Patron saint of hardcore punk Dennis Lyxzén has yet again flexed his title as one of underground rock's most prolific Renaissance men with his latest musical incarnation, INVSN (pronounced "invasion"). Devoid of the raging guitars and signature screams of Lyxzén's iconic band Refused, or his '70s punk-inspired band AC4, INVSN's moody sound is possessed with the '80s New Wave souls of Joy Division and Echo and the Bunnymen on up to the modern broodings of the XX and Soft Moon. INVSN revels in their own shade of black, while effusing the same fundamental political undertones that have always laid smoldering beneath its members' creations.
"I always want to challenge myself and what I'm doing," said singer Dennis Lyxzén over the phone from his native Sweden last week. "Restless soul. I never stick with anything, I always move forward." In his forward trajectory, Lyxzén brought along drummer Andre Sandström and guitarist Anders Stenberg, with whom for ten years he had been playing music and touring with. Rounding off the band is bassist Sara Almgren from Lyxzén's garage-infused band the (International) Noise Conspiracy.
While the self-titled album is a first release for INVSN in their current state (having changed the name a few times), the band has already released two previous albums in Swedish. Starting more in the old school punk vein similar to AC4, Lyxzén steered the band into a new territory of sound for the second album. "At the time we just said, 'Let's do something that was sort of a challenge.' Some of the things we were playing and recording were uncomfortable," Lyxzén admitted. "But then we really liked the record and we did an English version of it."
The English version met the ears of record label Razor & Tie, who signed the band to release a third album in English. For their latest effort, INVSN took ideas from that second album and refined the music into the blissfully dark, yet unexpected album that represents their style today. Still, the evolution to a more subdued, subversive sound was a bit jarring. But according to the musician, the ability to change genres and challenge oneself to create "uncomfortable" music was freeing.
"I was a punk kid, really punk, and for me it was like a liberation, an idea that anything is possible, you can do anything you want. So whenever I created music or been in a band, I always had a really broad perspective on everything I'm doing. And it stays the same now. It's not even a problem for me to practice with two bands in the same day. It's still me, just different parts of my ideas and emotions and range. So of course when we practice with INVSN it’s a different mindset and approach… I like that my feet are always planted in the same soil, but as a person you're always multi-faceted."
Included in that different approach was that instead of writing in English as he had done in the past, Lyxzén wrote first in his native Swedish, then translated into English. This method produced completely different lyrics according to the musician, but are nonetheless rooted in the same incendiary mindset. "It's a very dark record and there are a lot of political undertones across the board. But they're not as in your face," Lyxzén said. "It's not 'Die capitalist scum, die,' but it's right there if you read it. It's just a different way of phrasing that I think goes more with the mood of the music."
Despite the markedly different approach INVSN took compared to his past projects, Lyxzén's perspective on societal iniquity hasn't changed since his fiery days in Refused. In fact, things are much worse nowadays, according to the musician. "Just the way the world is evolving, people are getting more and more selfish, more and more egotistical, more and more having a 'taking care of themselves' kind of attitude. In Sweden we have a right-wing government and racism, fascism is on the rise in Europe, the European Union is crumbling, you're got Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy under economic pressure; so it's just a bleaker reality than twenty years ago."
Along with the wider world, Lyxzén expressed how the music industry has evolved in the past decade, with file-sharing and the imminent disappearance of the indie category. Lyxzén expressed how rock bands in particular are struggling more as record labels skew farther towards popular genres and make "360" deals that leave artists financially at their mercy. Because of the inability to sell records anymore (because no one's buying), the touring environment is becoming increasingly saturated. At the same time, clubs have been opting for DJs over bands due to lower overhead production costs. File-sharing has been one of the biggest catalysts for this industry shift, and Lyxzén has fallen prey to it like everyone else.
"It's been a really weird couple years," Lyxzén reflected. "When file-sharing first came, it was pretty exciting because this was challenging the old structure. But then I realized a lot of these people just want s--t for free. They don’t care about crumbling any existing structure or challenging the record industry. Literally we got kids downloading our music then messaging me on Facebook asking, 'Can I get on the guestlist?' Unbelievable. I mean, there are cool things about file-sharing for instance if you live in the sticks, you can have the same access to culture, movies and music as anyone else. But it's a super complex issue."
Struggling for twenty years to maintain a living as a musician while the industry has become more hostile to independent music, Lyxzén "hit the lottery" of sorts as cult fanaticism around his '90s hardcore punk band Refused came to a fever pitch. In 2012, the band's reunion surpassed all expectations as the tour got longer and the crowds got bigger. But suddenly playing in front of tens of thousands of people didn't get to Lyxzén's head. "I never played music to become famous or successful or make tons of money, that’s never been an incentive ever," he said. "I acknowledge the intoxication of that response you get, when you’re the king of the town for a couple of hours. Maybe if I was a young kid when it happened it might be different, but I’m a pretty grounded person. I've played in front of 60,000 people [before Metallica in Germany] and four hours later I’m playing in front of twenty-five people in the f--king rain and cold with INVSN, just because I want to play with INVSN. That’ s how I am, I don’t really let it get to my head. But I know the feeling and it’s a pretty powerful feeling."
Whether in front of stadium crowds, or in the basement of a club, Lyxzén has consistently put on some of the most powerful and compelling live performances in rock. We even included him in our Most Memorable Dancers in Rock list, and couldn't resist asking where his gravity-defying jump kicks and impressive mic tosses came from, probably to the musician's chagrin. He recollected for us, "In 1989 I played my first show just as a singer and we played fast, no-holds-barred hardcore. We said ‘No one’s going to like our music so let's f--king give 'em a show.’ We just went crazy. We smashed a guitar and at the last song the drummer took his cymbal stand and threw it right in the fuse box and the power at the club went out. It was a good show. I think from that day on I’m just like, 'Alright so this is how it works, if I f--king do some gymnastics up here people are going to be into it'."
"You study James Brown, you study Mick Jagger, you steal a small move here and there and make it into your own. After playing more than two thousand shows I’m pretty much my own personality when it comes to going on stage, so I guess that’s how it works."