Les Big Byrd

Psych rock royalty Joakim Åhlund is the frontman and mastermind of Sweden’s sonical cosmonauts Les Big Byrd, back with a new album “Eternal Light Brigade”. Åhlund tells The Forumist about failure to achieve one’s own musical goals, always with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. 

Joakim Åhlund – known as “Jocke” to his many friends, collaborators, and fans – has his studio space in one of the picturesque cottages in the Vita Bergen park in central Stockholm. Here, he creates the magic sounds of his countless musical projects. One of these is Les Big Byrd, a prominent force in the blossoming Swedish psych-rock scene. The group’s latest effort, their third full-length album with the ELO-Esque title “Eternal Light Brigade”, just hit the shelves and Les Big Byrd has just started hitting the stages of Sweden and Europe on an ongoing tour. 

“At first we wanted to sound like [Swedish psychedelic groove pioneers] Träd, Gräs & Stenar, but we ended up sounding more like a combination of [Swedish glam pop band] Gyllene Tider and Motörhead, “ Jocke says, laughing heartily in his cozy Vita Bergen studio. According to Jocke’s vision for Les Big Byrd (which does not entirely align with reality), they are mostly an instrumental band. In truth, he can’t escape his own talent for simple but genius vocal melodies, and thus the vocals always tie his work together in the end. 

As one of the centerpieces of the Swedish music cosmos, with a resumé containing greats like Teddybears and Caesars among many others, Jocke sees himself as a curator of sorts. The number of bands he has rounded up and brought to fame is actually quite baffling. He is the spider in the web, bringing creative minds together in contexts that perhaps are initially only clear to the spider himself. 
”I’m a doer, with some sort of vision,” he says. ”I wouldn’t say I’m the most skilled musician, but I can get things going.” 

Looking back at the fifteen-or-so years that Les Big Byrd has been around, Jocke claims that the band always had a musical ambition, but landed quite far from it:
“It’s like when Christopher Columbus tried to go to India but ended up in North America instead,” he says in his usual joking manner. “But, you have to accept what you get. We always try to be versatile, but I guess we’re just too limited as musicians.”
Jocke’s way of humorously beating himself down pops up continuously throughout the interview. As the chief lyricist of Les Big Byrd, he at least seems able to pat himself on the back for his penmanship. He is much less pleased with his own vocal abilities though. 
“I’m happy as long as the vocals don’t get in the way of the music. I’m not that fond of my singing voice, you know. I’m just the singer in this band due to necessity. The lyrics are very personal, so no matter how bad my singing is, I’m the one who needs to say these words.” 

Speaking of Swedish alternative rock’n’roll today is difficult without mentioning the non-stop freight train Viagra Boys, a band that Jocke believes in some way may have rubbed off on Les Big Byrd. Noting that it is actually quite remarkable how a bunch of Swedish kraut outcasts like the Viagras has reached such massive fame, Jocke realizes that the same can be thought of as Les Big Byrd as well. 

“It’s funny that a dodgy rock band like Viagra Boys can do so good in this day and age. It’s also weird that anyone wants to come to see Les Big Byrd play: We’re just a gang of weird old men in our fifties who play space rock on guitars. That’s just strange.”

Words by Filip Lindström
Photography by John Scarisbrick