Alice Boman is a singer-songwriter from Malmo, Sweden.
(Photo Credit: Märta Thisner)
Directed by Julia Ringdahl
Alice Boman: Hi Sarah, It’s funny that we’ve had the same manager, Tom Malmros, for about six months, and that we have written to each other before, but we have never met properly. Or, we just said hi once at an event where you were DJing, but it was so dark and the music was so loud, so I couldn’t really see you haha. How are you feeling? I know you’re busy with the production of your debut performance piece for Sweden’s Royal Dramatic Theatre — that must be so exciting! I can’t wait to see it. I’ll be there at the premiere on Friday. Tell me more about the experience?
Sarah Assbring: Hey Alice! I’m good —completely drained, but good. Actually, today has been the first day in six months that I’ve felt not anxious. This project that I’ve been working on has been so much of a mental fuckup and today I feel like the riddle has all been solved. I’m doing a dance/live performance with new music written to it so basically I’ve been doing two things at the same time: creating a performance piece and a new album simultaneously. It has basically been the only thing on my mind for six months — day and night. I’ve woken up at night freaking out about scenography, lyrics, dance steps, wigs, technology and chords all entwined in a beautiful monstrous ball of anxiety and stress. So, to answer your question, it’s been exciting to a point of completely terrifying. But hey, Alice, sorry for going on — you caught me at a strange time! I’m so happy to talk to you! How are you?
Alice: I hear you, it sounds like a lot to keep in mind. I would be terrified too. I don’t think I could do that, so I bow to you. But that’s so great that the riddle is now solved. What a good feeling that is, that break-through. I’m good too. Just leaving London to go back to Stockholm. A lot happening now ahead of my debut album release. It’s really exciting. I’ve waited so long for this moment. I’m excited and scared, haha.
You released a song in Swedish last year about the loss of your brother, called “Broder.” It’s so moving.
I have never lost someone that close to me and I can’t begin to understand what it feels like. I think it’s beautiful that you are making this performance piece. For someone like me, who’s so scared of death that I try to avoid any thought or mention of it, I think that art is such a good way to approach the subject. As with all difficult things. Sometimes art can even turn them into something beautiful.
Sarah: Thank you! The song came about in a way that probably was necessary for me to even be able to write about it. I was asked to make a musical interpretation of a Swedish novel called Broder, which was about the loss of a brother. It was the first song I wrote in Swedish and it felt awkward yet nice, but I definitely think doing it in Swedish made it special. Death, yeah, it’s a huge subject isn’t it? I’ve had death close to me since I was a child and then I lost both my brother and my father. Having gone through that, I think, has both given me things and stolen things from me. One thing I think I really have come to appreciate is the perspective of life and not taking anything for granted. It’s all very fragile you know. But, yeah, I love approaching the difficult things in life. I actually think it’s a fundamental part of me as a person. I love horror movies, I love murder stories, I love gushiness and I love talking about pain. And I looove turning it into beautiful things! So this performance piece and the album is all about that — putting yourself completely in all those different emotions and thoughts surrounding the notion of death, be it your own or someone close to you.
Alice: I’m really looking forward to hearing and seeing your performance piece. Your last EP was beautiful and I especially loved the last song, “Each Man Is To His Own.” I remember listening to that EP for the first time one morning in the tour bus last year and that song really hit me. God, I love listening to music in a car — I always feel more receptive and open when being in between places, on the go. Having nothing else to focus on but the music and the landscape outside. Do you have a place like that?
Sarah: I’m really happy to hear that! It’s a very mutual feeling! I’ve been spellbound by your music ever since I heard it the first time. You know, when recording a video we had your first EP going on repeat for 12 hours straight. No one in the team could get enough of it. It was like your whole presence was needed in the room so every time it ended we just had to put it on and on and on again. There’s such a timeless and magical feeling to that EP Alice! Yeah, music in a car is the best! For me, it brings back memories of what music did to me as a child and why I love it so much — sitting in the backseat of my dad’s car singing along to different kinds of songs and just getting lost in it and the landscapes passing. It’s such a beautiful thing. Some musicians use that notion in the writing and recording process -—listening to songs in the making in a car to see what works and not. Have you done that? Do you have driver’s license? It feels like you do. You seem like such a nomadic person, like it’s a need in you. Am I right?
Alice: Oh wow, what a nice story. Thank you, it means a lot coming from you!
I am quite a restless person and I love to see new places. And I used to love to be moving around. But for a while now I’ve had a longing for settling down, being in one place. I don’t feel that restlessness anymore. Yes, we listened to some of these songs (for my debut album Dream On) in the car. Especially the first demos actually. It really makes a difference, where you are listening. I don’t have a driver’s license though. But people keep telling me to get one! I like it too much in the passenger seat. Also, I’m too scared to drive. When I was sixteen, I once practiced driving with my mum and I panicked and drove into a huge hedge. I haven’t driven since, haha. But now I actually feel I want to get a license soon — when the time is right.
Sarah: Dream On was written and recorded in many different cities/studios — what were the ones that most inspired you?
Alice: It’s hard to say. I like to think that all these places mattered and affected how this album eventually turned out. But of course there are locations that were more crucial than others. Patrik Berger’s studio in Stockholm for example — I really got in the zone there with him. And that’s where we tied it all together and finished the album. And a place where I felt really inspired in the beginning of the writing process was a house in the countryside in the south of Sweden, where Tom and I brought all of our instruments and then spent a couple of days just playing and writing and taking walks and drinking wine. Disconnected from the outside world. I felt really inspired and a lot got done there, surrounded by all of that beautiful nature and silence. No distractions.
