The Hand that Feeds 

B-Sides boogies with a member of ABBA, gets dramatic with Colin Meloy and talks to the funniest NIN fan around

Is there a better song to pack the dancefloor than ABBA's "Dancing Queen"? Especially after a drink or seven? (No, we think not.) In lieu of the real thing -- the symmetrical Swedes broke up in 1983 -- we now have ABBA the Music, a tribute band that's the spitting image of the original (sparkly, Spandex jumpsuits included).

The inclusion of saxophonist Ulf Andersson, an original ABBA associate whose talent graces the beginning of "I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do," contributes even more to the authenticity. Building on the touring he did with the real band in the late '70s, Andersson's part of the backing band for the Sweden-based group. Although his background is in jazz -- he worked with noted Lou trumpeter Clark Terry -- the affable Swede has worked with the Supremes and Ann-Margret in his 45 years as a professional.

B-Sides: Tell us about your history with ABBA.

Ulf Andersson: Back in the '70s I was called for recordings with ABBA. Benny [Andersson] and Björn [Ulvaeus], the two guys of course, the two Bs -- they asked me to come there and add something, overdub something in the songs. Actually, [the songs] were almost recorded already; they wanted some saxophone. I put something extra there. That was in 1975. So this is 30 years later and I'm coming down and doing some tribute concerts with ABBA the Music.

Do you ever get audiences that mistake you guys for the real thing?

I believe because this group is so very similar to the original, so I think even some people think this is ABBA [laughs]. But of course they understand they were on the top 30 years ago. But they [the tribute band] do it so well, it might be possible for some people to think this is the original. The sound is exactly the same. Even they look the same.

What's your favorite part about touring the U.S.?

There's so many good parts about it. The audience is so great. I really love the American audience. They really like to enjoy themselves, they really go out and have fun. In Europe, for instance, people are more calm and listening and not so much dancing and shouting. But I like the way the American audience are behaving.

Do people throw underwear on stage?

[Laughs] No, I haven't seen that yet. I look forward to that yet.

Do you still talk to Benny and Björn?

I met Benny just about a month ago; I happened to run into him in the party. I had asked him about the thing that we are doing this thing, going around the world today and playing his music. I was really curious what he felt about it, maybe he didn't like it too much. But he was very excited; he said, 'Good luck.' I assured him that the sound was sounding so good, so he should be happy about it. -- Annie Zaleski

Meant for the Stage
Although Decemberists vocalist Colin Meloy went on a solo tour this past winter, Picaresque, the Portland, Oregon, band's third album, is arguably its lushest yet. The nuanced production of Death Cab for Cutie's Chris Walla finally matches Meloy's obsession with detail: Horns, strings and accordion drift in and out of the hook-laden mix with the poetic deftness of a calligrapher's pen strokes. B-Sides talked to Meloy about rabid fans and rapid eye movement.

B-Sides: What was the best part about doing the solo tour?

Colin Meloy: It was just great to play because it was smaller audiences. It seemed like, in each city, it was your normal Decemberists audience boiled down to the core 150, 200 people. It was a lot of fun in that respect -- the audience was, you know, really easy to win over. And everybody who was there knew all the songs, and inevitably [it] turned into this big sing-along thing. It was lots of fun for that reason. We're very lucky to have won over such sweet people.

"Engine Driver" reminds me of an R.E.M. song at the beginning, and I heard that you did a snippet of [1984's] "Seven Chinese Brothers" at a solo show. Are you a big R.E.M. fan?

I was weaned on music at a time when that was -- when everybody was trying to sound like R.E.M. all the time. Which seems to be a bygone era. You longingly look back and wish that everybody tried to sound like R.E.M. these days, rather than trying to sound like Franz Ferdinand. These things come and go. But yeah, R.E.M. will always be a big part of what I do.

When people come up and talk to you at shows, what do they usually tell you about your music or themselves?

Incredibly, a lot of people come up to me and say they were meant for the stage as well. I think we have a lot of, you know, drama fags that come out to the shows -- which is inevitable, because I was one of them myself. And by saying drama fags, I mean it in the most endearing way possible. -- Annie Zaleski

'Head Like a Hole
Nine Inch Nails -- and specifically its majordomo, Trent Reznor -- attract a loyal (if not sometimes bordering-on-the-obsessive) fan base. But one of Reznor's most ardent (but not obsessive) fans is Meathead, who helms the Meathead Perspective (www.theninhotline.net/meatpers/meatpers.html). The fan site isn't afraid to poke fun at the serious nature of NIN acolytes or the band itself (Meathead talking about NIN's new CD, With Teeth: "No matter what style of music you're into, you're bound to find something here that suits your taste, from underwater banjo solos to overdriven jazz flute harmonies to parakeets rapping") but is a goldmine for sarcastic commentary and hilarious parodies.

B-Sides: How long have you been a NIN fan?

Meathead: Since 1994, back in the days when I was still easily impressed by bad words in lyrics. But unlike most of the other music I was listening to at the time, NIN has actually sustained my interest over the years. Coolio, unfortunately, has not.

Does Trent Reznor know of your existence? Have you guys ever met?

Yeah, but I imagine he knows lots of people, so it doesn't really make me all that special. I doubt a guy who has David Bowie on speed dial would spend a whole lot of time thinking about me. We have met, though -- and yes, ladies, the rumors are true: He does smell like cinnamon.

If you and Trent Reznor had an afternoon to spend together, what would you guys do? Be specific. Money is no object.

Probably snort some blow and then go toilet paper Marilyn Manson's house. You know, the usual. Or if it happened to be raining that day, I guess we could just sit inside and speculate about what Coolio is up to these days. Hell, it wouldn't surprise me if Trent had him on speed dial as well.

How do you think up your creative NIN endeavors, such as the Trent Reznor hand puppet or the NIN version of A Christmas Carol?

I get all my inspiration from the Lord Jesus Christ. I am merely the vessel.

What's the weirdest piece of fan mail you've ever received from a NIN fan?

That's a tough one. NIN attracts an unbelievable number of crazy people. I guess the most ridiculous thing is when people take my page so seriously that they actually get angry at me. I mean, there are plenty of Web sites I don't care for, but I just don't go to them. There are a lot of angry, crazy people out there, and they all seem to have Internet access.

Who would win in a competition of Ms. Pac-Man, you or Trent?

Trent, no question. I have a life. -- Annie Zaleski

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