An intimate mini-documentary on The Cardigans accompanied the quintet’s sixth (and most recent) album Super Extra Gravity in its deluxe configuration when it was released in October 2005. The film was a visual diary meant to capture the scripting and construction of the album, but it was also a profile of the band itself, capturing their relationships as colleagues and friends. On the latter tip, each of the members are spotlighted—vocalist Nina Persson, lead guitarist Peter Svensson, keyboardist and secondary guitarist Lars-Olof Johansson, drummer Bengt Lagerberg and bassist Magnus Sveningsson.
At one point in the film when the camera pans around on Persson and Sveningsson, the singer pauses, smiling slightly before attempting to describe her peer, and says, “Shall I tell you about Magnus?” Sveningsson immediately responds, “I’m the one who keeps shit together.” It is a humorously frank statement of fact.
The tall and strikingly handsome Sveningsson’s collected demeanor has been the heart of The Cardigans from the beginning, when the band was little more than a germ of an idea between Svensson and him in 1992. In addition to his calm and cool “big brother” role, as a bassist, Sveningsson’s playing has been integral to the salty-sweet vibes of the Swedish group’s music that continues to attract new audiences.
This may also be why it doesn’t come as a surprise that it is Sveningsson who has become the curator and face of the band’s legacy today. Given that he is currently helming his own evolving musical project— the instrumentally driven Råå—Sveningsson’s dedication with curating The Cardigans Facebook page or overseeing their recent vinyl reissues evinces that the band remains close to his heart.
Sveningsson recently (and graciously) sat down with me to touch on several topics in his direct, but ever-friendly fashion. We explored a range of subjects, from eagerly chatting about the 20th anniversary milestone of Gran Turismo (1998)—and its recent commemorative tour dates—to his specific recollections of that epoch, those persistent reunion rumors, his solo work, and much more.
Quentin Harrison: Coming off the vintage pop aestheticism of The Cardigans’ first three albums, Gran Turismo was something of a departure, sonically speaking. But lyrically, the material was as biting as any of the band’s work. Describe what inspired the switch in sound on Gran Turismo with the consistent lyrical approach from your past projects?
Magnus Sveningsson: Well, we all wanted to leave the ‘60s retro way of doing things (behind) and our producer Tore Johansson had just bought a Pro Tools rig. This was in early 1998 and even though he didn’t really know how to work the program, we set off to record digitally.
As for the music, Peter has always listened to much darker music and during these years Radiohead and Depeche Mode played a big role in how he wanted us to sound. We all were quite exhausted, even in the beginning of the work, and I think it really took its toll. The lyrics are generally bleak and the production very static and cut-up.
QH: Can you describe the band dynamic, as you recall it, during the writing, recording and promotion of Gran Turismo?
MS: I was on the verge of breaking down in the summer of 1998 and it all got worse when we started to travel around the world to promote the album. By Christmas, I had full on panic attacks and had to stay home from all touring and band related work for 18 months. So that’s my experience of that record!
QH: The bass playing on Gran Turismo is seminal in relation to giving the album its weight and groove. Can you talk about that and what you were feeling during those recording sessions?
MS: I honestly cannot remember playing on the album, though I know we all spent a lot of time there in Tore’s countryside studio. I guess I spent most of my time in the kitchen cooking instead—I mean the guys needed lunch, right? So creatively, this was by far my lowest point in my twenty-six years as a Cardigan. I am sure I did play on some songs, but some bass was probably made by Peter. I remember reading all of James Ellroy’s crime novels on the patio. Since that Christmas, I can’t really read fiction (anymore). I guess some wiring burnt out in my head!
QH: Gran Turismo is arguably remembered as much for its hit singles as it was for its videos. Can you talk about the visual direction of The Cardigans during this time and how it was matched to the music?
MS: This was the first time we worked with major Swedish director Jonas Åkerlund; we shot “My Favourite Game” in Barstow, California in the middle of the Mojave Desert. It became a big hit in Europe and propelled us to stardom on MTV.
