Earlier this year, Vanyaland was caught off guard in the best sense of the phrase by “The Promise,” the first English language single by Refused frontman Dennis Lyxzén’s INVSN project. Given his forays into less abrasive work like The (International) Noise Conspiracy, we knew Lyxzén was no one-punk pony, but we weren’t so accustomed to post-punk salvos like that coming from places outside of Manchester. The entirety of the album, which is the third by the group (two others were in Swedish and put out under the name Invasionen) is just as solid, astonishing and waiting to be shot up by Joy Division and Sisters of Mercy addicts alike.
Coming off the massively successful Refused reunion tour from last year, an invigorated Lyxzén went right back to work on INVSN. Vanyaland caught up with him while headed to a gig in Michigan last week. Good-humored and engaging, he was eager to talk politics woven into his lyrics no matter what the music, the future of Refused and the story behind that outfit’s perplexing video for “New Noise.”
Michael Christopher: Here in the States, where a lot of people are hearing of INVSN for the first time, I think there was some surprise when “The Promise” came out, given the sound of your work with Refused, The (International) Noise Conspiracy and AC4.
Dennis Lyxzén: If you’ve followed what I’ve done through life, I’ve always tried different things, new things. I guess if you’re familiar with Refused, it’s really different. We’ve already done two records in Swedish, but for a lot of people it’s a brand new thing.
What appeals to you about the post-punk sound?
I think organically we came to this sound by playing music and experimenting. Things move organically and you always want to push yourself with it. Some of the sounds we’re creating with INVSN aren’t new, but they’re new for us. And for me, as a restless person [experimenting with sounds] it happens quite naturally.
Were there any specific acts in the genre you looked to as an influence?
Just, like the regular post-punk, new wave, and punk rock stuff; take a little bit here, take a little bit there — it’s not like there’s a certain band or a certain artist that influenced us. It was more like an idea.
Outside of pop music from Sweden, you’re one of the few artists that have become well known here, obviously with Refused and The INC. Was it the profile of those bands that led you to do an English language release for INVSN?
Yeah, partly. When The INC went on hiatus, it was kind of nice to go back and start writing in Swedish again, because most of my career has been outside of Sweden; I toured the United States 25 times or something like that. But once [INVSN] started to gel a little bit, it was frustrating to be able to play only 15 shows a year. Also, all my friends in the States, all my friends in Europe were like, “What you’re doing is really good, we want to hear the English versions; we want to know what you’re singing about.” And then Razor & Tie got in touch and said, “We at least want your next record in English.” We said, OK, let’s do this, let’s give this band a proper try.
You mentioned before about being a restless person. Does that carry into being on tour too? Because as you said, you can only do a handful of dates in Sweden a year.
The touring is just my life – it’s what I do [laughs]. I always have to move forward. When I stay home and I become stationary too long it just freaks me out. Maybe it’s good for the restless soul to go from one place to another and trying new things every night.
English language people are finally getting to hear what you are singing about with INVSN. Not surprisingly, as you’ve always been political in your lyrics, INVSN follows a similar path. And I suppose this question goes for any of your bands, do you ever fear alienating a section of your audience who might not agree?
No, not really. Of course I know that once I start spouting off, “I hate capitalist France,” there will be a couple of people that are not going to like my band. That’s just who I am, and they might not like me anyway. I wouldn’t want to hide my political beliefs or the person that I am in a cynical attempt to sell more records. You have to stay true and honest to what you believe in and if that alienates people than that’s the way it is. There’s so many bands out there and their only concern is sales scans and, “you can’t say this, you can’t say that” and you want to hold hands with everybody and every other band in the world is great and you’re friends with everybody. I’m not that type of person, I call it like it is, I say what I feel and if that rubs people the wrong way that’s fine. If you’re a loudmouth type, not everyone is going to like you [laughs], that’s just how things are.
What I find most interesting about INVSN is that you’re still getting you ideals across, but this time it’s in a warmer, more inviting package musically. People might get swept up in the song before hearing the lyrics.
Yeah — it’s trickery [laughs]. It’s like, “These nice melodies, wow, these guys are really pop and beautiful,” and then they start listening to these dystopic rants from us and before they know it they are also going against capitalists… we’ll see if it works [laughs].
No, I mean, you’re correct; the sound of the music, there’s a poppy touch to it that I think tricks people into thinking that… there’s this idea that political music or rebel music has to be kind of aggressive or in your face? And I’ve done that for 20 years, I don’t have to be that in your face. But as you say, if you scratch the surface, it’s still there, there’s still a lot of politics and I’m saying the same things.
I want to talk briefly about the depth of the music scene in Sweden, which I initially got into via the  Hang the VJ DVD.
Oh wow… [laughs], yeah?
You’ve got bands so diverse like The Peepshows, Looptroop, Raised Fist, Liberator… how different is it today compared to 15 years ago when those acts were coming up?
It is different; that whole Burning Heart [Records] and their scene, it died down and changed around, but the music scene in Sweden has always been strong for a small country — we still create a lot of good music. It was late-’90s, early 2000s there was this whole thing billed as the “Swedish Invasion.” It’s not that full on anymore, but there’s still some fucking great underground music and great bands out there. [Swedish bands] are very conscious about how to play and how to act and it makes for good music.
Speaking of Swedish bands being conscious of how they act, one of the things that stuck out for me about the Refused reunion was how high energy it was — especially your stage presence. INVSN obviously requires much less movement from you. Do you find it hard to pull it back?
It’s a different energy; with Refused it’s so full on — it’s explosive. With INVSN it’s more restrained energy. I’m still getting used to it; with INVSN every song has its own movement and flow and dynamic, and we’ve only played 10 or 12 shows with these songs, so I’m still learning the movement of the music.
In recent interviews you’ve said the door is “slightly open” for more Refused, whether it’s new music or another tour. The feeling that you got by bringing the band back last year, could you imagine not coming back again?
I think we all felt that it was a special thing, like when you start your first band you can’t imagine that that is going to happen. But yeah, basing it on the last year, it would be pretty foolish to never do that again. We’ve definitely left the door open and we’ll see what happens.
A lot of people don’t know that when The Shape of Punk to Come came out, you weren’t playing music festivals like Coachella, you weren’t playing 5,000 seat venues. Was it a vindication for you to come back 15 years later and have so many people discover not only that record but delving into the history of Refused?
Not really, because what happened last year was never the ambition of the band. When we were young punks, that’s what we were; the places we played, that’s what we wanted to do. We played basements and small clubs and it was fine. Just coming back and changing from a punk rock band to some sort of weird arena rock band, it was never our ambition or goal. It was sort of vindication for our political ideas and for the record that we made that we felt at that time was a great record, but as a band, we never aspired to be that band – it was kind of crazy.
My last question, and one I’ve always wanted to ask you; what the hell is going on in the “New Noise” video?
[Laughs] What part?! So here’s the deal; we show up in this warehouse and there’s this guy Jocke, he plays in a band called Caesars and a band called Teddybears, and he’s an old friend of ours. He rented out all these Marshall stacks and he just hooks it up and says, “I’ve got some masks and fucking costumes that you’re going to wear and then we got this thing where you’re going to swing upside down — let’s go.” And that’s the video basically.
And it’s awesome!
There was no script, there was no idea beforehand, it was just, “We’re doing this, and maybe we should do this,” and, “Oh this thing is cool,” and we just did it and it turned into a pretty funny video [laughs].