Dennis Lyxzén, the enigmatic frontman for Swedish hardcore juggernaut Refused as well as The (International) Noise Conspiracy and INVSN, is a true chameleon. He changes with each project, reacting to each trajectory as naturally as the weather, yet staying in familiar territory. All three of his projects are extremely different, running the gamut from the hardcore punk to brooding new-wave-inspired post-punk to a razor sharp industrial sound that rivals Ministry. His latest album with INVSN, The Beautiful Diaries, carries on that story-arc. It’s a seamless record that asks to be listened from beginning to end, the way an album should. mxdwn recently had the chance to speak with Lyxzén in a wide-ranging interview that covers INVSN, his days with Refused and what the near future holds for both bands.
File Photo: Owen Ela
mxdwn: What was the music scene in Sweden like when you were coming up?
Dennis Lyxzén: I got into punk rock a very long time ago. When I got into punk it was completely dead — it was the uncoolest thing that you could be into. It was around 1987 and a period of time when no one was punk; no one was into punk. The closest thing that people liked were The Cure, but there was really nothing going on. Then in the ’90s Refused started to take off. The hardcore scene in Sweden was pretty huge considering how small a country it is. From there on in, the last 15 years it has been fluctuating up and down. There is a pretty solid underground DIY punk and hardcore scene. It’s not huge but its there. There are some good bands coming out of Sweden at the moment.
mxdwn: Unfortunately in America, we don’t get to see a lot of the Swedish underground hardcore and punk scene…
Lyxzén: There are a few bands that make it over there sometimes, but it’s just very DIY. I live in a small town in the north of Sweden — like 120,000 people live in the area. In 1995, Refused had to get a new practice space. It was a big underground basement kind of thing and we had a room there with a bunch of practice spaces that still exists. I actually practiced in that room until about two years ago. That room, just our room, not the basement, but just that room, for the past 20 years at least 10 bands have toured America that have played in our practice room. Which is pretty fucking impressive in a city with 120,000 people. Most of it has been very DIY punk-style tours, but it is doable.
mxdwn: That sense of community within the rock scene in an area has been going away since the onset of the internet..
Lyxzén: It still exists… It’s interesting because if you play alternative rock, within the widest definition of what that is, and if you play pop music it’s really hard to tour at all if you don’t reach a certain level. But the little DIY, shitty punk band with two 7″ records, you can tour the world. It has that community building, it’s one of the few scenes where that is a possibility, where there is still a network that has been around for the past 30-plus years.
We have a small punk house in our town, and we get international touring bands here at least two or three times a month. Keep in mind that they are not all great, some of them are really shitty, but they get out here and they play shows and it’s pretty great that that is a thing. Because few youth cultures have that ability, and it’s something that has always been pretty powerful about punk rock. It has that sense of community. I mean, no one makes any money. And people are dead broke, but they still do it cause they get to travel the world. It’s not a bad thing.
File Photo: Raymond Flotat
mxdwn: INVSN formed in the early 2000s under a different band name, how did the band end up coming together.
Lyxzén: I began a solo project called The Lost Patrol. Refused had just broken up and I wanted to do something a little different so I got a bunch of friends together and formed a band. It was inherently a solo project, but turned into a very communal sort of thing. Then a few years later in 2002-2003, I did another Lost Patrol record. [It was] a bit on the folksy side; it’s not great, but just one of those things where I wanted to write music. I had 19 of my friends play on the record — like everyone I knew.
When it came time to play shows, I wasn’t really interested in doing the folk thing. We turned it into a power-pop thing called The Lost Patrol Band. That band was me, Anders Stenberg and André Sandström, who are still in INVSN. We did two records as a power-pop band and we decided that after those two records that we were done. We changed our name to INVSN and started singing in Swedish. We have been playing for 14 years. So it evolved from my solo thing, but it doesn’t do it justice to say that. We are all friends, we come from the punk and hardcore scene in our town and that’s how we got together.
mxdwn: INVSN has a sound that is a marked change from Refused — was that change in sound because you wanted to move in a different direction away from the more hardcore and punk?
