“I thought he was dead for a year, but then I saw him in June again and realised he wasn’t. I just think it’s funny that he likes pizza. And his way of just standing there”. Fredrika Ribbing is talking about The Street Bird, a bird that, having developed a taste for Italian food, now enjoys hanging outside of the Dolce Vita restaurant on Kungsholmsgatan in Stockholm. Ribbing, like a surprising number of people in Stockholm, has an affinity for the bird, which eventually led to her setting up a tribute account for him on Instagram. “I had a studio near Rådhuset last year and a couple of blocks from my studio was Dolce Vita. Outside that restaurant there was always the same seagull. It’s been a slow year for @theStreetBird, but I guess he is back now. It’s not a huge account but it has some fans, mostly Italian chefs”.
When not documenting the city’s most famous pizza lover, Ribbing makes music as MIYNT. The latest example of that is her brand new EP Stay On Your Mind, a record jammed with lush, luxuriously-detailed and cinematic music that sits in an interzone between pop, rock and psych, all brewing together and swept into glorious, swooping melodies. Along with the sheer quality of the songwriting, arrangement and production, which elevates the record onto a level few others around can match, it’s also the personality MIYNT puts in the songs that makes them her own. Among the woozy guitars and smooth melodies of second single Peaches for example, there are little interjections of Nevermind! Anytime!, the little exclamation placing it somewhere between sarcasm and sadness, mystery keeping you from pinning it down in either. Having spent so much time with the record, it seemed smart to get to its creator, so we caught the ferry to Djurgården in Stockholm with her on the eve of its release.
Stay On Your Mind is MIYNT’s second EP after she released the self-explanatorily-titled EP No.1 back in 2016, but her path into music started with her dad and Donald Duck (who are not the same person, it should be pointed out). “I actually have a tape from when I was like three-and-a-half or four, with my first home-made songs”, she says. “They were mostly about Donald Duck and his crew. But I’ve always loved music, and I’ve always remembered lyrics easily. Which has been great when it comes to songwriting. My dad is a big music enthusiast, and a big David Bowie fan, and he introduced me to a lot of awesome stuff, from when I was very little. I bought the Spice Girls record and the Hanson record as well of course, but basically one of our ways of hanging out was listening to the new records that he had bought in the car, and then we talked about whether it was good or bad afterwards”.
And then when did you start making music on a more serious level?
“Late actually. I bought my first guitar when I was 14, and I enjoyed it from the start, but I felt like I was too old. Some of my friends had already been in bands since they were 11, so I felt like, ‘ok, I’m too late, but I’m just going to do this because I think it’s fun’. There was a freedom to that thought. When you’re not expected to be good at something and not planning on showing it to anyone you have the time and freedom to experiment all you want. And I guess I needed that. But I was about 22 when I realised that music was what I wanted to do on a more serious level”.
Eventually she was persuaded to put out some music by a friend, which led to a recording deal with B3SCI Records, a spell living in LA, and EP No. 1. Stay On Your Mind took a little bit of time to get together, coming three years after the debut EP, mostly due the hassle of getting the practical ducks in a row necessary to release a record. “I have a lot of songs/demos but I guess that the struggle has been me figuring out how to do it”, says MIYNT. “It took some time. I wish it would have moved faster. The thing I like most about creating music is ideas, starting with nothing existing to something existing, I really like that process. But the logistics take time. And for this release, I wanted to have a plan for what would happen after the release, so I could move forward sooner”.
People as walking stories
The EP’s title, Stay On Your Mind, is almost an inverse of the well-worn songwriting trope of ‘you’re on my mind’. Part of the reason for that is Ribbing’s time spent studying psychology, which means she blends a little theorising and philosophising into her stories. “I would be lying if I said it was just that intellectual thing, because it was very much a personal theme as well, that song [the EP’s title track]” she says. “But it’s also about what you described, the fascination with the human mind. You never know who lives in anyone else’s brain and it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with that specific person. I wanted to stay in someone’s mind when I wrote that song, but I will never know if that will be the case, and now it doesn’t feel as important to me anymore. People in minds are just people in minds in the end of the day I guess. I used to study psychology but I stopped. I might take that up later in life though”.
You did an interview with Kaltblut I think, and you said people’s luggage and baggage made them “walking stories”. And I really liked that phrase. So would you say your songs are stories about walking stories?
“Yes, you can say that. Definitely, I’m fascinated with that, and it does inspire me. Same goes for buildings, I can look at houses sometimes, and think that it’s just a bunch of shapes (squares mostly) filled with stories. Even if the shape doesn’t have anything to do with it. Or has it? Do we think differently if we are in a squared-shape room? Stories probably don’t stick to the walls they’re made in, but if they did and they could talk, we would probably not need reality TV shows.”
