Fredrik had just returned to Sweden from the States after five shows at the South-by-Southwest festival a few days ago (QRO recap), but the trio was eager to continue promoting their new album that came out on April 12th, Flora. On Friday, March 25th at the Malmö branch of Debaser, Fredrik played a nine-song set to their hometown crowd (QRO photos). The atmosphere was that of a casual local concert, but Fred Hultin and Anna Moberg were debating backstage on whether Hultin should wear the long black dress for the show since the other two bandmates had worn it in previous concerts. Details were important. They all need to be barefoot on stage, and Ylva the Wolf (a small plastic figurine) must accompany them every step of the way, which was perched on Moberg’s keyboards during the performance. Their haunting, experimental compositions veil such whimsical sense of humor. In essence, Fredrik is a fairy tale in a musical format – it’s dark, dreamy, with a dash of childish innocence that leads to spontaneity.
The venue of about 500-capacity seemed modest for a set that drew heavily on the epic soundscape of Flora. With Fredrik’s perennial favorite color of cyan green puncturing the dark stage erratically, the trio emerged in and out of shadows of projections. Ola Lindefelt’s homemade percussion setup provided the pacing and textures, while Moberg’s seamless keyboard and voice cushioned Hultin’s subtle vocals that howled like crying mother wolf now and then.
Before I could experience my first concert in Sweden, had to do a bit of white lying. In a country with government alcohol monopoly, I was not surprised when the friendly security guard at the venue entrance asked if there was any alcohol in my bag. I felt guilty about lying, but bringing a bottle of handcrafted vodka from home state of Oregon, as a gift to the band was just as essential as my electronic gadgets for press coverage. And being Swedish, the affable man in uniform let me in without searching my bags.
The day before their homecoming concert, Fredrik met with QRO to give some insight into their enigmatic world. It’s not the French or Italians that are coffee-aholics. The Swedes take the top prize for having the strongest coffee in Europe so far (and I have been to most countries in the continent) and cafés can be found on every street (though you won’t find any Starbucks). Perhaps caffeine is a form of consolation for the strict alcohol control by the Swedish government. So it was only appropriate that we went to a café to conduct our interview. Lilla Kafferosteriet (The Little Coffee Roastery), located in the heart of Malmö, was handpicked by Fredrik – it looked to be a converted old mansion with old furnitures, an appropriate setting for a band’s music that relies much on analog, handcrafted instruments.
Lindefelt volunteered to introduce everyone around the wooden square table.
Ola Lindefelt: Hey, this is the band, Fredrik. [pointing finger at Fredrik Hultin] That guy is Fredrik, the person. He is the singer, a guitar player, a horn player, and a piano player, and he also writes lyrics. And sings in this band.
Anna, plays all the deep, weird sound, and also sings.
I play the drums – a kind of orchestral drums, and some strings and noises.
We actually all sing. You (Hultin) sing all the words.
QRO: You guys used to be The LK, where you (Lindefelt) sang. So depends on who sings, the name goes along?
OL: We had that band before and that was a duo. So Fred started writing all these songs and they didn’t really fit with the concept of that band so we just started a new band. And that was Fredrik.
Video of The LK’s "Stop Being Perfect":
QRO: Anna, how did you get involved?
Anna Moberg: Six months ago or something? Hmm [pause to think and shakes her head] Yeah, I don’t know. [looking at her bandmates] You were missing something, I guess. [laughs] They asked me and I said no a lot of times.
OL: That’s right! You were being difficult. [Hultin and Moberg laugh] I remember that.
QRO: You resisted?
QRO: So what made you finally give in?
AM: Well, I just thought – I would try and play along -pretend. [everyone laughs] I’m still doing it.
Fredrik Hultin: Any regrets?
I thought you [looking at Lindefelt] were joking for a long time.
OL: Right. [pause] That’s right. Over for a cup of coffee and like – whatever – then there was a big laugh. And then we sort of noticed that it was kind of serious -perhaps – you were being serious also.
AM: I’ve never done anything like this before. I’m not a musician.
QRO: Really? Did you have some knowledge of playing music before or were you just able to pick it up?
