Welcome To The Underworld: Viagra Boys

Interview Welcome To The Underworld: Viagra Boys

Conjuring up a freakish cast of sordid specimens for third album ‘Cave World’, Viagra Boys are putting an injection of surreal humour back into punk.

It’s 5pm on Primavera Sound’s baking hot final afternoon and Sebastian Murphy, bleary eyed and clutching a large espresso like an emergency raft, is muddling his way through “the worst hangover of his life”. Having spent last night (and, you suspect, a decent portion of this morning) carousing at a friend’s tattoo shop, we’ve nonetheless caught the Viagra Boys frontman at one of the perkier moments of his day so far; an earlier interview, we’re told, saw him spend the latter portion of the chat face down with his head on the table, answering questions from somewhere inside the abyss.

That the gold-toothed frontman is still more charismatic, engaging and quotable than 98% of interviewees is testament both to Sebastian’s naturally dry and wicked way of looking at the world, and that fact that - despite today’s hyperbole - he has almost certainly had many, many worse experiences of pulling himself through the morning after’s mire.

Founded in Stockholm the best part of a decade ago from a place of societal antagonism steeped in nihilism and amphetamine use, Viagra Boys’ ethos has always been one of forcefully, uncompromisingly kicking against the pricks. These days, the singer might describe his mental health as “pretty good,” but he recalls the time up until 2018 debut LP ‘Street Worms’ as one categorised by a steadfast refusal to toe any sort of party line, with the only intention a form of manic creative oblivion. Still, despite the increasing stages they’ve found themselves on through 2021 follow-up ‘Welfare Jazz’ and this month’s delightfully piss-taking ‘Cave World’, there’s a visible thread of acting out to everything the sextet do.

“I think I just wanted to be relentless in art, and I had this hate for music as well so I wanted to make anti-music. I wanted it to be as simple as possible and for everything to say ‘Fuck off’. Everything I create, everything, I just wanted it to represent those two words: ‘Fuck off’,” he begins of the band’s early years. “I had a very clear vision of: ‘I’m gonna be high for the rest of my life and I’m gonna change the fucking world’. I had this fucking incredibly clear vision that I was gonna die for, but then slowly something happened and I thought, ‘Oh fuck, maybe I don’t wanna die anymore, maybe I wanna do this for a little bit longer…’”

In relative terms, the Sebastian of today is a comparably mellower proposition, but, as he states, “it’ll always be there”. “It’s part of my soul,” he shrugs, “this disdain for authority and for what people expect out of you in society. I just hate it all.” Now, almost certainly more in line with doctors’ orders, the frontman has begun to channel these impulses and angers into a more healthy, yet no less potent, space.

Enter ‘Cave World’: a primal, surreal, grotesque and often hilarious third record that holds a warped fairground mirror to the world and revels in the repulsive results.

Welcome To The Underworld: Viagra Boys Welcome To The Underworld: Viagra Boys

“It’s part of my soul, this disdain for authority and for what people expect out of you in society. I just hate it all.”

— Sebastian Murphy

Written from the relatively relaxed confines of Sweden’s version of the pandemic, with few rules, Sebastian spent his days “watching everyone [else] tear each other apart”. “Watching America from the sidelines was very entertaining, very entertaining for sure…” he chuckles, bleak sense of humour ever-present.

The conspiracy theorists and puff-chested blowhards that populate ‘Cave World’ - Viagra Boys’ most character-driven output to date - acted as an exercise less in trying to make a grand condemning point about what the frontman was seeing than attempting to inhabit their out-there headspaces for a brief moment. On ‘Creepy Crawlers’, he freestyles an outraged speech from the point of view of a QAnon theorist, convinced that world leaders are harvesting adrenochrome and that children will start growing up with animal hair (“Some of ‘em are growing up with tails, maybe even two tails man!”). ‘Troglodyte’, meanwhile, pokes fun at the trolls and gun nuts by teleporting them back several thousand years and watching them flail in the primordial soup.

