Chapel Hill retro-rockers Fake Swedish aim for a second chance | Music Feature | Indy Week
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Chapel Hill retro-rockers Fake Swedish aim for a second chance 

Cuddling again: Fake Swedish

Photo by Justin Cook

Cuddling again: Fake Swedish

Fake Swedish broke up in 2005, but they have reunited—not to cash in or to revel in nostalgia, but to make new music as friends.

"We're an active band again," explains Joe Romeo, the charming retro-rock quartet's frontman. "I think 'reunion' looks backward; this is looking forward. We're writing new material. We're practicing every week."

During their initial run, Fake Swedish were a typically ambitious young band. Romeo and guitarist Eric Haugen met as teenagers in New Jersey, taking the train to see Triangle-based indie rock bands like Pipe and Archers of Loaf in New York. They played together in the Americana-leaning Roadside Graves before Romeo decamped for North Carolina. When Haugen followed in 2002, Fake Swedish began. Bassist Ashley Hayes joined in 2003, completing the core trio. Dave Perry, recently of the Dirty Little Heaters, and Rock Forbes, now a Spider Bag, both pulled shifts behind the drum kit.

Fake Swedish were a reliable local act, even scoring a gig opening for Guided By Voices. After an EP, the band released its lone full-length, 2005's Get Correct, an affable set of songs that suggested The Meat Puppets, 13th Floor Elevators and the Troggs.

From the outside, Fake Swedish appeared to be an act on the rise; but internally, the quartet was slipping into a rut. They saw the album as a collection of good songs that deserved a better treatment than they could afford to provide. The end came quietly and decisively. There was no farewell show, no public announcement.

"There was no big blow-up and people not wanting to talk to each other," remembers Romeo. "We just burned out. We realize now that we were taking things a little too seriously."

Haugen stuck around, teaching guitar lessons and becoming an in-demand sideman for bands such as The Physics of Meaning and Mount Moriah.

Romeo started the mellow outlet Joe Romeo and The Orange County Volunteers. After that project ended in 2009, he took a break from music altogether. "It wasn't coming to me, so I wasn't going to it," he says.

He moved for a month to New Jersey, returned to North Carolina and got married, and spent a year in Vancouver before returning, again, last year. He and Haugen both had new songs ready, so they decided to return to the rehearsal room with Hayes last September. This time, the stakes weren't so high.

"Someone once told me that making music is a series of tiny victories and huge, crushing defeats," Romeo says. "Now those defeats aren't so crushing. Things have leveled off. We'd like to get back to right where we were before and beyond, but were it not to work out that way, I don't think it would be as devastating as it would have been 10 years ago."

They toyed with the idea of adopting a new name, maybe even changing directions. The intention was to make new music, not relive past glories. But as they started playing together again, the old chemistry remained. Romeo and Hayes even play the same instruments they used when Fake Swedish was only an upstart.

In February, the band made its second debut, playing at The Cave with New Town Drunks, supported by drummer Clay Anderson. They again fell in love with being in this band.

"It feels great. It feels joyous," Romeo says. "When you're young and maybe a little too ambitious, sometimes you forget to have fun. Now, it's more about enjoying it while we're doing it. That's going to come through in the tunes and the shows."

Fake Swedish has started work on a new, self-recorded album, but they're taking more time to get it right. Now in their 30s, the members of Fake Swedish have learned from their past and tempered their ambitions with a more measured, patient approach. Rather than rush through a recording to put something out, they'll spend more time to ensure a better result. Rather than jump on the road full of expectations, they'll stick to local bars until (and if) the timing is right to venture farther afield.

"This time, we're going to do it until it's right and it's the way that we want it, and then it'll be ready," Romeo says. "We're picking up right where we left off, but we're all richer for having lived 10 years in between."

This article appeared in print with the headline "Return corrected."

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