You’ve said that Pale Fire is an album inspired by rebellion, by breaking the rules. How did you start down that path?
I think it has a lot to do with me as a person. Even though it maybe hasn’t shown through in my music before, I have a kind of rebellious attitude towards a lot of things. I’m rebellious against myself a lot when I’m making a record, for example. I always want to do something that feels like the opposite of, or a reaction towards, what I did previously. I think I have a problem with other people thinking they know who I am or what I’m about. It’s a very childish characteristic really [laughs]. So, this album had a lot to do with different kinds of rebellious feelings. Like, I felt that I needed to come out of feeling like my whole persona was rigid and defined, and part of that was changing the people that I work with. I more or less started with all new people on this record. I had a need to feel like I was starting afresh, so the whole album is about going against what I thought were ‘rules’.
That’s not so surprising. I mean, since From The Valley To The Stars, and especially on that album itself, there’s a clear development there of working to subvert conventional song structures. And with Pale Fire you have taken that even further. Was that a challenge for you?
It was, but it was also really fun to do. It felt really refreshing. I mean, especially when you’re writing pop music, you can convince yourself that you are kind of limited in what you think a song can be. As you said though, with From The Valley To The Stars I was writing kind of more ambient songs. But there are rules in my mind of what a song should be like, what it should ‘look’ like, and I really felt like I wanted to cut those ties. So it felt really refreshing to cut up those structures and still feel that there was a pop song underneath.
Was it a nostalgic thing for you, to go back and listen to all that ’90s house music that had such an influence on the direction of the album?
It was. Well, I think I was too little for it to really sink in at the time so it doesn’t really have a nostalgic correlation for me. But it was there, and it influenced me in a way that I think is fundamental. So I think a love for that era is always going to be with me. But it’s more than nostalgia. I mean, I really, absolutely love Chicago house. I seriously love a lot of that music, so to incorporate that into what I was doing musically just felt very natural. It’s just where I am at the moment, I think. But, yeah, I used a lot of synthesisers and drum machines that were made in the ’90s, so there may some nostalgia for others. For me, this record is more about stepping forward than looking back.
It seems to me that there’s a connection there with UK acid house and jungle, too. Listening closely to Pale Fire, you can pick out some of the samples you’ve used, like Adamski’s ‘Killer’ and The Prodigy’s ‘Out Of Space’, which itself sampled a reggae song…
Yes! I wanted to leave small secrets in the music, just small hints of the melodies without pushing it too far. I don’t remember why, I just felt like it I guess. But I realised as I was working on the songs that these days it’s really hard to do that sort of thing with samples – even small hints – without getting busted for it. So you have to really make sure that you’ve got the rights to do it. It’s the first time for me to realise how difficult that process is. It’s really terrible!
Because you think you’ve found the perfect thing but then you have to wait anxiously to see whether the permission is going to come through?
Exactly! Some of the samples I have of course cleared, but I will say that some others I have hidden in there for people to discover. I mean the right people. Hopefully the other people will never know they’re there! [laughs]
You’ve talked a bit about how the album ties in with the political uprising that went on all around the world while you were in the process of making the album, whether in the Middle East, on Wall Street or in London. I’m guessing that, seeing as you were already thinking along the lines of rebellion, that it was just a totally instinctive thing to try and put some of those more outward-looking feelings into song…
Yeah, I guess it was taking over my mind. I also think that I was conscious that for too long I have been much too involved in only myself and my own issues. But with everything that I saw around me, that I still see around me, I felt like I couldn’t really defend that position, of being too introverted, any more. I needed to take that step away from lamenting on my own worries and problems. So it wasn’t just a sign of the times, it was a sign for me too. I think I very honestly, truly feel like we’ve reached a full stop in the way that we live in the world and in modern society, in Western society. I can’t really let that feeling go. So seeing the Middle East rebel, and also seeing what happened here in the UK – even though, of course a lot of views that one can take on any reaction in society – spoke to me of a need for change. And still I feel like there is a red line going through all of that.
Do you think those feelings have intensified now that you are having a baby? Is it scary for you?
It is scary, yes, definitely. I’m trying to be as good a person as I possibly can, and I believe that there is good in all people. So what I’m really hoping is that people can come together, be good together. We can find things that tie us together rather than separate us. You know, I think that having this baby will make me a better person.
In a way, this is kind of a transitional period for your music because once you’ve had a child you can’t really ever go back to being someone who is typically insular. It opens your worldview completely.
