This year is the 20th anniversary of Backyard Babies, even though they managed to release their first album in 1994. Since then, they have five albums out, including the exceptional last year's "People Like People Like People Like Us". Nick Borg, the singer of the band since 1989, gave a long interview to Rockpages.gr, talking about the Babies' experiences in Greece, his memories from the AC/DC tour, the Scandinavian scene, the music business, the tough period when Dregen played with the Hellacopters, as well as what keeps him rocking in the hard place called rock'n'roll.
Interview by George Anasontzis and Yiannis Dolas
Rockpages.gr: Have you ever been in Athens before last year's show?
Nicke Borg: We've been to the Rhodos island back in 1991, we actually played there as well... So we were excited when we arrived last time and we went out for dinner and we got very drunk and there was a party for us somewhere at a place called Texas. This is getting like... We're getting older now and it's not as - well, yesterday it wasn't that dangerous - but we've done everything you can possibly do so far... This was one reason why we started the band, why we started playing music together in the first place, to have fun. And there's been a big lack of fun in music over a long time... Back in the 80s there was always been basically about having a good time, have fun, any people can have fun with us and... pfff... I'm happy, you know. Cause, if I wasn't enjoying myself, I couldn't do it. I can't stand on stage and faking and hate it. I have to love it. Some gigs are fucking awful, some are wonderful and coming to Greece was really cool.
Rockpages.gr: So, you have played in 1991 in Rhodos, you said...
Nicke Borg: In Rhodos, yeah... We were there on vacation and we borrowed the equipment from a covers' band...
Rockpages.gr: You didn't have an LP yet...
Nicke Borg: Yeah, we had the EP. It's still hanging in a bar in Rhodos island. It was a new owner who actually got hold of us on the internet and he said: "I have an album cover hanging in my bar. Is that you guys? Can you sign it?" Because, you know, we were nothing at the time and we realized "This must be a big fan, saying he has 'the original, hanging in my bar'. So we stayed there for a week.
Rockpages.gr: So, that's where you played?
Nicke Borg: No, no. We played in a place called... I don't remember... Rock Box or something... We were like seventeen or something and it was fun. Pretty much the same things happened last time. I was crazy, we fell over, broke a leg blah blah... (laughs)
Rockpages.gr: Whoever we ask to tell us which their influences are and what they were listening, they tell us the Backyard Babies. From Gluecifer to, maybe, Nashville Pussy. That's a lot of different bands. How do you feel about that, to know that you are an influence to other bands.
Nicke Borg: That's a very good, how to say... proof that what you do is actually making sense. Other people getting inspired by you, influenced by you, is like a Christmas present for you. You say "Ok, that's cool, man". It gives you a little bit more power to carry on, to keep on doing what you're doing, because it is hard today... Record sales are going down, record companies are fucking stupid and everybody's scared about what is going to happen with the whole industry. We took the chance to be on a major company years ago to see how far we can push this band, which has been a struggle. I hate it in a way, because it's hard to work with people that don't like music... they're just interested in the cash, you know. And since there is no cash in rock music in that way anymore, in rock music, they don't wanna do anything with you, because you don't generate so much money. But to have other bands getting influenced by you then maybe I do something good. That makes you want to continue.
Rockpages.gr: I guess it must have been hard when you started the band, because you started in 1989 and you didn't release a record for the next five years.
Nicke Borg: Well, I guess... if I wanna be really honest, I would never want to start over again. It's too much hard work, so I'm looking at young bands today and I tell them like "Fucking don't give up. It's a long way there. You can be lucky or if you want to do it the hard way and work your way up, it's gonna take a long time". But, it's nothing that I regret, I wouldn't have done anything different... We started in a very small town and our music was a wholly wrong music at the time we came up with our first album, with grunge, hip hop, metal, and we always played glam rock, sleaze, hard rock, whatever... It's not the easiest music to choose, but anyway, that's in our heart, you know, we grew up with that stuff.
Rockpages.gr: How did you feel when the whole Scandinavian scene started to gain some ground?
Nicke Borg: It was kinda weird because all of a sudden everybody started talking about Scandinavian scene and for me, I never thought about it as a scene, because we'd been playing since so long and a lot of other bands also had been playing for quite a bit, before everybody started saying that Scandinavia rocks or whatever. However, it's good because it had the rest of the world's eye to look at Sweden or Norway or Finland and start getting more attention and more easy for bands to go outside Sweden and tour. So, anything like that is good. There have been tons of bands who's been around before... You know, the Seattle scene was better than the bands that came out because of the scene. They sold more records as well. So, it can only be good.
