My Heart Is A Metronome is one of the most exciting alternative rock bands in Sweden. The trio, comprised of Mattis Malinen (vocals/guitars), Felix Carlsten (drums/backup vocals), and Gustaf Simonsson (bass/backup vocals), is quickly gaining recognition in its home country and abroad; in fact, it has even been called “Sweden’s Best Unsigned Band.” MHIAM’s newest release is Tierp, an EP whose lyrics touch on romance and nostalgia.
Recently, we caught up with Malinen to chat about Tierp, touring, and more. Read on to hear his stories about performing at a kid’s birthday party, filming the video for “Tierp” (it involved slow-motion lip-syncing), and improvising last-minute changes at a music festival.
TYF: Let’s start off by introducing you to those readers who haven’t heard of you yet. If you had to describe your sound in three words, what would you say?
Mattis Malinen: Hooky alternative rock, I’d say.
TYF: It’s been said that you started out by playing at a kid’s birthday party. Can you tell us how this happened?
Malinen: It was through Felix [Carlsten], the drummer. He was a badminton trainer and one of the kids there had a party or something, and they needed a band, and we had just started rehearsing together… We were like, Let’s do it as a fun thing, just try it out as our first show. But, like, undercover, you know—not like a real first show. It was really weird. We did, like, children’s games from the stage and everything. (Laughs)
TYF: That’s pretty funny. What did you guys sing?
Malinen: We sang mostly our own songs, and then we did two covers, and then a children’s song. It’s called “Huvud, axlar, knä och tår.” It has, like, a dance to it. You go… (Imitates dance) (Laughs) Pretty weird, I guess.
TYF: Now let’s talk about your new music. You guys just released an EP called Tierp. What were some of the inspirations behind this EP, both musical and non-musical?
Malinen: Musical… We all have different favorite bands to listen to, and we never try to directly draw inspiration from anything. It all comes together from the three of us just playing together. We wanted to do something that was a bit more mature than our previous [music], so we tried this disco beat on the lead single, “Tierp,” and we were pretty happy with that. But I don’t know, I might be straying from the question here. (Laughs) Musically, it’s everything. Everything. And lyrics-wise, it’s based on personal experiences every time, but I might twist and turn it a bit… put different experiences together. Things you wanna say, or things you feel. Memories.
TYF: You also just released a music video for “Tierp,” the single off that EP. What was it like to film this video?
Malinen: Oh, boy. That was actually pretty funny. (Laughs) We thought it would be a really nice autumn day, and we were gonna bike through Tierp with leaves and everything. Then came the storm. The snowstorm of the century. (Laughs) So we had to rethink the whole thing. And we actually took the song and made it three times slower, so when we’re doing the lip sync thing, we’re actually going like… (Lip syncs comically slowly) That was pretty good [since] we were biking on ice or snow. Didn’t have to go too fast. It also gave it maybe a bit of a comic effect when you sped it up afterwards to fit the original song. And then it was just improvisation… The biking thing was a one-take, but then the sauna thing… We needed something warm, so we just improvised that. We were also quite cold, so we needed that celebration.
TYF: In the song, you talk about some of your childhood memories. On that note, what were some of those first albums and songs that you listened to as a child that still stick with you?
Malinen: That’s a good question. Oh, man. I used to listen to a lot of Death Cab for Cutie. And System of a Down, actually. Do you want the songs or artists?
TYF: Whatever comes to mind.
Malinen: Basically anything like early System of a Down, early Death Cab for Cutie. That was it back then. I think there might have been some Blink-182, but the untitled album, not the early stuff.
TYF: Also, I’ve read that Tierp has been called “Sweden’s ugliest town.” How do you feel about that label?
Malinen: (Laughs) It might be true in one sense. It’s not like the town part is all that beautiful. It’s quite grey and boring. But when you grew up there—I spent my first 18 years there—you know, you have memories, you have friends, you have family there… It might be more beautiful, in a weird way. It’s affected you in a big way, and you can’t really… You know, you have so many memories there. You can’t just think that… It’s not just the ugliest town in Sweden, it’s a part of you somehow. [With “Tierp,”] we kinda also wanted to acknowledge that there are small communities that also have their own stories.
