The Magnettes attract: They’re like a Punk Pop experiment

Listen to an excerpt of this interview on Apple Podcasts

The Magnettes sing about Go’ing Ugly, but their press photos are cutesy-psycho. does it work? It worked for Alice Cooper: though he used less cutesy in his psycho, it would reappear occasionally. The gendered difference between a man whisking these together and 2 women doing it are obvious upon listening, but we think they serve the same purpose. MUSICAlive! spoke with the founders, first Sanna and then Rebecka when they passed through Calgary during the Western Canada Music Association’s conference in late September this year: what’s with the expletive genre label?

2 young women sitting in red suits holding a bat
“Got a mind full of heavy metal/And a mouth full of lullabies” -The Magnettes. Photo by Martin Ahlin.

Sanna: “Okay! So 21st Century F*ck Pop!” (laughter) “It was a couple of years ago when we couldn’t put a name on our music: what kind of music is it? Is it pop? Is it pop-rock? Is it pop-punk? and then the owner of our record label in Nashville, because we say f*ck in every song . . . said ‘It’s 21st Century f*ck pop!’ That’s what it is!’

We ask is f*ck-pop relevant to the gender and ethnicity stuff going on? This is not boy meets girl-loses girl-wins her back stuff!

“When Rebecka and I started out as a punk band, when we were 11 I think, we all had our fists up in the air. But then we became older teenagers, and we started making acoustic pop. I think all of the eras of our lives, you know the punk, the pop, we have a lot to say. We live in a small town (and) we needed to use our fists (in the air) to reach the scene in Stockholm.

Their performance and songwriting during the Ugly Youth era was about subverting the “beautiful” and “not” expectations: they’d perform wearing cheerleader uniforms, with “Witch” scrawled on one and “Psycho” scrawled on the other.

“We come from a very macho man country side, and we also lost our minority language because the government made it illegal to talk it: Our grandparents speak it, but then they didn’t speak it to us. So we had a lot of things that we were angry at!”

As The Magnettes were interviewed the day after Canada’s Truth & reconciliation Day , MUSICAlive! shows Sanna our Orange shirt from that event.

“We talked to some people about it, and we played yesterday (on September 30th) so we mentioned that it’s happening all over the world.”

Now ensues a lengthy history lesson, wherein we learn Sweden and Finland were a single country once, and Finland was ‘given’ to russia by the King: the dividing line ran straight through a specific ethnic area whose language (Meänkieli) was subsequently made illegal along with other cultural attributes. Sound familiar?

“It’s very important to our music. When we were still 12, people in the older generation said ‘You should sing in Meänkieli. why do you have to sing in English?’ When we got older and started touring we saw the important things that we have, and it’s our culture, languages. (And) so we made a cover of an old song, ‘Pajala State of Mind’, that includes Meänkieli in it.

“so we did that, and it was like the start of a new thing for us. So now we sing ‘Shut up my Haters’ but in our minority language,(in ‘Killers in a Ghost Town’) . . . Our songs from the punk band are mostly about not wanting to go to the school disco, and now we’re almost 30, so it’s out of date for us! (laughs)”

MUSICAlive! mentions that if they’re covering “Dancing in the Dark” (yes, Springsteen!), that’s from when WE were in high school, 40 years ago: it’s older than they are! Is it relevant?

“We’ve had our fists up in the air (at 15) shouting at ugly old men! (But) you always need to respect the old men, and so some Springsteen. (we both laugh) And it’s fun to play! Me and Rebecca had a video of it out on Youtube when we were 15 or something! And Thomas, the 3rd member of the band, also likes a lot Bruce Springsteen.”

We pursue going from the album Ugly Youth to the songs “American”, “Tangerine Skies” and now “Monster”.

“Rebecka & Thomas are a perfect fit together when they write music, and I totally trust them: both of them still live in Luleå up north, and they write most of the songs, and I’m more like the (one who is) writing chorus, or verses, but I’m not part of the big process.”

We mention the separation of lyrics from vocalist in Rush (drummer Neil Peart was the lyric writer): how does vocalist Sanna deal with this separation?

“Me and Rebecka have been hanging out together since we were 5 years old, so we’re like the same person: it’s like we can basically read each others’ minds. And they know how it works with my voice as well, so Thomas can say to me, ‘We just wrote a song, and it’s a church song’, because they know I like to sing in church.”

MUSICAlive! asks about their previous visits to Canada: they’ve been here a few times, and Sanna is particularly delighted with their visit to the North Country Fair in Drift Pile, Alberta: “It’s Amazing!” she gushes, and mentions grandmothers on acid which is a reference we’ll have to assess later.

Rebecka arrives after participating in a WCMA event while we’re still reflecting on the Reconciliation Day coincidence.

Sanna: “And we can still use (Meänkieli) because it’s in our music, to keep it going, to keep it alive.”

Rebecka: “And to change attitudes towards it: it’s been very limited within the (Swedish) culture. It’s mostly the older people, and in folk music you see it. So for us taking it into mainstream pop music (is) a different approach to it, and also to show young people that you can do whatever the f*ck you want with it. It’s yours! Run with it!”

2 young women sitting in suits and shadows looking aside
We’re not sure what The Magnettes are looking at, but it could be Ugly. Photo by Martin Ahlin.

We mention that it’s clear Rebecca is part of The Magnettes’ colourful lyric style, and we all laugh. Then MUSICAlive! asks about the ethnic components of songs.

Rebecka: “It has to be natural. We don’t want it to feel forced, it has to be something we want to do in our way, too. I think that’s the way to bring a culture forward, is you have to feel it in your heart. This is what I want to say with this: this is how I want to tell my story, and being a part of my minority and the language that we have and the losses.”

“Everywhere we go we mention where we’re from, and (erasure) is also (there): we can’t avoid it. It plays a role in our music, in our expression. Musical expression, and just who we are as people. It’s kind of hard NOT to talk about.

“And it’s such an interesting thing to come and play this far away from home, and seeing people relate to this happening everywhere! And so many people growing up in different sides of the world who know about that loss.”

Sanna: “(Sweden has) 5 national minorities, and we’re 1 of them, and we meet people (who don’t know about this): but no-one told us in school. We were looking at other countries, but a lot of shit happened in our country.”

A familiar story with a Swedish twist, or in the case of Ugly Youth, Swedish Twisted Pop.

Posted by Carey Rutherford

Author: Carey Rutherford

Swallowed by the mutual loves of words and music (but far too chicken-shit to perform them with a band), Carey’s writing career started slowly as a freelance writer in 2003, starved him nearly to personal bankruptcy until 2008, and changed directions while writing for FastForward, Beacon Calgary, GayCalgary, and Examiner magazines. With the death of many old-school periodicals, and the explosion of musical diversity in Calgary, the modern approach to writing about live music performance in the Calgary region presented uncluttered landscapes for the focussed passion that Carey’s conversations with musicians, drag queens, festival producers and small animals has uncapped. He was moulded by the brilliance of paper-based periodicals old and new (Life, rolling Stone, Swerve! and Adbusters etc.), and sees the info-verse as needing creative, empathetic, but clear-eyed Agents to communicate these performances.