Swedish artist Olssen stands at the crossroads to a brave new world. Influenced by rave culture, classic soul and 90s Britpop his debut single since signing to global music giants Universal Music has landed and is expected to shine a bright light on his considerable talent.
Not someone to sit in one camp, Olsson describes his sound as a mixture of house pianos and Manchester beats, gospel and simple melodies, strong colours and pure playground. The new single features Swedish rap artist Mapei and was recorded while he was engineering her album.
“We had been spending a lot of time working in the studio, mostly on her upcoming album. For the feature on Hold On, I wanted someone who could tear down a wall but sound like a hot Shangri-Las at the same time. Mapei is perfect for this.” He tells me modestly.
Ahead of the new single, UK editor, Simon Huxtable caught up with Olsson to discuss his bewildering array of influences, the new single and the cathartic nature of songwriting.
Hi Christian, great to catch up again. Thanks for finding the time to chat to us at Decoded Magazine, what have you been doing this week?
Thanks! I’ve been trying to enjoy the sun during the days and working in my studio in the nighttime finishing off my album. I love being in Stockholm during the summer cause everybody leaves the city and the streets are really empty.
The sun never goes down really so I don’t get a lot of sleep really which puts you in a bit of strange mood. The summer is the only time we don’t live in darkness so I don’t understand why Swedes go to Greece or Spain for vacay this time of year. They’re just missing out.
We understand you’re Stockholm-based these days, a city with a voracious appetite for music. Can you tell us about some of the places you like to hang out in the city?
I live, hang out and have my studio in an area called Mariatorget on Södermalm which is my favourite place in Stockholm. It’s very chilled out with a bunch of great bars, restaurants and most of the producers and artists I work with have studios here. Normally you stroll around between studios, cafés and bars and bump into people you know at places like Hommage (great bar, nice peeps), Paradiso (cocktails, good vibes), Mellqvist (café linked to one of the INGRID studios) and Nostrano (best Italian in town).
Tell us about growing up in Gothenburg? How do the two cities compare?
I loved growing up in Gothenburg during the 90s. It was all about the music really and everybody I knew was in a band or arranging illegal parties. It’s a small city and regardless what you were into you felt connected and inspired by the people around you. And it was a bit of a competition between us, but only amongst the local acts (like The Tough Alliance, Broder Daniel, The Knife) and never against Stockholm. We didn’t give a fuck about what was going on up there. Gothenburg is the Manchester of Sweden. Stockholm is the posher, more grown up step-brother.
As I mentioned in the introduction, 90s rave culture plays an important role in the sound of the band. Who were your influences growing up? What sets them apart?
I grew up in the 90s era being absolutely mad about the groove from the Madchester and Hacienda scene with Stone Roses, Happy Mondays and Primal Scream as my house gods. At night we always went to illegal parties and raves in different parking garages or in the woods. There were late parties all over during that era and we had a blast. It was a feeling of absolute freedom and I’ve been wanting to recreate that state of mind with my music. That era is still my strongest musical foundation.
Let’s fast forward a few years and discuss that fateful day while “killing time in New York”. Talk us through your ’Solo’ folder. Did you have fully formed songs at that point, or were they sketched ideas?
I grew up outside New York so I’ve always had the city as my second home and I’ve been going back a lot lately. At that time, I felt totally uninspired of all music around me so I started collecting images from my upbringing in the 90s, from raves, late parties and visuals with strong and bright colours from that era together with Madchester beats. That’s how it all started really. I wanted to make music out of that illusion. The only thing I knew, in the beginning, was that I wanted to sound like nothing out there. The best thing about music is that you can’t control it. What comes out, comes out.
We understand you share a studio space with a Swedish artist collective called INGRID. Can you tell about the members of the collective and how they’ve helped to shape your sound (if at all)?
The whole idea behind INGRID was to start a creative collective with people you like to hang out with, a physical space where you can do everything from creating music, artwork, label and have parties. We (Lykke Li, Peter, Björn & John, Pontus from Miike Snow) know each other from way back and we always run into each other’s studios and screw with each others stuff.
