The tall, restless art school grad is much the same himself. At times during our interview he's jocular and irreverent, guiding me, via Skype, around the bank vault turned studio that's home to Studio Barnhus, the label/DJ collective he's a part of with Kornél Kovács and Petter; at other times he's less forthcoming, more considered. His debut album, Family Vacation, explores many different moods, from smoochy R&B, to flailing carnival house and doleful adult lullabies. Across its various shades, the whole thing is held together by a sense of personality so strong it would be impossible to fake.
A press release said you burned your laptop after this album, the same way Lee "Scratch" Perry burned down The Black Ark studio. Did you really?
[Laughs] Not yet! It's still alive.
Do you believe there are demons in it?
Yes! I need to get rid of it. I don't want to use it ever again.
Is it the computer itself or the stuff on there that you want rid of?
I don't know, after a while it becomes almost this living thing and I want to get rid of it. There's too much shit in there. I think a good fresh start with something else could be a good thing.
Was it important during the album writing process?
Yeah, it's the sequencer and stuff like that.
But most of it was old tracks you'd already made?
Well, old sketches and ideas, yeah, but everything has been reworked or retweaked in some way. I liked the ideas of stuff I did back then, but I don't necessarily like so much the sounds and the arrangements. I seem to have gained some knowledge over the years of how sounds work together, how to create more space rather than just making something very flat.
Did you enjoy the process?
Ah… there's always a satisfaction to finishing a track and a good feeling when it's done. That rewarding feeling or feeling of self-accomplishment is good, but no, it was pretty hard work. It could be much worse, I guess, but it took really all the energy I had to face the big issues. The easy part of being a producer is just sitting and smoking weed and playing around with stuff, and that's fun, for me at least, but then you have to start arranging and finding some order in the chaos and start climbing that hill that leads towards the finished track.
When everything is fun and sexy and enjoyable at the beginning, all that dies along the way when you start making a song. All the romantic things die, the track's dead, and then you can finish it and be happy with it and listen to it and then you think, "Yeah it works." Or I hate it. Then you have to give it more time again and then come back to it. Some of the tracks on the album, it's only now I can hear them and think, "OK, yeah, that was interesting," and sometimes I can't even remember how they were done.
Couldn't you just leave them as sketches? Plenty of others have before.
I don't know, I think with any work of art, it's good to—I don't think there is a point to making just sketches. For me, if I have a sketch, it's just the start of an idea.
Did you make it hard for yourself by saying you don't like standard arrangements?
I don't know. It was very cocky to say something like that. I'm only tweaking an already made set of rules; I'm not that far away from a regular house producer. But, not a lot of tracks for me have to start with a kick. I don't make stuff like that, I try to stray away from the path and make stuff in some kind of pop context.
The tracks on the album do seem to meander, there's lots of space in them. Is that intentional or something that just happened?
I think it's some kind of natural evolution. I was always interested in the dynamics of a room. I remember when Richie Hawtin released that DVD thing [DE9: Transitions] when surround sound was cool and everything was mixed perfectly in 5.1 and I thought it was cool. That was back in the day, when he was also a super cool guy. So yeah, since then I was interested in the reference of a room in a song. I also like how old records, like Beatles records, have drums here, vocalists over here, you can feel the room.
When we record synths and stuff that happens automatically. One of the perks of using a lot of gear is that you get that kind of room feel. The downside of only using a computer is that you have to manufacture that, make it yourself.
Sometimes you can even see when you go to SoundCloud if a song is boring or interesting. We get demos and when you see a flat line of compressed music you just think, "Ugh, this can never be good!"
There's also often something that distracts the listener's attention in your music. Are you easily distracted yourself, is that why these things are there?
Yeah I think so. I think it's a combination of a self taught method but also a lack of patience. Often I record longer sequences and then fix them together in different orders later. Sometimes it's accidental, sometimes not. Often I start in the middle and work round that—most tracks have an essence then you build around it.
I made a lot more music than would fit on the album. Petter and Kornél helped me lots on it but also with this because I had lots of ideas but I was too close. I don't know—maybe if you're in one world, house, say, it's nice to have something leading away from that. It's good to have some narrative, maybe a bit of intensity and then that fades away into something else.
Did you care about the dance floor when you were writing the album?
I tried to, always, but I'm bad at it and if I do it I get a wave of self-hate. I can set my mind on doing some techno, pumping 4/4, but I always end up somewhere completely different. I listen to lots of music so get lots of inspiration. Maybe when I was writing the album I didn't listen to so much. Then you go see Four Tet live and wonder why you make music at all. But then you hear some weird African shit from the '80s and you hear their lust for making music and you think, "Ah yeah, that's the reason why, because it's really fun!"
I guess it depends who you're doing it for.
