|Birth name||Ian Folke Svenonius|
|Origin||Chicago, Illinois, USA|
|Genres||Post-punk, indie rock, funk rock, soul rock, post-hardcore|
|Associated acts||Nation of Ulysses
Chain and The Gang
Cupid Car Club
Ian Folke Svenonius is an American musician, notable as the singer of various Washington, D.C.-based bands including Nation of Ulysses, The Make-Up, Weird War, and Chain and The Gang. Between his numerous projects, Svenonius has released more than 15 full-length albums and more than 20 singles, EPs, and splits. Svenonius is also a published author and an online talk show host.
Svenonius' career has been characterized by antics and theatrics. His first band, Nation of Ulysses, formed in 1988, was influential in the Washington D.C. punk scene. The band broke up in 1992 after failing to record their third studio album. After a short-lived side-project called Cupid Car Club, Svenonius formed The Make-Up in 1995, who combined garage rock, soul, and a so-called "liberation theology" to make a new genre they dubbed "Gospel Yeh-Yeh". The Make-Up dissolved early in 2001, and a year later, Svenonius formed the band Weird War, who were also known briefly as the Scene Creamers. Svenonius' solo work includes the 2001 album Play Power under the fictional pseudonym of David Candy, the book The Psychic Soviet, and as host of Soft Focus on VBS.tv. Svenonius' projects and writings have all shared an anti-authoritarian, Marxist political rhetoric.
- 1 Musical projects
- 2 The Psychic Soviet
- 3 Other projects
- 4 Political views
- 5 Discography
- 6 Filmography
- 7 Writings
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Nation of Ulysses
Svenonius' first musical group was Nation of Ulysses. The band formed in spring 1988, initially composed of four members, Svenonius on vocals and trumpet, Steve Kroner on guitar, Steve Gamboa on bass guitar, and James Canty on drums, and known simply as "Ulysses". In late 1989, Tim Green joined the band as a second guitarist and the band was renamed to "Nation of Ulysses". The Nation of Ulysses described themselves not as a rock and roll group in the traditional sense, but "as a political party" and as "a shout of secession". Explaining their intent, Svenonius said "it's basically a new nation underground for the dispossessed youth colony. It's all about smashing the old edifice, the monolith of rock and roll".
In 1991, before the band had released any official recordings, Svenonius was featured as teen-oriented Sassy Magazine's first "Sassiest Boy in America". He was interviewed in the magazine's October issue, detailing the band's sound and political motivations. Svenonius stated that the Nation of Ulysses' intent was "to create a space of liberation where anything’s possible". He criticized "traditional rock-and-roll" groups as a "corrupt medium". The contest was reportedly a "nationwide search for the most perfect boyfriend material a girl could ask for", and Svenonius was among 150 entries.
Nation of Ulysses was known for their extremely physical performances, during which Svenonius recalls many injuries, including breaking his arm, his leg, and his skull on numerous occasions. Audience members were also hurt during some performances.
The group disbanded in the fall of 1992 having failed to complete their third album (the finished tracks were later released as The Embassy Tapes in 2000). In a later interview, Svenonius explained the reason for the split: "Nation of Ulysses broke up because the epoch changed with the advent of digital music and the Nirvana explosion. We were faced with what's now known as indie rock, a sort of vacuous form. We had to determine our next move and this [the forming of The Make-Up] is it".
The Make-Up formed in 1995, consisting of Svenonius, Canty, and Gamboa from Nation of Ulysses, and with the addition of Michelle Mae on bass guitar. The Make-Up were joined in late 1999 by a fifth member, Alex Minoff, who played guitar with the group until their dissolution in 2000. In the band's five years of activity, they released four studio albums, two live albums, a posthumous compilation of singles and B-sides, and a number of 12-inch singles and splits. The Make-Up combined garage rock, soul, and self-styled "liberation theology" to make a new genre they called "Gospel Yeh-Yeh". The Make-Up were highly influenced by bubblegum music, particularly the French variety called Yé-yé music.
