It’s only been Gothenburg, Sweden’s The Mary Onettes’ second tour of the U.S., and already fans are singing along to their songs in the farthest reaches of Brooklyn, at places like Union Hall. “I could feel the connection and it made it seem very intimate,” says frontman and main songwriter Philip Ekström. Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that their most recent show in that venue led to a glowing New York Times review the very next morning. Not exactly something to brush off from your second outing in perhaps the most critical, and jaded, music capital in the world.

The Mary Onettes aren’t a band to shy away from the power they can muster once they let their music loose on stage. Songs on their second release, Islands, shoot for the gold, so to speak, dappled with everything from children’s choir to strings and soaring guitars. “I’ve developed since the band started [around ten years ago],” Philip says, “but I think we’ve always aimed for epic songs and deep emotions. In the beginning, we were focused more on being a band that plays together, but now, we’re more focused on the recording, getting the sound right. We don’t work like a regular band any more. We don’t even rehearse that much.” Each member of the band has his or her tasks, from creating merchandise to the business of touring and dealing with booking agents.


Production duties are also kept within the band. “We do it ourselves. We want to have control,” Philip says. “We’d have to find someone who understands us. There aren’t many producers that understand our kind of sound in Sweden. It’s so unmodern.” I interject with the perhaps more appropriate description “timeless”, and Philip and his brother, guitarist Henrik Ekström agree. They don’t shy away from the fact that their larger-than-life, soulful sound hearkens to late 80′s dark guitar acts such as The Chameleons, Jesus and Mary Chain, Echo and the Bunnymen or Joy Division.

The richly melancholic version of Islands as fans now know it didn’t come without a set of dramatic obstacles, however. How does songs lost both via a stolen computer and a couple of broken back-up drives sound? Eerie, in a way, though It’s strangely fitting for such an epic band that all these unfortunate, yet strange occurrences led to the final creation of the album. These unnerving incidents forced Philip and the band to either sink or swim, and instead of caving into the misfortune, they dug in immediately and lost no time in rewriting their lost work, making the album stronger in the process.

Philip says, “I think all the things that happened has a meaning, and even though it was hard, it gave us the opportunity to make the album better than it was before.” Though they had to go through a lot to get to the final release, that struggle, as well as the tragedy of losing some close relatives and friends in the previous year, all perhaps led to a deeper emotional depth in their music. Philip says, “Of course it was tough. We’re very dedicated to this recording, so there’s never been an option to leave things behind. Somehow you just forget the bad, to focus and re-record.”–Madeline Virbasius-Walsh/photos by Teresa Sampson