The new version of the 1980 classic features 25 musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma and Angélique Kidjo.
Sat, 13 February 21
On the eve of the release of the eighth Loney dear album, and second for Real World Records, Emil Svanängen and producer Emanuel Lundgren sit down to discuss the nine tracks that make up A Lantern and a Bell. It’s ‘a renewal album’ about starting something new and doing things differently… and letting go a little along the way, they tell us.
Emil: The album starts with Mute, with this gorgeous little crescendo that Emanuel built of some underwater noises, some diver breathing and some birds and it was fun to also hear how Tchad Blake treated that because he made that part so loud, it kind of pops your speakers! It’s fun that a skilled craftsman like that over-exaggerates that [element]. That was fun!
It’s a bit of an image of how I’ve seen my life in the last years, or it’s a dream of how I want things to be. I guess it’s about freedom in a way and the art of letting go! It was interesting because it was built on top of a really ‘struggly’ piano arpeggio that goes through the entire song and I would like to revisit that in the future. I like the outer-worldly quality to the stories about the ships hanging over ground and the lyric is a little bit like waking up from a dream, waking up to reality and realizing that reality might be even more far out than where you were before.
It’s also a description of love and romantic desire in a way.
Emil: Habibi, I wrote with Agnes (Fries), we were a couple back then and that’s the only song we’ve written so far from a lyric perspective. I was going to play on Swedish radio and they also asked me, ‘can you play a Christmas song?’ Because it was close to Christmas and I thought, well, that can be a good thing to have a Christmas song! [Laughs] So I decided to figure out can I write a song that could connect with that and still enjoy it? What are the building blocks for that kind of traditional song that I find interesting? So I tried to remember, like adding a piano introduction in a Bing Crosby style, and then adding The Pogues and then it’s this French composer Adolphe Adam, it’s one of the most beautiful Christmas songs in Sweden – I’m not sure if it’s an internationally well-known song – but just trying to put together something in a certain tradition was interesting.
I don’t think I should over-emphasise the fact that it would be a holiday song, a Christmas song, because I don’t think it is that. It’s more of a play with the format and the genre. The main thing with that song is probably the lyrics and my reaction to the political situation with immigrants in the mid-decade.
It was pretty interesting when that song was released I realized, okay, this was actually a political song because it was the first time I had gotten response on lyrics that was harsh, in a way. Someone posted a comment on YouTube and I thought it made sense… The person writing said ‘you grew up rich, didn’t you?’ I resisted the urge of saying, well, in fact, I think I did. I’m really a middle-class kid and you are right. Maybe that’s why I feel I can tolerate that society’s money would go to others? If I was in a different situation maybe I wouldn’t be able to have this stance on how we should share the money in society? Someone said, how come you didn’t understand this was political song? What did you expect people to think? And I was a bit surprised, but it makes a lot of sense.
I think that that person writing that comment also made sense and it showed something about what the full picture of immigration is from a perspective of different social levels in society. If it’s easier for me, growing up under decent circumstances, not being poor, if that makes it easier for me to feel like society can afford things? I don’t know these things…
Emil: Trifles is the oldest of the song-songs on the album. It’s the first one I finished and the first one I wrote. It could have probably ended up on the last album but it was too different from those songs.
It’s interesting to actually take a step back and try to see the bigger picture and the themes of these lyrics. Emanuel has always talked about this album as the breakup album and, in a way, it makes a lot of sense. Leaving a structure, going into the unknown in a way.
I think what makes me most proud – just in conversation with myself – not that I expect anyone else to see it or feel it, but I’m really happy about the fact that I have started to try to express images and the poetry of things that fascinate me.
In my writing of lyrics I’m still stuck in very short amounts of time. I describe a moment of something and the lighting and the temperature and the feel of that. And I’m curious if I’m going to be able, or if I’m interested in the future, to be able to write longer periods of time, like, could I make a description of a life of someone or of bigger things?
