Archive for the 'Scandinavian' Category

Sitting down with Sóley

Before writing up Sóley for a post on NPR’s Song of the Day, I decided to get in touch with her to ask a few questions.

Sóley (photo Sigfús Már Pétursson, artwork Ingibjörg Birgisdóttir)

Here’s our discussion:

I’ve seen you play a few times since I’m a Seabear/Sin Fang fan. Are you still with these other projects or are you exclusively focusing on your solo career now?

Seabear took a break after last year. We were a lot on the road so it was really important for us to take a break but I think we will try to start meet early next year and start to compose some new material. All the members are just working on their own project or in other bands now. 

I just came back from Sin Fang/sóley tour few days ago. We were in Europe and it was awesome. I opened up for Sin Fang and also played with Sin Fang. Very nice.

Can you explain what made you decide to start writing and recording your own music? Has it always been something you wanted to do?

It just happened. I was not thinking about it when I was asked if I had some songs to send Morr Music because they wanted to see what I was doing. Then I was in school and as soon as I got the opportunity I jumped on it and made some new songs to send them. I´m really really happy that it happened because in my dreams this was what I wanted to do!

How has the transition been for you? Did it come easily? How do you feel about being in the spotlight now?

It´s nice. I like being on stage and being the front. It´s nice.

Where do you typically get inspiration for your songs? Do you sing about things that happen to you or are your songs more like stories?

The songs are more like stories yes. I don´t want to talk about my daily life in my songs. For me, my solo project is my escape from being myself and becoming the other sóley who thinks differently and lives in my mind. It´s another world which I try to make up in my mind, kind of a dreamy world. It does not exist in the real world.

Me: From the first time I heard “I Drown,” I loved it. What can you tell me about this song? What story does it tell? Who is the man in it? What did you use to get the muffled tapping noise that runs through it?

Sóley: This song is a kind of a love song but let´s say in a surreal way. As I visualize the song and the story it´s about an old man who lives alone in this house which is far away from everything. Somehow this girls (who is telling the story) is at his house, no one knows how she got there. So it´s kind of about their relationship there. The album title (we sink) is sung in the end of the song so I guess now you know what happens to them!I used a lot of “percussion” that isn´t really percussion, it´s more like my fork and some stick I found outside. This song is the first I recorded for the new album and I think it´s like a sweet homemade pie. I can hear my old apartments sound there.

Is it just me or are their dark undertones to this album? Where does this come from?

It all comes from the other world. From the other sóley who makes up these stories. It´s dark and dreamy and scary but still it has a bit of humor in it. It´s funny because it could not happen anywhere else than in your mind. Our mind is so weird and crazy so if you want you can make up really strange and surreal things in your mind.

Do you have help on We Sink or are you playing all the instruments? How long have you been playing the piano?

I played everything except drumset, bass in some songs and electric guitar in some songs. But most of it I did myself, piano, organs, guitar, percussion and voice.

I started playing piano when I was eight! That is almost 17 years… wow…

Then, just out of curiosity, what Icelandic artists would you recommend?

Sin Fang, Kimono, Hudson Wayne, múm, Ólöf Arnalds, Prins Póló, Fm Belfast, Gus Gus, Kippi Kaninus, Mr.Silla, Mugison, Ojba Rasta, Prins Póló, Samaris, Snorri Helgason… I think I am forgetting something…óó

To read the piece and hear the song “I Drown,” head over to NPR Music


Sonic Spotlight on Sóley

All right, all right. I know I have a problem. I get a lot of emails from publicists pitching artists to me. Many go unread. (Come on guys… punk? Heavy metal? Not so much.) But there is one thing that is sure to get my attention. Let me give you a hint. The name Sóley Stefánsdóttir… notice anything?

It was as if her name were suddenly on a blinking marquee.

Icelandic artist! Icelandic artist! Icelandic artist!

I thought to myself.

So, meet Sóley Stefánsdóttir, my latest obsession.

(photo Inga Birgisdóttir)

If you’ve seen Seabear or Sin Fang (previously Sin Fang Bous), chances are you’ve already seen Sóley. She has played in both. Apparently, Sóley had never really thought much of her vocal abilities, and it was only after touring with Seabear and singing a lot to herself that she began to “get used to the sound of her own voice” and started to share it with others.

Besides the whimsical sound that seems to be a staple in many of my favorite artists, maybe that’s one of the things that appeals to me most about Scandinavian music. There seems to be a modesty built in to the songs that makes them both charming and intimate in tone. The men of the Danish group Efterklang will applaud for you, the audience, at the end of their show, as if you had just provided the talent. It’s adorable.

“I’ll Drown,” Sóley’s recent single, is a strong introduction to her first full-length album, We Sink.

It has a slow, methodical start – just sparse beats and a plunky but haunting piano melody. But as the song unfurls, it becomes fuller and darker. The dramatic pause, held a beat longer than most would dare, initiates the all-too-honest breakdown. “I drown when I see you,” she sings. The words are simple but powerful. And isn’t that the mark of a truly great pop song? Who among us can’t relate to the words and to the beautiful hesitancy of the song?

We Sink is now available as a digital download. The hard copy drops in another few weeks.

Swedish artist alert

By this point, you may have figured out that I have a bit of an obsession with interest in Scandinavian music. Sure, the easy explanation would be that I spent a few months living in Denmark, but there’s no denying that there are some fantastic things going on over there. Maybe it’s all those cold, dark months. Who knows.

One of my biggest regrets at SXSW a few weeks ago was not seeing the Swedish band Fredrik. (They opened for the equally delightful Norwegian artist Silje Nes – double swoon.)

But luckily for me (and really, for everyone), you can stream the entirety of their upcoming album, Flora, which officially comes out April 12th. The video they made is pretty sweet – it follows Yiva the wolf around Fredrik’s hometown of Malmö (I’ve actually been there!).

Check it out. Seriously.

And if someone ever breaks my heart, I still hope it is you.

Some sun from Sweden on a rainy, snowy day. Warning: this is some super twee stuff.

This video brought to you by the lovely people over at The Swede Beat. Check them out if you haven’t already!

The Danes have done it again

During CMJ, I happened upon the Danish-born artist Oh Land. In a sea of indistinguishable bands, Oh Land’s Nanna Øland Fabricius certainly stood out. I was so intrigued by her short set during CMJ that I decided to check her out again.  Though I wrote this review with the intent of posting it on Brooklyn Vegan, it has not surfaced yet, so I’ll make a home for it here in the meantime.

Oh Land, The Canon Logic, Arms – Brooklyn Bowl – November 8th

By the time I arrived at Brooklyn Bowl, I had missed Fatty Acid and The Courtesy Tier. With five bands on the bill, I (perhaps unfairly) decided that 3 out of 5 wasn’t too bad.

Based on the enthusiasm and size of the crowd, it may have made more sense to save Oh Land for last, but the recent Brooklyn transplant was third on the bill. Luckily, I made it in time to check out the Danish vixen’s set.

The gorgeous Nanna Øland Fabricius of Oh Land (Photo Joseph D'Arco)

Oh Land’s performance unfolds like a music video. At the beginning of each song, Nanna Øland Fabricius taps out a few notes on the keyboard or on her electronic drum kit just to show us that she can. But then she walks away, and the music magically continues (despite the fact that no pedals seem to factor into the equation). For an artist whose act seems to rely heavily on eye candy like light-up drum sticks, talking balloons, and whimsical outfits, Oh Land’s slower songs drag a bit, but she shines during her dancier numbers. Oh Land’s drummer, Hans Hvidberg-Hansen, may play an integral role in the music, but with Fabricius parading around the stage, his presence hardly registers.

Oh Land’s electro-pop stylings may not exactly be groundbreaking, but her music and accompanying presentation are definitely worth a listen (and a look). After being pleasantly surprised by Oh Land’s performance during CMJ, her equally short set time on Monday night (just 24 minutes) was a bit of a let down, but she still managed to wow the crowd in the short time she had. (An exchange between two girls nearby: A: “She’s going to be so famous.” B: “I know. She’s so cute.” A: “Should we start hyping her up?”) And so it begins.

In the bubblegum afterglow of Oh Land, I confess my recall of the other two The Canon Logic’s short set is limited aside from their sonorous group vocals. I do, however, remember being charmed by a cute couple near the front of the stage who seemed to know every word of their songs.

Though I was tempted to leave after catching Oh Land’s set, I’m glad I stuck around long enough to see Arms, the final band of the evening. The crowd may have thinned out noticeably by the time Arms took the stage, but Todd Goldstein (you may remember him as the guitarist from Harlem Shakes) and his backing band didn’t let that sour their performance. There were smiles all around.

Check out Oh Land’s attractive video for the single “Sun of a Gun.”

A lovely evening at Littlefield

DM Stith + Inlets + Silje Nes – Littlefield – June 13

Oh man. I cannot say enough good things about this show. Fantastic line-up, beautiful and haunting melodies, and a touch of Scandinavian charm.

DM Stith (Photo Tom Caps)

Though my decision to attend the show was based on my love for DM Stith’s music, I was also completely taken by the opener Silje Nes.

Take a listen to her song “Drown.”

Kind of like a Scandinavian Grouper, yeah?

the beautiful (and delightfully Norwegian) Silje Nes

If you missed the NYC shows at 92Y Tribeca and Littlefield, you’re in luck. The whole line-up will be back at Joe’s Pub on July 21st following their tour. I’m already making plans to attend.

I wrote a full review of the show on Brooklyn Vegan (here), so be sure to check that out.

Taken by Swedes

When I arrived at Le Poisson Rouge tonight and saw what appeared to be a movie playing on a screen on stage, I was afraid I had come on the wrong night. (Shoot. Did I just spend 12 bucks to watch a movie?) But before I could worry to much, the side door opened, and Victoria Bergsman (formerly of the Concretes and the chick from “Young Folk”) and her backing band walked on stage, bearing incense.

In the minutes leading up to Taken by Trees’ set, people sheepishly lined the walls, as if afraid to stand in the middle of the floor, but at Victoria’s request following the first song, the crowd stepped forward and closed the gap.

Victoria Bergsman of Taken by Trees

For a Swedish artist, Taken by Trees sounds fairly… worldly, and I suppose that’s only fitting. Her last album, East of Eden, was recorded in Pakistan. According to Victoria’s website, she has always been intrigued by ‘the rhythm, drums and flutes of Pakistani music.’ Her live show may not feature Pakistanis singing backing vocals like her album does, but her performance is still tinged by this disparate culture. Instead of your standard drum kit, the two percussionists incorporate various types of shakers and bongos.

The mood was right, the crowd reverent, and the music mesmerizing (1), but it all seemed to stop too soon. Taken By Trees’ set clocked in under 45 minutes, which seems like a more appropriate length for an opening band than for the main act. (And no, there was no encore.) Honestly, it was kind of a let down, but it did leave me wanting more…

Taken by Trees may not have played this cover song, but I’ll leave you with it for fun anyway.

Set List
1. To Lose Someone (listen)
2. Anna
3. Greyest Love of All
4. Day By Day
5. Too Young
6. Summer Sigh
7. Only Yesterday
8. Watch the Waves

(1) Elsa Chiao also sounded fantastic on backing vocals. Chiao’s angelic high voice complimented Victoria’s deeper tones.

"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being