Interview by Alan Williamson
Have you ever walked into an old bookstore, or record shop, one you have passed countless times before, and browsed until something caught your eye? Maybe it was a title, the picture on the cover, or maybe the colour... well you are in a tiny record shop, it's called *Sixeyes, and you hold in your hands, Amaterasu, the debut solo effort by critically acclaimed Swedish musician, David Fridlund. A songwriter who has honed his teeth with guitar/piano pop band, David & the Citizens, whose music is just a shade off of power pop. Fridlund on the other hand opts for the keyboard as instrument of choice, for his first, and I am hopeful not final, solo effort by a songwriter who I feel is just hitting his stride. The album sways from serene to cathartic, all of it riding the back of Fridlund's piano and his vocals, which seem capable of delivering any song that he puts to paper.
David Fridlund was more than kind enough to answers some questions I posed.
*Sixeyes: First off, please tell me about Amaterasu, what does the title mean and why did you decide to make the jump and release a solo work after 5 or 6 successful years with David & the Citizens?
David Fridlund: First of all Amaterasu is my girlfriend Sara Culler's middle name. And it is taken from Amaterasu, the Japanese Shinto goddess--the goddess of the sun. The reason I decided to make a solo record was simply because I was fed up with David & the Citizens - I felt trapped, like I was doing the same thing over and over again and I wanted to challenge myself and try something different. I don't think David & the Citizens would have survived if I had not made this album.
*Six: Are any of the songs, on Amaterasu, songs that were originally written for David & the Citizens, but didn't seem to fit?
DF: I guess one or two songs were written with D&tCs in mind, but the majority of the songs were written directly for this album.
*Six: From what I have heard from your band work, it seems primarily guitar based, while Amaterasu is unquestionably piano-driven, was that a conscious decision or did it just happen that way?
DF: D&tCs is mainly guitar based, that's true, but I've always written songs on both piano and guitar. In the beginning there were mostly piano based songs, but it gradually tipped over to guitar songs as I got better at playing guitar. When I started working on Amaterasu however, I wanted to make a piano based record and I got a scholarship that enabled me to buy a piano and it was all very easy from there... At first, it was supposed to be an EP with instrumental tracks, but I wrote so many songs that it grew into an Album instead.
*Six: What was the scholarship for? Did the acquisition of the piano lead too much more piano based music from you?
DF: It was a scholarship from STIM, I think it's called BMI or ASCAP in USA, that they give away every year to 20 people or so, to musicians in Sweden. You apply for it and hope for the best... and yes, I was very inspired by getting a new piano... I had an old crappy one before, and I wrote a whole bunch of new songs after I got it.
*Six: I know that when a musician is asked his influences, the list they rattle off stays static, it doesn't change, but I am wondering about the influences on Amaterasu as opposed to any influences on the band's albums... is there a difference?
DF: Nope, no difference, (laughs) Since I write all songs and lyrics for David & the Citizens as well as for this solo project, the influences are the same--but to be honest, I don't really listen to a lot of music and if you ask me my influences, I just don't know what to say... lately I've come to appreciate reverb, which I've always disliked before. I guess Sara has played a lot of music to me since she came in to my life, bands like Yo la Tengo and Built to Spill. But I'm a stubborn man and it takes a looong time to convince me about new music and bands I've never heard before. I've actually discovered most bands after people have told me my music sounds like this or that. But I'll give you three bands that heavily influenced me in the beginning: the Pixies, Elliott Smith and Neutral Milk Hotel.
*Six: Why did you never like reverb before? And with your newfound appreciation of it, do you think you will be exploring reverb on your new recordings? While I'm at it with regards to sound and recording... how was it working with your brother as producer/engineer... or had he filled that role previously on D&tCs albums?
DF: I don't know why I never liked reverb, I just didn't. My ideal sound vision was a really dry, hard sound with no reverb or echoes, delays or anything. But like I said, that's all slowly changing since I've become more and more interested in the sound of songs, not just the song itself. But I am mainly interested in writing really good, solid songs, the landscape of the sound is still somehow in second place. If the song isn't good, it doesn't matter if you have all the reverb in the world. But I'm learning for every new song. So yes, I guess I will be exploring reverb more in the future, as well as other effects.
Working with my brother Joel was a lot of fun. It was easy and we never really had any arguments or differences of opinions, he didn't interfere and I didn't let him (smiles). Seriously though - he knows a lot about sounds and microphones and different recording techniques, and I had a clear vision of how I wanted the record to sound so we just started working and recorded some now and then for half a year or so until we were finished. The main difference from working with a "real producer" in a recording studio was that we never had any pressure - neither time or money was breathing down or necks, so we could just take it slow and try out whatever we felt like doing. And also the fact that I could decide every single detail. When working with D&tC, you always have to consider the others opinions (even if I believe I have the last say there as well). It felt good to do exactly as I felt like without really having to consult someone else, but I think Joel helped a lot, especially when recording the bass - which I often tend to rush through sometimes. We had a good time recording and I hope to work with him again.
