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[ENG] KOMPLIKATIONER : A conversation with Edit Eliason

(articolo in italiano)

A cold foggy wintry afternoon in Turin, Italy. A huge cup of coffee and a heavy textbook of contemporary philosophy. That is how I came upon Edit Eliason’s music: Youtube’s casual reproduction was giving out, song by song, the complete discography of British songwriter Johnny Flynn, then suddenly

E C#m A E | B7 F#m A C#m | A E B7 C#m | E C#m A E

and I was mechanically waiting for Johnny’s sweet and coarse timbre. Except it was a female voice  that started singing Einstein’s Idea. The voice was thin, refined, and controlled, but still tough and vigorous, and held a curious non-English pronunciation: that impelled me to know some more.
In Edit’s YouTube channel we can find a list of live performances, some dazzling acoustic covers and an entire EP which titles “Komplikationer”.
And a caustic and assertive description:

«I’m a Swedish singer-songwriter, if that tells you anything, which I hope it don’t, even though I pretty much write and play the same music as everyone else. Except not about love, so do not expect anything romantic here, unless I post covers. Yeah I might cover love songs, but that’s as close as it gets. Over and out.»

That was enough for my curiosity to start galloping.
I began by listening to the EP’s playlist first. I have to admit: half of the fascination I suddenly felt for the very first Swedish recording of Edit’s I heard (Försvinn Härifrån) was provided by the unfamiliar foreignness of the language. There’s an uncanny pleasure in listening to a language one doesn’t know and not understanding a word: mind starts to blow over, it stops grasping at things, idling about it let go in the streams of velars and sibilants and just flows away. It’s like listening to nature sounds, or the buzz of the water-heater down in my kitchen or the snoring of my grandma sleeping.
Those strange Swedish words, sang by Edit’s clear-cut timbre, that dry guitar (and those surprising synth phrasings! we’ll surely talk about that…) were rocking in my room, and it was exactly like a murmuration flowing over my mind – the moment I got caught in this bizarre mystic stretch. And wrote to Edit: “It was a serendipity. I found your music really peaceful and oddly melancholic – but in a funny way, like a string that vibrates at the same frequency as the atmosphere outside and all around my city”. And I add, by the way, that I would have liked to interview her.
Surely an oversharing message, and coming from a perfect stranger. Still, Edit didn’t dislike, and answered me positively.

So here we are – after five long, busy months! – to present to you:

 

“KOMPLIKATIONER” by Edit Eliason

S: First of all, where does the EP come from? I mean: when did you begin playing and composing music? And what led you to the composition of Komplikationer?

E: I began playing guitar when I was around 13 years old, but I had been playing the piano since I was about 9, and had been composing rather simple, a bit more classical songs on the piano. It wasn’t until I was 16 that I started singing and composing with the guitar, probably when I first started listening to Bright Eyes.
Bright Eyes is this really emotional, kind of angry, folk/country/pop band that really inspired me. Bright Eyes taught me that singing isn’t really about sounding beautiful or perfect, but it’s rather about expressing feelings that sometimes aren’t very pretty or easy going (hence my dislike of love songs, often they are too uncomplicated, or even fabricated).
For me, singing became a way of expressing myself in a way that I couldn’t anywhere else. I was this really shy and scared kid in school, but when I sang my songs, that went away.
I recorded Komplikationer alone in spring 2014. I had a lot of songs by the time I bought a good enough computer with a easy enough music program. But it was this amazing feeling of freedom to finally get to experiment with the songs and making them something different than just one guitar and one voice. Komplikationer really came from that experimental feeling. The EP as a whole doesn’t really have much of a theme more than that.

S: So it was kinda like “making up the rules as we go along”, am I right? I actually appreciate the “unexpected atmosphere” you’re able to create in your songs: it’s pure “un-expectation”. They present themselves like standard songwriter’s songs, but there is indeed something more than “just one guitar and one voice”, as you said. They hide some details that always drag my attention away. I’m thinking about that descending backing vocals in She Is My Darling, or the playfully singing “So I’ll have my quiet breakdown…” in Sympathy Waltz, and of course that synth-like instrument and electric-drums in Försvinn Härifrån that unexpectedly –that’s it– simply join the acoustic recording.
Curiosity-question: which equipment did you use for recording the whole EP? Did you use some particular software? Which instruments were digitally edited and which one were good old real instruments?

