In the second part of the Ghost vs Sanne interview I talk about the song-writing process, how it works for Johan, Ulf and Sanne, and of course their new album which is ready drop. They are currently on a mini-tour of New York City with the Highline Ballroom & The Livingroom already under their belt. If you're in area on the 11th try and catch them at Nublu. Remember these are the same people behind Robyn's first three albums and a large number of other pop hits by musicians. When perform the album live, it'll be explosive. Expect the unexpected!
I want to talk quickly about the singer Ana Johnsson also of Sweden. You collaborated a lot with her. Especially on her earlier work namely the single “Cuz I Can”. What was it like working with Ana?
Great, she's really talented and we had a lot of fun making that album.
Ana came from the popstars girlband Excellence who had a really bubble pop sound. Yet the sound you created with her was really rocky. How did that leap come about?
Well, that's were she comes musically from the beginning and it rhymed with what we felt like doing at the time so it wasn't that strange for either of us.
Now you’ve also worked with Denmark's Christine Milton. Namely Shine On. I’ve interviewed Christine and she said Shine On was her favorite track from her Friday LP. Was Shine On was written with Ana Johnsson?
That's nice to hear, didn't know that, thanks Christine. Yes, we wrote that with Ana.
Was it too poppy for Ana’s album? Or did the song come about specifically for Christine Milton?
No, we just wrote that with no one in particular in mind. We've made a lot of so called pitch-songs with Ana.
Now! Enough the past. To the present! I love Hold This Girl. Its received some great reviews. It’s a heady concoction of pop, funk and soul. A difficult trinity of sounds to successfully merge but it’s a triumvirate that you’ve managed to bottle up and produce. How did the project come to be?
We had grown a little tired of the recording industry and felt like doing something for ourselves where we had creative control and didn't have to take various A&R people's opinions in to account. Don't get me wrong, some A&R guys are really great and have a lot of good input that often improves the songs. But it can become draining creatively to have to think about whether a song is radio-friendly enough or that we "need a single". Does this speak to our target audience? Will people get this? Is the melody strong enough? and so on and so forth. It can be death to the creative process. It's just music, if we like chances are pretty good someone else will. So, it was a serendipity that we met Sanne who is one of the most amazing singers that we've ever come across. Against that backdrop we just started writing and being creative. Not thinking too much about genre. We all knew that we wanted to do something epic and soundtrack-like and that we wanted the lyrics to be honest and mean something but other than that we just let it flow.
What were the key influences in the records’ creation?
Our collective influences are so many that it's hard to be specific. It's more a matter about not thinking too much about it and let the sum of your influences and the music, movies and books that you've consumed in your life, come out in a subconscious manner. Bowie, Prince, Talking Heads, Leila K, Serge Gainsbourg, Air, Goldfrapp, Chaka Khan and what have you... we could go on all day, but the main thing for us was to find inspiration for the lyrics. Usually that came from movies, books, documentaries or whatever happened to provoke a thought. There's not a whole lot of love songs on the album. As far as the music goes it was important not to fall in the modern R'nB-trap. We knew that we could create a interesting tension if we stayed clear of that and just focused on making good songs that you generally don't associate with the soulful and powerful voice that Sanne has. As long as you clear your head and trust your gut, the music kind of writes it self.
Sanne, your vocals bring a certain level of optimism to the overarching sound of the album. When you sing those songs do you feel as if your fighting the battle?
Yes, I wanna kick Ulfs and Johans butt any day of the week... Just kidding, I'm not sure I know what you mean.
Let me explain. When I listened to the album, the overall message, or rather theme, of the album was that Ghost produce something dangerous. A dark sound that penetrates the shadows of pop. Ghost, you have brought those dark elements of pop music out. Within the genre of pop! That’s quite a feat! How did that come to be?
Thanks! I guess that came to be for the reasons the guys explained earlier. This is the sum of our collective unconscious. I guess this is what came out when we opened the lid.
And, with all this dark pop comes Sanne’s vocals which are like light dripping over the danger and offering hope. I don’t want to dumb it down but I felt it was truly like a battle between dark and light. I loved it. Especially because at times there are moments of pure gospel. Sanne you take the brilliant “outwardly elements” of the Ghost songs and construct something innocently devilish. Who do you think wins?
Of course I win! Good always wins. Hope always prevails... seriously, even though the lyrics sometimes seem somewhat dark it's really something we wanna get through. To get out of the dark you sometimes need to embrace it.
I think Sanne you say it perfectly when you sing that your going to “dance with the devil tonight” in Imaginary Friend. There is a real cheek to it. Did you intend to produce a pop product that is so twisted?
No, it wasn't intentional at all. Twisted? I don't know...it sure makes sense to me (winks)
There are moments in this album that are dialectical? Would you agree?
Probably, if I knew what dialectical meant, ha ha. Do you mean like a fusion of opposites? In that case... yeah. Why not?
