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Still Pioneers After All These Years: Millencolin Return With 'SOS'

Wednesday, 13 February 2019 Written by Huw Baines

Sometimes things just click. A band will figure out how they work at the right moment, release the right record on the right label at the right time, and find the right audience waiting. A little under two decades ago that happened to Millencolin when they sent ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ into the world.

The album finessed their poppy take on skate-punk and ensured their place among a handful of European outfits in the west coast-dominated world of Epitaph, Fat Wreck, Warped Tour and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater soundtracks. It was also a huge creative jump for the band, who formed in 1993 in Örebro, a city of 100,000 or so in central Sweden.

After a trio of LPs that blended breakneck punk tracks with goofy, horn-free ska, the immediate build up to ‘Pennybridge Pioneers’, which was produced by Epitaph founder and Bad Religion guitarist Brett Gurewitz, involved a frank analysis of what the band was, and what it might be.

“We actually took a break before that album, we didn’t even know if we were going to get back together as a band,” frontman Nikola Šarčević says. “But once we decided to take that step and make a new album we had all these new influences. That album was where we took our biggest leap forward. It was a big thing. It was something that we are happy with and proud of even today.”

‘Pennybridge Pioneers’ ended up having a long tail. Millencolin toured around its 10 year anniversary beginning in 2010, and it’s still held up as a genre classic, but its greatest influence remains on their own songwriting. Their releases before and after it are night and day, and the quartet’s new LP, ‘SOS’, is another example of their continued interest in its sharp melodic sensibility, interlocking guitar hooks and a mile-wide sentimental streak.

Recorded in-house at the band’s own Soundlab Studios in Örebro, and produced by Šarčević and guitarist Mathias Färm, ‘SOS’ is a pristine example of what Millencolin have learned to do well. It’s very easy to dismiss skate-punk in 2019—few subgenres have been so readily left behind—but they are able to make it feel alive.

“We started out wanting to play this style, and then after a few albums I think we created our own sound within this genre,” Šarčević says. “I guess we’re comfortable with our own sound. Of course, if we’d like to do something different creatively we can do that in other projects. My ideas can be loose—it could be a pop song for the radio. Mathias is always there, filtering and turning my ideas into Millencolin-sounding songs. With my vocals and my lyrical style, it sounds like Millencolin.”

In its best moments, ‘SOS’ lays bare the pop craft at the heart of many Millencolin songs. Over chunky power chords Nothing is a tumbling melodic gem; Yanny and Laurel a rager with a mournful heart and a title lifted from a meme. They are precise and hit marks that will thrill long-time heads.

“It might sound boring but we believe that, especially with the new album and the last two, we’ve found a working process where we can get a lot out without busting our heads against the wall,” Šarčević says. “It takes a bit of time—Mathias spends a lot of time working with the songs.

“Even though I have most of the ideas in the beginning, he takes those songs and he works on his own with them. Everyone steps in and does whatever that person’s special skill is, instead of doing everything together.”

There is a brittle sort of optimism in Šarčević’s words as he tries to maintain a positive outlook. Some of that filters down to the songs, which are beset by the cognitive dissonance of 24 hour news cycles and social media spats. For all its up-tempo, instant sugar-fix appeal, it has a sombre edge that acknowledges the realities of the world without necessarily choosing to engage with how they’re communicated.

“I don’t really like to take in all the negativity around,” Šarčević says. “I don’t really like to watch or listen to the news. I mention that on a few songs. I’m a quite optimistic person in general, I try to see the possibilities. In my life, I meet people from all around the world and, for me, people are people wherever you go.”

After ‘SOS’ drops Millencolin will head out for shows in Australia, Europe and eventually the UK, where they’ll play sets at Slam Dunk festival alongside familiar faces in NOFX, Lagwagon, Less Than Jake and Bad Religion. They might not play as much as they used to, but 25 years on Šarčević believes they can still get things done like they did in the old days. "We’re more like surgeons, you know? Coming in and doing our part."

‘SOS’ is out on February 15 through Epitaph.

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