Both onstage and off, Maja Ivarsson has been getting more comfortable with her own beauty lately. The frontwoman for Swedish punk-pop outfit the Sounds was recently chosen as a "visionary artist" for a line of Sebastian hair products, which resulted in a truly stunning dukes-up print ad running throughout Europe.
"Maybe it's because I'm 31 years old now, but I think I feel even more confident in myself," says the singer, who never appears in concert without a wicked pair of stiletto heels.
"And I have to say, I love Lady Gaga — I think she changed a lot of things for a lot of women. Like before, for a period of time, it was all these Disney/Mickey Mouse Club girls who were supposed to be Lolita sexy. But Lady Gaga brought back what Madonna did in the early '80s — you can still be cool, be a girl, and really kick ass."
Which Ivarsson does in spades on Something to Die For. The Sounds' fourth and latest album is a self-produced, synth-savvy salvo, tracked in their native Malmo and issued on their own Arnioki imprint (which is distributed Stateside through the hip punk imprint SideOneDummy). She's sounding positively feral on "Better Off Dead," "Dance With the Devil" and "The Best of Me." And she's established a few feminist theories to accompany it.
"I know the expression of 'pussy power' — I totally know what that means and how that goes," Ivarsson admits. "But sometimes I get really pissed off at our shows. It's not like photographers wanna take cool live photos of this cool live act — they only wanna take pictures of my crotch, and that's really crossing the line.
"I mean, I'm a girl, and I'm playing on sex or beauty or being attractive, but they're using it by making me look slutty, and that is really annoying sometimes." She sighs. "But it goes with the territory. I'm not gonna go up there in a burqa so people won't take pictures of me. I'm still gonna use what I have and what's working for me, because I feel comfortable in my own skin."
When the Sounds first started out nearly a decade ago with their Blondie-esque debut Living in America, Ivarsson had never sung professionally. Instead, she bluffed her way through all of their early gigs.
"I thought, 'I'll pretend that I can sing, but if I look really cool and do all kinds of crazy shit onstage, people will leave the venue saying 'Now that was a kickass show,'" she says, laughing.
After two years, she got a proper vocal coach who taught her how to maintain her voice through more than 200 performances a year.
"And in the last six years," she swears, "I think we've only canceled one show."
Ivarsson is just as brash about her sexuality. She dated a model-gorgeous woman for several years, whom she ditched for a "sweet surfer/skater guy from San Diego," she says. "My ex was just too unfaithful to me — that was the only girl I've ever dated in my life, so that's it for me. One girl is one girl too many."
The breakup instilled even more confidence in the Sounds siren.
"When my girlfriend moved out, that was the first time I ever put up my gold and platinum records," she says. "I was like, 'Fuck yeah! I'm proud of these!'"