Lyxzén: I would have to say that when Refused broke up I started The (International) Noise Conspiracy which was my new band. The Lost Patrol Band was a project, something fun to do while I was touring with The (International) Noise Conspiracy. After a while The (International) Noise Conspiracy got kind of scattered and people started living all over the world. I wanted to start a project that when I was home [in which] I could play some power-pop, could play guitar and goof around. When The (International) Noise Conspiracy stopped playing, that’s when INVSN really took off. We started down this path of post-punk, goth, industrial that we are on now. The Lost Patrol Band was really just for fun. For 12 years, The (International) Noise Conspiracy was my prime vehicle, that was the band.
I never intentionally set out to be in a power pop band to shy away from Refused, but I’m a big believer in the dialectic process of action/reaction. When we were done with Refused in 1998 and began The (International) Noise Conspiracy, we went two steps back to go three steps forward, just because Refused was such heavy riff madness. It’s always been like that — we will do a project and then the next record you do will be a reaction to it. I’ve never been a person that talks about what they are going to do for the rest of my life. Every record that I’ve ever done has been different. I’ve always tried to progress and do new things.
A lot of the artists I like, apart from those that have only done one or two records, have put out a few bad records, which is a part of being an artist. Not all of them utilize a formula that works and then beat that formula into the ground. I’ve never been interested in that. Everyday I want to find new music, I want to find new sounds, I am a very restless soul. Sometimes, I have to admit, that fans of my music take a look back and say, ‘That guy’s all over the place.” I am kind of all over the place. I want to try new things; it might be old things, but to me they are new things. I can see how there is not really a thread that runs through all that I’ve done, but that is not how I want to do things.
mxdwn: Like Nergal from Behemoth put out a country record.
Lyxzén: I get it, if Refused and Hatebreed are your favorite bands, you might not like INVSN. That might not be what you’re into. But if you’re like me — just into the concept of music and art — I don’t see a difference between the Behemoth guy and him doing a country record. If it’s great music than it is great music.
File Photo: Owen Ela
mxdwn: The new record, The Beautiful Stories, runs the gamut of sound, and hits all the right buttons. What was the songwriting process like?
Lyxzén: With INVSN I usually write with a guitar and our drummer writes music as well. The two of us are the ones that have been writing on this record. One of the things we set out to do, was once again a reaction to what we did before. I did a Refused record called Freedom and we toured and we did that. Refused is so guitar-heavy and we love classic rock and whatnot. I saw a band while on tour that had three guitars and it was a wall of guitars. I told Andre that I wanted to do an album that, for the first time in my life, was not a guitar-based record.
That was the starting point. Since Andre writes a lot of the music, we started with the drums. We started with the drums and the bass, make it very percussive, almost dancey in a way, and that’s what we went for. If you listen to the record, it’s a heavy record, it’s a dense record, but it’s not a guitar record. There is not a song in there that was written on a guitar. If you listen to the last album we recorded with INVSN, we had three guitar players, so that record was extremely guitar heavy. This record only has one guitar player on it. I think that is a big difference, which is something big that happened between this record and the last record.
mxdwn: One of my favorite songs on The Beautiful Stories is “Immer Zu”, which means “Always” and “Forever” in German. What was the background surrounding that song?
Lyxzén: When I was in Germany with some friends, I saw that word and just loved that word. My German friends told me that it’s an old way of saying ‘Always’ and ‘Forever.’ Sometimes things happen by pure accident. We were writing this song and I had an idea about the lyrics. The song is written from a woman’s perspective on the patriarchal structure that exists in the world. I want the girls to sing these words, because it’s a song about their world, not mine.
That is one of the most industrial-type songs on the record. We were writing the songs and it got very percussive and industrial, and very jokingly, I said I was going to scream something in German on the chorus. And I had my notebook, and there was “Immer Zu” written and it was absolutely perfect. It started almost as a joke, but it turned into, I’ll scream something in German and it will tie the whole song together — a stroke of dumb luck.
mxdwn: My other favorite song on the record is “I Dreamt Music.” It sounds like it could fit into an ’80s John Hughes movie somewhere…
Lyxzén: That song was also one of those things that Andre came up with, and we started working from there. He’ll send me a really rough demo or drums, bass and a light idea of guitar work, and then I’ll sit down and think through the verse and the chorus. We arrange it together and Anders adds his guitar parts. It was one of those times that we had propulsion of an engine with that ’80s post-punk beat. It was one of those songs that, once I heard the rough demo from Andre, it took me five minutes to write the verse and the chorus because it just makes sense. It was fairly easy to write that chorus for that song because it was perfect. The song sounds familiar, but it’s also new. That song is a bit more welcoming than others.
