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Time Out Meets: Johan Duncanson of The Radio Dept.

The Swedish band member talks Marie Antoinette, political music and being compared to ABBA

Said Karlsson

"I remember that it felt unreal to hear our songs in a big Hollywood film and to see my name in the closing credits. I stayed in my seat in the theater for awhile after the film to let it all sink in, and I actually fell asleep..." 

The Radio Dept.

Please introduce yourself.
I'm Johan from the band The Radio Dept. We've been making music at home since we released our first single back in 2002.

How would you describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?
Pop music. Capital P.

You played a show here at V-Hall back in 2011. Was that your first time in Seoul? Any memories of that visit that stand out?
I think the show went well, or at least that's how I remember it. [laughs] Good times. It was our first time in Seoul and I have fond memories. Great audience! And we [even] met a group of people who had travelled all the way from Mongolia to hear us play.

How has your music changed since your last visit? What have been your biggest influences since then?
We're always listening to a lot of different kinds of music, from jazz and ‘70s folk to ‘80s and ‘90s house and techno. And pop music from any age. I've been enjoying what record labels like Light In The Attic and others have been doing; digging up old private pressings from the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s and bringing them to a wider audience. And compilations like the one Numero Group put out a few years ago; "Purple Snow" with a lot of different bands and artists from Minneapolis during the ‘70s. And also bringing attention to a lot of pop music from around the world that's not American or British, it's about time.

What, if anything, do you have prepared for the upcoming Seoul show? Any teasers?
We will be playing a couple of songs from our upcoming album for the first time. Looking forward to that. ...And we'll do songs from earlier albums and singles as well.

One of the reasons your music really blew up here is because of the film Marie Antoinette. Any opinions on the film itself?
I really enjoyed it. We were fans of Sofia Coppola since Virgin Suicides. We never got to go to any big premiere or anything though [and] I just went by myself on a regular Tuesday and bought a ticket. I remember that it felt unreal to hear our songs in a big Hollywood film and to see my name in the closing credits. I stayed in my seat in the theater for awhile after the film to let it all sink in, and I actually fell asleep and got locked in. So I had to stay the night and have popcorn and chocolate for both dinner and breakfast.

How much of your music is overtly trying to make political statements? (“The New Improved Hypocrisy,” “Death to Fascism” and “This Repeated Sodomy” are three that definitely stand out in my memory.) How important do you think it is for music to speak up like that? How important is it that fans can understand that message? (Especially considering the language barrier that must exist when playing in different countries).
We're a pop group first, which means that if people like the music, for whatever reason, that's more important than understanding the message of the lyrics. I have favorite songs myself that I've listened to hundreds of times although I can't make out what they’re singing about. And I have favorite songs in languages I don't even understand. Having said that though, I should add that I still think lyrics are very important and I want ours to be as good as I can write them, or preferably even better. Nowadays, I tend to think a lot about politics. Neo-fascism is on the rise in Eurupe, and, unfortunately, Sweden is no exception; so it's something any decent socialist has to protest against. So that's what we're doing with songs like “Death to Fascism.” But I like songs about love as well, I don't think political music is better than other kinds of music. Sometimes you have to say something though, and this is one of those times.

Any advice for aspiring musicians who might be interested in incorporating those themes into their music (especially in a city like Seoul where it’s often “unofficially” silenced)?
It's hard to [give] advice against censorship, my only advice would be to keep it up, maybe blur the message a little by using metaphors that you know the people you're writing for will understand but others might overlook. Keep at it and don't give up.

In terms of Swedish music in Korea, Kent and ABBA are two popular names. Have you gotten any comparisons? (One Korean blog I read said you were “the biggest thing to come out of Sweden since ABBA,” any feelings on that?)
That's quite a statement! Very flattering, I used to dislike ABBA during my late teens and early twenties, but now I love them. Well, not everything they did but some songs are just fantastic. With Kent, it's the other way around, I really liked them as a teen, [and am] not too impressed nowadays. But I can't recall ever being compared to any of them. I guess we don't sound very alike.

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