I’m quite jealous of Emanuel Lundgren, lead singer, chief songwriter and ringmaster of Swedish 30-piece music/party collective I’m From Barcelona. His command of English is somehow far better than mine, his wit effervescent, and his demeanour charmingly self-effacing. On top of all that he’s Scandanavian, and therefore far more attractive to the opposite sex than me.
Most importantly though, Lundgren and his troops know how to throw a party. On their debut EP Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams Buddy and the following album Let Me Introduce My Friends, I’m From Barcelona bottled their balloons-and-confetti party atmosphere into a collection of songs as twee as a tea party, and ten times as addictive. Thus it’s with some consternation the more considered, at times downbeat sophomore effort Who Killed Harry Houdini? has been greeted. The moustachioed man behind the band, Emanuel caught up with us to reassure us his band still know how to bring the party, and more photogenically than before.
You guys are named after Manuel from Fawlty Towers… Have you been following the furore in England at the minute with his granddaughter and Russell Brand? What do you guys make of it all, being big Manuel fans?
Yeah, I only found out about that yesterday. Came as a shock to me. But I don’t think we’re too involved… just yet.
Even judging by the release titles, ‘Don’t Give Up On Your Dreams Buddy’ and ‘Let Me Introduce My Friends’, the sound is a lot more upbeat than ‘Who Killed Harry Houdini?’ I think there’s always been a sort of melancholic core to your songs, were you more comfortable having that out in the open this time around?
It feels natural to me. I did a lot of things before I’m From Barcelona that had a melancholic side to it. I’ve been trying to make record with both happy and sad elements, with both sides, sometimes even in the same song. It’s an interesting challenge for a songwriter. Also now touring with two albums is great. In our live set we have more in our set of emotions to bring to the gig, and I think that comes out.
You’re talking about a sort of emotional divide in the album… It’s had a really, really mixed reaction so far. Some people are really into it, but others don’t seem to have taken to it at all. Do you think that sort of bipolarity is what’s splitting people?
I think it’s interesting when you get such a wide range of reactions to just one set of songs. It’s the sort of album where people need to make up their own minds about it. It’s more like that in general now. A lot of people have a lot of access to a lot of music… It’s not so dependent on critics anymore, but on the opinions of you and me. Well. You’re a critic. But it’s great, it creates more diversity in music, and then, of course, in opinion.
What did you find so attractive about Harry Houdini that you’d name your album after him?
Well he’s like a role model for mystery, which attracts me. But also, it was just a really good book [The Secret Life Of Harry Houdini, the definitive biography by William Kalush and Larry Sloman], I found it really inspiring. I learned lots of new things about him. Before I only knew him as the magician, but I didn’t know he was also a spy and one of the first pilots. A busy man.
A very busy man. I know one thing he was keen on was debunking spiritualism. Do you see the world in the rational way he did, or do you think there’s more to the universe than what you see before you?
Actually he wasn’t all rational. I think maybe I’m becoming more and more rational… But I like how Houdini had a secret agreement with his wife, despite how he fought against spiritualists and everything, he had an agreement that he had a code that only she knew, and when he died he would try and communicate that code to her. So maybe some part of him was always a little bit… “Maybe.” The world is more fun when there are mysteries, there’s more to live for.
On the last album you wrote and arranged all the songs by yourself. Has the songwriting devolved at all on this album?
I’ve been writing a lot of this album too actually. It would be great if I learned to share the songwriting out more. We’re working on an in-between album right now that’ll be out sometime in the spring. The working title is 28 Songs From Barcelona, it’ll be like our KISS solo era. It’s not an album that’ll take a lot of time, but one song each I think is good enough.
You produced this album too, right?
Yeah this time I worked with a guy called Phat Fabe who assisted me with the whole process. It’s a lot more fun to work with someone producing, I’ve always wanted to try it since I do everything else myself. You can learn a lot by watching some one else sitting by a computer for a while. The biggest problem is getting in people who live far away in Sweden into the studio, just for a week or something to record a line of tuba. Because of the numbers in the band the first time I played the album to everybody was the first time some of them had heard some of the songs. It’s a challenge getting everybody involved, but I think we managed pretty well. The next album I would love to just record live, more or less, in the studio. That’s what we’re planning to do. That’ll take a lot of practise though first.
You could probably land a good job in management from your experience with the band…
I think so, yes!
You once said “With this band you can find out something new about each other, everyday”, are you getting to the stage where everybody’s becoming familiar? Have you ever considered bringing in new members into the band?
Actually we bring new members into the band all the time, it’s just not that obvious! Even though we have three guys who can play the bass to all the songs in the band sometimes they can’t make it, so then I have to move onto new people who can. So on this tour we have two new guys. It’s almost like a motorcycle gang. We have an inner circle and an outer circle.
So how many of you are actually going out on the road this time?
Well it’s going to be a smaller version of the band, I think we’ll be fifteen. It’s also kind of hard for people to go on a ten day tour, with jobs and families. It’s also interesting because there’s not a tour that’s the exact copy of the tour before, which keeps it more interesting.
You do have many ways and means of making your live shows interesting, all right. Are you bringing anything new to the stage show on this tour?
Yes. We look much prettier now. We saw some pictures of earlier shows and shaved our beards and bought some new clothes. The audience are still always as important as the band. Even though we do allow ourselves to shoegaze between songs a little bit, haha. The confetti and balloons are still extremely important for us to distract the audience from looking at us… We start in Belgium and then some of Europe and then the UK. And then Ireland of course.
Do you find a difference in reaction over here from everywhere else?
You guys are amazing at singing. I’m really looking forward to you loud guys again, you can really tell the difference from everywhere else. I wish we knew as many songs as you, for afterparties and stuff. In Sweden we only know the first verse of everything. In our band we’ve songs that pop up a lot on the bus.
What’s the favoured choice of tour bus tunes?
Richard usually picks up the guitar and starts playing The River by Bruce Springsteen, that’s our classic.
There was a big explosion of the Swedish scene abroad a couple of years ago, has the success of so many bands changed the homegrown scene much?
It’s still popping up lots of bands, I can hardly keep track of it all. I hear about new Swedish bands when I’m abroad sometimes, which is a crazy situation to be in. It’s still a very healthy environment here for bands. When a lot of Swedish bands become successful, fifteen year olds go and start more bands. I think it’s because we have a lot of space in Sweden, a lot of small towns. I had a lot of free time living in a town of seven hundred people, to write songs and discover inspirations.
Well what’s inspiring you now that you’ve moved?
I’m listening to music again, mainly! I’m trying to catch up on all the stuff I’ve missed. I’m going to leave the biographies aside for now and sticking with Nick Hornby. I’m reading Slam now.
Christmas must be a bitch with such a big band, do you have to buy everybody in the band a present, or do you have a Kris Kindle arrangement?
We’ve never had a system before but I think we should have a chain reaction Christmas this year. I have enough trouble trying to get presents for my family. Maybe we’ll do our Christmas shopping on tour this year. We’ll go shopping with you guys.
We’ll start making our list now.
A stripped back I’m From Barcelona (what? only fifteen of them?!) play the Academy on the 12th December.
Words by Daniel Gray