The Swedish artist talks about his country’s social democracy and ‘music for old people’ in his first American interview
Emil Svanängen, the multi-instrumentalist who records under the name Loney, Dear. Although Svanängen recorded his impossibly lush Sub Pop debut, 2007’s Loney, Noir, in his basement, the affable Swede defies expectations of the obsessive home-recording artist. He’s extremely personable and more than willing to explain the music to which he devotes his life and home. Svanängen sat down for dinner before his Chicago performance at Schuba’s to wow me with his passion and his impeccable English.
I heard Sub Pop discovered you on the Internet.
That’s not true at all. My [relationship] to the Internet is like a librarian — a librarian keeps all the information about the books on the computer, but you can’t read the books in the computer at the library. That’s how my Web site works. People can look up my name, but you can’t listen to my songs. I haven’t posted a single mp3 in my life. I started on such a small scale, and I really wanted to make a living from my music, so I always sold the CDs. I think [they heard of us] through the grapevine.
You’ve always wanted to make a living from music?
I’m 27. I didn’t always think I could make a living from it. Two and a half years ago, I got so tired of what I was doing, I decided to move home with my parents and started recording music in a professional way.
I have a harsh look at what I’m doing and I don’t want to make music that’s bad. It doesn’t feel right to say I want to be the best musician, but I want to be really satisfied [by what I’m doing]. It’s developing all the time.
It’s a nice feeling to know that you don’t want to make someone else’s music. On the other hand, when you find music that’s a little too good, it really pushes you. I think I’ve found my little niche.
Did you like any American bands as a teenager?
I didn’t know any. I didn’t know about R.E.M. I didn’t listen to any pop music. I think I was 19 or 20 when I found out that could be great. I think that’s why our music isn’t sounding so hip. My parents listened to religious folk music. I liked the guitar playing – it’s really strange.
How’d you make the switch to rock?
Onstage. I still don’t make rock music at home, but onstage, when you really yell in the microphone, you tend to get crazy feedback situations, so you yell even more.
I bought an Elvis record called Elvis in Concert after [I saw] a tour with a video screen and live musicians playing Elvis music. It’s really good music with such a swing to it. The combination of beautiful music and show business — I’ve always liked the show-business stuff because I’m not connected to it at all. Elvis was really great. I tend to like the happy thing about it — the pentacostal jazz thing to it. Every year my music gets a bit more multicolor.
Help me understand the musical climate in Sweden.
I think we play music for old people [moreso] than our colleagues do. It seems like the other bands want to be what the Stones were like in the ’60s. We want to be music for parents. I don’t see myself as a part of [the Swedish scene] because our music isn’t so hip. I think we make granny music. Maybe that’s not true, but I can’t see my music as hip music.
I was really inspired by the Esbjorn Svensson Trio — they’re like a combination of jazz and Radiohead. I found that it was really hard to communicate with people except through music. I play everything. I went through musical school when I was a kid. I really like Swedish modern jazz. I think the music I play is melodic, really nice music. It’s not so hip music!
I think within a social democracy, you have a really good, secure net. You can waste your time without having problems financially because if you get in trouble, someone will save you. My father is a social worker, so I know that there is always a security net if you get in trouble. You can start doing things that aren’t really safe to do and know that you can be OK. You need to have a home, you need to have food, you need a place to sleep, and you will [in Sweden].
How do you like your video for “I Am John” (produced by The Knife’s Andres Nilson)?
I was afraid because Andres’ work is so violent! I got the video, saw it, lay down on the couch, and tried to relax. I thought, “How is this going to work in America where they shoot people at school?” I was quite worried, but Sub Pop didn’t care, and now I really love it. I’m really glad we went with him.
I think there’s a message in my music. I think my music is pretty sad, but there is a light there. I like the fact that the video gets that to a lot of people.
So what’s a Loney Dear?
I thought it was a word in English! I was really surprised to learn that it wasn’t, but now I really like the mistake.