Noisey

Nervous About Your Small Collection of Post-Punk? Try Viagra Boys Today!

The Stockholm six-piece are signed to the same label as Yung Lean and Bladee, but they sound more like The Stooges.

by Daisy Jones
Oct 2 2018, 2:44pm

All photography by Ollie Nordh

The summer of 2018 was intense. Here in the UK, the weather was the hottest it's been “since records began,” in joint place with 2006, 2003 and 1976 respectively. Weeks were lost in a sticky miasma of blazing sunshine, weathered skin and endless flesh. And for some people—myself included—one song soundtracked the whole thing from the moment it came out in July: “Sports,” by a six-member post punk band from Stockholm called Viagra Boys.

It’s a weird song. First off, the lyrics are absurd: they read like an American dad’s holiday to-do list (“Baseball / Basketball / Weiner dog / Short shorts”) all delivered in vocalist Sebastian Murphy’s throaty deadpan drawl, itself a nod to Mark E Smith. On the one hand, the song is a surreal parody of masculinity (it’s literally dudes shouting about meat and sports), but it’s also intensely, rawly danceable; all pinball riffs and tight, hooky basslines. It kind of sounds like something The Birthday Party might have released in 1979 if they’d gotten into surfing and smoking dope.

I had thought Viagra Boys might give off a similar rambunctious energy in person, but when I meet them—in the garden of east London’s Shacklewell Arms, during an afternoon that feels too hot for late September—what I find is six quite sick-looking people. Half of them are curled up on the pub benches, and Sebastian is mixing purple Lemsip into a glass in between loud, phlegmy coughs that seem to shake his entire body. A few of them—Benke, Oskar and Konie—decide to skip the interview, instead gathered in a corner chain-smoking and rubbing their eyes, while the others— Sebastian, Tor and Benjamin—join me slumped around a wooden table, all of us staring into space.

It makes sense that they’d be feeling sick. The day we meet is the same day their debut album, Street Worms, is released and they later tell me they’ve been celebrating for two days straight. They played a packed-out show at Brixton’s The Windmill Pub (a mainstay for any decent guitar band over here) the night before and had ended up at their mate's house, chatting into the night about nothing much at all. When I ask them what else they’ve been up to while here, they give each other weary, mischievous glances. “Shenanigans,” replies Sebastian in a slow San Franciscan accent (he was born over there, before moving to Stockholm), pushing his cap further down his tattooed forehead.

At just nine tracks long, Street Worms is a brilliant and concise portrait of who this band are. It may have been released on YEAR0001—the same Swedish label as Yung Lean and Bladee—but Viagra Boys are worlds apart from those Auto-Tuned sad rappers. Instead, the album is a brawling collection of scuzzy, yet precise street blues and freaky, often twisted imagery. “I put a towel in a bag, with formaldehyde / I put that shit up to my mouth, and I get really high” sings Sebastian on their track “Shrimp Shack.” He delivers these words with a single nihilistic raised eyebrow—never totally serious, but a little bit melancholy at the same time, just like he is in person.

Our conversation may not have begun in the most spirited way, but as it continues, the chat starts to flow. Sebastian comes across relatively reserved, but he also has this very bright smile that shows up sometimes and seems to change the energy of the space around him. Tor doesn’t speak often either, but when he does he fixes you with that firm blue gaze so many Scandinavian people have and speaks concisely and warmly. Like a responsible dad, Benjamin holds the whole thing together, explaining things in clear terms and giving well thought-out answers. Over the next hour, we speak about their beginnings, being an outsider and how men aren’t encouraged to share their feelings.

Noisey: I feel like a lot of people heard you for the first time after releasing “Sports,” but you’ve been around since 2015. Tell me about the beginning.
Tor: We all met through getting tattooed. Sebastian’s a tattoo artist and my ex-girlfriend was getting a tattoo. We got drunk together and decided to start a punk band. Then we saw Sebastian singing karaoke and thought… 'We have to do this.'
Sebastian: I was singing “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey. I love that song.
Benjamin: I was in a band called Pig Eyes, and had met them before at some party.

Had you all been in bands before?
Sebastian: I hadn’t. This is my first band as an adult.

That’s weird, you seem like a natural frontman... the kind of person who can hold a room.
Sebastian: Thank you. But I wasn’t at first, I was very insecure. These guys had to push me into it. I would have given up pretty easily if I was on my own. I’d have just practiced then been like, ‘oh this fucking sucks.’ But these guys are like, ‘it doesn’t suck, man.’ I need other people’s validation.

I find it interesting that you’re signed to the same label as Yung Lean and Bladee and all these rappers but you sound more like The Stooges or Devo. Were you big into those bands?
Tor: I grew up listening to Iron Maiden until I was 12. Then yeah, it was more about punk—but more like Misfits and skate punk and 90s hardcore style. Then The Stooges and stuff came a bit later.
Benjamin: I was into Kias and Queens of the Stone Age and Slipknot—especially Iowa. I listened to a lot of shitty music. Metallica’s St Anger was really big for me, too. That album is considered a joke, but I was into it. Nowadays I listen to jazz. My taste has changed.

