Tours can get cancelled for all sorts of reasons, but before this year, a pandemic wouldn’t have occurred to you as one of the obvious ones. Well, we all know what happened, and so in March Åsa Söderqvist, aka ShitKid, and her band found themselves stranded in America at the tail end of a tour that was supposed to conclude at this year’s SXSW. Instead, they were scrambling around to find the last flights out of the US, which eventually brought them back to Sweden.
That sequence of events dropped Söderqvist off back home in Stockholm with not much to do. The last couple of years had been hectic for ShitKid – since her debut back in 2016 with instant signature song Oh Please Be A Cocky Cool Kid, she’s put out three EPs and three and a half albums (if you count this year’s Duo Limbo/ Mellan himmel å helvete, with five songs in English and Swedish versions as half an album), spun her sound from scrappy, lo-fi pop to heavy-duty rock and roll and spent huge chunks of time out on tour. So, maybe unsurprisingly, the unexpected break wasn’t entirely unwelcome. “I was kind of happy about it”, says Söderqvist, “because I wanted to go home. At the time we didn’t know how big it would be. But we did manage to do most of that tour, we did nine out of fifteen shows, and two of the last shows were at SXSW, and we’ve already been there twice. We met lots of fun people, it was a good tour, and we had time to tour a lot before that, we got to go to Finland and Norway and play. I was happy for a month after corona, because I could just sit at home and play video games with Moa [Romanova, artist and friend – responsible for the cover of 20/20 ShitKid], but after that I started to get depressed because I didn’t have a life. And then everything started to get cancelled, the whole summer.
“I didn’t know it would last this long – we would have been on a two-week tour of Europe right now, but now instead I’m working as a dishwasher. I really wanted to do the Europe tour. I guess it’s the longest I’ve gone without touring since the band started”.
The situation she found herself in was almost a total reset for the artist. She started off recording songs on Garageband by herself, and ShitKid has been an elastic concept over the years, from a full recording band on 2019’s [DETENTION] to collaborations with The Melvins on Duo Limbo. For the last couple of years, the band has been a duo, with Lina Molarin Ericsson on bass. But with Molarin Ericsson, wanting a break from being in a band, dropping out after the US tour, Söderqvist found herself a solo artist again. Not that it fazes her. “Being a solo artist again has been very fun. I’ve always said that about Shitkid, that it’s a fluid band. Even in the beginning, it was me, [former bandmates] Greta and Linda, and then only Linda for a while. These changes have just sort of happened. It’s kind of funny when you think about it, it makes it seem like ShitKid has been around for way longer, because it’s had these different constellations. Even with Lina, I never had the plan to record with someone. But we tried it, and then it just worked”.
So, back on her own, and with plenty of free time thanks to Corona, she got to work. “I’ve been really productive, which I guess is easier when you’re working on your own” she says, “because you don’t have to listen to anyone else’s opinions. You can just do whatever. I was planning on recording an EP, which Lina plays the bass on, but I ended up making this, because I was just so excited to record on my own, and make a weird album. We’ve been recording in studios for a while, with [DETENTION] and Duo Limbo. So for me, it’s been nice to going back to doing it on my own, and having Luke [Reilly, PNKSLM label founder] mixing it. And it was done fast, which is something I like”.
Pop songs in a pop clothing … at last
ShitKid’s early songs were recorded in her car, for acoustic value. But finding herself car-less these days, she did her best with what she had: “I wish I still had a car [to record in], it’s the best. The sound for vocal recording is always the best in cars, there’s no other sound, it’s like recording in an igloo. My bed has kind of a bunk bed on top of it, so I hung a cover over that to use as a little sound shield”.
What she came up with is 20/20 Shitkid, an album she’s calling ShitKid’s ‘pop’ album. In a way, her music has never really been very far from pop. From the early, rough Garageband songs to the heavier rock adventures, the project’s music has never needed a lot of work on the part of the listener to love it – her songs have always been direct and simple, and have always had the melodic power to hook you in. But 20/20 Shitkid is something different – even if it’s lo-fo, the songs are cleaner and sweeter: instead of being muscled up or scuzzed out, these are finally ShitkKid’s pop songs in pop clothing. “I’ve always wanted to do different genres”, says Åsa. “And I’ve always wanted to do a pop album, because that felt like the most fun. And the songs I was working on worked as pop music. I have other songs that didn’t fit, but I want to make a doom album too. So some songs can go on the pop album and some can go on the doom one. Some of them just feel like they work more with that cheesy pop sound. So I listened to the demos I had and picked out the ones that worked. Using a drum machine makes it more pop. And using more synths too. I think that’s the main difference on this album, I’ve used more synths.And more like cheesy hooks, more like radio songs. But they also never turn out the way you think. I ended up adding guitar to a lot of them, because everything sounds better with guitar, so some of them are a little rocky. But yeah, the main idea was to make them cheesier pop, with a softer sound. And I used way more backing vocals, because that’s very pop”.
