"Why would anyone leave The Hellacopters now?" I said to myself, staring at a promo poster for The Backyard Babies' sophomore album, "Total 13", hanging on the walls of the now defunct Toronto punk rock record store, Full Blast.
The Backyard Babies, from Nässjö, Sweden, were a Rock N' Roll quartet who, along with The Hellacopters from Stockholm, helped ignite the Scandinavian Rock Revival of the 1990s. Backyard Babies guitarist, Andreas Tyrone Svensson a.k.a. Dregen, co-founded both bands and was playing in both bands until mounting schedules from either side forced a decision.
Ultimately, he chose to leave behind the growing fanfare and Stateside interest of The Hellacopters to build it up again with his childhood buddies in The Backyard Babies. Definitely admirable, but as someone who was chasing the opportunity to make this Rock thing more than just a hobby, it was baffling to me.
In the mid to late 90's Garage Rock was a thriving underground with bands like The New Bomb Turks, Teengenerate, The Oblivions, The Makers, The Devil Dogs, Rocket From The Crypt, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, The Supersuckers and The Hellacopters at the top of the heap. Of course, this scene eventually died down but not before bands like The Hives and The White Stripes achieved overground success.
When it comes to Scandinavia's contribution, what started with The Hellacopters, Gluecifer and The Backyard Babies continues to thrive and churn out bands today like Graveyard, Free Fall, Bombus, Horisont, Witchcraft, Crystal Caravan and Bullet, while Denmark's Volbeat pretty much own the Rock scene in The States.
When we ended up playing with The Hellacopters for their US debut at the CMJ Music Festival in 1998, on the eve of their 3rd release, "Grande Rock", the line-up to get into the show snaked around the nightclub. Midway into their set a friend leaned over to me and yelled, "They're missing their key guy". He meant Dregen. Having only seen his picture on the back of the "Supershitty To The Max" Hellacopters album and the "Total 13" promo poster, I didn't really know what he meant but still the question lingered with me -- "Why would anyone leave The Hellacopters now?"
Flash Forward three years later to 2001 where we found ourselves on our first European tour playing the Malmo City Festival with none other than The Backyard Babies. Now was my chance to see what was worth passing up the elusive wave of tastemaker approval and Hellacopters hype. It took me only 3 minutes for me to understand. Here I was thinking Dregen's decision to leave The Hellacopters, however commendable, was ill-advised and presumptuous only to realize it was probably the best move he ever made. I watched with mouth agape as the The Backyard Babies tore through their set, churning out airtight Hard Rock; the kind of Hard Rock that makes you hum while you let it kick your ass. Each member locked in an unified beat with hair whipping to and fro, veins bulging and faces in blissful grimace. And there was Dregen, near-airborne with charisma shooting out like the stars one sees after getting punched in the face. He was Johnny Thunders, Iggy Pop, Angus Young, Nikki Sixx and Ace Frehley all mashed together. He was spellbinding.
A few weeks later we found ourselves sharing a tour bus with The Backyard Babies across Europe supporting them supporting their "Making Enemies Is Good" album. We didn't know each other past seeing each other's set and here we were for 6 weeks in the closest of quarters on a stinky Rock bus. What could've been the worst experience of my life turned into quite possibly the best tour we've ever done. The camaraderie established on this tour continues to this day.
Beyond the music itself, Rock N' Roll has always stood for freedom to me. Its lead characters embody this freedom the music only attempts to describe. So huge are these personalities that often one name is all they need. It's understood that Elvis was king but whether people know it or not, the title of King has long been superseded by Jimi, Keith, Ozzy, Lemmy and Iggy.
Even though it's hard to accept, as each of these figures move further away from their golden years and closer to their twilight years, the inevitable search to find their heirs apparent slowly begins. However, we live in a world now where being an individual is sold to the masses in convenient starter kits; where tattoo sleeves are as pedestrian as a new hat or a new pair of pants. It's getting hard to differentiate the genuine articles from the impersonators when everything we know and hold dear inevitably gets co-opted, appropriated, gentrified and codified.
Luckily, after being able to stay above water for almost 20 years in the music biz, my bullshit detector is fit enough to wade through the thickest of posers and capable enough to discern bona fide successors from the Pacific Mall knock-offs. And now on the eve of his long-awaited debut solo album, simply titled "Dregen", the man stands poised, ready to assume his rightful dominion. Hell, he knew this this was to be his long before anyone else figured it out.
Hail Hail Dregen, King Of Rock and that slippery Roll.
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