Stålberg and Lager with a stash of (mostly) Teles and Jazzmasters, and select old amps: Fender Super-Sonic and Tone Master heads (the current workhorses), as well as vintage Marshall and Laney boxes.
Jonas, you mentioned that, for Apartment, you had a strict rule against the sorts of vocal harmonies on Tree. Why?
Gustafsson: We do a lot of vocal harmonies in my other projects, but when it comes to Division of Laura Lee it sounds weird. I love when we mix our voices together—we’ve always done a lot of backup vocals—but usually just unisons or octaves. It’s funny though, because one of the first songs we recorded was “Safe,” which was written either during the Tree sessions or immediately after that.
That one and “Always Around” are definitely the mellowest ones on the album.
Gustafsson: Yeah, you can hear the bridge from Tree to Apartment—it’s those two songs. Aside from that it’s really rocking stuff. I like that. I can feel the energy and the desire that we had back in the day.
Stålberg: Viktor wrote that one [“Always Around”]. He sang it, too.
It has a mellow Sonic Youth vibe. What tuning did you use for that, Viktor?
Viktor Lager: It’s open-G—the lowest string is dropped-D, and then it’s G–D–G–B–D.
It’s interesting that the beautiful, melancholic vibe in “Always Around” is similar to older songs like “True Moon” [from Tree], “Breathe Breathe,” and “There’s a Last Time for Everything” [both from Das Not Compute].
Stålberg: I think so, too, because all those songs had different songwriters. “True Moon” was Jonas, and “Breathe Breathe” was David. It doesn’t really matter who writes the songs—when we play together, it sounds like Division.
Every Division album since the ’90s has had some amount of that DIY-punk vibe, but there was a huge shift between 1999’s [now-out-of-print] At the Royal Club and 2002’s Black City. What spawned that move toward more melody, instrumental nuance, and dynamics?
Stålberg: I think a couple of things. When we started the band, I was the oldest—I was 22—but Jonas and Henrik [Röstberg, original cofounding guitarist] were 17 or 18. So much shit happens when you start a band and start spending quality time with each other, talking about music. “Oh, you like that too?!” We’re proud to be from the hardcore scene, but it was not the only thing we listened to. Something that we took up a lot was our love for early shoegaze from England—My Bloody Valentine, the Jesus and Mary Chain—and also our love for bands like Hüsker Dü and Dinosaur Jr.
Stålberg (left) at the helm of his Welfare Sounds studio’s mixing console with one of his many Fender Telecasters. Lager (right) tracking Apartment at Welfare Sounds in Gothenburg with one of his go-to Fender Jazzmasters.
So we started sounding a bit different. We wanted to be a noise-rock band. Lyrically, we started to write different from hardcore—it was hard to stay in that vibe. It was way easier to go with a Stooges kind of vibe. And of course we grew. We played a lot, so we got better. We were tired of trying to write something that was already done. I’m not saying that we ever thought we were groundbreaking, but we wanted to be free in what we did.
Our friends Kalle [Gustafsson] and Don [Alstherberg], who produced Black City, did a lot for our sound, too. They took a lot of the melodies that we tried to hide, and they were like, “No, no, no—this is supposed to be up here, in front of the music.” They helped me and Jonas out on vocals. Like, “It doesn’t sound cool when you [only] scream. Just sing.” We were like, “Oh, okay.” We started using different guitars and different amps, keyboards, and all the weird things they had at Swedish Gramophone Studios [in Gothenburg] because of them, too.
Gustafsson: Kalle was in Soundtrack of Our Lives, so he had a total different view on rock music. He brought in a lot of the stuff that they used to play around with when they were recording. Soit was a combination of getting a ton of instruments and amplifiers and all the magic that he had in the studio, and the fact that he was producing us in a way that we had never experienced before. The recordings we did earlier were like, “Yeah, you just do your thing.”
Stålberg: If we said to Kalle, “No, this song should be with some kind of drum machine and some old Moog keyboards,” he made that happen—and that made us change. Also in the beginning it was more about riffs and short songs … you just hit the guitar in somebody’s head, and it was over. We wrote a song called “The Truth Is Fucked” in late ’99 or early 2000, and that was a game changer for us. Before that, the songs all sounded pretty much the same, but this was something different. We all heard it. We were like, “Oh, hell yeah. Let’s do this.”
Speaking of gear, let’s talk about your go-to stuff these days, as well as how you captured tones for Apartment.
Stålberg: [Recording] is what I do on a daily basis, so when it comes to Division I know exactly what we need. We knew we wanted to strip down everything and focus on playing dirty noise-rock. So we did it like we used to back in the day: We were all in the same room in my studio—you could only hear the drums in that room, because we had the guitar cabs in other rooms. When we were finished, we listened to many takes. If something had to be fixed, we did it. Otherwise, we stuck with that. It was really easy. After we recorded the basic tracks with the whole band, we did the overdubs in a different studio, and they were just direct. Actually, it was into a [Roland] Space Echo, a preamp, then into the computer. That way it doesn’t sound as DI as it would if I only played through a preamp. The distortion was all from my pedals. The amp was pretty much the old Space Echo. We didn’t use much of its echo or reverb—we just put them through there for its basic sound.
What kind of mics did you use in the initial sessions?
Stålberg: Basically only a [Shure SM]57 on a cab, but sometimes I used Oktava ribbon mics for the room. They’re awesome—they sound kind of like a Royer. I put them about three feet back from the amp, maybe a bit more.
What about guitars?
Lager: I almost exclusively play Jazzmasters. That’s my favorite guitar. In the early 2000s I bought a Japanese Jazzmaster, plugged it in, and didn’t understand why it didn’t sound good! I was like, “What the fuck is this? The bridge is fucked up, and the pickups are bad and everything … but, it looks cool.”
What had you been playing before that?
Lager: Mainly my ’73 Telecaster Custom. I played the shit out of that guitar—it’s probably the best guitar I own. But I gravitated toward the Jazzmaster because of Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr. I was like, “How can they play like that with the trem and stuff?” I had to go online to the OffsetGuitars forum.
To figure out the setup tricks?
Lager: Exactly. I used the original bridge with Loctite [to secure the saddle-height screws] for a while, and then I changed to Mustang saddles, and that was okay. Then I bought the Staytrem bridge and tremolo unit, and swapped out the pickups for Seymour Duncan Antiquity IIs, and I was, like, “Okay, now we’re talking!” For me, the Jazzmaster neck pickup is the Jazzmaster sound, although not as much recently. I’ve actually gone more for the bridge pickup. I have the Mastery bridge on the new American Original ’60s Jazzmaster I bought like two months ago.