The title Trifles, I don’t know the full extent of why I felt like naming it that, I think it might be a reference to a José González song that’s called ‘Cycling Trivialities’, which I suppose I mean putting things in perspective and getting stuck on the small details instead of seeing the bigger picture. I had that problem today before I talked to you, the fact, like, how do I value the different problems in my life and how to fix them? I probably need to be better at sorting out the not so important problems with the bigger problems.
I guess that comes from me being a sensitive person and things feel emotionally, but putting things in perspective is probably a helpful thing. That’s not a good description of the song and why it is titled that, I’m trying to figure out what it is I mean, really.
Emanuel: It’s one of the first songs Emil wrote with the new album in mind, so we had played it live a lot and it had been a central piece. We worked hard on a version when we recorded it but I took the quite daring move to go back to Emil’s apartment demo and found that it had a magic that we hadn’t caught in our studio… the vocal take in Emil’s demo was so much better.
We started again and based it around Emil’s demo tracks, so the vocal is actually the demo and a lot of the main elements are from the first time Emil recorded it. There was something about the intensity. I’m a big fan of demos and when you get some reissues of early Beatles recordings, like The White Album, it’s amazing for me, they’re is so much better to my point of view than the final version, when the brain gets too involved and you think too much. When you do the demo it’s pure emotions sometimes.
Emil: There was the problem with titling the song, because Siren, we were referring to the magical creature and in emergencies we were recalling emergencies as in the emergency room. It was really difficult to name that song and that’s a really bad title and I chose it, so I can say it.
Emanuel: That was a song that Emil wrote later in the process. We hadn’t played that song for years on tour, it showed up during the time we worked on the album and I think we recorded it very quickly. Probably one take.
Emil: And the fun thing is that it’s now 1 minute and 40 seconds, but only after we decided to add the second chorus. It’s so short! My most successful albums have been short, so maybe it was like a commercial trick, to try to make it as short as possible? [laughs] Something really interesting happens when things are short, I think.
Emanuel: Lyrically it maybe has less symbolism. I mean, starting something new is a more central theme to the album than anything about water and ships.
Emil: It’s an album that got postponed so it’s no longer a break-up album it’s a renewal album. On a really heavy level this album has been a huge relief to me in how I see things, how I work with things and the fact that it was simple to record, it was simple to mix. I didn’t worry a lot about Tchad Blake’s mixes – and this was at the end of a very long period of me being very worn out – I remember listening to Tchad’s mixes and feeling, well, this is good. I mean, I could change a whole lot but it’s really nice the way it is and maybe I don’t have the energy to change it? I’m happy with this and I’ve never ever made a decision like that in my life.
Things are simplified and I have a certain feeling of calm and this album is definitely a part of that. The fact that we just did this, we sent it to Tchad Blake and what came back sounded great.
Emanuel: It’s an album where Emil and I are kind of working on losing control, because this was the first time Emil had a producer and he left someone else to mix the songs and for me it was the first time someone else did the mix, because like Emil I come very much from the do-it-yourself spirit, from the writing of the songs, to producing and recording and mixing. So, this time Emil left some decisions to someone else, which is quite brave.
Emil: But it also came from total exhaustion.
Emanuel: Sometimes that’s the first step of losing control is that actually you don’t have the power in you to control everything anymore and you let it go and realise that it was quite nice actually to leave some decisions to other people. Maybe in your mind you didn’t care but in my mind you cared a lot.
Emil: Of course, of course.
Emil: The track Oppenheimer is about Robert Oppenheimer, the lead designer of the atomic bomb. It’s not political in that sense because I think everyone shares the same awe about that time and those weapons.
I mean, a lot of those people working with the atomic bomb were astrophysicists and they were passionate about researching space and mathematics and here they had this amazing opportunity. The government poured billions into them researching their passion, while also building a monstrous bomb.
They probably felt like this chance is too good to miss. We actually get to research the things we are passionate about, but also, we’re building a terrible weapon. I have a feeling that they probably had a big passion doing this because they were doing their astrophysicist work and physics research. Maybe they were trapped in a situation that was hard to avoid in a way. I don’t know what happened… if a government in war asks you to build a weapon, I’m not sure what your choices are? I mean, I don’t think you will get punished per definition for saying no, but it’s probably not that simple.
