Most of you know Nikola Sarcevic as the front man for the legendary punk band from Sweden, Millencolin. With 8 studio albums and die-hard fans world-wide (including us), his success with Millencolin is nothing to scoff at. While Millencolin is very much a part of who Nikola is, don't be so quick to pigeon hole him. We recently had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Nikola and learn more about him as a solo artist, a brother, a family man... and thankfully just like us, a fan of craft beer.
"Is there, like a business area in this hotel we could do the interview in?" he asked, diplomatically, after we asked him to come up to our hotel room. "No. We asked. Sorry. We'll do it upstairs, it will be fine." For some reason, Nikola decided to follow our sketchy asses up the elevator and actually come in our room where there was a bar filled with booze and a video camera on the bed. "I promise, we aren't shooting a porno." said Jessica.
Nikola was understandably hesitant to open up to two random chicks who took him up to their hotel room, and I'm sure he only allotted 10 minutes for us. But, seven large bottles of beer and three hours later, Nikola tried to suppress his own shock when he turned to us and said, "yeah, that was one of the best interviews...ever."
Nikola is a private guy, despite being an internationally known musician, who dislikes social media. But as it turns out, you get a few really good craft brews in him, and he has quite a bit to say.
We knew, going into the interview, that Nikola was a fan of craft beer, but his excitement over trying the new beers we brought for him was something we didn't expect. Nikola tells us he recently started his own nanobrewery, Mikrofonbryggeriet, and is having a good time brewing the first few batches of beer. Since we are big fans of beer ourselves, we could talk with him about it all day, but time to move on and learn more about this distinguished artist.
Nikola grew up in Orebro, Sweden, with his parents and two older brothers. He told us quite a bit about how his parents met, and we Mable Syndrome ladies are always up for a good love story. Nikola's father was staying in London and his mother was visiting friends there. They met through mutual friends and kept in touch. When Nikola's father went back to Serbia, his mother came to visit. But that visit lasted four years. After their first son was born, Nikola's parents decided to move to Sweden, so his mother could be close to her family. The couple chose to raise their family in a town called Orebro, and had two more boys, the youngest being Nikola.
Nikola met Mathia Farm, the guitarist of Millencolin, in first grade, and they've been friends ever since. "He lived in a house, I lived in the rougher part, across the street. My parents were together, but I lived in a sort of divorced ghetto. We just liked that neighborhood, and they moved there from Serbia."
As a kid, Nikola was more into sports than music. He says, "I grew up with two brothers who played guitar and I wasn’t doing anything. I played soccer and skateboarding. But once in a while... there were always guitars in the house, and I would pick one up and I learned Smoke on the Water."
One of our fascinations with punk rock is how the band comes together. We love to know how friends turn into bands and how bands turn into friends. So, we asked Nikola about how skateboarding with Mathias turned into playing music together. "We started skating later, around 7th grade, like junior high, and everyone started playing music. We were not the first guys who started a band. Our friends who we were skateboarding with were all starting bands, and we were like, if they could do this, we could do this. It was a whole new world, I could write songs about people I hated in school. Everything I had a bad feeling against, I could write a song. I started a band the day after I finished first grade in high school, I was 16 turning 17, I was pretty old, and could only play Smoke on the Water."
The two friends almost went their separate ways, "I didn’t skate as much, I was doing that less and less, but Mathias was skating more, and he started a band for skaters. I was about to lose contact with that scene in high school, because I had a bad experience at the skate park when some guys came up with air guns and wanted to pick a fight, and they all went after me, so that bad experience made me not want to skate as much. So I was about to lose contact with Mathias, and but then they started the band and they had a singer who played bass, but was bad at both, so he realized they needed a bass player, and he asked me. And I was like, 'yeah, wow, of course', and we immediately started writing songs and within the first year we put out three demo tapes like with 10 songs each. We were very productive."
That first band was called Seigmenn, which we began to understand to be the Swedish equivalent of Sour Patch Kids, and the chosen name gives some insight into the silly nature of the band at the time. In fact, at one point during the interview, Nikola seems pensive as he remembers Seigmenn and the early years of Millencolin, "...In a way, I miss it. We were quite spontaneous back then. We had all the energy that you need to let loose, and it was very much about identity and all that. Now a days, identity is not as much in what you’re wearing… bands get a bit boring when they grow up…"
"We did three demo tapes, we were singing in Swedish. We were into Swedish punk rock, but at the same time we were always listening to American: Misfits, Ramones, and more and more Bad Religion, NOFX and those Epitaph bands. By '92 we sort of needed to start a band that played not Swedish punk rock, but more American. The next year, Erik started his first year of high school, and we were all in the same place. He was guitarist in another band, so the three of us started. Fredrik was in another band, and he was one of the best drummers in town, and I got to know him through the punk rock scene. At the time I was living at home with my parents, but he had his own apartment, so I was basically living there more than at home. We were friends who went out every weekend and it was a natural thing because Mathias played guitar in his first band."
