December 12, 2022

Over the years MÄRVEL, the Swedish masked band par excellence, has made its mark in the world of rock with a series of high quality rock albums and incendiary gigs. But the band is not known in Scandanavia as “The Barons Of High Energy Rock’N’Roll” for nothing! They have earned it, twenty years of history, twenty years of music, masks, sweat, great tunes, intense live shows, more sweat, screaming vocals, scorching riffs, killer bass lines, smashing drums, loads of high energy rock….and did I mention masks!

To commemorate these two decades of Linköping’s finest, we thought we’d open the musical history books and look back on these twenty years in the life of these guys. Let’s go through the dirt and the glory, with accounts from witnesses that saw it all, from the accomplices throughout all these years, and from the band themselves.

Over the next few months, courtesy of Daniel From Hell at the Spanish music review site rockandrollarmy.com (hola, Daniel!), we aim to post nine fortnightly stories covering nine Märvel albums, with recollections from other assorted musicians and hangers-on!; each post also incorporating an interview with the band undertaken by Daniel – one for each album!

Starting right now and ending in the Spring of 2023 with the release of a humungous double-album retrospective of Märvel’s finest, rarest and unreleased, a taster of which will be available shortly….Get ready for a Märvellous journey!

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CHAPTER 1 – IT CAME FROM THE CITY OF THE FIVE SMELLS

(Five Smell City, released 2005)

Five Smell City- the album cover!

2002…. Twilight fell upon the Colorado mountains, as John Steen, Ulrik Bostedt and Tony Samuelsson (three Swedish kids on a student exchange year in the US) were infused with the power of high energy rock by the ancient GODS OF ROCK (or was it tequila!). Thus were born Vocalo, Animalizer and The Ambassador, the superhero personalities that took the otherwise decent and diligent students into a rampage of alcohol, class absenteeism and deafening garage rock that resulted in the recording of their first EP Marvellous released via the independent NYC label New York Powerhitters (sadly the masters of this were lost in a fire).

Emil Skala – President of Märvel Army Sweden: “If Märvel were not around, Linköping would be a smaller, quieter city with a severe lack of rock’n’roll.”

Back in Sweden, Marvel (still missing an ‘umlaut’  – they would find it later) were in dire need of a label to release their music and corrupt the minds of young Swedes with their brand of rock; happily they struck gold when they crossed paths with a certain Mr. Juju Pelle…

Juju Pelle (the brains and brawl behind Black Juju Records): “We met through mutual friends back in the day. I was shocked there were guys out there who liked “Dressed to Kill”-era KISS and superhero comic books, just like I did. And when I realized they played high energy rock’n’roll music with an elevated sense of melody coupled with lyrics that were straight faced but with a twinkle in the eye my mind was blown. And I guess they looked at each other and said “Here’s this guy, who is obviously much less talented than us, but he is running a record label releasing limited edition 7” records and he likes the same things as us…”. It was a match made in heaven. And obviously I was a bit curious about three guys walking around with masks on….!

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The tremendous trio were now back in their hometown of Linköping, Östergötland, Sweden on account of having been deported from the US (sub-zero school grades, drinking binges, and riots and fist-fights with the law at gigs all contributing to their demise). However, the three characters that returned to the ‘city of the five smells’ were not the same that departed the land of elks, for they had sold their souls to rock’n’roll! No longer kids, but men. Men that were to become THE masked band of Linköping and rock the foundations of the city.

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Through Black Juju Records, the band released their first European EP Heroine Tracks in 2003, which comprised four superhero-infused tracks: Flame On, Spider, Eight Arms to Hold You and The Bigger The Harder The Fall. Like good supervillains some of these tracks would make a comeback later on…

Juju Pelle: “They had the songs for “Heroine Tracks” recorded. And I had released six records on my Black Juju label, so I was obviously running a super smooth operation out of my bedroom closet. They had a thousand ideas, and it was so much fun and such a pleasure to plan and release that 7” inch single.”

