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The (International) Noise Conspiracy Biography

Protest musicians thrive on the belief that they are an endangered species. While the effectiveness of politically and socially minded music-makers during the Reign of Bush can (and should) be debated, the mounting numbers can not. They come in all shapes and sizes, of course, but many fall into one of three categories: 1) Elder statesmen, 2) Angry punks, 3) Dour folkies.

Sweden's (International) Noise Conspiracy are cut from a different cloth. This is apparent throughout their catalog, but even more visible during their live show. They wear matching, Star Trek-reminiscent outfits, strike Stones poses, and play an energetic form of power-pop that -- especially on the recently released, Rick Rubin-produced Armed Love -- is more hopeful than despondent. "Let's make history right now!" goes one plaintive plea. But where to begin? And why now? In an interview with The Red Alert's Adam McKibbin, guitarist/vocalist Lars Stromberg weighs in.

Is it a relief to finally have the album out in the States? Is it strange to still be talking about it as a "new" album?

Yeah, we finished about a year and a half ago, so I guess it is kind of strange. But you get into the swing of things, and we like talking about these songs, so we're not really bothered by it.

In the meantime, has it been all touring or are there new songs being written already?

We've been pretty much touring constantly since last March, since we did South by Southwest. Also, we didn't really want to get into the swing of writing new songs, because with the uncertainties of putting this album out, we didn't want to have ten new songs that we really wanted to play when we hadn't even put this record out. Now that we have put the record out, we're going to start writing -- we have a lot of ideas in the bag, but we're just going to bring them out at this point. Right now is the time to get on the next step.

I was talking to Anti-Flag once about touring after 9/11, and they said that, even though they ran into more problems than usual with promoters and so forth, the kids really responded in a positive way. There was a lot of "I thought I was the only person who thought that way."

Right. That's how we felt about it, too. We were supposed to fly into New York on September 12th to play CMJ. Obviously, that didn't happen, but we did tour the U.S. about a month after that. We talked a lot, even with people outside the band, about how we should approach that. Of course, we realized that we couldn't be part of the censorship of ideas and theories and mentalities. Just because something terrible happened doesn't mean that you can't talk about it. That's what a lot of the whole U.S. "united, we stand as one" propaganda wanted you to do: look forward and don't talk about this in a way that's critical. So we decided to talk about the fact that 9/11 was the perfect opportunity for U.S. foreign policy makers to take a step back and realize what its part in the world is -- to actually analyze it on a different level. As you said, a lot of kids found that to be really exciting and positive. People said that it was good that we didn't back [off] and actually talked about this, because no one else seemed to.

There was a time when not only could you not talk critically, but you could hardly say words like "explosion."

Exactly. Just yesterday we were talking about the songs that were banished from the radio because someone was wearing a "It's Raining Men" T-shirt. Obviously people can take offense, but, at the same time, how do you just strike something that happened from people's conscience? The media has been really good with that. Then, with people not being aware of exactly what's going on, it's really easy to go and do other things and justify them.

Sometimes bands that aren't "political" bands, per se, will bristle when they're asked a political question because they see this strict separation between their music and their opinions. They could have an album full of largely autobiographical songs about the most intimate details of their lives, but then they get flustered or embarrassed or extremely cautious about anyone perceiving them to be on a dreaded "soapbox." Do you have any insights into what causes that mentality?

Hmm, well, I think in the music industry it's because bands don't want to say anything that could rub anyone in the wrong way. Everyone is really cautious about whether their record is going to sell and whether people are going to come to their shows. With us, not ever having had that attitude about music, we don't really care. We could care less whether people get offended; we're not going to say it a different way.

We look at music and the culture of protest and the culture of protest music, and we want to carry on that legacy more than a lot of bands, even those that might be directly influenced by Bob Dylan or MC5. Of course, music itself can't save the world. If it could, the world would be a beautiful place because there are so many good protest songs. But we do know for a fact that it can serve as an inspiration. We all got into politics not through politicians and youth movements but through music and musicians.

That's how we look at it. Other people look at it from the commercial view. From the commercial point of view, we've chosen suicide -- we talk about communism at our shows! (laughs) That's a good lead-in to my next question. When you talk about socialism or communism, is that a label that gets misconstrued mostly in the United States, or does that happen everywhere?

It is misconstrued everywhere, but on different levels. In the States, I think, the entire word gets misconstrued. People don't understand why you would even want to talk about communism because the word itself is sort of a gateway to oppression. No one really knows what's going on behind that word, or that it's talking about equality and the production of goods and what you need on an equal level, and so on and so forth. A lot of people don't see the division between communist ideas and oppressive state communism. I think that any band that has radical ideas, though, is bound to be misunderstood and misinterpreted and misrepresented. We have to expect that to happen, and just talk as much as we can about it to make the misconceptions fewer.

To read the rest of this interview, please visit theredalert.com. To embrace capitalist values and buy a copy International Noise Conspiracy's latest album, Armed Love, visit the ARTISTdirect Store.

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