That's a good question: who do you make art for? When I was in art school they make you ask that for everything you do. Who is your audience? Your friends? Is it for the whole of Sweden? Is it for your mother? Is it to impress Petter and Kornél? It's an interesting thought.
And the answer to the question in your case is…
I don't know the answer to that. It always changes. The question is constantly in my head and I hate [art school] for putting it there because it's always haunting me. I think it's a good thing, though.
The title of the album conjures a slight sense of awkwardness, of being trapped in a car against your will. Was that the aim?
It's a reference to some awkward relationships that I have with music in general. Forced relationships and stuff, but also with that weird hallucinatory object on the cover, I said to Rob Lowe, who did the art, that I liked Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. It's so massive and there's a lot of power to it, you know. I think, in a way, it's like some weird hallucination, and the colours fit—turquoise and red. I think that correlates with the music. And that weird almost hot, tropical, trip gone wrong feeling of some weird drug experience, that all fits in.
What do you mean by awkward relationships with music?
I don't know, it's just like you have with everything—with art or music. Aging in the world of electronic music. Some of the stuff is so naïve and just talks to the inner child in you, but at the same time it can be so liberating to have that sensation with music. That's why I love music, because it's so easy to tap into the core of emotions. It takes so much longer, for instance, if you go to an art gallery and look at a painting for those feelings to come up inside of you. They start much smaller there, but maybe paintings can live inside of you for a longer period of time. Music just [makes explosion noise]. You can get knocked out within two minutes, or the first second of a song.
I think it takes a bit longer for your music to have that effect.
This is the colour I use. I don't think I could do it differently. It's the world I understand and feel closest to musically.
Most of your music has come out on Hypercolour. Why release the album yourself?
I wanted to do it for Studio Barnhus. I felt like it could be an important step for the label. This [Barnhus studio in Stockholm] is where I spend most of my time. I wanted to do something with my friends and see this grow and it's been way beyond any of our expectations. We did everything wrong with this project that we could have. It's the first time we ever used a PR firm or made a CD. Everything took so much time but now it's paying off. Now we know it's possible, and that's great for us as a label to know we can make an album look good and sound good. It's not like a 12-inch, there is so much more to it.
So now the album is done, do you feel it's a chapter closed and you'll move on?
Yeah. 12-inches I want to do for sure, just one track each side. I have an urge to make stuff faster, do more, faster. And also make some more remixes, which I didn't do for a long time. And now we have the Man Tear project with Petter and my cousin [Johan Jonason]. We did a release on DFA and did our first-ever live show in New York last week, because you know what they tell me: if you can make it there…
You can make it anywhere.
Yeah! The set up is basically Petter taking care of keyboards and effects, I was doing the SP404 sampler and a CDJ and some other effects, so we have a backing track we play along with that we can loop or change or whatever. Quite a simple set up—it's like a modern take on what old hip-hop DJs did, who showed up with a backing track and just scratched. Oh, and my cousin is a singer and he was doing vocals.
New York seems an odd place to go for a first ever show.
Yeah we just went to spend a couple of weeks recording music for Man Tear in the Swedish countryside, and a couple of weeks before that we got the offer to go to New York for this event at the Swedish Consulate. They do it every year and paid for us to go. I think they try to ride on a wave of Swedish pop success. Of course, anybody would if it's a small country where they have big pop producers coming—they want to capitalise on that, and, man, I'm fine with the Swedish government paying for our New York trips. There were some other Swedish groups there and stuff.
So will you do more Man Tear stuff now?
Yeah, we recorded so much new material. We have super weird and fantastic songs. Something like if Burial and Beach Boys made music together in Ibiza. I want to do an album and my cousin is a super eccentric guy who needs to be on stage. I like not being in focus, I feel totally comfortable just doing music and he can be all crazy on stage.
He lived on my couch for four days. I've known him quite long, actually. Petter was friends with him for eight years or something. We met in Barcelona, did a remix that hasn't come out, and then we met at Decibel Festival in Seattle last year. The promoter asked us to play a set at his home and it turned out to be an eight-hour marathon. It was super nice, crazy fun. Then he suggested for his DJ-Kicks he wanted to produce something together, so he set a date and came over, and yeah.
Will you do more?
Yeah I think so. We're always in contact doing stuff.
And what about Radioactive Orchestra, that was an odd project.
I hope we will do more of that. I'm still waiting for them to build some more synthesisers. I think we could have done more things but I wanted to get this album behind me before taking on other things. I feel a bit empty now it's done. I felt so in demand, there were so many emails, and people needed my opinion on the smallest things, and now nothing. It's me emailing them now, I'm like, "Do you have everything? Do you need me to do anything?" I guess it's like having a teenager then having him leave and move to Leeds and start studying. I need a new baby, but that's where Man Tear comes in.