How two extreme metal legends helped bring TV’s craziest crime show of the year to the screen
In 1973, Clark Olofsson became the “face” of Stockholm Syndrome. A botched bank robbery in the city’s Norrmalmstorg Square had become a six-day standoff, during which the hostages sided more with their captors (Olofsson and his friend Jan-Erik Olsson) than the police who tried to save them.
But Clark Olofsson wasn’t just a serial criminal and bank robber – he was one of Sweden’s first rock stars. “In the 70s and 80s he was a superstar,” says Jonas Åkerlund, who directed clark – a new Netflix series based on the life of the criminal. “Everyone over 40 in Sweden knows who he is, but opinions tend to be divided. He looked like a rock star and teenagers would have posters of him on the wall, but older people remember him as the guy who scared people because no one knew where he appeared.
Although reviled by the older Swedish generation, young people fell in love with him because he was handsome and charismatic. Jonas says Olofsson bragged that he never resorted to violence to get what he wanted. “Clark robbed a bank with a bottle of Coca-Cola!” Jonas exclaims. “He pretended it was a gun, shouting, ‘I’m Clark Olofsson, everyone knows what’s going on now!’ and everyone accepted him. That’s how he was famous.
But make no mistake, Olofsson was no Robin Hood. “The only person who thinks Clark Olofsson is like Robin Hood is himself,” Jonas refutes. “Nothing good comes from this lifestyle in the end. Some people had a lot of fun, but it also consumed people like crazy.
New Serie clark traces its wild life and is produced in Swedish. Jonas, who grew up in Stockholm, knew Olofsson well at the height of his fame and had insight into the era that few other directors could offer. He also had a taste for adapting real stories when he worked on 2018 Chaos Lords, exploring the controversial Norwegian black metal scene of the early 90s. But he had two conditions before signing on the dotted line. “One was to get Bill Skarsgård to play Clark Olofsson,” he says, referring to the rising young actor who played Pennywise in the recent THIS redone. “The other was, ‘I want Mikael Åkerfeldt to write the score.'”
Jonas met fellow countryman and Opeth frontman Mikael in the late 90s, after making a name for himself as a music video director, and had just worked with Madonna on the Grammy-winning video for Ray of light. He was drinking in a small rock bar in Stockholm when a skinny young man approached him and blurted out, “Hey, weren’t you in Bathory?”
“He was amazed”, beams Mikael today. “It was before the internet, so he couldn’t believe I knew that, especially because everyone knew him as this great music video director.”
More than a decade before Jonas became a major producer, he had been the drummer for the first line-up of the pioneering proto-black metal band. At the time, he called himself “Vans McBurger” (no, really) and didn’t think about his long-term prospects. In his spare time, however, he began to learn editing and had what he calls a “quasi-religious epiphany”. “I thought I was going to play drums forever,” he admits. “But when I started working with images and sound, I knew that was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.”
Despite the career change, Jonas remained active in metal circles, making videos for bands such as Candlemass and Metallica. But back in Stockholm, all that mattered to Mikael was that he was standing next to Bathory’s original drummer.
After that night, the couple hung out whenever Jonas was back in Stockholm from his other home in Los Angeles. The director threw parties and invited “musicians, DJs, writers – artistic types”, as Mikael puts it, to hang out, drink beer and listen to metal. “It’s middle-aged white men bonding!” says Jonas. “It always ends with an air guitar and my smoke machine coming out and all that. But Mikael’s knowledge of music is so deep. I’ve known a lot of music fanatics – teachers and critical black belts – and I think Mikael tops them all.
When Jonas asked Mikael to score clark, the musician immediately agreed – even though he had never worked on a soundtrack before. “One of my favorite things in the world is writing music, regardless of the context,” says Mikael. “As soon as Jonas said he was doing the show, I thought, ‘Yeah, you’re the perfect guy to do this. He always finds humor in the weirdest things, and you’ll see it everywhere. It’s a crazy series – you won’t fall asleep watching it!
With a larger-than-life character at its center and plenty of crazy stories to choose from, the trailer for clark suggests a Martin Scorsese crime/comedy in the vein of The wolf of Wall Street. But Jonas says the tone isn’t so cut and dry. “It’s almost like a cartoon version of this dark story,” he explains. “It has no gender of its own; we go from high to low, from funny to dark. Clark’s whole life is a rise and fall. He has a lot of self-destructive behavior; As soon as his life seems good, he fucks it up.
Starting with the birth of Clark Olofsson in 1947 and continuing through 1982 (“We originally planned to do the show until today, but there was too much history!” admits Jonas), clark needed a soundtrack that could indicate the passage of time. American films such as Forrest Gump using great pop and rock songs from across the decades, and Jonas was determined that clarkThe soundtrack of is expected to be based almost exclusively on Swedish music, along with the score.
This meant that Mikael had to branch out even further than the prog, folk and extreme metal influences apparent at Opeth. For clarkhe created classical compositions, while exploring jazz in the form of big band and bebop, and the strangest corners of Sweden’s musical history – including an early 70s version of the Swedish prog that he describes as “effectively communist propaganda”.
“It’s not like England, where progressive rock was Genesis and King Crimson. A lot of those records sound like bullshit because it was more about getting a message across,” he says. “So when Jonas asked me for some weird music for a scene involving hippies, I had a lot of fun drawing inspiration from that scene to make the worst piece of music you’ve ever heard, ha ha!”
It may be depreciating, but Jonas couldn’t be happier with the results. “I tell you, the score is fantastic,” he enthused. “Mikael’s scoring drives the emotional beats. I challenged him to do things that are really out of his comfort zone, so some music sounds very Opeth and sometimes you can’t believe it’s him, but he has his fingerprint on it.
Mikael ended up creating more than 100 compositions for clark, which he now plans to streamline and release separately. “My first solo album!” he enthuses. “My favorite songs are the ones that are nothing like what I’ve done before, although I’m not sure how much they’re worth to an Opeth fan. There’s disco in there – I think black water park fans are going to hate this! But it’s not about my tastes, it’s about the service of the series.
Now that Mikael has tried his hand at composition, he’s got a taste for it. Considering where similar pivots have taken Thom Yorke, Trent Reznor and Danny Elfman over the years, could we envision a future Oscar nominee?
“I wasn’t really a soundtrack guy before that – Rocky IV is my favourite!” Mikaël laughs. “But I watched movies more closely – we went to see Joker and which has an excellent soundtrack, just like the series Chernobyl. I would love to be Jonas’ house boy. My dream, now that I box dream of writing for the cinema, would be to work on something dark – a thriller or a horror closer to my cinematic tastes.
As for clark, it’s a thrilling adventure of colorful stories that are as close to the real Clark as possible (see right). With 30 more years of his life to document, will there be a season two? “I’m a little Clark-ed at this point!” Jonas laughs. “By the end of the show, I think most people will be like, ‘Get that guy out of my sight.’ But there’s definitely a story for it, so who knows, long live the 80s soundtrack…
Clark is now on Netflix