The Janitors: Interview With Founding Member Henric

With many of the albums I review for The Sleeping Shaman, I come to the band as a newbie, even though they’ve had a long career and multiple releases, and end up a fan, playing catch up on older releases. That’s what happened with The Janitors release Noisolation Sessions Volume 2.

The Janitors
The Janitors

I wasn’t sure what to make of the dark droning textures. I think at the time I contemplated writing something about the evil offspring of the Black Angels and The Cure, but decided against it. Now that the album’s been living in my subconscious for several weeks, I’m actually happy with that assessment.

I was even less sure what to make of the odd band name – it seemed so incongruous with the music. All I knew for sure was that I loved the album. After the review, founding member Henric Herlenius came to the rescue, setting the record straight about the band’s name. I thought it was such a cool story that we decided to expand the conversation into a more detailed interview, so here it is – enjoy!

Who’s in the band and what do they play?

We are at heart a duo that expands into a four or five piece at live shows.

The two captains of The Janitors are myself and Jonas Eriksson, we play everything on the recent albums, from metal pipes, drones, and organs to guitar, drums, and glockenspiel. Earlier albums have had efforts from other members. In the live setting, it’s Jonas on guitar and vocals, myself on guitar and drones, Anders on bass, and our most recent member is Wilhelm on drums. Our previous bass player for the last 7 years, Andreas, just left the band.

We have a couple of different percussionists spread out in Sweden and the world.

The Janitors are myself and Jonas Eriksson, we play everything on the recent albums, from metal pipes, drones, and organs to guitar, drums, and glockenspiel…

I wasn’t sure how to describe your music, so how do you describe what you do? What genre labels do you use? What do other people say about it?

The million-dollar question: to put a label on your music.

There have been a lot of different one liners that have been put upon us. Here are a few of our favourites: Evil shoegaze boogie woogie, Stökpsych, peddlers of heavy drones and fuzzed nightmares and the latest, taken from your review: ‘gothic drone’.

The early ones are more like simple catch phrases to describe something that is really hard to put into words. Also, in all honesty it gives a little light into the fact that we are not all sullen moody nihilistic Swedes with anger issues. We have a lighter side as well – it’s just damn hard to let that side out in these times.

I think now we’ve finally reached the point where we actually sound like us, but with our different inspirations clearly showing or hidden far far back. And when people ask us what we sound like, we often refer to it as some sort of dark psychedelic rock. 

The Janitors
The Janitors

Tell us about your songwriting process.

It really differs from album to album. With the two latest, we tried some sort of dogmatic rules in the studio. It started at the beginning of the pandemic. We had demos for a new done album and we were supposed to go up to the north of Sweden to record it. But the shit hit the fan and it got cancelled. Then one night in the studio gave birth to a cover of Isolation by Joy Division (the final song on Noisolation Sessions Vol.1). We recorded the whole song and made a video the same night. Mixed it for a couple of days and then let it fly out on Bandcamp. The response was above all expectations and an idea grew.

That we would do this during the pandemic, release a song every two weeks with these simple rules. One night of writing and recording, one week of mixing and then done – to force ourselves to find new paths creatively and to stop meddling with songs and riffs. If it sounds good the first time, then it will sound good the 20th time. With Noisolation Sessions Volume 2 we let ourselves have a little more time. And let the songs rest for a couple of weeks after recording and then revisit them. We have played together for so long that we have some sort of instant feel of where the other person is heading with their idea. We can push it forward, or back depending on the song. To simplify, I tend to try and trash Jonas’s pop songs and Jonas tries to pop up my awkward shit. The result is The Janitors.

One guy in the audience told us to fuck off and never come back again, that’s when we knew we did something right… 

How did the band come together, and where did the name come from?

About 17 years ago we met working as Janitors at a museum in Stockholm. First thing we found was that we had a mutual favourite band in The Jesus and Mary Chain, and especially Psychocandy. At that time in Stockholm there was an abundance of soft twee indie bands, but nothing that really felt dangerous and noisy. So, after a booze filled bender, we decided to start a band.

Three weeks after that we had our first gig. It was about 15 minutes long; we were all dressed in black leather jackets with sunglasses on and mainly turned every amp to 10 and let the screeching feedback hit the audience. One guy in the audience told us to fuck off and never come back again, that’s when we knew we did something right. We just had an urge to hiss and make a shitload of noise. At that time, we were a trio with two guitars and a standing drummer, so very early JAMC influenced.

Naming the band was easy; we were working as janitors and therefore the name came immediately. It’s not really a good name. But as with every band name, it kind of grows when filled with meaning, and seven records in we are pretty confident that the name The Janitors now lives rent free on its own planet of sound. 

What were your musical (or other) inspirations then and now?

