Listen to the audio version of this interview :
...or keep on reading
Frida, you just moved back to Sweden after one and a half year in Paris ; has it had an influence on your songwriting ?
Not really, I mean I tend to have a little delay, so the things I have been writing about in Paris happened before I came to Paris - at least most of them. But I did write in Paris, so the environment must have had some kind of impact on me, because I haven’t really been writing music in a big city before, at least in such a focused way. It was quite different from being in the countryside. I usually write in the countryside, it is easier when there is nothing else around. But I managed to write in Paris as well !
- At the Swedish Institute (Paris), December 2008 © photo Vinciane Verguethen
Do you see an evolution in your songwriting ?
I think so, there is definitely a movement, like a shift towards something. It has become wilder and livelier, I think. But I kind of like to take it step by step. I mean, on the first album, it was really... [she starts humming Djuna ! on the piano] la laaa, la la la laaa, la la la la la laaa... very girly style.
In fact, before I started writing my own songs, I played jazz standards in music school, and some classical as well.
So for me it was really liberating to become something of a "punk pianist" ! I remember writing the songs of my first album, thinking « ah, I can’t do this... people are gonna laugh at me if I play something like this ! » But it was the only way of playing that pleased me, that I felt was right. So it did it like that. And that set me free in my songwriting, and made me find my voice. The core of everything I write is just piano and vocals, and then I let it bloom out and bring other instruments. But the core is always very minimalistic. And the older I get, the louder I become !
- In Stockholm, July 2011 © photo Benoît Derrier
So even a song like "Come another night" was just piano and voice in the first place ?
Yes. This song is like a teasing thing, like [she sings the first verse] « You came from nowhere and then you became a friend... », like a make-believe song, a dream of something that you wanna be, and that’s also why it had to have other instruments. It couldn’t be just me. And then it’s just a matter of creating something that will make me feel the right way, that will do this song justice. I have a good imagination ! I think Come another night, and then Scandinavian blonde from Silence is wild, and Terribly Dark from the last record, are the exceptions. They are fantasies. They are something else. Like the presentation of a dreamworld. They are trying to lift the ceiling a little bit higher !
They are a bit of a joke also maybe ?
Rather something that pushes towards another direction. Like Terribly dark, it’s trying to be tough, to be the master of the world, or the coolest-most-impressive thing in the world, but it just manages to be a little sugarcube ! Sweet, but trying to be very mighty !
When do you feel that a song is finished, ready ?
When it sounds finished [laughs]. No but it kind of comes out of its shell and shows itself, and says « I can walk on my own now, you don’t have to carry me anymore, just let me be ». Sometimes a song will be finished and I still don’t like it. That is one of the everyday tragedies in my life when that happens. But you can not change it, because it’s already... finished. And you don’t love it. It’s like not loving your own children I guess. It’s very bitter [laughs]
What is a good song for you ?
I would say something that sounds true within the context. Something that sounds beautiful. Something that has a good shape. Pleasing and strong. With a good body, basically.
And in terms of composition ?
I tend to like short songs. I like simplicity very much when it comes to songwriting. Complicated arrangements don’t really do it for me. I like super simple stuff.
A song like Farmor on your last album doesn’t sound so simple though...
[she starts playing it] But it’s so classic... It’s like a cliché theme for an old movie. It’s probably one of my best compositions actually. Musically, it is very fluent. And it has a few different parts. And all of them are quite strong. I would say it’s a classic. It also stands out in the record because it is longer than the other songs. It is almost like a record on its own ! I see it as the continuation of Dirty Dancing from Silence is wild. It’s the same kind of care-taking, warm storytelling.
- In Stockholm, July 2011 © photo Benoît Derrier
Do you have songs that are not released yet ?
I do. I released everything that I thought was good. The other ones, unfortunately, they exist. But they are like the children I don’t like [laughs]
How did you start playing music ?
I learned simple chords on the piano with my dad at home, then I started playing for good at a music school when I was 10. But I wasn’t so good at it. I didn’t do my homework. But I liked to sing. So I got really good at accompanying myself, and that’s basically what the piano has been for me. It’s just a tool, something to sing to.
Do you feel like you’ve become better with time ?
Definitely, but – and this is maybe a stupid thing to say – I don’t want to become too good ! I am not making an effort, I am not taking lessons. With my voice, it’s a different thing, I am always trying to evolve it, but the piano is just a shadow to the voice. I am more experienced now, so I am a much better piano player that I was 5 years ago. But my songs are so simple, there are no big challenges ! There are some songs where I am hitting the keys really hard, like on Terribly Dark, and sometimes I break my nails. My technique is... questionable.
How do you pick up your musicians ?
I met most of my musicians through Jari Haapalainen [from The Bear Quartet, who’s also been producing The Concretes, Nicolai Dunger and Ed Harcourt] who produces my album. He knows very much what’s going on, he goes to a lot of concerts, talks to a lot of people, so he knows who’s good at what.
But you, who do you listen to ?
It’s been a while now that I have listened to some pop music. I am listening a lot to the same old favourites : Patti Smith, Nina Simone, Joni Mitchell. Some other people too. Neil Young. I am listening to them to get some encouragements. But when it comes to new music, I don’t really have the habit and I don’t find the time.
Any fellow Swede that you like ?
Someone whose work I really admire, who is also a friend : Jenny Wilson. I really admire her songwriting, and her production sound. Super super interesting, I can listen to it any time, night or day. She’s really really good.
Did you come up with the idea of the album cover ?
Yes. I was wondering what I was gonna do on the cover this time. I have a theme through my pop records : it has to be me on the cover, together with something. On the first one, I am possessed by a piano that has a spirit in it, like a poltergeist.
On the second one, I am dressed up like a wild animal, hanging out with a domesticated animal : a horse.
And on this one I am chopping up a fire. I had a little meditation session to find it actually. I had a vision ! It was this idea of a person who everyday tries to divide a fire in two parts. It’s a very vain thing to go, because it’s not gonna succeed, but she thinks it’s gonna work. She’s trying everyday.
What does this fire represent ?
It represents the soul. The person with the axe (it is actually me on the picture but it could be anyone) knows that her soul is a whole, a oneness. But she heard that everything must be good and bad, black or white, there is a duality that she’s been raised in. So she’s trying to do it with her soul, because she thinks there must be something wrong. Her soul is just one where it should be two. There is this one fire. Chop ! That’s the whole point of it.
I asked Linnea Olsson, who’s been playing with you, to record a question for you. Here it is : « Hej Frida ! If you had to earn your living by working with something else, what would it be ? »Linnea Olsson interviewing Frida Hyvönen by Benoît
Hello Linnea ! I wish you were here... Oh, that’s nice ! Kul. Well, ok. I have two things that I would like to do. If it would be possible, I would make a living as a painter. An oil painter. The other one is : I would love to take care of horses. Work as a stable woman. That’d be nice.
Like on the cover of Silence is wild ?
Yes, but not dressed in leopard !
Do you have horses now ?
No, it’s not possible at the moment. I am travelling too much. But I used to have horses when I grew up.
interview : Benoît Derrier
May 2nd, 2012