A 13-hour journey from San Francisco to Portland (with a detour in Sacramento) would make anyone weary. Especially if you were three hours late for your soundcheck. But Swedish singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Emil Svanängen (a.k.a. Loney Dear) and his band didn’t let anything get in the way of giving an engaging, enchanting show.
On the second leg of his U.S. tour to support Dear John (QRO review – his fifth album, and first for Polyvinyl), Loney Dear is touring with label mates, Asobi Seksu, a shoe-gazy noise pop rock duo, comprised of Yuki Chikudate (vocals, keyboards) and James Hanna (guitar, vocals) from New York, as well as fellow Swedish singer/songwriter Anna Ternheim, who’s been highly touted by the Swedish equivalent of the Grammy awards, winning Best Newcomer in 2004, nominated for Best Female Artist, Best Lyricist and Best Songwriter in 2005, and awarded with Best Female Artist and Best Lyricist in 2006.
Portland’s stylish Doug Fir/Jupiter Hotel complex boasts a scene featuring anything a guest could want – even a tattoo parlor. The vibe was vastly different from Loney Dear’s last low-key appearance here, which was on a Thursday back in May. Not only are Saturdays the Doug Fir’s busiest night of the week, there was a wedding reception taking over much of the establishment this time around. The van full of wearied Swedes pulled up to the crowd of customers at about 7:30 PM, half an hour before the door was scheduled to open. The crew diligently unloaded their gear and scrambled to do the soundcheck, while the doorman kept the happily buzzed fans waiting for another hour.
Finally at about a quarter to ten, Anna Ternheim opened the night’s delectable pop showcase, backed by Svanängen’s band. The venue almost reached its full capacity for the second act, Asobi Seksu, who provided the adrenaline for the evening, sandwiched between the two more subdued sets.
It was closer to midnight before Loney Dear took the stage. The band was comprised of Samuel Starck (keyboards), Ola Hultgren (drums), David Lindvall (bass) and the sole female, Malin Ståhlberg, who was absent at the prior show in May. Ståhlberg has been contributing backing vocals on all five Loney Dear albums. Along with providing ethereal harmonies for Svanängen’s falsetto, Ståhlberg multi-tasked with percussion, keyboard and guitar, filling in the lush layers of Loney Dear’s music. With their calm demeanor and frequent smiles, one would have never guessed the turmoil they went through to get to Portland.
Loney Dear opened the set with one of the lighter tunes from his darkest album to date: "I Was Only Going Out". Starck’s keyboard and Svanängen’s vocals quietly warmed up the crowd’s ears, inviting additional subtle tiers from the rest of the band, before exploding into a kaleidoscope of sounds, then descending to a soft whisper. Loney Dear dived into two more songs from his latest album: "Everything Turns to You", a darker paced tune with a hint of nervous energy and perhaps the most poppy song from Dear John, "Summers", which shimmers with bright chords and characteristically melancholy lyrics.
Loney Dear playing "Everything Turns To You" live at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on October 3rd, 2009:
Little stories and expressions of gratitude in between songs are an integral part of the concert going experience; Svanängen’s candor and Swedish accent certainly played favorably. Svanängen took some time to talk to the audience about how amazing it was to be in Portland after the long drive from San Francisco and complimented Doug Fir’s chef for the trout, before retreating to his third album (Sologne) with the dance club rhythm of "Le Fever".
Svanängen asked for "a little more squishiness" from the audience before treating them to the first single from Dear John, "Airport Surroundings". Next, the band plunged into one of the highlights of the entire show, "Under a Silent Sea". For nearly seven minutes, the song morphed into various shapes and sizes; it took you from heaven to hell and back again. At one point, three of the band members were behind the keyboards.
Loney Dear playing "Under the Silent Sea" live at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on October 3rd, 2009:
After the tumultuous musical ride, Svanängen asked the audience to provide backing vocals. Singing together with his fans has become a staple of Loney Dear’s shows. In May, it was "Ignorant Boy, Beautiful Girl". This time it was, "The Meter Marks OK" from the Loney, Noir album (QRO review). The band continued seamlessly with the majestic and heart-wrenching "Carrying a Stone" from the same album.
