For Danish band Spleen United, success in their home country came relatively quickly. Their hig henergy synth-heavy rock earned them a gold record for their 2005 debut, Godspeed into the Mainstream, and by the time they released their 2008 follow-up, Neanderthal, their growing popularity sent the album straight to Number 1 – and garnered them yet another gold album and an arsenal of awards.
Led by brothers Bjarke and Gaute Niemann, Spleen United (which also includes members Kasper Nørlund, Rune Wehner and Janus Nevel Ringsted) now has its sights set on America: Neanderthal will be released Stateside through their producer Michael Pattersonʼs (She Wants Revenge, Ladytron, Beck) popantipop records in January 2010, followed by a proper U.S. tour. The bandʼs first order of business: explaining what exactly the name “Spleen United” means.
“We hear a lot about the name, especially in the States,” sighs Bjarke Niemann. “The first time I heard the word ʻspleenʼ was when I was 16, still in high school and was deep into poetry. The closest word in English would be ʻmelancholy.ʼ People used to believe the size of your spleen determined the melancholy aspect of your personality. The ʻUnitedʼ part is a contrast to the heaviness of the word ʻspleen.ʼ In Europe, sports teams and clubs are often called ʻUnited.ʼ Itʼs a very social, optimistic word. So in a way, we represent all melancholy souls of the world.”
Neimannʼs musical origins date back to the young age of 14, when he first picked up a guitar, inspired by his older brother who played. His repertoire eventually expanded from heavy metal and distortion to post punk and electro.
“I was listening to lots of British bands, like Joy Division, Depeche Mode, My Bloody Valentine and The Cure,” he continues about his musical maturation. “At the same time, my brother and I were both really into the techno thing. Bands like the Prodigy, Orbital and Underworld were all favorites.”
Shunning most comparisons, Neimann actually welcomes any mention of electronic acts like Underworld, with Spleen United often tagged as “a rock version of Underworld” for their pulsating beats and cathartic live show.
“Itʼs pretty easy for us to hear that, because weʼre so far from what they do,” concedes Niemann. “We still consider ourselves a rock band. We build on these old indie rock traditions, but we donʼt use guitars or basses. We only use machines and live drums. Thatʼs what separates us from other rock bands, in the most obvious way.”
Listening to Neanderthal, Spleen Unitedʼs panorama of influences comes together into one unique and intriguing sound. Atmospheric songs like “Heat” and “Under The Sun” recall the Cure circa Disintegration, while tracks like “Suburbia” and “My Jungle Heart” ride on uptempo dance beats. A keen sense of melody and waves of warm synthesizer tones bind it all together into one bold, cohesive statement.
Although Denmark is currently enjoying something of a musical high with globally popular exports like Mew and the Raveonettes, Neimann insists thereʼs still not much of a scene in his home country. And if there is, Spleen United is not a part of it. “We grew up in small cities and mostly kept to ourselves, although weʼve gotten to know a lot of the bands once we gained some success,” he muses.
When queried about the impetus behind Spleen Unitedʼs most recent album title, Niemann says itʼs all about the oldest school of them all. “The title is referring to something primitive that exists in all human beings,” Niemann elaborates. “Iʼve always been fascinated by dance culture, and the idea of people responding to the music physically. Bands like New Order were a big deal for me, because people were dancing to it instead of just sitting in their rooms, smoking cigarettes and thinking about things. Neanderthal refers to the primal, basic elements of all of us.”
Spleen Unitedʼs two Gold Albums, collection of awards and #1 hits have them securely rooted in Denmarkʼs music scene and the fivesome are preparing for their U.S. experience, more so than embarking on a journey to match their homeland success.