So Millencolin was formed, and took off. They were signed to Burning Hearts record label and quickly had an international following. They toured North America a few times in 1996, but Warped Tour in '97 was the band's largest, longest tour to date. A huge fan of the skating scene, perhaps the best part of the Warped Tour for Nikola was hanging with Steve Caballero, "Of course it was really cool to be on Warped Tour, and be with all the bands on it, but we also got to hang out with the skaters. In ‘96 on our first or second west coast tour, we played San Francisco for the first time, and at that show, our merch guy comes down just before our set is about to start and he’s like, 'Steve Caballero and Lance Mountain are here and they bought like three tee shirts each and all the albums!' and we were like, 'what!?' Yeah, it was crazy. And I guess he bought Millencolin stickers, because he put out a promo of him skating and he was playing chess and on the chessboard he had a Millencolin sticker. I play chess myself, so actually, on that Warped tour, and again in 2000, every day Steve Caballero and I played chess, we had three or four hours to kill, so we’d meet in his bus, or my bus, and listen to music and play chess."
Playing chess is something Nikola mentions in a few of his songs, most recently Sense & Sensability off the new album,True Brew. Nikola's lyrics are nearly always very personal in nature, though in the early days of Millencolin, he admits to taking liberties and having fun with the lyrics (Fox, Killercrush). Nowadays, Millencolin's songs are slightly political, deeply personal and maybe just a touch facetious. Nikola told us a bit about his song-writing process, "I’m a creative person; for me being creative is very important, and I love art... but words, and music with great melodies…how it all comes together. I love stories."
But if you want to hear the really personal poetry of Nikola Solcevic, listen to his solo albums. He has put out four solo albums, three of which are in English, but the first one, Lock Sport Krock, is by far his most personal and touching album, in my opinion. "That album was like half love songs and then a couple songs about him..."
The him Nikola is referring to is his older brother, Miodrag, who mysteriously went missing in 2003. Nikola opened up to us a bit about that. "Yeah, he was a creative guy, my brother; he would have names for all his teddy bears. He had a lot of imagination. He came up with two teams, and this soccer game with coins. Lock Sport Krock was one of those teams. I loved Lock Sport Krock, those words. And then he disappeared." "Do you have closure around that?" we asked. "Yeah, yeah, he was found four years later. (deceased) Yeah, that happened, that was also part of me deciding to do my solo album, it was a wake up call. I had my first kid in 2002, and then he disappeared a year later. I did the first demo when he was still alive and it was about to happen, so that album was like half love songs and then a couple songs about him. I didn’t really think about it but it was a good way for me to express that and get it out… because even though he was missing for four years and no one in my family knew, yeah, it was really painful for my parents not to have that closure. For me, I thought, if I was going to find out he was dead, I’d rather keep that hope alive and not know. Yeah, so that’s what was sort of, but then when they found him dead, it hit, because at the time, I wrote those songs, but the rest of my family felt a lot worse because they didn’t have that channel, and I realize that I’ve been in the band, it’s really a good channel to get things out. Before I didn’t think of it that way. It’s easier for me to express those things in songs. Last song on Lock Sport Krock, my other brother played, so it’s two brothers playing a song about the other brother."
Another important person in Nikola's life has been his good friend, and musical muse, Kristofer Astrom. Kristofer wrote the lyrics to Olympic, one of Millencolin's most notable songs (note: this is one of the only songs Millencolin has recorded but not written the lyrics to.) Nikola had the melody and catch in his head and mailed them to Kristofer, who came up with the lyrics to what happens to be one of our favorite Millencolin songs. Additionally, Kristofer inspired Nikola to venture out on his own and do a solo album. "In 98, I took a break from the band (Millencolin) and my best friend, Kristofer, the guy who wrote Olympic, put out a solo album that summer, and I listened to it and it was awesome. He asked me to play bass in his band and I said sure. So the fact that he did that, inspired me, because I like that kind of music, that was pretty much everything I was listening to at the time. I was writing all these songs, but it took me 5 years, that was 2002, when I had my first kid, something told me I have to take care of the time I have, I can’t just fuck around, If I want something I have to go and get it." Having his first child, taking a hiatus from Millencolin, the disappearance of his brother and inspiration from his close friend led to him releasing Lock Sport Krock in 2003.
