ARNE THELIN : "Podgorica 2023 is the soundtrack to my own downfall"

What do Joyful Tears, Cosmic Dropouts, Lust-O-Rama, Kwyet Kings, Bittersweets, DANG!!!, BITHAMMER! have in common?

Answer: Arne Thelin, who has just released his first album under his own name, and we took the opportunity to ask him a few questions.

How did you discover the music that made you want to become a musician?

I was very lucky to have a brother who was much older than me and he had loads of records, singles and LP’s, which he played for me when he saw I showed an interest. I was 8-9 years old, so this was all the way back in 1968-69. I got the full treatment of Kinks, Stones, Beatles, Hollies, Fleetwood Mac, Chuck Berry and all the old blues legends… John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf etc. When he came of age and moved out a couple of years later, I inherited all the records.

I have never considered myself a musician, I can’t hear the difference between an A and an E, ha-ha. I was sort of thrown into it at the late age of 25. One of my big interests together with listening to music/collecting records in my youth, was photography. Photography was the reason I ended up in a band. I used to take photos of local bands in my home town Moss, Norway and one day I was asked by a band if I could take band photos of them, something I said yes to. I went to their rehearsal room one afternoon and they were all there, except the singer. After waiting for hours for him (he never showed up), the band wanted to rehearse and asked me if I could sing with them. I said yes and I was in the band. This was in late 1984, I think. The band was sort of a new wave/post-punk band, but we also did some covers, like of The Kinks’ All Day And All Of The Night. We called ourselves The Joyful Tears and we recorded four songs in 1987, which were released as a 12” EP on my label That’s Entertainment Records in 1988. This was the first release on the label. With little or no public attention, although White Label in Australia wanted to sign us at some point, The Joyful Tears eventually died a slow death and evolved into The Cosmic Dropouts.


Please tell us about the start of your musical career, what were your first bands?

As mentioned above, The Joyful Tears was my first band and Morten Henriksen (The Yum Yums) joined that band late on, and when the band went nowhere, we went on to form The Cosmic Dropouts together in the summer of 1987. We did a couple of singles and a mini-album (Groovy Things) on my label, and a full-length LP/CD album, which included the mini-album and the singles plus some unreleased recordings, was released by Skyclad Records in the US. The title was the same as the mini-album, Groovy Things. I re-released it on LP/CD on That’s Entertainment Records in 2023. We started to gain some popularity in Norway and we did some big support gigs, including for The Hoodoo Gurus, but we never toured outside Norway, except from a gig during the New Musical Seminar in New York and a gig in Philadelphia in the summer of 1989. Due to the direction the band was going in, which was more towards hard rock and carnival, and due to an increasingly toxic relationship with the guitarist, I quit. I didn’t have time for such nonsense, so I left The Cosmic Dropouts in late 1989.

THE LUST-O-RAMA_Photo-Anne Kathrine Senstad
I had already started The Lust-O-Rama with drummer Bulle earlier that fall and that was a much more interesting prospect for me. Both of us were heavily into British 60’s R’n’B and American 60’s garagepunk, and we wanted to do stuff along those lines. We did a string of singles and compilation tracks, did two European tours, supported The Fuzztones, The Cynics, The Godfathers amongst others and finally, released an album in the US (also) on Skyclad Records, titled Twenty-Six Screams. I re-released the album on LP/CD on That’s Entertainment Records in 2023. Even though The Lust-O-Rama moved faster than The Cosmic Dropouts, it wasn’t fast enough for me. We were all having straight jobs and combining that with a fast-moving band, doesn’t mix very well. A couple of the guys got tired of touring and complaining was all over the place when we were out, so I fired the whole band in July 1993.

I started The Kwyet Kings just days after and if The Lust-O-Rama was fast-moving, then The Kwyet Kings were running at lightning speed. I loved it. We did 4-5 rehearsals and then supported Lyres on their Norwegian tour, did a couple of more rehearsals and then recorded our first album, Firebeat, over two weekends. One weekend recording and one weekend mix. I released the CD on That’s Entertainment Records and it was out in the beginning of December, a little more than four months after I formed the band. The LP was released on Screaming Apple Records in Germany a few months later. We played Germany in 1994, did a string of singles and compilation tracks, and recorded our second album, Cherrypie, which was released by Screaming Apple Records on LP/CD in the spring of 1995. That year was equally busy, we toured Europe and did a string of singles. Knut Schreiner left the band in the fall to concentrate on Kåre & the Cavemen/Euroboys and later Turbonegro, and The Kwyet Kings went into hibernation in search of a new guitar player.

