Sahara Hotnights with the Hives and the Reigning Sound at the Phoenix (410 Sherbourne), Saturday (July 24), 6 pm doors. $22. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
Sweden's Sahara Hotnights began playing together as preteen punks. Their first record, C'mon Let's Pretend, earned them two Swedish Grammy nominations. Their second, the gritty, seething Jennie Bomb, rocked like the Ramones and the MC5 and brought the Hotnights to the hub of the Swedish explosion in 2002 alongside the likes of the Hives and Division of Laura Lee. They toured the record for two years, during which time they listened to a lot of Pretenders, Big Star, Cheap Trick, the Go Gos, the Cars and Television.
The Sahara ladies returned home inspired to add a poppier element to their next record, the recently released Kiss And Tell (BMG), which combines the rock 'n' roll edge with a softer, less distorted element. The vocals are cleaner and more prevalent; the hooks are super-catchy. This is 100 per cent pure pop punk.
"I think you just get sick of the things you're doing," says bassist Johanna Asplund of the punched-up pop element. "We were tired of the Jennie Bomb album. But it's not that different - you can tell we're the same band."
Asplund doesn't even listen to Jennie Bomb any more.
"Listening to those things reminds you of the past, and it's a bit depressing to hear those songs."
Asplund feels no pressure to top the record that broke them onto the scene.
"Of course I want to know what people think about it and I hope it gets good reviews, but it's not the end of the world if people don't like it. I think we have done a really good album."
Kiss And Tell also marks a jump from the indie Jetset label to RCA/BMG, which some might see as a sign that the ladies are destined for mega-success.
It might assuage the fears of Asplund's bandmate, drummer Josephine Forsman. In a 2002 NOW interview, Forsman expressed concerns that her band's gender might impede their chances for stardom on the level of fellow Swedes the Hives, with whom Sahara Hotnights are currently on tour.
The touring combo was a no-brainer, since the bands' lead singers, Maria Andersson and Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, have been dating for years. Not to be a conspiracy theorist here, but the Hives connection might also explain the jump to the majors.
It's like one big happy garage revivalist family. "We are all good friends," says Asplund, who doesn't worry about things like the gender impediment.
"Sometimes it's bad for us to be girls and sometimes it's better, so it evens out," she offers diplomatically. "Mostly when people write about us, they think because we're girls they have to analyze why we're playing music. In interviews we get asked things like 'What do your parents say about it?' Like, how many bands get those kind of questions?"
Still, she says, "People do come out to shows just because they're interested to see what an all-girl band sounds like, and it's easier to remember who we are because there aren't so many female bands that exist."
It's the stuff wet dreams are made of, isn't it? Four hot Swedish chicks in a rock band?
A Google search for "Swedish girl band porn" leaves me dry, but I'm willing to bet there's an untapped reservoir here. Note to filmmakers: Swedish Girl Band Porn! Seriously. You can't lose.
I didn't mention this idea to Asplund, partly because I hadn't thought of it yet and partly because she just seems so darned sweet. But come on - the girl's name is Asplund. The movie practically writes itself.