Yes, exactly. I have no idea of what it will do to my music really, or how I will react, so I’m really excited. I’m going to try and start writing songs as soon as I can after the baby’s come, just because I’m that excited to see what it will sound like, what it will be like.
Going back to what we were saying just now, I’m interested in whether there was any kind of visible Occupy movement in Sweden, whether there was much of a presence that made things feel even closer to home.
Not at all.
And was that strange? Do you think it’s because your government is not as hell-bent on austerity as others?
I think we do probably have things a little better in Sweden. I think this has to do with a problem with Swedes in general, actually. As a country – like a lot of people all over the world probably – we tend to more or less mind our own business. I mean, we do take an interest in the business of others as well but it seems to me that we do that as long as it doesn’t really involve us, or, you know, we don’t get hurt in the process. In a way, that makes us mere spectators and that’s not a very admirable trait. But no, going back to your original question, I didn’t really see much in the way of an Occupy activity at all.
You know, I really noticed when comparing Pale Fire with your very first album, it seemed to me that on the first record it was almost like you were playing a character – like a really wounded lover, a very sad and lonely woman. When you look back on that time do you identify that voice as a character or was that very much you in your natural state at the time?
It was very much me. I spent a long time being very simple – you know, just not very complex – and being very sad. I was thinking a lot about my future and who I wanted to be, so that’s where those songs came from. So I was definitely very much that person. In plain words, it was the result of coming out of a very heavy depression. That process of trying to get back up on my feet again, writing those songs and, yes, kind of exaggerating those feelings, gave me a bit of distance to who I had been. It helped me to move on. So it was me, but in a bit of a twisted, exaggerated way – as sort of therapy [laughs].
That really connects a few dots in the context of those songs.
Yes. And actually, in a way, I did it to be able to laugh at myself.
It was really the ultimate way for me to come out of that zone, I think. I mean, both in using the pseudonym El Perro Del Mar, which gives me the freedom to be myself away from my music, and also in the way that I twisted myself around and exaggerated certain parts of who I am. So, going back to the question again, I don’t really think of it as having created a character because all of it, everything I have done, stems from me.
Are there songs on Pale Fire where that exaggeration kind of kicks in? It seems to me that you’ve really pulled away from that sort of thing on this record, that you’re setting things straight.
You know, I think you’re right actually. I hadn’t really thought about it until now, but I think so. Yes. Definitely.
Since we’re talking about characters, or rather the lack of them, I’m really interested in where the song ‘I Am A Boy’, off the new record, came from in the context of what we’ve already talked about.
It came out of just being very much in love, and being very, very happy about being in love. You know, that very clear feeling of being loved, in all its totality, and how that – to me – kind of blurs out the significance of sex. I was recalling that feeling I had when I was a child, before I was aware of having or belonging to any sort of sex. I was very much like a boy when I was a kid; I didn’t care about what I was. I remember when belonging to a certain sex started to matter and how sad it made me feel. You know, like how many rights and possibilities it has taken away from me. So the song is really about social constructions of gender, and about how love makes you feel that it doesn’t really matter at all.
That’s a theme throughout all of your records, though, isn’t it? I mean, even in the darker songs of Pale Fire there is like a nugget or a ray of hope and love that is always detectable.
And that’s really just you at your core, isn’t it?
Yes it is. It is, definitely. With every record I have a tendency to start in a melancholic state, because that’s when I want to write. And of course that doesn’t mean that I am always sad. I tend to be quite a drastic person, but what saves me from being too drastic – you know, from painting it all too black – is to just force myself to stick in some hope and some light. So even with this album, which is taking a bit of a despairing look at the world, I felt that there was no point in painting it all black. What’s the point of dragging it down further? If I was going to write about my view of the world and what I feel is going on out there, I had a responsibility to shed some hope and light as well. Because there is hope, and there is good. I believe in the small things. Small, good things.
Do you feel like, having made this album, people’s perceptions of El Perro Del Mar are changing? Do you feel like you’re having different conversations with people this time around?
Yes, I do feel like that, and I’m very glad about that. I’m glad that I’m more or less allowed to be an artist that can make diverse albums, and diverse music, and that people seem to understand that’s what I’m about. And that’s what I’m going to continue doing as well. Because the surface direction doesn’t change the core; it doesn’t change my expression of who I am. It always stems from me, so that never changes.
What other approach could you take? It can be so obvious when an artist tries something new that’s not motivated from the heart, and that can be devastating in itself.
Pale Fire is out now on Memphis Industries.