On March 15th, The Old Firm Casuals released Holger Danske, their second full length album, via Pirates Press Records. The record is a banger from beginning to end and combines Punk, Oi!, Hardcore, and Rock into a sound Lars Frederiksen calls “Casual Rock ‘n’ Roll.” It’s the perfect mixture of sub-genres and is truly a look into the band members’ personal record collections.
I was fortunate enough to talk to Lars about the record and the band from every angle: songwriting, recording, lyrical content, and personal stories behind the music. If you’re like me and have grown up listening to the various bands Lars Frederiksen has been in and you haven’t gotten into OFC for some reason, you are making a big mistake.
The album takes its name from the legendary knight of Charlemagne, Holger Danske who, according to ancient legends, never died. Instead he sleeps in the cellar of a castle and every Christmas, an angel comes and whispers in his ear and either he can stay asleep or he has to rise up and defend Denmark against his enemies. This record is that whisper.
Below is a slightly abridged transcript of the full interview.
This record was recorded over a long span of time. Do you prefer that?
Well, it started with the scheduling and then all of a sudden it became something that works and I actually prefer it now.
The Casuals, we write so much as part of our process and we’ve always been so fucking prolific over the years. I mean the first time we came together (me, Casey, and Paul) in the first practice we ever had we wrote “Old Firm” and “Apocalypse Coming.” It was instant, like we could just write together. It was just very organic, you know. It was just “How about this? How about this? How about this? Okay, that’s a song.” And that’s what we were trying to do. We were just trying to get some songs so we could go and have some fun and later on try to improve on them.
A lot of those 7 inches that we put out were kind of just stream of conscious off the cuff. “Let’s go in, record a few songs, and just leave ‘em as is,” and that is going to be how we learn and grow into better songwriters. I don’t know if that was necessarily the conscious decision at the time. But in retrospect, I look back and feel that’s what happened.
It was like any other band that I’ve been in. In Rancid, our songwriting got better and better over time too. I mean there’s a lot of that urgency and desperation in those early records, but I think that’s the same with every other band because it’s thought out to a point.
I feel like there’s rarely been a time when I take a song into the studio as a fully realized idea that it ever turns out that way because it takes Casey, Paul, and Gabe to help realize the song. It’s kind of like this: as a songwriter, the song is only as good as the people that are playing it. Take “Roots Radicals.” Raking that song to OFC would have been a completely different song just because of the approach of the musicians. It took those people in the band to make the song what it is.
“Butcher’s Banquet” is another good example. It was a song that I had written and would use it for sound check with The Bastards in 2004-05. I had everything but the lyrics because that riff is so hard to play and sing on top of I never attempted it. I already knew in my head I was not going to be able to sing it.
So, fast forward to talking with Nick AKA Animal from the Anti-Nowhere League while we were staying at his house back in 2011. He was telling me he was writing a new record and we had talked about possibly writing some songs together. When I got home, I stumbled back onto this riff and started writing some lyrics to it and thought it would be a good Anti-Nowhere League song because Nick would be able to deliver it.
So I sent it to him and he loved it. Then the album came out and that song wasn’t on it. So I was like motherfucker, I’m taking this back because now I have Casey Watson who is a fucking dynamic insanely awesome singer, who is a co-lead singer and I was like I finally got a guy who can do this song justice. And honestly I’m super glad Anti-Nowhere League didn’t do it, because Casey Watson made that song his own. It’s a Casey song through and through; I never could have done that justice.
That’s my point as a songwriter – it takes somebody or the other band members to realize that song and bring it to its full potential and if you don’t have those people in the band who can do that then you can’t really go that far with it.
I feel like that speaks to all the different sub-genres you hit on this album due to the chemistry and mixed backgrounds of the other members.
The majority of the stuff that goes into the studio, I mean, we all contribute at some point and that’s one of the things that I try to encourage because I think it makes the band better and the record better. For me personally, Holger Danske is like a snapshot into my record collection. All the bands that I love, you can hear the influences in Holger Danske and that’s the beauty of this band.
I’ve been doing this kind of music or been in this scene for over three quarters of my life. I got turned onto this shit when I saw Rock ‘n’ Roll High School on Gill Cable back in 1978-79. My brother was one of the first skinheads in California. I was listening to Reggae, AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, Slade, Walkers, Kiss, Mabel, Star Wars Soundtrack; all kinds of music came through my house. My mom would listen to Kenny Rodgers and Engelbert Humperdinck and her Danish music…Danish drinking music is a precursor to Oi!, straight up.
My mom and dad got divorced in the 70s and my mom took us over to Denmark. My older cousin was into all the glam shit and got me into David Bowie and T. Rex and all that shit. Getting hit with that stuff at four or five years old and then discovering The Ramones, it was game on.
