Mando Diao on being Sweden's biggest band

We chat to them about the importance of partying amid global chaos

If you’ve not heard of Mando Diao, then we can confidently predict that you’re not Swedish. The band, formed in 1999 in Borlänge, central Sweden, quickly rose to the top of their native country’s musical tree with a punchy brand of indie rock, their breakthrough coming with their 2002 debut album Bring ‘Em In.

The stormingly good album shouted loudly about their pedigree – as did co-frontman Gustaf Norén, who confidently claimed that the band’s songs often surpassed those of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

The validity of that claim is debatable, but the fact that Mando Diao are still going strong in 2018 is further testament to their class. Their new, heavy guitar-focused album Good Times is a sturdy board for them to ride back into China on, having toured here ten years ago.

It has, however, been a rocky time for the group recently, with Norén quitting the band in 2015. 'But we don’t stop', says singer-guitarist Björn Dixgård, now the sole frontman of the band, defiantly. 'I’ve been writing songs since I was 18, and will still do it when I’m 86.'

What are your memories of playing China?
Björn Dixgård: I just remember it being really good and the crowd really went for it, raving and having fun. And so did we. China is fantastic... we come from Sweden, so it’s a lot to take in.

You released a song called 'To China With Love’ in 2002 – time to dust that one off?
I hope we’ll play it. I wrote that when I was 19, after watching the James Bond movie From Russia With Love, so I was just in that mode. You go through different periods as a songwriter – sometimes I write about animals, sometimes I write about countries. China is a great country, and kind of mysterious for Swedish people.

What mode were you in for Good Times?
We’ve been through a lot of changes – just life in general. There’s a lot of melancholy in the lyrics, but there are also hopeful lyrics – we’ve been through a lot of downs and that came across on the record. We try to make lyrics universal, so people can make up their own minds. We call it 'Lennon lyrics' because John Lennon wrote like that.

rszMando Diao main photo

Gustaf leaving the band must have been a downer. Why did he quit?
He wasn’t happy in the group so we knew it was going to come – it was a surprise for everybody else, but not us. I don’t understand it totally, still. He said he didn’t want to earn money from music, and wanted music to be free for everybody. And he wanted to do other sorts of music; he didn’t want to be in a rock band. It’s kind of simple: if you don’t want to play rock music, you shouldn’t be in Mando Diao.

The title of the new album is ironic, right, considering what’s going on in the world?
Yes. There’s a negative trend now in so many places. But I’ve always been fascinated by mentalities like the one I heard of in 1920s Berlin, when everybody was poor but the city was still full of clubs and people having a good time. It’s an interesting thing: within misery you’ve got to be able to dance on a table and scream. A beautiful thing.

Why are you naked on the album cover?
There’s a square in Stockholm where they sell cheeseball art – I always thought we should make a cover like one of those ‘cheeseball paradise’ paintings. Our guitarist has a friend who’s really good at painting, so he did the picture. It was a simple idea: put us in paradise and let us be naked.

Not many rock bands have a sense of fun, like that
There’s a lot of humour in our group. Travelling around the world is a great job, but the airplanes are not so great so we try to find things to laugh about. We have a saying: whatever we do, we don’t want it to be boring. That’s important to us.

Finally, are you really still Sweden’s biggest band right now?
Absolutely. Who else, man? Maybe ABBA. But seriously, we don’t try to compare ourselves to other people. Everyone doing music is in the same boat, it’s not like sport, where you know who’s winning. We have ups and downs, and that’ll happen in the future, too.

Things to know

rszMando Diao side bar pic

The band Formed in 1999 in Sweden, the current line-up features floppy-fringed Björn Dixgård (vocals and guitar), Jens Siverstedt (guitar), Carl-Johan Fogelkou (bass), Daniel Haglund (keyboard) and Patrik Heinkipieti (drums).

The sound The band have verged into synth disco (check their super-catchy 'Dance With Somebody'). However, their meat and potatoes has tended to be stabby riffs and high-octane indie rock, characterised by Björn Dixgård’s gravel-gargling yet often soaring vocals, perhaps best showcased on 'Gloria'.

The new album Released in May 2017, Good Times is Mando Diao’s eighth studio album. Dark subjects such as self- destruction are addressed in the lyrics, but there’s a fun bar room vibe to the likes of 'Hit Me With a Bottle'.
  • 4 out of 5 stars