File Photo: Raymond Flotat
Refused put out a few records in the late 1990s and then The Shape of Punk to Come was released. Following that record, there was a slow burn of critical acclaim that inspired a generation of musicians. How did you take to that slow movement recognition?
Lyxzén: It was a weird time. In Europe and in Sweden, Refused peaked around 1996. We did a record before The Shape of Punk to Come called Songs to Fan the Flames of Discontent. While touring that record was kind of the peak of our career as a band. We weren’t huge by any means, we were one of those bands that played a lot of shows and had anywhere from 50 to 400 people at our shows. That’s not bad for a punk band, but not huge. We did The Shape of Punk to Come, which was a very pretentious record. That’s not an insult, but it’s the truth. When we released that record in 1998 and we started touring it, the hardcore scene, which was our scene at the time, did not like that record at first. We came off as kind of a bunch of snobs, which to be fair, is kind of what we were.
We went out to tour that record, we did a Scandinavian tour and two tours in Europe, and it wasn’t great. No one took to the new record. The shows were not as big as they used to be. The kids weren’t into it as they were before. And then we broke up, and we broke up with this sense of defeat as if we were a side note in the history books, as if it were nothing. We broke up and I literally went home and started The (International) Noise Conspiracy two weeks later. I sensed it was coming.
We started touring with The (International) Noise Conspiracy, and people started coming up to me and saying, “Man, I really love the new Refused record.” My friends in the States would call me and tell me that we were on MTV all the time, and I would tell them that we broke up, and that I didn’t know what was going on. There was a weird thing, like you have a new band, and trying to do your thing with your new band, and people keep bringing me back into Refused. I’m like, “I have a new band.” This was when the wounds were still pretty fresh and I didn’t want to talk about that.
But you could tell that that record resonated with people. It came at the right place at the right time. In a lot of ways, I am really glad that we were broken up when that happened because it gave us time to actually have a decent relationship with that record. When everything was said and done we were like “fuck it,” there weren’t a lot of happy memories with that recording, especially from the last year with that band. Now we can look back like “holy shit, we were kind of idiots.” Then time goes by and me and Dave started hanging out again and became friends and actually go back, listen to the record, and talk about how good it is. Getting back together with the band was not on my agenda. Even though I kind of toyed with the idea. One day the stars aligned and here we are, talking about Refused.
It’s interesting when you have hindsight. When you’re young and you’re working, there are a lot of things to come to terms with what your place is in the world and how your past reflects on your present and your future. For a long time I didn’t want Refused to be what defined me. For a long time I was just like “fuck that” it was just something I did. But then you grow up, you get some distance to your past. If Refused never played another show from now until infinity, in 20 years you and me would still be talking about Refused. It’s kind of a cool thing. Growing up in Sweden, in the middle of nowhere, punk rock and Refused will define me for the rest of my life, even if I don’t play another song.
It’s a tricky thing — how much of the past do you let define who you are. It’s the same with people expectations of that as well. Sometimes we will show up to play a show with INVSN, and, it’s inevitable, there will be a guy in the audience with a hardcore t-shirt on looking really disappointed.
File Photo: Owen Ela
mxdwn: All this begs the question. Will we hear another Refused record in the near future?
Lyxzén: We started the process of writing new material. It’s early on, but it’s happening. I don’t think there will be new music from Refused until at least next fall. It is in the early stages, but there are a bunch of songs written, stuff that has been recorded and [we’re] feeling out where the music will take us. It’s a different process since last time. With the Freedom record we set a huge amount of time aside to practice and record. Now, everyone is so busy we have to schedule our time better. It’s a bit more fragmented, which is a very different process than last time. It makes it interesting, which is a reaction to last time when we practiced too much and too hard. But, it’s an interesting process. And definitely in the early stages.
mxdwn: What’s next for INVSN?
Lyxzén: We did a tour of the states in September of 2017. We are actually working on recording a new INVSN EP. If there is a general plan laid out it’s new INVSN this spring, followed by a tour until fall when the Refused machine starts again.
Featured Image Photo Credit: Owen Ela