Death By Unga Bunga is alive and kicking. Drum kicking, that is, along with guitar screaming, crowd surfing and rowdily pounding out garage-rock, power-pop tunes.

The industrious five-man band turned out three releases last year and set out on tour this year from its homeland of Norway. The group, known for raucous live performances, will play its first-ever show in San Francisco at the Elbo Room March 8.

“We like to scare people, I like to think,” said lead singer Sebastian Ulstad Olsen. “We do the rock show in a very unconventional way. We like to be a lot in the audience while we play and it gets pretty crazy.”

It is fitting that Death By Unga Bunga will at last make its way to the Bay Area, home of The Mummies, a garage punk band formed in San Bruno in 1988. The Mummies released a compilation album in 2003 called Death By Unga Bunga!!, from which the Norwegian band took its name.

“We were real fans of The Mummies and we found their album,” Olsen said. “We had a really bad name at first, we were called The Destructive Girls.”

Death By Unga Bunga released its fourth album, Pineapple Pizza, in March 2016, released a four-song EP Fight! in September 2016, and re-reissued its debut album Juvenile Jungle, also in September 2016, six years after its original run.

“We did not release Juvenile Jungle on vinyl back in 2010,” Olsen said. “There were still people buying CDs and all of our fans have been asking us for a lot of years now to release the first album on vinyl as well, so we kind of did it for them.”


For the energetic EP Fight!, the band summons distorted guitar, manic riffs, singalong choruses and heavy rhythm.

“It is crispy rock and power pop and I think it is a mixture of early ‘70s British hard rock and some hair metal ‘80s stuff,” Olsen said. “The EP is more where we are going with our music now.”

The band was quick to turnaround the EP and used atypical techniques in its production.

“We wrote the songs, recorded it in our rehearsal space, mixed it and mastered it in six weeks. And we did it really, really cheap on the computer,” Olsen said. “We didn’t use any guitar amps at all. Everything was just plugged straight into the computer which is kind of unorthodox and not something you should really do but we wanted to do something different.”

He added, “We just wanted to try something new, to do something quick, and to put time pressure and equipment pressure on us because before when we made records, we got into the studio, saved up a lot of money to do it, and then spent a long time in studio going back and forth.”

The video for the title track “Fight” features footage of the band playing last year’s Oya Festival. The song culminates with a notable raring guitar solo.

“It is a protest song about fighting. If you listen to the lyrics on ‘Fight’ it is really about not fighting,” Olsen said. And so he sings, “Get your hands off that bouncer / 'Cause fighting is never the answer.”

Band members, however, say they are in a fight for quality music, waging a protest against bad rock and roll. “I have a really strong taste about what is good and what is bad. Huge riffs, catchy, with a lot of hooks all the way. That is good rock. I would say ‘70s power-pop is good and ‘90s power-pop is not,” Olsen said.

“FleshSweatPush” off the EP is good rock for its musical composition and overall sound. According to Olsen, "It gets kind of extreme in the end and I really like the melody that we put on it. It has got a really chill melody and a blasting guitar.”

Death By Unga Bunga is lead singer/guitarist Olsen, guitarist Stian Gulbrandsen, keyboardist Preben Sælid Andersen, bassist Even Rolland Pettersen, and drummer Ole Steinar Nesset.

The guys, all in their 20s, met in school and have been playing together for nearly 10 years. When Juvenile Jungle first came out in 2010, the group was heavily influenced by music of the 1960s and 1970s and by Norway’s history of fostering garage rock bands.

“Our hometown of Moss has a really long tradition of garage rock and ‘60s music,” Olsen said. “I would say Oslo, Moss, and Tromso, which is all the way north, are the three main garage rock cities in Norway.”

At that time, the group cited The Sonics, The Mummies, Ramones, and Cheap Trick as favorite artists. “It is perhaps one of the best live bands through history,” Olsen said of Cheap Trick. “And their songs are really, really good. My personal favorite is ‘Surrender.’”

Death By Unga Bunga’s style and sound has shifted over the years, with the musical change becoming evident in tracks on Pineapple Pizza and more so on Fight!.

“Lately we have been really inspired by power-pop, especially new power-pop artists like Mike Krol on Merge Records and Sheer Mag from Philadelphia,” Olsen said. “At least in our songwriting, we are doing it in a more modern way. The first records we did were more classical ‘60s compositions but now we are trying to play around a bit more and do something new.”

He added, “I think our musical direction is the sum of all the music that we love and used to listen to and still listen to. That is our way to do it.”


Though Death By Unga Bunga has seen increased popularity as one of the most played bands on American college radio, Pineapple Pizza marks the band’s first album to be released in North America.

The album was written when the band took a hiatus from playing live concerts and dedicated an entire year to writing songs. At the end of that year, the group traveled to Italy and played shows to try out the new material.  The album name, Pineapple Pizza, commemorates a tirade that occurred when the band placed an order for dinner one night during this tour.

“Our bass player, he really likes Hawaiian pizza which is with ham and pineapple and he is the only one in the band that likes it. None of us like it at all,” Olsen recounted. “We told our tour manager in Italy, ‘OK, so what kind of pizzas can we choose for tonight’s dinner?’ And he said, ‘You can choose anything you want in the whole world. They have everything.’ We just said normal stuff. Then the bass player says, ‘Can I get a pineapple pizza?’ The tour manager gets really angry at him and says, 'Fuck! You cannot do that. That is not food. You can’t put pineapple on a pizza.’ He was really pissed about it.”

Pettersen did not get the pizza he wanted that night, but he did get the last laugh. “The best thing about the album is that I can eat all of the pizza that we get because of the name,” he said.

The band then returned home from Italy and headed straight to the studio to record.

“It is one of the most beautiful studios in the world on the west coast of Norway on a small remote island but with really high-end stuff. It is a really big studio as well so we could all play live while we recorded it,” Olsen said. “We had a kitchen and beds there so we were there 24-7 for a week and we recorded the whole thing. We had parties each night and recorded some covers songs, one ABBA song. It is on our hard drives. We are not going to show it to anyone just yet.”

A highlight on the album is "Lady Fondue," a tribute to cheese written by guitarist Gulbrandsen who also plays a stellar solo and whose favorite cheese is “the melted kind.”  “It is about cheese and our love for it,” Olsen said.

Even with three releases and a heavy tour schedule, Death By Unga Bunga will continue to keep up its prolific pace.

“After the US tour, we are going to do another tour in Norway then hopefully we will record a new album for the summer,” Olsen said. “If we have time for it, then we are going to do some summer festivals. I guess we will sleep when we are dead.”  Dead By Unga Bunga.

Death By Unga Bunga, Cest Dommage, Wee Peevers
Elbo Room
March 8, 2017
9pm, $10