I remember “Highway to Hell” had come out and then saw Rock ‘n’ Roll High School and was so conflicted because AC/DC was my jam and now I had The Ramones then the whole Punk thing started happening and one guy from Southern California moved into our town and another guy from Lester, England moved in and both brought their music with them. I think that’s what made where I grew up special. It was very multicultural and as long as it had a good beat everyone was into it. And this record has that same vibe. there’s stuff that sounds like Motorhead/GBH/Discharge and others that sound like AC/DC, Rose Tattoo, and Social Distortion. We’re a Punk band, were an Oi! band, but I coined this phrase “Casual Rock n Roll” and that’s what we are. It’s Street Rock ‘n’ Roll; it’s just as much Oi! as it is Punk as it is Rock and Roll.
When I got into Rose Tattoo, I discovered slide guitar and got to meet Pete Wells (the slide guitarist of Rose Tattoo) when Rancid was over there in 1996 on an Australian tour. He took me to this street fair where Geordie (bassist) and the other rhythm guitar player were playing this Rhythm and Blues shit on the sidewalk during this fair with a couple hundred people watching them. This is what they did. They were just Rock and Rollers, you know? That kind of thing just makes sense for us.
As a band we’re all the same type of people at the core but we all have different personalities. I’m at this point where I’m just like, “Fuck it. Let’s just go out and do this and go as hard and fast as we can and have some fun and fuck it all.”
With Casey and Paul having backgrounds in the Hardcore scene, do you feel having that Hardcore ethos of finding solutions to the current problems in addition to your views shape the lyrical content of the album?
The solution for me has always been music. It wasn’t electing a different president or going vegan or going greener. Hardcore, Street Rock, and Punk was all universally the same message. The theme of it is a very anti-fascist stance. It also is very personal for me on a lot of levels and faces your own mortality in a lot of ways. As you get older and start to have kids, that kind stuff happens. I feel like there’s more problems out there then there are solutions. You really can’t get anyone in the same room to talk anymore.
People think that how you become a successful musician is waiting in line for eight hours and trying out for a talent show and getting on TV. That’s what they think success is now. People have these beliefs that take them too far to the left or too far to the right. This whole idea of telling people what to wear, who to vote for… All politicians are squares.I mean, when you call someone a career politician they are loyal to the party, not their country. They are not doing it for America. They are doing it for re-election. Here’s the problem: true democracy is at stake here.
I’m a freedom of speech guy, straight up. I don’t think you should be able to sensor art, music, or speech. With that being said, if someone says some hateful shit and expects not to get punched in the face, well they should probably rethink what they are going to say. The whole hate speech thing to me is fucking censorship; that’s fascism. It’s like I get it to a certain degree but I want to know who my enemy is. I want you to say that shit. I want to know.
Honestly, when you go about telling people how to live their lives, the more resistance you’re going to get. It’s because of this whole PC movement that we have this president. It’s a reaction to that. Sexism, homophobia, and racism are not political issues. They are the difference between right and wrong. For me it’s like live and let live.
My mom grew up in Nazi occupied Denmark in WWII and saw her family get killed. No kid between 4-8 should have to witness that and that’s what fascism does. When you start telling people how to live their lives – what to do, how to act, what god to pray to – then you subscribe to that ideology. So it doesn’t matter what side of the political fence you sit on. If you’re telling people how to live their life that in a sense if fascism. Yeah, it’s a very broad stroke of the brush, sure. We’re going down that path and now we’re seeing this tribal politics where no one is coming to table and it’s only getting worse.
So lyrically for us, there’s that political thing and there’s always going to be that for us. That’s who I am. I’ll talk about my shit because that’s my platform but I won’t force-feed my political stuff to anyone. If I meet someone on the street and we have different views, I’m not not going to be friends with him because of who he votes for. If he starts spouting some hateful shit, then yeah, we’re probably not going to be friends.
We are all humans at the end of the day. Not everyone is perfect, and if everyone was perfect we wouldn’t have what we have. I saw this thing the other day that said “I can’t believe the generation that grew up on South Park, The Simpsons, and Family Guy is this fragile” and you know what, it’s absolutely fucking right. They’re a bunch of teacups. These mother fuckers are wrapped in bubble wrap and it’s scary that this is the world my kids get to come up in.
Looking at the tracklist, there’s a couple of instrumental tracks on Holger Danske. What made you want to do that for this album, seeing as that’s not a regular thing the band does?
For me, when making a record you’re always thinking about what’s going to go into the next song, the sequence of the records. And songs like “Holger Danske” and “Thunderbolt” are strong on their own, but my thought process at the time was it needed something. I mean “The Golden Fall” was a riff I’ve had for around twenty years. That was something I always used to warm up. And with A Butcher’s Banquet, we had “Kampråb” to open up the record before “God and Guns” and that was a song The Bastards had that was our intro song when we would play live. I guess those songs are meant to set up the song that follows it.