THE KWYET KINGS Photo-Morten Andersen

During The Kwyet Kings’ hibernation period that winter, I joined forces with John Martinsen, who was in the Yum Yums at that time, and we formed The Bittersweets as a side project to our bands. Both of us had ideas which didn’t quite fit in with our main bands so we let the ideas flow freely with The Bittersweets. We recorded an album in the spring of 1996 and I put it out on CD on That’s Entertainment Records. It went nowhere, the distributor screwed it up big time. I re-released it on LP/CD on That’s Entertainment in 2023.

We eventually got a new guitar player in The Kwyet Kings and rehearsed over the winter for what would be our third album. We recorded the album Been Where? Done What? in early 1996, but it wasn’t released until 1998 when Screaming Apple released the LP. Dionysus Records in the US released it on CD a year later. Dionysus also did a singles compilation on CD titled Singles’n Shit in 2000.

Since I didn’t manage to get Been Where? Done What? released anywhere when it was ready in 1996, and combined with the fact that I was fed up with the post-grunge music scene and my private life in general, I left to Asia for telecommunications work in September 1996 and stayed there for twelve years. I got married, bought a house up north in Chiang Rai, Thailand and had two kids. I was back in Norway briefly in 2000 and we recorded the last Kwyet Kings single, which was released the following year.

I didn’t do anything music wise between I left Norway in ’96 (except from recording the last Kwyet Kings single) until September 11, 2001, the day the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York were flattened. A friend of mine called me up in Chiang Rai that day and asked me if I had seen what was happening in New York. I said no and he told me to turn the TV on. And there I saw live the first of the twin towers fall in spectacular fashion. After he had hung up and I had digested what was happening, I raced upstairs and picked out the guitar from the back of the closet, where it had been stored untouched for years, and I made the song High and Mighty before the second tower fell. It took me less than fifteen minutes to write the music and lyrics. The chorus goes “One down and one to go”. Quite prophetic actually. I thought the song was bloody good and I wanted to record it, but without a band around or anyone I knew in Chiang Rai doing music, I started fooling around with some recording software on my PC. After spending weeks learning how to play it well enough on the guitar and learning some ancient drum machine software and how to record in general, I managed to get in my view then a decent recording out of it. I must have done 100 takes over several days of the guitar solo only. I needed bass, so I went to the local music shop and bought a cheap piece of shit bass guitar. I had never played bass before so I had to learn that as well. I managed to get something useful out of it after a few days. The vocals I had to do in the car out in the bush as my little daughter got scared when I started screaming. And thus BITHAMMER! was born. A Bithammer is by the way slang for a tool we used to configure the old analogue second generation radio base stations with.

High and Mighty became the A-side of the first BITHAMMER! single, which I released on Headlock Recordings, a sub-label of That’s Entertainment Records in 2002. The B-side, Teenage Gay Queen, I wrote immediately after finishing the recording of High and Mighty.

I was working in Japan in in the fall of 2002 and met up with Kunio Yoshiwara, the man behind 1+2/Barn Homes Records, whom I have had contact with since the early 90’s. He introduced me to Daisuke Kambe of Wizzard in Vinyl Records who wanted me to do an album for his label. I told him I had to think about it as the process was so slow to get the songs together, but eventually I said yes and it ended up with 6-track CD only release in 2004 titled Scandinavian Wanker. On the four additional songs to the two single tracks included on the CD, I started doing sampling in addition to playing guitar and bass. Wizzard in Vinyl Records also released a compilation CD in 2005 (SECOND THOUGHTS – Arne Thelin pop drops 1987-2005) with all the bands I had been in, and it included a new BITHAMMER! song as well. I wrote and demoed heaps of songs over a three months period at the end of 2004, but sort of lost interest so I put the guitar back in the closet for good I thought, but it turned out it was only the end of BITHAMMER! MK1.