Do you think that its own contradiction is that its nature is both commercial and yet unbelievably obtuse. It wants to be pop at the same time, despite being pop in totalization it also refrains being a pop record due to its matter, context and lyrics?
I think you hit the nail on the head there. Beautiful, I might steal that.
Sanne, when you perform these songs live I am sure the energy is amazing. What is it like to bring the tracks to the stage?
For me it's actually quite a challenge. It's not what I'm used to doing live. It sounds great though, don't get me wrong, but it's hard. It's different. The music I've done before live has been uptempo and driving me forward. With this music you have to lean back into it. You got to let it take its time and sometime that can be hard when you're on stage full with adrenalin.
In the review of your album I said Say Something sounded like a sinister mix of Mary J Blige’s No More Drama and Robyn’s Electric. Do you think there’s any truth in that? Where did that song come from?
We wrote it together around something Ulf came up with after watching a documentary I think, right? Yes, there was this thing on TV that I saw about prisoners building there own prisons. Very depressing but I thought it might apply to what we were doing. The title kind of speaks for it self. It's urging people to speak up and not be passive or we won't be able to change a thing to the better.
Say Something is one of my favorite songs of 2008! But its that strange mix of bitterness and sweetness within your work that I love. You can’t be sure whether its haunting or beautiful. Sometimes its both. Did you intend to create to make the Ghost vs Sanne album so thematic?
Thank you very much, that's nice to hear. It's really not all that planned other than that we didn't wanna write the standard love songs. And when you take that out of the equation your left with what you have around you. What you see, observe and think about in the world. And with times being what they are I think this is our unintentional take on what's going on around us.
Yes, songs like Say Something and Imaginary Friend are quite epic. In the movie sense. These songs are like movies in themselves. Not simple pop songs. In the latter track, there are elements of James Horners theme to Aliens! Did you intend to create a movie soundtrack feeling to the album?
Ok, when you put it like that... yes, that's something that we wanted. We wanted to create that feeling you have when watching a movie. We tried to make the music grab you like a movie does and what better way to do that than to put in some soundtrack elements and a story-line, right? A personal iPod soundtrack is actually something that we've talked about in the process of making this album.
Now lets talk about Don’t Look Back. It’s a clear single. Perhaps the most obvious choice for lead track. A sequel to Keep This Fire Burning in the Ulf Lindström and Johan Ekhé songbook?
Yeah, there's definitely something to that. We like it a lot.
Now, there is dark feeling to this album. Generally, Soul and pop are usually quite uplifting. Even the heartbreaking Motown classics. The album is quite the opposite. Where did the bewitching sensibility on Hold This Girl come from?
Bewitching sensibility??? We where just thinking about stuff that affects us.
One could argue that your collective work with Robyn, Christine Milton and Ana was generally quite poppy or happy (take the song Keep This Fire Burning for example). Did you make conscious decision with this release to produce an album that opposite to your back catalogue. Something more darker, real and perhaps conclusively bit more philosophical?
Yes and no. We didn't intentionally try to make something opposite our back catalogue. Every project has it's own dimension. This is what came out of the specific dynamic between the three of us. We always try to break new ground and explore the unknown.
So how did you both meet Sanne?
We put an ad in the paper saying: looking for someone who wants to break new ground and explore the unknown... haha.
She answered and of course we freaked out the first time we heard her sing.
Sanne what was it like hearing the songs at first glance?
The guys only had a couple of embryos for songs when we met. The album really is written by all of us together.
Ulf what is your musical background? And how did you meet Johan?
A long story, but it starts with the fact that my granddad was a touring accordion-player and Johans dad a clarinet player... no seriously, true as that may be; I was playing in bands from an early age and Johan who actually had an musical education was hired as a musician on a tour with one of the bands (Vibe). After the tour we started to work together in the studio and we haven't stopped since...
How did you get into this weird and wonderful world of music?
I don't really know... and we can't find our way out either it seems.
When you wrote Hold This Girl, when you approach those darker elements of life how much were you prepared to let your inner self’s out?
We didn't really prepare. We just let it all out. But if you're if you're asking about the song Hold This Girl: We've all been there, to me it usually happens around November. You find yourself staring into a wall thinking: What the hell am I doing? What the hell am I doing here, how do I get out of here? I wonder if others can see that I don't belong? You know, all those paranoid universal feelings of alienation that are never talked about. Some have them a lot and some not so much but we all have them.
Do you think you had much control with it?
No, control is never a good thing in a creative process. You should never censor yourself. We were trying to rid ourselves of control rather, in order to be true to the music and what we felt.
So there you have it. Pretty exploitative! I for one love reading about the songwriting process. Along with DSTP interviews with Steve Anderson and Biff Stannard, it is clear that there is a tremendous sense of artistry and confusing narratives at work with the construction. The album is out very soon with new tracks. I've heard the new additions and they're amazing. Check it out on their myspace here. Don't Stop is epic while Sweet Release is beautiful. The new songs are stunning.