get it. There was a clash between you and Snapcase fans?
Totally. Coming from a working-class background in Sweden is very different than upper-middle class in America. We talked about politics 'cause our lives depended on it. When we came to the States, all of the political punk kids thought our music sucked. They hated us because we were on Victory and were like, "Why are you on tour with Snapcase" and blah blah blah. We were like, "What?" All the Victory kids hated us though, 'cause we were political, anarchists and talked about shit. We looked like a bunch of dirty punks at that time. I've seen photos from that tour and it's amazing to see us wearing Exploited T-shirts and Profane Existence shirts. I'm like, "What the hell?" So all the Victory kids thought we were kind of lame. They thought the music was all right but we were idiots or faggots: that kind of attitude. When we came home from that tour ― coming from Europe, America is where the Shit is. You admire it. Coming home from that tour and thinking, "Yeah, nobody kind of liked us. The punk kids thought we were lame because we played metal and the hardcore kids thought we were lame because we were political." We came home and decided fuck them all.
Which is where The Shape Of Punk To Come is derived from. Ah.
When you're young, you're kind of anxious because you want to be part of a scene and play with bands that are similar to you. But when we came home from that tour, we were like, "Fuck it. Fuck everyone. Fuck the punk kids, fuck the hardcore kids, fuck the straight edge kids, fuck the metal kids." We set out to create the record that was gonna tell everyone to fuck off. I remember sitting in the studio telling David, "Nobody's gonna get this record. People are gonna hate us." We were laughing, "Yeah, fuck those bastards." How wrong we were. It came out and people were like, "Oh, it's so awesome." And then we broke up.
Does that count as irony or just a shitty coincidence?
I dunno... both?
Sure. Anyway, am I mistaken in recalling that back then it took a long time for the album to catch on?
Not at all. You know, by the time it had an impact, we were broken up and I was doing Noise Conspiracy. When that record came out, people weren't that excited; thought we were weird. I remember the label boss going, "I have no idea what you're doing here, guys, but I'm sure we can sell a couple of copies." It was that kind of attitude. We did six months of touring on the record and nobody bought it. They were like, "Yeah, you guys are kind of weird."
Yet here you have people going ape-shit over it years later when it doesn't seem as important to you, know what I mean? Back then, it was a statement against everyone but you've moved on.
That record didn't mean that much to me when we broke up. It was just our last record. It was pretty spectacular to me that we stitched all of these weird pieces of music together and we had these four wills pulling in different directions yet actually cooperating. Yet we broke up. People come up to me on a daily basis and say, "That record changed my life, dude." That's crazy. For me, it didn't. It was just our last record, we broke up and I started a new band.
You really don't like to reflect, do you?
No. Being so obsessed with running, I don't have the energy or the time to actually look back. I'm still so caught up with going ahead that I can't be bothered to see if it has that much meaning to me yet. Once I'm done with music, I can look back and hopefully appreciate what that record was, is and has created. But I don't think that will be for a long, long time.