With the new album Månens Hav, the Swedish musician Sofia Nystrand has created a piece of Scandinavian history.Because there are only a handful of albums that capture the pure essence of Scandinavian melancholy in order to transport it directly and effortlessly into the heart of the listener.Other musicians also play a role, such as Jakob Lindhagen or the Selke brothers.It's time to introduce the lady a little more closely in an interview.
Vargkvint is the project of Sofia Nystrand from Sweden.
Hello Sofia, nice that you have time. How are you doing right now? Hello André! I’m doing very well! A little bit stressed with all the preparations that comes with releasing a new album and going on a small European tour but I’m also just super happy to be doing it! Thank you for having me!
Before we get to the new album, let's look back. Your debut “Hav” was released in 2019 with really positive reviews. Did you expect that? I honestly did not. It felt like a bit of an odd move to release an album written in Swedish to an international community, but I’m very happy it struck a nerve with people and that they seemed to find something they liked! It made me very very happy, and also it felt a bit surreal, that someone else could feel so much for my music.
The album was included in the Musical Reference Ambient & Soundscapes 2019 on this music magazine – Reading something like that makes you proud or what thoughts go through your head? First off I just feel very honored, and very proud of myself! I worked very hard on that album but it really was a surprise that someone would enjoy it as much. In some ways I’m not sure I’ve really taken it in. I hope you will like the new one at least almost as much! Tell a little bit about your musical past. How did you get into music? And what about the name Vargkvint? I’ve always been interested in music. From a young age I took singing lessons and would be that annoying kid that would sing at all the class recitals and musicals at school and so on. When I was a teenager I found the piano and took my first lessons, but I’m more or less self taught. I played in a few bands, and then I started to write my own music in my early twenties. I think that was when the concept of ”Vargkvint” found me. The name is taken from an old term in music theory, and it refers to a tuning system where you would get perfect intervals except for in one place where you would get a fifth, or in Swedish a ”kvint”, that would sound as bad as when a wolf is howling. And thats where the name Vargkvint, or ”the fifth of the wolf”, comes from. For me it has the meaning that there is beauty in imperfections, and it has helped me a lot when struggling with writing music, and handling my own imperfections.
Can you still remember the very first song that you composed yourself? How or what was it? The first song I remembered I wrote was when I had just learned to write, I must have been around six maybe, and it was a song about a cat living in a hat, under the moonlight. It rhymes a lot better in Swedish, but I guess the moon-theme stuck with me from then on! I also remember the first song I wrote more seriously as a teenager, a very minimalist song about my grandfather. It was very much a kick to realize I could write music, I remember it was a new and very exciting feeling, almost forbidden, as a secret.
The piano is always a protagonist in your works. What makes this instrument so special for you? I think the piano is so beautiful because it is forgiving towards the ones, as myself, who will never fully master it. Even if I’m not a classically trained pianist I have found my own style, and I can work with other dimensions of songwriting, dynamics for example, and how to find my own minimalist tonality. I write almost all my music on the piano, even the songs that in the end turned out to be more synth-heavy. It is just the place where I feel at home.
Our living room is basically a studio with a couch in it
The new album will be released on June 2nd, 2023.
The sea is always a source of inspiration, also for you. The follow-up work "Månens hav", translated as "Sea of the Moon" will be released in June - why this topic and how did you come up with it? Yes, it definitely is! But the theme of the ocean kind of became a part of this new album a bit by coincidence. I’ve had an abstract idea about wanting to write a more synth heavy album about space and the moon. But the final idea actually came to me when I was visiting my in-laws cottage in the countryside. They have this really beautiful poster of the solar system and the moon, and when I looked closer at it I found something I hadn’t known before. The early astronomers thought that the darker spots on the moon were oceans, and they have named the places such dramatic and beautiful names such as ”The Sea of Storms” or ”The Sea of Rain”, that we still have today. The names gave me so much inspiration! I also realized that there was a connection to my previous album ”Hav”, which means ocean, so that the albums in a sense could be connected, even if the oceans on the moon actually don’t exist as oceans, which is a bit poetic too.
The album contains nine quite calm and peaceful tracks. Which title did you have to work on for a long time until it was perfect for you? For this release I was fortunate to have the titles served to me, since they all were actual places on the moon. In some of the pieces I wrote the music from the titles, for some songs the titles came along later. One that I struggled with for a while was actually the first single ”Stillhetens hav II” and the intro called ”Stillhetens hav”. For a long time they were just called ”Månens hav one and two”. I wanted to use ”Stillhetens hav” that would be translated into ”Sea of tranquility” but I wasn’t sure it was right for the single since it’s not especially calm. But in the end, the fact that the first moon landing took place there felt like the perfect reason to have it, and that also inspired for the video I animated for ”Stillhetens hav II” where I kind of recreate the moon-landing, but with paper-ghosts. So in the end it turned out really well!
