Taking their name from the famous Polish composer responsible for scoring Rosemary's Baby, Kryzstof Komeda, the Swedish band Komeda combined a love for lush instrumental music and hyperactive 1960s garage rock to create an international pop sound all their own. Along with like-minded bands Stereo Total and Stereolab, who also merged kitschy lounge-style pop with rock and electronic elements, Komeda's presence was heavily felt during the mid-1990s European indie explosion.
Though the band—at the time comprised of singer Lena Karlsson, guitarist Henrik Andersson, bassist Marcus Holmberg, and drummer Jonas Holmberg—had played together in different forms since 1987, they officially took the name Komeda in 1991, when they were the pit band for a Buster Keaton film festival in Sweden. They also performed at other similar events, sometimes calling themselves Projektor 7 to reflect the cinematic nature of their music.
In 1993, as Komeda, they released their first proper album, Pop Pa Svenska (or Pop in Sweden), sung entirely in Swedish. Pop Pa Svenska was put out by a local label, North of No South, in the band's northern hometown of Umea. However, after its release Andersson chose to leave Komeda, and Matthias Nordlander, a guitarist from the band Blithe, replaced him.
Two years later, the band released the EP Plan 714 Till Komeda, and it was soon followed by 1996's The Genius of Komeda. This record, their first sung entirely in English and released on the Chicago-based Minty Fresh label, was also the band's first foray into the U.S. indie market. The Genius of Komeda was an underground hit, with independent press and college radio quickly catching onto its jangly melodies and sweet pop hooks. Writing in All Music Guide, Jason Ankeny called Genius "a bright and charmingly kitschy ode to space-age popcraft." Raygun echoed Ankeny's space-centered sentiments, declaring that "like the precise movements of aliens creating crop circles, Komeda spin immaculate designs with bubbly, intriguing melodic hooks."
The record's first single, "Boogie Woogie/Rock 'n' Roll," garnered attention as it rose up the college charts and even received airplay on MTV and major market commercial radio, an almost unheard-of feat for most indie bands. As the record gained steam in 1997, Komeda did their first tour in the United States, where they were met with sellout crowds in New York City and Los Angeles. On that trip the band also performed for HBO and for KCRW's famed Morning Becomes Eclectic program. Artists such as Devo, Luscious Jackson, No Doubt, and Can's Holger Czukay were soon praising the group, and Ben Folds invited the band to tour with Ben Folds Five later that year. To further show his admiration for the band, Folds sported a Komeda t-shirt during an appearance on Saturday Night Live. The year 1997 was a successful one for the band. Karlsson contributed vocals to a song on Shudder to Think's First Love Last Rites soundtrack, and Beck extended an invitation to the band to tour with him on the European leg of his Odelay tour.
After settling down in their studio for a long Swedish winter, Komeda followed up on Genius with the equally well-received 1998 record What Makes it Go?. But while the disc saw Komeda examining aspects of post-punk and focusing a bit more on rock 'n' roll guitars than it did on playful keyboards, the press still preferred to characterize the group as pop architects. Commenting on the band's sound, Salon 's Paul Festa maintained that "Komeda are nothing if not nostalgic; they riff off every 1960's pop phenomenon from the late Beatles to early electronica. But this Nordic foursome serves up retro in an unmistakable style of its own."
The Montreal Mirror 's Rupert Bottenberg commented that, in What Makes it Go?, "The ghost of Abba rears its ugly head, in the sense that Sweden once again proves itself to be a breeding ground for pop music genius." Other publications, such as Addicted to Noise, praised the richness of the group's new sound. "With Komeda, you can hear the ghost inside the machine—there is an obvious and beautiful touch of humanity to every note on the record," read their review of What Makes it Go?. With What Makes it Go?, Komeda took a more serious approach to songwriting and production. They brought in a string quartet and received special programming assistance from Magnus Astrom, a.k.a. drum 'n' bass artist Friend.
After the tour to support What Makes it Go?, Nordlander left the band and Karlsson and the Holmberg brothers continued as a trio. They recorded the track "B.L.O.S.S.O.M." for the Cartoon Network show The Power Puff Girls, and the song appeared on the program's soundtrack in 2000. At that time the band also signed a licensing deal with Universal Music, and with the money built a home studio where they recorded music for four theater productions and a few films, and produced a number of other local bands.
After nearly six years, and with the freedom of a home studio, the band released KoKoMeMeDaDa in 2004. With its own unique idiosyncrasies—including vocal help from Jonas Holmberg's seven-year-old son and production assistance from Tupac Shakur's mixing engineer Ollie Olson—the record proved to be Komeda's most realized work to date. With continued success in the United States, the positive press for KoKoMeMeDaDa streamed in. "Komeda bear their control with no mercy," declared the Alternative Press, while the O.C. Weekly 's Jenny Tatone claimed that "Komeda's bouncy new album is the happiest, gayest … thing you'll hear all year."
In the band's publicity materials, group member Karlsson described the group's sound. "I have always thought of Komeda as a pop band, but pop doesn't really mean pop anymore. So Komeda is avant-traditional, easy-complex, music for happy stupid dancers, spectral-boogie, anemic cinema soundtrack and hooked-on-a-feeling. Komeda is not math-pop, academic underground, ABBA 2.0, The Cardigans with a twist or smorgasbord-lounge muzak."
For the Record . . .
Members include Henrik Andersson (left group, 1993), guitar; Lena Karlsson , vocals; Jonas Holmberg , drums; Marcus Holmberg , bass; Matthias Nordlander (left group, 1998), guitar.
Group formed in Umea, Sweden, while playing as the pit band for a Buster Keaton film festival, 1993; released Pop Pa Svenska, 1993; Plan 714 Till Komeda (EP), 1995; The Genius of Komeda, 1996; What Makes it Go?, 1998; KoKoMeMeDaDa, 2004.
Addresses: Record company—Minty Fresh, P.O. Box 577400, Chicago, IL 60657, phone: (773) 665-0289, website: http://www.mintyfresh.com. Website—Komeda Official Website: http://www.komeda.se.
Pop Pa Svenska, North of No South, 1993.
Plan 714 Till Komeda, North of No South, 1995.
The Genius of Komeda, Minty Fresh, 1996.
What Makes it Go?, Minty Fresh, 1998.
KoKoMeMeDaDa, Minty Fresh, 2004.
Addicted to Noise, c. 1998.
Alternative Press, c. 2004.
Montreal Mirror, July 1998.
O.C. Weekly, August 12, 2004.
Raygun, c. 1998.
"Komeda," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (November 1, 2004).
"The Genius of Komeda," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (November 1, 2004).
"Sharps and Flats," Salon.com, http://archive.salon.com/ent/music/reviews/1998/07/08review.html#komeda (November 1, 2004).
Additional information provided by Minty Fresh Records and Girlie Action publicity materials, 2004.