E: Yes, just adding details like that really helped make the songs into something more, I always try to make a song really simple and kind of breathable, but with depth. It’s easy to make the mistake of adding too many things, which just makes the songs kind of messy.
I actually used Garageband on my mac book pro to record the EP. It’s a really easy program to use, even if it kind of narrows down what you can do with the recordings, but it was enough for me. I only used a single usb microphone, so I didn’t have to add a sound card, which only complicates things too much for someone like me (I’m actually really bad at the whole sound engineering business).
The instruments I used were: guitar, piano, mandolin and ukulele, I think every other instrument that you can hear (like the contrabass) are computer generated.

 

S: I’d like to talk a little bit more about that song I already mentioned, Försvinn Härifrån. I asked Edit to send me a translation of the Swedish lyrics and when I get it, the track acquired a whole new shape in my mind. Försvinn Härifrån has a subtitle which is its exact English translation: “Go away”. Disguised behind those light-hearted melodies and harmonies, lies some actual darker lyrics:

Go away go away, go away
Take your upside-down life, and your entangled soul and go away!

I won’t demand to go asking into the private, but I should ask: are we to read the song as a contradiction between two moods (the lightness of the music, the thickness of the lyrics)? or as a song of relief? I mean: as a jaunty chant that rejoice because some bad stuff has gone away? Am I rushing with imagination?

E: About the meaning of Försvinn Härifrån, actually I would say that it’s a combination of the two meanings you mention. For me it’s about kind of wanting to wish away those sides about me and feelings that I don’t like, like fear or hate. So the “you” in that context is my frustration and battle with those feelings.
But singing it, is a way of just deciding that you can be better, or just accepting yourself and those sides, kind of letting go.

 

S: Brilliant! The mixed up outcome is just brilliant. And that goes for the other tracks, too: we can actually feel the dedication and the processing that each track has required. Monsters talks us about an outer danger that is getting closer and closer, in a strong martial-like marching rhythm, but – I would ask – doesn’t it actually sounds like a plea for help?
Who are the Monsters?

E: The song Monsters is about that feeling of wanting to take a chance, It’s about the frustration of being too afraid to live. The shackles is your own comfort zone.
So it’s definitely a kind of plea for help. It’s really about letting the monsters in and knowing you can handle it, trusting yourself with the pain and fear that comes with living.
You can either chose the monsters you create and just stay hidden under your bed, or you can try to live and deal with the problems that comes with every day life. I was always a very scared and shy kid, so the song comes from that place. The monsters are the things that stop you from being brave enough to just move forward.

S: “…and here is December”, a track that with a fancy triple time, with piano and strings, will lead us – as the title suggests – through a most wintry atmosphere and a mixture of misfortune & lightness. That reminds me of “heavy-lighted” lyrics in the already mentioned Sympathy Waltz. There is a “pathos” inside the sym-pathy: a sharing, a communion of strong feeling (even suffering). Is that what those songs are about? Would you tell us something more? (The chorus could explicitly answer to that… but it may not be just that obvious: who is the “she” in December?)

E: My songs are quite often about quite ego-centric personal issues, that often are relatively dark. Sympathy Waltz is about mistakes and feeling kind of isolated, not being able to really forgive yourself.
December though is more about envy, I always imagined singing “I am you” to a mirror, realising that I am kind of “stuck with myself”. It’s about wanting to be happy, beautiful and care free really, feeling that who you are isn’t enough.
It’s actually based on a friend of mine who is this really beautiful, funny and seemingly happy girl, but when you get to know her, she has this darkness inside, that her “happiness” tries to cover up
In a way, the song is about accepting who you are.

 

S: Let’s now discuss Fem Minuter (five minutes), that – to be exact – lasts more than five minutes. Isn’t it precisely what the song is telling us, that Time is irrelevant? That the exact measure of a Life should not be expressed in years, nor hours, minutes, seconds:

You live for thousands of years, but only five minutes are spent
You live for thousands of years, for five seconds
It’s all the same, the same earth spins around and around, with the same demands
It’s all the same, the same earth spins around and around, and yet we remain”

Is that what it’s about? That a Life doesn’t just last a “life-time”, but it could last way more or way more less. If that’s right, then how do you measure it? (Tough question, I know. But tough song, too).