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A year later, the next EP Bedlam At The Embassy would see the light with another four track batch; Powers Of Attraction (see video at bottom), Since That Day, Son of A Gypsy and These Boots Are Made For Flying. At a time when releasing vinyl recordings was a ruinous business, this EP would inspire a whole generation of scandi-rockers.

Olle Hedenström (former Dead Lord member and guitarist extraordinaire): “I discovered Märvel through Myspace shortly after the Bedlam at the Embassy-7″ was released. I was digging as deep as I could in the action rock scene and instantly loved Märvel! I nagged them into coming to my hometown Sandviken playing the classic venue Kungen with one of my first bands DeDam. I remember that first show in Sandviken when I boasted about knowing how to play “These boots are made for flying” perfectly and that we should jam at the venue after the pub and afterparty. Märvel graciously accepted, just to find me too drunk to play and my sister falling over all the amps!”

The Drippers (purveyors of fine Swedish Action Rock): “We heard about Märvel in the first half of the 00’s, a time when mainstream rock was in a horrible state. But there was a lot of really good Rock N Roll bands in the underground. As fan of KISS, I used to read the KISS Army Sweden fanzine Destroyer. In one issue, there was a flyer inside. It showed a masked band with larger than life visuals. After that, I was hooked! This was before Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and even Myspace became the mega platforms that they are today, so the mystery of the group really grabbed me.”

As a fellow trio with a niche towards classic hard rock with strong hooks it’s hard not to be influenced by Märvel. I think what’s been most influential to me is their song writing.  They have an incredible rhythmic and dynamic approach, they really explore the whole spectrum of grooves in a very calculated and effective way. From swampy grooves to full on rockers via swinging boogies. They make sure to keep you on your toes at all times. And of course, the constant riffs. The riff will always be king.”

Juju Pelle: The “Bedlam at the Embassy” 7” contains so much laughter and crazy funny shit. I love it. BUT! This was before the vinyl renaissance. This was before social media. Hell, this was even before Myspace. There was no Bandcamp or Discogs. Time is weird. It feels like yesterday, but all this actually took place in the stone age… So, selling vinyl was difficult. A lot of sending records to record stores around Sweden and hoping to get money back, well hidden cash in an envelope of course. A lot of trading my extravagant record releases for European garage rock of dubious quality that still are in boxes in my garage. So the next step was of course to release CD’s. Because CD was king back then. With CDs I would be able to secure proper distribution and money would start flowing into my bank account, 50% of which turned out to be true.”

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The trio of friends subsequently ravaged mainland Europe by way of tour, conquering the hearts and minds of rockers everywhere. Like Super-Mario oozing red flowers of high energy searching for Princess Peach, it was the time to confront the first Final Boss… The time was ripe for recording their first full-length album.

Five Smell City was unleashed upon an unsuspecting world in 2005 (in CD form), both as a homage to, and inspiration from, their hometown. Flame On and The Bigger The Hard They Fall; plus Powers of Attraction and Since That Day from previous EPs were resurrected for the occasion, and the band re-recorded A Taste Of Platinum ´78 from the disappeared first EP Marvellous.  

Co-produced with Otto Leary, Five Smell City is a mega-punch of powerful drumming, over-the-top (lead) bass, crunching riffs and screaming vocals. Rock’n’roll, hard rock, funk, blues… all good stuff, thrown into the album in a highly explosive cocktail, “Märvel black label”! Dealing with the complex personalities and stories of superheroes and local characters alike, the album contains some of the milestones in the band’s live set, like the title track, Goddess On The Loose and Come In Out Of The Rain, the Parliament cover that Märvel made its own, turning it into a hard funk behemoth.

First album, and a classic from day one!

Juju Pelle: “Five Smell City is my favourite album. It’s the release I was most involved in. The music is great, the anticipation was high, the humour was so spot on and weird. “Goddess On The Loose” is an amazing song. It was great times! I remember when the CDs arrived from the pressing plant and they had folded that giant cover art-work the wrong way, Märvel sitting in masks, having to re-fold a thousand CD-sleeves. Even that was fun, at least that is how I remember it…. 