As the Make-Up's frontman and mouthpiece, Ian Svenonius often contextualized the band's music in terms of larger socio-political themes, typically describing the band and its gospel attitude in Marxist and socialist terms, in opposition of what he saw as the capitalist, bourgeois, machismo paradigm of rock and roll. The band's aversion to American culture was expressed through their self-styled musical genre "Gospel Yeh-Yeh," a belief system through which they advocated to their audience to "get theirs" and to "off the pigs in all their forms". The Make-Up intended to create ad-lib performances to re-energize what they saw as the stale, bland and formal ritual of rock and roll. Appropriating gospel music's use of the congregate as a "fifth member," the Make-Up incorporated audience participation through call and response vocals, lyrical "discussion" techniques, and destruction of the fourth wall by physical transgression.
The Make-Up dissolved in 2000, reportedly "due to the large number of counter-gang copy groups which had appropriated their look and sound and applied it to a vacuous and counter-revolutionary forms". Between projects, Svenonius released a solo album under the pseudonym David Candy.
After The Make-Up disbanded, Svenonius formed the group Weird War in 2001, joined by Make-Up members Michelle Mae and Alex Minoff. While the current lineup appears on the group's first release I'll Never Forget What's His Name, the group's first full-length, eponymous release featured Neil Hagerty and Jessica Espeleta on guitars, and Steve McCarty on drums.
These collaborators soon left to pursue other projects, and the band briefly changed its name to The Scene Creamers, with Svenonius on vocals, Michelle Mae on bass, Alex Minoff on guitar, and Blake Brunner on drums. In this incarnation, the band released I Suck on that Emotion, through Drag City. After being threatened with a legal suit for the name Scene Creamers by a French graffiti artist collective of the same name, the band reverted to the name Weird War. Since then, as its membership has become static, with the addition of Argentine Sebastian Thomson on drums, its intent has become more cosmic. Weird War claims that they are "the sole answer to the hype-based careerism, empty formalism and vacuity which has infected what was once a genuinely creative underground rock 'n' roll scene".
Chain and The Gang
Svenonius' newest music project, Chain and The Gang, released the album Down With Liberty... Up With Chains! on K Records on April 7, 2009, followed by a tour. The album includes collaborations with Calvin Johnson, Brett Lyman (Bad Thoughts/M'Ladys's Records), Fiona Campbell (Vivian Girls/Coasting), Katie Greer, Sarah Pedal, Faustine Hudson (The Curious Mystery), Brian Weber (Dub Narcotic Sound System), Veronica Ortuño (Finally Punk), Nicolaas Zwart (Desolation Wilderness), Karl Blau, Chris Sutton (Hornet Leg, The Gossip), Sixx (The Vibrarians), Arrington de Dionyso, Aaron Hartman, and Benjamin Hartman (Old Time Relijun).
The Psychic Soviet
In July 2006, Svenonius released a book of 19 essays entitled The Psychic Soviet (ISBN 0-9656183-9-0), published by Drag City Press. Pocket-sized and bound in bright-pink plastic with beveled edges, its form is similar to "The Little Red Book," a Bible, or a foreign-language dictionary. The book serves as an anthology of past articles and essays by Svenonius previously published in periodicals, edited for readability and flow, with a number of new essays included.
The "Instructions" that preface the book state that it "should clear up much of the confusion regarding events of the last millennium - artistic, geo-political, philosophical, et al." and encourages the reader to "refer to the book in case of ethical quandaries, arguments, and social feuds". The writing addresses topics such as the ascent of the DJ as a "star," the "cosmic depression" that followed the defeat of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in the Cold War, and the status of rock and roll as a religion. To date, The Psychic Soviet is the most complete collection of written material by Svenonius.
Throughout his career, Svenonius has disc jockeyed at clubs including Red and Cold Rice in Washington, D.C., and the Mercury Lounge in Goleta, California. In 1993 Svenonius and Nation of Ulysses/Make-Up members James Canty and Steve Gamboa were involved in the short-lived project Cupid Car Club, which released only one EP on Kill Rock Stars Records entitled Join our Club. In 2001 Svenonius collaborated with the English conceptualist/producer Mike Alway of If Records to create the record Play Power under the pseudonym David Candy. The album was released through Jet Set Records, Siesta Records, and If Records. Play Power was part of a series of "Magazine-Style Records" which included other imaginary acts such as Death by Chocolate, Maria Napoleon, and Lollipop Train.