Svanängen took a breather and talked more about Portland, Oregon: how it is one of his favorite cities, yet during his internet research of ‘Portland’, Portland, Maine came up #1 with a population of 65,000 and Portland, Oregon came up second. Later, when he replaced the word "hope" with "Maine" during the opening line of "Sinister In a State of Hope", the crowd somehow missed the humor.
The evening would not have been complete without the song "Violent", which Svanängen considers to be one of his proudest musical achievements. The song is the perfect marriage of unbearable beauty and hidden menace – a captivating muse that will put you in an unbreakable spell.
Loney Dear playing "Violent" live at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on October 3rd, 2009:
For the encore, Loney Dear chose to prepare the crowd for a good night’s sleep rather than an all-night party. "Shivering Green" from his second album (Citadel Band), was Svanängen’s first farewell song of the night. The final song of the set wasn’t "Saturday Waits" or "I Am John", perhaps the two of the best known tunes in the Loney Dear catalogue. Instead, Svanängen launched into the lullaby "Dear John", which he claimed was a challenge for his vocal range the night before. This time he shivered a little in the beginning but finished the song with a vow and left the crowd wanting more.
Video of Loney Dear interview at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on October 3rd, 2009:
Photosphere LLC production
Sweden’s Emil Svanängen (best know to his legions of fans as Loney Dear) spent some time with QRO. After a grueling thirteen-hour drive to Portland, Oregon from San Francisco (how rock ‘n’ roll!), Svanängen chatted about his musical roots, the second leg of his U.S. tour, his current state of mind, and what we can expect from him in the future:
Video of Loney Dear interview at Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, OR on October 3rd, 2009:
Photosphere LLC production
QRO: What were your earliest musical influences?
Emil Svanängen: I remember like, early melodic synthesizer music, sort of. That was really early. I liked European melodic pop music. That was early influences.
QRO: Did you come from a musical family?
ES: Sort of, yeah.
QRO: Was your first musical instrument the piano at age four?
ES: Yeah, maybe touching it, playing WITH it. I started playing clarinet when I was eight.
QRO: Why did you choose the clarinet?
ES: I think it was the government that chose it for me. I think I wanted to play. My sister played clarinet. Maybe that was sort of a factor to it. We already knew the teacher. It could’ve been that.
QRO: Following in her footsteps. Have you ever collaborated with your sister?
ES: I’ve been trying. She’s tough. I think she wants to tour with me now. Her oldest daughter, she hates wind instruments. I mean really, she’s afraid of them. It’s difficult. I think she’s getting used to them now!
QRO: This is the second leg of your U.S. tour, which wraps up in mid-October. Is the tour continuing abroad or is this the end of the Dear John (QRO review) tour?
It just sort of bounces back at you sort of… "You don’t want to cancel this tour, do you?" It’s some sort of Kafka feeling to that sometimes. This is sort of the end of the "Dear John" tour, yes. I… I don’t feel I’m at that part of my career yet when I’m even out on an album tour; I just feel like I’m thrown away somewhere. I’m doing the best I can. It’s been a pretty nice year. It’s like, I guess like… you learn all the time that the obstacles are… I mean that’s something you’re just going to keep repeating all the time. I guess I’m getting used to… Strange obstacles last days has made it more difficult than ever, but I’m getting there I guess.
QRO: Which countries were you able to tour this time around that you’ve never played for before?
ES: We just went to Brazil and Argentina. That was fun. We played a great festival there.
And the festival was sort of chosen to be the best festival in Brazil, which made me feel good because I’ve been having sort of questions about what I’m doing lately so, that was nice to hear. We played Buenos Aires as well, which was amazing. That’s just strange things.
QRO: So, validation for what you’re doing?
QRO: Positive feedback?
ES: Yeah, I think I need that right now.
