April 18 marks the return of Sahara Hotnights.
“What If Leaving Is A Loving Thing” is their forth album, produced by Björn Yttling.
The new album was preceded by the single Cheek To Cheek, which is already one of the most played songs on Swedish radio and hit the prestigious Tracks chart’s no. 1 spot. While it is the sole track with a disco influence, it is representative of the inviting and attractive arrangements of the album as a whole.
Covering 10 songs in 37 minutes, the album recalls the classic LP, and will also be out on vinyl. It’s no coincidence. Sahara Hotnights have always been fond of exploring music that was made before the arrival of the CD format, and applicated their sound to a range of influences. This time around, the material is a bit more laid back and melancholic, but at the same time unashamedly melodic. Just listen to pop gems like Visit To Vienna, Salty Lips and Getting Away With Murder.
If Sahara Hotnights’ first album consisted of pop rock, the second one was punk pop, and their third effort power pop. The new album defies that type of categorization.
– Whatever we’ve created, it’s far from punk and garage rock, drummer Josephine Forsman says.
– You could say that we have been influenced by the records we tend to be most inspired by when we sometimes do our own DJ sets, adds singer/guitarist Maria Andersson.
They are referring to names like Stevie Nicks, Albert Hammond, later Saints albums, ABBA, Bryan Ferry... In short, artists with a firm love of songwriting and great production values. Even if you still can hear traces of the powerpop that inspired their previous album (Teenage Fanclub, Elvis Costello, Joe jackson, Big Star), the overall feeling is that the album is more varied, less intense and ”in your face”.
– A lot of care has been taken to find a great balance, Josephine confirms. Before, ballads have kind of been exceptions for us. We even had a hard time taking them seriously. Whereas now, they’re just as important as the rest of the material.
Which is obvious to anyone who hears the melancholic, suggestive sounds of No For An Answer.
If you are looking for proof that the band can still rock, look no further than songs like Puppy – complete with a cow bell that would make Blue Öyster Cult jealous – or the urban Keith Richards groove of Neon Lights.
Since their last album, Kiss And Tell, was released in 2004, Sahara Hotnights have toured in their native Sweden and internationally, started their own record company “Stand By Your Band”, written songs and contemplated who would be the right people to record their new album. In the end, they chose producer Björn Yttling and engineer Lasse Mårtén, who turned out to be the perfect team for the album the band wanted to make.
Björn, who is also one third of acclaimed trio Peter, Björn and John, was recommended by several of the band’s friends and colleagues, including Swedish solo artist Marit Bergman. It didn’t take the band long to realize that they had been right.
The band’s songwriters, Maria and Josephine, spent a long time doing pre-production together with Björn. They took the songs apart, re-built them again, tried different tempos – and agreed on three instruments that would be allowed in addition to the bands own line-up: Piano, saxophone and cow bell! This way, all ballast was thrown overboard, and no one was tempted to add a wall of guitars and synths once the recording had commenced.
Being well-prepared also resulted in the band’s smoothest recording sessions so far. The basic tracks were laid down in the Atlantis studios, after which the band relocated to Debibel studios, also in Stockholm, for overdubs and lead vocals. However, some of Maria’s guide vocals from Atlantis turned out to be so great that they ended up on the album.
Just like the music, Maria’s lyrics and vocals add a new dimension to the band’s songs. The words are thorough, yet emotional, and deal with different scenarios and aspects of human relations. Maria has always convinced, especially on-stage, but this time she oozes new confidence, having the ability to express differents moods, depending on what the song needs. Like the sporting elite, she seems to push less, while achieving more. On hearing songs like Static, it’s hard not to see her as a Swedish heiress to Chrissie Hynde – cool, yet sensual.
Like a lot of lyricists, Maria collects ideas and phrases over a long period of time, before finishing the lyrics at home.
The music also shows a new kind of authority. The band describe the overall sound as ”minimalistic-bombastic”. Which means that while each song consists of less parts, it sounds bigger.
One or two electric guitars. A distorted bass. A dry drum sound. Sparingly used backing vocals. Maybe some piano or a saxophone to enrichen the sound. But just like Jeff Lynne (whose ELO album Time, first solo album, Traveling Wilburys project and Tom Petty productions are among the band’s most important references), these parts create a whole that is delicious, inviting and has a lot of space.
Björn also helped the band separate the album from the live situation, something that they hadn’t felt entirely comfortable with in the past.
– Using a piano in the studio doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to use it live. They are two different worlds and we are confident enough on stage to challenge ourselves, says bassist Johanna Asplund.
Some albums you love immediately, but you tend to grow tired of them pretty soon. Others take a while to get into. What If leaving Is A Loving Thing is the kind of album that you get into at once – and it makes you want to stay.
The melodies are intact, the clothing new. Let’s just say that Sahara Hotnights have made their most complete album, full of songs that will works as good in clubs throughout the world, as well at festivals.