AM: Well, nah. [we laugh]
FH: You must be very good at pretending.
AM: [laughs] Yeah, yeah – I’m an actor
QRO: You’re an actress?
AM: No, I’m not. Pretending all the time. I’m an artist. But – I don’t know – I’ve been singing all my life – so – that’s – yeah.
Fredrik playing "Axis" live at Debaser in Malmö, Sweden on March 25th, 2011:
QRO: How was your recent SXSW experience?
FH: We’ve been there before with the other band we talked about – The LK. It was a great fun so we wanted to get back. It’s a good time to go to Austin – springtime – it’s nice and warm.
OL: There’s a different light in Austin.
OL: Yeah – just more yellow or more red – light.
FH: It’s good for recharging.
QRO: Did you guys play three shows?
FH: I think we did five shows. Some day shows and some night. They were all good. We had a good showcase in a church – it was pretty fun. [nods his head]
We’ve done churches a few times. It’s always-
QRO: Yeah – I saw a video…
FH: Yeah, yeah – it was one of our first gigs.
QRO: Didn’t you play "11 Years" in a church?
FH: Yeah, we did. There’s a video of that – somewhere. It’s a – I like it.
Fredrik playing "11 Years" live at Piano’s in New York, NY on February 15th, 2010:
QRO: Did you get to catch few bands at SXSW?
FH: Yeah – we had some time to catch a few bands – few good ones. Saw Beach Fossils (QRO photos) – they’re pretty cool. They had a weird night. Went into some sort of tantrum on stage. [we laugh]
QRO: Like what did they do?
FH: I don’t know – just threw around their instruments and – they had a joke that they were just generally mad at the place they were playing, which was a pretty weird place. I could see that.
QRO: Why was it weird?
FH: It was just not a good match. It was all about – I think it was a sports bar or something.
FH: Yeah, so it was just really a weird match. Eh – yea, it was a good fun.
At least we were having a good time. It’s a pretty – pretty interesting – or I would say sort of stressful in a way t go to these festivals in a way because – all these things you have to do in a short, strange gigs.
We were supposed to play at this play during the day, and then we got there and the place had shut down the soundsystem – just like that for permit reason, I think. I don’t know what happened. So they were like, "Could you do an acoustic set?"
There was nothing. Not even a microphone. We didn’t even have an acoustic guitar. We just brought over lot of electronic stuff. But we figured it out. Took a half an hour. We had to really rethink quite a bit doing the new material. Yeah, worked out pretty well.
QRO: You like the challenge?
FH: Yeah. [Hultin and Lindefelt nod their heads]
QRO: For the new album, Flora, did you guys have some kind of a concept like your previous LP, Trilogi (QRO review), which I understand had a certain (H.P.) Lovecraftian theme?
OL: I don’t think there was much of a concept to begin with. I think we were getting slightly tired with the sort of the wintry feel that we had on our first two albums? And we started recording in the summer in a garden full of flowers in a very warm summer, I thought. So I think it all just came about as a sot of a change. We wanted to sort of renew the feeling of the record – differentiate form our first two albums. I think we thought it would be a pretty bright record – maybe? Like sunny – at least bright sounding.
But that didn’t happen. [shakes his head] [everyone laughs]
QRO: I was going to say – I still get chilly imageries – dark.
FH: Just not us maybe, but it’s still about the summer.
QRO: It’s not as dark as the previous album.
FH: It’s still windy, but it’s not as chilly.
Fredrik playing "Rites of Spring" live at Debaser in Malmö, Sweden on March 25th, 2011:
QRO: What’s your studio setup like? You have a studio that’s referred to as private garden – is this actually in a garden?
OL: There’s a very small house in a garden. It’s not a studio like – what a big band would record in. It’s very like – our own stuff. We just put there. It’s good to record away from home, I think. We’ve done a lot of recording at home. I think it’s just good to go somewhere and get into another mind-space.
QRO: You guys have one of the most unique sounds in the indie music scene today. Did you experiment a lot with different techniques and instruments before finding the ‘Fredrik’ sound?
