What has the average 12-year-old accomplished? Maybe making the club soccer team? Winning a few spelling bee trophies? Starring as Maria in “West Side Story”? Well, if you’re Jennie Asplund, guitarist in the feverishly rocketing Swedish band Sahara Hotnights, you had already put together the band that would make you rich and famous. OK, so maybe Jennie and her younger sister Johanna (on bass) – along with Josephine Forsman (drums) and Maria Andersson (vocals/guitar) – were a few gigs shy of a record contract, but it’s still a mighty feat to be a mere 21 years old and have a decade of band experience under one’s belt.
“Maria and Johanna started hanging out when they were 4 years old,” Jennie said over the phone, with her clear Swedish accent hanging on every word. Asplund and bandmates are currently in their NYC hotel room, preparing for an appearance with Conan O’Brien, airing tonight. “Around the ages of 10 to 12, everybody was playing individually. We were kinda told, ‘You’re a bunch of friends that like to do everything else together. Why not play together?'”
So what kind of music do a bunch of middle-schoolers living in the less-than-riveting northern Swedish town of UmeŒ begin their musical voyage playing?
“Back then, it was definitely Nirvana,” Asplund said. “[They] had a big impact on us as a band. We were playing loads of covers from them. That’s like the only thing we listened to. After a while, we kinda decided, maybe we should do something on our own and not just copy other people.”
Beyond Kurt and crew, the fledgling all-girl rock quartet fed themselves a steady diet of Blondie, the Clash, and the Ramones to hone their ’70s punk rock chops and effectively infuse the post-grunge of the mid-’90s. Their first EP, Suits Anyone Fine, was released in their native Sweden while the girls were barely hitting their mid-teens. Still, critical European acclaim followed and the Hotnights landed themselves a contract with Speech Records in Sweden. Their full-length C’mon Let’s Pretend was released in 1999 and garnered two Swedish Grammy nominations, along with a pretty penny or two, for the quickly rising band.
Their most recent release through Jetset Records, Jennie Bomb (“Yes, it’s named for me!” Asplund said), has been the breakthrough the foursome had hoped would bring their decade of relentless touring and practicing to fruition. As they wrap up their first headlining tour through the U.S., alongside England’s Ikara Colt and Florida’s The Washdown, the girls are avoiding the New York snow and looking forward to reflecting on the Jennie Bomb ride.
“I don’t think we could ever imagine how good [Jennie Bomb’s success] could be,” Asplund said. “A lot of gigs have been sold out and it’s only our first tour headlining. It’s just so great to see people are showing up! It’s also pretty amazing, being on a small independent and all.”
It also can’t hurt the band’s publicity mill that all four young women are decidedly, well, easy on the eyes, their lead singer is dating the Hives’ Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist and they’re outfitted in body-hugging motorcycle jackets. Still, Sahara Hotnights throw more of their chips in the talent basket, rather than compensating with T and A. Because there are so few well-known all-female rock groups, inevitable comparisons are often drawn between Sahara Hotnights and bands like the Donnas, or the Runaways from decades ago.
“I get tired all the time about it,” Asplund said. “I wish that there would be more of us. Still, there are [people] trying so hard for girls to make it [in music], like to go to a girl’s summer camp. But I think they’re helping out too much – trying too hard. The way for a band to succeed is for them to struggle like any other band. For us, it’s like: We rehearsed, we played a lot of live shows, and got good.”
As for this moment, though, the four women of Sahara Hotnights are poised to continue trampling preconceived notions of “girl bands” with songs like “Alright Alright (Here’s My Fist, Where’s the Fight)” and “On Top of Your World,” in which they proudly charge through accessible, catchy punk riffs and let Andersson’s fiery vocals seduce the listener into submission.
After wrapping up their Jennie Bomb tour in New York, Jennie, Johanna, Maria and Josephine plan to return to their digs in Sweden and begin laying the foundation for the next Hotnights project, along with maybe catching a breather.
“We’re so sick and tired of playing these songs!” Asplund said. “It’s been two years since it was released in Sweden. We’ve done a couple tours on it and it feels like time to move on.”
So, if rock camps and coaching aren’t the recommended avenues to zero in on the rocker chick within, what’s a girl to do?
“It’s about playing with good friends who enjoy it as much as you do,” Asplund said. “Try to rehearse as much as possible. Take every show you can, just to get started, and play… a lot! That’s my advice.”
After seeing these four tear apart a stage live, it can be a tad intimidating to ever imagine wielding a guitar with such tenacity. Still, it’s a bit refreshing to remember that while Artsweek and friends were congratulating each other for another successful game of red rover on the field, the four women of Sahara Hotnights were already halfway up the ladder to international success.