Josu Zubeldia a.k.a. Capitain Poon (President of Märvel Army Spain and lord and master of (now defunct) uber-cool true rock radio station El Behringer Del Capi): I have “Five Smell City” captured in my heart, as this was the album with which I discovered the band and marked me forever. A success, by the way, releasing it on vinyl last year, as it could not be that such a great album was available only in CD format.

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So that’s the background story about the first album.

As part of this joint venture, fellow musos Rock’n’rollarmy.com have undertaken a series of interviews with the band, allowing the band members themselves (The King, Speedo, The Vicar and The Burgher) to revisit their early days and their colossal first album, Five Smell City…. Over to you Daniel!

DFH: Hi guys! – So what compelled you three Swedish folk to form a band in Colorado, donning superhero masks and playing high energy rock and roll?

Speedo: It was either that or hockey, and we sucked at hockey. There comes a time when you need to choose a path in life between sports or music, you know.

The King: This is saying that music saved us from sports.

DFH: Can you tell about the path that you guys took after forming the band into recording your first Eps, including “Heroine Tracks” and “Bedlam At The Embassy” and finally into your first album, “Five Smell City”?

TK: Let me start – we had all been in other bands and Märvel was started just for fun as I remember it. It was a kind of music that I didn’t think I could play really. It was in my veins I guess because I had listened to rock and roll all my life, but we didn’t take it too seriously. But it was easy compared to other bands I had been in. Just a natural progression, you know? “Oh, fun”. “Let’s start playing, let’s write songs”. “Oh, let’s release something”. And everything was just evolving very easily, yeah. Without any plan or any…

SP: Effort.

TK: There was effort for sure, but it just felt like a natural progression and we found some friends who started a label and they just wanted to release the first songs and then why don’t we do another one? And then we said, okay we almost have an album. Let’s record some more songs and release a full album. So it was just a natural progression. And without the long term plan or anything, we didn’t take it too seriously. I mean we were serious with the music, but everything around it was just trying to have fun. That’s my remembrance of it.

SP: Yeah, I agree. I remember also that what we had was a very outspoken idea that we just wanted to do the fun part of the music we needed. I wanted to play something more physical than before. And I mean my thoughts were more kind of a Ramones kind of thing. Like stupid music. Good music but you know, easy to do and that let you focus…

TK: …on the fun things that are not just playing.

SP: Yeah, thanks. Making fun music and not over analysing or investing your whole personality and thinking that it has to be the most important thing we’ve done. Just music for other reasons.

The Vicar: The first time playing, and I don’t know if we discussed it like that before, but things were sort of like that, which made everything very simple and had a forward motion right away. All three of us wanted to do the same thing and so there wasn’t friction in any way, I think, which made it very joyful right from the start.

TK: We early on got a lot of great feedback. I mean our first gig we had like 500 people. The place was packed so it was an easy start. And, well, one thing led to another I guess.

DFH: And here you are 20 years later!….What can you remember about the recording sessions of Five Smell City?

TV: My biggest thing about that is that we sort of played live, which I don’t think we’ve done after that really. We did that for the first EPs and the full length right? So we rehearsed everything as we do in a rehearsal room or how we would play it live. And then we just set all the things up in in the studio, in a circle, like if it was a rehearsal room, and we would just play more or less through the songs and recorded them much as we play them with a few takes of course and then added vocals and solos and that was kind of cool.

TK: But I think it evolved during the recording because you know, four of the songs are from the first two singles. We did a few batches of recordings. It was not done in one go. It was done over several months. I think we improved the process over that time, and the songs we recorded last sound better than the early ones. So the first album is like a mix of different sessions. But the basic thing was like The Vicar said, we recorded everything in a room and we had the bass amp really loud and it leaked into everything. Everything got like glued together. I remember for the second recording we put the bass amp out in the corridor, outside the room so it wouldn’t leak so much, but it did anyway. The producer was not used to recording rock and roll or hard rock. He was more into pop and soul, so it was a new experience for him as well, to try to record and help us produce it.