Rockpages.gr: Do you feel maybe annoyed that other bands from the Scandinavian scene that emerged after you are having more success?
Nicke Borg: No, you can't have these feelings because that would be stupid, you know. [pause] We all kinda pulling and helping each other out in a way... I mean the Hives took off really really big. The Hellacopters got a lot bigger than us in the beginning, even though we'd been playing a lot longer. In the end, it's all good. I wanna sell more records, I wanna play to more people but we're happy with what we're doing. We are just happy that it's a rock band that's getting big and not Ace of Base again...
Rockpages.gr: So, what do you think about this music style that is so popular in Scandinavia, but not in other places of the world?
Nicke Borg: Well, I don't know... That's a question that's really hard to answer... Why you have a lot of good bands coming out of Sweden? I have no idea. I think that it starts generating as a snowball effect. I mean, we looked at Hanoi Rocks when we were young and said to ourselves, basically, that if Hanoi Rocks can do it, we can do it. They were from Finland and it was like woah!, they got big in America and England. I think it just generates like that. There's always one leader and then several followers. I don't know if it's the leader though. Maybe it's something in the water...
Rockpages.gr: You mentioned Hanoi Rocks... You have released one single with Michael (Monroe) playing on it, there is the "Friends" release and you have also covered a song of them, "Taxi Driver". How did these happened? Is there any special bond with Hanoi Rocks?
Nicke Borg: You know, we've got to know Michael pretty long ago and it was like: First of all, we got to sing Hanoi Rocks and then we asked him, do you want to play a song with us and he's a bit funny with it, he's like [mumbles with enthusiasm] and then we got to be friends. And the same thing happened with all the other people that we worked with. They are friends basically. And that's a cool thing also about being in a band that travels not in just one country but all around the world and we meet cool people. Some of the friends are lifetime friends for us now that we've worked with them. Usually, the rock scene is kinda small, really. It's like a little family.
Rockpages.gr: I was reading on the internet that it was kind of hard for you to break into the UK and you had several problems. Why you think it's that?
Nicke Borg: Well, America and the UK are basically the countries that rock'n'roll was born in. And they are really spoilt and they're really hustle against music from other countries. You see, no German bands are big in England.
Rockpages.gr: The English hate the Germans...
Nicke Borg: Yeah, of course, you're right (laughs). I didn't say that, you said that. But, I mean, they usually wanna have their own bands from their own country and when they realize that there's no good rock'n'roll bands coming out of England for example, they have to look elsewhere. But everything is controlled by radio and money, so they are really afraid of losing money on a project that they are not sure that it will make it, so you have to work like ten times harder to prove that you are a good band and that you're playing real fucking rock'n'roll music. We can talk about this question for hours because I'm so fucking fed up with the record industry right now. But in America, it's just lawyers and you have to have a lot of cash and pay hundreds or thousands of crowns or whatever... dollars, to just have your song tested on the radio and in how many shows it's gonna be played. If you have enough money, you can broadcast a fucking shit, which is happening. There's a lot of shit on the radio. And if you're a band that doesn't have all that money, then you need to have people that are really burning for music and it's not easy to find these people any more, because either they gave up or got too old to work hard like that. Anyway, the day after tomorrow we'll go to UK to do a show with Buckcherry which is cool because, at least, they're a rock band and even though they were somehow counted out, they released another record and they managed to be on the radio again... That's good. It shows that they're working hard, you know.
Rockpages.gr: They took your place supporting Kiss... Is there going to be a fight?
Nicke Borg: No, no, we beat them in hockey. That's enough (loud laughs). They're nice guys... Anyway, about what you said, it's just business, you know. All the stuff that happens, it's the managers, the lawyers, the record companies, it's money that's behind. The band has nothing to do with that.
Rockpages.gr: That's everywhere actually.
Nicke Borg: Yeah, yeah. Anyway, I don't care about Kiss, actually.
Rockpages.gr: Well, they don't really exist any more...
Nicke Borg: Exactly (laughs).
Rockpages.gr: So, it was you who said that playing live is the only fuel this band needs to keep on being the counterweight in a fucked up business...
