We chat to the Swedish-born, London-based singer-songwriter about her hometown’s natural beauty and her upcoming debut album.
Sweden is not only the home of idyllic landscapes and snow-covered, rolling hills, it’s also the birthplace of a plethora of ethereal Nordic voices in pop: from Robyn and Tove Lo to Zara Larsson and Neneh Cherry.
So it’s no wonder that Swedish-born, London-based singer-songwriter KLARA has combined her love of her hometown’s natural beauty with her cinematic sonic sound. Filming two of her music videos in the Swedish mountains, KLARA drops her much-anticipated debut album Blossom early next year.
For now, the singer releases her new EP, “Voices”, which features tracks about KLARA’s anxiety over the impending climate crisis and more. “It’s incredibly important to be able to speak my truth as in this dark political climate it feels like the loudest voices are telling the most lies”, she explains. “My music tells it softly but it’s my truth. I have been to many protest marches both in Paris and in London, but it felt good to also be able to put these feelings into my song lyrics”.
We catch up with KLARA about her inspirations, Sweden’s natural beauty and her upcoming album…
What was the moment you first realised that music was what you wanted to do?
When I was little I was always playing guitar, piano, singing in choirs and making up songs, but it wasn’t until I started to take singing lessons that I knew I wanted to pursue music as a career as soon as I got out of school. I have had some truly magical moments both making and listening to music, so I’m happy I went with my gut feeling.
How do you think growing up in Sweden, in such natural beauty, affected your music?
Some of my sweetest childhood memories are from being surrounded by lakes and forests in Sweden, and I think it somehow shaped me. It still gives me a sense of calm and perspective when I reconnect with nature. The first time I explored this theme in my lyrics was when Volvo and Bowers and Wilkins asked me to write a song for their TV advert. I called the song “These Woods”.
When it came to creating the visual world for the album, I chose to go back to the beautiful countryside in Dalarna, two hours north of Stockholm, where I lived as a ten year old. We shot two videos in the snowy fields and on the ice covered lakes, which I directed, and I then worked with a wonderful photographer called Olof Grind this summer to capture the album campaign imagery. We shot at sunrise and sunset and captured some glorious natural light and scenery with me in the water, rowing on the lake, crafting lower crowns and celebrating the nature that has meant so much to me while growing up.
Who did you listen to growing up?
The first ever band I remember listening to were the Beatles, but the first artist I truly loved and bought all her records was Tracy Chapman. She inspired me to be more serious about my guitar playing too. I had some truly magic moments seeing her live and listening to her music at home with her lyrics in my hand singing along. I also remember listening to Lauryn Hill’s MTV Unplugged every evening for a year, until the CD actually broke.
How would you describe your genre?
Melodic folk-pop. Folk feels like a natural starting point for me, and I like to combine my folk influence with delicate layers of more modern production to create the folk-pop sound of this album. On the folkier songs of my album it’s perhaps in a similar vein to The Staves, First Aid Kit, Ben Howard and Bon Iver. Some of my songs are bigger, darker and produced similarly to London Grammar or Daughter, who I love as well. I pay a lot of attention to the arrangements of my songs and spent six weeks in my studio in Church Studios preparing the musical arrangements, working together with my musicians and backing singers to create the most beautiful arrangements for vocals, strings, horns, guitars, piano, bass, drum and pedal steel to really bring my songs to life.
You spent time in Tanzania studying tribal music – how has this informed and educated your style?
Early on I think it gave me coincidence that I was trying something completely different to everyone else around me. It felt like my own little adventure to go to Tanzania when I was 19 to explore singing tribal music and learn how to play the thumb piano – Irimba. I spent three summers there as I loved it so much and I organised a tour in Sweden for me and the musicians I had met there too – Hukwe and Charles Zawose and their family band. Later the same year Peter Gabriel invited them to record at Real World Studios and they asked me to come with them to help translate Swahili-English. My own music sounded at the time completely different to traditional Kigogo-singing, but it probably strengthened my singing as I learnt new singing techniques there. The best part though was that these trips took me on a musical and cultural adventure. It felt like I had gone full circle when years later I came back to Real World Studios to record my own album.
Where did you get your main inspirations for Blossom from?
I wrote most of the songs on my own over a few years, with inspiration coming from all over the world. The lyrics for one track came to me whilst in The Gambia, another I wrote on the roads through Wisconsin, while driving to Justin Vernon’s [of Bon Iver] Eaux Claire Festival. And Sweden, of course plays a strong thematic role through these songs too. Lyrically it’s about hopes and dreams. How we carry them with us close to our hearts and are sometimes too shy to show them to others. How we dream big and work hard at the same time as feeling fragile. How we all can feel lonely and isolated even while being surrounded by others. How, even though we might have achieved many of these dreams that were once just a seed of thought, we somehow manage to still feel like we are the ones looking in from the outside.
Do you have a favourite track or lyric on it?
It’s hard to pick just one but it’s probably “Playgroundhouse” as the first song I wrote for the album and it’s also the opening track of my record. It features lovely harmonies, two cellos, a beautiful sounding pedal steel and gorgeous drums.
How do you want your music to make people feel?
Hopeful and somehow comforted that there are other people out there searching for some answers too.
What’s next for you? What are you excited for?
I’ve focused on the songs, the recording and building the creative world around my album, including music videos, the artwork and more so next step is to get back out on the road in the UK and Sweden too, early next year.
I would also like to do another writing trip to LA and continue to go to writing camps in Sweden but also I want to write a lot more with songwriters and artists in London as I haven’t explored that enough yet. While keeping one foot in London I also want to buy a house on a beach in Sweden and realise my dream of a having a recording studio by the sea. I will of course then welcome all my collaborators to come and stay by the Swedish coast when they need a creative break from London life.