Linnea Olsson (maggot heart) interview - 5.10.19
After witnessing Maggot Heart take the stage in the dark attic of a venue that is the awesome upstairs bar at The Smiling Moose, a drunken metalhead’s oasis on the south side of Pittsburgh, it may have been a little intimidating to initiate this interview. Imagine two tall, dark, blonde, and dangerous figures going to war with their instruments and wailing into the mics with malicious intent, being powered by a ruthless drummer that wouldn’t out of place in a death metal band. The guitarist, singer, and mastermind behind Maggot Heart, is Linnea Olsson. She is a rock warrior and her weapon of choice is the six string. She handles and whirls her guitar around like a battle axe as she militantly barks into the mic like a rock & roll sorceress. Ripping through their set amongst some technical sound issues and a tad bit of ungodly feedback, they charged on without missing a single one of their venomous beats or losing her perfectly noisy tone. After a short but hypnotically powerful set, we sat in against the front window of The Moose for this interview... letting the madness of South Side serve as a backdrop.
Linnea exhumes pure rock & roll. She’s chillingly cool, skeleton-skinny, darkly interesting, insightful and smart as all hell. Like I said, pure rock & roll. After having exclaimed on stage this has been Maggot Heart’s first tour in America; that we Americans are so kind yet so blood thirsty, that you never know what you’re gonna get and… “I like it,” she says. I wanted to clarify if this was her first time in America. After laughing at me then maybe feeling sorry about it, she sweetly said no. This is simply the band’s first time. Naturally, I ask if this was her first time in Pittsburgh. It was. Alright, NOW we’re getting somewhere! Unfortunately, having not been able to see the area much as it was a very late start (10:30 doors) she just saw the atmosphere around e Carson Street. Naturally, I take it upon myself to interject a brief Pittsburgh history lesson before we begin:
DCL: This is where people in Pittsburgh come to get fucked up.
LO: I can tell.
DCL: Kind of like Bourbon Street, of Pittsburgh. Except, you know, not as famous.
LO: Yeah. It’s cool to visit though. Has a vibe about it, for sure. I’m in.
DCL: How long have you been into the tour?
*whips out tour itinerary and lays it on the table like a revolver* I see it’s a little more than halfway through. Starting in LA, crawling through the south, invading the east coast, then looping back around through Chi town and ultimately finishing up in Seattle.
DCL: Oh, good for you guys. How have the crowds here been? U.S. versus European, is basically what I’m getting at.
LO: We are such a small band, on this underground level, that there really is no difference. I mean, when it comes to that sort of thing. The people that are into us are the same kind of people everywhere. They are few and far between but they are very enthusiastic. Europe is a very diverse place, you know? What you get in Italy is not what you’re gonna get in England or Scandinavia. Where we live in Germany, the fans are really… well, nerdy. They’re very interested, they want to buy things, take pictures, you know… In Scandinavia, people couldn’t give a shit. Here, I’ve been very overwhelmed with things. We are a poor band on a nothing budget, so we’re touring and needing places to stay. We have a sign at our merch booth asking for someone to host us and people here have been incredibly hospitable and generous. Way more than anyone in Europe. Not saying they (in Europe) aren’t really nice too, its just these are complete strangers helping us out giving us rides, beds, food, vodka orange juices; you know all that stuff.
DCL: That makes me happy to hear. And I think that speaks to the nature of the underground, so to speak. The crowd you guys draw are enthusiastic, supportive, and recognize that we’re in this together; that’s not something you get everywhere or with every genre of music.
LO: Well, I hope so! Some Americans say, “You know Americans aren’t that nice,” And I’m like, “What?! Yes you are, like super nice.”
DCL: I’d say that’s true, especially in these sort of circles (igniting the atmosphere of the Smiling Moose for a late night metal show on a Friday with my spirit fingers). But, there are quite a bit of assholes, too. The Americans that come to places like this to see Maggot Heart, are gonna be the people to let you sleep on their couch, without a doubt.
LO: Yeah, it’s been a cool adventure. We don’t know where we’re gonna go every night so you end up meeting a lot of great people and seeing lots of cool places and, it’s just cool.
DCL: So, do you draw inspiration from things like tour like this? Like very much “punk rocking it”, whirl winding your way around the country?
LO: Doesn’t exactly work like that.. Like, I wouldn’t go write an album about say, “touring the US.”
DCL: I would hope not.
LO: (Laughs) Yeah. You get it, you’re a writer you know what it’s like. Just kind of put stuff in the bank and save it for when you can use it.
DCL: What I notice about your music is that is is very genuine. It has that quality to it that you cant really quantify or make tangible, you just feel that it is coming from your heart and it is important.
LO: Thank you!
DCL: Yeah, well, it’s very apparent. But it’s also very apparent when bands or music or whatever just doesn’t have “that.” LO: That’s a wonderful compliment.