Nicke Borg: Yeah. (speaking conspiratorially) Did I say that?
Rockpages.gr: I don't know if you stole it from somebody else... (laughs)
Nicke Borg: Well, yeah. That's the ultimate price you get to stand in front of a crowd and see young people, old people, girls, boys, whatever, singing your songs and having a smile on their faces and getting excited from what I do on stage. There's no feeling in the world that beats that. Better than sex. Better than anything else.
Rockpages.gr: What's you mentality... well, I did that question to another band and they became upset. So, I'm gonna try it with you...
Nicke Borg: Okay (laughs).
Rockpages.gr: What's your mentality when you play a festival, where there are other bands and in front of you there are people that they didn't come to watch you, cause they came to watch the headliners, but, you know, you're playing in the afternoon. What do you do, how do you react?
Nicke Borg: It can only be a good thing. That's one of the good thing about playing in a festival. Cause you get the chance to play in front of people that would normally not go pay a ticket to see your show. But they are there anyway to see other bands and they may check your band out and hopefully, you win them over. And next time, they gonna see your show, when you're at their town or whatever. So, that's just a positive. Absolutely. I like to play festivals.
Rockpages.gr: That was actually the reaction we were expecting...
Nicke Borg: I can't understand why somebody would reply something else, you know...
Rockpages.gr: Maybe it's because I said "How do you react if you see someone who's bored"...
Nicke Borg: Yeah, yeah, I know exactly what you mean. It is kind of irritating, to see someone in the front row like this (pretends to be bored), and doesn't even look at you, but then you have to work even harder to make that person dig the band.
Rockpages.gr: Well, his answer, a little bit after he got upset, was "Nobody gets bored when we play" (laughs). Obviously, he was less upset by the people standing like this and more by the question reminding him of that. Because, he didn't answer the next questions as well.
Nicke Borg: Aha, yeah... Who was that?
Nicke Borg: Oh yeah (laughs)... But they wear wigs, man. (extended laughs). Biff. Wasn't it Biff?
Rockpages.gr: Yeah, it was Biff...
Nicke Borg: Ha... Funny... (laughs). My guitar tech is actually working for Saxon as well, sometimes. There's good money and... (pause) They wear wigs, man. You have to tune the guitar and comb the wig (laughs).
Rockpages.gr: We won't tell them that though... Anyway, just when you made your breakthrough and released the "Diesel and Power" album, did you cease playing for... what... four years because Dregen had left?
Nicke Borg: No, we didn't stop playing at all. We were also playing, but Dregen played also with the Hellacopters. So, he was working two shifts, you know. Then came to a point, when it was impossible to do that, because you can't be at two places at the same time. So, I think in 1996, we didn't hardly do any gigs at all. We just tried to reload the batteries and tried to figure out what we were supposed to do. Our career was like... (makes a trembling mutter). We then started writing Total 13 and at the time it was released, Dregen was still in the Hellacopters. Eventually, he left them in 1998 or something. I don't think that if he would have left our band, we would be talking right now. And we would probably have split up the band. Because, it was never his intention to leave the band. He just wanted to play with another band and, you know, he's a smart guy. In a way, if you're really cynical about it, Backyard Babies was just like standing still like this and he saw an opportunity to take a short cut with the Hellacopters and pull Backyard Babies as well. Even though I'm the lead singer, his face is also in the newspapers and he's the kind of person that you need in a band, to share some of the talks.
Rockpages.gr: So, he never had the intention to leave...
Nicke Borg: No, maybe he thought about it sometimes but everybody was like... I think that if he had the intention, he would have left.
Rockpages.gr: Do you think that these gaps between albums helped the band?
Nicke Borg: It's nothing that we planned to do, it's nothing that we could have done differently. Sometimes it takes a long time to get an album out, it's so bureaucratic fucking... I don't know. I wish we could have had albums out more often, but since we tour all around the world... we release an album and we don't do like the Metallica, a world tour. It takes a long time for us to go everywhere and we want to go everywhere for every album. And then, we can't really write songs on the road. Because, first of all, I can think of a hundred other things to do which are more fun than writing a song, when you're on the road. And also it's more complicated. You don't sit down to write a song. You get ideas. So, when you get home, you need to have a little break if you're tired and then you have to start writing... It's a two-three year process.
Rockpages.gr: How important would you say it is that the band's lineup has been the same?
