Sweden’s Caesars take a confident step out of the garage on their new album, Paper Tigers a lively, layered rock album informed as much by Lennon/McCartney as the 13th Floor Elevators and Stooges.
Hailed by Rolling Stone as “garage aesthetes” for their smart, tuneful takes on ‘60s psychedelic and garage rock on earlier records, the Caesars broaden their musical and lyrical palate on Paper Tigers, entering adulthood without abandoning their sense of taste and irony.
Produced by the band’s Joakim Åhlund, the album covers a wide range of moods, from the pulsing, buzzy guitar and organ rock of “Not The Fall That Hurts” and “Soul Chaser”, to the warm ‘60s soul of “My Heart is Breaking Down” to the introspective, textured “Your Time Is Near”, to the mellotron-accented “Winter Song”. The album’s lead track, “Spirit,” is perhaps its most ambitious song.
“It starts out real mellow,” Åhlund notes, “but builds into a real tornado towards the end. Quite the little epic actually, at least to be a Caesars song.” “Jerk It Out”, recently selected to be Apple’s new iPod song, is also included here in newly remixed fashion.
Paper Tigers is the fourth proper Caesars album, following on the heels of 2003’s compilation 39 Minutes of Bliss (In An Otherwise Meaningless World). Recorded following a busy year of touring the world in support of that release, Paper Tigers bears the mark of a band tending to cracks in their respective domestic worlds. “Soul Chaser” with its refrain, “you bent your mind you spent your life and end ended up with what? / but you’ve gone way too far by now to turn around”, examines the realization that carefree has slipped into adulthood. “Paper Tigers,” the album’s soaring title track, articulates the yearning for redemption: “It’s in every single one of us / looking for a single cause / hoping for a second shot”.
Åhlund produced the sessions, which began in winter 2003. “We did it in a few different sessions over a period of time. But that was with many breaks for touring, Betty Ford clinics and stuff. First we were in a studio called Silence. It is located deep in the dark Swedish forests near the Norwegian border. We had five great days there, it was in the middle of the dark winter of 03-04 and all the trees were covered in snow. We cooked dinners, drank wine and recorded some 9 tracks out there.”
Later sessions moved back to Stockholm’s Decibel Studios, then Åhlund’s own, newly acquired studio, which made for a slower, if more creative environment. “It’s like a little clubhouse for our friends and us, we just hang out there and listen to records a lot too. We have a mellotron and all our old mics and amps and things. It just makes it real easy to just be able to record whenever you get the inspiration and to not have to worry about studio cost and stressing for time and stuff.”
Mixing was done in New York in the fall of 2004 with Michael H. Brauer (Coldplay, Bob Dylan, Aimee Mann, Rolling Stones) with some finishing touches by Åhlund back in Stockholm.
Rewind to 1995 and the genesis of the Caesars, or Caesars Palace as they were known at home in Sweden (but renamed for the U.S. so as to not encourage the legal wrath of the Vegas casino); lead singer Cesar Vidal and guitarist Jocke Åhlund, childhood schoolmates, fell into the band as a lark. Along with other friends David Lindqvist and Jens Örjeheim (who was soon replaced by current drummer Nino Keller) and armed with only rudimentary playing skills, the Caesars produced a raw, ear-splitting series of 7”s and EPs for the fledgling Dolores label, for whom they still record.
“We knew this guy named Isse, and he ran a record label down in Gothenburg in Sweden,” recalls Åhlund. “So when he heard the stuff – he heard our first demo, and he just put that out right away as our first seven inch single. We had like 20 fans here in Sweden. But we got a good review in Maximum Rock’n’Roll for that single, which I’ve still kept. It says something like ‘This is good stuff if you like to annoy your neighbors.’”
The roots of the band’s current style were evident in those first recordings, according to Jocke: “We listened a lot to garage rock and psychedelia like the 13th Floor Elevators and Billy Childish and the Sonics and stuff like that, but also Sonic Youth and Pavement. In the beginning our sound was a little different from today. A lot rawer, but still with some great melodies somewhere underneath all those fuzzed out guitars. We didn’t have the organ at that stage, and since I’d just started to learn to play the guitar, I couldn’t play and sing at the same time, so there are none of those beautiful Beach Boys harmonies that we got to use later. But it’s still good stuff, and it’s not light years apart from what we’re doing now, just an earlier, more primitive version of what later became the Caesars' sound.”
Their first album, 1998’s Youth Is Wasted On The Young saw that early rawness tempered with just enough studio know how to result in a catchy, wickedly fun romp of an album. It was licensed in the U.S. by indie Minty Fresh Records, who christened the band the “12 Caesars”, to further confuse matters. “We wanted to call ourselves The Caesarians,” Åhlund remembers. “But they thought that was too vulgar or something. But we got stuck with the Twelve Caesars and now we’re just the Caesars and it’s all very confusing for all the 200 people who may have bought the first record!”
The album did well in Sweden, however, as did the 2000 follow up Cherry Kicks, which received no Stateside release. 2002’s Love For The Streets brought the band relative stardom at home, selling Gold and securing the band a Swedish Grammy award for "Album of the year", as well as cementing their status as on of the country’s most influential and popular bands. It was on the back of this success that Virgin Records released 39 Minutes of Bliss internationally (and through Astralwerks in the US). The release introduced the band all over the world causing them to tour the UK, Europe, US and Japan over the course of 2003.
The track “Jerk It Out” was a ubiquitous minor hit, appearing on the radio and in more than a handful of TV shows, films and now the iPod ad. Comments Ahlund on the song’s fuzzy meaning, “It means to just let out some steam, freak out, let yourself go, get crazy etc. All that stuff. Don’t feel ashamed of your different and weird sides ‘cause they’re what makes you beautiful.”
As for the band’s hopes for this album, they are relatively simple. “I really wish that people would put the record on when they are having a house party with their friends and just scream and shout and dance to it. Let you freak flag fly!”, exclaims Ahlund. “Or that they put it on when they’re all alone and sad and when they broke up with their girlfriend. Or put it on in your car stereo and shout along with the lyrics. I wish people would put it on in their headphones and walk around on town feeling tough and cool listening to it. Or that it makes them want to kick their boyfriend out…or call him and make up. You know pretty much what I do with the records that I love best…”
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