by Niklas Göransson
After sparking the death beat in her Maggot Heart, Swedish guitarist Linnéa Olsson returns from multiple cycles of rise and fall – armed with songs of spiritual defiance, and wielding switch-blades in the dark.
– Music is a matter of the heart, and all that matters are matters of the heart. We’re born with a pure heart which gradually becomes infested and polluted by negativity encountered throughout life, like worms in fruit. And I thought MAGGOT HEART sounded cool. It’s also a nod to the album – and in particular the song – “Maggot Brain” by FUNKADELIC. It’s the most emotional, insanely good solo I’ve ever heard.
The track in question is an approximately ten-minute-long solo by guitarist Eddie Hazel, who was allegedly handed his instrument during an in-studio LSD trip and asked to capture the feeling of being told his mother had died, only to moments later find out it isn’t true.
– I create from experience, always have. That’s also why I dabbled in journalism instead of trying to write novels or screenplays – I’m not good at making shit up. My music is the most honest representation of me, the most real I’ll ever be, so writing about something I don’t know much about isn’t really an option. You can always tell when bands do that, it’s dishonest and ultimately not very interesting.
Citing integrity in daily life to be of the highest essence, every single job she’s ever had has been either on a part-time or freelance basis.
– Following graduation, I had stints of working as a guitar teacher for kids, as a shop clerk, coat girl in a club – stuff like that, extra hours to bring in some cash to get by. It’s difficult for me to apply myself to something if my heart’s not into it, and having somebody tell me what to do isn’t worth the extra money. I’d rather be on the brink of starvation if it means I can spend my time as I like.
While mostly focused on music these days, Linnéa used to make her living as a journalist. Having written professionally since her early teens, she was convinced it was going to be her path for life.
– At fifteen I was like, ’Why should I study? I’m interviewing Geezer Butler (BLACK SABBATH) on Friday!’ Super-naïve, of course. I felt like that kid in Almost Famous, on a very modest, Scandinavian level; going on work trips, meeting bands, drinking at some major label’s expense.
At nineteen, she was hired as music critic for the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet.
– This was before the financial crisis, so for years I made a living going to concerts and listening to records. Not bad for a snotty kid. It was a great time and I was very lucky. I have fond memories of those years, like going to Repulsive Records in Stockholm to trade all the shitty promos I’d been sent for cool music.
She says in hindsight it seems like another world, writing about the likes of JEX THOTH or TOXIC HOLOCAUST in the culture pages of a daily newspaper.
– Then of course, the space was reduced and reduced and reduced until the only metal featured was METALLICA once in a while. These days when I’m not touring or recording, I work in a small bar here in Berlin a few nights a week. It’s perfect for someone like me – you play whatever you like on the stereo, shoot the shit with the regulars, your friends drop by for a drink… I still feel very lucky in that sense.
Perceiving her local music scene as increasingly rigid, Linnéa relocated to Germany in 2012.
– There’s not much excitement among the same people congratulating themselves over and over again. Any cultural movement, or whatever, has to be in a state of flux or it will stagnate. All these men, praising each other… and there wasn’t much ‘darkness’ or ‘danger’ at all when you went to live shows, for the most part. Then I came to Berlin and went to Berghain, where the darkness and fire was much more tangible and real – people really let go. Everyone was so self-aware back home.
In conversation leading up to the interview, Linnéa mentioned having had her ’Saturn return’ – in allegorical terms the period around age thirty where one goes from child to adult, and is made to face the harsh realities of life. Saturn takes about twenty-nine point five years to complete a full cycle, so by your thirtieth birthday the planet is back to where it was when you were born.
– It’s a rite of passage, a time of maturity where you’re forced to grow up and see things for what they really are. In many ways, that’s how I’d describe the last few years. I was twenty-eight when THE OATH broke up, meaning I’ve passed thirty now. That number holds both a lot of significance and no significance, depending on how you want to look at it – but most people in our culture would probably agree it marks the ending of youth.
From 2012 to 2014, Linnéa was part of THE OATH – a band which garnered a lot of attention in a rather brief amount of time before dissolving shortly after releasing their debut album. It must have been fairly heart-wrenching to reap such astounding success after so many years as a hard-working musician, only to have it come to a sudden halt.
– Heart-wrenching is a good term for it. But I knew that if I’d kept going, it would eventually be even worse further down the line. Some people thought I was crazy to turn my back on something clearly heading in a successful direction, but it just wasn’t possible to continue and still live with myself. You have to be happy and comfortable in any relationship in order for it to be fruitful, I just don’t see how any kind of ’success’ would overtrump peace of mind.