DCL: All I do is notice shit. You do it. But, what do you think “that” is? Is that just the lifestyle, or just you and your heart that is so into this? LO: *thinking so hard it looks like she may shatter the front window* DCL: I know that may be a loaded question (laughs), but you’re no stranger to the scene. Through multiple bands, you’ve been at it for a while. I’m interested in whatever that thing is.
LO: I don’t know, you know? (Laughs) Like you were saying it’s pretty easy to tell when artists maaay be dong this for slightly the wrong reason. But, I’m not trying to sit on this high horse and deem what is good art or bad art; that’s not for me to say. To me, having been in the scene for so long, seeing and meeting so many bands, it just seems that people loose track of what is important about the music quite easily. A lot of bands if no one was listening, they wouldn’t do it. I feel like I’m gonna keep up writing and playing even if no one was at all interested in what the fuck I was doing. This is something that is part of who I am and the definition of my existence, in a way. So… I just do things that feel good for me. That’s it. If it happens to come across as genuine then I did something right, because that resonates with you or anyone else. That’s what I believe it’s about is making a connection with somebody; not about what I look like or my Instagram pictures. It’s not gonna be based on who I know or any bullshit that takes away from the real importance of music.
*Chris from King Dude comes to heckle and scream blonde jokes, etc. He’s funny. we both loose track of where we were going. Thanks, Chris.*
DCL: Anyway, you answered that question beautifully, and I think that what you said is really important and we need more artists like you. Like that it is exactly why I do what I do, because I want to and I want to support like minded artists from wherever that do the same. So, that inspires me.
LO: If it’s inspiring, that’s the best, because that the biggest compliment ever. I was a writer for many years did you know that?
DCL: *having done my research* Yeah, you did that famous interview with Raz from Killing Joke.
LO: Yeah! I wrote for a living, I wrote for a music journalist as a rock critic for many years. I started when I was 14.
DCL: Do you still publish that zine you used to?
LO: I do. But, like, once every two years. (Laughs) DCL: But that’s SO cool that you still do that though, you should bring it up again.
LO: I know, I’m just lazy.
DCL: Well, please do. I’ll buy 5, I promise.
LO: I’ll send you one for free.
DCL: That’s so cool. Yeah, I’m definitely a fan. I talked about in my review that it’s really awesome to see a lot of women taking on roles in the punk/metal/underground world, to what I hope is starting to become more of a norm. With that, do you feel like you are in any sort of like, position of authority? Or feel you are flying that flag a little bit?
LO: This is a bit of a tricky subject for me. There are so many female musicians that I know or came up with that, we knew from when we were growing up that we were not like other women. And, you know, we don’t want to be known for being female musicians; we want to be known for being musicians. BUT, I sort of feel like thats a bit bullshit. Because, that sort of implies that there’s something wrong with being a female, like it’s undesirable or not quite good enough. Like still looking from approval from somewhere else or being invited into “male” circles. So, this is something I have conflicting feelings about. On one hand, I sort of don’t want to talk about it. But, in another way, I REALLY want to talk about it. I think it’s weird when people ignore the fact that we are women doing something that is unusual. But, I also don’t like it when I become some sort of spokesperson for a whole gender… like, it doesn’t really work like that. It’s really weird! BUT, I feel that things are changing slowly, but they are changing. I also feel like you meet more female musicians and more men that are into female musicians in a non-weird way (laughs), you know what I mean? To me, it’s like I make music for anyone. It just happens to be from a female perspective, because, well… I am a woman. But if I can resonate with and inspire a man then that is really, really important. This is not only supposed to be for girls. And it is really important for men to talk about female role models or inspiration sources that they have, and the opposite. I don’t know if that answered your question.
DCL: That does. Well, it speaks to the importance of my question by the nature of that tricky answer. And it is a fine line to walk on both ends. Because, conversely, if I’m this dude that’s singing praises for women musicians, then I could just be trying to get laid.
LO: Yeah, sure, I get it. That’s so fucked up because that’s so ridiculous. I know it’s a long way to go but it will get there. Like, I have a female bass player, right? She’s in the band because she is the best bass player I know in Europe right now. It’s not because she’s a woman, it’s because she’s the best. I do not have an agenda, but at the same time I can proudly say I am a feminist. Like, how could I not be? Just the shit you go through as a women, it is simply undeniably different from being a man. And I’m in no way ashamed of that.
DCL: Well, I would hope not. It definitely comes through in your music in a way that isn’t like shoving it down the listeners throat or anything, that feminists or any other “ists” are often guilty of. That’s the best way to make a statement on the subject is to make just really fucking awesome music… that just happens to be written and performed by a woman. That’s the statement in itself, you’re just out here kicking ass.
LO: Of course. And sometimes I will have another guitar player on stage that has been various different people. A lot of the times, that is a woman. So, sometimes, there are actually three women on stage at a Maggot Heart show. And that is NOT because they are women. I have to say, when it comes to trying out musicians and learn my songs… the women are always on top of their shit so much more than the men. It’s because you have to as a girl. You’re gonna be watched and scrutinized so much more than if it were just another guy playing. We don’t have that buffer to fuck off, a lot of the time. That’s just the way it is. So, the girls you meet at this level are always gonna take their shit very, very, seriously.