TV: Your guitar amp was also on the verge of breaking, which created the sound for the first four songs.

TK: Yeah, that’s a very, very special, distinct sound on the first songs. And we didn’t know much about how to layer guitar sounds or vocals or anything. We just went with the first idea in everything, but it has a lot of energy and a lot of drive and we tried to do the best we possibly could at the time.

DFH: Well, some of your best songs are there, and a number of them are staples in your live shows, so it cannot be that bad!

TK: We were living in a bubble because we didn’t have much contact with other bands in the same genre. I mean, The Hellacopters was the big rock and roll band at the time but we weren’t part of the Stockholm scene or anything because everything we did was on our own and we didn’t do that many gigs either. So yeah, we were kind of isolated in a way. But I realized later when I met Olle from Dead Lord (who is not with them anymore) and he said that (Five Smell City) was one of his favorite albums growing up in Sandviken, which is hundreds of miles away, so yeah, apparently the album reached further than I realized. I thought it was more like something just for us, but people noticed it and heard it.

DFH: So – by the time you are into Five Smell City you are pretty much into the superhero imagery and art, and setting your sound aside, that was one of your more recognizable characteristics. How did you come up with the personas of Vocalo, Animalizer and The Ambassador?

SP: I think we just like… had coffee and talked.

TK: I still have the original document where we made up the backstory of all the characters for the poster, you know, where you have all the villains attacking the band. So we made backstories for all of the characters. It was just fun, you know, we were just friends hanging out, having a coffee and joking around and choosing the funniest ideas.

SP: It was also like in the same spirit of only doing the fun stuff if you’re going to promote the band or like write press releases and stuff like that, we thought it was a lot more fun if you could just make some shit up I think, and again not taking it very seriously and see what you can do and get away with.

TK: At that time a lot of bands tried to have all this tough image like Backyard Babies and stuff. So it was kind of an anti-movement. What’s this super corny artist name? Animalizer! It’s just a combination of the KISS album, “Animalize” into a character, just pulling stuff from your childhood. Fun stuff. A lot of internal jokes. A lot of it was just for our own amusement and we kind of laughed when people used it in articles and in the press. And the names John Steen and Ulrik Bodstedt… of course we are John Steen and Ulrik Bodstedt!

TV: It was really very much internal stuff. These two are the best doing that and just driving off each other’s weird muse. We thought it was super fun of course, but maybe it was not the absolute smartest thing to do, getting all of those things into press releases because we noticed also some of these things sort of went over the head of journalists and they didn’t even know how to work out what to think of us, if we were making a joke out of them or if it was really funny or if it was serious or what it was. Instead, they became confused and didn’t know if they were ready to back us up basically. So that was sort of maybe the bad thing about all the good things in the beginning. Yeah.

DFH: Well, that all made for a bit of mystery, right? – which is kind of fun and interesting at the same time!

TV: Absolutely. But because we were balancing on that too much sometimes, I think some people, especially journalists, didn’t know if it was okay, if we were actually just making a joke out of everything or if we were serious.

DFH: You made press releases where Princess Peach and Mario were in the band, so people must have realized that this was not tremendously serious…

SP: We made like ten different press releases! Different names and different backstories to different magazines. Just to see if they were talking to each other and just to confuse people. And I think it was hilarious. It may not have been the smartest move…

TK: We have never made it easier for ourselves in any way, so..

SP: Would it have been better to have a ‘jeans and jacket’ image and just, you know, look like a rock and roll band? Would that have been good? I don’t wear that, I don’t look like that…

TK: Exactly. We’re not rock’n’rollers image wise. We love the music but we don’t live that lifestyle. So we needed something to pretend, I guess, because you want the music to be sincere.

DFH: Did you ever play live in superhero guise in the early days?

TK: In a way we tried to look a bit like the characters. It was low budget and really more like a student party look. It wasn’t well done, but we tried.

