In countless bedrooms around the world, aspiring singer-songwriters strum their guitars and murmur heartfelt lyrics into GarageBand or Pro Tools. Once in a seldom while, these recordings reach the right ears, and suddenly, the music they wrote for themselves or a few loved ones is subject to public scrutiny. At best, there is a demand for more, bringing pressure to create something wonderful, lasting and better than before. This transformation from private to public figure can be strange and stressful. In our interview with Loney, Dear
, we learned more about what it's like to break out of the bedroom.
From a basement in a small city called Jönköping, Sweden, Emil Svanängen has caught the attention of indie fans and musicians the world over with ambitious, self-recorded albums of multi-track chamber folk under the name Loney, Dear. After releasing three independent albums and generating massive buzz, Loney, Dear was picked up by Sup Pop in 2006 and continued on to earn a devoted fan base with his humble and inviting demeanor in concert. Now he's building a team of musicians around him to manifest the symphony in his mind.
We met outside of the futuristic Hotel Le Bleu near Gowanus, Brooklyn and walked to a no-frills neighborhood breakfast joint to discuss the release of his new album, Hall Music
on Polyvinyl Records, and how it feels to be caught up in this relative tornado of attention.
Q: How are you doing, Emil? I hear Hall Music drops today, how are you feeling? Excited?
E: Very excited! Sometimes life stacks up in piles, and I just hit a pile this morning, probably because I was lazy last night. It's been a pretty slow start this time. I don't really know why. I think it might have been me thinking of too many things at the same time, not, like, providing things, but, in the end, who cares about a proper release if the album is good?
Q: Did you record this album in the same way you recorded the first four? How has your process changed since joining a label?
E: Yes, they're all recorded by myself. I grew up wanting to record music in multi-track, like, layering things. Well, "layering" sounds delicate; I'm actually more into stacking things. I've have had that passion for a long time. When I was 20 I got a computer, you know, when everyone got one, and I started recording, started doing things I'd been longing to do. It's been really fun. But, when Sologne
and Loney, Noir
came out, I sort of hit a wall. Things became much more difficult. There was suddenly a receiver of the music, and I suddenly felt like I wasn't happy about everything; I felt I wanted to improve a lot, and I still feel that. I think the new record is a step in the right direction. I think we think that we're supposed to be fantastic all the time and really doing everything wonderful. I don't think that we understand that it's OK not to be perfect.
Q: So, once you realized people were listening, you felt a lot of pressure to be worthy of the attention? Who are you writing to? Do you write for others or yourself?
E: It's double. I think a little bit more now than ever, I can imagine that the music might be reaching somewhere, which you never really believe when you're writing it. Now I can see that it reaches out a bit. But, like the stone in the water with the rings, the rings are still very small. I hope they will grow.
Q: It's was clear during your show at Brooklyn Bowl that you have a very dedicated fan base. You seem to encourage a close and familiar relationship with your audience by asking for participation on songs and you even offered to put people on the list for your next show at Mercury Lounge if they couldn't afford it. That was very generous of you. Has it been like that from the beginning? How did you get out of the bedroom? How did you cultivate a fan base?
E: I guess I've been very open about the process. I haven't been very secretive about things. Sometimes I've tried to make up things to make the truth more exciting. But around here, in the states, I'm exotic anyway, because I'm from somewhere else, so I don't need to make up as many stories. But, I'm trying to lie a lot. I don't think anything has spread so far.
Q: (Laughs) What have you lied about?
E: Oh, like where the album was recorded, in what castles in France.
Q: You're right. You're interesting enough here, you don't have to lie. Lets talk about the process of recording this album. What comes first, instrumentals or lyrics?
E: I always do the music first. Which is a bad thing. I don't like that. But, I'm starting to realize it's OK to do that way. I used to feel like I was fooling someone—I don't feel really proud of that way of working. I think there's something not so honest about making up lyrics later. But, still, it's a piece of art and you have to create it in some way. For me, my interest was in the music in the start. And now I'm starting to feel such a connection to the lyrics and its such strong emotions. Yeah, I really like it. That's almost more fun for me now than the music, writing little stories...
Q: The album has a very spiritual tone, but I'm not sure if it comes from a place of mourning or exaltation. What were you feeling when you wrote this album?
