Norwegian old school/prog rock punk/metal hybrid quartet, Span, are lounged around in the dungeon-esque basement dressing room of the intimate Southampton, England, venue the Joiners, giggling like stoned teenagers preparing for the latest of a torrent of UK dates already played at this early point in 2004.
Performing a quick sniff test to clarify the actual lack of wacky baccy, Soul Shine takes a seat and whips out the voice recorder to gauge what is the catalyst behind the unerring inane chuckling. The band's debut album, 'Mass Distraction', is set for its UK release in the morning, and it's hard to tell from this meeting whether they're unflustered, buoyantly anticipant, or simply cracking up.
"I haven't really been thinking much about it, because there's been so much touring going on, and, I dunno, I haven't give it very much thought. I hope it's gonna do alright, and apart from that I dunno," says the interview's most vocal contributor, and vertically laid back guitarist, Joff Nilsen, suggesting the band's mood is more the former.
But scratching further beneath their apparent indifference, you get the feeling that Span are a little frustrated with the wait, and with fielding promotional questions regarding the LP's release. Snapped-up by mega-label Island Records a year ago, progress for Span has been a little stuttered. Their studio time for 'Mass Distraction' concluded back in March last year, and it was supposed to be available from September.
"We're probably going to go mad. We're probably going to go into a great depression when that album comes out, because you identify yourself with a certain situation and you're not in that situation," says neurotic lead singer, Jarle Bernhoft, more candidly extrovert than genuinely concerned.
"We are a band with no album in the stores, yes? This is the last night?"
"WHO ARE WE? WHO ARE WE? WE ARE NOT OURSELVES ANYMORE. WE HAVE NO IDEA WHO WE ARE," he bellows, partially underlining his fatigue with the soon-to-be-released status, and more overly thankful at the prospect of relinquishing the said tag.
Span's development as a band hasn't been as swift as their biography might suggest. Joff and Jarle had previously released an album under a different name, 'Explicit Lyrics', in their native country several years ago, but releasing a record with Island means success is expected. Joff seems unperturbed by the pressure, however.
"I think they need the results, or they are feeling the pressure more than we do. At the end of the day, there's a work split here. They've delivered the album that we wanted to deliver; they're the ones who have to make it sell. Because we've done our part, they're really happy with what we've done. And if that works, then good for us, and if it doesn't, then we've done what we wanted to do," he says.
Judging by the reaction of this evening's crowd, there's a fair chance that Island won't be too disappointed. Span's chunky riffs and punky take on more classic rock hooks doesn't exactly break any boundaries, but a good portion of the sold-out audience are convinced, singing along with almost every tune, their knowledge drawn from internet downloads.
Previous singles 'Don't Think The Way They Do' and 'Found' get particularly rapturous receptions, the latter even sparking off a bout of crowd surfing, something virtually unknown in a venue where there's not really anywhere to go once you're aloft. But this is the fourth time Span has played in Southampton, and their efforts to spread the word have been very effective. Soul Shine enquires what they think it is about the band's live shows that draws not only crowds, but also big label attention.
"Give-aways!" drummer Fredrik Wallumrod pipes up.
"Yeah we try to give away as many T-shirts as possible, and we pay people to come to these gigs; we try to keep it quiet though," Joff says.
"No, but [seriously], we've been touring quite a bit, and on this tour we can see that that worked and if you keep going back to towns again and again then there's more and more people there. It's such a great relief, seeing that this thing we're doing is working, because if it wasn't we'd be fucked."
A true enough statement, but a doubtful prospect if you believe the band's official literature. Most reports suggest that Span turned down a few major offers from the likes of BMG, bearing their time before signing the right deal with Island.
But this evening, the word from the horse's mouth says different, even though this particular horse clearly has its tongue lodged firmly in its cheek.
"I think they turned us down, actually," Joff counters to the suggestion that Span gave BMG the thumbs down after label reps had seen the band perform at Manchester event 'In the City' late in 2002.
"We turned them up, they turned us down," says Fredrik. "It's like when you're at a party, and you go oh, oh, I like this song, and you go [gestures as if turning up a stereo], and they're like oh [gestures as if disinterestedly and dismissively turning fictional stereo down]."
Joff provides a slightly more rambling and even less serious metaphor: "It's like when you're at a party and you're single and there's like four girls there, two beautiful ones, and then the ugly one comes and makes a pass at you, and you go, "Oi fuck off," and then you try to make a pass at the beautiful one, and it doesn't work, and it's like three O'clock in the morning and you're fucking drunk, and you try to get the ugly one instead, and that doesn't work even, then you have to pick up some girl at the bus stop which looks like fucking hell, and that's Island Records for you."
The entire band fall about in fits of laughter, with the guitarist clearly walking his way to this evening's prize for how to take the piss answering an over-asked question. Soul Shine gives it one more go with surely the most tiresome: What was it like working with the producer Gil Norton (Foo Fighters, Pixies et al.) on the album?
A furious scrap to shout the loudest disparaging joke ensues, with answers flying simultaneously from five directions (that's right, the tour manager joins in).
"It was really boring. He's SUCH a boring man. He's got no sense of humour, he's probably 116 years old, and he can't speak straight..."
"And he doesn't produce..."
"No, he sits in his chair and drinks coffee..."
"And he sings these songs while we try to focus on what we're doing, he goes, "AARRRGG LAH LAH LAH," and we're like, "Gil, shut up, we're working!" It was a fucking drag, man."
But while those extra months of talking about their 'forthcoming' album, teetering on a precipice of the unknown, seems fair reason for Span's reticence to taking themselves too seriously, it is outwardly apparent that rock is still the most stern of pursuits for the group.
Touring is what the band loves, and they assure Soul Shine that they'll be continuing their travels right through 2004.
"When you didn't have anything to do, when you had a week or two off, then you got really depressed because nothing was happening and nothing was moving forward," Joff says of their transitional period. "But as long as you're on the road and actually doing something, or in the studio recording, or just working, then everything is liveable."
The long-standing questions over what's next for Span will surely be answered over the next 12-months, but their grass-root live campaigning seems to be doing the trick thus far. And while the crowds continue to go mad for the Scandinavian four-piece, they appear to have their defence mechanism of indifference and humour sorted. With any luck, it will be a while before they crack up yet.
Writer: Tim Newbound