E: You really summed up Five Minutes quite well. For me It’s also about perspective, a lifetime is not just time spent, but an experience, an existence. I grew up on a small farm with lots of animals and had to deal with animals dying when I was really young. Every time a lamb or a kitten or a rabbit died it just broke my heart, because that life never got the chance to experience, to feel.
For me as a kid, a whole world died with that animal. I guess that is the feeling I’m trying to create with that song, that every life is a world, and a lifetime, however small or short it is.
That feeling can make you feel like the most important thing in the world, but also the most alone and unimportant.
I think that is kind of beautiful.

 

S: Thank you. That was really tough indeed. And also inspiring.
We talked about the longest track in the EP and so, finally, the shortest (2:15): She Is My Darling, my very favourite. It’s simple and get straight to the point:

She is my darling
I won’t choose you
She is my darling
And she is not you

That’s it. That’s how it works. Guitar solo, one more verse, end. There won’t be no love songs, huh? That’s fair. Aren’t they, like, “overexploited”? We’re saturated with love lyrics and romantic-ish melodies, don’t you think?

E: She Is My Darling is more about friendship than love I would say. It’s so easy to get lost in romantic love, to feel like that’s the most important thing in the world, but at the end of the day, romantic relationships often ends.
Friendship is a very under appreciated relationship, it’s more static that romance, but just as complicated and interesting I think.
And it’s easy to write about romantic love, but it’s hard to write about it in an honest way, just because of how, as you put it, “overexploited” it is. Love is also an easy feeling to evoke with certain types of melodies, but I think they often make you feel kind of empty and manipulated unfortunately.

 

S: You know, since I first listened to it – and now that we’ve been through it song by song –, I wondered how to conciliate between the simplicity and cleanness of your music and lyrics on the one hand, and then those “Komplikationer” that title the EP. I mean, I have done my speculations, but I wanted to know the authentic reason behind it: Are the “complications” the main point, in the end? Or what do they stand for?

E: The title is kind of a reference to the feeling of how everything seem to become much more complicated than it should sometimes, or maybe that I have a tendency to overcomplicate and overthink things in my life.
The songs themselves could be seen as products of overthinking. Not that that is a bad thing, it’s more of a statement, a title of what’s to come in the songs.
Also, I really like the sound of the word komplikationer in Swedish. It’s kind of a hard sounding, angular word which I feel sets the mood for the EP in a way I like.

 

S: I like that. How simplicity springs out of complications. What I was thinking of is actually the other side of the coin: what I most sensed throughout your songs is the actual growing up out of one’s self-limiting. In the end, it’s really about learning to play with our own monsters, to simply let go and identify with one’s reflection in the mirror. To check outside – this complicated world – and discover how many things one can put in one’s brief lifetime. Once you realize what the fear is about, you simply get rid of it.
Would you allow me this analysis? What do you think about that?

E: I really like your interpretation of the EP, combined I can see that that’s really what it’s about. The songs are all written during periods of me growing up and changing, trying to accept myself as who I am, finding myself. I really like that that’s something that shines through in my songs.
To realise that we create the monsters we fear, is to realise that we are in control of ourselves. I guess it means to grow up!

 

S: And one last thing. A little while ago you told me you hadn’t focused on compositions lately, in order to concentrate on your studies.
Still, I can hardly believe that this huge talent can be simply “put aside” (and by spying on the internet I discovered you’re still playing some stuff from time to time).
So I ought to ask: When will we get some more good work like this? Any time soon? Please…?

E: I have actually started to play a bit more lately, composing too. So I’m hoping to be able to start it up again soon, and eventually create a band with other musicians. But we’ll see when that happens!
I still have two more years of studies left. Honestly I think this break in playing music has been good for me. Since making Komplikationer I think I kind of have become someone else, and I didn’t really know how to write myself into music. Now I think I’m beginning to be ready to write again.
I’m hoping to be able to release a song I’ve been recording maybe even late this summer, if that happens, I’ll send a message 🙂

 


 

So that’s how I met Edit Eliason. And here’s what I’ve been learning from listening to her music – and talking to her. To write oneself, in music for example, is a good way of let oneself grow up.
Life as a baby is simple and comfy, yet tiny. But soon life will get complicated and harder to master. Some choices have to be made, some chances have to be taken. Study or music, work or writing. As our lovely Johnny Flynn puts it: “If you’re playing on the swings, you can’t be in the sand pit” (Kentucky Pill). Growing up is hard, yet it’s just as simple as that: you chose the swings, that’s ok, the sand pit will wait.
By trial and error, we learn. We add something here, we correct something there. We experiment. We ravel and unravel. We play.
As our complications grow in size, we grow up with them.

 

 

 
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