Nicke Andersson first co-founded the Hellacopters in the mid ‘90s during time away from his day job – serving as the drummer in “death ‘n’ roll” act Entombed. Soon enough, the Hellacopters, with Andersson moving out from behind the kit to serve as lead singer and guitarist, became their own beast, exploding on to the scene with their 1996 debut, Supershitty to the Max. From there, it’s arguable that few, if any, bands rocked the ‘90s and early 2000s with as much style, swagger, wit and attitude as the Swedish troupe.
But after a series of well-received albums, the band called it quits in 2008, after which Andersson went on to form the similarly rocking Imperial State Electric and the more extreme-metal-leaning Death Breath, as well as dip his toe into a variety of other musical projects (he even served as a touring guitarist in the MC5 for a spell). A few years back, the Hellacopters reunited for a festival gig, and have been playing live ever since. Now, the reconstituted band (which also once again includes original guitarist Dregen, also of Backyard Babies) have unleashed their first record in roughly 15 years, the rather awesome Eyes of Oblivion, which like the best Hellacopters work, is a raw and raucous amalgam of garage-punk, classic hard rock and Detroit-style rave ups, with elements of vintage metal, soul and even country mixed in for good measure.
If the music world desperately needed the Hellacopters’ amped-up, pushed-to-the-red rock ‘n’ roll 25 years ago, it’s likely that we need it even more now. “I think there is a place for us today, because there’s nothing that sounds like us out there,” Andersson tells Metal Edge. As for what he thinks younger rock fans will make of them? “We're gonna show 'em that these old farts can do it,” he says. “That means you can do it as well.”
This is the first Hellacopters record of original material in more than 15 years. Why now, and what took you so long?
Nicke Andersson: Well, we broke up, for starters! And that was permanent. In 2008, when we did break up, there was no intention of doing anything else. Not from me, anyway. The other guys might have different answers, but I thought that was it. We were together for, like, 16 years. And I thought, That's a pretty good amount of years for any band. So there were a lot of reasons we ended it, but part of it was that I wanted to move on and try something else. But even after a year people were already asking if we wanted to do a reunion, and I always thought, Nope, we broke up and we're gonna stay broken up. But then this Sweden Rock Festival was really persistent, and I think in 2015 somebody mentioned that the next year would be 20 years since our first album, so we thought, Okay, maybe we should try it. And we also said that we wanted to make it as good as humanly possible. People couldn’t go home from that show and say, “Ah, it was better in 2005…” That was very important to us.
So how did it go?
Andersson: The show turned out really good. And I didn't realize that so many people had actually missed us. That was quite overwhelming and a very nice feeling. So, yeah, we wanted to play some more, but we also always said, “Let's just take it one day at a time and not have a five-year plan or anything.” And eventually we played more shows, and then we started talking about, “Maybe we should try to record a new album…”
When it came to making the new record, what, if anything, feels different to you about Hellacopters music in 2022?
Andersson: Musically, I don't know. It's not really for me to say. But I think that working together, maybe it's easier now because we're a little bit older and we probably gained a little bit of experience. I mean, I'm still the control freak that I've always been, but maybe I'm also a little less of a dick to the other guys. Or I’m hoping I am. [laughs] But it felt pretty good to record together again. In some ways I would say it felt better, because we’re all in the same place now, you know? We're all on the same page as to why we're recording, and that the main reason shouldn’t be just to make another album, but to have fun with it. Because if it isn't fun, then what's the point?
How do you feel the Hellacopters fit into the current rock landscape?
Andersson: I wish I knew more about the current rock landscape. I don't know anything about it. I mean, I know a few bands here and there, but they're quite underground. Mainstream music, we don't even have to talk about it – I don’t think there’s really any rock or guitars in mainstream music. Metal is a different thing, but as far as rock ‘n’ roll, I don't know many bands. If I would mention any bands, they’d probably be ones you’ve never heard of, because they're so underground. So in that sense, I think there is a place for us, because there's nothing that sounds like us out there. Maybe. I'm just hoping here. Actually, I hope that there's a young band or young bands that come and just tell us to fuck off, you know? Have these young rock ‘n’ roll bands that knock me off my feet and I just retire. That that's what I want. But until then I think we should do this.