As mentioned above, at first it was The Jesus and Mary Chain. We do love all their albums. And the insane part is that we now, from time to time, share the same label with them with Fuzz Club

Influences come and go, but a mixtape from The Janitors would probably include

Velvet Underground, Spiritualized, Joy Division, Nick Cave, Black Sabbath, Einstürzende Neubauten, Loop, John Cale, Swans, PJ Harvey, The Clash, The Doors, Depeche Mode, The Cure, Mogwai, Front 242, Cat Power, Spacemen 3, Flying Burrito Brothers, Silverbullit, Neu, Max Richter, Brian Eno, The Stooges, Cramps, Mark Lanegan, Led Zeppelin, Emma Ruth Rundle, Massive Attack, Arvo Pärt, Idles, GY!Be, Sonic Youth, Yo La Tengo, Tom Waits, Pixies, Radiohead, Patti Smith, The Ramones, Ebba Grön, Black Angels, Mudhoney, Brian Jonestown Massacre, Primal Scream, Cult Of Luna, Townes Van Zandt, Suicide, Stone Roses, Pavement, Kraftwerk, David Bowie, bob hund, Ride, Rival Consoles and My Bloody Valentine.

The Janitors - Guitars & Pedalboards
The Janitors – Guitars & Pedalboards

Can you give us a quick rundown of The Janitors releases?

Jesus Loves Feedback, Demo 2003 (cd-r) – Our first demo, most of the songs can be found on the compilation 15 Years Of Fuzz And Folköl.

Away/Firefly, CDEP 2004, Singles Going Steady and the Stockholm rock club Debaser’s own label, Debaser Recordings, we were the first ones to release on that label. On the night of our release The Hives crashed the release party and did a surprise live show, which meant nobody remembered that we played, and they also drank all of our booze. We did however manage to drink a shitload anyway and started a fight within the band. And we had a break until we started recording the next album.

First Sign Of Delirium, CD 2010, Cosmos Records and recorded in Cosmos Studios. A collection of old songs plus some new, we got 4 days in a big fucking studio to record our shit. Still don’t understand how or why someone would think that this would be worth the money spent. It was a fun session, but the vast space of the studio and all the blinking lights kinda affected the whole process and it wasn’t until recently that we could listen to that record and enjoy it. It features Jonas’s brother Martin on bass. Nowadays he works with satellites – still in space but less rock. And drumming by Jejo, from previous heroes like Brick, Candlemass, The Bear Quartet and Swedish hip hop outfit Infinite Mass, where he and Jonas first meet. 

Sick State, EP (Digital), 2011, the first release on our own digital label Your Ears Have Been Bad And Need To Be Punished.

Worker Drone Queen and Head Honcho EPs (Digital), 2012, Your Ears Have Been Bad And Need To Be Punished. On these two EPs, it was back to Jonas and myself as some sort of a duo with different people coming in to record parts. We wanted to go back to the sketchier and more sonically exploring parts of our universe.

Drone Head (Double Vinyl), 2013, Cardinal Fuzz. Our first release with our home recording that is the Cardinal. A collection of the two EPs and a few remixes and stuff. This release kinda kicked us out there for more people to hear us.

Evil Doings Of An Evil Kind (Vinyl), 2014, Bad Afro Records. Here our love story with Denmark started, and also our first attempt at some sort of concept to all songs. 

We have kept writing songs for it during Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and it will be recorded this autumn, with some pretty fun collaborations that are almost set…

Horn Ur Marken (Vinyl, CD, Cassette), 2017, Cardinal Fuzz and Little Cloud Records. Cassette was released by Riot Season. A concept album about the rise of the right-wing and capitalist oppression, we were very angry at this point, which you can hear on the album, basically, everything is in the red – it’s noisy as fuck. 

The Ghost You Must Seeek/Falcon (Digital), 2018, Your Ears Have Been Bad And Need To Be Punished. Two songs recorded live in Ingrid Studios in Stockholm as we needed a little something new before we played Fuzz Club Eindhoven that year. They will see a new light on a vinyl coming later this year together with a friendly Brazilian band.

Fuzz Club Sessions (Vinyl), 2019, Fuzz Club Records. Recorded live in a studio in London during a mini tour and released on our other home in Britain, Fuzz Club.

15 Years Of Fuzz And Folköl (Vinyl, CD, Digital), 2019, Cardinal Fuzz and Little Cloud Records. A collection of B-sides and unreleased shit. 9 songs on vinyl and an additional 15 songs on the CD and digital versions.

Drone Head (Vinyl), 2019, Cardinal Fuzz and Little Cloud Records. Re-issue on beautiful beer and weed coloured vinyl.

Noisolation Session Vol. 1 (Vinyl), 2020, Cardinal Fuzz and Little Cloud Records. When they asked us if we wanted to collect some of the songs on vinyl, we did not hesitate.

Noisolation Session Vol. 1 (Vinyl), 2022, Cardinal Fuzz, Little Cloud Records, Bad Afro Records. The record was finished and mastered in May 2021, it was supposed to be released in November, but the delays due to COVID, it didn’t end up in our hands until February 2022.