If there’s any solace to be found in all this, she mentions having at least kept her integrity intact.
– I won’t go into any details because regardless of my feelings about Johanna (Sadonis – LUCIFER, ex-THE OATH) I don’t think it’s cool to air her personal business in public. And in this band there was no real distinction between friendship and our relationship as bandmates. What I can say is there were red flags from the very beginning. Red flags I promptly ignored or rationalised, as you do when you want something to work.
Linnéa says she should have known better and trusted intuition, but was restless to play since her previous project, SONIC RITUAL, had been on hiatus for several years by then. Finally, she’d gotten something going.
– The band took off very quickly, we were basically still getting to know each other during this time and suddenly there was a real hype. The more attention we got, the more I started sensing that something was very wrong. It was dramatic and destructive and utterly un-creative – the opposite of what I want from both a band and a personal relationship. I kept my spirit up until after the album was recorded, then it started going downhill very fast.
Bass player Simon Bouteloup left following the recording of their self-titled debut. Since drummer Vincent Wager had already departed earlier in the year, this reduced THE OATH to a duo.
– I was very unhappy but still clinging to the idea of trying to make it work. Everything was in motion by now with the record coming out, tours being booked and so on, so the pressure was definitely on. I felt cornered and began sinking into a depression. We supported GHOST on a few dates, and I think everyone enjoyed that tour except for me.
Then, in early 2014, something happened which made it impossible for her to continue.
– It was truth slapping me in the face and if I’d ignored it I would’ve been fucking stupid. When people show you who they really are you’d have to be pretty dumb not to believe them. I broke up the band and cut contact. I considered stopping the album release as well, but I was in an impossible position and obviously didn’t want all the work to go to waste.
Wishing not to sound too bitter, she stresses they had good times as well.
– The moments of fun, calm and-or mutual understanding are what kept me going. There are fond memories from the very beginning, casual rehearsals and all that. And I probably could’ve handled myself better towards the end, but it was truly the final straw for me and I lost it. I felt very used, which isn’t a nice feeling.
Linnéa has largely held her peace regarding THE OATH but mentions not being particularly delighted with how the affair was portrayed in the metal media.
– Bear in mind, ninety percent of that album was written by me. Johanna wrote some of her own top lines and a few lyrics; Simon wrote two riffs in total and the rest was all me. I was the first to arrive to the studio every morning, and the last to leave. I flew back alone to mix the album with Konie, our producer.
Regardless of what had transpired within the band, there was still a strong emotional attachment to the record after having poured so much of herself into it.
– Could I have done it all by myself? No. I’m not trying to take full credit. We were a band and everyone was invaluable to what made it a good album. That said – I brought the music, and felt my contribution was somewhat overlooked in the aftermath.
The entire mess plunged Linnéa deeper into depression, a fact she’s only come to realise long afterwards.
– I lost a lot of hair and couldn’t sleep because of back pain caused by stress and anxiety. Not the high point of my life, that’s for sure. Then of top of it there were false rumours, gossip and all that bullshit. Hearing various unpleasantries about myself, things which simply weren’t true – that hit me hard. I perceived the whole ordeal as very unfair.
She adds how she’d understand if people reading this wonder what all the fuss is about, seeing as the band only existed for two years in total.
– What can I say, it did a number on me. I felt incredibly let down, also very much by the label who played a role as well. I lost my innocence during this whole debacle – I’m a lot more cynical now but as always, you live and learn. Looking back, I’m still proud of the album. It’s a good record and it stands out, I think.
So what’s the key to breaking free of something like this?
– Take a step back, see the bigger picture and realise that however important it might feel, it’s only rock ‘n’ roll. Get back on your feet and continue forwards – keep composing, make more and better music. The industry is full of liars, users and phonies; you have to get used to it and not let them get to you.
Linnéa mentions being somewhat overwhelmed over how much support she’s received, with fans and other musicians reaching out with words of encouragement.
– Liz Buckingham from ELECTRIC WIZARD was a great support to me, which I’m really thankful for. Later when I was in BEASTMILK and we were touring with IN SOLITUDE, strangers would come up to me after gigs and say the nicest things. ’Glad you’re back’, that kind of stuff. People tell me all the time how much they like the album and, not to sound like a fridge magnet, in the end it’s the music that matters.