Do you think it’s curious how much we ignore that? Say when you walk past a building, you almost have to tune out that, that there are so many stories and things going on in there.
“In order to focus and live a harmonic life, I would say it is impossible to think about these things all the time. But it is fun to have an open mind and I guess it makes you feel a bit less individualistic, because we are all in the stream of this thing called life, and our feelings and stories are also a part of that stream as well as thoughts, thoughts in buildings. People have felt the things you are feeling now before and will do after you’re gone, in old rooms and new rooms.”
Another song, the lightly-funk-inspired, swaggering single Vacation With Bond In The South Of France, Part 2, has its roots in a discarded project, a film script Ribbing wrote after developing a fascination with the stories of the monkeys sent into space by early space programmes. She says “Sometimes when you get stuck creatively, it’s nice to have a specific idea you’re writing for. I’ve been inspired by old Bond movie themes and old cinematic music in general. I started with a song called Space Monkey, and did some research on that, about the monkeys they sent up to space. I thought it was interesting and started writing a synopsis for a Bond movie plus soundtrack. Vacation… is the only track that made it to the release though [laughs]”.
Do you like that as a writing method? Say if you’re trying to get over some writer’s block, does it help to give yourself a challenge, “I’m going to do a Bond movie” or whatever, to get the wheels spinning?
“It did help, but it wasn’t really a conscious getting-over-a-writing-block-decision. Usually I just write when I feel inspired, and during periods that comes really easily, and if it’s not coming easily trying to write just makes me miserable. If that happens I usually just take some time off songwriting and then it comes back.”
Ok, so how about this – is it a good source of inspiration to write a couple of songs, and have them linked as part of a larger story? Does that work for you as a writing concept?
“Yeah, I like when there’s a conceptual link between songs.”
Shaped by the ocean
Two themes will strike the listener hard as they work their way through Stay On Your Mind. The first is the gorgeous instrumentation, painstakingly crafted and arranged, that polishes MIYNT’s compositions into something very special. Stay On Your Mind was mostly live-recorded, with analogue instrumentation: “I haven’t been listening that much to electronic music lately, and I like the analogue sound better and find it more fun to record. I wanted to go back a bit to how I made music when I started, basically laying down guitar and piano. I wanted the process to feel playful. And I didn’t want to programme any drums!! [laughs]. I just wanted to ask the best drummers I know to do as many fills as they wanted”.
Peaches was supposed to be all drum fills when you started, right?
“Yes, I had just heard the King Gizzard & the Lizard Wizard song ‘Work This Time’, and my friend Karl ‘Hovis’ Hovmark had also just heard it by coincidence. We both loved it and felt inspired. The intro of that song is just a long fill, Hovis who is a drummer started to make some fills and then Peaches was born.”
The other theme that hits is the Ocean, a constant presence in MIYNT lyrics (“I am the ocean, I feel so blue” – Lucy In Disguise, “I swam with the sharks, back to the ocean” – The Deer Or The Hunter) and in the way she talks about her music. “It’s always been present”, she says. “My family have a country house on an island, so most of my summers were spent by the ocean. I just been intrigued by it since I was a kid. I like the fact that it’s just there and exists. And it’s blue”.
All three singles, have gotten the video treatment, which you’ve made yourself from stray footage. So first of all, where are you finding this footage? And what made you decide to do the videos in that style?
“Most are from a footage bank, and there you can get it for free. So I took a lot from there. I wanted to have some sort of videos, and I didn’t really have any money, so this became the solution.”
Is it a past-time of yours, playing around with footage and film?
“I enjoy making movies, and I think it’s fun. It would be cool to have a ‘real’ music video, however. That Peaches video for example started as a joke. Although I had a lot of fun zooming in on the stills of old men in offices though. [laughs].”
And to loop back into self-production, with you making these videos yourself, do you like to keep as much of the project ‘in-house’ as possible, to keep it as something where you do everything yourself?
“Not necessarily. I work a lot with friends. I’m open for collaborations but they have to feel right. And for this EP it felt right to work by myself and with friends. When it comes to videos and photos, they would probably look a little bit different if I have had more resources, because there are people out there who are a lot better at these things than I am. I like doing stuff by myself though, but it takes some time.”
And one last question. I think from one of your first interviews, with Rodeo in 2015. You said “MIYNT stands for five words, but if I tell you what they are, I’ll have to kill you”. Does that policy still stand four years later?
“That will continue to be a secret unless the walls in my old apartment start to speak. So yeah, I can’t tell you, sorry!”
Stay On Your Mind is out now on B3SCI Records.