Jönköping, Sweden is a city with a population of around 90,000, which was once known for its matchstick industry and is now home to the central warehouses of several corporations, including IKEA. Though you may not be aware of it, Jönköping is also a sort of breeding ground for musical talent. ABBA’s Agnetha Fältskog was born there and The Cardigans got their start there as well. While in a much different musical vein, Jönköping will surely soon become known as the town that brought us pop-punk/post-hardcore band Her Bright Skies. HBS’ guitarist/vocalist Petter “Pete” Nilsson recently sat down to answer some questions regarding how the band got its start, their songwriting process, and the release of their latest album, Rivals.
It all began in 2005. Nilsson was still in high school when he ran into vocalist Johan “Jaybee” Brolin at a local show. “We knew each other from before, playing in different local bands for some years. I don’t know how, but we agreed on starting a new band and within a few days we had recruited some of our friends to play bass, guitar and drums. We had our first rehearsal the same week and played our first show after like a month.” The lineup soon included Niclas Sjöstedt on guitar, Joakim “Jolle” Karlsson on bass and vocals, and Jonas Gudmundson on drums. Nilsson ran across the phrase “her bright skies” while reading through texts about the American Civil War and thought it would make a great name for his fledgeling band. “We liked it right away and now we’re stuck with it.” According to Nilsson, the music scene in their hometown isn’t what it was when the band first formed. “It used to be pretty good back when all the kids practically ran their own venue. Lots of hardcore and skatepunk gigs. But that venue got torn down and now the music scene is trying to build itself up again. But it’ll take some time for sure.”
Though not yet a household name in the United States, HBS has built a substantial following throughout Europe in the 7 years they have been together. They have shared the stage with several well-known bands at the Pier Pressure Festival ( 30 Seconds to Mars, HIM, Pendulum and Paramore) and Siesta Festivalen (Asking Alexandria, …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead, August Burns Red). They also co-headlined the Panic and Action Tour with Kid Down throughout Sweden and toured with Bring Me the Horizon as well. Following two EP’s (Beside Quiet Waters, DJ Got Us Falling in Love) and two full-length albums (A Sacrament ; III City, Causing a Scene), the band’s third album, Rivals, was released on Panic & Action Records on November 19, 2012.
It’s about taking what you want and not letting anyone put you down.
In the process of recording this album, Her Bright Skies spent five weeks in New York City recording 11 songs with producers Shep Goodman (Four Year Strong, Bayside) and Aaron Accetta (Forever The Sickest Kids, He is We). The band also had the opportunity to work with celebrated producer/mixer/engineer Mike Plotnikoff (All American Rejects, My Chemical Romance, Bon Jovi). “Picking who should mix the album was also a hard but fun moment. We definitely made the right choice in the end.” What is the overall theme and attitude of Rivals? According to Nilsson, “It’s got a clearer message for sure. It’s about taking what you want and not letting anyone put you down. It’s meant as a message to our fans that they can do whatever they like if they put their heart into it. It’s gotten easier these days to find what makes you unique and sharing it with the world.”
Nilsson shares some insights into some of the new songs and what the listeners can look forward to — Rivals: “It’s pretty experimental and it all came together through lots of different versions, and we worked a lot with it in the studio. I think it has the coolest sound on the whole album.” I’ll Be For You: “Honest acoustic song that seems to be very much appreciated by our fans. Stoked for that.” Lovekills: “First song we wrote for the album. Crazy solo and fun to play.” Working Class Punx: “We had a lot of fun with this one when we recorded it. Super happy with the guitar sound on this track.”
Her Bright Skies’ songwriting process has changed drastically between their first album and Rivals. “We work so much harder on the songs than we used to. We try different things and sometimes completely redo stuff just to see if it would work better. We also write lots of tunes and then narrow it down to 10-13 songs, instead of writing 15 songs and that’s it. For Rivals we wrote 50 songs, at least. We usually start with a rough take that contains intro, verse, and a chorus. If we manage to write good vocals for it then we finish it. If not, we just throw it out or save it for later.” What makes a song “good”? According to Nilsson, it’s not complicated. “All the parts fit perfectly and it has a memorable part that you long to hear again. Like a riff, a melody or a drum beat.” As far as lyrical inspirations, “It could be anything really. We all listen to so much music that just like a single word from any song in any genre could be the start of a whole song. But I got my favorites, like Thursday, The Dangerous Summer, and Brand New.”
Rivals is not the only Her Bright Skies album worth checking out. Causing a Scene features two of Nilsson’s personal favorites. “I remember when we heard the mixed version of Little Miss Obvious. We were so excited and knew it was gonna be appreciated by our fans.” Sold Our Souls (To Rock & Roll) is his favorite to perform live. “It’s got epicness and heaviness at the same time, and we used to have it as an intro song.”
Though to some of us watching from the outside it may seem like a glamorous life, being in a band isn’t all sunshine and roses. “The hardest part is when something you really looked forward to gets cancelled or some things just don’t work out. It really brings your spirit down.” And of course, there are the comforts of home they miss while living life on the road: “family and friends, bed, sofa, Xbox, and proper food.” But though there may be rough patches, Her Bright Skies’ love for the music and their fans keeps them going. “When something good you didn’t expect happens, it’s an awesome feeling. Like when you expect a show to suck and the people there are just going crazy and loving your show, that’s something out of the ordinary. Or when you get to hang out with your amazing fans and you get so much appreciation. It makes it all worth it.”
Nilsson says that his idea of musical success would be touring the world and getting paid enough to pay the bills, but clearly the band continues to strive to do more than just break even financially. “We always have goals set but once we reach them, we set new ones. We’re never happy. Things can always get better. It’s stressful, but I think it pays off in the end.” To be able to reach those goals, it helps to have some outside interests to take your mind off things from time to time. When the guys are not perfecting their musical craft they all have other hobbies. “Some of us design prints, I DJ, and the other guys enjoy building stuff, and paint.”
The band (which Nilsson joking refers to as a bunch of “half-ass musicians, but with a lot of heart”) will be touring Europe with Royal Republic beginning in January, but Rivals may be their opportunity to make a splash in the US market. Nilsson enjoyed the time spent in New York while recording. “The U.S. is so different from our home country, but similar in many ways as well. It doesn’t feel like you’re halfway around the world at all.” But he says American success won’t change the band. “We’ve always done things our own way and will continue doing so. But of course it’s a whole new country to tour. So puzzling our lives together with touring life will get harder for sure. “
The band members are all still quite young and unquestionably have many years of performing left in them. But when the sun does finally set on the band, what does Pete want their musical legacy to be? “It would be nice to be remembered as a band people grew up listening to. Like the heroes we have from our teenage years.”
Nilsson’s final thought that he would like to share with the readers of Screamer: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get. Forrest Gump said that. I like chocolate.”
Check out Rivals on Itunes and also make sure to check out the video for the album’s contagious first single, Lovekills.