THE ARK – Biography
The Ark was one of those rare bands that actually dared to be different. While executing the exact opposite from whatever people ever expected of it – or even thought possible – over a 20-year career, The Ark left an indelible mark in Swedish music’s illustrious history. There was, of course, the music, the festival and TV appearances, Eurovision, releasing its own magazine, as well as being one of the only bands that could make catsuits look cool again. It was a band that ended far too soon, yet ended on its own terms – at the height of its success while remaining the best of friends. The Ark not only left numerous hit singles and five hit albums in its glamorous wake, but it left people with a sense of hope.
Always groundbreaking and ever-evolving, The Ark was as accessible to mainstream music fans as it was to the indie crowd. The band’s brand of pop, rock, glam and electro-boogie-infused songs were tied together with a refined songwriting that helped create a hit parade of tunes that were both unmistakably witty and infectious. Although, the raw honesty within The Ark’s music is what ultimately attracted fans and led to their unwavering devotion to the band. The Ark was, and in many ways still is, the soundtrack for the post-ironic generation.
Culled from the soil of Småland in the sleepy village of Rottne in 1991, a young visionary named Ola Salo enlisted the help of his friends Jepson (guitar), Leari (bass), and Magnus Olsson (drums) to help quell what he perceived as the impending apocalypse. Although the apocalypse never quite came to fruition, The Ark did eventually prove to be a savior to many throughout its storied two decades together.
In the autumn of 1992, Olsson was replaced by drummer Martin Rosengardten. Four years later, The Ark would eventually release its debut four-song EP (now commonly referred to as Racing With The Rabbits) through Malmö-based Beat That! Although the EP was largely ignored in Sweden, the band nevertheless continued in its crusade to save the world.
Only a year after the EP’s release, the band recruited Martin Axén to help Jepson with guitar duties. Solidifying its ranks shortly before signing with Grand Recordings/Virgin in 1999, The Ark once again underwent a personnel change as Sylvester Schlegel replaced Rosengardten behind the drums. With the final line-up in place, The Ark would come to release its major label debut in early 2000 in the form of single “Let Your Body Decide”. The song became an immediate radio hit, climbing to #9 on the airplay charts. Though, it was the band’s next single that would truly put The Ark on the musical map. Released in the summer of 2000, “It Takes A Fool To Remain Sane” became an instant classic in Scandinavia, as well as breaking into the Italian Top 10 where it remained for an astounding four months.
After winning numerous awards, including two Swedish Grammys, The Ark’s debut album We Are The Ark was released in early 2001 and sold a staggering 120,000 copies domestically. Touring relentlessly for almost two years in support of that first album, The Ark quickly gained a reputation as being the pre-eminent live act for those who bore witness. With its penchant for costume changes and full out, balls-to-the-wall live performances, the band remained a visual and sonic overload for the senses throughout its 20-year career on stages around the world.
In 2002, The Ark released the follow-up to its smash debut. Flanked by Top 10 singles “Calleth You Cometh I” and “Father Of A Son”, In Lust We Trust immediately proved to critics that this band had far more hits up its sleeve than anyone could have ever known. Ever more vigorous touring followed, as the Ark army continued to grow. Although the band had established its sound with In Lust We Trust, Ola Salo and his bandmates decided to shake things up for the follow-up. The first single from this shift in musical policy was the infectious “One Of Us Is Gonna Die Young.” The third album, State of The Ark, and its new disco-glam rock hybrid sound was unleashed onto the masses just after Christmas 2004 to a flurry of positive reviews, and, like its offspring single, shot right to #1 in the Swedish charts.
Armed with a new album and military-inspired look, the band decided it was time to invade America. In its relentless drive to make a name for itself overseas, the band spent the better part of two years touring the United States as fans feverously lapped up the gospel according to Ark. US critics, too, couldn’t help but rave about The Ark’s sound and its kamikaze live approach. (If not for an ill-timed joke on the Swedish Embassy lawn during a gig in Washington, DC in the autumn of 2006, one can’t help but wonder how much the band could have achieved overseas?)
Early in 2007, The Ark made long-time touring keyboardist Jens Andersson a full-time member before the band reminded Sweden just what it had been missing in its two-year absence. Making the bold move of participating in Melodifestivalen, The Ark entered with a ’70s glam rock-boogie throwback called “The Worrying Kind”. Although, the band itself was as surprised as any when it handily won in record breaking fashion (gaining the most Televotes in the history of the contest!) This victory ultimately led to an appearance in the most unlikely of places for any rock band – Eurovision. Although The Ark ended up in 18th place, the six Swedes walked away with their credibility intact and innumerable additions to its army of dedicated followers.
Preceded by singles “Absolutely No Decorum” and “The Worrying Kind” (both of which sat #1 and #2, respectively, on the Swedish radio charts – a feat never before accomplished by another Swedish act), The Ark readied the release of Prayer For The Weekend. That fourth album was a return to form, yet reinvented The Ark’s sound once more to include a hybrid of We Are The Ark‘s playfulness and simplicity, the grandiosity of In Lust We Trust and the stripped-down minimalistic disco-riff boogie from State Of The Ark.
Prayer For The Weekend, along with its appearances in Melodifestivalen and Eurovision, helped launch The Ark into the stratosphere of Scandinavian success. It was an indelible stamp on Swedish music history and The Ark’s place in it. As one of the most anticipated albums of the year, pre-orders for the album smashed records. And when it was finally released in mid-April 2007, the album quickly went to #1 and reached platinum status. Prayer For The Weekend would eventually stay in the Top 10 Swedish radio charts for over three months.
After a relentless 2007 spent on the road in support of album number four that included stops in Scandinavia, Finland and mainland Europe, The Ark took a much needed break. In 2010, the band re-emerged with a new album called In Full Regalia and a groundbreaking concept in which to release it. Due to lagging sales, record stores across Sweden had been closing at an alarming rate the previous years. To counter the problem, longtime Ark manager Jon Gray found the perfect way to get the album into more stores than ever before – by releasing it in magazine format with the CD as an insert. This made the album available in bookstores, which were opening at an equal rate to record store closures. The magazine may have been unique in its execution, but it also gave The Ark a chance to set revisit its past in print. In many ways, the magazine was a goodbye that no one, not even the members of The Ark, fully realized at the time.
Unlike previous albums that featured The Ark’s signature retro-meets-modern production, In Full Regalia was a nod to ’70s studio sessions. It included songs that sounded as if they could have been lifted off the very best rock albums of that era as well. And although it was one of the best selling releases of that year, once again achieving platinum status, The Ark did a brief tour before once again disappearing into the night.
In early 2011, the year of its 20th anniversary, Ola Salo, Jens Andersson, Martin Axén, Leari, Jepson and Sylvester Schlegel announced the end of The Ark. The break-up would follow the release of a Greatest Hits album called Arkeology – which featured 20 songs from the band’s storied history atop the charts. The break-up was a unanimous decision taken to preserve The Ark’s legacy and to ensure that the band left a beautiful corpse for future generations to re-discover its music. The Ark’s triumphant swan song took place at a sold-out Grona Lund in Stockholm – in front of 15,000 screaming fans – on September 16th, 2011.
Christian Patrick, 2011
The Ark are: