In 1973, Clark Olofsson became the ‘face’ of Stockholm Syndrome. A botched robbery at a bank on the city’s Norrmalmstorg square had become a six-day stand-off, in which the hostages sided more with their captors (Olofsson and friend Jan-Erik Olsson) than the police who were trying to rescue 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’s directed Clark – a new Netflix series based on the criminal’s life. “Everybody over 40 in Sweden knows who he is, but opinion tends to be split. He looked like a rock star and teens would have posters of him on the wall, but older people remember him being the guy that put fear into people, as nobody knew where he’d pop up.”
Though reviled by Sweden’s older generation, younger people became smitten with him because he was handsome and charismatic. Jonas says Olofsson bragged that he never had to resort to violence to get what he wanted. “Clark robbed a bank with a Coca-Cola bottle!” Jonas exclaims. “He pretended it was a gun, screaming, ‘I’m Clark Olofsson, everybody knows what’s happening now!’ and everybody just went along with it. That’s how famous he was.”
But don’t get the wrong idea – Olofsson was no Robin Hood. “The only person that thinks Clark Olofsson is like Robin Hood is himself,” refutes Jonas. “Nothing good comes from that lifestyle in the end. Some people had a lot of fun, but he also consumed people like crazy.”
New series Clark charts his wild life and is produced in Swedish. Jonas, who grew up in Stockholm, was well aware of Olofsson at the height of his fame, and had insights into the era that few other directors could offer. He also got a taste of adapting real-life stories when he worked on 2018’s Lords Of Chaos, exploring the controversial Norwegian black metal scene of the early 90s. But he had two conditions before he signed 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 IT remakes. “The other was, ‘I want Mikael Åkerfeldt to write the score.’”
Jonas met fellow countryman and Opeth frontman Mikael in the late 90s, after he’d made a name for himself as a music video director, and had just worked with Madonna on the Grammy Award-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, didn’t you used to be in Bathory?”
“He was stunned,” Mikael beams today. “This was before the internet, so he couldn’t believe that I knew that, especially because everybody else knew him as this big music video director.”
More than a decade before Jonas became a big-shot director, he had been the drummer in the earliest line-up of the pioneering proto-black metal band. Back then, he was going by the name ‘Vans McBurger’ (no, really) and wasn’t thinking about his long-term prospects. In his spare time, though, he began learning about editing, and had what he calls a “near-religious epiphany”. “I thought I was going to play drums forever,” he admits. “But when I started working with images and sound, I knew it 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 including Candlemass and Metallica. But back in Stockholm, all Mikael cared about was the fact he was standing next to the original drummer from Bathory.
After that night, the pair hung out whenever Jonas was back in Stockholm from his other home in Los Angeles. The director would host parties and invite “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!” Jonas says. “It always ends with air guitar and my smoke machine coming out and all that stuff. But Mikael’s knowledge of music is so fucking deep. I have known a lot of music fanatics – professors and critical black belts – and I think Mikael trumps them all.”
When Jonas asked Mikael to score Clark, the musician immediately accepted – even though he’d never worked on a soundtrack before. “One of my favourite things in the world is writing music, regardless of context,” Mikael explains. “As soon as Jonas said he was doing the series, I thought, ‘Yeah, you’re the perfect guy to do it.’ He always finds humour in the most bizarre things, and you’ll see that throughout. It’s a crazy series – you won’t fall asleep watching it!”
With a larger-than-life character at its centre and plenty of insane stories to pick from, the trailer for Clark suggests a Martin Scorsese-style crime/comedy in the vein of The Wolf Of Wall Street. But Jonas says the tone is not so cut and dried. “It’s almost like a cartoon version of this dark story,” he explains. “It has no proper genre; we go from high to lows, from funny to dark. Clark’s whole life is a rise and fall. He’s got a lot of self-destructive behaviour; the minute his life looks good, he fucks it up.”
Starting with Clark Olofsson’s birth in 1947 and going right up to 1982 (“We’d originally planned to do the series right up to present day, but there was too much story!” Jonas admits), Clark needed a soundtrack that could indicate the passage of time. American movies such as Forrest Gump use big pop and rock songs from across the decades, and Jonas was determined that Clark’s soundtrack should be based almost exclusively on Swedish music, along with the score.
That meant Mikael had to branch out even further than the prog, folk and extreme metal influences apparent in Opeth. For Clark, he’s created classical compositions, as well as exploring jazz in the form of big band and bebop, and the stranger corners of Sweden’s musical history – including an early 70s version of Swedish prog that he describes as “effectively communist propaganda”.
“It’s not like England, where prog rock was Genesis and King Crimson. A lot of those records sound like dogshit 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 from that scene to make the worst piece of music you’ve ever heard, ha ha!”
He may be self-deprecating, but Jonas couldn’t be happier with the results. “I’m telling you, the score is fantastic,” he enthuses. “Mikael’s score drives the emotional beats. I challenged him to do stuff that’s really out of his comfort zone, so some of the music sounds very Opeth and some of the time you can’t believe it’s him, but he’s got 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 record!” he enthuses. “My favourite songs are the ones that sound nothing like anything I’ve done before, though I’m not sure what the value of that is to an Opeth fan. There’s disco in this – I think Blackwater Park fans will hate that! But it’s not about my tastes – it’s serving the series.”
Now Mikael’s tried composing, he’s developed a taste for it. Considering where similar pivots have led the likes of Thom Yorke, Trent Reznor and Danny Elfman over the years, could we be looking at a future Oscar nominee?
“I wasn’t much of a soundtrack guy before this – Rocky IV is my favourite!” laughs Mikael. “But I’ve been watching films more closely – we went to see Joker and that has a great soundtrack, as does the series Chernobyl. I’d love to be the house guy for Jonas. My dream, now that I can dream about writing for film, would be to work on something dark – a thriller or horror that’s closer to my movie taste.”
As for Clark, it’s a thrill-ride of colourful stories that are as close as we’re likely to get to the real Clark (see right). With 30 more years of his life left to document, will there be a season two? “I’m a little Clark-ed out at this point!” Jonas laughs. “By the end of the series I think most people will be like, ‘Get this guy out of my sight.’ But there’s definitely a story for it, so who knows?” Bring on the 80s soundtrack…
Clark is showing on Netflix now