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Tuning Up: Dial-A-Swede! (Sentiments of Random Scandinavian 6-Stringers)

Tuning Up: Dial-A-Swede! (Sentiments of Random Scandinavian 6-Stringers)

PG’s Shawn Hammond calls halfway around the world to get the straight dope on Yngwie, ABBA, and all that goddamn metal.

In early April when I heard about the launch of Sweden’s genius PR campaign—you can call and chat with a random Swede via a “national phone number”—I immediately thought it was perfect for PG. Finally, we’d get a fellow countryman to give us the straight dope on Yngwie, the differences between all the death-metal subgenres, and, of course, my burning questions about ABBA. I had to put it off a month to wrap up my previous Tuning Up controversy, but having just rung up a dozen or so random Swedes, I’m happy to report it was even more fun than I imagined. (So great, in fact, that I’ll be turning the recordings into a Conversations in the Key of Life podcast episode, so watch for it soon!)

Anyway, here’s how the whole thing works: Call the Swedish number at +46 771 793 336 (international rates apply, but you can also dial a handful of local-rate numbers set up for the U.S., Europe, and Brazil), and any Swede with the associated phone app will pick up and hopefully yak about the recovery of black metal after the infamous ’90s church burnings.

Immediate takeaways from my calls? First, Swedes speak better English than most Americans—and most of them have almost no accent. (And, no, they don’t pronounce the “W” sound as a “V.”) Second, a shocking number of them play guitar—I got through to a player on my very first call! Actually, Amanda from Gothenburg was a ukulele player, but her boyfriend Robin (who was sitting right next to her) plays acoustic guitar. They love jamming together on Bright Eyes and Okkervil River tunes.

Wait—WTF??? Ukulele in Gothenburg? Yes, which brings us to another takeaway: Asked to name the biggest misunderstandings about the Swedish music scene, at least half of my Skype buddies were quick to point out that they’re about a lot more than downtuned Satanic music and ABBA. Several mentioned Max Martin (hit-machine for Taylor Swift, Maroon 5, and Katy Perry, among many others), and many expressed pride in the fact that music is a top export.

Johan—a 26-year-old hip-hop fan from Stockholm who loves Slash, Santana, and Richie Sambora—hadn’t even heard of the ruffle-shirted shredder.

The answers to my other questions were even more interesting. While I was somewhat surprised when a couple of players listed Yngwie as a favorite guitarist (it just seemed too obvious!), I was even more shocked when Johan—a 26-year-old hip-hop fan from Stockholm who loves Slash, Santana, and Richie Sambora—hadn’t even heard of the ruffle-shirted shredder.

“What’s the most annoying thing about the average guitarist?” responses were almost unanimous—huge egos. Although Patrick, a 39-year-old from just outside of Stockholm who didn’t hesitate to list Malmsteen as his favorite 6-stringer, said it was “poor sense of melody,” while middle-aged mother Victoria, who played classical guitar in her earlier years, said it was our propensity for guitar face. (Unsurprisingly, Victoria, a big fan of contemporary nylon-string virtuosos, was also unfamiliar with the neoclassical kingpin, though she said she was going to look him up on YouTube. I’m just bummed she wasn’t near a computer during our call—it would’ve been priceless to hear her reactions. Would she be impressed by his harmonic-minor scales or guffaw at his lace-up leather pants and over-the-top showmanship?)

Most of the players demonstrated a rather remarkable lack of gear lust—they all seemed shockingly un-consumerist and complacent with what they already had—which meant that the only question left to ponder was, “Yngwie Malmsteen: national treasure or national embarrassment?” The answers were hilarious—again, you’re missing out if you don’t hear them.

Christian—a 36-year-old fan of Yngwie, Van Halen, and Metallica who just bought a guitar and is being taught by his friends—perhaps summarized it best when he busted up laughing and said, “That’s a fucked up dude … but he’s a great talent. I’ll go for national treasure.”