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September 2022
Feature

Viagra Boys: "That's what makes people relate to us – this self-hatred mixed with hope"

Stockholm post-punk troublemakers Viagra Boys are trying to make sense out of chaos, tackling the world’s woes head-on.
Published: 1:42 pm, July 13, 2022Words: Finlay Holden.
Viagra Boys: "That's what makes people relate to us – this self-hatred mixed with hope"

From their charged name to their vicious attitude, Viagra Boys are never afraid to reach for the extreme. With their third album 'Cave World' grabbing those sonic and thematic heights in a tight clutch, Sebastian Murphy reveals the changes in his own erratic behaviour that have enabled an increase in creative potency. "I take music seriously, but I find humour to be a very important aspect of everything I do, both in my art and my personal life," the singer and frontman says when reminded of his previous thematic obsession with shrimp.

With their existing records, 'Street Worms' and 'Welfare Jazz', the raucous-yet-honed group have managed to hide somewhat sincere reflections within a sarcastic tone because it makes it easier to process not just for fans, but for the artists too. However, Sebastian now says that "in light of what's going on in the world today, you can come to a point where you have to be serious. You can't just hide from everything all the time, and a lot of what's happened to us all has started to get into my head even though I've tried to avoid it for years."

In the seclusion of rural Sweden, the group were empowered with a societal immunity to global events; instead of experiencing the chaos first-hand, they were forced to watch it unfold through screens. "I was looking at the news and memes a lot, and you could quickly tell there was this madness going on in the world," the lyricist recalls. "People were splitting up into polar opposites; anti maskers, maskers; anti-vaxxers, vaccinators. When I was watching that unravel around the world, it was like watching an entertaining TV show, and I ended up writing about it, commenting on people as a whole rather than the pandemic. With anything from gun rights to abortion, everyone's fighting right now."

With all this conflict occurring in what felt like a different world, Sebastian actually managed to tone down his relentless lifestyle and focus on manifesting a clarity he had never previously managed to achieve, despite multiple attempts. "There wasn't all that much partying going on, and I started living a much calmer life. There was much more structure to my life, much more vision," he calmly reflects, having reached a level of Zen long aspired to.

Going sober turned out to be an easier experience than expected, too. "After I got through my amphetamine addiction, I thought I wasn't going to be able to do anything without speed. I didn't think I'd be able to paint or draw or write any songs because I would take speed to do anything. For the first year, I was unable to do absolutely anything creative, and I was very frustrated. You just have to force yourself to do it before you eventually realise it's just as good sober."

Frustration is certainly a feeling expressed throughout 'Cave World', with recent single 'Punk Rock Loser' emphasising concerns about his own past behaviour ("I go to the function just to fuck shit up / I warned you baby, that ain't juice in my cup"). However, Viagra Boys have used this newfound state as a means of fuelling their creative output without letting it become too much of a focus. Moving beyond a sound synonymous with British post-punk, the now-quintet feel liberated from any constraints.

"We don't have many restrictions when it comes to genre or genre mixing," Sebastian explains. "A lot of these post-punk bands sound the same; they play more pretentious music, in a way. It's got to have this edge all the time; it's always got to be super tough and angry. We're more experimental when it comes to making something that's a mixture of pop and punk; we started taking away a lot of those classic elements with a synthesiser or some cheesy-ass guitar and drums. A lot of it is just us having fun."

"The important factor was to have something that's a bit extreme – even if it's extremely bad" 
Sebastian Murphy

While it's clear from their live show that the bold group have fun with old material too, reaching for uncompromising peaks has been the fulfilling mission of 'Cave World' and gave Viagra Boys a clear and rigorous goal through practice sessions and into the studio. "The important factor was to have something that's a bit extreme – even if it's extremely bad, at least it would be extreme," the ringleader laughs. "We wanted something that would stand out. I'm sure we could make a great straight-up punk album in no time if we wanted to, but we wouldn't have been as happy about it. We wanted to make something that would push us to another level."

Having fun and experimenting is something the band has gradually leaned into as the process became more and more comfortable, and it is that level of creative comfort that allowed further artistic movement than ever before. "We don't want to make an album that sounds exactly like the one before it."

With that thought in mind, there has also been a transition in animalistic obsessions – from shrimps to monkeys. As disordered as this may seem, the surprisingly logical focus comes from an overwhelming feeling of dissatisfaction in our society – even Sweden can't always be a haven. "I was watching some documentaries about monkeys and felt that life would be much easier if we didn't have this self-conscious attitude. We'd be much happier if we were living in trees, eating termites and scratching our asses." As you can probably surmise, that's also where the album's title and partial thematic through-line stems from, "we should be moving back into the caves where we belong."

In the face of an investigation into Viagra Boys' artistic methodology, Sebastian suggests it's best not to think too deeply about such things. "It's always the end product that's the most important to me; I don't give a shit about anything else," he declares. "I just want to express a feeling that you can't really describe in the correct way. I want music to be some form of truth; that's always the most important."

Finding that truth becomes more natural when surrounded by those who understand you, and Sebastian has finally found someone to truly bare his soul to. "I got engaged during COVID and got to spend a lot of time with my fiancé. It's the first time that I've been in a relationship where we can create things together; she's also an artist and is just hilarious. When we're at home, we can sit and make sculptures together, which sounds really cheesy, but it's everything I'd hoped for."

If you've been to a Viagra Boys show, it's easy to lose sight of this sweetness through the thick mist of energy - not to mention sweat – but this frontman still admits that "a lot of what you see is true. I'm still struggling in life; I still struggle with alcohol intake and the occasional late night. That person is still very much a part of me, and I'm always going to be battling with my inner demons, but I think that's what makes people relate to us – this self-hatred mixed with hope, experiencing every feeling at the same time."

Humbly achieving everything the Sebastian of years past could've hoped for, 'Cave World' is the result of an odd period of time; chaotic, yes, strange, yes, but surprisingly positive for Viagra Boys? Undeniably so. "From making this album, I think the next thing I do, I want to make even more extreme," he proposes. "I want people to not expect what's coming next. I don't know what the fuck I'm going to do for the next album yet, but hopefully, it's something that I've never heard either. I always want to take things to the next level; I just barely touched that with this album, but I want to keep doing that even more." If 'Cave World' is just another step on the ladder, Viagra Boys are onto something momentous. 

Taken from the August issue of Upset. Viagra Boys' album 'Cave World' is out now.

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