The promise of perpetually horny groupies and free nose candy are two great reasons to pursue a career in rock 'n' roll, with a bonus being that drinking on the job is not only acceptable but encouraged. But unless you're U2, the Rolling Stones, or those dandies from the Killers, there comes a time when life on the road begins to lose its appeal. It's that reality that inspired Ode to Ochrasy, the third album from Swedish garage-soul obsessives Mando Diao. The members of the fantastically photogenic five-piece were all in their teens when they first committed to a life where there are a thousand music-biz failures for every success story. And now that singer-guitarist Gustaf Norén is in his mid 20s, he has nights when he wonders whether the complimentary Heinekens are worth it.
"There are times when you're lying on a shitty couch somewhere in England and you've got a fever and the flu and you just want to go home," admits Norén, reached at a hotel room in a Swedish ski resort where his band is playing. "We're 25, 26 years old now, and that's when you think five, six years from now we might not be able to do this."
For now, Norén remains fully committed to what he's doing, even if sometimes he fears it's testing his sanity. On that note, the title Ode to Ochrasy refers to a state of mind that all touring musicians will be able to relate to: boiled down to the sound-bite level, ochrasy is a term that Mando Diao dreamed up to describe the feeling when life starts to get more weirdly warped than Floria Sigismondi's videos. For Norén, it's when he's buzzed in a foreign city at 4 a.m. in the morning, crashed out postgig in a hotel that he can't name, not having any clue what day of the week it is or what country he'll be in tomorrow. But there's an upside to all that discombobulation.
"Mostly this lifestyle is like a circus or Satyricon by Fellini," the singer states. "Anything can happen all of the time, and that makes it an amazing way to live your life."
For a window into what exactly does happen for Mando Diao when it hits the road, you only need to check out the songs on Ode to Ochrasy, which gives you a good idea what the Sonics might have sounded like if they'd recorded for the Scandinavian branch of Stax. Many of the songs are inspired by surreal-life encounters.
"This album is like a scrap book–pinups about people that we've met," Norén says. As a result, the paisley-scented retro-rocker "Song For Aberdeen" was born out of partying with a boozy American boho artist, the gypsy-shitkicker–tinted "Good Morning, Herr Horst" ties back to a homeless man that Mando Diao got to know on the streets of Stockholm, and "Long Before Rock 'n' Roll" relives the night a young Spanish jazz fanatic argued with Norén that Elvis sucked the romance out of pop music.
That Mando Diao has no trouble meeting such characters gives you an idea that the band doesn't leave the stage and then pile right onto the tour bus. The group likes to party, but not necessarily with groupies and coke dealers. Norén knows he's had a good night when he heads back to his hotel room feeling that he's officially in the land of Ochrasy.
"If we go to the cool indie places for the official after-parties, it would be like we're the big rock stars coming in to pick up chicks," he says. "In the bars we go to, we're fucking outcasts–skinny, sweaty weirdos walking in in leather jackets. It's much more fun. People in those bars don't know who we are, but when they find out we've just played in their city it's a good story so we end up talking. We meet a lot of freaks that way."
Mando Diao plays the Plaza on Saturday (May 5).