What bands would you point to as the core inspiration for the Hellacopters sound?
Andersson: I would say there are three bands, and these would be among the three first bands I got into when I was a kid. When I was seven I got into Kiss, and that's what opened the door for me, really. That's how I got into rock music. I was into dinosaurs, Star Wars... and Kiss! But then I got into punk rock, and my friend, Kenny [Håkansson], who used to play bass in the band, his dad had a couple of records by the Ramones and the Sex Pistols and the Damned. So that shaped me a little bit. And then obviously I got into extreme metal, like Venom and Metallica and even bands toward death metal. But I think for me as a kid, I would say the bands were the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and Kiss. That's what got me into this and kind of shaped my songwriting.
That said, I also listen to a lot of soul music from the ‘60s. I really like Southern-type soul that has a little blues and country in it. And also Southern rock like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Outlaws. I think if you want to hear it, you'll hear it in our music. Maybe it's not so obvious but it's there. But basically I like anything with guitar from the ‘60s and ‘70s. Not so much the ‘80s, unless it’s extreme metal.
So you’re not into the ‘80s hard rock or glam thing.
Andersson: Well, here's the funny thing. I did get into Mötley Crüe when I was young, around 13 maybe ,and I thought they were really cool. I saw them in ‘86, I think. But you know, when you're a kid everything happens so fast. So this was maybe spring of ’86, and by the fall of ‘86 I had totally put Mötley Crüe in the trash bin and it was all Celtic Frost and Anthrax and speed metal and thrash metal. So I don't think I was ever a big fan of the Sunset Strip thing. I do like glam rock in the British sense of the word, like Slade and Sweet and Suzi Quatro. I really love that. But when it comes to what people refer to as “sleaze rock,” I'm not a huge fan. No.
Is there a band that has always flown below the radar that you would suggest people who like the Hellacopters should check out?
Andersson: My friend Kenny, a long time ago he showed me this band from Sweden called Union Carbide Productions, and they blew me away. I think their first album came out in ’87, and I was saying, “What the hell is this? This is like hard rock, but it's also punk, but it's neither at the same time.” They made three albums, or maybe even four. And then they broke up in maybe ‘91 or something. And apparently their biggest influences were the Stooges and MC5. So I got introduced to the Stooges and the MC5 through Union Carbide Productions, which, to this day, I'm very grateful for. Because that has been a huge part of the Hellacopters sound, that Detroit rock ‘n’ roll stuff.
What is the worst show that the Hellacopters ever played?
Andersson: Oh, it must have been one of the earlier ones, because we were mostly drunk all the time. I think in the very beginning we focused a little too much on having a good time, which… some of the shows suffered from that. And that is not something I'm not proud of. I mean, there was probably not more than 15 people at the shows in the beginning, but they still paid something to get in, so you should be professional enough to deliver. And sometimes we weren’t and we didn’t. I can't think of any specific show, but it has to be one of the first 10.
Ever have a crazy mishap on stage?
Andersson: The worst thing that happened to me, I think it was with the band I had after the Hellacopters broke up, Imperial State Electric. I was trying to be a little cheap on tour and not bring so much stuff, and I realized if I cut out wearing underwear onstage I would have to do the laundry. So I did what I think is called going commando, just putting your jeans on without underwear. And that kinda worked, until a show in Spain where my pants ripped. Then it didn't work anymore! I had to run to the side of the stage, to our friend who was tech-ing for us, and I was like, “Do you have some black duct tape? Make me a duct-tape diaper!” Because the set wasn't over yet. So we did it, and I had continue with this thing on. That wasn't my greatest moment. It was probably fun for the people who saw it, though.
Just to be clear, you used the duct-tape on your pants, correct?
Andersson: Yeah. For the last two songs or something. To keep them together.
Okay. But not actually as underwear. Which, I would imagine, would be extremely painful.
Andersson: Right. Although it was still a little painful getting that thing off!