E: I've been feeling a lot of strong emotions, like not so positive. And, I think I'm in the middle of some storm, in a way, like a tornado. Maybe I'm in the middle of it, so if I just go a few meters things are gonna be crazy. Strange things could happen. I'm a little bit worried. But, it's also been a time of accepting myself—learning to accept, I should say. As for the lyrics, I read my diary about five years ago. No, maybe even earlier, and it was about the few years even earlier than that, and I thought everything was described in such light colors, like "well, keep the happiness up" and I realized I didn't feel that way. I thought it was terrible. I started wearing darker shades of clothes and started expressing those emotions, because I wasn't happy. I'm getting better at enjoying things now I would say, which is pretty amazing.
Q: Who are you talking to when you say "you" in your lyrics? Yourself?
E: Probably. Yes, probably, me or a person similar to me. Possibly a lover, maybe, but I mean, I'm such a kid when it comes to writing lyrics. Not that I'm not doing well, but I haven't discovered it fully. Explored it.
Q: I'm just curious, why do you choose to sing in English?
E: This is not the answer I usually give, but if we stop thinking that time is linear and we start here, where you and I are sitting, it's pretty obvious why I sing in English.
Q: Because you're communicating to me?
E: Yeah, or we wouldn't be here and that would be really sad. So, that's why I sing in English.
Q: What are you listening to these days? Do you still like the idea of some music more than the music itself, as I've read in past interviews?
E: The music I like is bigger than the parts. Some music I really like thinking about more than listening to, because it might be too affecting on me. I've been listening mostly to modern classical music and jazz music in the last two years. Music is so amazing, so magical, it carries so many things. I had a Bon Iver year last year. I met him once, and that was pretty cool. He had heard my music so I felt really connected and he was listening a lot to it. Ive been listening a lot to an Estonian composer called Arvo Part. He has written a fantastic piece for the LA philharmonic for the new artistic building, more or less; it was the premiere there. He's a real favorite for me. I listen to a lot of composers and people who know a lot about music and enjoy it. I'm not a big fan of punk music for that reason. I like it, but I am a scientist. It doesn't go to my heart. Not everyone can play rock music, but if you're cool enough, you can play it, and I don't like that either. So, I guess I'm more from the scientific, matrix side of music. I like rhythms and rows, patterns and structures. Mmm, that's very nice.
Q: Yes, you can hear this in your album. It's very orchestral—
E: I would say it's more symphonic than orchestral. Symphonic, in the meaning, is sound put together. I know it says orchestral in the press release, but I think symphonic is a better way of putting it.
Q: You said in concert that this is your 11th visit here, or so. How do you like New York?
E: Being here is amazing, but I've only scratched the surface now. I'm gonna try to visit The High Line today. It's an elevated train that's been transformed into a garden. I really like it here. I'm feeling really thankful for being here, but I was really terrified of going this time. I had a terrible experience in England, the worst country in the world, and I thought I'm going home now. It was really sad, it's a sad country in a way. [He didn't want to elaborate.
] I'm not afraid of flying at all, but I'm afraid of being extremely bored and sitting in that boring airplane. But, I had a great time. I was hanging in the back with the air hostesses having a little cafe there. We were talking, I was asking about their working situations, and I said I was impressed with their skills in dealing with boring jobs. I really enjoy meeting people. I really do. It's perfect for me. I'm building a team around me of very talented people.
Q: Speaking of your team, who's the lovely lady on the album?
E: That's my woman, Molly. She's pretty cool. Love is very difficult, as you know. What I'm learning is, there aren't any right roads. You can do what you want to do, and no one is going to tell you afterward, like, "that was a really bad decision sticking with her, or not sticking with her, or loving that person." I'm starting to realize that you don't know what's right, and maybe it isn't interesting, what's right.
Worth a watch: a couple of years ago, Emil visited the Guest Apartment
Loney, Dear is currently on the road to promote Hall Music
10/19 - Sankt Olovs Kyrka, Skellefte
10/20 - Kulturens Hus, Lule
10/21 - Tegskyrkan, Ume
10/22 - Sigtuna, special orchestra
10/28 - Hagakyrkan, Gteborg
10/29 - Babel, Malm
10/30 - Kgelbanan, Stockholm
11/3 - Rockwood Music Hall - New York / NY
11/4 - O Patro Vys - Montreal / QC
11/5 - The Drake Hotel - Toronto / ON
11/7 - Schubas - Chicago / IL
11/9 - Cafe du Nord - San Francisco / CA
11/10 - The Hotel Cafe - Los Angeles / CA