TYF: You have an older song called “Turtle,” and in that song, you sing, “Someone said the world is balanced/ On some poor old turtle’s shell.” What does this lyric mean to you?
Malinen: That’s the initial words for the first verse, I think. It was a long time since I wrote that. It’s basically, like, reflecting… ‘cause the whole song’s about getting out there, playing music, seeing the world that way, like if you would be able to tour. The music video is from our U.K. tour. But it’s basically just reflecting and also playing with words. I can’t remember, really, how I came up with that phrase. I must’ve heard it in a movie or read it somewhere in the magazines. I usually improvise lyrics, and it just came out, I guess. I’m sure there’s a backstory to it. (Laughs)
TYF: You have covered “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in the past. If you decided to cover another song, which song would it be?
Malinen: Also a good question. We’ve been talking about a Bruce Springsteen song, actually, which we’ve played. We’ve done some undercover cover gigs for friends at parties and stuff. We call ourselves My Heart Is A Sellout then ‘cause we do it for the money. (Laughs) But we did a Springsteen song, “Dancing in the Dark,” and we really managed to make it our own in some aspect, I think, so if we’re ever gonna release another cover, it might be that one. I also like the whole vibe of the song.
TYF: You guys have been touring around Sweden a lot recently. What’s the most interesting experience you’ve had on the road?
Malinen: The most interesting gig we’ve done was a big charity thing. It’s called Musikhjälpen. It translates to “Music Aid.” All the biggest artists in Sweden play in… they call it “the Cage.” It’s not a cage. It’s, like, a small glass house that’s in a square in one of Sweden’s towns—they take turns every year. It’s broadcasted live on TV and radio. We actually won a radio competition for unsigned bands, and through that, we got to go into the Cage and play a song… and that was terrible. We had rehearsed with full band, like, drums and amps, and in the last minute they said we couldn’t play with full band, so we had to rewrite it. So Felix, the drummer, had to play on a book. (Laughs) And I still had the guitar. But Gustaf had, like, a kazoo or something. And there’s three celebrities hosting the show as well… We were so nervous. But we did an alright job. That’s the coolest experience—being on TV and radio and thousands of people watching. But it was also horrible ‘cause we were so nervous. But it was fun. Otherwise, on the road… we played clubs a lot, and they’re always fun to play. It can be pretty crazy sometimes. That’s really, really great—when friends sing along to songs, or just random people you’ve never met before, and they just know the lyrics. That’s pretty amazing, actually.
TYF: What do you think is your favorite venue that you’ve played at?
Malinen: We’ve played… I think that might’ve been the biggest stage for us so far… It was outside in September, when it starts getting cold over there again. There’s one last thing before summer ends, and it’s called Culture Night. And we played the big stage, had a really good time, and there’s, like, hundreds of thousands of people on the streets just watching different gigs and everything. I don’t know how many people we had. We must’ve had around a thousand. That was pretty awesome. And [we had] a big stage… We’re not normal to big stages. We’re like, Where are we gonna go? (Laughs)
TYF: If you could collaborate with any artist, which artist would you choose?
Malinen: I can only speak for myself. Gustaf and Felix, I’m sure they’d both choose something different. But I’m really into a band called Wintersleep from Canada. I love their music. It would be really cool doing something with them… Basically, playing music with other people from any band would be pretty sweet. (Laughs) You never know what direction it would go, and that’s the beauty of it, I think.
TYF: Finally, what are some cool places in Sweden that you think people in other countries should visit?
Malinen: Well, the north of Sweden. Swedes not living in the north of Sweden don’t go there a lot. Maybe for ski trips, but… In the far north, you have the Northern Lights. That’s pretty cool. I’ve never seen it, but I’ve seen pictures of it. I think you should see that. And you should see the Stockholm Archipelago. It’s pretty beautiful. And just Swedish nature in general. Sweden in the summer… If you come over for midsummer, it never gets dark, and it’s beautiful. The lakes are clean, and the air is clean, and people are happy. Come over for midsummer anywhere and you’ll be happy.
TYF: Is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers before the end of the interview?
Malinen: Well, that I hope they find something in our music that they can relate to. And hopefully that they just dig what we’re doing. And thanks for taking the time to read about this small-ish Swedish band.