The reserved impression that the Swedish songwriter Kristoffer Bolander makes on me, once he appears on our Zoom screen meeting, quickly proves to be no more than a smooth pokerface. “I live in a small town and I live there because it’s a small town. I tend to keep to myself pretty much”, he says somewhere along our interview, but for all the sincere humbleness, I quickly gather that this musician is taking control of his artistic directions.
He has recently moved from the Hamburg-based independent label Tapete Records to the Swedish Welfare Records and has acquired more autonomy by taking the arrangements and the recording process into his hands. Delighted about the amount of “good reviews” for his third album 3, Kristoffer is looking forward to a stronger sense of independence, enabling him to perform in his home country more often, which he ironically hasn’t done that much, frequently honing his craft on German stages in the past.
“I haven’t played that much in Sweden but maybe in the future I would like to. Just to be able to not always have to go away for a whole week or ten days to do shows.”
A barren landscape
It is not often that evoking literary analogies to musical affairs makes much sense, but in this case it really does, and Kristoffer brings it up himself. Asked about the plainly sounding album title of 3, released just a few weeks back, he explains:
“It’s sort of a callback to my first album ‘I Forgive Nothing’, which is a paraphrase from Samuel Beckett’s book ‘Malone Dies’. The character there actually says “I forgive no one“, but the Swedish translation turns out to be “I forgive nothing”. In that book, there is this man on his deathbed and the whole thing is, he is going to tell you three stories before he dies. “3” was meant as some sort of reference. This is the third story of mine and the third album.”
Well, you probably don’t have to know that much about Beckett to conclude back to Kristoffer Bolander and the atmosphere he manages to create in his songs. A lonely, musing voice, set amidst a bleak space of solitude, surrounded by sparse and yet most effective instrumentation. While the melancholy signature still sticks on the new pieces, there is a new quality here. “The one thing I wanted for this album was for it to be more homogenic, like a mixture between the two first albums. I wanted each song to be related to the other one”, Kristoffer explains to me. To achieve that, he stepped out of his well-accustomed folk-pop terrain to head into more atmospheric realms. It does indeed all seem a little grander, more thoroughly composed and eclectic, to say the least.
“I was never really pleased with the Americana label”, Kristoffer goes on, trying to shed a light onto the spaces 3 emerged out of. For this record, “I wanted to be more like when Leonard Cohen released his 80s albums. Each album had a totally different sound to it. The songs made it work. That’s what I’m looking for”. Though there is some divide between the sound of Leonard Cohen and Bolander‘s, one may find a shared sentiment between the two, especially when taking into focus the well-tuned balance between melancholic passion and hopeful aspiration, gleaming through the songs.
“I think Leonard Cohen could change the landscape of sound and it wouldn’t be a problem. The songs were still so well written.”
Further, he introduces me to Warren Zevon, another idol of his:
“I like Warren Zevon a lot. He was pretty big, but never as big as the people like Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen, who would be in the same time period. He was never that big. As a songwriter, he was amazing. He would have this dark humour to his songs, that I really enjoy. Just the first line of a lyric would set the whole mood for the song. He is one of my favourites.”
One gathers how passionate Kristoffer gets about talking about inspiring musicians and how he has set his mind on it, knowing exactly what kind of qualities he wants to acquire for his own writing. And from what I can reckon, he is only just beginning.
Battle The Darkness
For all the gloom that 3 yet entails, there does remain a sense of relief, happiness even, if you ask Kristoffer: “I think to me, most of the songs have a pretty positive message. Some of the songs deal with not so joyous things, but the mood is pretty positive overall.”
“I would never want to write something that is just stupid or plain happy, but something with a positive attitude towards the hard stuff, and that’s what I feel how the songs turned out.”
“That was not something I thought of, or that I was aiming for”, he goes on, “but I’m glad that it turned out that way. I don’t want to write too depressing songs. There are enough reasons to be depressed.” True enough, that much is certain. Kristoffer’s new album, for one thing, is quite a joyous occasion in the end, as he managed to find a strong way to confront his own hardships by means of creating melodious songs that speak of bright hope and the power of confidence.
Kristoffer Bolander’s 3 is out now via Welfare Sounds & Records.
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