FH: We’re still experimenting with the sound. It’s something we constantly do. We try different instruments all the time. We build instruments.
And try to keep it acoustic because you can generate almost any sound electronically, but it’s pretty cool to try to create something out handcraft, basically.
QRO: What are some things you did different for this album than your previous album?
OL: What we did differently for this album may not be so much with the instruments. I think the Trilogi album and Flora is probably pretty similar, apart from Anna’s keyboard pieces. But I think mostly the songwriting on this album was more collaborative. In the two previous albums, I think you (Hultin)… A lot of times you come with fairly finished songs. [Hultin nods] Whereas now it’s more like sketch thing and then we’ll work on that.
FH: Yeah, that’s a big difference.
OL: Also, Anna and I worked on the vocal arrangements. Just sort of took a song and tried to sing different harmonies… just building sort of tapestries of sound – use voices.
Fredrik playing "The Shape and Colour of Things Gone Blind" live at Debaser in Malmö, Sweden on March 25th, 2011:
QRO: What or who are your influences?
OL: I think it’s difficult to just name bands for that. I’d like to talk about maybe what makes us inspired.
QRO: Yeah, yeah.
OL: I think what inspires me a lot is not knowing exactly what I’m about to play. Maybe that’s why we try different things all the time. Because personally, I like not knowing well the instruments that I’m playing. That usually makes it for a sort of more emotional – more curious – or maybe in some ways, more childish way of playing? Which is more interesting – to communicate things with.
QRO: You play cello, right?
QRO: So how well do you play the cello?
OL: I don’t play cello so well. [everyone laughs]
AM: He pretends.
OL: Yeah, I sort of pretend. For starters, I don’t play cello like you’re supposed to. I stand up playing the cello. I never took classes or anything. I just took that up because I like the sound of it, and I like having something close to me that vibrates the way it does. So it’s just a very nice feeling. For me that’s very inspiring to discover things all the time. And I think that’s why we also sort of change things – change instruments.
[looking at Hultin] You have the same thing with like the guitar and piano. You write songs with piano and then you get sick of that, and then write with the guitar for a while. So the element of playing, sort of discovering things.
QRO: Collectively, you guys have one of the best music videos of any bands I know. How did your collaboration with Iris Piers come about?
FH: How did it come about?
You (Lindefelt) were together for a while. That’s how it started.
FH: She liked the music. She got some ideas. I guess she got images in her by the music and the filmmaker that she is – she wanted to make a film.
Yeah, we did one for "Viskra" was pretty cool. Bit up north in Sweden. Very wintry, very cold, and we had animal costumes on – a lot of fun.
It was cool. It was one of the most wintry sceneries I’ve ever seen up there. It was sort of middle of Sweden. There weren’t any mountains. Just lot of forest, and most snow I’ve ever seen.
QRO: It had pretty gothic fairytale style to it.
Video of Fredrik’s "Viskra":
And click here for a video of Fredrik playing "Viskra" live at Piano’s in New York, NY on February 15th, 2010
QRO: Ola, you directed the music video for "Vinterbarn"? It seems to share Peters’ aesthetics. Is this just matter of having similar ideas, or did she indirectly influence you?
OL: Yeah, I think we had a lot of similar ideas when it came to imagery. She also helped us out with couple of the scenes. I think she got a credit for maybe like camera direction or something like that in the video. I think what sort of we had in common was a way of telling something a portrait of something real. You just want to say something and if it’s surreal or just doesn’t make much sense to the naked eye, it’s fine. As long as it communicates emotion or something that – we go with it. And she’s definitely like us with filmmaking so I think it’s a good match. [nods his head]
Video of Fredrik’s "Vinterbarn":
And click here for video of Fredrik playing "Vinterbarn" live at Debaser in Malmö, Sweden on March 25th, 2011
QRO: Are you planning on a new music video soon?
OL: Yeah, going to shoot that pretty soon.
FH: We’ll do it – just the three of us.
FH: [looking at his bandmates and asks hesitantly] Should we tell?
OL: It will have a lot of shadows in it. We built our own shadows.