I guess taste does change as you enter your late twenties and thirties and forties, which is the age most of you are moving towards now. Do you feel like your approach to being an artist changes too?
Benjamin: I was seeking perfection in music for a long time, but then I realized it’s not about that. It’s about something else. I regret seeking that perfection, I was wasting a lot of time. Music is played by humans and we’re perfect. I make music better now. It’s more interesting and alive. I used to sit for weeks doing the same guitar over and over again, but it’s a process and you learn.

Guitar music in the UK right now is divided into a few tight scenes—especially in London. Do you feel like you belong to a scene in Stockholm that other people don’t know about?
Sebastian: I don’t feel like we belong to a specific scene. I feel like we’re outside of every single scene [laughs]. We started our own weird culture, in a sense, that only consists of us, haha.
Tor: I do come from the punk scene over there. But I think if you’re part of a ‘scene’ it can build barriers. You can’t listen to techno and stuff. You have to break through those things. I don’t think it’s good to be too involved in one scene.
Sebastian: I definitely feel like an outsider in Stockholm and in general.
Benjamin: I kind of don’t care about that stuff.
Sebastian: You definitely have better self esteem than us [looking at Benjamin]. You’re more secure in yourself.

I was watching your gigs on YouTube and they’re so physical. How do you bring that out in a crowd? For them to not just be watching and observing, but taking part with you?
Sebastian: I don’t think people would start dancing if I wasn’t dancing. Sometimes you don’t feel like dancing though. I think you have to take on a role, a character. I don’t really have that energy in my day-to-day life. I’m actually pretty negative, and I’m not too upbeat. But I think when I play, I try to go into a zone. I don’t know how to explain it.
Tor: But also, our songs are… I don’t know how to say it in English.
Sebastian: They’re groovy! So people kind of have to dance, it forces you to.
Tor: Yeah, people have been dancing since the stone age. And if something grooves, it grooves.
Sebastian: You don’t have to like it, but your body moves anyway.
Tor: It sounds cheesier when we explain it in English. It sounds like we’re performing fusion music or something.

Haha! To be fair, I think "explaining" music in general always has the propensity to sound cheesy. I also feel like your music gives off this kind of masculine energy in general–
Tor: Why?

I dunno, I guess because you’re six guys thrashing about and screaming about sports and meat. But I also feel like you toy with that masculinity too, or take the piss out of it. Is that a fair assumption?
Sebastian: I don’t know if it’s a conscious thing, but we definitely do. I think a lot of the lyrics in our music come from a place of self-hate, in a sense, which is part of being a man in today’s society. But it’s not something tied up to a political agenda, it’s just who we are. We make jokes about ourselves.
Benjamin: And all of us are kind of sensitive… we don’t fit in with these traditional masculine roles. I wouldn’t feel comfortable working on construction or something, I generally feel like an outcast in that way.
Sebastian: And whether it’s to do with masculinity or not… I don’t think we take each other all to seriously.

Do you think a lot of guys feel like that?
Sebastian: I think a lot of guys have a hard time admitting that.
Benjamin: Men in general have a hard time speaking about their feelings, but in this group, it’s the opposite. I’m tired of hearing about these guys’ feelings all the time. Speaking about my feelings comes naturally to me, but for a lot of men, it apparently doesn’t, and that’s really sad and quite tragic. Men kill themselves all the time because they’re afraid to speak out about their feelings. I don’t think about it until I see it in the papers, see the suicide rates.

I feel like these ideas of outsiderism comes out in your lyrics a lot—especially on the new album. Your songs are full of twisted imagery, and often this feeling of looking from the outside in.
Sebastian: I definitely feel like I’m looking from the outside of my own life, for sure. That’s how you grow, I think. You act a certain way for a period of time in your life, and then when you write about it, you can see it. And I’m like, ‘ooh that’s scary’, rather than just accepting that’s the way I am, or ‘that’s just me!’ It’s a bit like therapy in that sense I think.

What kind of thing makes you feel like that?
Sebastian: I don’t know, it could be anything, from insecurities to drug abuse, the way I’ve been in a relationship, the way I’ve acted towards those around me, the way I’ve acted towards myself… and I think if you write about it, you can grow from that.

Yeah, and you can realize that even if that was you then, it doesn’t have to be you now. And you can accept that past self, or at least acknowledge it. How does it feel to have your album out?
Tor: We’ve worked on it for so long, it’s been ready for the past four months. I’m really proud of the album.
Sebastian: We’re gonna get fucked up.
Tor: We’ve been celebrating for two days already.

What have you been up to?
Tor: We did some showcase up in Camden, then we performed at the Windmill.
Sebastian: Then we got up to some shenanigans.

What type of shenanigans?
Sebastian: It’s top secret. Nah, we just went to a pub and met up with a friend of mine out here and the rest is history. We’ll probably do something similar tonight. We’ll probably end up round a really small table, having really deep conversations that don’t mean anything.
Tor: We’ll have a five-hour conversation about the next album.
Sebastian: Yeah, we’re already over this one.

Is that how you’re going to spend the next few months?
Sebastian: Yeah, we’ll be touring for a while, but as soon as we have some down time, we’ll start writing songs again.
Benjamin: It’s going to be fun.

You can follow Daisy on Twitter.

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.