Interview – Bring the Mourning On

Bring the Mourning On needs no identity. They are “comfortably underground.”

Josh Matthews

It’s cold on this winter day in Malmo, Sweden. I’m looking at the interior living space of one of the members of Bring the Mourning On. It’s clean and modern, a nice and cozy loft, but from the looks of the inhabitants dressed in flannel and drinking whiskey neat, it’s fucking frigid outside! Fitting, I think, based on how Bring The Mourning On’s Henning Pettersson describes their music, “expansive and barren, influenced by wide open spaces.”

Labeled in Sweden as “country,” this is a contrast from any country I grew up listening to. Is this what Swedish country is?

I’m talking to lead singer Henning Pettersson, who is gregarious and jovial. We are joined by the bassist, Sebastion Axelsson. It’s hard to imagine that the most influential of the group is not the darker, edgier Axelsson. Axe writes the bass lines for BTMO’s songs as if he was writing for his favored genre of death metal. But BTMO is a truly collaborative effort. And the finished product, while dark and edgy, is far from death metal. But it’s certainly not country.

Bring the Mourning On was originally founded as a country outfit by lead singers, Henning Pettersson and Erika Schröder. They came together as an acoustic duo in the spring of 2006 after recording a collection of Henning’s songs under the moniker Going, Going, Gone. Then came bassist Sebastion Axelsson and drummer Jerker Wennström, both recruited to propel the band into a slightly different direction. Pettersson set aside his country-influenced finger-picking style of acoustic guitar to move into a more melancholy, slower style of electric guitar. Going Going Gone recorded their first album in the Spring of 2009. This time around their recording process was plagued by setback after setback, including several changes to the line-up.  The band decided to begin again, complete with a fresh approach including new band name. Bring the Mourning On was born and the album Going, Going, Gone became an ode to their past efforts. After Going, Going, Gone, BTMO recorded their sophomore album Ukiah in 2012 and Northern Ghost in 2014.

Today, Per Nordberg appropriately keeps the time on drums while Axe maintains dark and driving bass lines. Lead singer Henning Pettersson layers melancholic guitar while Erika Schroder provides piano, additional percussion and vocals.  The collaboration is as global as it is random, influenced by their roots in death metal and country as well as the Swedish landscape that surrounds them. It’s quite hard to label them. Bring the Mourning On is different from any American or Swedish “country music” that you have ever heard.

Henning Pettersson: I think Swedish country is a lot more melancholy and a lot more sad music than American country, but ‘country’ was just a label given to us. I think when we started out people didn’t really know how to describe it. So they started saying ‘country.’ When we started out it was a lot more ‘country-ish’ than it is now. If we look at reviews of Ukiah, there has been references to ‘slow-core’ and more of a Bonnie Prince Billy and Songs: Ohia kind of music. So I think that fits us better. But I think we can relate to, or at least I can, relate to the country genre. I mean, I think there are similarities with, for example, Townes Van Zandt, and some of his stuff… and also Neil Young…maybe he’s not that country, but there are country references in his music and I think that relates back to us as well. There is a core, and the core in our music is based on classic and classic folk-country that exists in music- we try to do it in our own way and it becomes slower and more darker and melancholy.

The way BTMO describes Swedish country or Swedish folk music as it exists today is different. It’s more atmospheric, more sky and trees than concrete and light posts, more mountains than buildings, and more cold than sweltering heat.

Axe: Of course there are Swedish bands that sound like the Dixie Chicks and stuff like that. That exists and of course they are on TV all the time. Then there is some good country, and I think the good country here is more influenced by Sweden in all.

HP: We actually have some really good alt-country artists like Christian Kjellvander and Kristofer Åström who have kind of layed the way for the new wave of alt-country bands here in the late 90s and early 2000’s.

Axe: I think it’s more influenced by, you know, Swedish people. We have very little sunlight.

Music exposure in Sweden is no different than here in the US. There is a pop culture that predominates just as it does here. In Sweden, like the US, if you cut on the television looking for good, interesting and new music, chances are you’re not going to find it. You have to hunt for it over there just as you do here.

Axe: When you cut on the radio here, they just circulate the same 15 songs, and it’s the worst songs.