Svenonius wrote an afterword for Glen E. Friedman's 2005 photography book Recognize (ISBN 0-9641916-6-0), as well as the introduction to Friedman's 2007 book Keep Your Eyes Open (ISBN 0-9641916-8-7). As host of the VBS.TV online show Soft Focus, Svenonius interviews guests such as Ian MacKaye, Genesis P-Orridge, Adam Horovitz, Cat Power and Will Oldham in front of a live audience at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. Soft Focus has recently moved to London, England, where Svenonius interviews British artists such as Mark E. Smith of The Fall and Billy Childish. In 1994, Svenonius had a supporting role in the independent film Half-Cocked. In 2001, Svenonius appeared in the documentary Plaster Caster about the plaster casts of Cynthia Plaster Caster.
Sassiest Boy in America
In 1990 Sassy magazine conducted a search for the Sassiest Boy in America. Over 150 entries were received with the eventual winner being Ian Svenonius. In the story highlighting his selection Sassy founding editor Jane Pratt states "He's going to be a big deal. I'm sure he will be and we're going to be so proud that we were the first ones to discover him." However, it was discovered that Svenonius wasn't a "boy" at all, but rather lied about his age as he was 22 at the time of his selection – too old per contest rules. He was however allowed to retain his title.
Svenonius' bands have consistently been anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist. As the vocalist and mouthpiece of these bands, Svenonius is typically the band member associated most closely with the groups political identity. Allmusic's Steve Huey described Nation of Ulysses' philosophy as "a relentlessly provocative (and entertaining) jumble of teenage rock 'n' roll rebellion, leftist radicalism, and abstract intellectual rambling, [...] [which gives the sense of] an off-kilter, almost tongue-in-cheek approach to a 'perpetual 18-year old's' view of America, and life in general". In a 1997 interview – five years after the dissolution of the Nation of Ulysses – when asked if, in line with the title of Nation of Ulysses' 1991 album 13-Point Program to Destroy America, he still hoped to "destroy America", Svenonius responded simply: "Of course".
In describing the political evolutions of Svenonius' numerous projects, one reviewer said "...the undeniable truths of the [Nation of Ulysses] was soon to give way to the death-at-all-costs philosophy of Cupid Car Club, the Gospel Yeh-Yeh theology of the Make-Up,... and the quiet revolutions of the Scene Creamers and Weird War".
Nation of Ulysses
- 13-Point Program to Destroy America (Dischord) (1991)
- Plays Pretty for Baby (Dischord) (1992)
- The Embassy Tapes (Dischord) (2000)
- Destination: Love - Live! At Cold Rice (Dischord) (1996)
- After Dark (Dischord) (1997)
- Sound Verite (K Records) (1997)
- In Mass Mind (Dischord) (1998)
- Save Yourself (K Records) (1999)
- I Want Some (singles compilation) (K Records) (1999)
- Untouchable Sound (Drag City/Sea Note) (2006)
- Weird War (Drag City) (2002)
- I Suck on that Emotion (as Scene Creamers) (Drag City) (2003)
- If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em (Drag City) (2004)
- Illuminated by the Light (Drag City) (2005)
Chain and The Gang
- Down With Liberty... Up With Chains! (K Records) (2009)
- Music's Not For Everyone (K Records) (2011)
- In Cool Blood (K Records) (2012)
- Play Power (Jet Set/Siesta/If Records) (2001)
Cupid Car Club
- Join our Club (Kill Rock Stars) (1993)
- Half-Cocked (film) (independent release) (1994)
- Plaster Caster (Xenon Pictures) (2001)
- Soft Focus (VBS.tv) (host, 2006–present)
- The Seduction of Paolo Hewitt (Ooga Booga) (2008)
- Afterward of Glen E. Friedman's Recognize (ISBN 0-9641916-6-0) (Burning Flags Press) (2005)
- The Psychic Soviet (ISBN 0-9656183-9-0) (Drag City Press) (2006)
- Introduction of Glen E. Friedman's Keep Your Eyes Open - The Fugazi Photographs of Glen E. Friedman (ISBN 0-9641916-8-7) (Burning Flags Press) (2007)
- "Supernatural Strategies for Making a Rock 'n' Roll Group" (ISBN 978-1-61775-130-1)(Akashic Books)(2013)
- Danger Mike, Jesse Rockoff (DJ Mark Foley), Ian Svenonius (2006-10-30). "10-3-06 Ian Svenonius / The Make-Up". Radio CPR. 97.5 FM. http://dissonance.libsyn.com/index.php?post_id=205034.
