Even though it was more than 10 years ago, Stephan Groth can still recall his first visit to Cleveland.
"The Phantasy was the club with the pirate ship, right?" he asks. "Out on the street that day, someone got shot near the club. That was really extreme for us. We've never seen stuff like that before."
With that welcome-to-Cleveland anecdote out of the way, Groth opens up about his band Apoptygma Berzerk — fans refer to them as Apop or APB — and their latest release, Rocket Science. He is the only permanent member of the Norwegian band.
"It's very rock-oriented but very electronic at the same time," says Groth. "On this album, soundwise, I've been trying to find this perfect mix between rock music and electro."
That statement may sound almost sacrilegious to fans who latched onto APB in the late '90s, when their sound leaned more toward synth-pop and goth, like the industrial club-night favorite, "Nonstop Violence."
Rocket Science is more of an acknowledgement of Groth's musical roots. Yes, the synth-pop melodies and noodlings are still there at varying levels but so are cues from the post-punk movement and good old-fashioned guitar rock.
"Shadow" — which Groth says almost didn't make the final cut — is arguably where the sonic intersection is at its strongest, while "Butterfly Defect" evokes early Jesus and Mary Chain. Good Charlotte's Benji Madden's presence on rocker "Apollo" is sure to confound some of Apop's ardent supporters, but it's subtle. Groth says his friendship with Madden goes back to Apop's first U.S. shows, where Madden was merely a fan.
"I like working with people who are doing things completely different from myself, because it brings in another dimension into my work," he says. "Of course, I've been working with a lot of people from the electro scene and similar music to what I've been doing. That's been cool too, but I've had the most success working with people totally far away from what I've been doing."
Groth notes that one of Apop's most popular songs, "Kathy's Song," became a fan favorite, thanks to trance artist Ferry Corsten's remix.
Apop are on the ground floor in terms of name recognition in the U.S. Part of it, admits Groth, is due to their rigorous European touring schedule. But with the wave of post-punk-inspired acts establishing a presence stateside, this may be the right time for Apop to present themselves to a wider audience.
"I'm in contact with fans online, see the reviews, and I get feedback from Facebook or MySpace," he says. "But our strongest side was always the live part. Unfortunately, the American crowd has missed out on that part for the last four or five years. I very much look forward to play live in the U.S. and present that part of us to new audiences."
And he thinks America might just be receptive.
"All the interesting, good stuff that's come out of America in the last few years has been very Joy Division and New Order-based," he says. "Interpol, the Killers, She Wants Revenge and, to a certain extent, Shiny Toy Guns, as well. I must say I've been extremely impressed with all the good stuff from the U.S. over the last five to six years, and I've actually been listening more to American stuff than European stuff."