In August 2015, she was asked to join Finnish rock ’n’ roll band BEASTMILK who at the time were enjoying massive success following their 2013 album “Climax”. Courted by major labels and mainstream media outlets, the future looked very bright.
– Unbeknownst to me, they had their own internal problems so I was in the band for about five minutes before it split up. Then followed an intense year and a half of recording and touring with GRAVE PLEASURES, a project formed from the ruins of BEASTMILK, and many wonderful times were had. But again there were issues of expectations not matching reality, so I chose to leave.
Which led her back to square one… again.
– From every project you take something with you. Positive experiences and lessons, of course, but when navigating through all of this it’s impossible not to doubt yourself at times. You wonder, what’s the point in even trying? Every time it feels as if it takes a bit more out of you. But at the same time, this rock hard determination grows inside of you – probably more so than if things would have been easy-peasy.
After eleven years as an active musician, Linnéa Olsson is now fronting a band for the first time.
– I’ve never wanted to front a band – I’m a guitar player, and that’s where I’ve always felt comfortable. While I might come across as a loudmouth at times, truly being the centre of attention makes me nervous. I hate having my picture taken, all of that stuff, so I never had any previous aspirations of going solo.
Linnéa has now come to the conclusion that everything she’s done in the past has been in preparation for MAGGOT HEART, this is where she should be at this point in her life – singing her own songs.
– It’s an entirely new venture, which of course bodes for both excitement and nervousness. Had you told me two years ago I’d be singing in my own band, I never would’ve believed you. The idea terrified me, which of course makes it the only path to go down.
She gathered a small group of talented friends, who came together to do everything from artwork to actually releasing the EP.
– There’s no PR firm lobbying for interviews and the music is left to spread organically. Every positive comment, every single button sold, Bandcamp plays or whatever, all of it has felt like a victory – most appreciated, I couldn’t be happier. This is testament to the DIY underground remaining very much alive, to there still being alternative routes to take. Genuine intent in art will be rewarded, one way or another, even if it’s only the knowledge that you never took the easy way out.
While MAGGOT HEART is essentially her own band, she received invaluable contributions from other musicians.
– I arranged the songs together with Uno (Bruniusson, drums – PROCESSION, ex-GRAVE PLEASURES, IN SOLITUDE) and Gottfrid (Åhman, bass – REVEAL, ex-IN SOLITUDE), so the best parts of being in a band are still there; the camaraderie, support and thrill of playing with great musicians.
One noticeable factor has been the significantly higher pressure put on her now, due to her previous spells in prominent bands.
– But what the hell – life is short, so I might as well give it a go. All I ever wanted to do is create, play, and experience the wonders of rock ‘n’ roll up close and personal. Last year I had to take a long, hard look at what I truly want from both life and music, and decide how to get there. I didn’t play live at all in 2016. Instead I wrote, got married and piece by piece with the help of some great friends, finally got this EP together.
The recording was carried out under rather primitive and oftentimes challenging circumstances. The first time Gottfrid came down from Sweden to record a demo, they had to move between three different rehearsal spaces all over Berlin.
– Hung over and broke, and finally sitting in a room the size of a shoebox in a Berlin suburb when the computer crashed and nothing could be recorded. Perhaps not third world suffering but still energy-draining with stuff like this happening each and every time something needed to be done. All of this went on for about a year.
The final elements were recorded in October 2016 – in a proper studio this time, but with the added inconvenience of having access to it only between midnight and 8am.
– You muster strength from within, without being quite sure what will come of it or what to do once it’s there. But as things were slowly coming together it became increasingly apparent how much greater the rewards are when doing things on your own terms. The further away I moved from what was expected of me, the better I felt.
All of this arduous struggle resulted in a new EP called “City Girls”, which was released in May 2017.
– It revolves around topics of urban and nocturnal living, and the trials and tribulations that go along with this lifestyle. ’The city’ as a concept appeals to me for some reason, always has. Maybe it’s the punk in me but I was always more drawn to grit, concrete and neon lights than this romanticism of nature which is prevalent in certain types of metal.
Ultimately, the record centres around a primal urge for freedom – and the defiance required in order to truly feel free.
– The title track is an ode to the feral women who rule the night of this city, and a call for us to unite. It’s time we arm ourselves and fight back against the harassment and misogyny still running rampant, even in 2017. We should acknowledge the anger accumulated by centuries of male bullying and turn it outwards, not inwards. Female artists, let’s not succumb to the idea of our fuckability directly correlating to our creative relevance. Let’s not ask for approval, let’s not ask for anything. Take it, it’s ours.
Linnéa says the rock and metal scenes at large, including many of the female artists themselves, shy away from these topics.
– I’ve been there too. You don’t want to stand out more than you already do, so you sort of downplay the problem. But the truth is that still, after over a decade of releasing music, hateful and degrading comments about my looks, my hair colour, my breasts, whether or not I’m good in bed and so on, are still highly prevalent. This is a direct result of playing a type of music dominated by men. Equal terms, yeah sure…
The new promo photos for MAGGOT HEART show Linnéa with her hair covering her face, which one would have to assume is related to this matter.
– Indeed. Looking too pretty isn’t good – but if I’m not pretty enough, that’s wrong too. Sometimes I get well-intended comments like ’you must be proud of being respected in the scene, it’s not really common with girls’. Like, okay, I should be happy I got the male seal of approval? Should I put a sticker on my next album?
Meanwhile, she says, there are so many mediocre-or-worse male bands doing just fine – praised merely by default.
– Why I would possibly want to be a part of that is beyond my understanding. This hate is everywhere on an everyday level; from catcalling to groping in bars and public transport, all the way to domestic abuse. On my next tour, I want to hand out MAGGOT HEART switch-blade knives to all women and encourage them to use them. This city, every city, is ours – let’s take it back.
Furthermore, she says, this record is also about defiance on a spiritual level.
– Allowing yourself to shut down your brain, not catering to demands placed on you by the outside world, and truly enjoying and cherishing the present moment in time while you have it. The beauty you feel in those moments is true gold. The purity, the beauty, the love – it’s what we’re all looking for in one way or another.
“City Girls” is a record about ridding oneself of inhibitions, and running wild through the streets.
– Feeling the blood pumping through your veins, reaching for the next level of excitement, pushing towards something unknown and exhaling the fire inside you. But it’s also about the balancing act this lifestyle demands of you – we all know getting too close to the darkness might just get you swallowed up and spat out again.
Linnéa takes her DIY approach to more matters than music – she also runs a ‘zine called Death Beat, of which she’s printed two issues thus far. The publication’s motto is ’No photos, no bullshit – because nothing beats a good conversation’.
– It began when I went through files on an old computer one day and realised I had over a decade’s worth of published articles only available to Swedish-speaking people. On top of that, as you know, it’s not uncommon that maybe only half or less of the transcribed interview actually ends up in the finished article. So you sit on a lot of material just going to waste. Some of these interviews were too good for that. I’ve always loved the A5 format so I decided to print a fanzine with the conversation itself as focal point.
She intends for readers to be able to pick up the ‘zine and find the interviews compelling regardless if they’re familiar with the artists or not.
– Four extensive interviews per issue, two old ones from my archives and two newer. No photos to give you any preconceived notions, and I wanted the topics to be timeless. The secret to a good interview is connection and I truly enjoy connecting with people, I really think there are few things in life that beat a good conversation – hence that catchy tag-line!
One of the publication’s most well-received features was a long conversation with Selim Lemouchi from THE DEVIL’S BLOOD, printed in the first issue.
– It was a delicate situation since it was published post mortem. I didn’t know Selim when we did the interview, but it was one of those moments where I felt the connection was there. I later met him on several occasions and he brought up our conversation as something he’d enjoyed. Knowing that, I felt confident publishing it.
Her interview with Luis Vasquez from American post punk band THE SOFT MOON is another one she regards as a highlight.
– It’s mostly about his sex addiction. To this day, I regularly get emails from girls all over the world trying to get a hold of a copy because of that interview. My favourites in the latest issue are the interviews with Jaz Coleman from KILLING JOKE and Carl-Michael Eide from VIRUS – both interesting guys from great bands.
Linnéa says she rarely reads established metal media these days, for the exact same reasons she stopped contributing to them herself.
– I just don’t feel the excitement any longer. Everybody knows that the more a label spends on advertising, the more exposure their bands get in the magazine. There’s also a general anxiousness in the metal scene bleeding into the press – you know, these taste-makers who have to approve a band before everyone else can follow suit.
Her main complaint is what she perceives as mediocrity being praised, and nobody really daring to criticise untouchables.
– Like you’d be ostracised in ’the scene’ or something. Since when are we afraid of a little friction? It’s so boring. I wish it could be more unpredictable – that way maybe it would actually have more value in the end.