QRO: What are the main differences between touring Europe and the United States, if any?
ES: I guess that it’s… America is such a strange country. Things change. I mean there are really long drives so that explains the changes, but so many things happen when you drive for five hours. That doesn’t really happen in Europe in the same way. Still you get into other areas but… I mean you just run into strange people at gas stops in the middle of the old definition of nowhere. I guess that’s the difference. It’s a long flight. I don’t know, I’m learning more every time I have to tour but now I’m back to just a big question mark. Life is, it’s not many years left so I guess I need to start enjoying it now!
QRO: What is the most fun thing you’ve done during your time off during this tour?
ES: I guess I was sort of swimming in Brazil with shark risk. That was fun. I don’t know. But since I came to the States it’s been, I bought a strange percussion instrument that we’re starting to use that sound a bit like a lot of bicycle bells. It sounds like a bicycle orchestra on a stick!
QRO: Where did you find that?
ES: I just found it in a music store in L.A. Good thing.
QRO: We’ll look forward to that on a future album.
ES: Yeah, yeah.
QRO: It’s been said that some people are virtually moved to tears during your live performances. How does it make you feel knowing you have the ability to stir such strong emotions in people?
ES: I don’t, I haven’t seen that myself and I used to feel that I… remember that five-ten years ago when I was watching an artist and I was thinking if I would be able to go up there, I would do such an impact. And sort of now I just feel… I don’t know what to do. Um, I mean, I’m not even sure if I… I sort of believe you when you say that but a part of me doesn’t think your speaking truth, so I don’t know what to say. It’s amazing if that’s true.
QRO: What are you most proud of musically speaking?
ES: I’m most proud of my creative period during the recording of Loney, Noir (QRO review). That’s what I’m most proud of, yeah.
QRO: How was that different from your previous recording?
ES: I mean, those were part of… that was all in one stroke really. And then life became a bit easier after a few years, but creating became so much more difficult. That was… I hope that’s going to return sometime. That was a great. That was a great time recording that.
QRO: If you had to pick one song of yours for someone to listen to who wasn’t familiar with your music, which song would you choose and why?
ES: I mean, I guess that’s what you struggle with all the time. Which song is, is me? It would probably be a song with more music than with heavier music than heavy lyrics. I really like "Sinister In a State of Hope" and I really like the song "Violent" from the new record. I really like our live version of "Everything Turns To You". I guess I’m working on that song still, that most important one. I think and hope something is going to happen next year. Some sort of elevator thing. Meaning, not in a literal way, but something… I’m waiting for some sort of bump right now something to…
QRO: That will lift you to the next phase?
QRO: Have you started material on your next album?
ES: A little bit, yeah. I’m just playing right now, it feels like.
QRO: Do you have a release date set?
ES: Not at all. I think as soon as possible is the best one.
QRO: Have you noticed any significant changes between what you’re playing with now and your current catalogue?
QRO: You’re not trying to re-invent yourself for the next record?
ES: A little bit maybe, but I’m probably trying to be more precise, more… make it more visible and make it more sort of yeah, more efficient music.
QRO: What do you think of music videos?
ES: That’s amazing. I mean, for me it’s just been lack of time all the time with what I’m doing. I’ve never really had a fair chance to express what I want to do with video so far so it’s… there’s one video some guy from Houston made for me for the song "Distant" that’s just a time lapse video. I love that one; I really love that one. I guess.
QRO: Was that the bridge?
ES: No that was the one with just like um, an oil tanker ship going up the channel. It’s pretty amazing.
QRO: Since we’re in Portland, although you’ve not had a chance today obviously because of the thirteen-hour drive, have you had a chance to explore Portland in the past?
ES: Yeah, I’ve been having some really amazing things happening here, just meeting people. I’m sort of trying to discover the city still. I’m getting to learn things. I have my ideas of how the city works but I don’t think I know a lot of things yet.
QRO: Do you like Portland?
ES: Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s one of my favorite cities.