I didn’t do any music between 2004 and 2018, except from a few months spell in a band called Groovy Kings I had together with Stig Amundsen (ex-Kwyet Kings, Yum Yums, Cluecifer) when I moved back to Norway in 2009. We played covers of songs from my previous bands and we did a couple of gigs.

My first marriage went down the drain at that time so I was off again working abroad in 2011. I re-married eventually and settled in Montenegro, where my new wife is from. I was working all around the world, but did short trips back home to Montenegro in-between. It was during one of these trips back home that BITHAMMER! re-surfaced.

BITHAMMER! Photo-Milena Thelin

My wife started it all asking me one day that since I’ve made so much music in my life, why haven’t I made a song for her? We had been together nine years at that time and she had never seen me performing or even heard me sing. I thought about that statement for a while, but after a few days of lyric spinning in my head, I went and picked up the old Epiphone SG guitar again, and came up with Turning My Back (On The World For You) the same evening.

Everything sound wise is based on the unplugged Epiphone which I recorded on my phone at home in Montenegro twenty minutes before I flew off to Barbados. All electric sounding guitars and bass are tweaked out of this un-plugged guitar phone-recording. The drums are done with a pre-historic drum software (Hotstepper) from the late 90’s and the solo I sing. The vocal, as everything else, is recorded on the phone. I finished the song in a couple of days after I arrived in Barbados and I was pretty damned pleased with it so I stormed out and bought myself a cheap Chinese acoustic guitar, made another song the same day (Can't Get Enough) and it sort of snowballed from there ending up with the album Minimum Style, Maximum Effort, which was released on That’s Entertainment Records/Apollon Records on LP/CD in January 2022.

It became a bit more sophisticated after the first two songs. I was in the Caribbean working, but I got ex-Kwyet Kings drummer Otto Gamst to do drums on a couple of songs and the opening track of the album, That's Entertainment, is mixed by Robert Johnson and Punchdrunks producer Johan Skugge. The whole album is full of samples... Jacques Dutronc, The Electric Prunes, The Birds, Cream, Serge Gainsbourg, Suicide, Lime Spiders to name a few of the 50+ samples on the album. When people get to know how it's made, they will probably think it's a complete rip-off, but honestly, I stand by it 100%. I’m very proud of it.

When the Corona hit in the spring of 2020, I was working in Suriname. I had lots of free time due to lockdowns and working remotely from my apartment there to do other things. I was working on the BITHAMMER! album and needed a couple of more songs so I got in touch with my old friend Stig Amundsen (The Kwyet Kings, The Yum Yums, Gluecifer) in March and I asked him if he had any riffs I could use. I got a couple of riffs, which he recorded on his phone and I made and demo’ed them, which again turned out pretty good. Stig was on the ball immediately and provided tons of stuff for me to play around with and that was the beginning of DANG!!!. We ended up with13-14 songs and he had the idea to bring in people and record my demos in a proper studio. Håvard Takle Ohr (Kvelertak) was brought in on drums, André Dahlmann (The Dahlmanns) on guitar, Geir Birk Nilsen (Russian AmCar Club) remotely on organ, Karen Cuda (Nashville Pussy) remotely on bass from the US, plus a few other people doing one offs, like Gregg Kostelich (The Cynics) on guitar on one song, Lorenzo Moretti (Giuda) on guitar on two songs and a few more people. The basic tracks (drums, some bass and guitar) were done in a studio in my hometown Moss, Norway and Stig controlled the recording sessions. I put all the bits and pieces together in Suriname. We kept a lot of the guitar recordings Stig had done on the phone. I got tons of recordings from east and west, and I included lots of samples, and I did all the vocals on my phone in the car in Suriname. We got Håkon Gebhardt (Motorpsycho) to mix it all in his studio in Italy. The end product was the first DANG!!! album, Sociopathfinder, which was ready in April of 2021 and released on Apollon Records in October 2021.

Bithammer! , Thailand 2004

I completed the BITHAMMER! album Maximum Effort, Minimum Style in the fall (released on That’s Entertainment Records in April 2022) and I was working intensely on the next DANG!!! album from Suriname through the fall and winter, and the album was ready in March 2022. It wasn’t released until August 2022 due to the usual long manufacturing time at the pressing plant. The album is titled The Will Of God and was recorded similarly to the first album and it was released on Apollon Records as well.