Despite being reserved about his private life, Nikola told us a little bit about his family. "Yeah, she's the one,"he says about his wife as he blushes. They have been together for 22 years. And, about raising three daughters (ages 14, 12 and 7) his advice is to treat each one as an individual. He did say he recently went skateboarding with his middle daughter, but when asked if the other kids were into skateboarding, he said he isn't the kind of father who would push his own interests onto his kids. The band has a two-week on the road policy since everyone has families and obligations at home.
Nikola has spent three hours with us, and needs to heads out to Hollister before they close at 6. He's apparently promised his daughter that he would bring her home some treasures that are hard to find in Sweden (treasures to a pre-teen girl, that is!), and our hearts melt even more.
But before we free him, I mean let him leave, we have two questions: 1. Who won the beer competition? (see sidebar, below), and 2. What's next for him and Millencolin? "We have this Swedish/ Scandinavian tour that’s all weekends; there are a few more tours we want to do before the True Brew tour is over." And then the next album… "I don’t know… lets see. We want to make something good. It’s hard being in a band for so long, you play the music together, but everyone is in different places than when we started. When you’ve had the kind of success we’ve had, in a way it’s not good, because it’s keeping us doing what we’re doing, but otherwise maybe we’d be doing other stuff that would perhaps be more interesting. I have a lot of respect for bands who are not listening to the expectations of the outside world, and are just doing what they’re doing. In a way that’s the biggest challenge… stay true to yourself, but I want to make music with the other guys. If it were just me, I could do something completely different. But also the vision too, because when we started we had the same vision, like, when we started we were all in the same circle, but now we are four guys and where those four circles interact is smaller. That space gets smaller...I love theories, in general. "
My theory for the past 20 years has been that Nikola is one of the most sensitive and smart punk rockers out there. And, I'm forever grateful that my theory was held up.
Additional Quotes from Nikola:
How to support the band:
Spotify, that’s how I listen to my music. I can listen to any album at any time. I am a fan of being an artist and having my music there. Buying merch is good too.
For us, maybe being Swedes, we are a little more private. I have integrity. Social media, for me, its not my forum, it’s not how I want to express myself. Those fast…interactions… drains energy. Even though I have a degree in marketing, it’s sort of ironic that I hate to market myself. To market yourself, to me, especially as a solo artist, is kind of a pain in the ass, because you have two sides…more of course, the business man, and the artist… and the artist in me hates it.
Writing lyrics in English: Yeah, I guess for you people here, it might appear awkward, but living in Sweden, most of the popular music is in English. And movies, too, they were in English but with subtitles. At the same time, if you don’t know all the rules of a language you aren’t restricted to there’s a lot of freedom, if you don’t know exactly how you’re supposed to use every phrase, you can use it in a way that suits you.
My favorite line in Bullion(had to ask)
“I guess it’s a reference of not being sort of a macho guy, sort of more of a geek. Yeah, yeah, actually, now that you say that, I don’t analyze my own lyrics, old stuff like that you tend to forget, but in that I’m singing, “if I only had the strength to make some muffins…..” yeah, I was trying to be poetic…If I had the strength… at the time I had sort of low energy, I would sort of sleep all day..I felt like shit those years.. more or less.”
Three favorite singer-songwriters:
Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Paul Simon
Favorite Current Music:
Tallest Man on Earth
Someone you admire:
My biggest hero in the last 15 years is Zlatan Ibrahimovi. He is also from Balkans. He is half Croation, half Bosnian but grew up in sweden, as I did. He’s the greatest football player out there. He can be angry, like a diva, can be friendly, emotional, there are so many sides to him. I watch all of his games. It’s not just what he does on the pitch; he’s a character. I see him as a long story… like a movie.
The Mable Syndrome ladies are all about having fun. Most nights we are in bed by 10pm, but occasionally we pick ourselves up by our brastraps and rage. Okay, that's a lie, we hardly ever rage. But we do love beer, and knowing that Nikola is a fan of craft beer himself, we decided to ask him to participate in a little friendly competition between Kristen and Jessica. It may not be jello wrestling, but girl competitions fun no matter what.
Kristen: Sip of Sunshine, VT, USA
Jessica: Fat Tug, Victoria BC, Canada