We’re just having a laugh most of the time and there’s always cool people hanging out there. I mean I can’t complain to have a workplace where I’ve been hanging out with people like John McEnroe, Chrissy Hyde and Bobby Gillespie. Never at the same time, though…
New EP Hold On is an incredible piece of music. Lead track Hold On glistens with Mapei’s incredible voice, you even travelled to London to record a gospel choir I heard. Can you talk us through the production involved in making the tracks?
Thanks! Ever since the start I’ve been wanting to write a struggle song but with hope, something powerful about how the world around us is falling apart. I mean it’s inevitable. The track just came out of me one late night in my studio and I remembered, I kept repeating the deep bass/beat groove all night until I crashed. I knew I had it. I knew this would be my fight back song of the album.
During that time I went to London a lot for work at Tileyard studios (Mark Ronson and Basement Jaxx studio) and I met Dot Allison who I co-wrote the lyrics with. I´ve been obsessed with gospel choirs since I was a kid and as soon as I finished my vocals I knew I had to have it. By pure luck, I ran into Eska Mtungwazi who put together a choir of Vula Malinga (Basement Jaxx, Sam Smith), Adeleye Omotayo (Amy Whinehouse) and Sam White (Florence & the Machine). I recorded them in the magic Sleeper Sound studios in London. I was in heaven. Pretty powerful stuff.
I also wanted to have a female feature on the track. I wanted someone who could tear down a wall but sound like a hot Shangri-Las at the same time. Mapei is perfect for this.
You mention being in a “disturbed state” and telling your “demons to fuck off” in the process of writing Thin Love. Songwriting has always had this amazing ability to cleanse the soul of the artist. How did you feel after your first song for the Olsson project?
I managed to put the vibe, groove and visual images I’ve been having in my head for years into a track for the first time and after I wrote Thin Love I knew I had something true going on. I found a new purpose really. Both spiritual and musically. I was truly in a disturbed state of mind and continue writing and producing tracks and dancing to my own music in my studio basement at INGRID became like a drug to me. A way to not fall into complete darkness when the world around you is falling apart. After writing Thin Love I knew Olsson had to happen. So ultimately, it felt pretty good.
Remixes for the EP come from Isaac Tichauer and DJ Marky. Firstly, had you any input on who the remixers were, and secondly, how important to you was it to make sure a range of sounds to appeal to a cross section of the record buying public?
I wanted to the EP to represent what Olsson stands for both visually and musically with dirty house pianos, groovy beats, gospel and simple melodies. I’m a big fan of both their work; DJ Marky for his 3pm-with-two-cocktails-in-you kind of groove. And Isaac Tichauer for his 3am dancing alone kind of vibe. It’s a perfect combination for all around the clock ep.
It’s been wonderful to chat Christian, we wish you every success with the EP. In closing, would you like to tell us about the story behind the awesome mix you’ve made for us?
Likewise! The mix is called Good Vibes/Summer Jams and is a soundtrack to your lazy 3pm hang out with your best buddies in the park, by the pool or in a kitchen. That’s up to you to decide.
01// Freddie Gibbs and Madlib – Supplier
02// Disclosure – Feel Like I Do
03// RJDJ & Jordan Brown – Peace of What
04// DJ Shadow – Nobody Speak (feat Run the Jewels)
05// Michael Kiwanuka – Black Man In A White World
06// Cantora – Tala Lumi
07// Bacao Rhythm & Steel Band – PIMP (Version)
08// Blood Orange – Desirée
09// Jack J – Thirstin’
10// Miguel – Waves (Tame Impala Remix)
11// Unknown Mortal Orchestra – First World Problem
12// Little Dragon & Kaytranada – Bullets
13// Metronome – Old Skool
14// Penderstreet Steppers & Harry “The It” Dennis – Waters Of March (Tim Biro Edit)
15// Blaze – Viril
16// Francis and the Lights – Friends (Feat Bon Iver)