Loney dear, 2017
When some people reach nearly fifteen years into their career, stagnation or rot often begins to set in. Ideas become strained, repetition appears and some artists feel a little lost at sea as times and trends have changed around them. For Loney dear's Emil Svanängen, the opposite is true. On his upcoming seventh album, he has undergone a rebirth, a transition and had a profound artistic awakening in which he sees this as the beginning of something very new and very potent.
'It's been a little bit like being out on the ocean swimming without anything to hold on to and now I've reached the beach.' he says, reflecting on his career to date. Whilst Svanängen may view this period as reaching new lands, that's not to overlook his past successes. Beginning in the early 2000s, he made a name for himself by creating homemade CDrs and self-releasing albums, which by 2007 had pricked Sub Pop's ears and they released Loney Noir. Two more albums - Dear John and Hall Music - followed on PolyVinyl, as did glowing reviews in The Guardian, BBC, Drowned in Sound, Pitchfork and earlier this year the Line of Best Fit went as far as calling him a 'brilliant genius'.
Often unhelpfully described as indie pop (when in fact the music has always been more multifaceted and intricate than that genre suggests) this new album looks set to squash such binary comparisons. 'There is a certain new blackness in the music.' Svanängen says, 'I have learned to make my inner darkness more visible to people because I don't want to seem lighter than I am.' Svanängen feels that whilst this transition is not yet over, he has clambered over the hump. 'There have been terrible situations, I have found dark paths inside, I have learned about myself, I have discovered music, my artistry, my pros and cons. I must learn how to live without wanting to give up.'
Whilst inspired by the likes of the inimitable Nina Simone, the new, and darker, album is a creation that feels as difficult as it does futile to pigeonhole. However, for those who enjoy the stripped back intimacy and compositional brilliance of Bon Iver, complete with flashes of John Grant's more electronic work and sprinkles of Brian Eno's production work - plus hidden flutters of jazz rhythms and subtle nods to Elton John - then this is an album that has moments of all, alongside being very much its own singular creation.
Five years in the making, this album has seen Svanängen go through some personal transitions and developments, reconciling himself with the position of his own music, career and personal issues to let loose a sense of freedom, fun and understanding of patience that is allowing him to stop playing it safe, he feels. 'These years are my teens, basically. I think from 10-28 I was a similar person but now I've had my development.' he says. 'Being late with discovering your life means that you're constantly a bit behind. There is nothing good about growing up late. If I had kids of my own I would tell them to cause as much shit and trouble as possible. Playing safe for 30 years may not help you.'
The joy of blossoming a little later in life is of course that such an awakening comes with a little more wisdom, hindsight and reflection. Which looking back, Svanängen certainly has. 'I wasn't ready when the touring started in 2007. I was still in the middle of writing music. I couldn't really explain why I shouldn't go on tour, why the time in the writing room was so important, but it was. In hindsight, there were regrets. Not only about that I should have stayed home, but also for bringing my body out on tour and not my soul or conscience.'
Reaching this stage in his career also means Svanängen is beginning to let go a little too of old ways, with his childish sense of experimentation and creative playfulness creeping back in. 'I am a perfectionist, that's no doubt, but I also don't know what it would be like to not be that. I'm going away from being a perfectionist but I very much am. I'm not sure it's always a good thing.' Already planning ahead musically, he sees the future as peeling back the layers and getting even closer to that newfound inner darkness and liberated version of him. 'I'm starting to look into working more as a tomato salad: one good tomato, some olive oil and some salt. Up until now I have been making currys with everything involved, with total symphonic sound with everything mixing together.'
In fact, such is the sense of scale and ambition in Svanängen's work, that he's already imagining a world for his music in future decades. 'I have this feeling that this is going to be huge, at some point, like when I'm 60. When I'm old I think this is going to be really big and I don't have that feeling for, say, ten years in the future, which is kind of strange. Maybe it's a safety thing of my own, that I can't get too disappointed in the near future. I think at one point I'm going to find the formula to make it explode. This last year something has really happened though and I'm slowly preparing and working as hard as I can to get to that point where everything just falls away or takes off.'
Perhaps Svanängen envisions his career to be a slow burning one because of the intimacy and intricacies of his music. 'A friend said to me recently, "your music passes on from one person to one person at a time" '. Like a cherished secret recipe slowly passed between friends, its impact may be gradual but profound for those who receive it. Once people start listening, they hear something. 'I do long for the possibilities of future success but new music will always be small, or at least very slow in its reception.' Svanängen suggests.
It will be no surprise to learn from a self-confessed perfectionist that Svanängen has thought long and hard about the longevity of his creations. In fact he sculpts them with this in mind, to make them almost indestructible, tireless pieces of art. 'I have crafted these songs so that I hope I will never get sick of them myself. They are built for endurance. I have listened to them so much and I always plan for the music to live longer than I do. I want to do modern music but I don't want to do current music. The music is made to get old. I think if I get tired of something then there is something wrong with it.'
In 2017 Svanängen finds himself at something of a crossroads, in making his finest album to date some road signs are clearly pointing towards great things but he's now grown to accept things as they come. After all, Svanängen's career, in many ways, has been as unique as his music. 'I've been taking some strange roads. Basically, I have a really strange career and I have no idea where it's going. Everything is always random because my career is so small and slow. I have had to learn to enjoy all the randomness of what I'm doing.' This has meant that whilst forgetting to predict the unpredictability of the music industry, Svanängen has positioned himself in which live music gives him great, and consistent, fulfilment. 'I have learnt to, and have had to, find a way to make concerts really fulfilling to me no matter what size and what environment. So I have found a way to make a concert in a strange cafe be a big thing for me.'
Part of this on-stage development has come in literally finding his own voice. 'I think finding my vocals and my singing is a big thing. Learning how to sing. Finding my voice and using my voice. I almost didn't sing when I started. When I started making albums I wasn't a singer and going from that to feeling like I'm not wondering who is going to sing into the microphone when I see one on stage. Knowing that I have a certain power in my voice, that is a big thing that has happened.'
New sides of Svanängen are emerging in various areas beyond music too. When creating a video for the song 'Humbug' - involving numerous copyrighted images in a politically-themed response to an arms trade deal in Sweden - he began to experiment with the unreliable narrator. 'I really like the tone we created there because it was the first time I was able to convey the feeling of don't trust Emil, like I want to present a little bit of uncertainty with myself. I don't want to be the artist that you'd want to buy a car from.'
After all these years in the music industry, Svanängen has reached a stage in which he is not striving to be loved, to be big, to be recognised or feels that he is deserving of more than he has. Above all, he feels emboldened and powerful simply by the new music he is making, as featured on his latest album. 'I'm moving into a more bold state, I'm confident, powerful, I became a singer, I learned my darkness and discovered my magnetism'
- 'Celestial mini-symphonies … conjure visions of a one-man Scandi version of Animal Collective.' Uncut (UK)