And immediately they understood, when they saw the results, that this is horrible. Like we’ve been tricked into doing this. There’s the famous quote by Oppenheimer; ‘I have become the destroyer of worlds.’ There’s just something really powerful about it and that era.
It’s hard to understand my fascination for it, but I think it has to do with life and death, of course, and taking the liberty of controlling others and their destinies.
It’s crazy, the fact that during that nuclear age, the atomic bomb was the future and it was popular culture. The fact that the bikini was the latest fashion product and they named it after where they blew up a bomb! It just tells so much about that time that you would name a swimming suit after a place you detonate an atomic bomb. It was a different age.
Emil: I mean that song is right in the middle of the album theme. I think that was one of the demos I made that we were the last to abandon because we thought maybe we’re going to keep the demo for the album.
Emanuel: I thought that the song was fantastic, but the demo is lo-fi sounding and that was something that we discussed early on that it shouldn’t be a lo-fi album it should be a hi-fi album, so I was very interested in hearing this song recorded well.
Emil: The song Interval / Repeat, the lyrics revolve around the Syrian bombings of Aleppo and what it is like to live a life under those circumstances and what happens with your desires and the things that we think are important in life? What happens when you get in a horrible situation like this, what happens to love? What happens to desire when your kids die in bombings? I was interested in that subject.
That song is also interesting for me from a musical perspective because it has a structure of a musical motif, three notes that you move diatonically down on a scale. I just thought it was fun to play around with. For many years I was trying to find chords under this motif that would help that little ostinato melody to become visible. I guess in the beginning I didn’t know where the lyrics were going but that is, I guess, one of the other songs that is not finished. It’s going to become different things in the future. It’s connected to the ending of Mute. It’s in the same key and it has the same melody, but on this album, actually, we ended up cutting out that central motif of the entire song. So, the thing that built the song -was a catalyst – we took out in the end, but I’m kind of curious to see where that’s going end up in the future.
Emil: The song A House and a Fire is an interesting part of the album because that should really be the hit song of the album. Emanuel, in the role as producer, said ‘let’s not use that song that could be a hit, let’s use this version instead!’ It’s… I mean, it’s totally ridiculous! I was so impressed with him being so stubborn on that. I don’t know why he was so stubborn, but I felt like I have no need to question this.
I like that he makes this difficult and slightly strange choice. He thought this doesn’t belong on this album, but I think that’s the good thing with the current times that that song is beautiful, it has beautiful lyrics and it’s interesting with the humour. Of course that should be a centrepiece of a collection of songs and I think that we will find a way to create that song in that way… because it deserves to be heard and the way we recorded it now is not a way of showing that song! [Laughs] It certainly highlights the lyrics though, but it’s a pretty upbeat and happy song. I really look forward to hearing us finishing it in that way.
We have two different other versions we’re still thinking and working on, one is a bit of an orchestral adventure, like a pretty funky orchestral arrangement for a full string and wind orchestra – riff based – and the other one is a really tiny little doll house pop song.
That was the song that generated the most arguments. My girlfriend Ella was furious with me, saying ‘why did you make this stupid choice of not using the pop song? Why are you trying to not be heard? [Laughs] Are you guys kidding me? Why are you doing this?’ [Laughs] But I hope we’ll follow up because I love that song. I’m sure in a year or two we will have another version of it that shows that other quality of that song. And then there will be live concerts in the future also where it’s going to be able to grow as well.
The fun thing is that we have a complete B-sides version of the whole album. Like every song we have other perspectives on. I think that would be fun to release in the future. I think it’s going to be powerful and it’s going to show the music in a good way. It’s probably nice that we finished this first because then we’re not going to be able to cross-examine and think should we use this instead? Now we can rather focus on those other versions. So, it’s going to be not the remix album, but an alternative reality. I think it could be great.
Released 26 March 2021
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The new version of the 1980 classic features 25 musicians, including Yo-Yo Ma and Angélique Kidjo.
Sat, 13 February 21
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Wed, 24 March 21