I can't resist using The Miscellaneous' band name to characterize this group because the miscellaneous details of their story are what distinguishes them from being just another band of not-so-young kids. As soon as it is established that The Phantom Tollbooth will ask a few philosophical questions, front man Stef Loy stopped our interview to find BoH ("Just call me BoH"), lead guitarist. In almost accent-less English, Swedish BoH explained their biggest obstacle, "We're geographically challenged." Loy is American, their other singer, Sooi Groeneveld van der Laan, is Dutch. The balance of the members are Swedish, and all of them live in their home countries.
No strangers to public performance, they met each other as touring missionary musicians. "Magnus Sjo(umlaut)lander the drummer, Stef, and I have been touring together for seven years," BoH explained. "We've been all over the world. We've played twenty countries; we've played anywhere between 800 and 1,200 gigs together. We played for a thousand people on Nevsky Prospect in Leningrad with an 85-watt four channel P.A.," Boh remembered. "I have no idea if they heard a single thing."
"They loved it," Loy assured us, "but some of the ones in the back were just thinking they were in line for bread." It was on a series of those trips into Russia that they began writing songs that better suited them personally. "I went into the studio and just started recording them," Loy recalled," We didn't even know who was going to play, so we called the band, ‘The Miscellaneous.'" Three years ago, they broke away from the missionary group, and began to tour on their own in support of their first independent record, She Walks Alone With Me.
While touring, they crossed paths with Armand John Petri , who produced some of Sixpence None the Richer's finest moments. He reviewed the Miscellaneous's first effort. His reaction? "That's alright, but you guys need a producer," BoH said ruefully. "He gave us a focus. He'd say, ‘This is the song. This is what you are trying to do. This? This is not the song.'"
"I think I was on a real artist trip when I first started," Loy admited. "When I met Armand, he helped me to step outside myself. It was a big step for all of us. He helped me go back a couple of years to before I hit the road and remember what life is really like. He taught us that it's about writing good music."
Their Petri-produced second CD, All Good Weeds Grow Up, was picked for U.S. distribution by Grey Dot records, which brought the band over for Gospel Music Association (GMA) week just prior to our interview. "We played. It's a big thing," BoH flatly stated when asked his impressions. "A big thing."
Loy expanded on that thought. "It's positive and it's negative. One of the most awesome things I saw was a show with Stavesacre, Plankeye, The Supertones, and Fold Zandura. It was killer. One of the coolest parts was watching the fellow from Plankeye. He was reciting the Lord's Prayer while they had this droning ambient thing going on in the background. While he was reciting the Lord's Prayer, all these kids were body surfing in front of him. It felt like praise and worship body surfing."
"Some kids were body surfing, others were just standing with their arms lifted, praising," BoH contributed. "It was very cool to see. I feel like, with this generation, God is trying to find a new way for people to express their love for Him. He accepts this. He really wants people praising, but with their spirit, with who they are. I told Mark Saloman of Stavesacre, ‘you guys are the best praise team in the whole world.'"
Loy added a cautionary note,
"You can get depressed when you are down there (at GMA)
because there is so much baloney. We would really like to make art, and pursue it in that way, but there is just so much business. It takes our focus off the music that God has put inside us."
BoH balanced Loy's pessimism, "In some ways, though, the business aspect of things is necessary. Things need to be organized and worked out. I get mad if I don't get paid. There is a money exchange going on. But the focus, I feel a lot of times, is on the business, whereas the focus in the Christian industry needs to be with God."
Despite their vast experience as missionaries, they prefer to be called artists, not ministers, but their motives haven't changed. "It's hard," BoH said, "If you go out and say you are a missionary, it brings a lot of things to mind that I don't think we are about."
"I still prefer the word artist," Loy stated, "to using certain words like ‘missionary,' or ‘evangelist,' or anything like that. For example, if I had a good experience with IBM, but somebody got fired from IBM, and I said, 'IBM,' then all of a sudden they're thinking something negative before I've even said my experience. Plus, seriously, I think that God has put some kind of an art thing in us."
The band had an interesting perspective on success. "God has a purpose for this," stated BoH. "It's just not possible otherwise. You can't have people from three different countries from two different continents playing together, making it happen and meeting people. That's where it's at: meeting people and presenting something of the truth. Presenting something about God in what we do. To me, that says we need to keep open to this (The Miscellaneous); that we need to keep plugging away. What's strange, though, is that a lot of times it doesn't really matter how good or bad we think we are when we play. God will effect people anyway. No matter if we come off the stage, and think the show was awesome, it sounded really good, everything was there, the big P.A., the lights; it was a really good show for us. Afterwards, I can walk away and feel really empty. Yet, on the other hand, sometimes we walk away and feel terrible about the show, really lousy, yet people will come up to you and say that they have been touched and really moved by what has happened. If you have an openness to allowing God to use you in a concert setting—allowing God to use your material, your singing, playing, whatever—then that will touch people. That is what is important."
There were just a few miscellaneous points left to cover. When he isn't contributing etherial riffs with an Ebo to The Miscellaneous's accessible, modern art rock sound, BoH runs his own hard rock record label. "He discovered Blindside in Sweden, and he sent them to Tooth 'n Nail in the U.S. He doesn't like to brag about it, so I brag about it for him," said Loy. Sweden is probably best-known among rockers for their brutal hard rock, but BoH explained, "Actually I don't think there are only hard bands (in Sweden). There are a lot of things, like the Cardigans, for example. What I do think is that because of the long, hard winters, the quality of the musicianship is very high in Sweden. People have absolutely nothing to do except spend time in rehearsal rooms. Therefore, the hard music will sound harder because of the tighter playing than it is over here a lot of times."
In the spirit of the seemingly
miscellaneous factors that make up this complex band, BoH recently promoted
a large show in Stockholm with a seemingly random lineup. Christian industrial
purists Mental Destruction and thrashers Sanctum were sandwiched between
two well-known Satanist bands. "We feel it is important that God gets preached
to Satanists as well," he quietly explained. "See?"