The second video was “Erase/Rewind” (directed by Adam Berg) and that was supposed to be us placed within the trash compactor on the Death Star. It was shot right before Christmas of 1998 and I was in such bad shape. I couldn’t speak properly and my hands were constantly shaking.
Our third video (“Hanging Around”) we shot in London and it was a remake of the film Repulsion (1965). I think Nina is amazing in this one and I remember liking the director (Sophie Muller). I was flown there to be in it and then fly home. I don’t like making videos, it makes me very self-conscious and weird. I think the best director we ever had was fellow musician Amir Chamdin (“For What It’s Worth,” “You’re the Storm”) from Stockholm. Since he’s spent as many videos in front of the camera as he has been behind it, he knows what it’s like. A very loveable man.
QH: What was your favorite single from Gran Turismo?
MS: “My Favourite Game” will always be one of our biggest songs.
QH: What was your favorite non-single from the album?
MS: We all like “Junk of the Hearts” a lot. The melody for that song is really an old demo, so I guess that one represents the vintage Cardigans sound and feel. “Paralyzed” and “Hanging Around” are real fun to play and we discovered “Marvel Hill” on these last shows in the UK. What a doom-song!
QH: Do you feel that the American music press was unnecessarily harsh in their assessment of Gran Turismo at the time of its release?
MS: I don’t know. All we knew is that Mercury Records dropped us from their priority list and that was a bummer. The singles would have been very good for us in the US during the Garbage and No Doubt era. Then again, we got to spend a lot more time in the UK and Europe, so it evened out. One can’t be on more than one continent at the same time.
QH: The band reunited for Gran Turismo’s 20th anniversary to tour the record. How did it feel to play these songs again with your bandmates?
MS: We started to play these songs live again in 2012, so this is the second time we did it. And between then and now, we’ve done live shows from Seoul to Santiago. We all felt we did a good job recreating the Gran Turismo songs and I think the audiences in the UK really, really liked it. We, as a band, feel so much better now than ever. We get to cherry-pick shows to play and not do one million photoshoots and videos.
QH: What is the legacy of Gran Turismo?
MS: I think it’s a crucial album since we really changed paths there. We didn’t want to go on as a “retro-sounding” band so we threw that part away. Then again, we threw Gran Turismo away when we made our best album, Long Gone Before Daylight (2003). I guess that’s how you build an interesting career? Invent, discard, invent again.
QH: Describe where you would want The Cardigans’ sound to go after Super Extra Gravity and can we expect any new music?
MS: Our songwriter Peter is not interested in making new music, so it’s rather unlikely. Perhaps we’ll do something with our stand-in guitarist Oskar (Humlebo), but I don’t know if we should call it The Cardigans then. I mean, everyone will compare it to our entire catalogue and then it’s doomed to fail. But who knows, perhaps it’ll be brilliant?
QH: Talk about the concept of travel and commuting behind your current project, Råå.
MS: Råå is my instrumental band with influences from early German synth, Swedish folklore, dub and much more. The album Skånes Järnvägar (“The Railroads of Scania”) (2018) was inspired by trains and small insignificant places in our region Skåne (Scania). The idea of old steam trains making those rhythmic sounds, monotonous like Krautrock drummers, it just fell into place in a very beautiful way and I am very proud of my work. And, of course, my producer and fellow musicians too.
QH: Are you planning to tour Skånes Järnvägar outside of Sweden?
MS: So far, we´ve only played here in the south of Sweden. We did get an offer from Stockholm, but that’s 650km one way. We had to have some guarantee of income for the band to even consider spending two days on the road. Playing small clubs will never be very lucrative, you know?
QH: What can we expect from Magnus Sveningsson in 2019?
MS: The new Råå EP Himmelsblå is out now. A live LP with Råå will also be out in the summer and the new album has just been recorded, with an estimated release in November or so. I keep busy for my age!
QH: Alright, Mr. Sveningsson, what are your five favorite albums of all time?
MS: Oooh! Dadawah’s Peace and Love, Kraftwerk’s Trans-Europe Express, Nils Frahm’s Solo, The Cure’s Disintegration and Burning Spear’s Marcus Garvey are albums I will always love, but it’s an impossible question to answer, Quentin!