As you’re making the record, you start to get the shape of it and then something happens and the whole record falls apart. I’ve been there so many times and each time it gets more exciting for me because I like the challenge. “Zombies” was recorded back when we did Butcher’s or even earlier. But it was a lot of moving parts and not fully realized at the time and needed Gabe. I felt like the vibe of the song didn’t really fit so it just kind of stayed until this record.
Because the recording process was so long, was there ever a time when you thought about putting out the first batch as another EP or was the plan always to release a LP next?
That was definitely a conscious decision. Butchers and Wartime could have been condensed into one record but time constraints and other things that were going on impacted that. We kind of write so many songs in clusters and pretty soon we’re playing these songs in our set and no one really knew them. We wrote songs so fast that songs that would come out three months after we wrote it and they would already be out of the set list.
The original name of the record was going to be ‘Zombies’ after the last song because that was one of the first songs we wrote for the album. The cover was going to be a drawing of the band as zombies and, at the time, I was like “Aw, this is it!” But then, after writing “Traitor” and “Holger Danske,” I felt a cartoon version of the band and calling it ‘Zombies’ didn’t really fit the direction the album was going.
The new direction of the record was very auspicious. My cousin came over from Denmark right around World Cup time. My oldest son loves soccer and on the front of the Danish national jersey was an image of Holger Danske. I wrote the song and was talking to my mom about the record and how I wrote a song about Holger Danske. She said, “You know your uncle Viggo was part of the Danish resistance in WWll and his unit was called Holger Danske’.” I remember that day because I was going into the studio and pitched it to the guys and everyone was on board. Lyrically I was using Holger Danske as a metaphor for the whole record with what’s happening today politically. Holger Danske was fighting for the real people, the people that make this country great, the people that really believe in the core value of the country.
Talking about culture and your Danish heritage, there are runes on the album – what’s the significance of putting that kind of stuff on the record and bringing your culture into the album?
So the rune on the record is a Viking compass. If you’re lost, it helps you find your way. A lot of the Norse mythology has stories that are really short and weird but it takes somebody to… if my mom was doing this interview you’d never get off the phone with her about this stuff (laughs). For me the imagery is very personal and this whole record and experience is pretty personal for me. I’m just happy to be in this band and in this moment.
For me it’s been such a big part of my childhood. When we were kids, we never had religion growing up and there weren’t a lot of other Danish people. But my mom always instilled this Denmark socialism way of life in my brother and me. She was very proud of her culture, her beliefs, and what she survived.
I remember back in the early 80s we put swastikas on everything because, at the time in punk, that was the thing to do. I remember having an American flag that was the perfect bum flap and I put swastikas were the stars were; I must have been 10 or 11. It was Sid Vicious punk and was meant as a big fuck you. This is pre-bonehead and I remember her seeing it and letting me leave the house with it. But when I came back, she asked why I put that on the flag. I told her it was like rebellion and screw you. She said, “Well, it means something completely different to me.” That was one of the first times she really broke it down for me and that’s when I first knew what she might have experienced.
She never got into much detail but over the years she got more and more open about her experiences and what happened with her family and living in those types of conditions. My mom always instilled in my brother and me to never judge anyone; we were ‘working poor’ before it was a term. It wasn’t until my teens that I really saw color in people and that there was a difference. The neighborhood I grew up in was predominantly Mexican and Vietnamese and they were all different races and we were all poor. I remember when one of my friends got a boom box with a TV in it for Christmas and it was the coolest thing. We’d put it on my skateboard because it weighted 50-60 pounds and would take it to the park and try to get TV channels on it. You didn’t really see the different races; they were just my friends.
When we were on tour with Billy Bragg he said he had Socialism of the heart and I think that’s what my mom had. She was of the mindset that everyone should have a chance. Everyone should eat, everyone should be treated fairly and respectfully, and judge someone only on their merit and not by their color of religion. And that’s something that I still have in me and how I walk through the world.
My mom was the main parent and she gave us a great sense of morals and the history and rituals of her culture. For example, we would open presents on Christmas Eve. Santa Claus was Oden and Thor. She’d read us stories about Norse mythology. If there was a religion, besides watching Kung Fu on TV, that was probably it. That was our spirituality in a lot of ways. Growing up with that environment was something I’m definitely blessed to have experienced.
Let’s end the interview on a lighter question. I got to ask, is there a favorite track you have on the album or a favorite track to play live?
That’s tough. The Old Firm Casuals are an album band. Playing “Traitor,” “Thunderbolt,” and “Casual Rock ‘n’ Roll” are amazing to play live. There’s so many fun times that it’s hard to pick.
I don’t really dread playing any of the songs if that means anything (laughs). Most of these songs are a labor of love. For me, if you listen all the way through, that’s the way it’s supposed to be listened to.