Nicke Borg: It's really important in a way, but also, it can be a little dangerous because you know each other so well and you know exactly the way you think and write and act. So, we take each other a little bit for granted, it's like an old marriage, you know. It's safe, but we don't have sex anymore (laughs). But, you know, we're a really strong tight unit now, after all these years and it would be really hard if someone left. Noone is irreplaceable, of course, but it will be hard start playing with another member, cause we have been so long together. And I hope that won't happen. I mean, if we made it for seventeen years, we can make it for another fifty years, at least (laughs). We're really good friends in the band. We don't really hang out too much together when we're at home, we all have families and other friends. It's always like, we're home for a week and I'm saying, let me call Dregen to see how he's doing.
Rockpages.gr: But you're all together for so long...
Nicke Borg: Yeah and you know, we all like what we're doing, we all have our part in the band. Everybody's different but we all are a little bit the same. Because if you have too much in common, I don't think you can be together. We are four different characters...
Rockpages.gr: I was going to ask you about your influences and I read somewhere that they are kinda different among the guys of the band.
Nicke Borg: Yeah, they're quite different. We have all come down to the love for hard rock music and we all grew up with Iron Maiden and Saxon... no (loud laughs).
Rockpages.gr: So, you never got bored at a Saxon concert...
Nicke Borg: I've never seen Saxon...
Rockpages.gr: Don't get bored! Be careful! (laughs)
Nicke Borg: ...anyway, and also the punk, the Ramones, Sex Pistols, all that stuff, were various influences for all of us. We all hang out and listened to fucking AC/DC and headbanged when we were kids...
Rockpages.gr: How did you feel when you opened for AC/DC?
Nicke Borg: That was probably the best... (pauses)... weirdest feeling I ever had. The fact that we actually are playing in front of AC/DC crowd and they like you, because AC/DC crowd is like... (makes an indifferent expression) "All we like is AC/DC". But it took us two or three songs for them to say... "yeah, cool band". And that was a very good feeling. And also, of course, knowing that some nights Angus is watching you gig and you talk to them and meet them every night. Seeing AC/DC every night. Their crew, all the people that work for AC/DC are hand-picked by the band themselves. They are the nicest crew I've ever met. Because usually, when they tolerate a big band, they can be assholes. It's not the band that's an asshole. It's the crew, because they want to be in a rock band too, so they take it out at the support band. But, no, no, they were just super nice.
Rockpages.gr: What about Motorhead and Alice Cooper?
Nicke Borg: We did a couple of shows with Alice Cooper and a couple of shows with Motorhead... Alice Cooper is supernice too, Lemmy is cool too.
Rockpages.gr: About "People Like... You", how do you explain that album after album, you get better. Is it that you gain more experience? Is it because you've been playing for longer, you've been writing more songs, you know more stuff, what is it?
Nicke Borg: First of all, thank you for saying that. Not everybody really agrees with that. I agree with you in a way, because I like the new album we did. I totally like our new album and... It was recorded and produced in a bit of a stressful situation, which means that I know it could have been even better, if we had the time and it wasn't so much other shit happening at the same time, but it's amazing it turned as good as it did. I think that first of all, you get a better player... We don't really sit home and practice, I hate that, but when after all these tours you've done, you get a little bit better. Probably you get a better songwriter, you get more experience when it comes down to writing lyrics, because you've seen more, you've experienced more, woken up with more girlfriends, so you get more inspiration, and you've drunk more beers and you know exactly how it is to be hangover in these days. Anyway, that's one reason why the albums are getting better. But also, I think, you have to try to challenge yourself to not repeat yourself. When we released Total 13, everybody was really excited about that album and a lot of people said that they would never expect Backyard Babies to release an album like that cause we were more like a glam band to them. So, they were "Wow!". So, these people wanted a Total 13 Part II, and then we released "Making Enemies is Good", which is a complete different album and they were like "What?". So, for us it's really important to always try to find not a much new way, but little new things to inspire yourself and not be locked in a corner and get bored. It would have been easy to do a Total 13 Part II. It would be the same stuff. We have a recipe there, but no. And then, from "Making Enemies is Good", "Stockholm Syndrome" is quite different as well. And now with "People...", probably the next one will be quite different from "People..". Also, the pick-up of producers... Sometimes it's important to have a good producer, sometimes it doesn't matter at all.