The plan was to work through the summer of 2022 for what would be our third album. I had five songs ready in May, but it all fizzled out into nothing as Corona restrictions loosened up everywhere. Stig was busy with work and family through the summer and I went home to Montenegro at the end of August to be a father to my 10 months old son.

I did bits and pieces with BITHAMMER! from the late fall of 2022, but kept it very low key. Fucked Up and Stupid was released as a digital single in January 2023 and I released a few more songs throughout the year. I produced two songs with a band from my hometown Moss, called The Mondos. I also started a collaboration with André Dahlmann (The Dahlmanns) in the fall of 2023, we named the spectacle The Thelin-Dahlmann Exploitation, or TDX for short. A 7” single will be out on That’s Entertainment Records in March.

2023 was a particularly bad year for me personally. I spent the year in Podgorica, Montenegro (where I live). I was hardly outside the city limits all year. It was an endless and senseless dark slump that I didn't see coming or knew was going on. Everything that could go wrong, went wrong. I ended up with a deep depression, which I didn’t know happened at the time when it did. I had planned to take all the stuff I had done in 2023 and release it as a BITHAMMER! album, but I changed my mind and it will be released in April this year as an Arne Thelin solo album. The title is Podgorica 2023 and will be out on That’s Entertainment Records. It’s a very personal album for me. I have no idea how good or bad this album is, but it's me 100%. It’s a collection of dark garage-pop tunes with loads of guitars and in retrospect I can see that it’s the soundtrack to my own downfall.

THE COSMIC DROPOUTS_Photo-Morten Andersen

What was the first concert that stood out for you and why?

The first concert that stood out for me was a gig when I was at at the age of 12. It was a Norwegian band called Prudence, playing at a legendary club in my home town called Blinken, later Kråkereiret. In fact, it was the first band (I had already seen a few) I saw with a proper setup and a loud sound. I loved it. I was too young to be at the gig, the age limit was 16, but I knew one of the guys working at the club and he knew I was very interested in music so he got me in and looked after me during the show. Prudence was sort of a prog/hard rock band, very common at the time (1972), and they were very popular in Norwat at the time. Their Tomorrow May Be Vanished album from 1972 sounds pretty good to me even today, if you like a bit of prog, which I happen to do. The song Going Through This Life from the album is bloody brilliant. The lead singer, Åge Aleksandersen, later turned out to be one of the best-selling artists in Norway during the 80’s and 90’s. Pretty crap Norwegian languaged music though.

After that, and when I became old enough, I saw tons of gigs. Frank Zappa in 1977 was brilliant, Bob Marley in 1978 was great. Reggae wasn’t my thing then, but the band was as tight as a rabbit’s ass. Spectacular. Eddie and the Hot Rods in 1979 was an eye opener, the energy was fantastic. During the 80’s and early 90’s, I probably saw 600 gigs, but the stand-outs at the top of my head were New Order in’81, 9 Below Zero in ’81, Hanoi Rocks in ’84 (I was at the Marquee when the All Those Wasted Years album was recorded), Lyres in 87, Nomads in ’88, The Headless Horsemen in ’88, New Christs in ’89, Anal Babes in ’92, The Basement Brats in ’94, Dictators in ‘95 and Dead Moon in ’96.

I’ve always hated festivals; can’t stand the masses of people and the waiting for the bands you want to see and hear to get on stage. I went to a couple of festivals in the early 90’s just to see Ramones and Iggy Pop, artists who had for some reason eluded me live. Both were pretty poor experiences.

Your first record?

My first record was a Jimi Hendrix live album called On The Killing Floor, which I bought when I was 11 in 1971. This was a German cheapo release and a mix of various live recordings. It was the only album I had enough money to buy. It wasn’t played much as Sweet, T Rex and Slade happened. I bought lots of singles by all three bands over the next couple of years and I got the Black Sabbath album Vol 4 for Christmas in 1972 from my mother, which I had wished for. The world wasn’t the same after that.

Are you happy to have started out in your country or do you think it would have been easier for you in another country?

I don’t think it makes any difference where you are located. You make your targets based on where you come from and what you’re aiming for. Either you reach them or you don’t.

Thanks Arne