HP: I think we have one channel that plays, sometimes, from time to time, plays something interesting. But mostly it’s the same old.

Axe: I mean it’s pop music. That’s what most people want to hear. It’s why we never get a big audience. (laughs)

HP: I would say that in Sweden, we are more than underground.

Axe: We are insignificant.

There are similarities between BTMO and underground American bands like 16 Horsepower, or Wovenhand, that find considerable success and larger fan bases in other countries.

HP: We have a German label, and I guess we are starting to grow a bit, emerging in Germany. We are still underground, but we tour Germany from time to time, a couple of times a year. Like Wovenhand, if we play our hometown we will draw up a crowd, but we have to travel outside of our country.

So where do BTMO see themselves in 5 years?

HP: Of course we would love to go to the US. But I would say it’s a cost issue. But yea, I hope we are still touring. That’s the whole fun of it, playing music together and doing it for someone else than just us.

Axe: Going on tour is the best vacation you could ever have.

Most music fans can only imagine what it must be like to tour. Imaginations may conjure up debauchery and trashed hotel rooms. But BTMO’s approach to life on the road isn’t much different than the slow pace of their music.

HP: We’re kind of a soft band when we are on tour. Though we do drink quite heavily.

Axe: We’ve been told that we drink, in the places we play in Germany, that they’ve never had a band that drinks so much. But we like to drink backstage, sitting just the band, just in talking, playing music…talking about music, and drinking. It’s not very ‘party,’ so to speak. We don’t really party.

HP: No.

Axe: It’s more of an alcoholic kind of drinking. (both combust in laughter)

HP: We played with another band last tour at a club, it turned into a real club afterwards, you know, with the drum and bass stuff, and all that. The other band went clubbing while we sat backstage and drank wine and whiskey instead.

Axe: We’re not really into dancing. That’s not fun. DJ’s and dancing is not our thing.

Maybe this is a country music band!

Axe: Sweden is pretty much, maybe not so much as England, but there is a pub scene in Sweden. You go to a pub and you sit down on your ass and you drink all night and you don’t move from that spot.

So if you fly to Malmo and you wanted to hang out with BTMO, chances are you would sit on your ass and drink. But what if you wanted to explore the local music scene with BTMO?

Axe: If you want to go listen to some interesting music in Malmo, you would need to go to some of the more underground clubs, so to speak, that don’t really have permits. But what you’re more likely to listen to in Malmo is Punk. There is a big Punk Rock scene. Like old-english punk.

HP: But also alot of early american hard-core, like Black Flag and things like that.

Axe: Yea, That would be what you would see.

So maybe BTMO is “more than underground” because the music there just isn’t changing and evolving the way it is here. Once upon a time, the underground/independent music scene was composed of bands like The Dead Milkmen, Built to Spill, The Pixies and Pavement. Bands that were born, at least indirectly, from punk, hair bands, and the pop of the MTV eighties. Then came the emergence of grunge with Mother Love Bone, Sound Garden, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, who propelled that once-upon-a-time underground scene into mainstream. Now the underground, or independent, music scene doesn’t really seem to fit within any specific kind of label or genre. It used to mean something entirely different to be “indie” or underground. Now independent music can paint a broad stroke of music genres.

HP: I think here in Sweden, you can definitely go see some singer-songwriters, or some folk bands, in these smaller, independent venues. But I think the indie scene has gone wider here. I mean, you have everything from, like, the Black Flag kind of hardcore stuff to…

Axe: …and the electronica. You have the bands that play the electronica that is very abstract and very very strange. But Malmo is…there is a problem in Malmo…it’s just not a very big city. About 300,000 people. But there is alot of musicians! There is just a crazy amount of bands in Malmo, and just not enough venues. So, the venues tend to pick what they think people will come to listen to, and that kind of amounts to alot of crap.

And while the mainstream venues in Malmo are inundated with pop, club music and weird electronica, BTMO is more than comfortable remaining “underground.” And the music scene in Malmo is not so different than it is here. Underground is generally where you have to go to see original artists with something to say. But that doesn’t mean you have to search far and wide. Great music like BTMO is out there, and the music that’s worth hearing will eventually emerge. Where the world was once round, it now seems flat again. And though Bring the Mourning On may be halfway around the globe, their music is right here, just waiting to be heard.