Rockpages.gr: Nicke Andersson was the producer in this album. You have said that he made you learn how to play like a band. What did you mean by that?
Nicke Borg: You know, he's a very good musician. He's a drummer, his guitar playing, his singing, his bass playing, he's fucking sick man. He's so talented in all the instruments. We tell him "Listen to something we play together" and he's like that: "Oh, stop, that's perfect, that's good". Now, wait a minute, we didn't mean to play it right. "Yes, yes, perfect". That's how to play. It shouldn't be perfect... He found that little thing that actually was groovy in the band. When you are a perfectionist and do it over and over again to get it perfect, then in the process you've lost the groove somewhere. It's too perfect, you know? Rock'n'roll music is a fucking dysfunctional music style. It shouldn't be perfect. So, that's what I meant with that. He's so good to drive out the best from each member. Bass player Johan (Blomqvist), he's never played better bass, you know. And me singing, there was a lot of times that I wasn't happy with the vocals, but he was like "No, we don't change anything. It's perfect. It's feeling". Ah, OK. So, I think that's the reason, yes.
Rockpages.gr: Are there any weird story that you wouldn't tell your children but you could share with your fans?
Nicke Borg: Well, as we started, one reason why we wanted to be in a band was that we wanted to experience all the cool stuff that you read about when you were a teenager. Motley Crue did that. Guns'n'Roses did that... Is it really like that? You want to see it for yourself. And yes, it's even worse. But I don't have any specific stories... It's just crazy every night. Sometimes, it's quite boring. When you're traveling, you know, you wait, wait wait all the time. But the best thing is to come to countries that you've never been to, new cities, meet cool people... Anyway, I think that also, sometimes it's the excitement of not knowing if it's really true and that's what excites people. That's why all the gossip magazines are so big. Is it real? I have to read all about it. And then the journal is trying to make it as juicy as possible...
Rockpages.gr: So, is it true?
Nicke Borg: No, it's worse (laughs). I'd probably say that I fell last night, when I really fell off the roof of a car. Or that's what I've been told. So, you can't really save it sometimes. They could even put you in jail. If I say a shrink what I really did some nights, he would lock me up. This guy is dangerous for society. Sometimes you live out of other people's dreams, you know. I read an interview of Rocco, the porn star, and he said "My job is the make people's dream, reality". I'm not the sick person, with what I do, I'm just doing other people's fantasies. So, you do this, but for the normal person, sitting on a boring job, if he reads the story and takes away some of his boredom, then, that's perfect. And I love what I do anyway, so it's cool.
Rockpages.gr: Vinyls, cd, mp3 or dvd? Which is your favourite format?
Nicke Borg: Oh... I have an I-pod, but I accidentaly erased it... I like cds because they are convenient to have. DJs love them and DJs with vinyls these days is just too messy. But, there's nothing like a good old vinyl and also cds get fucked up sometimes, vinyls get too but they never really break... You know, you can't go backwards all the time. You have to embrace technology. We just got digital TVs in Sweden, now there are no more antennas, and we are... what the fuck... I hate the internet, but I use it because, that's what you have to do today. It's gonna come to you anyway. I just hoped to find a good format to release music, not just by buying it on the net, because that is very boring, you know. I never downloaded a song in my life... I don't even know how to do it (laughs). I wanna touch vinyl, or if it's a cd, I wanna see in the booklet. I don't wanna click it and scroll down at the lyrics. I want paper. I never read papers on the internet. I wanna have the real magazine. That's maybe old-school stuff, but whatever.
Rockpages.gr: I think it depends on the kind of music you're interested in...
Nicke Borg: Yes, right. It's easier to download the new Madonna single, you don't have to see the cover - where she's old anyway - but maybe for Backyard Babies it's a lot cooler to have the actual booklet. That's why we spend a lot of effort to make cool artwork, because we grew up with that. I remember opening up "Shout at the Devil", gatefold, the picture and you're like "Fuck!". It's not like click, click, click... I can't see, you know. But you're right, it depends on the music. But, it's hard for us to talk about it, because we're all at the same age. Because for someone who grew up today, they don't know how it was before internet. They're so used to it, that we have to learn to use it. Maybe we prefer the real paper, but the children maybe don't think that way. That's why you have to try to be on both sides. There are people that want to have the real cd and people that they don't care but they love the music anyway.