- Gale, Thomas (2005). "The Make-Up Biography". eNotes. Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- Ashlock, Jesse. "David Candy". Epitonic Records. Archived from the original on September 30, 2007. Retrieved 2007-01-15.
- Malitz, David (May 2007). "Ian Svenonius - Editorial Review". Washington Post. Retrieved 2007-06-03.
- "NEW YORK - Soft Focus With Ian Svenonius". Vice. 2006-09-16. Retrieved 2007-01-14.
- "Who are the Nation of Ulysses?". Southern Records. Retrieved 2007-06-08.
- Cheslow, S. "Nation of Ulysses interview - 1989". Interrobang?! #1 (1989). Retrieved 2006-12-30.
- Dundas, Zach (1993-01). "The Nation of Ulysses". Mumblage #1 (January 1993). Archived from the original on 2005-11-27. Retrieved 2006-12-10.
- "New York Night Train One-Year Anniversary". New York Night Train. 2006. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
- "Steady Diet fanzine - April 98". Steady Diet, April 1998. Retrieved 2006-12-30.[dead link]
- "Make-Up biography". Southern Records. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- "Make Up - A Biography" (PDF). Drag City. Archived from the original on October 24, 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- "Make-Up discography". Southern Records. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- "Make-Up and "Gospel Yeh-Yeh"". Southern Records. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- Svenonius, Ian and James Schneider (2006). In Film/On Video (DVD). Dischord Records.
- "Damn You Fanzine". Southern Records, Damn You Fanzine. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- "The Hedonist –- February 1998". Southern Records, The Hedonist. Retrieved 2007-06-01.
- Ankeny, Jason. "The Make-Up Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-11-01.
- "Weird War Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2007-12-08.
- "Not Going to Mars". Drowned in Sound. Retrieved 2007-03-21.
- Flicker, Jonah (2005-10-28). "Ian Svenonius to Publish Book". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
- Twerdy, Saelan. "Illuminated by the Light". DiSCORDER. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-08.
- Svenonius, Ian. "David Candy - Jetset records". Jetset Records. Archived from the original on 2003-10-27. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
- "Cupid Car Club". Kill Rock Stars. Retrieved 2007-05-27.
- "glen E. friedman's - idealist propaganda - The Latest". Burning Flags Press. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
- Marshall, Craig (2005). "biography". Burning Flags Press and Consafos Press. Retrieved 2007-08-18.
- Gee, Ess (2006-09-26). "Vice TV". Archived from the original on 2006-11-30. Retrieved 2007-01-14.
- "Ian MacKaye on Soft Focus w/ Ian Svenonius". Dischord Records. Retrieved 2007-11-11.
- "Ian Svenonius". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2007-06-04.
- Huey, Steve. "The Nation of Ulysses Biography". Allmusic. Retrieved 2006-12-30.
- Interview with Ian Svenonius (Primetime) (QuickTime). London: Beware the Cat. May 1997. Retrieved 2007-06-13.
- "A Kid Who Tells On Another Kid Is a Dead Kid: Nation of Ulysses". GBOAT: The Greatest Band of All Time. 2007-07-18. Archived from the original on 2007-10-31. Retrieved 2007-12-22.
- Band/Project homepages
- Nation of Ulysses on Southern Records
- The Make-Up on Southern Records
- Weird War
- David Candy on Jet Set Records (Archived here)
- Cupid Car Club on Southern Records