*Six:: Was the entire record recorded to eight-track? Was this a step down from D&tCs records? If so, did you feel any limitations?
DF: Most of the record was recorded on eight-track, but we did some additional recordings in the studio where we mixed the album (Studio Señorita). Some of Sara's singing was recorded in that studio, as well as the strings on, "Then I Will Miss You", ( I think we used 12 channels for those) and also some of the space-echoes and synthesizers.
I tried to keep the recording procedure as simple as possible so that we shouldn't have to ping-pong so much, and that's were Joel really knew how to do it since he's been recording for several years on that 8-track. Of course it was a step down from the Citizens, but instead of seeing it as a limitation, I tried to see it as something that would develope me as a musician. It's good not to be able to work with the recordings too much in the computer, which we sometimes tend to do with D&tC.
*Six: You undoubtedly love the sound of a horn, have you ever wondered why the horn and not a cowbell or kazoo? Was it a certain piece of music that won you over?
DF: Definitely, NMH (neutral milk hotel), I remember I went to see them play live when I lived in Stockholm, in 1998, I had never heard about them, I actually went to see Olivia Tremor Control, but they were totally blown to smithereens by NMH's performance. I remember thinking "this is exactly how I want my music to sound! But maybe the Beatles as well, since I grew up listening to them. But I don't know... I mean, trumpets and saxophones, trombones and other brass instruments just have a lovely sound! A trumpet and a trombone can do so much for a song, with very small means. It is like a piano - it can sound beautiful and sad if you want it to, and at the same time it can sound like something evil and send you shivers down your spine. It's just a wonderful instrument.
*Six: I'm going to guess that since the sound of a horn has made such a strong impact on you that would have made an attempt to learn to play a brass instrument?
DF: I actually bought a trumpet in '99 and learned to play just one song. Since then I have developed my skills and I actually play some of the trumpets on both D&tC albums, and all trumpets on Amaterasu. When I turned 30 in December last year, I got a saxophone and I'm learning to play it now. It's a risky instrument, it balances on a thin line between being really cool and being really, really awful. But I'm trying to learn to play it the cool way and I've already used it on a recording of a new D&tC song.
*Six: Now that you have experienced your first solo outing, Amaterasu, and you have stated plans are in the works for number 2, would you change, or have you changed, the way you brought Amaterasu to completion? I mean, would you enlist the talents of other musicians other than Sara Culler and the others who performed on the album?"
DF: Well, part of the idea of doing a solo album was that I would do it myself, without feeling the need of involving too many other musicians. But I'm open-minded and I always try to look at what is best for the song - if there is something needed that I can not do myself, then I'll have someone else doing it for me, and I'm sure Sara will be involved on the next album as well, since she has the greatest voice that goes very well together with mine. And after all, I'm really just starting to think about album #2, there are a few songs ready for it - some new ones and a couple that were left over from Amaterasu. But it's a long time until the next one.
*Six: When you write songs, do they follow a pattern in that the lyric comes first, or the melody? Is there any rhyme or reason, for you, when songwriting?
DF: I would say nine times out of ten, the lyrics and the melodies are born at the same time, I often just sit down at the piano and whatever chord my hands land on is where the next song will start. Same with the lyrics - they often tend to almost write themselves and if they don't come out easy, it probably won't work. I find it very, very hard to try to work on lyrics over a long period of time, they seem to die on me if I try too much. A song like "April & May" is a typical example of a song writing itself. I could never write a song like that if I tried too hard, it has to want to come out.
*Six: With a full band to fall back on during David & the Citizens recording sessions, you undoubtedly don't pick up as many instruments, or wear as many hats as you might. Now, I'm wondering what instrument, or hat, you wore for the Amaterasu sessions which you hadn't before?
DF: Well, actually I've already worn all the hats. On the last D&tC album, I played the drums on half the album and some of the electric guitars and I've played the trumpet on a few tracks and so on... the only instrument I haven't played before recording Amaterasu is the bass. So it wasn't really all that new to me to play a lot of instruments, since I always record all the instruments on my demo-recordings as well.
*Six:Finally, could you tell me your plans for the summer? Is a tour in support of Amaterasu in the offing, would you bring it to North America?
DF: I've been doing some touring during the spring with my solo band, including a trip to Norway, which was beautiful, and a lot of fun. I'll play two festivals here in Sweden in July and August and then hopefully I'll do a tour in Austria/Germany late September. Unfortunately there are no plans to come to the US to play right now, (not that I know of anyway) but I hope very much to go there before this year is over.
Aside from all this, we've also started working on some new material with David & the Citizens. We spent ten days in a studio in the countryside outside of Malmö recording some songs, but we didn't even get halfway through it so we'll continue during the fall. When? Where? and How ? is yet to be decided! I've also written a couple of new songs for a future solo album #2, so everything keeps rolling!
+ april and may [mp3]
Read *Sixeyes review of Amaterasu here.
*AMATERASU can be downloaded from emusic*