DCL: Because you have to.
LO: Absolutely. I of course take my stuff seriously, too. When I was younger I used to worry about being part of “the cool kids.” I don’t think about that any more. I was also very fortunate to play with a lot of great musicians that encouraged me and never even mentioned anything about that I so happened to be another gender. It was just a nonissue.
DCL: It seems to be working out pretty well, that’s awesome. Now that the serious shit is over, how’d you get into playing guitar?
LO: I’ve played music since an early age. I’ve played piano. I’ve played the saxophone, actually.
LO: I went to music school where we had a choir singing everyday. My dad was into rock music so I’ve always been into The Rolling Stones and stuff. My older brother was really into Guns ’n Roses, so I started listening to that when I as a kind and… I don’t know. I just got this rock & roll obsession.
DCL: Was there one album or one band that REALLY did it for you?
LO: I mean, the G N’ R Lies and the Appetite for Destruction albums were like HUGE for me. Like, I heard them from from maybe when I was 6 years old but it wasn’t until around 12 when I really got into it. The guitar just seemed like the epitome of rock n roll.
DCL: Yeah, the devil plays the guitar, for sure. I get that.
LO: Yes. So, I had a summer when I was with my father when he had a new wife and a new family. We were in a very small boring town in Sweden and I had nothing to do. So, I borrowed a guitar and taught myself to play Guns ’n Roses intros like “Don’t Cry” and “Sweet Child ‘O Mine” and stuff like that. I just love the guitar. It’s fucking difficult to play, but it’s really fun for me.
DCL: That makes sense because seeing you play guitar live was amazing. You’re a warrior.
LO: It was not a very good show tonight. The sound and feedback was really terrible, I never had anything like that before. We played really good shows, I was so sad you didn’t get to see any of them.
DCL: Doesn’t matter to me at all, I think it’s pretty cool actually. I was stoked just to see you guys. It gave it character (laughs). At least you’ll maybe remember playing Pittsburgh as an infamously bad sounding show, then huh?
DCL: Having listened to all your projects, I can tell your style kind of changes depending on the band or the time. Like, the guitar now for Maggot Heart is very different than say, The Oath. LO: You think so?
DCL: Yeah, I think so for sure. A lot in the tone and just how you actually, physically, play it. LO: That’s cool and I’m sure you’re right. The tone is definitely different. A lot of it has to do with experience, I’m a lot better of a guitar player now than I was then. I’m also probably a little nosier now than I was back then, too. You have to understand, we played like 5 or 6 live shows with The Oath, it was not a live band. It was ridiculous. They were all done on really big stages so we didn’t have the chance to really develop. And before that, I had a long break of really not playing live at all. So, it wasn’t until after all that stuff that I really developed my ability to play live… and become more noisy.
DCL: Well, on the Maggot Heart records, I think the guitar is easily the star of the show. It just really stands out with the tone and everything. How did you achieve that? LO: Believe it or not, we recorded in the same studio with the same producer as The Oath’s album.
DCL: Oh, wow. That makes it better then, I think.
LO: The producer is a really good friend of ours. Also, when I play live I definitely crank it up a bit so there’s a bit more sustain and distortion. So, I really love the fact that on the album is way more… like.. I don’t know the word to describe it. (Laughs)
DCL: In my review I used the word “primitive” to describe it a few times, actually.
LO: Yeah! That’s a really good one. Because it’s not an easy going tone, for sure. It has a bit of friction and I really like it. I think it works so well with the music and really, I’m just happy to work with people that know what they’re doing.
DCL: I think it sounds a lot like The Stooges meets Killing Joke.
LO: Those are my favorite bands, so that makes sense.
DCL: Final question. I ask this to everyone, so get ready... What is your favorite Black Sabbath album?
*before I can finish the question she cuts me off*
LO: Sabotage. Without a doubt.
DCL: No way, me too. No one’s had that answer yet before. Yes!
LO: Yeah, it’s like, a masterpiece. I just never grow tired of it. It has like insane songwriting. I mean, we talk about guitar tone? That tone is terrifying. It’s sooo weird and twisted and dark but at the same time super catchy. It has a lot of details that you won’t get the first time or maybe the twentieth time, or fiftieth time. Yeah, I love it. What a great album.. fucking weird album.
DCL: Megalomania is the best song of all time.
LO: Yeah! The riffs are insane. The vocals are insane. The Writ is such a great song to close out on. It has that weird high hat the goes (make eerily accurate noise). I love a lot of Black Sabbath, obviously. But if someone asked me what heavy music is to me, it would be that album.
DCL: Mic drop.
I went on to give her a DCL shirt, to which she gratuitously accepted, but wanted to make it clear that she does not like to do exercises and wanted to make sure I wrote that in this interview. So, there you go, Linnea. Thanks a million for your time, it was a beyond cool conversation.
There’s still time to check out maggot Heart on their current US tour, Dates and more info here!!