QRO: You built your own shadows? Like cutout shadows? [everyone laughs]
FH: We should build our own shadows? I love the sound of it.
QRO: Yeah, you can put it on a stick.
FH: Yeah, we’ll figure it out.
QRO: Can you say what song it’s for?
OL: Did we decide that yet? [everyone laughs]
Yes, matter of fact, we did. I think it’ll be for "Chrome Cavities", and there will be a lot of shadows. Let’s leave it at that.
Fredrik playing "Chrome Cavities" live at Debaser in Malmö, Sweden on March 25th, 2011:
QRO: Are you focused on Fredrik, or do you have other projects?
[they all look at each other and laugh]
OL: I’m working on a sort of like an ambient record – an abstract record – together with an American cinematographer? Is that the word? Cinematographer?
QRO: Someone who designs lights, framing, shots…
OL: Yeah. He’s a guy we met on tours. He’s into 16mm film and 8mm film. We’re working on – it will be a record and then together we’ll make visual soundtrack to the music. It will be called Chromatic Wildlife. If you listen to Fredrik, you put this stuff on, you’ll probably recognize something, but doesn’t have any lyrics.
QRO: You guys have any plans to tour U.S., beyond NYC/NE area?
FH: We’re sketching on a tour right now for maybe autumn. There will be something. Just not decided yet.
QRO: It’s difficult getting all the way out there, huh?
FH: Yea, it’s sort of difficult. I think we’re planning to do a bigger tour this time, try to move a little bit westwards. So it will take more time planning.
You can listen to Flora in its entirety and watch accompanying video made by the band on YouTube.
Full album stream and video of Fredrik’s Flora:
QRO’s video interview with Fredrik:
Ever since the ‘Swedish Invasion’ of indie-rock in the middle of the last decade (QRO’s Swedish Sensations), Scandinavian alternative music has largely been known for two very different threads: indie-pop, like Shout Out Louds’ about-to-be-released Work (QRO review), and atmospheric haunts, such as Iceland’s Sigur Ros (QRO live review). With Ros on indefinite hiatus, there’s a hole in the enchanting, spooky Nordic music world, and a good candidate to fill it is Mälmo’s Fredrik, who came to New York for a run of shows, including one at Piano’s (QRO venue review) on Monday, February 15th.
The pair of artists, Fredrik Hultin and Lindefelt, came to America on the back of their recently released sophomore LP, Trilogi (which is itself a collection of three EPs – QRO review). The duo’s high haunt started with some oohs, and then launched into the high haunt of Trilogi with three songs from the first EP, "Milo", "Holm", and "Vinterbarn" (though the last one is actually first on the EP & LP). Fredrik had dimmed virtually all the lights, with only the constant run of a projector film (done from computer) laid on top of them. That kind of stage imagery can feel gimmicky, but it fit perfectly with the band’s sound, lost in the cold, bright wilderness of the north, with only your shadow for company. Fredrik followed up that triptych with two pieces from the last of the three EPs, the excellent "Mujina/Locked In the Basement" and the impressive "Viskra" [note: though the song titles on Trilogi are in Swedish, the band sings in English].
Fredrik playing "11 Years" live at Piano’s in New York, NY on February 15th, 2010:
But this wasn’t just a Trilogi showcase (maybe that was the night before, at the often-used-for-industry/press-purposes Mercury Lounge – QRO venue review), as the pair eschewed playing any of the middle EP (unfortunately, that meant no "Ava", and its large harmonies & fine procession). Instead, they improvised a bit, responding to audience requests and shifted to their first record, Na Na Ni. The removed "Alina’s Place", sweet "Black Fur" and intimate "11 Years" were done so well that they threatened to overshadow the Trilogi work.
Fredrik playing "Viskra" live at Piano’s in New York, NY on February 15th, 2010:
Fredrik play two more Big Apple shows, Thursday (QRO concert listing) at Brooklyn’s Union Hall (QRO venue review), and a Friday in-store at Permanent Records (QRO concert listing). But it would be hard to match the chills one got at Piano’s, chills that had nothing to do with the weather.