“It’s interesting to put myself in the mind of someone that’s insane, because I’ve been insane in certain periods of my life. There was a period of my life where I took so much amphetamine and slept four hours a week, and slowly my brain was just rotting. I became clinically insane but I also had a lot of interesting ideas then, and sometimes I like to tap back into that in a way,” he theories. “Now I’m doing pretty good, I feel like it’s harder for me to find these wild or passionate ideas. The better I feel, the less I care about actually doing something - which is weird and very dangerous. So I have to tap back into feeling horrible and having all these insane ideas about what’s going on…”

It’s perhaps ironic then that ‘Cave World’’s other main lyrical tick comes from a sense of eye-rolling self-mockery at the way the band are perceived. Heavily-tattooed on all visible skin surfaces, with ‘lös’ (Swedish for ‘loose’) emblazoned on his forehead, Sebastian might semi-jokingly attest to spending his downtime being “the calmest person ever, just hanging out, playing video games, going for long walks on the beach,” but the stereotypes still precede them.

“People think that I’m that person, for sure,” the singer says of recent single ‘Punk Rock Loser’ (sample lyric: “I don’t go to parties where folks get dressed up / I go to the function just to fuck shit up”). “So I kind of wanted to give it to them, like alright, fuck you, here’s your fucking song that you wanted to hear, asshole.” He pauses. “I hate that song. I think it sucks. I think it’s so stupid, but there are parts of me that also like it for its stupidity. The duality of man, you know…”

Welcome To The Underworld: Viagra Boys Welcome To The Underworld: Viagra Boys

“It’s interesting to put myself in the mind of someone that’s insane, because I’ve been insane in certain periods of my life.”

— Sebastian Murphy

Duality is, perhaps, the key to understanding Viagra Boys. Having broken through with the purposefully dumb deadpan dirge of 2018 single ‘Sports’, Sebastian is confident in the band’s ability to balance the absurd with the astute. “I remember our bassist was worried [with ‘Sports’] that people were gonna think we’re the fucking Bloodhound Gang or something. But I was like, fuck it, I don’t care. I think most people know that it’s not just a joke - it’s more than that,” the singer notes. “It’s about finding this balance; there’s a time to be stupid and there’s a time not to be. We don’t wanna end up being a Weird Al Yankovic type of band; I love jokes and humour, but we’re always gonna be a little bit rooted in reality or in a commentary on society.”

On ‘Cave World’, the band combine the two in smarter, funnier, more gleefully ridiculous ways than ever. Rather than just angrily lashing out at the world, Sebastian and his gang of misfits translate their vision into a League of Gentlemen-esque patchwork of life’s sordid outliers - all soundtracked by the sort of sleazy, uneasy punk that evokes the spirit of Nick Cave’s The Birthday Party and sends it down into the gutters. Or, as he puts it, “what I’m interested in at the time will always be mixed with my disdain for the human race and for society in general. [You take] something funny - or that I think is funny - and then you mix it up with total hate for the world. It’s a good time.”

Perversely, Viagra Boys ARE a riotously good time: just ask the crowd feverishly getting down to their 2am set later tonight, the singer having fully revived himself by this more sociable hour. They may have begun life in a blaze of disdain and fury for the world around them, but nowadays Viagra Boys seem to have found a way to make it work on their terms.

“There’s a lot of pride [for what we’ve achieved],” he nods, a slow smile inching across his hangover. “I mean, we’re called Viagra Boys and we’re playing for thousands of people. That’s the stupidest shit I’ve ever heard…

“It’s like, ‘Ha, I tricked ‘em, I tricked everybody! Gotcha!”

Welcome To The Underworld: Viagra Boys

‘Cave World’ is out now via YEAR0001.

Tags: Viagra Boys, From The Magazine, Features, Interviews

As featured in the July 2022 issue of DIY, out now.

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