When Mando Diao hit the road for a global 18-month tour in autumn 2004, the last place they expected to end up was the dark seedy underbelly of Red Light Europe. Faced with strippers, night crawlers, terrorists and crack heads at every turn, it’s a wonder Sweden’s answer to The Libertines ever came back alive.
“We seemed to be playing in the red light district in every town we went to,” recalls a weary eyed Gustaf Norén like some traumatised horror movie survivor. “We kept getting thrown into this ragged corner nearly every night where we encountered strange characters who wanted to talk to us. They were all people with big hearts but terrible destinies. Ironically though we found it much easier to hang out with them because they weren’t fans so they didn’t treat us differently. They were just interesting characters whose lives had gone completely wrong.”
Littered with dark tales about broken characters, Mando’s third album ‘Ode To Ochrasy’ is a coming of age LP for the leather clad five-piece whose previous records have been driven by childhood dreams and a desire to escape their gangster-ridden hometown. “‘Ode’ is almost like a concept album based on life on the road,” admits Gustaf. “There were so many stories and the more we toured the weirder it got. By the end of it, we felt like we weren’t in the real world anymore.” Of the characters they met, the most chilling was a terrorist they stumbled across in Germany. “We met this guy from Iran on the street who said he was gonna plan some bombings in Europe,” the singer reveals. “We were just after directions and he started talking to us. The whole experience was really scary because it was right after the London bombings and we didn’t really know whether to take him seriously or not.” Out of the encounter, the track ‘Killer Kaczynski’ (an ode to Harvard genius turned recluse terrorist, Theodore Kaczynski) was born.
From there Mando encountered fallen drug addled angels who inspired the track ‘Josephine’ and homeless buskers, one of whom didn’t take too kindly to Gustaf and co-singer Bjorn Dixgard when they stumbled across his path on a drunken night out. “There’s this big angry character in Sweden who plays the harmonica to commercial R & B on his radio,” explains Gustaf. “We stumbled across him after a night out and we broke his bed by accident.”
Bjorn: “He went really fucking mad at us at first. The worst of it was he was German so we couldn’t understand a word he was saying. Luckily this guy from our German record company was with us at the time and he managed to chill him down a bit. By the end of it we got on really well with him and he started playing for us.”
Up until the end of 2005, life continued to spiral into a haze of hallucinogenic debauchery as Mando slummed it in bars, tour buses, airports and shabby squats, criss-crossing Europe, America and Japan for a lengthy trek which took in 137 shows. Amazingly the first thing Mando did when they touched back on Swedish soil was head back into the studio with ex-Soundtrack Of Our Lives producer Bjorn Olsson.
Fraught with rows and bitter bust ups, recording sessions reached breaking point when the band refused to work with Olsson. “He flipped out to begin with so we said, ‘Fuck it, we’re gonna record the album ourselves’,” spits Gustaf. “When we made that decision, the record company said, ‘There’s no way in hell you can do that’. So we locked ourselves away. We turned off all our mobile phones and all contact with the record company and Mando Diao was cut off. They were shit scared so we just said, ‘Wait and see. We’ll get you an album in a couple of months.”
The more we toured the weirder it got. By the end of it, we felt like we weren’t in the real world anymore.
By that stage Olsson had laid down six tracks, which the band were unhappy with. Fortunately legendary Oasis producer Owen Morris came in to add his own “wall of sound” during the mixing sessions. “Olsson wanted the album to sound very empty and big but it sounded really fucking shit when he did it,” fumes Gustaf. “Then Owen mixed a couple of tracks and he did a wonderful job. It took him 15 minutes and it just sounded amazing. He’d just go (adopts thick Welsh accent), ‘I think I’ve nailed it boys. What do you think?’.”
But again, Mando suffered another blow when contract problems with the band’s record company prevented Morris from carrying on, leaving the five-piece to mix and produce the rest of the album themselves. “In the end we just imitated his sound for the remaining tracks like ‘Welcome Home’ and it worked really well for us,” explains Gustaf. “Working with Owen was great. I don’t know what he’s like as a producer but as a mixer he is probably one of the best we’ve ever come across. (Laughs) That is probably the plan for the rest of our lives now, to record as badly as we can and let him fix it.”
While Mando may feel indebted to Morris, a parting shot on the album’s inside cover suggests they won’t be inviting Olsson back in a hurry. “There’s always a problem with producers from our side I guess because we like making our own decisions,” adds Bjorn. “We’re constantly fighting big egos so I think it’s better if we do things ourselves.”