The title "Stormarnas ocean" is such a typical example of timeless sound art. How much heart and soul is there in such pieces of yourself? Thank you so much, the idea for the track was actually the first piece of music I wrote that went into the album. I wrote an early sketch of it several years ago, a night at my parents’ place when there was a storm outside my window, and I could really feel the energy coming from the heavy rain. But it was one of those ideas that never got finished, even though I tried to. Instead of working on it alone I took help from my husband Jakob Lindhagen to finalize the song, and we kind of rewrote it together. He is actually the one that pushed for it all the way, I was a bit unsure if it should be a part of the album since it is a little bit different from the other songs, more vocal based. But he stood his ground! And I’m very happy that he did, and I’m also very happy to hear that you like it.
As in life, you are inseparable in music with Jakob Lindhagen. When you both work on music, how do you benefit each other? Tell me a little bit about Jakob, who seems to be full of melancholy like you. Haha yes, me and Jakob are both living and working very closely together. It is really great to have someone whose opinion I always trusts when working on a project, and I’m very happy to be married to someone who also really agrees on how important music and creativity is. On the other hand it can sometimes become a bit to much! Our living room is basically a studio with a couch in it, and we are always working on projects. Sometimes we have to force ourselves to go out and just do something else! Go to the movies! Try to be a bit more of a couple than colleagues.
Jakob definitely has a stroke of melancholy, just like me, but he is also a really geeky and fun guy to be around. We both love to spend time in his parents cottage in the woods and just cook food, swim in the lake, and just watch really bad comedies from the 90s.
The Selke brothers can also be found on the album, what do you personally appreciate about Daniel and Sebastian? What I most admire about Daniel and Sebastian Selke, except their incredible musicality of course, is their insane work ethic and their ability to be well spirited and keep up the pace even if things doesn’t turn out as planned. Jakob and I actually use the phrase ”What would Daniel and Sebastian do?” quite often when we are facing an obstacle or going into a new project. They are just incredible, such a good team and inspiration! And I’ve been so blessed to have worked with them on this album.
Music from Scandinavia is so unique in the world. Can you describe why that is? Why are the melancholic facets much more pronounced than anywhere else in the world, or are there other reasons? I’m so happy you think that! I’m honestly not sure, but I think there is a close connection to melancholy here that is hard to put the finger on why. Maybe it is the fact that we have a lot of winter and live through months when the sun settles very quickly? I think it does have something to do with that, even in the summer, you kind of know that it’s not going to last very long. Maybe that is where the melancholy comes from? Or maybe it’s in the drinking water - we have great water!
Mars once had oceans, maybe an inspiration for a sequel, or do you already have something else in mind? That is true! Maybe that should be my new project! I actually do have a third album written already, but I’m not sure if it is ready to be recorded yet. And I do also have ideas about a more forest-centered album, so we will se what will come first.
Remember to look up to the moon sometimes, it is absolutely beautiful
Sofia gets most of her inspiration for her music from the sea.
What does a Sofia do when she's not at the piano or in the studio? When I don’t work with music or animations I’m very much into gardening! I have a few pallet collars outside of our apartment where I grow garlic, zucchinis, kale, pumpkins and some beans every summer. I think it is really fun to watch everything grow, and heartbreaking when the snails comes and eat everything. I also love to read, especially really geeky and sometimes pretty bad fantasy books - the more dragons and magic, the better!
Do you follow other music releases? What album or composer has left a strong impression on you lately? Yes, I try to keep myself updated and to follow the musical journey of my friends, and other new releases, and there has been a lot of them recently! I had a great experience while listening, and watching the new album of Sergio Díaz de Rojas ”Muerte en una tarde de verano” - he has made a whole series of music videos that you can watch as a film while you listen to the album. Both the music and the videos are beautiful and very inspiring, so that was a really nice experience. I’ve also really enjoyed the new self titled Twinsleep album that has just been released. But there is so much good music being released right now! And I’m of course very excited about the upcoming album from Shida Shahabi that is coming out on midsummer.
If you could choose a series/movie, which one would Sofia Nystrand write the music for? How exciting! Now I have to become a bit obscure, but if there is ever a remake of the Swedish classic ”Gösta Berlings saga” by Selma Lagerlöf. I would just love to make that soundtrack, it has all the creatures, and all the Scandinavian melancholy in the world to work with. And also a classic theme. That would be an absolute dream to write for!
Do you have another goal in life or music that you would like to work towards? I had a great chat together with my friend and fellow composer Simeon Walker a few weeks ago that really stuck with me. We talked about how to be able to stay as a part of the music industry in the long run. And how it is to be a creator of slow music in a time when the attention span of humans seems to be getting shorter and shorter. I’m trying to put that as a main goal for now, to not run to fast, and to work towards finding a space where I can continue to release music for a long period of time, and balance the work with life. I’m sure it’s a never ending struggle for everyone who’s passionate about something but at the same time has to face the physical aspects of life. But I’ll keep on struggling with it, and hopefully I’ll start to work on a new album fairly soon.
Thank you Sofia for your time. The last words are yours: Thank you so much for letting me be a part of your lovely blog, and for the support! And to you as a reader, thank you for taking time to read this, I hope it gave you some inspirations for upcoming projects whatever they might be. And remember to look up to the moon sometimes, it is absolutely beautiful.