SP: Have you seen the music video for “The Bigger The Harder They Fall”? It was filmed in the rehearsal space with a really shitty surveillance camera just in the corner. I think we wore that outfit for the first show. Just denim jeans, Marvel t-shirt, trucker hat, sunglasses and ZZ Top beards. In that show we didn’t even have the weird superhero look. Did we play live with the weird superhero look?

TV: Yes, like one or two times at around “Bedlam At The Embassy”. I had my glasses behind the mask, steaming after two seconds (laughs). Not good…

DFH: About the superhero stuff, when you go into the lyrics of “Five Smell City”, in the liner notes there’s many characters and you wonder whether these were just totally invented, making this sort of superhero concept album, or whether these are somehow reflections of people? And I don’t mean necessarily real people with names and surnames, but maybe stereotypes of persons just to tell stories.

TK: I think it’s a mix.

SP: Yeah, some are based on local… I wouldn’t say celebrities, but there is this guy owning an ice cream place and there’s one loosely based on some journalist, isn’t there? And friends of ours.

TK: The song “Five Smell City” is about the guy you talked about, the ice cream guy, and “Now I Believe” was something from a friend of Speedo’s that wanted me to write a song that had the line “we danced like lovers do. I said “okay, I’m up to the challenge”. “Flame On” is of course about the guy in Fantastic Four and his relationship with the blind girl he steals from Ben Grimm. “Hat Trick” is about the journalist in Linköping who thinks he’s really cool. So, it’s a mix but it’s definitely superhero influenced. “Underwear And Shoes “ is of course about Björn Borg.

SP: Of course

TK: He has a brand of underwear.

DFH: What? The tennis player? I did not know that…and who is the Goddess on the Loose?

TK: In the press releases we mentioned different Swedish celebrities, but it was influenced by Storm, Ororo from the X-Men.

DFH: To me, “Five Smell City” is very enigmatic for a number of things, like in “Hat Trick”… why do you scream “cobra!” at a certain point in the song?

(much hilarity ensues)

TK: It’s a good word. It was some kind of Will Ferrell inspired humour, I guess!

SP:  There was a guy who worked at a bar in Linköping that was called Cobra. He wasn’t named Cobra, but it was his nickname. I don’t know if it had anything to do with him. Probably not.

TK: I just remember it being a silly internal thing. Like “you have to scream something really cool”. What can compete with “cobra”? I don’t remember the back story. It was just a thing we talked about and I was just trying to find something in the studio. “Cobra” came out and it stuck. Nothing serious, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the song as I remember it.

DFH: That is why I was asking because I simply cannot tie it up with anything in the song or the album for that matter. You also scream “cobra!” in different songs at your live shows…

SP: Yeah. This was before (Papa Bear) started Killer Cobra Records. You think he took the name from here?

DFH: Weird, yes…. And finally! – What are the five smells of Five Smell City?

SP: There was a friend of ours who coined that expression and I think she named the smells I can’t really remember… There’s this slaughterhouse, a meat factory. The place really smells bad when you drive past it. Really smells like…

TK: Death…

SP: Yeah, because that’s what it is. Panicked animals die, it’s an awful smell. That’s one of them. Another one is the birdshit. There is this area in Linköping where there are a lot of trees and there was, I don’t know the name of the bird. Like a crow thing. There’s always loads of those birds in those trees and they shadowed over the bikes below. But I guess they ended up chopping down the trees…

TK: I remember the smell on the party street.  

SP: Sure, yeah, smells like Barcelona. Old beer and vomit.

TV: The biofuel factory. They turn stuff from your kitchen sink, stuff like that, into biogas. They cook it and it smells all over the town.

TK:  We also have the conference concert and congress center. It’s a place where a lot of people gathered to have like big company meetings and if you pass by that on the back side, there’s a lot of vents blowing out air and it smells like, you know, old office chairs.

TV: Kind of a local smell.

DFH: So those are the five smells: death from the meat factory, bird sheet, beer and vomit, the biogas plant and the conference center vents.