Sarah: I’ve actually only made records in either Gothenburg or Stockholm which I definitely want to change. I dream of going someplace special to record. The reason I’ve worked like this is basically because I haven’t been someone who enjoys placing myself in a new environment for a short period of time to make something on the clock. I’ve kind of been scared about that type of studio situation. So I’ve done my albums in my own studios, letting it take its time. Now though, I feel as though I’ve reached a point where I definitely feel keen on recording a whole album for a couple of days, the jazz way. I love the chance situation of it all. This new album actually – it just might be that I do it someplace nice like that!
Your debut record Dream On has been a long-time coming. What was the process like making it?
Alice: It feels like it’s been going on forever because I wrote some of these songs such a long time ago, and because the work has been scattered and there have been long breaks in the recording process. In the beginning, we had no deadline so we just kept on trying out different things and doing different versions of songs, which was really fun. But then there were long gaps in between sessions, because of studio schedules, which was a bit hard at times. Because when you are in it you just want to keep on going, right?
But I am happy about it now, every little turn. Beginning the recording process in London with Fabian Prynn and then ending up finishing it in Stockholm with Patrik Berger. I also kept on writing, so a few of the songs were written more recently. Anyway, it feels like I have learned a lot. The next time I want to do it in another way and for the recording to be done much faster, to at least set a mental deadline. And I want to rent a studio somewhere far off and not leave until we’ve got it all on tape.
Do you like to always keep trying different ways to record and write or have you found your thing? I guess this performance piece is a new approach?
Sarah: I think I’ve had my routine down since the beginning. My trick has been to change the instrument on which I write my songs on. That’s what’s given me inspiration. At one point I was really bored playing the guitar so I wrote only on piano. And when I became bored of the piano, I worked with samples and so on. Now I’m kind of back at playing the piano again. It feels foreign to me which brings ideas and inspiration. I guess that’s the thing for me – I need to trick my mind to feel inspired. That’s my method and probably the main reason why my music has sounded the way it has throughout the years. How do you write? Is piano your main instrument? Do you have a ”method”?
Alice: I don’t have a method really. Nothing clear anyway. I fill notebooks with words and then among those pages I sometimes find something interesting. Usually I start by writing the words and then I sit down at a piano or synth and play around. Sometimes it has been the other way round. It alters. Sometimes it’s quick and easy and sometimes I work on a song for a longer time.
A few weeks back I saw on Instagram that you released a cover of The Cryin Shames’ ”Please Stay” and I was like, what are the odds! I played that song to Patrik in the studio when we were preparing to record ”The More I Cry” and he got really excited about how it sounded. So it really inspired that recording.
I really love The Cryin Shames’ recording of that song. It always gets to me. The sounds, the emotion. The singers’ voice! And those lyrics.. man. It’s heartbreaking. I heard it for the first time in the movie The Place Beyond The Pines, and I looked it up afterwards and it’s been a favorite ever since. I played it to Patrik in the studio when we were about to record ”The More I Cry” and he got really excited about how it sounded. So it really inspired that recording on my album.
I really love your version of that song. How did you find it? Did you also see that movie? And what made you want to do a cover of it and put it in your performance piece?
Sarah: That’s amazing! What a beautiful coincidence!! I can definitely hear the inspiration in ”The More I Cry”! The Cryin’ Shames version is really something special. It has an otherworldly feel to it in every way and yes, the vocals are out of this world. You know, it’s the hand the producer genius Joe Meek. Have you heard of him? He had such a special mind and was really a pioneer in his time — and it’s still special. I’ve been in love with this song for a long time. I had a crush on Burt Bacharach some years back and stumbled upon this version and when starting the process of this project it just seemed intriguing to see what would happen to it if it’d been put in another context other than love and heartbreak.
Alice: Oh, I’ve never heard of Joe Meek, but I will def look him up now! The themes that both of us have been working on now are grief, in some way. Two different kinds of grief, but still. It’s about losing someone or something, and dealing with that. A heartache of some sort. Writing and making music about it is such an important way for me to deal with those feelings. To understand them, really. To approach them and to express them. It feels like something necessary to me, to function.
Do you find that communicating those feelings is overwhelming or cathartic? Or both?
Sarah: I think it’s def cathartic. I need it. I want it. I feel like I have to go there, poke my little finger where it hurts. It’s seldom overwhelming actually. It’s like when you find a song that you love that has a part in it where you break down in tears and you just want to go back to that place again and again because everything’s enlightened there. Everything falls into place. I have a few favorite songs like that — Aretha Franklin’s “Say a Little Prayer” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” (the orchestral version). I love it.
Alice: Oh, I love that version of “Both Sides Now.” It’s pure magic! And do you think it’s challenging? To be vulnerable like that and to open up? I often get that question.
Sarah: No, I don’t think so. I think what’s challenging is tapping into it when writing. I really feel like I have to open up a special place to really be there and that can be difficult and make me not feel like what I do is any good. Do you find it challenging?
Alice: It’s similar to me. Being vulnerable or not, is not really something I think about when I write. It’s about finding that place where you feel open and inspired, and then once I do it’s like a flow and I don’t think that much, I just write for me, to express something.
Far from everything that I write ends up in my songs. You don’t want to be pitiful. Just honest. I go back, I pick out certain lines, put things together, find a structure. To get to that emotion that people can relate to. Cause that’s the thing with art, right? Connecting with others. We are all going through similar things in life, dealing with different kinds of loss, and it can be such a comfort to know that. To know that you’re not alone.
Sarah: I totally agree. That’s the tricky part, it’s such a fine line. To find that complete balance of honesty and commonality — it can be so easy and so hard.
(Photo Credit: left, Märta Thisner; right, Peter Modestij)