Queue up Shapes, the stunning and powerful new album from Chicago-based indie band Love In October, and you'll quickly realize you've discovered something musically fresh and special. The steadily-pulsing and energized opening track, "Time Cop," sets the pace and establishes the charged, rock solid musical bar for all that follows. What starts off sounding like a nod to Retro/New Wave bands like The Cars, The Knack and The Police, becomes electrified and amplified into a series of screamed HHHEEEYYY!!'s that make you think you're listening to new Frank Black and the Pixies. Love In October's edgy, melodic sound blends lo-fi fuzzy guitars, pop hooks, and a broken drum machine, taking inspiration from bands like the Strokes, Pixies, Nirvana, and Modest Mouse in a 2019 setting.
Love In October is the musical project of siblings Erik and Kent Widman. Though currently based in Chicago, the band easily traces its roots back to Sweden. Their stateside move took place when Erik (vocals, guitar) relocated from his native Sweden to Michigan in 2000 to attend college, with his brother Kent (bass) following two years later. In 2006, both relocated again together, this time to Minneapolis, where the longtime musical partners started up a new project entitled Love in October.
As the band prepares to kick off a limited series of live performances this summer, including the 54th Annual Andersonville Midsommarfest street festival in this historically Swedish north side Chicago neighborhood, SoundThread Music Blog caught up with the brothers Widman to chat about the new album, origins of the band, and their musical influences and inspirations.
Love In October's Erik Widman reminisces about the early formative years in Sweden, explaining, "I started playing guitar when I was 13 and formed a band with my friends. Our mom bought Kent a bass and made him part of the band, as moms do, and the rest is history." With modest self-funding, their sights were set high even in this early musical incarnation. Kent explains, "We were a Nirvana/Foo Fighters cover band in our early teenage years. We had a paper route together to save up some money, and Erik picked up a used Tascam 8-track cassette recorder and some cheap mics, and we released our first full-length album when we were 15 and 17, respectively."
Over the years, the duo has branded themselves under different names, including the more recent moniker of Eight Bit Tiger. Looking further back, Erik comments, "Our high school band was called Ambush. In college, we formed a band called Zambonie which had a lot of Weezer (Pinkerton-era) influence. After college, we moved to Minneapolis and formed Love in October because we were listening to bands like Motion City Soundtrack and great music was coming from the Twin Cities.
LOVE IN OCTOBER @ SCHUBAS TAVERN | CHICAGO, IL | APRIL 5, 2019
The band's new album, Shapes, follows a series of impressive, self-titled EP's that include Love In October II (2011) and Love In October III (2016). While the latter EP is arguably the closest to the band’s current overall sound and style, Shapes is their most cohesive and focused effort to date, denoting a new chapter for the band. "Shapes represents a different approach from what we have done in the past," Erik notes. "It felt like we were putting together our favorite songs for a lo-fi mixtape. This record sounds more intimate, and the lyrics are more honest than our previous albums." From a music and production perspective, Kent explains, "Typically, we use many guitars, amps, and synths when we record, but for this album we took a less is more approach and decided to limit ourselves to one guitar, amp, and drum kit and see how many songs we could write around that sound. I also focused on making the melodies as simple as possible, kind of like nursery rhymes, so they would command the listener’s attention."
On Shapes, we find Love In October reflecting on the state of the world, love, memories, uncertainty, and the future. It's clearly an attention grabber, even from a first listen. Erik comments on the songwriting and collaborative process that's at work here, explaining, "We definitely have complementing skill sets. Kent has an ear for rhythms, while I am more focused on melody. Both of us contribute song ideas and riffs, while I write all the lyrics. Sometimes Kent will offer suggestions for lyric themes which is helpful. On this album, our guitarist Chris Limerinos added some very tasteful lead guitar melodies, like the chorus hook on 'Time Cop.' Music is a team sport and we are our best when everybody plays to their strengths."
LOVE IN OCTOBER "TIME COP" (Official Music Video)
Similarly, the band's complementary musical influences play a part in their collaborative creative process. Kent comments, "Many different bands have inspired us sonically, songwriting- and lyric-wise throughout this album. The opener 'Time Cop' is a blend between a Cars song mixed with some Pixies. Many songs are mixes of different bands, which makes our songs sound very different from each other. A Swedish band I would like to tip the hat to is Bob Hund and their early albums. They have always been an influence for us." Thinking back to the early days, Erik notes, "I think my Mom's record collection had a big impact on me as a child. I would mostly listen to Motown (Jackson 5, Temptations) and Swedish pop music, and I think that engrained a pop sensibility in me that formed my future song writing."
Shapes has already yielded four solid single releases ("I Don’t Want To Die Tonight", "Surf Rock City", "Time Cop" and "Stuck"). The infectious "Surf Rock City" is a clear album highlight, with its sing-along chorus, killer guitar hooks and lo-fi vocals and musical style that sonically hovers somewhere between early New Wave and melodic Surf Punk.
I asked how a standout track like "Surf Rock City" comes to life. "I wondered what it would be like if Joy Division had written a surf song," Kent reveals. "So, I recorded a demo starting with the synth string patch playing a sad melody, which we simplified later. I then layered in a bass and drum machine. I played my rough demo for Erik with a few ideas for the chorus lyrics." Erik remarks, "Kent's demo had a completely different melody. I added the guitar hook to his backing track and changed the lyrics and melody and it came together somewhat effortlessly. I wanted to do something different vocally on this track, so I decided to try to sound like a drunken Johnny Cash. I like vocals that are cartoonish…it paints a more vivid picture." Kent adds, "We rearranged and reshaped some, but the main idea for the song stayed the same. This is usually the case where one of us will have a good start for a song idea and then the other comes in and helps out."
LOVE IN OCTOBER "SURF ROCK CITY" (Official Music Video)
While Shapes presents a variety of impressive, cohesive, and complementary musical styles and lyrical themes, there's one that sums up the album for Love In October. "'Late Night' is a great summary of what the album is about both musically and lyrically," Erik explains. "We often try to write counter rhythms and melodies between the guitars and bass to make it musically interesting, and this song is a great example of that. I also like the storytelling of the lyrics and the psychedelic ending."
And, finally, what's the story on that broken LinnDrum machine? It doesn't sound too broken on the album. I can recall The Human League’s Dare! being one of the first albums that used the LinnDrum machine throughout. "We love Human League and that era of music definitely influenced the album," Erik replies. "If you compare our LinnDrum machine sound to the 80’s bands, you’ll notice that our drum sound is much more crunchy and distorted. A perfect example is 'I Don’t Want to Die Tonight.' We wanted our drums to sound like we had a broken LinnDrum that distorted and sounded like it was ready to explode." Kent adds, "Part of just sticking to the LinnDrum was to limit ourselves on purpose so we could focus more on songwriting than producing. It also helped the album stay sonically cohesive."
Love In October’s next performance takes place at Chicago’s Andersonville Midsommarfest street festival (June 7-9). The band takes stage at 4:00pm on Saturday, June 8, relating, "We're going to play an extended 90-minute set and pull out some hidden gems and maybe a cover or two." Be sure to catch their performance if Chicago is home or you find yourself in that neck of the woods. The band notes that additional Love In October performances are in the works, with details to be announced in the coming weeks.
Thanks to Erik and Kent for providing all the insightful responses!
For more information on Love In October, visit the band's official website, follow on social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube) and find their music on Spotify, Amazon, and iTunes.