An Error Has Occurred (working title), 2023 – 2024. This is the album we wrote in 2020 and left to do the Noisolation sessions. We have kept writing songs for it during Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 and it will be recorded this autumn, with some pretty fun collaborations that are almost set. It will be a step away from our previous work a we have re-found our love for pop melodies and extended vocal harmonies (at least in our minds – it’s still pretty dark).

The Janitors ‘Noisolation Vol. 2’ Artwork

Have you had any label associations in the past? How did you come to work with Cardinal Fuzz, Little Cloud and Bad Afro for this album? How has that experience been for the band?

As seen above, we have released records on 7 different labels, but the Cardinal Fuzz has always offered us a home that we are very comfortable with. Little Cloud Records came into our line of sight after Horn Ur Marken – after that they came to us as fans and wanted to do a co-lab with Cardinal Fuzz. And they are, together with Dave at Cardinal Fuzz, real music fans, and really good people, friends that we do small business with. Lars at Bad Afro has released us before and due to Brexit, Cardinal Fuzz had difficulties with distro out of the UK. So when they suggestion that Bad Afro would be involved again, we were all for it. But sometimes having a lot of cooks can make the soup a bit confusing. That is probably why the album has had like three different release dates, but who gives a shit – now it’s out!

How has the band’s sound/ideas/mission evolved since the beginning?

At first, it was just mayhem and loud as fuck, we wanted to shock the audience and look cool while doing it. The more our songs and sound evolved I guess we have become more introverted live. We still enjoy playing loud. There is something about really high volumes that release harmonies and sounds that are amazing.

We have always been political as people, but with Evil Doings Of An Evil Kind and Horn Ur Marken, we did concept albums about the times we were living in; the rise of the right-wing, capitalist oppression, and this fucked up society we are forced to live in. Noisolation Vol 1 and Vol 2 follow that concept, but we’ve moved closer to our hearts and our present lives. Most songs on those albums are about the people around us, about the disappointments of life, mind expansion and basically the concept of private is politics. You can never escape no matter how much you try, so I guess it’s still a continuation of what we started with Evil Doings

At first, it was just mayhem and loud as fuck, we wanted to shock the audience…

How did you get that huge sound on the album? What kind of gear and recording techniques did you use? Tell me about Helter Shelter.

First off, thanks! Huge is probably what we are aiming for but glad to hear we actually pulled it off, even with our limited equipment.

Helter Shelter is an old bomb shelter where we have rehearsed for the past 17 years. We have a very simple setup, a digital mixing table and Jonas is a damn wizard with Logic and plugins. But Noisolation really helped us play with sounds and recording techniques. A sound engineer would probably get an aneurysm just looking at our projects. We tend to use a lot more reverb and fuzz than considered healthy. We have a penchant for using time stretching to layer the songs.

A lot of stuff is improvised, just doing a couple of turns and choosing the best one. We found using a dynamic mic recording the room is just as good as nerding out by near-micing everything. On Noisolation we sampled ourselves a lot, especially on the drums, then layered it with room mic drums, looping etc. A big part of our sound is letting the percussion shine, adding rhythmic patterns. On the gear side we love our effect pedals, and the combo of an ES335 and a Jaguar is hard to beat. I play through a Music Man 1×12 combo and Jonas through a 2×10 Fender Super Reverb.

The Janitors - Photo by Gianluca La Bruna
The Janitors – Photo by Gianluca La Bruna

What sort of gigs have you played? What type of crowds do you get? Any interesting stories?

We don’t actually play live that much, we all have jobs, lives, family and kids, so going away on tour requires being a damn calendar ninja. But we have played the UK a lot of times, and the crowds seem to get bigger each time. We’re going back in September to do a double bill with Helicon for 5 dates! 

There are always tales from the tour bus, but some are just funny for us, and others might not be suitable to write down.

The fact that we have two beautiful vinyl releases as proof of what we created during the pandemic is something we are damn proud of….

What’s been your experience personally or as a band during the pandemic? How did you manage to write/rehearse/record?

Sweden wasn’t hit that hard by COVID, our government did not close down the whole society so we could still get on with our lives in another form as we weren’t in lockdown.

For a long time, myself and Jonas met in the studio every Wednesday, so we just continued with that. It was almost easier to be more freely creative since there were no gigs to rehearse for. The fact that we have two beautiful vinyl releases as proof of what we created during the pandemic is something we are damn proud of. A true testimony of a really strange time, both personally and globally.

What are the band’s future plans for shows, recordings or other projects?

A mini tour of the UK in September. We will probably do some more gigs in winter and next year. We will record a new album and there is also a collab record in the works between us, Helicon, Black Doldrums and Servo. We’ll see where and how that will surface. And always and forever we will keep our middle finger raised and fists clenched against the fascist right wing liberal idiots poisoning our world. Fuzz love from The Janitors.

Label: Cardinal Fuzz Records | Bad Afro Records | Little Cloud Records
Band Links: Facebook | Bandcamp | Twitter | Instagram

Interviewed by: Rob Bryant