Figurines as indebted to Cobain as they are CCR
More than 13 years after Kurt Cobain's death, it's easy to forget the extent of Nirvana's influence. The Seattle grunge titans sparked a revolution that would spread across the world, including to a small town in northern Denmark.
Just ask Christian Hjelm, the vocalist for Copenhagen-based Figurines.Hjelm and two other band members–guitarist Claus S. Johansen and keyboardist Jens Ramon–hail from a tiny village called Vestbjerg. It was there that a teenage Hjelm gravitated toward what would become known as alternative rock.
"I remember the first electric guitar I bought, a very cheap one," Hjelm says, reached at a Copenhagen nightclub called Vega. "I clearly remember making up songs that were a lot of distortion and power chords, and with my 12-year-old voice trying to sing like Kurt Cobain."
As Hjelm notes, he and his bandmates had passed that stage by the time they started playing together in the mid '90s. Thanks to the MTV program 120 Minutes, the burgeoning musicians discovered the American indie-rock underground and so, by the time Figurines' second album, Skeleton, introduced them to the North American market in 2006, critics could hear post-Nirvana acts such as Modest Mouse and Built to Spill in Hjelm's cracked vocals as well as in the songs' mischievous structures.
When the Deer Wore Blue, the follow-up to Skeleton, stays true to this indie sensibility, especially when Hjelm and his bandmates fool around with time signatures on the spirited "Let's Head Out" and indulge in a bit of noir psychedelia on "Angels of the Bayou". But just as often, Figurines' classic-rock roots show: Beach Boys harmonies waft through the '70s MOR ballad "The Air We Breathe", while early-'70s blues licks light up the seven-minutes-plus opus "Drunkard's Dream".
Hjelm wasn't as concerned about influences creeping into the songs as he was with taking the emphasis off the guitar. "Skeleton is a very guitar-driven album, and this time I didn't want it to be the centre of attention," he says. "From album to album we've tried to challenge ourselves. To not necessarily go in new directions–we still want to have some kind of Figurines sound–but to evolve."
It's unlikely, however, that Hjelm will ever completely forsake the instrument he's played since music changed his life when he was a kid. "The reason I started playing guitar wasn't because of Nirvana," he says. "It was because of Creedence Clearwater Revival. That was the first band I remember starting to love. The main reason I picked up my dad's old guitar was because I wanted him to teach me 'Bad Moon Rising'."
Figurines play the Media Club on Friday (October 12).