That playing around with the pop concept even extended to the lyrics, which abandon some of the sneer and swagger of her earlier songs for something that sounds a little more open-hearted, especially on songs like Dying To and Stubborn Signs. But she doesn’t go as far as to play the game with pop music’s entrail readers, looking for meaning in words designed to rhyme. Söderqvist’s relationship to her lyrics is more practical and philosophical than personal. “All my songs are very random”, she says. “I guess I do think about some things from my life, and put them down in words, but it all comes together very randomly and becomes something like the ‘Farmboy’ lyrics. ‘Farmboy’ and Stubborn Signs are songs where I just really sang anything, but when I listened back to them I thought ‘what are people going to think when they hear this?’. I just kind of randomly sang, those lyrics happened, and then I couldn’t change them, because those cheesy lyrics work. It’s trying to make it dreamy. I really wanted to change those lyrics, to something less…I guess I know what you mean by saying they’re open, but for me they’re just blah blah blah. And they’re a lot. I think because this is my pop album, I could write lyrics that cheesy. But I guess it’s the way I always write. I make the music and then just sing something over it and then try not to change that too much, as long as it makes sense”
“It is fun to come up with lyrics. It doesn’t have to be something too serious, and when you listen to the lyrics of say, radio songs, all of them are bullshit, they don’t mean anything if you pull them apart”.
Lockdown gave Söderqvist plenty of time to figure out what she wanted to do with this album, and how she wanted to present it to the world. That meant dressing it up in pop music’s glossy aesthetic, and she’s also using the time to make videos for the songs: “I accidentally bought a GoPro, and it’s so good, and now with nothing to do I’m going to make videos, like a visual album thing. I’m going to make videos for everything, and try and make them look sci-fi and stuff, and use Instagram filters. But yeah, you can have shiny make-up and stuff. I want to take more press photos, and the ones I’ve taken so far are much brighter than my previous ones. I really like pop, and it’s kind of what I listen to most of the time. I mean, I kind of don’t listen to music a lot, but me and [friend] Carro have been obsessed with the album from the Black Eyed Peas, ‘The E.N.D‘ … it’s so maxed out. Pop is a very maxed-out genre. And it can go in any direction”.
Throughout the conversation, Åsa frequently talks about one of the advantages of working solo on Garageband on this album is that she can do things without having to care about having them musically ‘right’ or ‘proper’ (“I think if I had done this record with someone else, it might have ended up sounding too produced”). ShitKid changes in terms of band members and styles, but that is maybe the one guiding principle she’s held to. Music has rules for a reason, but they can also push songs towards the formulaic. If you’re willing to treat those rules as written in plastic rather than stone, it gives you a freedom that can let you find and hold the nerve and vitality of a song, and that’s what keeps things interesting. And that’s kind of how ShitKid works, following a song or idea for only as long as it can maintain her interest. “[It’s about having] fun”, she says. “When recording with others, I usually always want to keep the things that people tell me I shouldn’t keep. And then I have to re-sing some stuff. I guess I usually kind of like the weird parts a lot of the song, that the backing vocals don’t have to match up all of the time, things like that. When I record on my own, and with me and Lina too, I try to not overdo it and not overthink it or do things to many times. If you do it right you do it right, if you don’t you don’t. I guess [I get bored], and I think you can hear if it’s something you’ve done too many times, and I guess I always think first takes are better. That’s when you have the feeling. Everything gets boring if you hear it too many times. And if you start to think about stuff too much, you’re going to see more things wrong with it. I kind of just want to be done with things. Some people record albums for years. I don’t feel like doing that, I just want to get it out there. It feels like that works for me, because it’s something different to what most people do”.
And for 20/20 Shitkid, and maybe every other ShitKid project, “something different to what most people do” is what sums it up best.
The marvellous 20/20 Shitkid is out right now via PNKSLM.