TK: There is also the smell of burnt electronics. I don’t know where that comes from, but sometimes it smells like you have a tv on fire everywhere.

DFH: I have to say that when I have been in Linköping I have not smelled anything weird!

SP: Next time you come over, we’re gonna go by the slaughterhouse…

DFH: Ok! And what do the Japanese letters in the cover of “Five Smell City” say?

TK: High energy rock’n’roll!

DFH:You listen to “Five Smell City” and you can hear rock and roll and you can hear hard rock and you can hear high energy obviously, but you can also hear even bluesy stuff in “Royal “Exile” or hard funk like “Powers of Attraction”. And a bit of KISS in “Since That Day”, but with a much more powerful drumming. One wonders whether all this music is there because you wanted to touch all these styles on purpose or this was just the way things turned out.

TK: I don’t think there was ever any plan. It was just like, oh that sounds like an old Maiden song. Oh, this sounds like a thing I remember. It was more just by inspiration.

TV: There was quite a lot of reference thinking like that. But then also, right from the start, I guess you can hear that we have quite a broad interest in music. We are not super focused on rock and roll as far as listening. We’re all over the place. So that’s probably what’s already there. I mean there’s the cover of “Come In Out of The Rain” in there already from the beginning and I think there’s quite a lot of influence for me for drumming from classic soul. That was just probably in some of the songs and I think that also makes “Five Smell City” sound a little bit different perhaps.

TK: Yeah, but I remember talking about drums and cool gimmicks. Tommy Lee was a reference, Peter Criss was of course. We were like kids with toys: “let’s try this thing…”.

DFH: How do you see “Five Smell City” from your perspective today? And this is not intended to be a judgment of the record. It is rather how do you feel about it.

SP: I think it’s great. I mean, sound wise, recording wise, other albums are better and there’s been a progression, but I really like it. I’m quite proud of it, actually.

TV: Yeah, it was nice to do this vinyl release (the 2021 vinyl reissue release) because it felt like we were able to give it a bit more of the looks that it deserves, more than we were able to do in the beginning, and also to me, that sort of tied things together and it became a product again.

TK: I’m also proud of it and I’m proud of myself that I managed to change the way I wrote songs, of course through the band and with the help of you guys, I found a new voice to sing and a new way of writing songs and I’m proud of that. And that just as you said, we still play the songs from the album live.

SP: I agree with The Vicar. I wasn’t part of the vinyl release but it gives it a more of an album feel in a way. The graphic cover is way better and it’s a nicer packaged thing and also sound wise it kind of sticks together better because as we said before it is more like a compilation album, with parts of EPs and some new songs. It’s actually like a three-piece dinner.

TK: But I don’t remember vinyl albums at that point being so very popular or wanted. CD was what you did back in those days.

SP: Yeah, when we did the seven inch EPs it was just because we liked that format but it wasn’t very smart, and then we had to do “Five Smell City” on CD which was like the real release in a way.

TV: When we released it, the original for me felt a little bit like our own pet project, like a do-it-yourself-home-in-the-backyard thing and not expecting anyone to think of it as much, really. We were proud of it and all that, but I never maybe really saw it as a full thing. And then when we came back and did the vinyl version, I re-evaluated it and it sort of stands on its own and it is a really good album.

TK: Burgher, what is your take on the album?

The Burgher: As you said earlier, just the fact that we rarely play a set without like four, even five songs from that album… I think it’s the album that we most frequently play live up until this day. That really says something and then again, that album is filled with these more naive, more bang on the beatroots kind of songs that work so well in the live environment.

SP: Yeah, they were meant to be performed live.

TB: The album has a great energy. I really like it. It’s nice that it still plays such an active part in the band almost 20 years later.

DFH: Thanks very much guys – see you again later!

Powers of Attraction

With the first battle won and the enemy defeated, our heroes would continue the war for rock music, which would take them into an unexpected battlefield…

Märvel will return in… “Unleashed”!