THIS IS A WORLD PREMIERE. We are breaking new ground. With Re-use #16, and for the first time, we offer a curated selection of denim jackets and some shirts to complement the Re-use jeans. In our feature story, Kristofer Åström takes us down Reminiscence Row.
Kristofer Åström’s career has taken him to places far more interesting than Gothenburg. Places with better career opportunities. Roads are long, some crooked and winding, others straight and narrow. How do we end up where we ultimately stay? Is it familiarity and people, or simply that the force of gravity is stronger in certain places? Before Gothenburg became “home” to Kristofer, he was a kid in a band with rock dreams and a bright future. Kristofer could have picked any city on earth. He chose Gothenburg.
— Before Fireside, we were like any other band in Luleå. Our bands would have weird names; we played hard and aggressive because that’s what bands did. The songs were about nothing, direct translations of Swedish stuff we thought would sound cool.
As a kid, Kristofer Åström dreamt about career opportunities in the rock n roll business. Some 30 years later, the singer, songwriter, and musician have more than twelve albums, a few handfuls of singles, and EPs to his name as a solo artist. But it all started in the north of Sweden, in a town called Luleå. Way before the internet and smartphones. In a time when getting independent releases meant you had to be resourceful and spend time at the library xeroxing mail-order sheets from fanzines.
— I’d read that the guitarist from Gorilla Biscuits had a new band, so I ordered it. And then I waited. A few weeks later, Quicksand’s first seven-inch EP landed in the mailbox. I remember calling Pelle, saying nothing but, “I got it.” That’s all I said. A few hours later, he stood on our doorstep, all sweaty from riding his skateboard from Hertsön to Mjölkudden. We’d agreed earlier that we’d listen to it together the first time. Only seconds in, we knew exactly what to do. And that’s how we formed Fireside.
Fireside was a major factor in the rise of the hardcore and punk scene in the northern parts of Sweden during that era. Kristofer played guitar and sang. They were considered too soft to be hard and too hard to be considered indie-pop. Their songs had a more dynamic and melodic quality, Kristofer’s lyrics were introspective and honest, and he delivered every word with emotional frustration.
In 1995 they released their seminal second album, Do Not Tailgate. It hit like a tonne of bricks, and everything changed. And just like that, every Swede knew the exact definition of emo-core.
— Winning the Swedish Grammy for “best hard rock” may have shocked some people, but we were young, determined, and not very humble, but we knew we were good. In our minds, we earned that fair and square. Even though being labeled as “hard rock” felt weird.
With this breakthrough, tailwind ensued, and Fireside headed out west. Playing showcases all over the continent, they caught the interest of Rick Rubin, and the legendary producer signed them.
— I mean, that was it. We’d made it. Growing up on a steady diet of independent music, you have a romantic image of getting in the van, but it’s a big continent. It’s really ironic, but being on the Lollapalooza lineup, and touring the US, was bigger back home than it was for us. I remember one show. I’d just come down with pneumonia and wanted to cancel, but our tour manager told me that it was not an option, and I should sing lower or not at all. When the show started, it was us on stage and the bartenders. But at least we got paid. We were tired and, honestly, pretty homesick.
Returning to Sweden never felt like a defeat. Being back in Stockholm brought new perspectives that would alter the course of Kristofer’s career and life.
— We pounced on the opportunity because we would have regretted it if we didn’t. And I would get in the van to do it all over again tomorrow. It brought a lot of new, healthy perspectives. But returning also made me realize I wasn’t really cut out to live in a big city. I like it up north.
With his solo debut in 1998, he had left everyone confused once again. Musically it was the polar opposite to Fireside, his voice softer and frailer, but lyrically, he was just as direct and honest as ever.
— I had so much confidence in myself back then. I still do, but I’m older now, and you get wiser and smarter. I was told that the country music thing and being Swedish might be perplexing to people, but I knew it would be great.
Eventually, Kristofer left Stockholm. But instead of heading back north, he traveled south and slightly to the west, and he settled down in the middle of the woods, a 45-minute drive from Gothenburg.
— I feel much more at home in the woods. People on the west coast love their salty seas; to me, that’s overrated. Moving to Västerlanda, I felt more at home than in over ten years. Moving to Stockholm in ’95 was a strategic move, but I remember even back then feeling I wasn’t done with Luleå. Here, it felt more like home. I had released five solo albums and was ready to settle down somewhere. I liked it there in the woods, but since I can’t say I ended up in Gothenburg because of love, my relocating to Gothenburg happened strictly for strategic reasons. Or because of love lost.
Stockholm is bigger, Malmö is smaller, and being second creates a middle child syndrome. And Gothenburg has always had a distinct personality.
— A friend in Stockholm told me the most critical thing for people there is to ‘detect and greet last.’ So, you’re out walking. Down the street, you notice someone you know; you keep your pace, and just as you pass, you suddenly “realize” you recognize them and go, “Sup.” It’s funny because there’s some truth to it. People in Gothenburg are precisely the opposite. When I had just moved here, I sat outside a bar when I heard my name called out, “Kristofer! Åström!” and across the street, 50–60 meters away, someone was waving. People here have a more rustic, country cousin approach. I guess that it fits me perfectly.
Back in the 90s, he was part of the hardcore-emo invasion. And being one of the first Swedes to give the singer-songwriter thing a shot, Kristofer saw the rise of some “nordic folk/northern blues” movement.
— That’s insane and privileged, of course. But I’ve never thought about it like that. I remember one of the first times we toured in the USA. The label had sent some 100 000 promo-cassettes that we were to hand out. So we did, not all of them, but a lot. I doubt anyone still has one of those cassettes. However cliché it sounds, to me, writing songs is therapeutic, primarily for me. I still much rather have one person getting what I mean or helping one person for real than four million.
Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Fireside is set to release their first studio album in almost twenty years. When it happens, we’ll let you know all about it.